The hidden cost

I don’t know if this happens to any other OCD sufferer but mine can cost me lots of money. And I don’t just mean monthly medication.

As one of main issues revolves round contamination I find I can cope with things better if they are bought new. This means no library books, no second hand or vintage shops and a lot of strength for rented DVDs.

Unfortunately some times these new things come with marks or dirt on and mind goes wild coming up with all the possible things it could be.

I remember shortly before being diagnosed 10years ago buying a gorgeous pair of Sketcher trainers for a fair amount of money. After their first outing I suddenly noticed a mark of one of the laces. I’d been out after it had rained so the chances are very high it was a splash of mud. But my mind wouldn’t accept it no matter how hard I tried to convince and reassure myself.

It meant I could never wear them again, the mental anguish just wasn’t worth it. But everyone knew I had new trainers so would be curious why I wasn’t wearing them. I couldn’t tell them the real reason so I bought a second pair.

10years later this still happens, though fortunately for nothing quite so expensive. Mainly now it’s books – I love reading, it’s a form of escapism and relaxation. However if I find a mark I can’t relax any more so have to buy another copy.

It means checking everything as carefully as I can before purchase. However I do prefer buying online as it means less people will have come into contact with my item. Recently I had to buy 3 copies of the same book from Amazon to get 1 I was happy with. Fortunately that time I was able to claim refunds on 2 of them, but it took time to sort out.

And that kind of thing is tiring. It’s mentally exhausting and the inner battle sounds like 2 people arguing in my head. The cartoons where you have a devil sitting on one shoulder and an angel on the other is a good image to describe this with.

Has your OCD cost you?

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Helpful hints

Having explained what forms my OCD takes I thought I might share a few things that help me in my day to day life. Hopefully they might be of help to you or someone close to you:

1) Tell someone, family or friend. Can be the hardest but the relief that you can just be yourself around that one person is incredible

2) Keep the mind busy. Either through complicated tasks that have to be thought through or tasks that absorb. I find doing a jigsaw, sewing, gardening, light exercise, baking, sudoku, polishing , all really helpful in suffocating the bad thoughts. It helps if you get a sense of achievement at the end.

3) Don’t shut yourself off from company – even if they don’t know what’s wrong. Company is essential for my metal well being. Not constant, but regular contact.

4) Sleep. Plenty of it. My medication makes me sleepy so I need a bit more. A tired mind can be dangerous to itself.

5) If, like me, you’re on medication remember to take it.

6) Accept it if you’re having a rough time. Know you’ve been there before and it does get better.

7) Write a diary. This helps you get things off your chest (& not just about your mental health issue). It can also act as proof of your troubles bring cyclical or remind you how you got out of the last rough patch.

8) At bad times avoid putting yourself in the worst of places. You don’t need the added stress of trying to cope. You can go there when you’re feeling better.

9) Try and add some fun or laughter in to your life every day. Laughing really is good for your health. You Tube has a great collection of ‘laugh out loud’ videos just like this one:

In general, don’t beat yourself up. You’re a person, unique and special in their own way. Take things step by step if necessary. I would love to hear other tips and hints about how other people cope.

My OCD

So now we’ve got introductions out of the way, I ought to explain how my OCD manifests itself.Everyone’s OCD takes different forms and severity. I think myself lucky. Most of the time I feel I live an ordinary life – but I know this condition can really debilitate people & take over their lives.

If you suffer from OCD, please be aware these may trigger. They probably would for me if they weren’t already mine.

My 2 main concerns are:

1) Germs

2) Security

My issue with germs comes in many formats – I don’t like using public toilets, I don’t like touching money, in fact I don’t really like touching anything used by the general public (newpapers, door handles, books, card machines, handrails, seats, you name it). I’m paranoid about what I could catch. I also obsessively worry about stains. Any unexplained stains – be them a tiny mark within a tissue or a book, to large stains on pavements. My imagination runs riot to the worst thing it could possibly be – body fluids. I know logically the chance of this is remote, it’s more likely to be unbleached paper pulp, or someone’s dropped cola, but my mind says ‘what if’. What if, the one time you don’t worry, the one time you assume it’s safe and actually the very worst happens? This is the part of my brain that doesn’t work correctly. It doesn’t filter out these intrusive thoughts – the voices in my head egging me on to think the worse, just in case.

I have been known to come home from a day out and get so worked up about something that happened that I’ve brought on a full blown panic attack. Fortunately I studied Psychology and one of my favourite topics was the Clinical Pscyhology options, so I recognised it for what it was. Now, I recognise the signs earlier and stop them before they take hold. I can imagine how terrifying these are if you don’t know what to expect.

It helps that my doctor explained that germs can’t live forever and that the worst of the contagions for me can only survive for about 1hour. Therefore, if something’s been in my house or my possession for longer than this – even in the worst case scenario – I should be okay. My new friend is the antibacterial spray & those alcohol handgels. I know they’re not perfect, but they’re my security blanket. If I have those around and use them when needed, I instantly feel better. Those negative thoughts get put back in Pandora’s Box for just a little while.

My issue with security is two-fold – I want to make sure the house is safe and secure when I go to sleep at night (doors & windows locked) and the safety & well-being of my family.

Before I got to bed each night I have my set routine of going through the house and making sure all the doors and windows are locked securely. I like to be the last to bed, even when I stay at my family’s house. If, for whatever reason, I do the checking out of order or I get disturbed, it’s harder for me to just go to sleep without checking again. I can lie in bed fighting the urge to go and check because I know I’ve already done it. But then I give way, because however tired I am, I know my brain won’t let me go to sleep with that question ‘what if’ going round in my mind.

Even if I know the doors are all locked, I have a secondary thing that can kick in when I really want to be cruel to myself. I imagine / interpret regular house noises as someone trying to get in, or putting something through the letter box. This started off one Halloween a few years ago when we had some troublesome trick or treaters throwing eggs and putting hosepipes through people’s doors and turning them on. This means that even if I know everything is secure I have to go and investigate what the noises are.

When I’ve been really bad I’ve been up 15-20 times in 1hour and have given up and sat on the sofa rather than keep going upstairs to bed only to come back down minutes later . For some reason, just being downstairs helped.

My other issue – the safety & well being of my family again comes in a couple of forms. If I’m staying in a house with my family I do the ‘what’s that noise?’ party trick again and even though I know it was the something simple like the heating going off, my mind takes off and imagines that it was someone calling out for help, or knocking something over to try and get attention. Again, even if I know what the noise was really, the ‘what if’ looms it’s head and I wonder if I’m having a bit of a psychic moment – the kind often found with families, the ‘I was just going to call you’ moments.

When I’m away from my family I don’t phone them all the time to make sure they’re okay, but it does play on my mind and I do feel responsible for them, so I do check in with them a couple of times a day through a text or email. The thoughts that ‘if you don’t do this, something bad will happen to your family’ have subsided in recent years for which I am thankful. I do find myself having to consciously stop negative thoughts such as this by allowing them into my head but putting relevant negative words in there to counter act them.

So, these are the main manifestations. 90% of the time they are low level and as long as I’m allowed to perform the checks and cleaning as I want I can manage my life quite happily. I was diagnosed 10years ago now, and I think I live a normal life. 10% of the time it’s harder, particularly if I’m under stress of any kind, or especially tired. I’m on medication and my family know about the condition and are very supportive. None of my friends know at all. This is the first time I’ve really put all these thoughts out there since the time I went to the doctors to get my official diagnosis (I already knew what it was from my degree).

It was scary going to the doctors and it’s scary writing this blog. For most people all the above sounds silly and pointless. To me they all make perfect, logical & scientific sense. I hope as this blog progresses, those of you who don’t live with OCD, realise the torment that we can go through and that we don’t want to be like this. I long for the days when I used to pick up a library book and not worry about who has touched it before and what those stains are (it was save me a lot of money too!)

Although it was scary talking to the doctor, I’m so glad I did it. I felt an enormous sense of relief and this has been carthatic too. I do recommend if you have OCD to confide in someone – even if it’s just your GP.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ve got a little insight into what it can be like in my mind.

Who I am

Welcome to my new blog – thank you for stopping by. Firstly, introductions.

I’m ‘The Girl with the Hat’ – a name partly inspired by my love for hats and partly by one of my favourite books ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’. I’m in my early 30s, I’m single and have a loving family around me. I work in an office and have a housemate. The reason for creating this blog, is because I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s not my entire personality, it’s a part of it. Just like the fact I love baking and watching football is also a part of that. However, it’s a part of who I am that doesn’t get shared very often. Another reason for the pseudonym.

Mental Health carries a stigma. It shouldn’t, it’s the 21st Century now and we have a much better understanding of mental health issues, their probable causes and how to tackle them, but the stigma remains. People still do not realise that a ‘mental illness’ is just that – an illness. Just like asthma, diabetes, a broken leg. For those who believe the bio-medical explanations (and for most part I do, I certainly believe it’s a contributing factor) – something in me doesn’t work quite the way it should. My brain has trouble filtering out irrelevant information, worries, concerns and these then come out in my obsessions and compulsions.

So what is OCD?

To the layman OCD is just someone being anal over cleanliness, tidyness, locking doors or checking the gas is off. (For anyone who suffers from OCD, if you want to take a pause and go and do any of these things, please do).

But it is so much more than that. It is an Anxiety Disorder that can be physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting. I have often laid in bed desperately trying to resist the urge to go and check the doors that I’ve already checked several times and know for well they are locked. I have so often been so frustrated with myself that I’ve cried.

I don’t like being this way, but I’ve learnt to accept this is who I am. I have good periods and bad periods – often linked to stress and tiredness. I have trouble getting to sleep as it is, but when it’s bad this worsens, I get less sleep, more tired and then my mind is weaker to fend off those intruding thoughts and delightfully relieving compulsions. The thoughts and compulsions then make it harder to sleep and I get stressed about them and not sleeping – so it’s a vicious cycle. Then, often without warning, the phase will be over just as quickly as it came and I’ll be back to ‘normal’.

I’ve created this post so that I can share with anyone who cares to listen, what it’s like living with OCD. There are lots of blogs out there covering mental health issues, but I haven’t found many on my illness. Maybe that’s because I haven’t looked too hard. I often find that if I discover what someone else is worried about, I’ll start worrying about it too. So, I completely understand if fellow OCD sufferers steer clear. Whoever you are reading this, be you a fellow OCD / mental health sufferer, know someone who is, or just plain curious, I hope this will help you understand, at least in part, what it’s like to live in my head sometimes.