At OCD Action, we often hear incredible stories from those who choose to fundraise for us, driven by their personal journeys with OCD. Liam Mucklow’s story is an example of how lived experiences with OCD can inspire remarkable efforts to support others with OCD. Through running the Amsterdam Marathon, Liam not only challenged himself but also raised vital funds and awareness for OCD Action. This is what Liam had to say about his journey with OCD.

Living with OCD

By Liam Mucklow

There are times when my thoughts are so illogical that I can scarcely believe they originate from my own brain. My thoughts can cause me such feelings of guilt that I’m plunged into a moral crisis, believing myself to be a bad person. Certain points of my life have revolved around a cycle of despair, where I’m trapped by intrusive thoughts and the compulsions I believe are required to negate them. This experience will resonate with the 750,000 people in the UK living with OCD. Having had OCD for the majority of my life I wanted to try and articulate in some way what it is like to live with.

OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is defined by the NHS as ‘a mental health condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours’, a concise description but one which barely scratches the surface. The reality of the condition is multi-faceted and causes deep distress to individuals and those close to them. My own experience of OCD has centred around distressing intrusive thoughts; these are thoughts that appear without warning and centre around ‘taboo’ subjects. For some, intrusive thoughts can be related to harming loved ones, acts of aggression towards others, sexual acts, sexual identity and much more. These thoughts are often profoundly disconnected from our true desires or intentions. They are sometimes called ‘ego-dystonic’, meaning they conflict with a person’s self-image and values, causing significant distress because they do not reflect what we actually want or are likely to do.

Everybody experiences intrusive thoughts, even taboo ones, but people without OCD can simply write the thought off, whereas those affected by OCD latch on to them and often become trapped in a cycle of guilt and fear. That’s where compulsions come in – in a desperate attempt to reduce these horribly intense feelings, people with OCD feel compelled to carry out physical or mental behaviours (such as ruminating). These behaviours can provide short term relief, but the relief only lasts until the next intrusive thought pops up.

The cyclical nature of the intrusive thoughts, compulsions and guilt attached to them can also have a harmful effect on those close to the person living with OCD – for example one of my compulsions shows up as constantly seeking reassurance from my partner, looking for her validation to ease my fears, something which causes annoyance, upset and places an unreasonable burden on someone else to negate my worries. As with any mental health issue, OCD has caused suffering to those around me; friends have seen me at my lowest following a suicide attempt and my partner has coped with the extremity of the feelings that my intrusive thoughts and compulsions bring.

Recently I completed the Amsterdam Marathon for OCD Action, the largest OCD charity in the UK, whose vital work allows people to shake off the stigma attached to the issue and access the help they desperately need. OCD Action describe on their website the incomprehensibly long gap between symptoms of OCD beginning and accessing support, a gap of 6-7 years on average. Reading that was a difficult personal experience for me, as it dredged up some very painful memories related to my own journey.

My symptoms first began around the age of 11 or 12 whilst on holiday with my family in Scotland. Even as a child I had anxiety and a tendency to worry, something I inherited from my mom. The anxiety and worry I carried morphed itself into something more complex during the course of this holiday as my intrusive thoughts began. Intrusive thoughts are difficult to comprehend for anyone but as an anxious pre-pubescent, they were entirely overwhelming. I began to shut myself away in toilets for long periods, trying to make sense of the things running through my brain, but people living with OCD can attest to, the more you engage, the more you become mired in despair. Trying to rationalise is as futile as trying to wriggle your way out of quicksand. Thankfully my parents never judged me or wavered in their attempts to help me and we accessed CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) through the NHS.

However, despite receiving treatment, my acceptance of my thoughts as part of an illness took more than 15 years, by which time I had attempted suicide and been admitted to a mental health facility. As an adult I still struggle with my OCD at times, but I now have some tools which help me, such as what I learned in CBT and running, to keep myself on an even keel. My hope is that greater awareness of OCD today will prevent people taking such a painfully long period of time to deal with their own illness.

For me, OCD has something of a Jekyll and Hyde effect – there is the side of me that people see, the football loving, running obsessed, typical man, and then there is OCD me, irrational thoughts and worries lurking at the back of my mind ready to take hold, making me reclusive, nervous and anti-social. That’s why outlets such as running are so important, as they allow me to sustain focus somewhere other than my obsessive thoughts, mindfully concentrating on the task of running the miles required to ready myself for a marathon.

I hope this article resonates with people struggling with OCD and encourages them to seek the help they need without shame or fear, there is so much you can do to manage this illness. Take it from someone who has been there.

Finally, check out the OCD Action website, they have a wealth of information on the illness itself and how you can access professional support, and if you can, please do donate to fund the vital work they do.

OCD Action advocates for evidence-based treatment options for those living with OCD, with CBT with ERP (Exposure Response Prevention) being the clinically recommended treatment. The resources section of our website offers extensive information on understanding OCD and accessing effective treatment.

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