Taking the first steps

Tonight will be my 4th night of cutting back on the bedtime routines. I’m pleased to report that things are going well so far. In fact I’m almost ready to cut it down a bit further already. It’s really only a tiny thing to be cutting down on, but it has been quite satisfying none the less. If I can keep this up then I could be free of my bedtime routine by Easter – much earlier than I thought!

Yes, I acknowedge that I picked an easy target for my first ‘experiment’ but it certainly gives me hope that I will be able to tackle the other issues I face. I know that the routines and rituals are going to be easier to cope with than my contamination fears but I think with the confidence I’ll get from overcoming these first few hurdles, I’ll be in a stronger place to fight those things further down the line.

The only difficulty I’ve found so far, is remembering not to do the things that have been routine for so long!

The weekend also saw me take another massive step. As regular readers of my blog will know I’m moving out of the shared house I’ve lived in for a year with a friend mainly because of my OCD. They will also know that I’ve never spoken of my OCD to anyone outside my immediate family and medical professionals. I came to realise at the end of last week, that although I gave my friend 2 valid and genuine reasons for my leaving,  this wasn’t enough.

Though I tried to tell her a couple of times in person, things didn’t go according to plan and things get left up in the air on Friday night with her worrying what was wrong. So, I wrote a short note explaining I have OCD and how I wanted to get a better grip on it this year. I didn’t go into too many details so as not to complicate matters but the few lines still took a couple of hours to write. Surprisingly the email made me cry – a lot. I don’t know why, but it did. I then had an awfully anxious wait to see if she would say anything in return. I had asked her in the email not to tell anyone but to keep it secret but I had no guarantees she would. I was extremely nervous and didn’t sleep well that night.

I got a message back the next morning. She thanked me for telling her, promised never to tell a soul and reassured me I could trust her. She said she wished she had known earlier so she could have helped me. Today we were back at work together and it wasn’t mentioned and she didn’t treat me any differently at all – it’s almost as if it never happened.

It is quite surreal to be honest, to know that out there there’s someone who is not family, that knows my big secret. Although we haven’t spoken about it (the opportunity hasn’t arisen), I think I could talk to her about it if something was particularly troubling me, and it will be easier to explain some of the things I do.

It’s taken me over 10years to find the courage to tell a friend and I don’t yet know the full consequences, but it has made me feel better. We need to start ending the stigma surrounding OCD and other mental health issues now. It has gone on too long. Everyone who has a mental health condition has the power to do this – even if it is just one person at a time.


Diagnosis. Is it a blessing or a curse?

For many, getting a diagnosis may just be regarded as being given a label, assigning them to a particular group, assigning them to be viewed as ‘mentally ill’. Others find it reassuring, that they have a recognised medical condition, one that they can find specific help for.

Some people are scared of going to their doctor, admitting their symptoms and getting that diagnosis. Mental health is misunderstood by the public in general and there are so many stereotypes and misconceptions that even a diagnosis won’t help anyone understand the condition any better. People fear that the diagnosis will become known and they will be viewed in the light of those misconceptions. There are so many labels out there these days and people are all grouped together as the same. For anyone with a mental health problem, you know that each case is different. It can be dangerous for everyone with ‘depression’, ‘OCD,’ ‘anorexia’, ‘anxiety’, ‘bipolar’ to be treated in the same way, so people recoil from being given that name. Most of the time when mental health is covered in the news it’s often because someone has committed some terrible crime. It’s hardly encouraging then to want to be given the same diagnosis.

There are others for whom a diagnosis comes as a relief. They finally have a name to their problems, that it is something that is recognised, something other people go through too. With a diagnosis there is also the hope that the problem can be helped. Not all mental health conditions can be cured, but a lot can be managed. A diagnosis means an individual can research their condition, find out all the possible things that might help and start finding out which is best for them. They can find other people with the same diagnosis, compare notes, use them as examples to try and explain to others what it is they struggle with. Doctors may offer medication or therapy. A diagnosis doesn’t always mean the right therapy, or there might be long waits. Mental health is seriously underfunded and there isn’t enough of the right help out there. But there is more hope the right treatment will come once diagnosed.

For me, I certainly found my diagnosis a relief. I knew already, before going to the doctors, what it was – but to hear a medical professional confirm it for me was a huge reassurance. I was able to have medication, I was able to get relief. I wasn’t alone and it wasn’t my fault. I’m well aware that every other person’s OCD is different from mine, but there are also great similarities and, although I don’t wish OCD on anyone, I find it comforting that I’m not alone. I’ve researched my condition further over the years and am finally really beginning to understand it. With this understanding comes the weapons for me to fight the battle.

I do understand people’s fears about getting a diagnosis, but in my experience it has only helped. There’s no need to tell anyone if you’re not ready, but I found strength in knowing. I would be most interested to hear what you think – are you scared of getting diagnosed? Have you got a diagnosis and did you find it helpful?

Battling OCD on all fronts

At the moment, my OCD isn’t too bad – or so I thought. I’m not particulary stressed at the moment and that’s normally a sign my OCD is going to escalate. However, yesterday I noticed that my hands are getting red and sore – a sure indicator that I’ve been washing my hands too often, so I stepped back and thought about my recent behaviour.

By doing this I realised that for at least some of the time, I carry out my rituals and compulsions subconsciously. They have become such an automatic response that I don’t even realise I’m doing them! That’s what it’s been like for the past week or two and why I’ve got red hands.

When I step back even further, I see myself snapping at people for doing things like walking in the ‘wrong’ place in my bedroom. Thinking about it, I wouldn’t normally have a problem with this, but with Christmas coming up, I like to do all my wrapping on the floor in my room – and I don’t want to sit where someone has walked. Obviously this doesn’t trouble anyone else, so they shouldn’t be expected to realise it, but I do get short tempered with them which later annoys me as I shouldn’t expect them to be mind readers. It’s been worse than usual at the moment because our very old cat is not really very well and has taken refuge under my bed, so my parents keep coming to look at her. I’ve just had a set to with my Dad who came in and walked in the exact place I’d just told my Mum I didn’t want anyone standing. I said ‘please can you not stand there, can you just move over?’ he asked ‘why?’ – but didn’t move. As he knows I have a problem, I was annoyed that he didn’t move first and then ask the question, by standing there longer, it just made me worse. I know the best thing for me is to confront the problem in my head, but sometimes it’s just too difficult.

I should remember back to the time when I used to walk round the house in outdoor shoes and lie on the floor and never got sick, but it’s very difficult. My mind just says ‘that was then, this is now. There are more dangers now then there were’ – which I know isn’t true!

I really thought I was fairly in control at the moment. I was aware I had begun to get up at night more often to check on the noises that worry me, so I’ve not been getting to sleep much before 2am which I know is dangerous for me – a tired mind is less able to combat my OCD. But whilst I was consiously fighting off these compulsions, the others were sneaking in the back door like a distraction burglar. It made me reaslise I have to be aware of all my OCD tendencies at the same time and fight them off from multiple fronts.

I was wondering – does this happen to anyone else? Think you have a grasp on one part of your OCD only to find another has hit you without you realising? It would be great to hear.


Sick Days

I have OCD. I’ve had it for 10years this summer. For me it’s very much like a rollercoaster. Sometimes, it’s at a nice low level, so although I have to still do all my rituals, it’s manageable – particularly in my head. However, there are times when it spirals out of control. Most of the time there’s a specific trigger for this, but there are times when there isn’t and I put it down to stress or overtiredness. There are times when I’ve been up pretty much all night fretting, trying to fight off the compulsions, but inevitably dragging myself out of bed to perform them. I wake in the morning to go to work and I’m just so mentally and physically exhausted that I can’t face it. But to this day, I’ve never had a day off sick because of my OCD.
In a way I’m proud of this (and know I’m lucky), that I won’t let it beat me but in a way I wish I could just have the odd day off just to regroup. I know a lot of people at work take time off when they’re feeling under the weather – be it because they’ve eaten something or because they have a bit of a cold, or even a migraine. That’s perfectly accepted by them and by others. No one other than immediate family, a couple of medical practitioners and the occupational health advisor at work know about my OCD and at the moment it’s going to stay that way. It shouldn’t, but it does take bravery to open up about a mental health problem, and I’m just not there yet. Therefore I would end up lying about why I’ve been ill and that’s not going to work. I sit next to my housemate at work so she would know instantly whether or not I’d been coughing all night or throwing up. I’m not that good an actor that I can pull that sort of thing off just to take a day off to help me catch my breath during a particularly bad phase.
That’s why I think it’s so important to have days like World Mental Health Day, where mental health can come to the front for a bit and be spoken about. Education is the most important part of dealing with it. How mental health conditions are not someone’s choice, any more than it would be for them to choose to have epilepsy or asthma. How it can turn someone’s life upside down. My life would be so much easier if I could choose not to have OCD. I would be able to go out with friends without constantly checking the cutlery at dinner or the glasses in the pub. I would be able to sit on a train without my anxiety levels soaring. I would be able to go to the park and sit on the grass and I might even be able to walk about bare foot again. I wouldn’t be up half the night worrying about whether I’ve checked doors and windows and whether my family are okay. I wouldn’t dread going to bed because of the thoughts that will wash over me and I wouldn’t hate going on a holiday. If I could choose not to have had OCD and all these worries about ‘what’s out there to get me’ then I would. Now I’ve had those thoughts though, I know the ‘dangers’ and I can never go back. OCD is all about the ‘what ifs’ and they play in my mind like a broken record. All I can hope is that I can manage my OCD through relaxation, meditation, distraction and medication. I’m much more aware of it now and that it is the OCD causing me a problem and that I can fight it. Social media has helped me learn I’m not alone and together we can fight this. If you’ve got OCD I urge you to talk about it with someone who understands – even if, like me, you do it anonymously. It really does help.

World Mental Health Day

It’s odd looking round the office this morning – everyone’s acting ‘normally’, however with the statistics and the numbers in the office, it’s more than likely that someone (other than me) has a mental health problem &/or has a relative with one too. Yet, there is no sign or mention of World Mental Health Day – or even any mental health issues at all. Anyone out there with a condition is keeping it tightly to themselves (like me). I don’t expect people to be running around shouting ‘I have OCD, I have Depression, I have GAD’ or anything, but I certainly know all about it if they’ve got a cold.

That’s why days such as this are so important. Too long has mental health been misunderstood, feared and swept into the shadows. It needs a voice and organisations such as Mind UK and Time to Change are campaigning to get this voice, but it’s a slow process. People need to be educated about mental health conditions – either because they’re going to run into someone with one, a friend, relative, employer/employee or they’re going to be one of the ¼ and suffer from one themselves. What we need to do it to make mental health conditions acceptable, so that people aren’t scared or embarrassed about going to the doctor for help; that they see it just as they would see going to a doctor for a chest infection or sprained ankle.

It’s the 21st Century yet the preconceptions surrounding mental illness – that Depression is just being a bit blue, that OCD is being a little bit tidy – are still common place.

Therefore I urge everyone who can, to speak out, to share their story, to educate. You don’t need to do this face to face, it can be anonymous if you like. Although I know I should speak out to my close friends and my manager, particularly so I get help when times are tough, but I just can’t do it yet. Their understanding of mental health is shockingly poor (even for the one who did Psychology 20years ago), despite me trying to explain things when they come up in conversation. That’s why I started this blog – so I can share and educate both those with OCD and those without.

I hope you can find the strength too and take that step.

This week’s battle with & tiny victory over OCD

I realise I’ve neglected Twitter and my blog over the past week or so. Part of this has been because I’ve had family staying but the bulk of it is to do with my OCD.

Last Thursday I went to the dentist and was told I needed one of my wisdom teeth out. This was a big blow – not because I particularly need it, but because of the repercussions. I had to have 2 wisdom teeth out at hospital once and it was not a very nice experience at all and there was a threat of having to go in again. This sent my anxiety levels soaring. I also have a major issue with sterile conditions – ie I have major doubts. Even going to the dentist had stressed me out so much that I had already increased my medication to prepare for the onslaught of bad thoughts & obsessions.

Having the family over generally helped – they kept me distracted most of the time. Saturday wasn’t brilliant – everything the kids did added to my spiral as I mentioned in my last post. My pills make me more sleepy so I was trying to make sure I went to bed on time (ie by 12.30) and I was having a few lie ins. I know everyone else was thinking I was being lazy but I didn’t care – I knew I needed that sleep.

Tuesday and the day of the dentist came. I’d never been to this dentist before. In fact I hadn’t been to Thursday’s dentist before either, but his wife who has left to have a baby. But my Mum goes to him and is a nervous wreck at dentists and rates him highly. I don’t hate dentists as such. In fact as a child I loved going and never minded if I needed treatment or even extractions. It was the experience in the hospital and my OCD worries about cleanliness that have made me hate going so much. I admit I was better than usual. I didn’t shake in the chair as much as I was expecting and was told that was likely to be the adrenalin in the anaesthetic. I was comforted by the fact I could hear packets being opened before tools were used. I’m always in a quandry do I try and ignore things in the belief ignorance is bliss, or do I try and see everything to remove as much doubt as possible?

But with OCD there is always doubt. And there is this time. I carried on taking my full dose of medication rather than the half dose that I’m normally on. My pills help me stop thinking. I think that’s the point – they stop the bad thoughts and generally the limited time I’ve been on the full dose has helped. However, the amount of thinking space that’s been taken up by trying to not think about the bad things, plus the amount that has been quietened by my OCD medications, plus the strong painkillers I’m on because of my tooth – hasn’t left much space for much else! That’s why I’ve been so quiet. I haven’t had room in my brain to think about good blog subjects or to keep up on Twitter.

I’ve now reduced my medication again and although there is always a few days lag time (depending on how long I’ve been on full dose for) I feel like I’m waking up again. So, hopefully I should be a little bit more present in the weeks coming.

I don’t know whether it was because of the increase in OCD medication or just trying to copy what my friends do and be more relaxed in the house I share with my friend, but yesterday we had a group of friends over. It was a happy occasion – celebrating one of my friends going off on maternity leave. Unlike the last time we had a party at the house I didn’t freak out this time. It may have been that it was more confined and there was less of them – plus I knew everyone there, but I coped so much better. I didn’t mind they were sitting on the part of the sofa I normally sit on, I didn’t mind they had their handbags on the chairs, I didn’t mind them having their shoes on and I didn’t mind eating the crisps from the bowls the packets had been in. The only time I really had a ‘moment’ was when a friend put one of my cookbooks on the floor. As I’m loaning it out to my housemate I’m sure similar things will happen again and again, but as long as I don’t see it, it doesn’t bother me so much. It was only a small victory but a victory none the less. The week that started with quite major OCD issues ended up with me having a small triumph over it!

Keeping it from the kids

I’ve had a week off work as holiday. It’s been marvellous – lots of Olympics and a few lie ins. We’ve had family staying too. My sister and her 3 boys. They’re great kids really and my sister has some similar ‘rules’ that I do. ie the children have to take their shoes off when they come into the house and wash their hands.

However, the boys, being boys & children, don’t always do what they’re told. They forget to wash their hands, they crawl all over the floor where their shoes have been – they set off my OCD. When we’re out they’re often picking up things I wouldn’t, again they touch floors in shops, collect random things from paths in woods, lie all over various things we come across on day trips – be it chairs, tables, shop displays, country house furniture. All the time red alert lights are flashing in my mind as I desperately resist the urge to shout at them not to do it. Sometimes I can’t help it. Sometimes it’s more valid than others – there are some things they shouldn’t touch when we’re out, but not for the reasons my mind is screaming. So, somethings I can get away with. But I can’t get away with everything. This means my stress levels sore & I don’t cope with my OCD very well when I’m stressed – it’s a negative spiral.

Being 6, 6 & 10 the boys don’t understand about OCD. They know there are a few things ‘Aunty’ doesn’t like, but although educating youngsters about mental health is important, I don’t want to force too much onto their brains just yet. The oldest in particular is already showing some signs of obsessive behaviour – he likes to wash his hands a lot – so I don’t want to make things worse. I’m hoping this is just a phase and he’ll grow out of it. He doesn’t seem to be exhibiting any of the instrusive or bad thoughts yet so I don’t want to give him ideas.

One of them is currently counting coins on the floor. I hate handling all kinds of money – I just see it as covered in germs. It is stressing me out considerably. Most of the coins probably haven’t been out of the house for several weeks but that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t help much that he’s counting it in amongst the shoes – one of my other real hates.

The only way I can really handle things is to take myself out of the situation completely. I feel quite antisocial sometimes, or like I’m sherking my responsibility of looking after the kids – but at times it’s that or me shouting at the kids over something no one else has an issue about, or having a complete meltdown myself. At the moment I’m already struggling a little bit, and have decided to up by medication slightly for a few days – because I’ve got to have a tooth out at the dentists in a few days (I’m highly worried and anxious over the cleanliness of the instruments) – so I’m trying to get back onto an even keel. Sadly the boys right now aren’t helping. I have taken myself off to my own room and am trying to distract and calm myself.

It’s so difficult trying not to display too many OCD behaviours in front of children. We don’t know if it’s genetic or learned or even a combination. Whichever it is, I think they’re a bit young to be exposed to it at the moment, I don’t want them picking up by bad behaviour (and they do copy me quite a bit) and it’s not their fault they’re doing things I don’t like. There’s nothing wrong with most of what they do, and if there is, they get into trouble. I hate losing my temper with them because of the OCD but I do find myself doing that from time to time.

Have you had a similar situation when you’ve tried to keep your OCD (or other mental health issue) from young children? How have you coped?

Results – Mental Health in Families Poll

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about my interest in the nature vs nuture debate in mental health issues and I set up a very unscientific poll to try and do a spot test to see if people on Twitter and in the blog world, had relatives with mental health issues. The results are now in:

Almost 75% of those who responded who have a mental health condition also have at least 1 other member of their family with a mental health condition. In face 60% of them have more than 1 relative with an issue.

This does seem to suggest there is some family link and this could, of course, be genetic. However, it is also possible to be learned behaviour so I asked the second question – ‘is the mental health condition the same or different as yours?’

The results for this question were much more even:

33% = same as theirs

37% = had members of the family with both the same and different conditions

30% = different condition

This suggests to me that whilst some mental health condition behaviours can and might be learned, that this is not always the case. With one-third of people having a relative with a different mental health condition you could ask how is their condition learned? However, you can also ask where did the genes come from? With mental health being so little talked about, I do wonder if we know all there is to know about mental health in our own families.

I’m a firm believer that you can’t take either nature or nurture on their own. I do believe there is an important mixture that plays a part. However I will leave you with this puzzler:

I know a family that had identical twin boys. They had exactly the same genes and exactly the same upbringing. In their 20s one was diagnosed with schizophrenia and 20 years later committed suicide, whereas the other brother never had any form of mental health issue. It would seem here there is no nature or nuture involved. Perhaps just an anomaly? What do you think?

My Week with OCD

This past week has been rather full of OCD so I thought I’d do a review – there’s been some highs and lows.

My recent post “When Conditions Collide” explained that last weekend I had a few run ins with one of my greatest fears. I have to say this set my basic anxiety levels soaring. I jumped everytime I saw a shadow or a hair brushed my skin. That didn’t bode well for my OCD. Monday passed off without too much of a hassle – just the usual, but Tuesday was a roller coaster.

First of all there was great excitement and pride when my blog post ‘The Loneliness of OCD” was published by Mind. I’ve got my own blog of course, but this was an opportunity to reach more people. I was delighted that people read it, retweeted it and I was over the moon when it was mentioned by @SocietyGuardian and on the Guardian website. So the daytime was full of highs. It changed when I got home. I arrived back to the house without my housemate to discover a swarm of fruit flies in the kitchen. It was horrific. Probably more so because of my OCD (my housemate took it in her stride when she came home). It set me off. It took me 5 times to boil a kettle of water because when I poured it out I thought it looked discoloured – even though it was fine when I put it in. Eventually I got my sweetcorn bubbling away and then opened a can of potatoes and popped them in too. Then I noticed something sticky on the can. Logically I knew that this had just come off the tin opener because it had the same substance on and I had had difficulty opening the tin. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go through with eating the potatoes – or now the sweetcorn which was in the same pan. I think if I hadn’t had the issues with the flies, and my anxiety levels hadn’t been so high to start with, I could have accepted this and eaten my food. But I couldn’t. It went in the bin. I was so frustrated with myself because my logical side was telling me it was fine. I didn’t give up completely – I still needed my dinner. I cooked pasta instead and only needed 2 kettles of water this time.

By the time I had finished my dinner I was exhausted and ready for bed – but I had to stay up late for the Channel 4’s programme ‘A Little Bit of OCD’ and I was desperate to see it. I wasn’t disappointed – you can read my full review here. Wednesday came and I had been asked by Mind to do a review of the show, which I did and another wave of pride washed over me when this too was published. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen to me. I didn’t want to go back to the house that night. What if I had another meltdown? What if I struggled to cook dinner again? What if the flies were still there? My housemate was away for the night. In a way this was good – I would be able to boil as many kettles as I wanted without her wondering why – but sometimes this observation helps – it forces me to get on with things. I wanted to scarper somewhere safe. But I was determined not to and through the help of my Twitter support group I made it back to the house. It wasn’t easy but I’m so glad I did it. Thank you guys. Dinner was much easier that night which also helped.

Thursday was generally fine, nothing too major to deal with – no additional meltdowns. It was nice to have this relief. The day was made even better as I read some lovely comments about my blog and review. I was so glad to have resonated with others. As my blog for Mind said – I find OCD rather lonely. I also got a lovely comment from the mother of John – the teenager featured in ‘A Little Bit OCD’, who said I’d inspired her to write her own blog from a parents’ perspective. This was one of the nicest things that happened this week. I was rather touched and thrilled that my blog had had an effect on someone – that’s one of the reasons I started it – to encourage others to talk about it.

Then Friday I was faced with one of my triggers. My boss had to update me on some sensitive issues at work and decided that as it was a nice day we would go outside onto the front lawns. There are 2 benches out there and as she’s pregnant I thought she’d opt for one of these because of getting back up again. But she opted for sitting in the shade – on the lawn. There was no way out. I couldn’t go back in and get my rug that I sit on at lunchtimes, and this was not the time or place to explain why I had an issue. I had to sit on the lawn. We chose an area that isn’t walked on that much which I tried to reassure myself with. I tried to go with it and not to panic. Following other people’s examples sometimes helps – she was sitting on the lawn, most of my friends sit on the lawn rather than rugs and most of them even touch the bottom of their shoes which is an absolute no no for me. I managed to get through it knowing that my long skirt had already touched stairs despite trying to keep it off them, and I knew that when I got home I would be able to put the skirt in the wash and change my clothes. I’m very proud of myself for overcoming this. It doesn’t mean that I’ll do it on a regular basis – I will still opt to sit on a rug, but I didn’t have a meltdown.

So this week has been exhausting with some great highs and some lows. I faced some fears and came out the otherside. A couple of battles against my OCD have been won, but the war rages on. Let’s see what next week holds.

Jon Richardson’s “A Little Bit OCD” – Review

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.