So what's the first thing you think of if I tell you I have OCD? Maybe you'd comment about how tidy my house must be, or how clean my hands are? Or perhaps you'd utter that most common of phrases, 'ooh, I'm a little bit OCD,' before regaling me with tales of how you like to keep everything on your desk at work in neat little piles. I'd like to take this opportunity to try to explain a little more about my condition and hopefully help to educate people as to the true nature of the illness.
I've suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder since I was a kid and over the last few years in particular, it's really started taking it's toll. In fact, it led to my suicide attempt a little over two years ago. That's the first myth right there, that OCD isn't serious, that it's just about neatness or having a few quirky habits. Worse still, the very common idea that OCD is a subject fit for humour. My illness was so severe and so debilitating that I chose to attempt to take my own life rather than live another day with it.
OCD is about so much more than cleaning rituals. What many people don't understand is just why sufferers may wash their hands, or clean their houses over and over again. It's because the fear of something terrible happening if they don't, can be so great as to overpower all rationale and logic. OCD sufferers tend to be plagued with intrusive thoughts. In my case I am obsessed with the idea that my loved ones will die. I used to lay awake at night going over and over in my head, this constant voice that said my wife would pass away in her sleep. I'd hold my hand near her face while she slept to check she was still breathing, if it wasn't obvious enough to me I'd nudge her awake. In between those checking rituals, I'd lay with my eyes closed, working out what I'd do if she died. Who would I invite to the funeral, what would I wear or say, what flowers she'd like. I'd wake her again to double or triple check, then I'd go back to my thoughts. How does one even plan a funeral? I have no idea so I'd start checking the internet on my phone to find out. Then I'd check her breathing again.
I'd go whole nights on less than an hours sleep because my compulsive behaviour had occupied me throughout the night. The feelings of anxiety and certainty that something terrible will happen are all consuming, they monopolise my day. Sometimes I worry I will die, perhaps of an infection, so I wash my hands over and over again. I spend weeks at a time locked inside my house, too scared to leave in case I catch something or get run over. That's how my intrusive thoughts dominate my life. At times there can be no escape and at my worst the pain and desperation are intolerable.
It's a devastatingly harsh condition to live with and one that leads to severe isolation, especially in my experience, for men. We often struggle to talk about our feelings and often when I've explained my circumstances, people simply don't know what to say. As the illness gets worse and further dominates people's lives they find dealing with the outside world increasingly more difficult. Fear of contagion from other people, anxiety about leaving the house for any period of time, or stopping their compulsions even for a cup of tea and a chat, can lead to people cutting out their social life completely. All of which is why I'm delighted the good people at the Movember Foundation are now investing heavily in Men's Mental Health to the tune of £2.5 million in the UK. Additionally they are seeking to address the stigma and get blokes talking about their health. I really hope people will get involved this year, sign up at Movember.com, grow their moustache, and raise not only money but also awareness for the issues that men can face.
As for me, I still suffer chronically with my condition and two years after my suicide attempt I am now on my 4th treatment regime. I hope this will be the one that makes my life easier. In the meantime though, I write about my daily experiences with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder on my blog at AntMeads.wordpress.com and hope to educate people enough that we finally lose that phrase 'I'm a little bit OCD' and with the help of causes like Movember get people really talking about mental health.