OCD & I: Mentally Over-Stimulated


Where should I start? I’m a 30 year old woman (at the time of writing) with far too many interests, I struggle to settle on one. My main focus of adoration leans towards animals, of which I have 6: 5 dogs and a cat, who love to take up my time and attention whenever I have neither to offer. I enjoy music, and in a past life, performed as a singer, frequenting venues on the now-dying social club circuit.

I love all kinds of music as long as it’s written, produced and performed well, but do err more towards the ‘alternative’ genres, such as rock, metal and in particular, punk. I spend a lot of my social time at gigs, where these days, I prefer to take a back seat and watch and listen, as opposed to the old days where I’d wake up the next morning covered in bruises from stage diving, a broken pair of glasses resting on my pillow and a steaming pile of sick on the floor. My other half is in a multitude of bands, for which I help a bit with promoting and marketing and thoroughly enjoy doing so.

I can’t get enough of creative pursuits, and can regularly be found making jewellery, customising clothing, faffing with technology to make posters and flyers, and generally making more of a mess than anything positively constructive.

I do consider myself as quite a little entrepreneur, having been brought up on the bread line and spent a large part of my childhood visiting charity shops, car boot sales and flea markets. I love a bargain, and gravitate towards the reduced section of any convenience shop like a wasp ’round a jam jar. I have an eye for a quick turn over of money, using this to my advantage when there are sales on at second hand shops where I can pick up good products and sell them for more than I paid. Unfortunately, due to my gender, I love clothes, shoes and handbags, so am loathed to rid of lots of the items that come into my possession. This buy-keep-sell routine is something I believe I will always have an issue with, but I will continue to take pleasure in the benefit of a monthly new wardrobe and the knowledge that I can, quite successfully, sell excretion to a blind man.

I can often be found wearing an assortment of leopard print clothing, perhaps in some kind of bizarre subconscious homage to Bette Lynch. My hair is usually the biggest part of me, often adding on an extra 6 inches to my pretty average, natural 5 feet 8 inches. I am known out and about largely with reference to my ‘wig’ as I sport a range of dreadlock extensions of varying colours, lengths and styles to suit my mood. I have lost count of the number of hair styles I have had, but all seem to have centred on a partly shaved head and some dangly bits. It works for me.

True to the stereotype of an ‘alternative’ person, I have over 20 piercings and an equivalent number of tattoos, some of which are self-done. I started with both of these methods of ‘self-destruction’ from a very young age, producing false ID when required and lying from pillar to post. These days, everywhere you turn, there is someone with piercings and tattoos, so much so, that it’s actually more individual to have neither. However, what’s done is done, so be it!

Until August this year, I have never strayed too far from the place I am loathed to call ‘home’, which is a small town 8 miles north of Nottingham, called Hucknall, a typical ex-mining town, it offers very little to all whom dwell there, a Tesco megastore having stolen the custom of the traditional, family-ran shops along the High Street. The only things of note that Hucknall is famed for is being the burial place of both Lord Byron, and bare-knuckle boxer, Ben Caunt, the namesake of Big Ben in London, and reminding people of the existence of a certain member of Simply Red who is as similarly famous for his barnet as am I.

I currently reside in a tiny village, which really is just a street, called Quaking Houses situated right towards the top of County Durham. All my previous places of abode have been in the County of Nottinghamshire, and a brief stint in Lincoln City, a large portion of my adult life having been spent living in a camper van both ‘on the road’ and on a fixed site.

I was academically pretty sound, relinquishing my nerdiness only at the age of 14, when I no longer wanted to go to school and was more interested in men (that’s right, men, not boys), and being at home listening to Nirvana and playing video games. Despite my lack of motivation in Secondary Education, I managed to gain a successful assortment of qualifications which I took with me into Sixth Form College. Again, I suffered a lack of interest, and spent more time at rock clubs, at the pub, getting stoned ’round every Tom, Dick and Harry’s house, and generally making a nuisance of myself. It was only after at the age of 17 / 18 when I left home, entered full-time employment and settled down with a bloke that I tamed myself somewhat, finding myself with a mortgage and an engagement ring on my finger before my 19th birthday. This status no longer applies.

I am pretty close to my family, and enjoy spending time with them. I am by affinity closer to my Mum, who is a wonderful woman, to whom I owe endless gratitude for her support to me over all of my years in existence. My Dad is an intelligent, hilarious chap, whom I, somewhat guiltily, do not see as much as I should (the reasons for which may become clear elsewhere) but I generally get on well with him when it’s on my terms.

At the age of 20, I decided after 2 years of starting and dropping out, that I did actually want to go to University, so for the third time, I enrolled at Nottingham Trent University where I studied for a degree in Criminology. During my time at Uni, I suffered a whole raft of issues which affected my studies (some of which will be mentioned in my story), and I ended up working full-time whilst tying up the loose ends of my degree. I graduated in 2009, but have long since struggled to find employment in any linked area to Criminology as there is a tendency to be considered over-qualified for the roles which I felt would be a good starting point for me. Because of this, I have worked in a variety of specialist administrative roles, which I enjoy for the most part, yet my long-term goal is to be self-employed in some fashion, and also to teach Primary School Children: a venture for which my training is due to commence shortly.

I do not have children of my own, nor do I particularly want them. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I don’t like them, I simply cannot bear the thought of harbouring a parasite for 9 months and then spitting it out in front of people. I also struggle to look after myself on occasion, so to be responsible around the clock for another human is a truly terrifying thought for me. So in terms of motherhood, my animals shall suffice.

I love unicorns, pink / fluffy / glittery things, leopard print and cheese, all above and beyond most other things.

Now you know more about ‘me’, you may ponder the purpose for these musings.  As an OCD sufferer myself, I have struggled for years to deal with how this illness affects me, and to develop coping mechanisms when I sense that ‘things’ aren’t going very well. In a move which inadvertently exacerbates my condition, I have tended to turn introvert and in desperation, to alcohol, by way of blotting out the underlying roots of the problem. It is after years of soul-searching and in-depth self-analysis that I realise a significant part of my frustration lies within the lack of understanding of the illness itself, and the inaccurate portrayal of an often-debilitating mental disease in the public eye. My two aims with this ‘project’ of mine are quite simply:

  • To help dispel the myths surrounding this illness
  • To share with and learn from, others, our experiences and coping mechanisms

Only once I have made headway with this will I feel I can confidently refer back to the me ‘with’ OCD and tell it once and for all to shut up, because I am bigger and better than it will ever be. It will never disappear: the most I can hope for is to keep it as dormant as possible in order for me to live a long and happy life, without the added worry about, what really are, irrelevant issues in my life.

My ‘story’ is long, and whilst at times it appears rambling, everything contained within it is, I feel, relevant to the exacerbation of my condition of OCD. I am honest, open, whilst uncomfortable and embarrassed with my affliction, yet is my hope that it offers a detailed insight into me as a person, and also of my experiences with mental illness, but in the very least, an entertaining read for anyone with an interest in people and their minds.

So where should I begin? As a child, I can’t recall actually being aware that I had OCD. I didn’t even know what it was until sometime in my early teens, when in exasperation of desperately trying to understand what the hell was wrong with me and the way that I thought, I did some online research, which I will come to later. I did, however, know that there was something not ‘balanced’ with the way that I viewed things. I developed a fixation with time, which would often leave me feeling anxious or upset, but I didn’t know why at that time. I had a clock in the shape of a clown, which is really enough to scare the bejeebus out of anyone, but that was not what concerned me. What I was worried about was not being asleep by a certain time. I have an idea of the foundation of this particular fear being in something my parents told me. Perhaps native to The Midlands, there was a saying that if you didn’t go to bed before 10 pm, the ten o clock horses would get you. Quite what was meant by this at the time was not understood by myself, but I have since found that this may originate from days where the Army or Navy would comb the streets at night with a horse and cart to dig up the floors of houses, which would likely include human waste, paying a small sum of money to the home owner in turn for their grime with which to make gunpowder. My Dad also slipped in somewhere that when he was a child, there used to be a small zoo local to his house which housed horses, amongst other creatures. The horses would regularly escape, and could be both heard and seen trotting around the gas-lamp lit streets of 1960s Hucknall, which was actually more Victorian at the time. These two ideas conjured up ghastly images in my overactive imagination and lead to this inordinate fear that something dreadful would happen to me or my family if I was still awake after the clock struck 10:00 PM. This would cause me great distress, and whilst I can’t really recall speaking to my parents about it, they can both remember this ‘habit’, and so I presume something was said.

I have no recollection of this particular obsession subsiding, but I have very vivid memories of a whole raft of other, progressively more disruptive mania developing, all centred on the night-time, and sleeping. Like most children, I suffered from the completely irrational fear that ‘something’ was going to reach out from under the bed and grab me, or leap from the shadows on the landing as I went for a midnight toilet trip. This became so advanced, that my mother insisted I have some kind of potty in my bedroom so that I needn’t leave the safe confines of my chamber. I also developed a very intense dislike of the dark, and slept with a night-light until my early teens. I am relatively ok with either of these two issues in my current state, however every now and then, I get caught off guard and can become incredibly frightened to the point where I convince myself a stranger is in the house, or worse, something paranormal. Needless to say, I did grow out of the toilet situation, however, I do still, to this day, have to visit the toilet far too many times in the day than is natural, and find that I cannot perform certain tasks without having gone to the toilet first, such as eating a meal, setting out on a journey, and going to bed. If I am still awake a while after having retired for the night, I will inevitably need to trot back upstairs to the toilet, and start all over again.

I do remember having night terrors, in addition to bouts of sleepwalking, which regularly found me about to fall down the stairs, or in my brother’s bedroom, where presumably, I felt safer. This could have been the product of an overactive and anxious mind, or it could quite simply have been the onset of a lifelong of bizarre sleeping disorders I have encountered: the most frightening of which I find to be sleep paralysis, where my mind is awake, yet my body is non-reactive, leading me to be completely aware of everything going on around me, but without the capacity to see it or do anything about it. Twin this with having awoken from a particularly bad nightmare about intruders in the home and you have a pretty accurate picture of how horrifying this condition can be. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen as much as it used to, and I am relatively good at getting to sleep these days since I wear myself out with all of my daytime thinking. I have also learned to try to wind down mentally prior to bedtime, by doing puzzles or reading.

Also related to sleeping, from about 10 years of age, I struggled to sleep if I could hear even the faintest of sounds about the house. When my brother was given a television, I would become extremely agitated if I was able to detect any noise coming from his room, so much so, that I would go through a series of emotions such as frustration, anger, and a truly irrational insanity which would drive me to scream and cry until it got turned off, or down. This then adapted to incorporate the sounds of some very loud neighbours who moved in, who, to be fair, could have been used for one of those ‘World’s worse neighbours’ television programmes, but still, my response was overkill.

These particular issues were largely grown out of, with the exception of the facets of which have remained with me to this day, and I don’t particularly know which direction it went in next, suffice to say I was a very sensitive child who thrived on academia, with a burgeoning intelligence and thirst for knowledge above any of my contemporaries. Of this, I was truly unaware at the time, and became quite aggrieved by being labelled a ‘swot’, or disliked for my love of information as I simply did not understand that what I was, or what I was doing, wasn’t the ‘norm’. I was moved schools mid-academic year, and this may have been a trigger issue for my time-related OCD in that this upheaval could have upset my conscience more than I was knowingly aware of. However, I don’t remember being particularly upset about leaving a primary school one day, where two curriculum years are shoved together, forced to study at one level in spite of the extreme variation of educational ability on either end, to a junior school which was academically sound, with classrooms full of children of the same age. I think I was more upset about having left my Fungus the Bogeyman pencil tin and accoutrements in the tray of my old school than having to start over again in this new, foreign place.

I did quickly make new friends, but found I gravitated towards one or two in particular: All other outcasts, but not similar in intellectual interests. Needless to say, I didn’t realise I was ‘clever’, and so thought nothing of this. What I did find, was that having to introduce myself to this new bunch of people, resulted in my adoption of a lifelong stigma of being ‘weird’. At the time, it wasn’t due to people being aware that I had OCD, more, that I had had a slightly different upbringing to most of my contemporaries. My parents were still together for one thing, which was a rarity then, even more so now: I hasten to add they are no longer together, which you shall read about later. My Mum worked full-time whilst my Dad did all the housey stuff which the maternal figure normally does, like cooking and cleaning. This meant I spent a lot of time with my Dad, so inevitably, his influence was greater on me, the consequence of which, I have never had an interest in ‘modern’ music: that is, songs of the current time of existence, more a love of folk, country, progressive and glam rock with tasters of punk. My Dad, for most of his life, has been a musician, largely as a guitarist in a whole range of various bands, some original, some tribute acts. The mainstay of this sway on me, I would say was 60s Rock n’ Roll, and Glam Rock. So at a time when Take That and The Spice Girls were at their peak, I was blissfully unaware of their presence and had very limited knowledge or interest in their music, choosing to walk around singing Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons ‘Let’s Hang On’ over the hits of the day.

I was definitely conscious of being not ‘one of them’, and had no real concept of the things my classmates were interested in, such as Disney, or playing ‘Dirty Dancing’ at break times. I had always enjoyed reading, and had such an advanced level of literacy skills that I was way above and beyond that which my class could offer, leading the teachers to push me outside of everyone else’s comfort zone. I recall being initially uncomfortable with the subjects which we were learning, such as times, phonetics, multiplication and division, as coming from a Primary school which appeared to leave these things from their lesson plans, I felt very much left behind. I have since lacked confidence in all of these aforementioned areas, yet I did quickly get up to scratch and soon exceeded what was expected of me.

Somewhat of a magnet for the unwanted and the weird, I became firm friends with the outcasts, which did little for my street cred, but this didn’t particularly bother me as I have always much preferred doing my own thing at home, at my own pace, than being in the big outside world, succumbing to the pressures of being something you’re not comfortable with. I know that I was interested in boys, or just members of the opposite sex, from an extremely young age. I wouldn’t say that this was particularly of a sexual nature, although I will state for the record that puberty hit me like a tonne of bricks well in advance of anyone else I knew, leaving me lost for explanations of why at 10 years of age, I had hair where no one else yet did, or why I couldn’t go on the school camping trip because I was having a period when others were barely out of nappies. I can very vividly remember my first day of this new school, meeting a boy who I became very fond of immediately. All the way through my education, I liked him, asking him to go out with me on many occasions, first commencing pretty much as soon as I met him. Quite what I meant by ‘go out with’, at the time I wasn’t aware, the fact that he said no didn’t faze me: Being told that girls didn’t ask boys out did.

During the 3 years I spent at that school, there wasn’t anything massively traumatic, but a few things which stand out as unusual I guess. I didn’t like to visit my friend’s houses if their Dads were in. I have no idea why this is. I have no aversion these days to peoples’ parents, so this is somewhat beyond me. I could be very manipulative too at this time, much to even my own disgust, but as I discovered my friend’s parents would treat us to a MacDonald’s meal when I visited, I would be inclined to suggest this to my pal, or, as I got older, persuade my friend to take cigarettes from their smoker parents. I don’t like this aspect of my personality, which is something I believe all children, in fact all people, have, but I do wonder if this was a consequence of my personality disorders combined with growing up.

I seemed to find certain ‘things’ particularly frightening, which other people didn’t appear to, such as getting drawn into the typical horror story rumours of repeating the word ‘Candyman’ multiple times, resulting in a gruesome death, or often fearing that something truly horrific would happen to me and my family. This seemed to stay with me the whole time I attended junior school: a feeling of constant dread and pit-of-the-stomach sickness which remained no matter what I did. I presume that in hindsight, this was my OCD, and I probably did have compulsions which I would perform in order to lessen or rid of the originating fear; yet I cannot remember anything specifically; more just that I wasn’t happy at this period in my life, loathed going to school, wasn’t particularly sociable and had an extremely vivid imagination which I would often use to ‘escape’ from reality, imagining that I was Maid Marian, running through the woods playing ‘Greensleeves’ on my recorder. I did have some extremely peculiar habits, such as making small camps to hide in my room, in the shed, on the garden, or out on the street. I was a very paranoid girl, and seemed to think everyone was out to get me, resulting in the urge to lay hiding, in wait of them saying something awful about me. Unfortunately, this is a trait I still have, and whilst I am acutely aware that I actually am being spoken about, due to my alternative views and equally alternative appearance, I do know that my intuition is often clouded by distrust, and anxiousness becomes the driving force.

I had the bizarre ritual of going out ‘tramping’, which meant roaming the street on which I lived (it was safe; a very long street with a boulevard of grass and trees along each pavement) in the rain, toting a plastic bag, a chocolate bar (usually a Blue Riband or a Gold Bar) and my illustrated Brothers Grimm book, which I wish I still had. I would sit on the bag, reading in the rain, tucking into my confectionary, very happy to be outside to inhale all of the wonderful aromas brought forth by precipitation and view the beautiful darkened palette of the water-soaked world, happy in my little bubble.

Coming from a musical lineage, with a concert pianist, mandolin players and of course, my Dad’s guitaring, I absolutely adored music. My brother and I would spend hours prattling about to songs we’d play on our cassette players, making our own mix tapes or play-hosting our own radio shows. I longed to be a singer and picked up the acoustic guitar relatively easy from a very young age. My Dad loved the song, ‘Stranger on the Shore’ by woodwind player, Acker Bilk, and decided it would be ‘good’ for me to learn the Clarinet. So off my parents went to purchase one for me, from their very limited funds, and presented me with this thing I was expected to enjoy playing. I could play it, very well actually, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I suppose I was to blame for this ‘step up’ in my musical life, as I had for years now been the school’s ‘go to’ person for recorder solos in any assembly shows, or the fill in (almost) one-handed pianist at morning hymn time, Clarinet being the obvious intelligent progression. I had a wonderful teacher at junior school who was also very musical, herself playing piano and clarinet and who attempted to give me lessons. I did learn musical pieces quickly; in fact, I’ve been able to read sheet music for most of my life,

I quickly found, however, that being ‘told’ what to play, when and how was not something that sat well with me. Even at that young age, I had this innate retaliation to being made given orders on creativity and still to this day, resent being told just to ‘go and sing’ or to ‘do some artwork’. I can’t turn my creativity on and off at the request of others, and neither do I feel I should be tried on it. This forms the basis of my idea that you cannot truly grade artwork, and neither should you try, which is why lots of students find studying art-based subjects to be mundane, as they are judged mainly on their literary write ups as opposed to their creations alone. Still, I did as I was told, one day being paired with a slightly older girl who had also been learning the clarinet. She was good, but it didn’t come naturally to her. She was one of those students whose parents pushed her into anything she showed a slight talent in, striving for her to be the best at everything. I didn’t care much for being as good as or better than her, I simply begrudged being made to perform a duet with her in assembly where she was instructed to play in the same key. Anyone familiar with woodwind will know that these instruments, when not played perfectly, are prone to squeaking. They also do not sound good when played synonymously with the same instrument at the same pitch. I would have preferred there to have been a bit more thought about the arrangement, perhaps one of us playing the harmony line to the other. But, alas, this didn’t happen, one of us ‘squeaked’, resulting in it throwing me off and refusing to continue with the show. It was after this extremely brief brush with woodwind that I decided I no longer wanted to even look at the clarinet, and I went through a series of musical instrument fads where I discovered I could play everything I picked up to a good enough degree to enable me to build upon: Sadly, due to my aforementioned dislike of structured creative education, I drifted from one instrument to another. This lack of staying power and tendency to ‘give up’ at the slightest upset is something which has long since been an issue and is likely a by-product of my OCD.

Moving up to secondary school was really much the same for me as it was for everyone else: I didn’t like it, it was scary, I felt like I didn’t fit in and I was frightened of all of the teachers and big kids. The first year was somewhat of a blur; however I made friends with a few people who I stuck with more or less throughout being at the school. I was never much of a multiple friend person, rather choosing somewhat subconsciously to have only one or two friends. This, I later learnt, has been a huge contributory factor to my feelings of loneliness, not belonging and of being overly hurt and upset when let down by people who still impact on my life today in many ways. I settled in to my studies well, rapidly rising to being once again, top of the class, racing ahead to the next key stage before everyone else and becoming the nerd that I genuinely am inside.

It was at about the age of 12 that I started to experience what became for me a living nightmare, really bringing to my attention that mentally, I just wasn’t sound, and that something needed to be done about out. I remember hanging around lots with one particular girl, whose brother I had a massive crush on. We did everything together: sat together in classes we shared, were partners in PE when I actually participated in any sessions, walked to school together, had lunch together, went to each other’s houses for sleepovers, spent days out with each other’s families and wandered around after school with each other. We didn’t get up to much, singing, laughing, choreographing dances, trick or treating, carol singing, all that silly stuff that young girls do together. It was fun, we had a laugh and basically lived in each other’s’ pockets. Also at this time, I didn’t particularly dress like everyone else my age. I wasn’t fond of what I considered the generic 90s look, made popular by ‘bands’ such as the Spice Girls, such as dark brown hair except the front bits bleached blonde, or chunky boots with block heels (the fact that I love this look now is irrelevant!). Instead, I favoured the Dr Marten look, which I’d wear with really baggy trousers, instead of the popular-at-the-time VERY tight at the top but flared at the bottom (I guess this was the original bootcut) black trousers made from some kind of crinkly stretchy stuff – most probably pure elastic. The true reason I didn’t want to wear these was because I didn’t like my body. I was taller than most, and going through periods of change which I didn’t like, resulting in a fluctuating weight and womanly thighs. I’ve never been stick thin, but still, didn’t want to accentuate what I felt inappropriately at the time were elephant legs. In reality, they weren’t, but I didn’t know that at the time. So, having chosen to not adhere to this prescribed idea of femininity, I was the subject of a bit of name calling, such as ‘manbeast’ and ‘lesbian’. Obviously at the time I knew this wasn’t so, but I did wonder why people were so bothered about me and wouldn’t just leave me alone. Whilst I had my favourite one or two people, I got on well with everyone, boys and girls, and got my head down with my studies. I didn’t realise it at the time, but that was most likely the problem: That actually, I was naturally liked and with an ability to adapt and learn without question or effort. This must have rankled people who didn’t like me because of it – I guess you’d call it jealousy, but even now, I struggle to admit that people could actually feel envious of me, because I still feel I have very little to offer.

I wasn’t beautiful or a head turner and didn’t start wearing makeup properly until I was 13 like some of the other girls who slapped their mother’s war paint on and wore what looked like eye liner around their lips filled in with a shade several moons lighter. At most, I’d cover up the few spots that I ever did get with some concealer, and wear a bit of mascara. I wasn’t interested, my focus mainly on being arty farty and academic. However, this said, it was at this time that I did begin to get attention from the opposite sex, largely from who can only be described as men, as I became the target of the affections of people who should have known better than to be interested in someone half their age. Then again, I have always looked 19: I did then, I do now! I also began to rebel somewhat, and had begun smoking (although not at my current rate) and had become less inclined to make an effort in my studies. This resulted in word getting about that I was smoking on the school field, known to some of the local ‘bad lads’ and generally contradicted the pre-conceived idea people had about me. This isn’t to be mistaken as me becoming some kind of ‘bimbo’. I may have kissed a lot of frogs but that’s where it ended until I was 17.

One day, I found myself at the receiving end of being asked out by a guy in the other half of the year to myself (one half studied French as a language, the other studied German). Quite why the school had this split I have no idea, but it did create an unusual dichotomy and meant that those from the ‘other side’ were viewed as either dangerous or exotic, and somewhat beyond reach. I believe we were placed in some kind of PSD (Personal & Social Development) session together and he took a liking to me. All I knew about him was his name and that he was generally considered a nutter, and having witnessing him attacking his PE teacher with a javelin, I can confirm this rumour was completely fair. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we went out for a while, maybe a month or so, which the tarty ‘bad’ girls in my year didn’t like. They couldn’t understand why hard nut Harry (not his actual name) would go out with me, and their jealousy encouraged them to be vile to me, resulting in threats, ganging up, name-calling, rumour-spreading and general nastiness which drove me to rebel even more as I struggled to cope with being bullied.

This did have a huge impact on my already low self-esteem, and forced me to question everything I was doing, thinking and feeling, and I was regularly racked with anxiety and fear. I dreaded going to school, each day complaining of being ill so that I would be excused from being sent there for the day. I was happier spending time at home than being forced into what for me, felt like hell. I did have a lot of time off, which triggered the attention of my tutors and greatly affected my grades. Not doing as well as was expected of me by both teaching staff and my parents was something which caused me anguish and I began to feel completely lost about which way to turn and how to dig myself out of the hole I had found myself in.

I tried to have some semblance of a ‘normal’ life and continued seeing my ‘best friend’. One weekend, we went to see my Dad perform in his band at a Working Men’s Club in the town that my friend’s aunt also lived. We were to be staying at her relatives after the gig, and I was quite looking forward to going out. I vividly remember every detail of this night because it was at this point that my battle with OCD took a nasty turn and has been more than just an annoyance ever since. For this night, I wore a beige velvet, v-necked t-shirt, with a sky blue short-sleeved blouse over the top of it, buttoned up to under the bust. I teemed these wonderments with a pair of lime green trousers that were massively flared, and are most comparable to a pair of 70s loon pants. I wore my hair in pig tail plaits tied with pieces of gingham ribbon, and the shoes I wore were some gothy kind of chunky black boots. I can remember where my friend and I, and my Mum were sat, the songs that my Dad performed, the banter the singer had with the audience, and the lighting and ambience in the club room. There were two girls sat near to our table, possibly in their early 20s. They were laughing and giggling, and generally having a good time.

It was at about this time in my life where my Mum had said to me that I’ll never have any friends if I continue frowning all of the time, and that I should smile more. She was right, I did frown a lot. I believe now that having witnessed these girls / women having fun was what draw my attention to them, wrapped up amongst other mixed feelings of jealousy, paranoia. One of them had shoulder length blonde curly hair, which was in all likelihood permed, but nonetheless, I quite liked it. I was extremely unhappy with my own appearance at this time, hating my hair and body. I longed for hair that was anything but what I actually had, and spent an inordinate amount of time day dreaming about how better I would look if my hair was different. Anyway, I spent two nights at my friend’s Aunt’s, we had quite a good time and I returned home to go back to school as normal on the Monday. Everything was fine until I realised I couldn’t stop thinking about the girl with the hair. I cannot recall thinking anything beyond how I wish I had her hair and was envious of her cheerful, fun demeanour, but this bothered me. It worried me that I was thinking a lot about a person I didn’t know who happened to be a member of the same sex, and to try to make sense of it, I constantly questioned, both inside my head and also externally, why I would even bother remembering anything about the girl or the night. I just could not understand it, and thinking about thinking about it made it worse, resulting in me coming to the only conclusion which I could at that time: that I must be gay.

This upset me greatly, and caused an awful lot of mental distress. I couldn’t understand how I could possibly be homosexual when I had never once had any sexual thoughts or feelings about someone of the same gender as myself, nor ever considered thinking about it. But now I must be, I couldn’t get these horrific thoughts out of my mind, and feared for my future as it was something that took me completely by surprise, having never before contemplated it. A lot of confusion here came from not comprehending how this could even be true since I had long since like members of the opposing sex, had posters up in my room of male ‘stars’ who I adored, and had, as previously mentioned, always had an eye for the boys. I think there were moments where I did, beneath all of my confusion, deep down, know that it was just some kind of mental illness related issue, but since I didn’t yet know that’s what was ‘wrong’ with me, it caused me untold distress. Whilst I struggled to keep this fear away, I attempted to continue life as normal: going to school, watching TV, hanging out with friends, playing computer games, but everywhere I looked, anything to do with homosexuality or women would play on my mind. If I saw a film and it had a female lead, I would be frightened to watch it in case just watching it meant that I was gay, if I read a book and it had females in, it would trigger my intrusive thoughts, if someone at school called anyone a ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’, as was popular at the time, I would automatically convince myself that it was me being spoken about, making me paranoid at all times. My best friend at the time was made aware of my plight, although I doubt that she had any idea or understanding of it, much as myself and my parents didn’t. I did know that it wasn’t true, but the increasing volume of times thoughts would enter my head soon began to render me incapable of normality, and I withdraw very much into myself, often coming in from school and crying all night, then getting no sleep as my mind wouldn’t rest. I had lots of sick leave from school as I couldn’t bear to go outside, and had very little interaction with anyone outside of my household.

In order to in some way, quash, or ease these horrendous feelings of dread and fear that lived in the pit of my stomach with each waking second, I found myself compelled to count things, say things, arrange things or think things that initially seemed to work. I’d ask my Mum the same question repeatedly, ‘Am I gay?’ to which she would inevitably respond dutifully after each time, no matter how many millions of times she heard me say the same words, ‘No of course not’. I’d count the steps I took as I was walking, which eventually became something that now happens naturally, to the point where I can be strolling along, completely unaware that I am counting, then a random number will pop into my head. This will be the number of steps I have taken to that point. Quite how this complex calculation is happening concurrently amidst all of the other crap which lives in my mind from day-to-day is beyond me. I just know that it is there. This went on for about a year, varying in intensity and number, but gradually easing up on that particular focal point.

Rather than disappearing completely, my compulsions remained, but shifted focus onto my appearance. I became obsessed with my hair. I don’t just mean in the way that a usual teenage girl is, more to the point where I could not physically leave the house until I had styled it to my satisfaction. At this time, I had long, strawberry blonde hair which was of medium thickness and sort of wavy: neither here nor there. Having long grown out the hideous fringe which plagues memories of my school and childhood photographs, it was kind of layered at the front. I desperately wanted straight hair, and at a time when hair straighteners didn’t yet exist, I was forced to tie my hair at the back of my head with what felt like a million hair bobbles, plastering it with enough hairspray and mousse that I genuinely feel personally responsible for the damage to the O Zone Layer, so that it would set rock solid and could later be brushed out so that at least the top half of my hair was straight. This could often take hours in the morning before school and I became a nightmare to go out anywhere on day trips or holidays as the same problem persisted. My scalp would become sore and dry due to the amount of product I used on it, and I began to develop Trichotillomania, feeling compelled to pull my hair out from the roots. In an attempt to resolve this issue, my Mum helped to style my hair in a way in which I was happier, cutting it shorter, thinning it, and dying it with coloured streaks. This helped a bit. Unfortunately, the obsession switched onto something else.

I can’t really say that I had a particular obsessive focus at this time, more a mixture of all that preceded this point. I started to feel compelled to arrange objects, touch and tap things and count and say things any number of times. I had developed the idea that everything was either masculine or feminine (obviously stemming from my previous ‘concerns’), and that to place an object ‘facing’ the left was masculine, and right for feminine. I would move objects so that they somehow were oriented to the left or right, usually left, or opened to the appropriate direction. I was more inclined towards the left as I felt that the male side tied in with the belief that I should be just so because I prefer men sexually, yet I could also be tormented with the idea that things should face the right to signify that I was feminine and therefore not manly: or gay. These compulsions became stifling, resulting in it taking up to 2 hours to get into bed at night after rearranging the assortment of items in my room. I would tap things a certain number of times, depending upon what number of taps I considered appropriate. This number would vary according to the gender and ‘feeling’ I had self-prescribed it, noting that anything above single figures should be considered by their total, i.e. 15 would be 1 plus 5, totalling 6. For your amusement only, here is my thoughts on numbers, from then, and still present in my thoughts today – for reference, generally I feel odd is bad and even is good, however:

1 – Lonely, single, solitary, separation

2 – Cheater, pair, duo

3 – Two-timing, too many, negative, bad luck

4 – Neutral, satisfactory, nothing much going on

5 – Don’t like it

6 – Positive, my go-to number, reliable, safe

7 – Lucky for some, second best to 6

8 – No feelings

9 – Don’t like

Of course, as mentioned above, 15 could also be 6 to me, or any possible multiple or variation of this. Therefore, 60 could be the number of times I would have to tap something, or 42 since 4 and 2 make 6. Really this is endless, but it does stick with me to this day. 6 is a number I will always choose, or anything fitting in with it, such as having the television volume at 42, or tapping the lids of the dustbins 6 times each after closing. This no longer bothers me as it has become second nature, and rarely impacts on others around me as they hardly notice. However, in my teenage years, it bothered me lots, taking up too much time and energy which I didn’t really have. Even drinking a cup of tea would be problematic as I had to drink it with my left hand with the handle facing the left. Once finished, I had to sip the air from the mug 15 times, each time tapping my chest with the other hand. Ridiculous I know, but if I didn’t do it I felt like something terrible would happen.

Light switches would be turned on and off too many times for my Mum’s liking, locking and unlocking doors, using unnecessary rafts of toilet paper, make applied and taken off umpteen times, repetition of the same word, phrase or question, re-writing over the same word of text over and over again on my school work, reading the same paragraph of a book or magazine so many times I knew it off by heart, having to look a certain direction (usually left of course) with my eyes before I closed them at night to sleep and repeating to the point of exhaustion before I could finally settle. There’s so many more things I did then and still do that I may have forgotten, or am not consciously aware of what I do. Sometimes I am caught off guard that I continue these same compulsions today, such as spotting debris on the pavement whilst waiting for the bus that I have to kick into the road covertly, or having to repeat a car registration number three times (interestingly, I can still recall a lot of these numbers for a long time after memorisation, and have found that I have a vast photographic anamnesis).

So what happened next? Well, I kind of muddled on for a few years, and getting up to mischief. I ventured into ‘shop-lifting’ which was an utterly ridiculous thing to do. My Dad was a Special Constable, and my Mum was so proud of my intelligence that when she discovered my stash of random tat, she couldn’t have been any more disappointed in me. I didn’t steal because I was bad. I knew what I was doing was wrong, I did it because at first, I wondered if I could, and then, because I could. I would quite literally walk into a shop, clear the shelf into my pockets or rucksack and brazenly leave the store. I am thoroughly ashamed of this, but I mention it because I believe it boiled down to the aspect of OCD whereby you perform your compulsions by way of attempting to have control over something, often anything just to feel ‘normal’. I never stole anything to sell for money, and I never stole anything that I needed particularly, I simply stole things which I would later give away or store under my bed. The rate at which I did this did eventually decline, ending when I left home at 17/18 when I was caught stealing a pack of Tesco Value party balloons for a house-warming party I was holding at my first house. I vividly remember both saying and thinking to the Security Guard who caught me that I wished now I had been caught stealing a flat screen TV. Joking aside, I don’t do this anymore, I don’t feel that it is conducive to an honest or happy life, but I do genuinely live with the fear when shopping that I may ‘look’ like a shop lifter and that I am being watched. I also find myself looking at the shop’s security measures and picking holes in it, as if confirming to myself that I could or couldn’t get away with it in that particular store if I wanted to.

From the age of 15 to 16, I had a boyfriend and as a couple, we were the talk of the school, much to my chagrin, yet I strongly suspect not his. I think the reasons for this were glaringly obvious in hindsight. He was a weirdy goth type character, very effeminate and whilst admittedly good-looking, inclined to wear more make up than I, never wore anything but the blackest black, had his hair shaved on either side of his head down to the skin and had piercings through the middle of each of his eyebrows. He looked severe. On the flip of this, the yin to his yang, I had bright colours in my dreads / hair, wore lots of pink, green and stripy items of clothing, very rarely wore black and enjoyed listening to the music of more grunge and punk indie bands to his death and heavy metal. We’d get called all kinds of names at all times, I’d be singled out because he was a year younger than me, so I was labelled a ‘cradle snatcher’. The worse was the physical abuse we were subjected to at times, from mostly boys in my year. They’d push or shove him, sometimes punching him, with me fighting his corner delivering violence back to whoever dealt it. The emotional turmoil that I experienced throughout this, my first semi-‘proper’ relationship, added to the stress of studying for my GCSEs, having to decide on my educational future, and also manage the OCD which still simmered away underneath made this not a very nice period of my life, and one which I would never wish to repeat for love nor money. I didn’t really get on with my parents very well at this time. Previously quite a ‘homebody’ who enjoyed more than anything, spending time at home with, or going out for the day with my parents, I became the stereotypical moody teenager, even now not-so-fondly remembered as ‘like something from the Kevin & Perry films’, determined to rebel against pretty much everything. Don’t get a tattoo meant I was straight out there getting one. Make sure you come home tonight meant that I’d stay over at someone’s and not even call to let my parents know where I was. Don’t smoke meant that I was by the age of 16 a full-time smoker. Don’t answer back meant I’d unleash a whole tirade of abuse with the intent to cause as much upset as possible.

I’m extremely thankful for both myself and my parents that this year or so of ‘devil child syndrome’ passed almost overnight, with me literally waking up one day feeling like a weight had lifted from my shoulders. I ended my relationship with the guy after two years, following which I had a few relationships with men older than me, mostly centred around drinking and other drugs, and going to rock pubs and clubs. One looked like Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters, yet he was far too shy for me. Another was many years my senior who I fell in love with, yet he ended up cheating on me with a woman far more promiscuous than I. I also believe he was uncomfortable with the age gap, leading me for many subsequent years to feel I was inadequate and a failure. The guy I then went out with was again older, not to such a great degree as the previous, but older, and a complete arsehole. He was so self-absorbed and vindictive; it didn’t take me long to fall into the arms of someone else who I had known for quite a while. It went relatively ok with him for a fair few months, until I matured and was no longer interested in drugs and wanted to focus more on music. At 17, I joined a blues band, and was quite keen on the bass player. He was tall, slim and looked like Jack Sparrow. It turned out the feeling was mutual, and we quickly became an item. Unfortunately, because of an unhappy ending with the previous relationship, a huge downer from taking myself away from drug taking, a brief overlap in the romances and a change in thoughts drove me back into the throes of OCD. The whole fear of homosexuality nightmare came back with a vengeance, yet this time even more nonsensical as I was dating a man whom I found extremely attractive, enjoyed the company of in every way and had kept this obsession at bay for a number of years. Because I was in a relationship, the distress this caused me was even greater, and I struggled to retain composure at enough of a rate to have a normal life. Going out became extremely difficult as I would find myself in floods of tears and began hearing voices in my head telling me ‘YOU’RE GAY’ and that if I even looked at a female and thought her clothes were nice or that her hairstyle was good, that confirmed and compounded the problem. On the cusp of a breakdown, my Mum went with me to my GP, who was very understanding. Feeling almost suicidal at this point, my Doctor diagnosed me with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and prescribed me Citalopram at 60mg a day, the highest possible dose at the time, an antidepressant used to combat anxiety disorders and depression. He also explained that he would make a referral to the NHS Counselling Service as he felt that this, combined with the medication, would be the appropriate course of action for me.

I began taking the tablets, and at the time I felt that the side effects I was experiencing from them were considerably worse than the effects of the OCD: dry mouth, lack of balance, loss of appetite, lowered libido, inability to make a decision, increase in suicidal thoughts, insomnia and a general feeling of being high, akin to having taken a large dose of speed. These did subside as time went on, yet still a few months after my referral, I had yet to hear anything regarding an appointment. The intrusive thoughts were still plaguing me, yet I was putting a lot in place myself to attempt to improve my general wellbeing: I had secured a full-time job in advertising for a local newspaper, I was looking to save for a deposit on a rented property so I could set up home with my boyfriend, and was enjoying an active social life centred around performing blues and rock, and watching my friends in bands do the same. After another couple of months of waiting, writing ‘what the hell is going on?’ letters to my Doctor and his subsequent passing on of my impatience, I was finally offered an interim session with a psychiatrist.

It is worth noting here that my experience of the psychiatric and psychological treatment I have received did largely disappoint me, and I did feel extremely let down throughout. This aside, times have changed, funding has increased in certain areas of healthcare and more is known about mental illness now, making these treatments at least worth a good shot before writing them off. Do not be discouraged by my opinions on my experience: these are purely narrative.

When I arrived at my appointment, I felt that I was doomed from the onset. Not only had the intensity of my compulsions relating to my obsession reduced to a completely manageable level by the time I was being seen, both the Reception staff and Psychiatrist at the practice appeared to have no knowledge of my appointment, and neither my background. This forced me to feel extremely embarrassed having to recount my whole catalogue of bizarre mental irks to a stranger whom I had never met. I did have some common sense, and have always maintained throughout all of my life that holding anything back is of no use to anyone. With this in mind, I was, and still am, completely honest with all things relating to my illness in the hope that transparency could help those who help, to help me. Little did I know that this very thing could actually be detrimental to my treatment, as explained shortly. That said, I explained everything up to date to the Doctor, he made some notes, didn’t particularly advise much which was to be expected at this initial stage, and promised to arrange a follow-up appointment with me by letter shortly. Another few months passed, prompting a repeat of the correspondence boomerang which had angered me so much previously. Again, my lovely GP stepped in and dragged a further appointment out of the practice. I turned up expecting to be seen by the same Doctor as previous, yet to my horror, I was presented with another stranger, who yet again did not have my medical notes in front of them, meaning that I had to cover the same ground as before, yet presumably appearing not at all afflicted by mental illness as I delivered by rote the same spiel I’d become accustomed to launching into. A write-up was posted to both myself and my GP, with another referral for me to visit a psychologist for a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

By this time, I had left home, had my own rented house with my then fiancé and was getting on relatively well. Whilst my generic symptoms of OCD remained, such as checking, tapping, counting and arranging objects (compulsions I refer to as tactile), I was perfectly able to go about my everyday business without being fraught with the fear that I was gay. Those ideas and demons still remained, as they still do today in some respects (yet now fear that others believe me to be) but the common sense rationality that I loved my male fiancé and had still never been inclined towards a woman ensured that I could mentally overcome these thoughts. I did feel at this time that there was little point me undergoing CBT, but was curious and wanted to attempt it nonetheless, so trusted the purposes of my referral and went to the clinic as advised. At my first session, I was sat in front of a man who finally had my notes in front of him. He presented me firstly with a questionnaire to complete which in short, was to assess the level of threat I posed to both others, and myself. Feeling and appearing ‘fine’ to the Psychologist, I completed it honestly, which I believe shocked him as the truthfulness of my responses tdidn’t appear a match to my demeanour. He then went on to probe me about my illness in a way which didn’t sit well with me, asking an assortment of questions not limited to but including:

Were you abused as a child?

Have you ever killed an animal?

Are you close to your parents?

Are you sexually active?

Do you feel that you may harm someone?

Are you going to kill yourself?

How do you know that you have OCD?

Becoming quite angered by the tone of his interrogation, I did ask what relevance these questions had to my being invited for this treatment. He explained that in order to begin to tailor the treatment to myself, he needed to gain an understanding into what had caused my OCD. I told him that nothing had caused it: it simply existed. Having, I felt, ignored my response, he continued to ask if I was sure I hadn’t been abused, resulting in me turning the tables and attempting to psychoanalyse him, asking if he felt that I had been abused and if that was the only known reason for a person to develop OCD. He didn’t seem impressed with my attitude, but I was extremely frustrated at what was happening. I left with another appointment date, and the promise of a write-up to be sent to me on our first session. Following this, I decided to do some research of my own into CBT, and whilst on the one hand, I felt that this treatment could obviously be extremely beneficial to a person whose OCD was focused on contamination or extreme fear of say, eating in public, yet for my own affliction, I was very unsure how this could help me. Armed with further information, I went back to my second session, having not received the letter I was expecting, wondering what was to come next. The psychologist explained that he would like me to complete a thought diary, and to accompany this, obtain a counter clicker to press each time I had an intrusive thought. I clearly remember looking at him agog and asking him how he thought that standing on the tram on the way to work and back constantly clicking what looked like a stopwatch would help me, given that the very reason I was attending these sessions was because I had a large volume of intrusive thoughts at all times so would possibly struggle to find time to perform these menial tasks which I genuinely felt were pointless and which could quite possibly exacerbate the intensity of my obsessions by virtue of alerting my attention to them. I was accused of not really giving the therapy a chance, a claim to which I wholeheartedly agree, yet I felt compelled to explain that having gone away and looked more into CBT, I couldn’t see how I could be helped since my OCD wasn’t tangible. He asked what I mean by this and I described how I wasn’t bothered by my compulsions to count, touch and ask things since it wasn’t them which caused my distress, rather the actual fact that I was having these thoughts in the first instance. I pointed out that had my compulsions been washing my hands because I was obsessing that I was contaminated by germs, that I could well understand how the proposed ‘Exposure Therapy’ may be of use to me, but since there was no one obsession to pick from, rather everything and everything, all with no identifiable sense of logic and foundation, there is very little to expose me to. It is with disappointment here that after this session, I was ‘written off’ and no longer seen by this clinic.

I hold my hands up and admit that I perhaps should have persevered with this offer of treatment, not least because of how hard and long I had to push to even be seen, but also because now I have a greater understanding of how the therapy is intended to help address negative thought processes and offer alternative patterns of thinking to train the brain to deal with intrusions. However, at the time, I felt like I was being treated like a child with a temporary illness rather than an adult with a lifelong disease. Really, the next few years held nothing much of note with regards to my OCD that comes to mind. I continued to manage my compulsions from day-to-day, and carried on taking my medication and enjoying life. I started performing as a club singer with my Dad and Brother, following my father’s footsteps. At first, I found this incredibly hard work, spending every Friday and Saturday terrified that I would forget the lyrics to the songs we covered that night and worrying that my appearance wouldn’t be appropriate for the venue. It turns out the latter was true, yet in time this ceased to bother me, and after a couple of years, my confidence grew to the point where I cared not for the elderly people who frequented the clubs simply for bingo, onion judging competitions and gossip-mongering and focused more on having a laugh, honing my audience-banter skills and truthfully, enjoying the easy money that a couple of hours of singing, a natural talent requiring very little effort, brought home to the household. A colossal mistake in hindsight, when my brother left the group to study away for his Masters degree, we enlisted my fiancé to replace my brother’s secondary guitaring as a bassist: a skill of my fiancé’s which was truly second to none. Whilst a phenomenal bass player, his people skills and singing left a lot to be desired, often causing a huge level of frustration for me having lost my brother with whom as a band, we had gelled both vocally and by virtue of humour. This caused an inner resentment inside me which I struggled to keep at bay, resulting in me often being glad to see the back of him when at home together, not much caring that he spent more time on the computer upstairs or at his parent’s shed making bass guitars from scratch. After a solid 3 years together, I had found myself falling for the singer of a punk band he played for. Not wanting to tread on anyone’s toes or cause unnecessary fuss, I initially did nothing about this. When I discovered the feeling was mutual, I called time on the relationship between me and my fiancé and arranged for us to live in separate rooms in the house on which we now had a shared mortgage, with the aim of decorating the house to sell and split the profit before moving away from each other. Unfortunately, the ball of my relationship with the singer began rolling, and after much mental turmoil, disruption within their band, frowning down upon me from my family, I left that house and moved straight in with my new partner only a few months after really getting to know him.

At first the relationship was solid, I was very happy, and took like a duck to water as a ‘step mother’ type character to his two early-teenage children. We all enjoyed spending time together, but when not engaging as a ‘family’, my partner and I spent a lot of time out at gigs, either performing at them or spectating. Most of our life centred around alcohol which initially didn’t cause much of a problem, yet over time, it soon became clear that alcohol and I were not very good bedfellows. My battle with alcoholism is of course linked to my OCD as both a measure of coping yet acting as an exacerbating factor, but isn’t something I will dwell on here, aside from pointing out its role in my affliction of mental illness to date. I’ve always been that person who rarely stops at just one glass of wine, usually ending up several pints later with my head down the sink and a lack of knowledge of the last half an hour of consciousness before bed. As a young adult, I never really drank much as my ex-fiancé wasn’t really a drinker, and my social life largely relied on my own gigging at which I would only drink two pints of cider so as to retain a good level of control prior to and during a performance, or having a few Bacardi Breezers and a glass of Cherry Lambrini on my rare nights out with the ex’s 50 something year old mother and her similarly-aged friends. By the time myself and my new partner had been established as an item for almost a year, I was a seasoned cider drinker, often downing anything between 6 – 10 pints at a gig (over a number of hours) and in addition, drinking between 2-4 bottles of wine during the week. As someone who has ‘demons’, being drunk is often not a nice experience as this inner turmoil tends to escape with the loss of control that insobriety brings. Both my boyfriend and I drank quite a lot at the time, neither of us very good at arguing, usually resulting in some kind of childish ‘he-said-she-said’ tit for tat situation which I found sat difficult for me. Probably down to my OCD, I like to know where I stand at all times where possible, and having arguments with the expectation that what was said should be swept under the carpet was something I was neither used to, nor capable of.

This lead to a general feeling of unease within me, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I was working minimal hours in a role at a college whilst I was studying for my degree, attempting to juggle both yet seeming to manage quite well. I lived quite a distance away from my parents so didn’t get to see them as often as I liked or was accustomed to and basically felt quite alienated, living in someone’s home which wasn’t mine, having no ‘real’ friends or constructive hobbies. I struggle to recall the exact timings of circumstances, but what I do know is that at this juncture in my life, a lot of major shifts occurred, forcing me to rapidly adapt to unexpected upheavals and situations. My boyfriend was made redundant from his full-time job, resulting in me putting in for, and getting, a full time version of my part-time post. Having already studied for two years on my degree, I had two choices: drop out and waste all of that time and effort, or negotiate to work full time and continue to study. I chose the latter, which was difficult as I couldn’t physically attend lessons, and inevitably unable to participate in any group-related assessments which impacted on my final grade. My parents separated and began what ended up an extremely distressing and messy divorce: one which I got caught up in by my Father turning to me with what I consider to be fears of my Mother’s infidelity, brought on by his own mental illness, which regrettably, he has yet to address. Loneliness, stress from working full-time and still studying for my degree, playing happy families whilst we had my boyfriend’s children over every other weekend and being the person my Dad turned to with his issues, thus driving a wedge between my Mum and I all resulted in the resurgence of the uncontrollable aspects of my OCD, but with a vengeance. Countless arguments, fuelled by fears of being ugly, fat and unlovable, mixed with alcohol and never quite knowing how I felt from one minute to the next led to two suicide attempts, obviously unsuccessful, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. This second time, I was frogmarched to A&E by my partner and Mum, forced to wait for hours just to be seen, I nipped outside for a ‘cigarette’, only to run off back home, for which I had no key, so I waited outside in a state to be roused by two police officers who had been sent by my Mum whom I had deserted at the hospital. There are lots of things I could mention to pad this out, but to cut a long story short, I promised to get myself help, and went back onto the antidepressants I had long ceased taking. I contacted my GP and forced through another referral for psychiatric treatment, and eventually got seen by a practitioner in the city centre. Much younger than all those I’d seen previously, and rather ‘hip’, with his long dreadlocks and flares, I felt even more embarrassed to impart my past: not because I had any feelings for him, but more because he seemed like the kind of person I’d socialise with and who didn’t have the stereotypical air of Doctor about him. After a few sessions, I’d divulged all, including how frustrated I’d been previously with my historical treatment. I explained to him how over the years, now at 22 years of age, I had done a lot of thinking, research and self-analysis and had come to the conclusion that whilst with lots of instances of OCD, it is simple to identify the fear and understand the compulsions these cause, even possible to introduce ways in which to lessen the intensity of the fear which would in turn reduce the volume of compulsive actions. However, with my particular experience of OCD, it was all in my ‘head’: that is, I was attempting to explain how it was either never tactile, or if it was, this didn’t bother me. That what bothered me and caused distress was this never-ending, uncontrollable cycle of self-doubting thoughts which would prompt me to ask questions of others feelings and views towards me, which I would then interrogate further, usually resulting in arguments, upset and grief, which inevitably would exacerbate my feelings of inadequacy and thus the cycle would begin again. At this current point in my life, a typical outburst of OCD, and the trigger of it, could be something such as follows:

Catching my partner’s line of sight being in the direction of another woman

Believing that looking at her must mean that my partner is attracted to this woman

In finding another woman attractive, I must be ugly and unattractive

Being found unattractive by my partner must mean he doesn’t love me

If he doesn’t love me, that means he must have cheated on me

If he has cheated on me, what else don’t I know about

Oh my God, he’s cheated on me, what do I do?  I feel sick. I need to know the truth

I would ask my partner if he’s ever been unfaithful to me

He would reply of course not, why would you ask that

I would explain that I saw him look at another woman

He would say that he hadn’t, or at least if he had, he wasn’t aware of it, or it was insignificant

I would then accuse him of lying

He would then tell me I was trying to control him

I would then feel frustrated because all I wanted to know was if he had cheated on me or not

He would ask how I came to that conclusion from him looking at someone

I would say because it must mean I’m ugly, am I ugly

He would say no; I wouldn’t be with you if you were

I would then ask him to compare me to his previous partners, which he became angry at

I would question his anger, taking this as reluctance to admit he loved them more and found me less attractive

He would say this wasn’t true, but that he couldn’t and shouldn’t compare me to others because he was with me now and other people didn’t matter

I would presume this was him not wanting to tell me the truth, resulting in me becoming convinced that he was lying to me about everything

This could go on and on, round in circles, any kind of trigger could result in the same cyclical train of thought for me, causing distress to us both, often resulting in shouting, things being said which either weren’t true or said out of anger and frustration just to provide me with an answer when I couldn’t stop asking the same question in a different package. Whilst in some ways, it may not be unusual to feel a sense of paranoia if you catch your partner eyeing another person, or feeling that you may be unattractive, but to the degree where everything and anything could ignite this bout of interrogation, ending only when both of you have exhausted yourselves with shouting, or by having them repeat the same phrase, said in exactly the way you want just to satiate your fears momentarily, isn’t normal. My descriptive of this behaviour as ‘in my head’ as opposed to ‘tactile’ comes from the idea that with OCD, you are typically thought of as an arranger, or a toucher or counter. Reassurance-seeking is common, but you would usually find this alongside any number of distressing physical traits. With me, I either had no tactile traits, or just didn’t notice them as they had no impact on those around me, whereas this involvement of my partner was completely in opposition: They were very involved, whether they liked it or not.

Having explained the above to my Psychiatrist, I also made it clear to him that I was extremely conscious of how my OCD manifested, that it wasn’t something I had ‘contracted’ through logic, that it had simply evolved as I aged, and seemed likely to have always been centred around this sense of low self-esteem I have. Even the fear of being homosexual appeared to have stemmed from noticing a girl who was attractive, feeling inadequate myself and that she was superior to me, with my complete lack of understanding that I had a mental illness, presuming this must have meant that I was gay, and the rest, I have mentioned earlier. In my relationship with my partner, as my OCD had flared up for all of the frustrations I have detailed, the obsession focussed on these feelings of worthlessness, ugliness, inadequacy, and self-loathing, driving me to seek reassurance from my partner, whom I was assuming felt the same for myself as I do: not a lot. The Doctor was good, he paid attention to what I said, invited me to bring my boyfriend with me so that he could discuss and action plan with us both, since my OCD had implicated my partner. I don’t think this helped him to be honest. I’ve long since thought: It’s one thing accepting that your partner has a mental illness and understanding that this is the reason they are doing what they are to you, but it is a very different thing ‘putting up with’ it. I felt lots of resentment at the time because I know that my boyfriend didn’t truly believe OCD was a mental illness and regularly threw accusations at me that I was causing problems on purpose, as opposed to because I couldn’t help it. In hindsight, it was his lack of wanting to accept and understand, and my inability at that time to gain control over my illness that lead to a very lengthy 7-year relationship, which went on too long, after far too much irreparable damage was done and trust was broken. Living in a small motorhome together for 5 years, with a consistent atmosphere you cut could with an atmosphere with nowhere to enjoy your own space eventually led to me walking away. We are now, surprisingly, quite good friends, and he appears to have since developed an understanding that he perhaps just wasn’t ready for when I needed it.

The sessions with this psychiatrist sadly came to an end when he decided to take a sabbatical to travel the world (the flaming hippy!) meaning that should I wish to continue my treatment, I would yet again be at the mercy of the NHS and pushed back to another professional who required my back catalogue of issues from day one. I attended two sessions, the first one involving getting her up to speed with everything, the second and final one largely being me telling her that I was sick of being treated as though I had an illness just because I had a very in-depth and sensible academic understanding of OCD. It felt to me then, and the notes she wrote up on our two sessions as provided below, that she was simply saying, this person knows the score, so she can deal with it by herself. It is with a phenomenal amount of anger and frustration that I felt both then and still now, that it doesn’t matter how much you know about and understand something, if it is causing untold distress to you and renders you incapable of leading a happy life, then you bloody well do need help and should never be dismissed just because you’re not on your hands and knees, slitting your wrists and screaming at the voices in your head. What I wanted then, and still do now, was to be given the tools to recognise when my OCD was flaring up, and once noticed, how to stop them from turning into this ritualistic cycle of destruction preventing me from having a happy and healthy, trusting relationship.

Since then, I have continued to take the medication, I have gone from that relationship to another, relatively meaningless one, into one now in which I would like to remain for the rest of my life. It seems to me that the way in which I am afflicted by my illness is opened up and determined by the level of emotion I have for a person. The relationship I describe above as meaningless did not drive me to any unmanageable level of OCD as I simply believe I didn’t care what this man thought of me, because I didn’t love him. However, I have in my relationship now, where I do love my partner, been experiencing the same rotation of self-loathing, reassurance-seeking questioning as in my early 20s, which ended the relationship I was in at the time. I am determined for this relationship not to be damaged in the same fashion, however at times, struggle to comprehend how I can restrict myself from feeling inclined to be self-doubting. I am not a confident person by any stretch of the imagination. I mention having performed musically, and being someone with a variety of ‘out-there’ hairstyles, tattoos and piercings, yet beneath this ‘mask’, I am extremely shy, to the point where it can often take me hours to find courage to make a telephone call, or walk down the street without being over-aware of being noticed. Many people have often asked me, why then, if I don’t want other people to be aware of me, do I choose to maintain my ‘alternative’ appearance, since this inadvertently draws unwanted attention. I have thought about this long and hard, and not to over-analyse, I believe that there are a few reasons for this. As a child, I felt like I didn’t belong, and so did what many children did, and became the product of this feeling of being a misfit by dressing like one. I then rebelled against my parents and succumbed to the unconscious influence of my much older, tattooed and pierced peers in doing the same which down to my ‘addictive’ personality, I couldn’t just have one, I had to go overboard. This then became my identity: the way in which I became known from really, what is a young age to be that extreme. I didn’t like the attention that it gained, and I absolutely hated the verbal abuse that it incited which truthfully has only stopped in the past few years since this kind of look has become more ‘mainstream’, yet I still continued because this became the person I was, and am. I do feel there is an element of self-destruction involved with the piercings I have. I didn’t initially as a teenager opt for the stereotypical belly button or tongue piercing, I went straight in for the kill and had my septum pierced, the bridge of my nose, 7 in my lips, one in my gum, another in my septum, my nose, I had my ear lobes cut instead of stretching them so that I could have metal holes in them, only in recent years going more fashionable with the tongue and belly button. For years, I wore the biggest and most brutal studs and spikes you could buy. Not because I wanted to be noticed, but actually because I wanted to hide my face. My hair became bigger and bigger, with extensions covering a large part of my face at all times so that really, all I was, was a lump of hair and metal. Currently, I don’t wear all of my piercings, I wear smaller jewellery, and whilst I do still have braided or dreaded hair, it’s nowhere near as extreme as my formative years. People still ask why I retain this look, to which I now have to respond, it’s me! I’ve been this way for more than half of my life now, how do I be anything else, and why should I? This doesn’t stop my dislike of my appearance, and some days, I despair over this unhappiness. It doesn’t matter how many people tell you you’re beautiful and pretty: if you don’t believe it, you don’t see it. I often see myself in a photograph and am shocked that the person in the picture is me. Whilst I can fully comprehend I am neither grotesque or obese, and I can quite cheerfully post a ‘selfie’ to Facebook without over-vetting it beforehand, these ideas of inadequacy still remain, something which I am going to have to work very hard to quell. I guess there is truth in the old adage: if you don’t love yourself, how can you expect others to love you?

I’m performed a charity Cliff Camping experience in June, with my chum Lee Garratt. The reason I did this is because I have done two previous charity ‘stunts’: a sky dive and an abseil. Both of these events I did to help raise money for the League Against Cruel Sports. In order to challenge myself further, I decided to opt for something a bit more out there than the other two fund-raisers, but this time, the charity I helped to raise funds for was OCD Action. I have often spoken about having OCD openly, but had never really gone into much detail about how it impacts on me, and for how long I have suffered from it. It has long since been a bugbear of mine that as soon as you mention OCD, ideas of someone perpetually cleaning or touching objects are conjured up. Sure, it gets me this way too, but it runs much deeper than that, and my ‘story’ and history of this illness is extremely complex and complicated, and is something I was keen to get ‘out there’ in order to help both myself and others.

I also occasionally help out the charity by co-facilitating some online help groups, which I feel helps me to better understand the illness. I have met some other people with it, but never someone quite the same as me, largely those afflicted with the contamination element of it.

OCD & I: Mentally Over-Stimulated

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