Ever since I heard about Channel 4’s “4 Goes Mad” season, there was one show I was particularly looking forward to watching – Jon Richardson’s ‘A Little Bit OCD’. If I’m honest I was a little cynical about it. Whenever I’ve seen OCD tackled on TV before, it’s usually been about extreme tidiness and for all of us with OCD, we know that there is so much more to it than that. Despite my cynicism I had high hopes. I’ve recently learnt about Jon Richardson’s own issues and thought that he would at least go into the making of the show with an open mind and perhaps an understanding of how compelling some of the behaviours are.
Even after a goodnight’s sleep, the programme is really all I can think about and my mind is still buzzing with it. It’s definitely going to require watching again.
The show saw Jon talk honestly and openly about his own compulsive behaviours that began when he was at university. He told how, some nights he would be so distressed that he would go and sleep in his car rather than face what his flatmates and done. Although I’ve never done precisely that, it still struck a chord. I have been known to give up entirely on a situation and done something else instead because it’s too hard. In the end his behaviours made him so unhappy he dropped out and moved into a house on his own where he could live exactly how he liked. The viewers weren’t shown into his bedroom because it’s the only part of the world that he can truly control and have just the way he likes it. I know this resonated with a lot of the audience as it is a tell-tale sign of OCD. There are times that I wish I lived alone because then I could do exactly what I want and no one would query my behaviours. But like Jon discovered, I know this isn’t a good idea. If I’m alone for long periods of time, my OCD can escalate as it’s too easy to give into it.
Refreshingly, the 3 other stories told did not shy away from the severity of OCD and how it can have a major disruptive effect on lives: John a teenager whose obsessions and compulsions can literally paralyse him (something I’m only too familiar with), Gemma’s fear of contamination which has almost ruined her relationship and left her housebound and Joyce who also lives with contamination OCD and who lost her son when he committed suicide because he could not live with his own OCD.
The show then went one step further and showed a hospital for people with acute OCD. Even though I’ve had OCD for 10years and studied Psychology, I didn’t even know about these places. I didn’t know that OCD could make someone incontinent either through fear of toilets or from their compulsions taking so much time. Even at a distance, I found the section involving the toilet seat very uncomfortable viewing and from what was being said on Twitter at the same time, I know I’m not alone. Exposure therapy does work, but as the psychiatrist eventually got round to saying, she wouldn’t start with that level. For me I found this a bit of a scare tactic. I know this is a therapy that works, but is not one I’m able to contemplate at the moment and this didn’t help. I found it both uncomfortable to watch Jon’s own anxiety and issue with being made to take part in this with no warning, but at the same time reassuring I’m not the only one who would have an issue with that.
The visit to the hospital proved that this condition really isn’t talked about enough, and that shows such as this do have a place on primetime TV. 10pm on Channel 4 is a good slot for a programme such as this – but I think a 9pm slot would have been better and reached more people.
The title of the show ‘A Little Bit OCD’, is something I’m sure everyone has heard in passing. Jon mentioned that it seems to be quite cool now to say things like ‘I’m a little bit OCD about my pens’ – just meaning someone likes their desk to be tidy and it’s true. It’s a phrase that is thrown around quite carelessly. I often hear it in the office – but it’s always to do with keeping things tidy, or colour coded. Most people don’t understand OCD comes hand in hand with severe anxiety and distress and is not something to be proud of.
I found the conversation Jon had with his mother to be of great interest. Having studied Psychology myself I have always been fascinated by the nature vs nurture debate for the causes of mental health. Here we learned that Jon’s mother had started to display contamination OCD shortly after his younger sister was born. We have no evidence whether it was her behaviour that Jon picked up on, or whether it’s in the genes – or perhaps both. I’m trying to do a bit of unscientific research in my poll about mental health in families. Again, this won’t prove whether it’s nature or nurture, but it does get the mind thinking.
Jon was given a 2 hour assessment to determine if he has OCD. This didn’t really give a good indication of the usual diagnosis for people. Very few have the luxury of an expert giving them a full assessment. For me, my diagnosis was 10minutes and for many it takes repeated trips to their GP before they finally get diagnosed. Due to his low levels of distress it was concluded that Jon does not have OCD despite having many of the traits. In fact, throughout the show he said that his compulsions make him happy which is very different from OCD. Yes, my compulsions relieve anxiety but I wouldn’t say they made me happy. At least this proved that it’s the distress that accompanies this disorder that is its defining trait. I do find it sad that he was scared of being diagnosed with OCD because he thought if he had it, it would get worse as he got older. That’s not always the case. I found being diagnosed a relief. It meant I knew what it was and that it was treatable, that I could learn to manage my life with it. I hope this doesn’t put people off seeking a diagnosis as it can really make a positive difference.
For me, Jon handled the subject with sensitivity, compassion and understanding. In many documentaries I’ve watched, the presenter repeats lines given to them in interviews with experts, passing them off as their own views, but this was not the case this time. Jon understood without being told that it’s not something someone can ‘snap out of’, that eating out in a café for some would be an impossibility, that OCD can be managed with medication and therapy and he handled the requests of John, Gemma and Joyce with warmth and tact. I find that people aren’t very understanding, that they think it’s something you can pull yourself together over. It gave me hope that a true understanding is possible.
I think the fact that he’s had similar thoughts and experiences himself helped and he had a real desire to know more. Rarely has a programme so close to my own heart been so moving. I almost cried at the end when he said his one wish for OCD sufferers were that they could get to a place where their behaviours made them happy, like his did for him. I have that wish too. I liked that he sees himself as having ‘Obsessive Compulsive Order’. Although I’m not a psychiatrist, from what Jon said I imagine if he’d gone for assessment whilst as university that the diagnosis would have been different. This does show that OCD can improve and from my own experiences I know it comes in waves – the good times and the bad. It’s what helps me get through the bad times.
I’m hoping that those who watched the show now have a better understanding of what OCD is really like and that it will help us stamp out the stigma attached to it. It was one of the best documentaries I’ve seen for years. Bravo Channel 4, Jon Richardson, John, Gemma and Joyce – thank you for helping to show there’s more to OCD than being tidy.