'Did I kill someone?' No, shush, OCD
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When I tell people that I have Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), they almost always respond with "oh I have that, I like my pens to be in a certain position on my desk" or something similar.
What people don't understand is that OCD can be incredibly severe; it can take over your life. I don't have to wash my hands a million times a day, but I have several other compulsions which cause me a lot of distress.
The most distressing element of OCD for me are the intrusive thoughts. These thoughts are unwanted, distressing and completely opposite to my core self. I wrote this piece about a typical day in my life, to show how OCD has consumed me.
The alarm goes off at 6.30am. I must get up and start moving. I throw myself out of bed. Time for a shower. "Did I kill someone?". No, of course not, that's just my OCD.
I start to get dressed, but see a spec of something on my pants. "What is that? It could be contaminated. Throw the pants out". No, shush OCD.
Breakfast time: two words which open the door to a whole host of fears. What will I eat today? OCD says it must be something which comes out of a sealed packet. It must not have been touched by human hands. Impossibility. Contradiction. OCD. OK, so it must be something from a packet. Today I only feel like eating white food. The only white food I have in the cupboard is rice. Is rice something people eat for breakfast? I could text my friend and ask. But I won't, that's reassurance seeking and bad for my OCD. So I will just eat the rice.
Oh damn, I've been staring at the cupboard for 45 minutes making this decision. I no longer have time to cook the rice, or I will be late for work. My only option is to eat the rice dry as I drive to work.
As I am driving to work, I notice the car jump as I go over a pot hole (or something). I get to work, park the car. "Did I run someone over? I need to go back and check". No, shut up OCD.
I start to feel sick. I wonder if eating dry rice was a bad decision. Google time. It's OK, Google said I just need to drink some water.
I walk up the stairs into the office. I stop and have a short conversation with the receptionist, she always has interesting stories to share. I can't focus on what she is saying because my OCD is screaming at me in the background that I need to drink some water.
I sit down at my desk with a bottle of water. Everyone stops by and says hello to me. Does that mean they like me? Or do they know how crazy I am and take pity on me? I start picking the skin off my fingers, to try to relieve the anxiety about everything that has gone wrong today - contaminated pants, raw rice, running someone over and trying to talk to people through the anxiety.
It's only 8.30am. How will I make it through another day like this? I wish I was dead. This isn't a life, this is barely surviving.
I lose myself in my work for a while. All of a sudden it is lunch time and my colleagues want me to come out with them. I try to make an excuse, but they don't buy it. I am whisked off to the local pub. I can't see the food being prepared, I know it will be dirty back there in the kitchen and I know they will probably spit in the food. Anxiety levels get so high I start dissociating.
Lunch arrives. I eat it robotically, trying to convince myself that I am not there, in that bar, eating that food. It almost works. But it doesn't really.
I spend the rest of the afternoon at work trying to keep my compulsions under control, but I am worried about what I had for lunch. What if there was something in there that was harmful, what if the kitchen staff dropped it on the floor? I might die! I start tapping my knee on the desk and continue this compulsion until home time.
It's home time and I am exhausted. I arrive home and scrub the kitchen surfaces down. I cook my dinner (two potatoes and a steak, which I have eaten every night for at least a year).
I notice that the cups aren't sitting in perfect alignment on the shelf, my flatmate must have emptied the dishwasher. I put the cups back into proper order.
I just want to go to bed now, it's 7.30pm, but my therapist said I can't go to bed until 11pm. So I sit on the floor and watch videos on Youtube until bedtime.
At 11pm I head to bed. The bed must be perfectly made. The pillows must be perfectly horizontal to the head board.
Once I get into the bed I have to tap my head on the pillow until it feels right.
Finally I slip off into sleep, my favourite place to be. The only place OCD can't chase me to.
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