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.

3 thoughts on “A symptom of my OCD: Helminthophobia

  1. Thanks for sharing these insights, you’re a brave lady. Glad to know I’m not alone with the memory blurs. Thinking about it, I read that new studies have shown that emotional pain/trauma activates the same parts of the brain as physical pain. One of the ways that the brain protects itself is to repress painful memories, so it kind of makes sense when you think about it. Stay strong girl, really love your blog 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahh that makes so much sense! Sometimes I’m glad my brain blocks out difficult memories but then ocd comes along and fills the gaps for me and it doesn’t work out well haha. Thanks so much for your kind words 😄🥰

      Liked by 1 person

      1. yeah I know what you mean, but the fact that you’ve made this blog shows you’re not letting it beat you so props for that gurl. and you’re welcome ☺️ keep fighting the good fight even though it sucks sometimes (well, a lot of the time) 💪🏻

        Liked by 1 person

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