Eddie, a SAMH media volunteer, shares his experiences of OCD and how seeking support has helped him manage his symptoms.

What is it like to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

It’s like a bully that lives inside your head, or the nagging urge to constantly self-sabotage. I’ve been through many different phases of OCD – from the stereotypical obsessions with cleanliness, which have left the condition incredibly misunderstood by society, to more intense feelings which left me with thoughts of suicide this year. I’m now glad to be able to share my story and how I started to get better.

Looking back, I realise I’ve had OCD my entire life. As far back as my toddler years, I can remember experiencing it, with silly habits like needing to have both shoelaces tied to the same tightness or worried thoughts about family members disappearing or running away without me.

When I was around 9 years old, I began experiencing more intense thoughts and worries. 

The first side of OCD is the obsessions, which for me were often intrusive thoughts about violence, sex, and death – just to name a few. However they can essentially be about anything negative. At first, they only bothered me at night time. However, they eventually became part of my daily life. Why is my head telling me that I hate my family while they’re comforting me? Why am I imagining hurting my friends when I love them? These thoughts were the polar opposite to the type of person I was and the way I really felt. Even if I did something positive, I would question my motives, wondering if I was doing it because I wanted to or because I wanted to look good.  Although deep down I knew these thoughts were involuntary and didn’t reflect who I really was, at one point I couldn’t even allow certain people to touch me as this would trigger a bunch of uncomfortable sexual thoughts which would lead me to showering or changing my clothes.

The other side of OCD is the compulsions. These are mental and sometimes physical acts that I feel I have to do in order to “undo” an intrusive thought or to reassure myself I don’t mean it. Nowadays these are internal mental rituals (sentences I say in my head), which for me is kind of like having a constant internal dialogue with myself.  I went through a particularly bad stage in high school, where I experienced panic attacks along with my obsessive washing and showering. At this point, I hadn’t fully opened up about my intrusive thoughts, which is perhaps why I didn’t receive the correct treatment. Although, I was recently told that my medical record noted that I had “obsessive tendencies”.

This year those same panic attacks from high school returned – 7 years down the line! I struggled to work my job, and during my commute I often worried about fainting and crashing my car. Even after moving back home I struggled with severe anxiety, and later experienced thoughts of suicide and violence. This came to a head when I was referred to a crisis mental health service.

I was relieved that my nurse was completely non-judgemental and made me feel at ease. I could hardly believe my ears when she reassured me that “thoughts are just thoughts” and that it was OK to think this way. I had walked into that health centre expecting to be reported to the police and taken away, but instead years of worry came to an end. Through regular appointments with my mental health nurse, I became comfortable enough to reach out to others with experience of OCD through Facebook. Within minutes of joining a group, I found myself in a community of thousands just like me, talking and sharing their issues. While waiting lists for further treatment can be notoriously lengthy, I’m gradually working on gently exposing myself to my fears and reminding myself that I can’t make something bad happen just by thinking about it.

One learning I took from my crisis team appointments (which really stuck with me) is that I shouldn’t forget about the positive attributes I have as a result of my OCD. For example: I love the little things in life, and I have a strong imagination and curiosity.

I’ve learned the importance of family and friends, who have been with me through some really difficult times and have always helped me see the humorous side.

Being open about mental health is absolutely vital, and I’ve learned that talking really is the most powerful thing. I always wanted to hide my condition, but my attitude has changed massively and I now realise there’s no need to be ashamed of how my brain works. I want to keep being open about my OCD while learning to live with it, and hope that in the future I can use my knowledge to help other people like me. OCD and other mental health conditions need to be destigmatised, and I’ve shared my story in the hope that anyone reading, who can relate to my experience, might feel empowered to ask for help.

This year has left me feeling passionate about mental wellbeing, and has shown me that there is only one way up from rock bottom. I never want anyone to think they are broken or that they don’t deserve to get help. OCD does not define me, and although it will always be a part of me, I now know that I am not alone – and most importantly, it is OK to be the way that I am.