This is my first guest post and my first guest is Jazz talking about the reality of OCD!
Hi! My name is Jazz from anotherbipolarblogger.wordpress.com, where I write about all things mental health - and I was diagnosed with OCD this year.
Right now, three-quarters of a million, around 741,504, people are thought to be living with life-impacting obsessive-compulsive disorder. I am one of them. But, not only does it affect all of us, it also has a huge impact upon our friends and family too.
Receiving a diagnosis is based on the severity in which it affects your life. I was told for years by mental health professionals that I had “traits of OCD”, but it was only when these had begun to affect my everyday life… the amount of social events I’d go to, how often I spoke to my friends and family, my university work, how often I left the house, most importantly the amount of sleep I was getting… did I officially get diagnosed. One thing that I have learned through being diagnosed, is that this illness is extremely misunderstood. OCD, to me, is attached to a stigma and it is affected by gross misunderstanding – which makes it difficult to discuss and gain access to resources. So, let’s talk about what it’s really like…
So that we’re all on the same page… obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder which is characterised by experiencing unwanted and unpleasant thoughts, images, urges, fears, beliefs – which enter your mind making you feel anxious, disgusted or unease. These are known as obsessions. To make these temporarily better, compulsive behaviours(compulsions) are carried out – like repeatedly checking or repeating actions, thoughts or behaviours. Eventually, you start to associate one with the other, and it becomes ritualistic. Another common trait is experiencing intrusive thoughts – repetitive and unwanted thoughts creating anxiety and fear – these usually have a dark nature. OCD to me, is constantly seeking reassurance; mainly by repeating the same questions. It often can comorbidly (alongside/ in addition to) exist with other psychiatric disorders, like depression and mood disorders.
Speaking from my own experience, it can be extremely distressing. It interferes with EVERY aspect of your life, it leaves no stone unturned in trying to ruin your life, or at least make you think that it is. But, finding the right treatment can help to keep things under control. I personally found the right balance within talking and taking an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) called Fluoxetine. This disorder can become all-consuming, even disabling sometimes. Some days, I have done little else but spent time fixated upon my obsessions and trying to make myself feel better. That’s when I learnt that some days its okay if all you did was survive.
I very rarely tell anyone flat out that I have been diagnosed with OCD, not because there is anything to be embarrassed by, but rather there are so many misconceptions which exist – I assume people won’t understand what it truly means. People can often think that it means washing your hands a lot, or that you like things to be neat and tidy. Whilst there is some truth in these, it is so much more than that. Often the manifestation of OCD is not obvious, you might not even notice. They can be simple, like having to check things repeatedly, the inability to break a routine, constantly completing tasks one after the other to avoid having to stop, feeling like you’re going a billion miles an hour (I once made all of my flatmates a cup of tea, drank mine, took their glasses away, washed them all up within the space of 10 minutes – I felt like it had been forever, everyone stared at me like I was mad), hoarding, counting in patterns, being anxious when things aren’t in order or not facing the right way, rough or torn skin from washing or picking at it, having the shakes, not wanting to touch certain things or people…
It can disrupt your life – having to repeat so many compulsions can consume your time. Avoiding certain situations which trigger you, can too. It can be hard to concentrate. The worst thing for me, is that I am constantly, constantly, constantly thinking about EVERYTHING – and every consequence which goes along with that too. It’s exhausting. Even when I sleep, I don’t feel like I’m resting because I will just have to get up the next day and obsess.Most nights my dreams are about my worries too. I think about my own life, everyone I knows, even people I don’t know. You name it, I think about it – a lot. Therefore, people still do not feel comfortable talking about their experiences – meaning that fuller understandings and acceptance cannot be achieved. In fact, most of my family members do not know that I have been diagnosed, because they refuse to talk about it.
Some days, my head doesn’t feel so loud, and things are manageable. I feel like a completely different person to the one I was the day before. Other days, they are impossible to live with. I have learned now, that stress makes things worse – like I cannot see things clearly. It can make you feel isolated – and it can make it hard to be around other people. If things seem easier when you’re alone, you end up spending more of your time that way, and that’s not healthy. It can seriously impact upon your relationships – doubts and anxieties can put a strain on any relationship or friendship. When we ask for help, we don’t ask lightly. For every time I have asked someone for help, there are a hundred times I have stopped myself. It feels like you have two brains, a rational one and an irrational one – and they’re constantly fighting. We know that our thoughts are often irrational, but we’re not sure how to stop.
Having OCD doesn’t make me a bad person. It doesn’t make me less of a person either. Just because you cannot see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. It is not fun. It is not strange. It is not stupid. It is real. Just because our tools to manage our symptoms may be working, doesn’t mean that we have it all figured out. Medication can help the management for some individuals, but they are not supposed to be a magic cure. People can still struggle both on and off medication.
Just because you think that you might have OCD, it doesn’t mean that you do. It is such an overused line. Go to the doctors, speak to your mental health professional, don’t just tell me. I would love to talk to you and help, if you’re asking the people who can really help too. Please educate yourself on the symptoms and the diagnostic process. Being OCD isn’t an adjective.
You can refer yourself directly to a talking therapy, speak to your GP, or make an appointment with your mental health professional. People are often so reluctant to seek help because they are ashamed or embarrassed – but it is a health condition, like any other. It is not your fault that you have it. It is unlikely to get better without proper treatment and support.
So, you’re wondering how you can help your loved one?
It can be hard, really hard, knowing how to support someone you care about. You might even struggle to understand their experiences if they do talk. But honestly, your support and understanding, whatever you can offer, will really make a big difference. The best thing you can offer, is to acknowledge and encourage them to share their experiences. Help them to vocalise. A problem shared is a problem halved after all. Be patient – their fears are real to them, even if they seem silly to you. Try not to judge – make it clear that you love and support them, regardless.
My not-so-top-tips to coping with OCD…
1. Achieving a diagnosis from a psychiatrist is an important first step.
2. Educate yourself on the disorder. Learn as much as you can. This is a part of your life, knowledge is power.
3. Gain self-acceptance of this illness. It is a disorder, not a decision.
4. Adapt your lifestyle to control and manage your symptoms, against the obsessions – not in the aid of them.
5. Be active in your treatment. This is your life after all, don’t take a back seat in the decisions made for you.
6. You’re still you, even with an OCD diagnosis.
7. If you feel better, it doesn’t mean you can stop your medication. Almost all patients need maintenance treatment to prevent relapses, just like diabetics and heart disease patients. People can often misunderstand the reduction of symptoms as an improvement in the condition. If the tablets are improving and stabilising thoughts, they are doing their job. It shows you needed them, keep with it!
8. Talking therapies do work – cognitive behavioural therapy has shown to be as effective as medications. Sometimes it just helps to share. You are not whining. It is a powerful tool, just like other treatment options for other diseases. Most of what I know about my disorder and how to manage it came from therapy, I used it to collect my own tools to take care of myself. It is an ongoing process of wanting to be stable that keeps you there.