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Living With... Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

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I first had the idea to write about my OCD back in November 2015.

I'd just published an article about my Generalised Anxiety Disorder. A condition I was diagnosed with in January 2015 following a breakdown.

At the beginning of a new month I would mentally say to myself "make sure you write that OCD post this month, don't put it off any longer" but for various reasons I would never actually get round to doing it.

Fear is one of those reasons.

There are so many common misconceptions when it comes to OCD. Only this morning I had a conversation with someone about how I'm a bit of a stickler for a routine. Their response was "ah, a bit OCD are you?"

I smiled and didn't reply. It wasn't the time nor the place to become embroiled in a debate about the illness and besides, when it comes to the spoken word, I'm not sure I'd know where to begin on the subject of OCD.

It would be much easier for me to articulate it in writing.

As a child, I had an extreme phobia called Emetophobia. A fear of being sick. So severe was this phobia, it impacted hugely on both my mental and physical health. I lost weight, I became ill, I had to see child psychologists and it's something that still has an effect on me now. Perhaps not as drastically, but the fear is still present.

I started to display Obsessive Compulsive tendencies around this time. Something I believe can be quite common with phobias and fears. I'd practice rituals to alleviate my anxiety, telling myself that if I did something in a certain time frame then I wouldn't be sick.

In my mid-twenties, my OCD took another turn.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is often considered to centre around the fear of a door not being locked, or an electrical appliance being left on.

I'd always been mindful when it came to the importance of ensuring I'd turned my straighteners off or locking my front door. But when I assumed responsibility of an office I worked in from the age of 25, the need for ensuring security became overwhelming.

Often I'd go back to the building, whilst on my way home, and check I'd locked up 3 or 4 times. Even though I'd verbally said to myself "Rachel you have locked the door." I'd take photos of the locked door, the switched off under desk heater and the closed window. My camera roll would be full of photos of the most random things that if someone happened to look through my phone they'd be wondering what on earth was going on with me.

I'd sit on the bus on the way home from work with sweaty palms and that distinctive sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, imagining that the office had caught fire because I'd left an appliance on. People had died and it was all my fault. The relief I'd feel when I walked up the hill to still see the office standing the following morning was palpable.

All of these feelings, these rituals and anxieties were of course uncomfortable to say the least. But nothing could prepare me for how my OCD would manifest itself once I'd given birth to my son in 2013. I had absolutely no idea how devastating the condition could be.

Maternal OCD isn't something I'd heard of before.

It was 3 days post-partum when I first realised something was wrong. I'd had a traumatic birth which had a huge effect on my mental health. My anxiety levels were the highest they'd ever been.

On my first night home with my new baby I lay in bed. It felt so good to finally be home in my own surroundings, and while I didn't feel relaxed, I didn't feel as bad as I had whilst in the confines of my hospital room.

I looked over to my new-born asleep in his Moses basket and suddenly a thought entered my head. It came with no warning.

"Imagine if your leg suddenly jerks out in the night, hits the Moses basket and the baby falls out injuring himself."

I led there. Paralysed with fear.

Why am I thinking this? Is this going to happen? And the worst thought of all; does this mean I want that to happen?

I panicked. I shuffled across the bed, hoping my legs were far enough away from my precious bundle so as not to potentially cause danger.

I led awake for ages, analysing that thought. What did it mean? Why did I have to think that? Am I losing my mind? Am I in the grips of psychosis?

As the exhausting days of new parenthood went by, more intrusive and unwanted thoughts would fill my head regularly, rendering me terrified and feeling isolated.

Too terrified to open up to anyone about these thoughts I'd sit in the bathroom 'googling'.

"What if you drop that knife you're washing up and it somehow finds its way into the baby's cot?" I'd become overwhelmed with fear every time I saw a knife or a sharp object, seeing it as a potential danger. Seeing myself as a potential danger.

Going to the Doctor didn't help. He asked me if I had thoughts of harming my baby. To which I'd tentatively explain the thoughts that would reverberate around in my brain, despite me doing everything I could for them to leave me alone. He didn't recognise it as OCD and requested that the Mental Health Crisis Team visit me at home. Something that made me all the more convinced I was slowly but surely losing the plot.

I recognised myself beginning to display avoidance behaviours. A technique commonplace with OCD sufferers. Terrified to be left alone with my baby, because of these intrusive thoughts, I'd do all I could to ensure I was always with someone.

I went to see a psychiatrist who would try and utilise Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to help me combat my thoughts. Alas, it wasn't to be. Once the course of CBT came to an end I still wasn't convinced that what I was experiencing was in fact OCD.

Tomorrow will be the day you'll no longer feel like this. I would say to myself as I'd drift off to sleep. Willing myself to be free of this incapacitating state of anxiety.

Sadly, that was never the case.

I'd become so used to these intrusive thoughts that I resigned myself to this being a part of me forever.

I firmly believe it was the onset of my OCD symptoms that led to me having Post Natal Depression which led to a breakdown in January 2015.

I was exhausted of the vile, horrendous thoughts that would besiege me. I wanted to turn my brain off, even just for a minute, for temporary respite.

It wasn't until my breakdown, seeing a different GP who referred me to a Mental Health Nurse did things begin to improve. The course of medication I began helped, but it was my second attempt at CBT that helped me challenge these thoughts.

The CBT taught me to realise the thoughts were not indicative of the truth. These thoughts that had left me so terrified of my own brain were just menial, inconsequential thoughts that held no bearing on my real life. I was taught to let these thoughts come, wash over me and watch as they leave. A process that may sound strange but somehow works.

Today my OCD no longer controls me. Yes, I have intrusive thoughts. In fact, I had the strangest one whilst I was on holiday recently. The thought tried to convince me that I'd done something I knew I hadn't. And while it was difficult to pull myself out of the abyss I could see myself heading for, with the help of my friend and remembering what I'd learnt in therapy, I got there.

Perinatal OCD can affect 2.5% of Mum's. A figure that may seem small to you, but it's a number nonetheless.

I think back to terrified me. New Mum me. So consumed with fear, disgust and confusion that I'd do all I could to avoid being with my baby for fear of the wave of intrusive thoughts that would always come. It makes my heart hurt, it makes me feel sad and I do believe I grieve for that period of time I can never get back.

I no longer feel the fear. I treat the unwanted thoughts with the contempt they deserve. But, there was a time I couldn't do that, and I want any woman or indeed man who feels this post may have resonated with them in some way to know that they're not alone. You're not a bad person. Although it can be hard to understand, and believe me, I know that more than anyone, your thoughts do not represent you.

You see, going back to my point about the common misconceptions that surround OCD, often the understanding is that you can be 'a bit OCD' if you like things a certain way. Or if you keep a clean home, perhaps. Routine might be important to you. But those things may just be a personality trait, not OCD. I see OCD as a bully. A bully who preys on its victims by hooking onto ones fears and moral beliefs and doing all it can to make you believe something that isn't true. A bully that leaves you exhausted, doubting yourself, doubting what you believe in and leaving you unable to recognise yourself.

But, that bully can be beaten.