Trigger (not so) happy

Now that OCD is (mostly) under control for me, I find that it rarely instigates a random takeover on its own. It usually requires a little trigger – a doorway into my brain whilst holding hands with a seemingly innocent thought or event. OCD YOU WILY MINX. Triggers are the remaining scar from when OCD was at its worst for me. I try my best not to fall victim to the resulting obsessions and compulsions, but sometimes it’s disgustingly tempting. PSA: There will be numerous lists in this post. Mmmm, lists.

Okay, SO. Some examples of triggers:

  • Conversations about teeth
  • Eating crunchy foods (I can’t even eat Hula Hoops anymore – it really be ya own brain huh)
  • Talking about ageing 
  • Any kind of twinge or pain in my body
  • Any new mark that appears on my body
  • Anyone mentioning that they’re ill 
  • Conversations about bodily functions
  • My hands being too warm
  • My face being too warm 
  • Touching unfamiliar objects 
  • Touching magazine pages / book pages / any kind of pages that aren’t brand new
  • Small black objects in my food / on floors ETC ETC, YOU GET IT. 

I understand that any stranger reading this list would be like “Jheeeez what an uptight human!” When in fact anyone who knows me would assure you that I’m not uptight (I am a human though so 1 point for Slytherin). I don’t expect people to tread on eggshells around me and more importantly I really, REALLY don’t want them to. I want to be normal. So when something happens or something is said that awakens the OCD, I don’t usually voice it. There’s more to this than just trying to avoid driving everyone around me crazy, but I’ll explain that part later… 

In terms of the gravity of the fallback from the aforementioned triggering moments, it depends from one moment to the next. Some obsessions that can arise include: 

  • Becoming convinced that I’ve contracted a virus that has never been contracted by a human before
  • Becoming convinced that I’ve contracted an illness that is incurable and that is my own fault (Didn’t stop my four year nicotine addiction though, huh OCD??)
  • Worrying that my teeth will all crumble and fall out
  • Worrying that I might accidentally hurt somebody I love
  • Worrying that strangers want to hurt me (this one’s complex – I’ll do a whole post on this another time)
  • Worrying that I am fundamentally a bad person
  • Thinking about all of the pathogens on Planet Earth
  • Thinking about the germs on my hands
  • Being nervous of foreign objects in my food or in my bedroom 

These obsessions can lead to the urge to give into compulsions such as washing my hands, washing my belongings, washing my face, checking my teeth, bruxism, researching the internet or books looking for ‘reassurance’, hinting for reassurance from loved ones, memorising dates and events in my head, counting in my head, checking electricity sockets and checking my skin for foreign objects. There are waaaay too many to include them all. The symptoms and triggers above are a small proportion. A delicious little taster for ya. 

Before my diagnosis and treatment came into fruition, these triggers were constant and the obsessions and compulsions were unstoppable. I had completely lost my life to OCD. I didn’t have time for anything I enjoyed during my days because they were taken up frantically completing compulsions, whilst under the illusion that it would actually help in some way. These days, the triggers are less frequent and less strong. I still have moments – especially anything to do with my hands and viruses – but the key for me is to face the obsession head-on whilst avoiding the compulsion. 

Pour example, my fine curious friends, I’ve been staying in a rented house in North Wales this week. It’s idyllic, and for most people, it would be a chance for pure relaxation. For me personally, it is chilled and peaceful up to a point, but staying in a whole new house full of brand new germs is a little bit of a challenge. My hands have felt warm and prickly (not physically but psychologically) for the four days that we’ve been here. This then causes the obsessions to prod at my stress receptors seductively, and the urge to wash my hands flashes constantly within my mind. BUT I SHALL NOT GIVE IN, FOUL OBSESSIONS – PROD AWAY. I’ve learned that allowing the obsessions too much airtime, and giving into the compulsions leaves me in an unresolved cycle for hours and hours, complete with a large amount of fidgeting, frantic singing, and adrenaline. (Blessed are the ones who have witnessed these cycles of panic.) 

Therefore, to avoid the cycles of panic, I avoid giving into the obsessions and the compulsions. I give myself a set period during the day when I am allowed to obsess. Sometimes this is in the shower, or after breakfast, but I always make sure it’s in the morning. Once I have allowed myself these few minutes (without carrying out any compulsions), I try not to let obsessions take over my brain for the rest of the day. I only wash my hands when necessary, I am categorically NOT allowed to use hand-sanitising gel, and I have to touch anything that a normal person would. This low-level exposure helps me to keep the reigns on my OCD gooood and tight. 

In conclusion; OCD is a sneaky b***ard… Do not give your obsessions free-reign on the amount of airtime they get… And whatever you do, stop giving into the compulsions. Also, remember that however far through recovery you have come, there’s still a way to go because you’re a little human bean and we’re complex as hell. Try not to worry when triggers are still affecting your mindset. Try not to demonise yourself for slipping up and giving in. YOU KICK ASS AND YOU ABSOLUTELY WILL MAKE OBSESSIONS/COMPULSIONS YOUR B*TCH.

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I’m not ‘precious’ – I’m mentally ill. 

Precious. Prissy. Diva. High-maintenance. These are all terms that I have had unwillingly thrust upon me during the last decade of my life. I’ll give you a few examples, shall I?

I once walked into a pub with an ex and subconsciously checked the bar (thoroughly  of course) before leaning on it with my elbow. He grinned from ear to ear and affectionately called me “precious”, which I thought little of in the moment.

On another occasion, when asked by an ex-boyfriend what he thought of me, his male friend called me “a bit prissy” due to my health and germ fears shinin’ on through no matter how hard I shamefully tried to smother ‘em (OCD is a persistent little bugger).

Whilst travelling with another ex-boyfriend, we ended up having to stay in a little back-street hostel that cost a couple of quid. The bedsheets were scratchy, unwashed sheets of fleece material, and the bathroom had brown smears and splatters up the wall. I tried to stay calm – believe me I tried– but OCD took full control of my brain and I freaked. I mean FREAKED. The ex-boyfriend took the resulting panic attack very personally and called me difficult.

Now, I wish more than almost anything that I didn’t have OCD. I wish that I could walk into rooms without checking surfaces. I wish I could be a relaxed, laid-back person that is able to improvise when travelling. I wish I didn’t suffer with panic attacks. Unfortunately, I do have OCD, and although I try my best to keep it in check, sometimes it just slips out of my grasp and I am not okay. I cry, I panic and sometimes – SOMETIMES – there’s a surprisingly large quantity of snot.

“Trust their reaction.” 

That’s something I say to myself and to others a lot when dealing with the emotions of people around us. If I offend somebody and I’m not sure why they’re offended, I ask them how I’ve offended them, and then I trust their reaction. If someone has a phobia that I personally do not identify with, I trust their reaction. If somebody is crying about something that I don’t understand being upset about, I trust their reaction. Trusting somebody’s reaction has a lot to do with empathy, and understanding that just because you don’t understand WHY somebody is feeling the way they’re feeling, it doesn’t mean you have to be unkind or judgmental.

Some of the people I’ve known – in some situations – have not trusted my reaction. They saw me feeling distressed about something that seemed ridiculous to them and they ridiculed me and called me names.

I’m not being confrontational by writing this blog post and I’m certainly not angry at the numerous people that have called me seemingly harmless names. I do however think that it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. It’s an especially relevant issue at the moment, with the likes of celebrities such as Mariah Carey and Kanye West being very forthright and upfront about their mental health.

Mariah Carey recently spoke out about the fact that she is has been living with bipolar disorder for years. This made me feel like hugging her, not only because she’s living with this illness, but also because she has been keeping it hidden for all these years whilst being continuously labelled a ‘diva’.

Mariah Carey has been known for high/profile incidences such as her meltdown on TRL back in the early noughties, followed shortly by a breakdown and a stay in a New York hospital. More recently Carey had an onstage mishap at a New Years Eve performance in New York which saw her leaving the stage prematurely.

There’s been a string of these incidents that have displayed to the world that Carey struggles with dealing with certain situations, and it was clear to many that she has in the past struggled with her mental health. Despite this public knowledge, Carey has been labelled as a high maintenance, difficult diva for her entire career before it emerged in 2018 that she has been suffering with bipolar.

I can think of many other cases of this lexical field of words being attached to people with mental illnesses. Frankly, it’s wrong, it’s narrow-minded and it’s archaic.

I realise that this blog post took a SHARP turn and not only did I (harmlessly) mention some actual experiences with people from my past, but I also (sort of) compared myself to Mariah Carey herself. I realise that sometimes people can be dicks regardless of mental health, and I’m not saying that because I have OCD I’m allowed to be difficult or rude to others. I’m just saying that we could all have a little more sensitivity towards others, and that before calling another person a name with a negative connotation, we can perhaps TRUST THEIR REACTION, because we never know what is going on privately in their heads.

A SMALL, SWEET VICTORY WAS HAD THAT DAY.

Okay, so this post is going to be very short. I’ve had a really busy week and my lil brain is working at v.low capacity (I called the remote control the “channel-changer” earlier). Today I’m going to briefly celebrate a small (but kinda yuge) victory I experienced this week. 

OCD makes flying very difficult for me. Lots of germs circulating in a small space from which I can’t escape. Lots of humans that might cough or sneeze. The fear of oxygen running out in the cabin. Air turbulence and a bumpy flight that may cause passengers to vom. My vomit phobia is the main reason flying is scary. I don’t actually care about the crashing and dying risk – I’m at peace with that possibility. But if someone were to puke near me? Nah fam.

Again, logic doesn’t really come into it when you have OCD. I’ve been on ten flights in the past twelve months, and they all went very smoothly (up until this week). Surely this was proof that flying is not necessarily a chance for germy disaster to strike? You’d think my brain would just chill out for a sec and let me catch a flight in peace. 

On Monday I went to the Czech Republic. I flew from Gatwick to Prague, and the journey was pretty sweet. I drank lots of water (hydration baby yeeah) and I listened to Angels and Airwaves on my headphones whilst wearing my fluffy bunny comfort mask (gangsters need sleep too). Nobody was sat behind me, and I slept for most of the flight. “This is all a bit too good to be true,” I thought to myself as I breezed through Prague airport with no queues and no hassle.

I had a lovely time in Prague. Ate all the carbs. Saw all the sights. Stroked all the dogs etc etc.

THEN CAME THE RETURN FLIGHT. It was an evening flight, and weirdly I didn’t feel anxious at all in the run-up that day. Usually anxiety about the flight home makes me ill on the last day of my holibobbles. The airport was a doddle. I bought a cute ring and I ate some tasty food. I went through security and made myself cosy in the departure lounge (in the front corner so that I was in a defensive position to fight off germs and murderers obv). Anyway… twenty minutes passed and the gate wasn’t open. Another 20 minutes and I started to feel a tad unsettled. The flight was supposed to be leaving soon. They finally opened the gate and I was all fired up. I was READY.

The queue slowly dripped onto the plane. As soon as I had climbed the stairs, made awkward eye contact with the pilot and entered the cabin, the smell hit me. VOM. PURE VOM. One of my biggest fears in life is being trapped on a plane with vom, and it was bloody well happening, wasn’t it. There’s no logic in why this particular situation petrifies me so much – I knew deep down that I would survive the situation, yet it still froze me to my core. Perhaps it was the total loss of control of my surroundings? What could I do? I needed to get back to London – and I’d paid for the flight. I stood in the gangway and sang Sail Away by Enya frantically under my breath whilst making really twitchy eye contact with everyone in the vicinity. Did I look crazy? I absolutely bloody did. Did I care? Did I f**k…

Long story short, I did it. I walked to the back of the cabin, I sat down in my chair, inhaled through my mouth and calmly talked myself through it. “Nothing bad is happening… I’m literally sitting down with my worst fear and nothing awful is happening”. Not only is it an absolute victory that I managed to deal with it calmly, it’s also a bloody good bit of accidental exposure in terms of CBT. I know now that I can sit on a plane that smells of vomit and get to where I need to be.

One small step for man, one giant leap for Mimkind.

I’M IN LOOVE WITH THE SOAP THO (I DO IT FOR THE MICROBES)

There’s no feeling quite like running clean water on ya hands – can I get a HELL YEEAAAH. When I’m more in control of OCD, hand washing becomes a more pleasant experience. I wash them just the once, then I run my hands under the cold tap for a while (makes my bellybutton tingle all nice like), then I dry them, and if I’m feeling really spicy, I slap some moisturiser on ‘em. The aftermath is a little more challenging, due to the having to touch door handles/anything at all in the world that might tarnish my fresh fresh end-of-arm-grabbers. All in all, it’s a normal, automatic process during my day. I do it before I eat, I do it when I’ve eaten, I do it when I’ve been to the bathroom, and I do it when I get home from being outside of the house (okay I don’t actually think that last one is normal but I’m working on it).

When the OCD is being a bastard, however, my hand washing routine becomes a military operation, complete with sweat upon my brow, and the temptation of a biopsy to determine whether any pathogens remain on/in my hands after washing. For example, I’ll clean the house and then once I’m finished, my old pal OCD will pipe up with “now all the germs you cleaned are on your hands”, to which I reply by stampeding to the nearest sink – arms outstretched – a vision of soap flickering before my eyes with iridescent sparkles and flying babies. I wash them once, I flick the excess water off my hands. I wash them twice, before thinking “that’s probably enough”, and flicking the water off them. I pause near the hand towel. “What if”, the OCD breathes into my ear, “what if you didn’t wash them well enough?” The cycle repeats itself and I’m stuck, like a robot, washing my hands repeatedly until my breathing becomes laboured and my hands become pink.

Sometimes, if I think about my hands or about germs, my hands literally feel different. It’s very hard to explain in words. My hands feel warm, and I can ‘feel’ the pathogens growing and multiplying on my skin. Everything I touch then becomes highlighted in my brain as having germs on it, and I end up feeling like a huge contagious swamp monster. It’s very hard not to give in and wash my hands sometimes, as I’m scared of causing harm to the people around me by spreading germs.

This particularly intense compulsion to wash my hands usually requires a trigger, and it happens less now due to my (hesitant) refusal to give into it. Things I still struggle to do without triggering this frenzied marathon of soap suds include touching books or magazines, touching food that’s been in the fridge, cleaning and tidying (two of my favourite hobbies…I wish I was kidding) and using public transport. OCD permits me to touch my dogs without worrying about germs though. Poppy eats bird shit, and Louis wipes his face in anything that smells strange, but the OCD absolutely permits these germs… Classic ol’ OCD being logical again.

The thing I find most distressing about this compulsion is the lack of control. I’m stuck in a cycle, unable to break it, feeling like I’m being bandersnatched by a really boring clean-freak. The thing I find second-most distressing is the fact that it’s time-consuming. I’ll have an appointment, or an important event, or a friend to meet, and I know I’ll be late if I get stuck in the hand-washing matrix but I LITERALLY. CAN’T. STOP. The sore hands that result from all this washing is collateral damage. One winter, my hands became so dry that the skin became sort of scaly on my knuckles, and they hurt and itched (sometimes I forget how sexy I am until I write a blog post). This then triggered comments and questions from acquaintances as to why my hands were so sore, which might’ve made me feel a little self-conscious had I given a single shit what anyone thought. Luckily, I don’t. Once OCD was diagnosed, I was usually honest and friendly in my replies. People are curious, and they won’t understand OCD unless we tell them about it frankly. Another annoying side-effect from all this hand washing is the fact that I can’t grow my nails. Before 2016, I had very long natural nails that I kept in pristine condition. Hand-washing seems to have weakened them and I can’t grow them. I always felt like they were a part of my identity, and now I’ve lost that to OCD. Now I’m washing my hands less, I’m hoping they’ll grow back as healthy and strong as before.

During my worst phase of OCD a couple of years ago, hand-washing alone became obsolete in the battle against germs, and soon I was showering twice a day. I washed my face once when I woke up, once when I got home in the evening, and once before bed. Sometimes I’d wash it after eating too. My hair became dry and limp, and my skin became inflamed and angry. At the time, this didn’t even strike me as too much washing. I assumed everyone washed this much – or perhaps I didn’t even think about it? I’m not entirely sure. But I do remember my therapist wincing affectionately when I declared how much of my day I spent washing myself, before telling me that we were gonna work together to lessen the washing. I didn’t realise how much I ‘needed’ to wash myself until this moment. When I got home, I cried privately at the thought of letting germs dwell on my skin.

This compulsion was treated almost completely by Cognitive Behavioural Therapy alone. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, we did a lot of exposure work to normalise things that scared and therefore triggered me. I was encouraged to wash only when (actually) necessary, and to avoid repetitive washing. This was a process that lasted a little over three months before my washing habits became more manageable. As with any of the other symptoms, I still have the odd moment here and there where something triggers me and I’ll relapse. I’ve learned not to see this as a failure, because mental health recovery is absolutely NOT linear, and if I assumed OCD might leave me alone entirely one day, I’d probably be fooling myself. I’m trying really hard to see OCD as a part of me, and to work alongside it, rather than to see it as the enemy and punish it, because I always end up punishing myself.

What if I kill my dogs?

Intrusive thoughts and illogical worries

Last week’s post was a little intense, so I’ma keep this post short and lighthearted (not that you’d guess from the heading). I have two dogs. Small tiny cute chihuahuas called Louis and Poppy. I’ve had Louis since I was fourteen and he is literally my best friend. He’s helped me through the darkest times, and kept me company when I’ve been unable to leave the house. These little guys brought out a nurturing instinct in me that I didn’t know was there. Blah blah blah. You get it – I adore them.

CUE MY DESPERATELY CLINGY EX-BOYFRIEND; Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (Yay)

Intrusive thoughts are an absolute vibe-killer. Any of you who suffer with them understand exactly how they can impact upon your life. When the OCD was at its worst, it felt like my brain had become self-sabotaging, and any moments of notable joy were killed with an intrusive thought. At one point, intrusive thoughts were interrupting tasty food, relaxing baths, and blissful sex with my then-boyfriend (whom I didn’t explain this to because I was embarrassed at the time). One delightful little sub-unit of intrusive thoughts, is the belief that I may accidentally kill my dogs DEAD.

Luckily, these thoughts are few-and-far-between these days, but the little blighters ruled my brain for a period back in 2016. OCD made me feel like a useless, bumbling idiot who could not be trusted with anything or anyone. When I’d gone to bed at night, my brain would ping;

“What if their water bowl is empty and they die of dehydration overnight?” 

“What if you dropped a grape on the floor as you shut the fridge and one of them chokes on it and dies?”

“WHAT IF THOU SLEEPWALK AND MURDER THEM WITH THY VERY OWN (impeccably clean) HANDS????”

The list goes on…

These intrusive thoughts then led to compulsions such as checking their water bowl, their beds, the kitchen floor and their general demeanour. This was mildly irritating, but the compulsions did manage to reassure me to some extent – as long as I repeated them multiple times whilst indulging in a cheeky little out-loud commentary of what I was doing. Sort of like a desperately obsessive version of a YouTube makeup tutorial, complete with a shaky voice and two little dogs blinking up at me wishing I’d f**k off back to bed.

The most distressing worries always occurred after I had handled or stroked Lou or Pops, which was a near constant thing when I was in the house. My brain would spitefully interrupt me within five minutes of leaving the room, to tell me that I’d probably poked them in the eye and blinded them, or stroked them too hard and broken their ribs. This is the part of OCD which I found most frustrating and upsetting… I knew that it was simply illogical, but I had no control whatsoever over the thoughts. There was no logical way of trying to reassure myself that I hadn’t harmed them, because the root of the thought itself was entirely illogical… if that makes sense?

Thinking that I could harm those I love the most became common theme for me, and it was a symptom of OCD which never failed to bring me to tears. I’ve cried for hours in total at the thought of my dogs, or a family member, or a friend dying because of an error on my part. (This post has turned out to be a little heavier than I originally planned lol my bad…)

Anyway, my dear obsessive friends, it is now January 2019. The Spice Girls Reunion Tour glistens upon the horizon, it looks like Trump may at some point be impeached, and my dogs are both alive and well AWW YISSS. I have committed neither sleepmurder nor petslaughter. Life is good. A combination of the medication I’m on and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has helped me to conquer these thoughts. I am John Cena. Intrusive thoughts are my weak, pitiful opponent. THEY CAN’T SEE ME. As with most symptoms, I have my off-days when they can creep back in, but I manage to bodyslam them. (I’ll chill out with the wrestling references now soz).

I’m endlessly grateful that I’m currently able to cuddle my dogs without the constant fear that I might accidentally kill them… imagine someone glancing at my blog and just catching that one sentence haha. Of course the worry of OCD making a comeback nags at me occasionally (I’m talking a huge, Take That, stadium tour magnitude comeback with extra key changes and extra-toit pantsh) but at least I know that there is always hope that I’ll elbow drop it again. Also, at least my dogs are alive.

A symptom of my OCD: Helminthophobia

WARNING: This post could be potentially triggering for people who suffer from helminthophobia. Please don’t read if you think it may be a risk to your mental health.  

ALSO A WARNING: This post contains a distinct lack of humour I’m afraid. I usually see the funny side of my own OCD, but there are a small number of things I struggle to write about humorously. If you’re here for the lols, you’ll most probably be disappointed (unless you’re a sadist or you personally hate my guts).

When the term Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is used, most people assume that it causes extreme tidiness, organisation and hygiene. The dark truth however, is that this illness is capable of completely ruining the lives of those who have it, convincing them that they are either terrible people, or that they are ‘insane’. OCD can cause suicidal thoughts and urges, and sadly many OCDers have taken their own lives just to escape their minds. There have been two occasions during which OCD has caused me to want to admit myself to a psychiatric hospital. During both of these low points, one symptom in particular was weighing me down and making my life a misery. My crippling fear of WORMS. Ew.

Like most carefree kids, I used to crouch down in the school playground, stick in hand, prodding earthworms whilst grinning gleefully up at my goading friends. Remembering this as a 26 year old woman makes all of the nerves in my body cringe violently. I’m not sure what triggered this particular symptom or whether it is common in OCD, but along with a severe exacerbation of OCD in 2016 came a crippling fear of worms – ones that could infest my body or my mind, to be precise. 

The summer of 2016 is a blur when I think back to it. I suppose the trauma that my poor mental health inflicted upon me is partially responsible for this lapse in memory. I can’t recall the first time I felt like there were worms under my skin, but I seem to remember a jar of coconut oil being involved in the thought process. I had started to use coconut oil to moisturise, as stress and constant washing of my body had caused dry skin. Somewhere deep in the recesses of my brain, I became sure that the coconut oil was infected with tiny parasitic worms, or threads. For a while, the fear manifested as a fear of fibres… you know the little fibres of cotton and dust that are literally everywhere. I became fixated with these fibres, and I couldn’t stand the idea of them being anywhere near me, let alone on my skin and in my lungs. I began scanning my eyes, skin, mouth and nails for these tiny fibres. The green and red ones were the ones that struck me with the most fear. I would spend hours at a time in front of the mirror, searching for fibres. In the end, the worry spread, and I was checking my food meticulously for worms and fibres before I would eat it. 

My constant searching soon became a search for reassurance… from ye olde internet of all places. NOW WE ALL KNOW that you unequivocally shouldn’t research medical worries on the internet, but Google had grown to become an abusive yet charming boyfriend to me at this time, providing me with comfort to my face, whilst crippling me psychologically behind my back. I would spend large quantities of my time searching for a ‘nugget of gold’ as I so fondly referred to any kind of reassurance that I could lay my eyes on. Whilst scrolling obsessively for some reassurance about these fibres, I came across an ‘undiscovered medical condition’, which I am refusing to name specifically in fear of other OCDers fixating upon it. I also won’t divulge too much detail in terms of what it entails. I came across multiple non-official, amateur websites stating that this condition caused tiny fibres, or worms, to procreate under the skin of sufferers, causing fatigue, brittle hair, dermatitis and other symptoms (which I conveniently already had due to another – very real – medical condition). The websites stated that the condition was relatively new, and that a lack of understanding had caused many GPs and specialists to label it as a symptom of psychosis. The authors of the websites however, informed me that it was not psychosis, and that it was a real, life-ruining condition. 

So then the paranoia set in… “Nobody knows the truth apart from a few people… you can’t trust medical professionals… I’m completely alone in dealing with this condition… etc etc”. I became so convinced that my skin was infested with these worms or fibres, despite there being no evidence whatsoever bar a few pieces of fluff I had found on my skin. (Nb: This is a really twisted element of OCD – it thrives on looking for reassurance in proof and evidence, but no amount of cold, hard, scientific evidence is actually enough).

Cue an extremely difficult few months. Lots of breakdowns. Self-hatred. Isolating myself from others. Etc etc.

In my eyes, both possible causes of this condition were petrifying. Either I was indeed infested by a strange alien parasite, or I was suffering from psychosis. Neither of these casual internet diagnoses felt great, to be perfectly honest with you. The word ‘psychosis’ scared me in itself due to my limited understanding of the word. Psychosis refers to an impaired relationship with reality and is a symptom in many mental health conditions. I catastrophised however, and believed that I might be ‘going insane’. I believed that I should stay in a psychiatric hospital, as it would protect my loved ones from either the physical condition that I believed I had, or from my mental instability. I plucked up the courage to talk to my counsellor about my obsession with this condition and the fact that I might have it. She had never heard of it, which triggered the paranoia allover again, and I was sure I couldn’t trust her, my GP, or anybody who wasn’t suffering from the condition.

In moments when I doubted that this might actually be a real, physical, medical condition, I scrupulously studied the DSM and various medical journals in order to work out what might be wrong with my brain. From what I could gather from my research at that time, the main differentiation between OCD and schizophrenia (which has a number of crossovers with OCD) was that those with OCD are aware that their thoughts and fears are irrational, whereas those with schizophrenia and the resulting psychosis may not be aware. This confirmed in my mind that I had a mental condition outside of OCD.

Over time however, I cautiously came to consider (after much persuasion and help from medical professionals and my beautiful family) that these particular symptoms may all have been manifestation of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Breaking through the paranoia to come to this realisation was difficult beyond words, and has also become a considerable blur. I banned myself from visiting the websites about the ‘medical condition’ and I forcefully stopped myself from studying my eyes and my skin for fibres. I came to understand that these reassurance-seeking behaviours were causing me harm. (Interestingly, I also learned very recently that the view on diagnostic criteria for OCD has altered, and that it’s now accepted that OCD sufferers may not, in actual fact, always be aware that their fears and thoughts are irrational).

Fast-forward a year to September 2017, and I was put on medication to try to control the OCD. Different things work for different people, and after trying multiple other forms of treatment, this was the next option. For me, this was the only treatment that has managed to effectively and consistently control the particular group of symptoms discussed in this post, and for this reason I feel incredibly grateful for these little pills every time I swallow them. I’ll gladly take them for life if it means I don’t have to re-visit the summer of 2016. The memory of the place that I was in psychologically, the memory of those websites, and the memory of losing touch with reality chills me to the bone to this day. I will do everything within my power to avoid returning to that place again. 

I apologise for the serious tone of this blog post. It feels absurd to publicly explain this particular (and, up until now, very private) side of OCD, but, as well as trying to see the funny side sometimes, I want to share the darker sides of OCD, partly to help non-OCDers to understand that it is far more than ‘liking things to be neat’, and partly to offer hope to other OCDers that you are not ‘insane’. OCD is a bitch. It lies to you and it causes you to doubt yourself and others. Whoever you are, if you are in a dark, scary place because of  OCD, know that there is hope of respite and recovery.

THIS… IS… SPARTAAA!

(A brief guide to Obsessive Compulsive Spartanism)

Today I’m gunna talk about a rarely discussed symptom of my OCD. I don’t really discuss this with my friends or family, so it’s kind of an exclusive scoop, but whatever. I mentioned some minor hoarding compulsions I briefly experienced as a child in a previous post, but today I’ll be discussing the opposite (sort of); spartanism.

Sounds pretty exciting, right? If you aren’t familiar with the term Obsessive Compulsive Spartanism, then I’m about to f**k you up with some knowledge. Whereas hoarding is the collecting of items and belongings, spartanism refers to the need to rid yourself of said items and belongings. It’s like ‘the anti-hoarding’, if you will. If you don’t suffer with this symptom, then I’ll bet I know what you’re thinking. “Surely it’s good to declutter, right? A spring clean doesn’t hurt anyone, right?” WRONG, MY DEAR MISGUIDED FRIENDS, for I am not referring to a simple spritz of a room, or a quick declutter of a wardrobe. I’m talking about an obsessive need to throw out my belongings, to rid myself of photos, and to immediately read and delete my emails.

An example; my room takes minimalism to an entirely new level. I know minimalism has taken off in the world of interior design of late, but to give you an idea of my room, the word most used by others to describe it is ‘clinical’ (mmm cosy). My walls are white, my bedsheets are white, my desk is white and a lot of my belongings are white. It’s a bitch to keep clean and dust-free (go figure…) but damn it gives me a satisfaction that I can’t seem to achieve with anything else. I don’t have art on my walls, despite the fact I paint, and I don’t have framed photographs in my room, despite the fact I take large quantities of them. My room looks like it belongs to either a tragic sociopath with no friends and no hobbies, or Ikea.

As well as my visible space being sparse, I need my cupboards, drawers and wardrobe to be sparse as well. Every so often, when my OCD is especially bad, I decide to give a truck-load of my belongings to charity. I mean multiple bin-bags of belongings. During the OCD takeover I have experienced in the last two weeks, there was one morning where I woke up and decided to rid myself of a gargantuan number of shoes, handbags, and clothes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not especially mad about it. It makes me genuinely happy, however I have come to realise that the rate I throw my belongings away is abnormal.

Rearranging my surroundings is another activity which I find myself giving into. I often feel that, as well as having too many things, they’re also in the wrong place. This feeling can strike at any time; when I’m in the pub, when I’m shopping etc etc. I then return home and swap a number of plant pots around until I feel that they are ‘right’. This is a very private compulsion of mine that I don’t think anybody has ever seen in action – at least not to its full extent. To put it bluntly, it feels like a very private ritual that I’m embarrassed by. As a species, we humans have an innate need to be accepted by other humans, whether we consciously acknowledge it or not… sort of like rats. We’re basically just very big, very bald rats. The desire to be ‘normal’ is felt by so many people, and many ‘abnormal’ behaviours and thoughts are therefore instinctively kept private.

I’m one of those people that loves to document everything in life. My relationships are photographed, pretty sunsets are photographed, any dog I ever see is photographed. I sometimes even take photographs of nothing in particular, but I just want to capture a particular moment, like a thought or a feeling. I’m scared I’ll forget all of the small, beautiful bits in life. BUT HERE’S THE PROBLEM. There is a constant war in my mind because I adore the moments that I capture, but I can’t stand the clutter the photographs cause on my phone, my laptop and my hard drive. I delete texts, voicemails and contacts that I don’t speak to anymore, just so that my phone feels empty.

There is one particular time during my life that spartanism has hurt me deeply. In the summer of 2016, I suffered a particularly destructive exacerbation of OCD and depression. The OCD was not yet diagnosed, and so I was blindly giving into compulsions left right and centre in the hope that I would feel okay again. I deleted half of the photos that I had ever taken. I deleted 3000 photographs from my facebook page and I deleted a large number of facebook statuses and wall posts. I deleted my voicemails and my call log. At the time, it made me feel incredibly free and clear-minded. Hindsight’s a motherkisser though. In the September of that year, my big sister Jess passed away. Although I had always been aware she would die before me, I hadn’t expected it to be so soon. The night she died, I took myself to bed and I switched on my phone so that I could look at photos, facebook conversations and anything else that helped me remember her. I realised with a sickening thud that I had deleted so many precious memories of my sister just a few months previously, and it broke my heart in a way that I didn’t know was possible. I hadn’t ever seen the point in regret until that moment, and I’ll forever regret the mass deletion of so many memories that I can’t bring back. I’m endlessly thankful that during this particular cull of my things, I hadn’t deleted my text messages. Saved text conversations between my sister and me have been such a huge comfort to me when I feel sad about all those photographs.

So why do people engage in spartanism? I’ve read up on Obsessive Compulsive Spartanism and from what I can gather, some people engage in this compulsion due to a feeling of guilt attached to keeping their belongings. In this one instance however, guilt is not my motive. In fact, the guilt of getting rid of my things causes a huge conflict in my mind when I do impulsively get rid of them. I get rid of things because I need to in order for my brain to function fully. If I am sat in a busy, cluttered ‘lived in’ room, my mind becomes busy and crowded. I can’t concentrate and I find myself feeling extremely anxious and restless. I can’t relax and recharge my batteries unless my surroundings are a certain way. Ridding myself of my belongings literally feels as though I’m cleansing my soul. It’s like wafting sage around my apartment to rid myself of negative energy and spirits, EXCEPT BETTER. It’s like plucking that really annoying hair on your eyebrow that’s been too short to grab with the tweezers, UNTIL NOW. You get the picture…

In terms of managing spartanism, I’m personally seeing it as a bit of a compromise. Unlike most of my compulsions, it genuinely makes me feel happy and free, and so stopping seems especially daunting. I have managed to dampen the need to delete so many photographs, which is positive, however the mental image of all of them sat on my hard drive nags me on a daily basis. I’m working on that. I doubt I’ll ever be the kind of person that can collect books and stick happy photographs on my wall, but to be honest, I don’t want to be that person. Life is all about compromise and finding a happy balance, and as long as I’m on my way to my own version of a happy balance, then I’m on the right track.