Have you ever thought, “I wonder what would happen if I jumped in front of that train?” or “I wonder what would happen if I made my dad crash this car?” I am sure you have, even if you don’t want to admit it, but you quickly realise how irrational that thought is, you know you would never do it and you let it go, carry on with your day. Not for people with OCD, we cannot get rid of the thoughts; we obsess over them, worried that we might jump in front of that train or that we might just make our dad crash the car. Even if we are not malicious or suicidal, those worries are constant. Some of us may have to perform certain actions in order to rid ourselves of these thoughts, everyone is different. I for example, say the same thing over and over again at night before I can sleep or I leave at certain times for anything that I consider part of my routine.
OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) is a mental health condition (some may refer to it as an illness or disorder, whichever you feel comfortable with) consisting of one or two main parts; Obsessions: unwanted or intrusive thoughts and Compulsions: actions we feel we have to carry out in order to relieve us of the anxiety caused by these thoughts. It can be a severely disabling condition and it is one which needs to be openly talked about more, everyone should have some understanding of the condition, something which I hope to improve through this article.
A note for those with OCD;
This article is mainly for you and I hope through sharing my story that if someone reading this has not been able to seek help then they will feel empowered to do so.
Looking back, I have had obvious symptoms of OCD for 4-5 years (only obvious for me of course I became good at hiding it) but only received a diagnosis 6 months ago after visiting my GP. I hid it because I was ashamed, knowing or at least feeling that there was someone out there that deserved help more than me, that I would be piling more pressure on an already failing system. I was struggling to keep it to myself, I didn’t want to be in the company of family or friends and had multiple outburst of tears and overwhelming feelings of despair. Then I watched a TV programme; a young girl the same age as me (16) had depression and anxiety but was able to talk about it openly, to potentially millions of viewers! I watched her journey and saw how she began to see the world differently, a little brighter perhaps. That’s what I wanted, to see the darkness turn into brightness, I wanted to witness the power of talking for myself. So that’s what I did, I booked an appointment with my GP, explained my symptoms and we came up with an action plan, I would see him every two weeks to talk about how my OCD has developed since I last saw him. It’s so important for me to mention that every treatment plan is tailor made, there is no one size fits all. For me, I needed
someone who thought like me, logically not emotionally and after a few different attempts, I found that person. It really does help talking about it, I know how difficult that first step is but once you find the courage to take it the only way is forward.
The main points I hope you take away are; that YOU deserve help just as much as anyone else does, the darkness will DISAPPEAR and do NOT BE AFRAID to look around until you find that professional you feel comfortable with. It does get better; you have all the time in the world to work on it, stay hopeful and don’t be ashamed.
A note for parents;
I’m sure there are many parents out there who do a great job of supporting their son or daughter, but I’m also sure that there are some parents out there who just don’t know what to do. One thing I can tell you is that every action no matter how small really does help. This is a list of what I consider to be fundamental in supporting your child:
· If you’re not sure of what the condition is then why not ask your child if you can come along to one of their appointments with them (don’t be offended if they rather you didn’t) and ask the therapist or doctor some questions.
· If you know your child has issues, for example around contamination DO NOT attempt to see how much you can get away with, respect their boundaries and do not judge them.
· This is a touchy one, but for me I prefer the direct approach and I know that being asked a question directly makes me more likely to answer honestly. If you notice your child is acting differently than normal, more anxious, irritable, sleepy etc. and you are worried about them then ask directly “have you had thoughts about killing yourself?” Of course, you know your child best and if you feel that a question so direct may make it worse then don’t ask it! However, do ask every so often how they are and don’t avoid the topic.
· One of the most common manifestations of anxiety in OCD is panic attacks, but unfortunately they happen so often some of us know how to deal with them ourselves. However, if you witness one yourself you should know how to help them.
1. Encourage them to breathe; tell them to take a deep breath in for four seconds and breathe out for four seconds. Breathing helps but only if done correctly.
2. Give them something to focus on; using senses is particularly helpful. Ask them to find something they can see, hear, touch and smell to focus on.
3. Let them know the state of panic is just temporary; despite the horrible feeling they have reassure them it will eventually be gone.
4. After a panic attack they may be tired; give them a drink of water and if they ask, then leave them alone for a while.
A note for the most difficult of all, the medical profession;
You may think you know best when it comes to mental health conditions and I don’t doubt you have an extensive amount of theoretical knowledge, but experience or personal accounts such as this may be even more valuable. It’s important to look out for the less common signs, not everyone will wash their hands all the time or lock and unlock the door before they leave. Like I said before, it’s no one size fits all and everyone is different. Just one example of a less common form is “hit and run OCD” where drivers will be convinced they have hit someone on the road and it is a special instance of checking behaviour. They may drive back repeatedly to check for bodies or injured pedestrians and get home where they obsess over the news in case there are reports of a hit and run.
It’s also important that you do not immediately jump down the medication route, conservative treatment for OCD is developing every day and other things should maybe be tried first. CBT or talking therapy has been proven effective, with research showing that up to 75% of patients find CBT helpful with up to an 80% improvement in symptoms. Exercise has also been proven to be an effective treatment for various anxiety disorders due to an increase in endorphins- just 5 minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti- anxiety effects. Furthermore, a relatively new technique, at least to Western society is mindfulness. By teaching awareness of one’s mental and physical state in the moment, mindfulness allows for more adaptive reactions to difficult situations. I must stress I am not condemning all anti- anxiety medications, they do help for a lot of people and it is the work of professionals along with the patients to decide which form of treatment is best.
Some important contact information;
Samaritans; 116 123 (to talk about anything upsetting you, 24/7)
SANEline; 0300 304 7000 (if you’re experiencing a mental health problem yourself)
The Mix; 0808 808 4994 (if you’re under 25)
Written by Caitlin, aged 17