So it's that time of year again, OCD Awareness Week 2015 is upon us and for the last couple of months I'd planned to leave this subject well alone. You see, in 2013 I wrote this piece for OCD UK and in 2014 I wrote an update on my personal blog. It didn't seem enough though, I wanted to do more and so set about, over the 5 days, writing about a single day in my life. It was an exhausting and exhaustive portrayal of what I battled with in a mere 24 hours.
The piece was very well received and I was amazed by how many people that knew me and my illness, were still messaging me to say they had no idea it was that bad. It's strange because 2 years earlier my OCD had led me to a suicide attempt and yet even that hadn't made friends and family ask in much detail, how things were so bad. So I set about writing my most ambitious OCD piece ever and I'm so glad I did and that it has proved helpful to people.
So here we are, 2015 and for the last two months I've been adamant that I wasn't contributing this year. It felt foolish, I'd written what in my mind was the definitive account of my illness. Could I not just retweet the links to that and try not to put a further burden on myself with more writing commitments? My stance of non involvement lasted right up until yesterday afternoon when I realised that last years definitive OCD article was now far from definitive. In fact large chunks of it no longer bore any relation to my own life. To explain way I need to give a quick bit of personal history. Approximately 10 years ago I was struggling to deal with a pretty serious drug habit, primarily cocaine and crack. I then got myself clean and for the last 9 years that's how it remained.
3 months ago my partner and I decided to move house, we needed somewhere bigger and so the wheels were set in motion. Since that decision was made I've been using drugs again. It started with a little coke, it moved on to some legal highs and it's culminated in me falling back into a world largely dominated with crack. Now for many people that seems like a remarkably rapid fall from grace. That's where the OCD comes in. I didn't want to write anything for OCD Awareness Week because I had nothing to be proud of. Even last year at the height of my OCD problems, I still managed to document them, I posted regular blogs and however difficult life was, I struggled on. So let me tell you, when you read that '5 part' day in the life piece from last year, consider that even that didn't drive me to drugs.
Yesterday morning I went to a drug recovery centre. At 9am I sat in a waiting room, surrounded by shivering and old before their time, heroin addicts. It was the most horrific eye opener about the position I now find myself in. I am on the precipice of full time addiction and the glimpse I had over the top has scared me beyond belief. I came home with a plan of attack but that's when it became clear to me, that I needed to revisit my OCD experiences and formulate a plan that didn't so much deal with the addiction but addressed what had caused me to start down that road at all. I had to be tough on crack and tough on the causes of crack.
I can put my drug use down to one thing, a complete failure to cope with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The second I knew that moving home was on the horizon I crumbled. You see here's what non OCD sufferers don't tend to understand, it's not the hand washing or the compulsive neatness that really drives the illness. It's the emotional feelings that are intrinsically linked to those actions. When you see someone say 'I'm so OCD, I have to have all my pens on my desk at right angles' what they are really saying is, 'I'm neat.' When I have to have things lined up neatly, it's because I fear that my partner will die if I don't and only by giving in to these compulsions will I keep her alive. This behaviour reinforces itself, 'I kept everything neat yesterday and she returned home from work unharmed.' It's a case of 'correlation does not imply causation' perhaps the most famous example being the 'rock that keeps tigers away,' I've seen no tigers therefore the rock is doing it's job. Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is to know that rule yet be unable to programme your brain to disregard it as flawed logic.
I don't really have to explain my symptoms again, if you are the kind of person reading this article then you have probably already taken the time to try to understand OCD a little better. What I want to talk about though is what it's like to suffer from OCD, to have failed to combat it with a variety of therapies and medication and to feel there is nowhere else to turn but drugs. When I have a obsessive thought, say that a loved one will die, I am overcome with a desire to perform a compulsion such as washing my hands. This temporarily eases the fear and lets me continue with my day. Sometimes I'll have to wash my hands a certain number of times, or until it simply 'feels right.' For the last few years I've been combatting my illness with those routines and I've also been alleviating the problem with medication and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. All of which I tell you in the hope you understand just how bad things got that drugs became my answer.
Within my home I had a safe space, my front room, specifically my chair in the corner. From that chair I had the sunlight enter the room over my shoulder, i was within arms reach of my records and turntable and I had a small table next to me with all my things neatly arranged upon it. The day we decided we were moving, everything fell apart. I felt like a child wrenched from the womb, what had been my safe place suddenly had a limit placed on it. I counted down the days I had left and I wasn't counting down the days I had until I moved home. I was counting down the days I had left on this earth where I could feel safe. Every morning I woke up and felt even more ill than the day before. At this point, everything I'd learned about my illness went out of the window. None of the rules I'd created for myself gave me any comfort. My brain seemed to house a thousand screaming voices that warned me of my impending death. And not just mine but that of my friends and family too. The voices got louder, they became harder and harder to shut out. They were accompanied by images too horrific to even write about. Failing to deal with my OCD had become a full-time job, a job that I took home with me every evening.
I'd felt like this before, ten years ago and I remembered my solution. When nothing else seemed as though it could possibly work, I was left looking at narcotics again. People will always tell you that taking drugs is a short term solution and in the main they are correct, what might deal with a problem for a few hours ultimately makes the problem worse when you sober up. However, I found myself asking, what if the problem couldn't get any worse? I was already being driven toward suicidal thought and feelings with a brain that spent every waking minute torturing me, how much worse could it get? So I started taking drugs again and sure enough, for the briefest of spells, my mind went elsewhere, I was able to take brief holidays from my OCD. True enough, the next morning I woke up and felt awful but that had been happening anyway, what was the harm?
Well I write this 3 months later. I have moved into a beautiful new home. Hang on, why did I say the home was beautiful, I know more than anyone that how nice the home is or isn't makes zero difference. My Obsessive Compulsive brain doesn't care for aesthetics, all it's concerned with is fear and intrusive thoughts. The new place is indeed beautiful but if that was all it would take to stop my problems then I'd already be fixed by now. Instead, despite having been in the new home for a month already, I am still using drugs almost daily and that is why I changed my mind and decided to write something for OCD Awareness Week. I've done so much over the years to make people aware of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but what I don't think I've used this week for, is to make people aware of where chronic OCD can take a person. In my case it's taken me to a suicide attempt and now back into a world of drug dependancy. I hope that OCD Awareness Week helps people to better understand the illness, I hope it turns people away from saying that they are 'so OCD,' I hope public perceptions can change and that the stigma of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be properly addressed but most of all, I hope it makes people aware of just what OCD can do to a person and that when I'm in the recovery centre again next week it helps me to be more aware of the people behind the addictions.
For more information on OCD please visit OCD UK