One of the first posts I wanted to do when starting this blog three years ago was my OCD story, but its been put on hold for Tinder talks and Uni tantrums due to the more lighthearted and relateable themes, only to make writing this blog now a lot harder! Please bare with me, as disclaimer, this isn’t my usual tone of writing or best piece. I’ve had my coloured coded notes (blue for titles, purple for definitions, pink for key words, green for examples: encase your wondering if I still have OCD, there’s your answer!) in my notepad for a while, trying to balance the science and psychology with emotions and storytelling to best describe my OCD, but I am in no way a professional, so please see link below with more information regarding the disorder. I also want to state that I’m not sharing this for sympathy or to receive compliments or attention, I am extremely fortunate to have been able to get help at a young age, to develop strategies to deal with my disorder, and have been able to use my diagnosis for good in more recent difficulties.
I was diagnosed with extreme Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) around the age of 10 (before mental illness was considered ‘indie’ and branded on t-shirts) (DW, I like The 1975 as much as the rest of you – no hate!). Having an extreme anxiety disorder at such a young age was difficult as I had no idea what was happening or what OCD was, all I knew was that this additional ‘voice’ in my head was telling me that if I didn’t act our certain tasks, then something bad would happen to me or my family. This intense paranoia was the ‘Obsessive Thoughts’ which leads to anxiety, causing ‘Compulsive Behaviour’ to trigger temporary relief, until the cycle begins again. Probably the hardest thing about having OCD is you know it’s stupid and that repeating a word four times isn’t going to stop you getting into a car crash, which inevitably leads you to feel more out of control and crazy, but knowing that the ‘what if’ scenario outweighs the notion of following what seems to be a simple mundane task.
OCD is a debilitating disorder. It used to take me 20 minutes of rituals to get out of bed in the morning, followed by counting my steps to the bathroom, rearranging all the products, turning the tap on four times, eating breakfast having to move coasters and count how many bites of food I was eating to ensure it was in multiples of four, then dressing in a certain order with a hundred more rituals in between. It is also an invisible disorder that is misrepresented in society, with it often being shown as just cleanliness. Although this is the most common form of OCD, and likely the easiest to understand and represent, it causes people to confuse it with perfectionism, when OCD is the internal obsessive thoughts, whereby anxiety can only be reduced through compulsive behaviour. Essentially you’re acting as an agent and have little or no control of your behaviour, especially as it is so time consuming and distressing. In terms of my rituals, everything revolved around the number four (shout out to Cesc Fabregas….) To begin with, I would say or do everything 16 times (4 x 4 (maths abilities peaked at SATs!)) but reduced it to four. I would repeat every word four times, count my steps to make sure it worked in multiples of four and if not would need to go back, rearrange everything into specific spaces ect. I had hundreds of rituals, the weirdest being doing 16 backward rolls and headstands after coming out of the bath….
So what causes OCD? No one knows! Unfortunately the causes of OCD are unknown, however there are indications of it being a neurobiological disorder with four themes commonly occurring. The first is a family history, suggesting genetics and therefore the closer in relation being more likely to share the disorder. Personally, within my family hints of the disorder are slightly there. The second is differences in brain function surrounding low levels of serotonin; a mood regulator that controls emotions such as happiness and calmness. The third is life events. For people that know me now often describe me as bubbly, loud and confident. Personally, I don’t feel those adjectives! I’m a bit of a dual personality, from growing up being VERY shy, not taking part in any school plays, never leaving my parents side at parties ect. I definitely still have some anxious traits, perhaps disguised in confidence! Alongside life events, my mum was diagnosed with cancer when I was a few years old which is likely to impact my anxiety. As my OCD is for ‘control’ or ‘prevention’ of bad things happening, a large proportion of my rituals to this day are surrounding my mum and many uncertainties that I do not have the balls for sharing online! Moreover, I had many operations and hospital visits myself, from major cleft palate surgery, regular hospital stays from extreme tonsillitis, leading to developing dyslexia from sleep deprivation and many more operations that followed! (If anyone wants to film a documentary on me, I’ve got enough sob stories to win X-Factor without having to sing) (Disclaimer: aware that I am being dramatic, and v lucky, and grateful and 100 billion people have it wayyyyy worse I KNOW!!) Also, personality is likely to be a factor, which I definitely have! My biggest strength and weakness is that I’m an overachiever, always wanting to do what’s right for others before myself and go above and beyond, stating that individuals with a ‘strong sense of responsibility for themselves and others’ are more likely to be diagnosed. Tick, tick, tick and TICK!
After probably hiding my OCD symptoms for about a year, it progressed to an extreme case by the time my parents noticed and got me seen by a doctor for an OCD test. Although a lot of my memories regarding this time are blurred, I can remember the test and diagnosing very well and am amazed at what I had to go through as such as young age. Firstly, they had me name the ‘bully’ (obsessive compulsions) to make it more child friendly to talk about and then had me draw a circle, showing my control versus Baby Bop Bop (don’t ask, I was 10 shhhh!!!!) This, for me, is one of the scariest visuals looking back as I appeared as a tiny dot next to this giant circle.
My therapy began straight away with the NHS Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) team. I underwent psychological therapy in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) discussing my OCD with a therapist. To be completely honest, I was awful at this. I had no idea what was going on it my head, consumed with thoughts and hiding them for so long so didn’t open up about my reasoning for my actions much. Also, at such a young age, mental health wasn’t something you could explain to 11 year olds, especially when you can’t understand it yourself. However, on reflection, my stubbornness to open up probably led to my extreme courage to battle the disorder on my own so that I didn’t have to talk about it! A technique called the ‘Hierarchy of Fears’ whereby you write your rituals in order from least to most, gradually battling each to gain momentum to tackle the bigger obsessions was used. However, turns out I was a ballsy little four-stone, 4-foot, ten-year-old as I went in head first, realising I could not psychically live like this, so tackled the biggest problems first.
Alongside this, I was on medication to help reduce the anxiety and in-turn, the rituals. I am aware that taking mental health medication at such a young age is a taboo subject and should only be used in extreme conditions and the effects vary BUT I can honestly say (and I know this sounds extreme) that I would not be here today if I wasn’t put on the medication that helped me get through the worst of the disorder. The antidepressants SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) work by increasing levels of this neurotransmitter over the synapse. However, as the cause of OCD is unknown, it is hard to tell whether serotonin is the source of OCD, or the symptom of an unknown underlying cause of the disorder.
When researching into this blog post, I was determined to see if there are any benefits to OCD, as I genuinely think going down this path has made me stronger with following battles, for instance major spinal fusion surgery, or my mum’s many cancer relapses, where I regularly looked back and admired the strength of 10-year-old Gin. It’s noted that OCD can link with creativity, as an active brain helps to create scenarios and plan for problems whilst working at a rapid pace and staying on-track to redirect the over-activeness. As someone who is fairly creative, and does graphic design as a job, I definitely can see a link! Likewise strong attention to detail and the ability to notice when something is ‘off’ is also something I feel I have. Anyone who knows me personally knows how freaky my sixth sense is, like I swear I’m psychic or something! Similarly, traits such as perfectionism, sympathy and emotive qualities are mentioned.
Coming to the end of this very jolted and poorly put together blog, I want to mention that 10 years on, I still have OCD. However, thank god (science), I have been given the tools to deal with my OCD. I still freak out when things are said three times, and always add a fourth when I can (see ellipses or kisses haha!), I still add up numbers (first year of uni my room was 12 (1+2 = 3) and it freaked me out, especially when on the first night I woke up to my room COVERED in the whole of the block of flats SEWAGE!! Talk about a shit start!!), I still can’t stand dirty socks in my bed (future boyfriend, pls note), and uni accommodation was a push with pink mould in the shower even after cleaning daily, to the point where I just went to the gym to shower. There’s not too many everyday rituals, other than a few re-positioning jobs, which from spending months travelling different countries, or uni living have obviously changed. However, the main type of OCD rituals I perform are on more stressful days, like exams, treatments, starting new job ect. as even though I understand the psychology and stupidity behind my thoughts, in these instances I don’t mind acting out for the sake of a slightly less anxious sleep!
Once again, I’ve always got your back,