There are many mental health problems that are misunderstood and one of the most misunderstood, in my opinion, is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The stereotypical image of an OCD sufferer is of a strange person who is a “clean freak” or someone who is almost creepy. This is so far from the truth it is beyond funny and enters the realm of insulting and unhelpful.
Across the world there are millions of people who suffer from OCD. Estimates are thought to range from 1-3% of the population. According to ocduk.org, current estimates of UK sufferers put the number at around three-quarters of a million. To put it another way; about the same as the combined population of Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley.
Many of those who suffer from OCD do so in silence. It is seen as embarrassing and shameful and society has a lot to answer for. People cannot chose to have OCD but society as a whole can choose how it responds to not just OCD but depression, anxiety and all other mental health problems.
OCD is still something of a mystery to those who have no first hand experience of it. I will attempt to clear some of that mystery and provide a brief overview of what OCD is and how it affects those who suffer from it.
The easiest way to think about OCD is to picture it as a loop or cycle.
Step 1: The Obsession: This could be a thought or feeling. It will be distressing and uncomfortable and to the person experiencing it, it will feel as though relief is all but impossible. The thought or feeling will endure and persist and it will feel like a build up of pressure which will lead to them breaking. This leads to The Compulsion.
Step 2: The Compulsion: The compulsion is an act, sometimes more appropriately described as a ritual, which provides relief for the obsession. However, the relief is temporary. Depending on the nature of the OCD the relief could be anything from seconds, to hours or days.
Step 3: Relief: For a period of time following through with the compulsion will provide relief. However, a return to Step 1 is inevitable.
Trying to rationalise OCD is impossible as, by the very nature of the condition, it’s irrational.
The OCD loop as I’ve described it might be easier to understand with a more concrete example.
Step 1: (The Obsession) Someone with OCD may have the recurring belief a friend has died. They cannot get the thought out of their head. There is a constant cycle of worry, doubt and insecurity that is playing on an infinite loop inside the person’s head.
Step 2: (The Compulsion) The OCD sufferer feels the urge to check that their friend has not died by calling them, texting them or going to their house to check on them.
Step 3: (Relief) The OCD sufferer will feel temporary relief when they realise their friend is alive. However, the OCD sufferer will soon, and inevitably return to Step 1. I have illustrated OCD with a very basic example, but the truth is there is another Step between Step 1 and Step 3.
Step 4: Guilt, shame, depression and misguided sense of responsibility.
The person with OCD may believe that the act of them checking on their friend has saved their friend’s life. This adds an extra dimension to the obsession. The sufferer will then believe that if they don’t follow through with the compulsion then their friend will die. There will also be the added complication of the stress, anxiety and depression that this will cause.
For someone with OCD every day is a constant battle. The thing that other people don’t understand is that the object of the obsession doesn’t have to mean anything. It’s the cycle that is important. To the person checking their door is locked to the person worried about what happens after death, the pain and suffering OCD causes is indiscriminate. The OCD doesn’t care what the focus of the obsession is, it will still hurt all the same.
With OCD one of the most frustrating aspects if the feeling of being out of control. The person does not ask for these thoughts or obsessions and they feel powerless to resist them. It is a form of constant mental torture with only temporary and fleeting relief. Personally, I find it very difficult to do nothing. When I’m doing nothing, it’s as though my brain opens itself up to all sorts of strange thoughts and beliefs.
Looking back over my life, I think my OCD really started in my mid-teens. I didn’t really know what it was and I’m convinced that my depression and anxiety comes as a result of my OCD. I really believe that the OCD was the root cause of almost all my mental health problems. I have lost count of the number of friends I have lost as a result of my OCD and depression. I don’t hold any grudges because I know how difficult it must be to maintain a relationship with someone suffering from mental health problems. However, as hard as that is, suffering with OCD is even worse.
There are many different and specific versions of OCD that are officially recognised. One such type, that I’ve only recently seen identified, is Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Doubt and trust are two things closely associated with OCD. It’s bad enough when the focus of the OCD is something like a door being locked, or a switch being off, but when the focus of the OCD is a relationship itself or relating to the other person in the relationship, then it can put unimaginable strain on the relationship.
It might be easy to blame the OCD sufferer in this example, but one has to remember the loop and also remember that the OCD sufferer has little to no choice in this. Having OCD is like a balloon being filled until it pops.
A quote from http://www.ocduk.org/media-ocd-facts
“OCD is ranked by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the top 10 of the most disabling illnesses by lost income and decreased quality of life. Mental illness accounts for over a third of the burden of illness in Britain. For example, some 40% of all disability (physical and mental) is due to mental illness. Whilst depression and anxiety illnesses like OCD account for a third of all disability, they attract only about 2% of NHS expenditure.”
According to mind.org.uk, OCD (1.3 in 100 people) is about as common as Panic Disorder (1.2 in 100 people) and only slightly less common than Eating Disorders (1.6 in 100 people).
I believe that mental health statistics are not entirely accurate. There are a lot of people out there who will suffer in silence. Many statistics are based on the number of people that come forward and admit to suffering from something, but they do not take into account those people that hide their condition.
OCD is a constant battle and it is mentally exhausting. There are treatments available but my personal experience with things like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and SSRI medication is mostly poor. In short, OCD sucks.
I'm now down to 231lbs. This is the lowest I've been in years.
It's taken a lot of hard work but I'm feeling good about it. There's still half a month to go so who knows where I could be by the end of April.
A brief reminder of the rules of my charity campaign; for every pound I lose in April I will donate £2 to charity. It's up to the readers to decide which charity receives the money, so please nominate your charity in the comments section.
So I started the month on 236lbs and I'm already down to 234lbs. I would love to break though the 230b mark by the end of the month.
I want to repeat my offer to donate £2 per pound I lose in the month of April to which ever charity receives the most nominations. I would also appeal to people, should they wish, to match my donation or pledge to donate something to charity for each pound I lose.
So far I've had nominations for the following charities;
Thornberry Animal Sanctuary
Western Park Hospital
Each of these worthy charities has had just one nomination each. I'm open to other charities as well, but nothing with any religious connection.
Please share this post and lets try and get as many charities promoted as possible. Even if I don't donate to a specific charity, just having their name mentioned will raise their profile. So if there is a charity you are interested in please mention them in the comments section.
Thanks for reading,
I’m a private person. I’m not the sort of person that will just open up and talk to you. If you meet me in person, you’re likely to think I’m a miserable bastard. I know this about me and although it’s not great, it’s the person I am. I will never be that guy who is just full of energy and enthusiasm.
“Don’t judge me until you’ve lived my life.”
There are a number of phrase like the one above that are thrown about. I’m not claiming my life is completely awful or that no-one has it worse. In many ways I’m very fortunate to live in a nice apartment, with a good job and loving family.
So why do I feel so utterly low and worthless at times?
Depression. Even now there is still a stigma attached to that word. People don’t choose to be depressed, it is something that happens to them. Yet, many people still look down on those that are depressed. It’s almost as though being depressed makes that person less worthy of help, than say a person with physical paralysis.
I choose the example of paralysis because depression can result in mental paralysis. I know a few people who suffer from depression. Some have confided in me in detail, others have only touched on the subject. One thing I’ve noticed, and one thing that seems to be commonly accepted about depression, is that it can result in mental paralysis.
In the last few years I’ve become more self aware. I know that I have depression and that sometimes it can be almost overwhelming. In the last couple of weeks in particular I have struggled pretty badly. I know there are going to be some people that read this that feel bad because they will feel they have burdened me with their problems; I want to say to those people, please do not feel bad or try to apologise to me or anything like that. It will simply make both you and me feel worse.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been on a knife edge of losing my temper at the slightest thing. It’s hard enough for me to get through one day at a time, even an hour at a time, without just saying “fuck it” and walking.
The thing about depression is that you don’t necessarily need anyone to do anything for you. It’s not about someone having to be there for you. It’s about knowing that if you want to talk, then someone will be there for you. It’s about knowing that you can open up and talk without embarrassment, without being judged or made to feel even worse about yourself.
I didn’t chose depression. If I come across as a miserable bastard then try to understand it took a lot of effort for me to even leave home that day. The things that any person suffering with depression needs are patience and understanding. Don’t make them feel like a burden. They didn’t choose to be that way. Making a fuss over them, or making it seem like a huge drama is also not the way to go. Sometimes, a hug, a smile and a nice word is all that is needed to give that person the strength to make it through another minute, another hour or another day until they see light again.
So I'm still chipping away losing a little at a time. I've decided that for some extra motivation I am going to make a commitment to make a donation to charity each month. The rules of the game are simple. At the start of each month I will announce my weight. I will then donate £2 to charity at the end of that month for each pound of weight I lose that month. I will post the screen shot of that donation here. Should I not lose any weight that month, I will make a standard donation of £25.
The charity I donate to will be up to the Now We Live readers. I ask all readers to name a registered charity of their choice and the one with the most votes will get the money at the end of that month. Due to my personal beliefs, I will not donate to any charity with religious links. If there is a tie, I will split the donation.
So, as of April 1st my weight was 236lbs.
Critic. Writer. Thinker. Observer. Creator of nowwelive.com.