What Is 'Pure O'? George Ezra Opens Up About Life With OCD

"It felt like I’m not a freak, I’m not alone,” said the singer on discovering he had a form of OCD.

Singer George Ezra has spoken about his experience of a type of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) nicknamed ‘Pure O’ – or ‘Purely Obsessional’. It’s used to describe a condition where people experience distressing intrusive thoughts, but not necessarily the physical actions to relieve them.

Speaking on the BBC podcast How Do You Cope?, Ezra, 27, spoke of how discovering a name for what he was experiencing helped him feel less alone: “I find when people talk about their health and their mental health, it’s hard not to get a bit cliché. But it felt like I’m not a freak, I’m not alone.”

OCD is something he’s experienced his entire life, he said, but when he was a child his intrusive thoughts were “based in a less harmful place”. As he grew older, he started to have intrusive thoughts that were more distressing.

“You grow up and you start to understand the nature of taboo, it feels like you’re testing yourself,” he said on the podcast. “It feels like you go: ‘in this situation the worst thing you could think is...’ and then you have that thought. And then you think: ‘gah George, don’t have that thought again’. And so you do, and then you go: ‘well, if you’re somebody that can have this thought, does this mean you are this person? And if so, you’re fucking horrible mate.’”

At the height of his struggle, Ezra said he’d be bombarded by intrusive thoughts from before he’d even opened his eyes in the morning to when he went to bed – and while he was experiencing them, he was “vacant” to the world around him.

He has since had therapy and finds talking about his struggles have helped. He’s also found some peace with the fact that it’s an ongoing issue, which will never go away, that he has to manage.

The mental health issue was the subject of a Channel 4 comedy drama last year. The show, called Pure, charted character Marnie’s experience of intense intrusive thoughts, many of which centred around sexual visions relating to family, friends and even strangers.

The name ‘Pure O’ is considered to be misleading, though, as people do tend to still experience compulsions, but they’re not necessarily as obvious as what you’d expect with OCD. Rather than visible compulsions like washing or checking, people will have hidden compulsions. For this reason, OCD UK says it doesn’t recognise Pure O as a condition in its own right.

Mental health charity Mind says people might experience mental compulsions, for example, such as checking how they feel (they might check to see if they are still in love with their partner) or checking how they feel about a thought (by checking whether they are still upset by the thought).

There “will nearly always be physical outward compulsions too”, says OCD UK. For example, they might check their own body for reactions or sensations, or avoid particular objects, places or people that trigger their obsessional thoughts.

‘Pure O’ would be treated using standard traditional treatment methods, the same that are used for every other type of OCD, it said. Treatment for OCD usually centres around therapy and, in more severe cases, medicine.

Useful websites and helplines

Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.

Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).

CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.

The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email help@themix.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.