By Lauren Townsend, 2/2/16
“Intrusive interjections from the monster would taunt me at the most random of moments, usually on my way to school, pushing me to my absolute limits.”
Since early childhood, I have been living with a monster in my mind. To me, this is the most accurate way to describe OCD, as it, quite simply, feels like a separate and conflicting being that lives inside of me. When I was a kid, the monster had a face but never a name. A middle aged vampire. A young guy wearing a back to front baseball cap. Sometimes I could have sworn I’d see the vampires shadow on my bedroom wall, haunting me. But, in reality, it left no trace of its existence. It, and all of its weapons designed to hurt me, were simply a figment of my imagination, I told myself. My brain being bad. It was only years later that I learnt there was a name for my suffering: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
My struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder began when I was around seven or eight years old. Back then, it was more irritating than anything. I began to feel unignorable urges to touch and stare at things until they felt ‘right’ and, after a while these compulsions helped ease the anxiety I felt about childhood phobias.
From this age, I was already beginning to feel different from the other kids. I felt stuck in my own little world most of the time, trapped in a battle with the urges. By the time I reached ten, the obsessional side of my OCD developed majorly, keeping me up all night and leading me to spend every night in the bathroom, carrying out compulsions. At this point, I remember two obsessions being present; the phobia of losing my hair due to the condition alopecia (which my mum’s cousin had suffered from) or by being diagnosed with cancer, and the fear that something bad would happen to my family if I didn’t carry out a series of ritualistic compulsions.
I remember feeling a crippling sense of anxiety in the middle of the night, when everyone else was asleep, convinced that my hair was going to fall out, and brushing it compulsively until I became sure that it wasn’t. I remember feeling ashamed and disgusted about the unusual and bizarre compulsions the monster told me to participate in, or else, my family would be in danger. It was a scary and confusing time of my life, but back then, it was bearable, and I was unaware that anything was really wrong.
When I started high school, things became increasingly worse. Over time, my old obsessions faded and was replaced with a new one: was I gay? At the age of eleven, not being straight was the most shameful thing I could think of. I’d only just learnt about homosexuality at this point, and the whole concept of it scared me. At the time, I’d struck up a new friendship with a girl at school, and was beginning to question my sexuality. At the time, I put this down to the monster, but, years later, I realise that my speculations were probably true, despite the fact that the obsessional torment was OCD driven. It was around this time that I began participating in more and more inward compulsions, as I would try to alter and change the thoughts and images the monster forced on me.
Before, my compulsions had been noticeable to anyone who had looked close enough, but now, although still present if you looked close enough, my obsessions became the main problem for me. My mind made me feel like a pervert on a daily basis, telling me I was dirty and weird and abnormal.
However, my ordeal with sexuality OCD was short lived. As I got older, I realised that being gay really didn’t matter to me, and if I was, so be it. The prospect of my sexuality bore little relevance to me anymore, and therefore my OCD returned to the old reliable obsession: hair loss.
This time, my phobia became more specific. I developed a fear of hair removal cream, after hearing a horror story about it from a friend at school. Her mum’s friend had accidently used the cream thinking it was shampoo, and although my friend found it hilarious, I was mortified. I become increasingly paranoid that I was unconsciously coming in to contact with hair removal cream, and therefore began to participate in ‘cleansing compulsions’ to relieve my anxiety. These compulsions included compulsive hand washing and the frequent spitting out of saliva, both of which created difficulties in my everyday life.
Because at the time, I was also terrified of the number six, I couldn’t use any less than six squirts of soap when washing my hands, resulting in my hands to become very cracked and sore, and soon attracting the attention of others. My urge to spit was a very shameful, but also very addictive one for me. I did it countless times a day, even when in the most inappropriate of situations, as it relieved so much uneasiness and worry.
In hindsight, I think this was the time in which OCD affected my life outwardly the most, because my obsessions were beginning to take toll in a way that was noticeable to everyone around me. Despite this, I did not receive help. Everyone, including myself, was convinced I was just going through an anxious phase, and in a couple of years I would grow out of it. My mother, I learnt went through similar, although less extreme, experiences herself at my age, and never received help either. I think, by this point, being obsessive was just part of who I was, and nobody, not even myself, saw the point in addressing my fretful way of thinking.
At the age of around thirteen or fourteen, I finally began to overcome my phobia, causing my OCD to adopt a new, more sinister focus. Violence. Intrusive interjections from the monster would taunt me at the most random of moments, usually on my way to school, pushing me to my absolute limits.
Compulsions included the constant retracing of steps and alteration of the intrusions. Luckily, or so I thought at the time, this obsession didn’t last for very long at all in comparison to the others, probably as it was around this time that the monster took another form in me.
Throughout the years of 2012 and 2013, I was in and out of hospital for severe emotional disregulation, and this struggle overshadowed my OCD almost completely. However, when I was discharged in early 2013, and began to enter the process of recovery, I found that my former monster was making a comeback. Detecting my distress from the violent intrusive thoughts, it clung on to a new, and even more abhorrent obsession: inappropriate sexual relations. This led to frequently upsetting ruminations, and a massive drop in my already low self-esteem.
At one point, in the summer of that year, my ruminations and paranoia brought on by OCD played a significant part in my decision to overdose, which ultimately put me back in hospital for two weeks. The intrusive thoughts served as a motivation to self harm, as I felt that I was a horrible and disgusting person, and that I deserved it.
Every time I found myself making progress in my recovery, it was as though OCD felt the need to snatch away any happiness I might find. No matter how well I found myself doing in other area’s of my life, the monster would never completely go away. Even when the intrusions were less frequent, the littlest thing would set of a trigger in my mind, and to a point, it still does.
I am now eighteen years old, and finally have a grip on my monster. That doesn’t mean to say that it still isn’t there, I feel it every day, like a faded shadow threatening to re-intensify.
Now, on most days, I can suppress the intensity of the thoughts. I still participate in minor ritualistic compulsions in response to these thoughts, but once again to the point that is only irritating, not to of agonising anxiety. I still find myself struggling to control it at times, but, with a mentality that at last understands, the tough times are so much easier to overcome.
OCD has been a part of my life for as long as I can recall, and it has tainted every part of me. But I am okay with this. Because, what a lot of people don’t notice, is that every cloud has a silver lining, and as horrible and upsetting having obsessive compulsive disorder is, it has its advantages when you look close enough. It has for me, anyway.
My obsessive personality allows me to become extremely passionate and driven when working on certain projects and research, which helps me in the long term to develop both my studies and interests. It has also taught me how to help myself when in situations that provoke anxiety, which will be helpful to me in later life, as I plan to train as a mental health nurse.
Of course, these are just a couple of minute benefits on a long list of disadvantages and difficulties, but to me, they matter. I find it comforting to know that my struggles have some influence on my strengths, and to find little positives in an ultimate negative.
Lauren’s website: FaultyWires.wordpress.com
Professional misfit and aspiring mental health nurse. Occasionally I write stuff.