It’s one of those things we say on Facebook, Twitter, to friends…
We smile to ourselves and laugh at the pernickety-ness of friends. We share a funny post inviting us to complete an ‘OCD quiz’.
It’s a bit like when we say “yes, I’m a bit of a perfectionist…”
We vaguely know there is something unhealthy there, but nevertheless we make light of it.
My own encounter with OCD was short (thank God) and dreadfully, agonisingly painful.
I was at secondary school. I don’t know how it crept in but under cover of darkness, it did. The darkness was my own deep unhappiness. I really only remember it from the point that I knew it controlled me. In a pottery lesson the urge to count to the right number was stronger than listening to the teacher, doing my work, talking to a friend or anything else. I knew – not thought – knew – that if I didn’t count, something dreadful would happen. It had control of my mind, my lips, my attention, my blood pressure, my breathing… It owned me.
I didn’t know the name of this thing that had me, but I knew it was a thing. I’d heard about it somewhere and somehow. The shame of having this thing controlling me was immense and dreadful. I had to stop it before someone found out.
I can remember a science lesson – counting accompanied by tapping – to the right number. And it had to be a secret. No one could see. To not complete the count was hell. I don’t mean just uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing but cripplingly painful to the point of utter panic, I was screaming voicelessly inside.
This is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – OCD. At least, this was mine. Like a deep well of burning hot tar it seeks to suck you down into its depths, burning and scalding you in the process til there is no more you.
If OCD is a tree, the soil that it is rooted in is utter terror. It lives and breathes through fear.
I made a decision to break it and it was a lonely journey. I think I was at the early stages so it was possible. The shame kept it my secret and meant I had to travel alone. I started cutting it back – tentative attempts to not complete the count and the tapping. Over time the grip it had on me loosened and I began to feel relieved that no one would ever know.
That was maybe 30 years ago.
Now I know that OCD wasn’t and isn’t a failure of mine, a weakness, a strangeness. It’s a very real mental health problem.
When someone says “I’m a bit OCD” though, it still smarts. I know the darkness that it really is.
Oh, and by the way, I also know it isn’t a life sentence.