The Real Deal With OCD From Someone Who Has It - Mental Health Awareness Week
The Real Deal With OCD From Someone Who Has It - Mental Health Awareness Week

The Real Deal With OCD From Someone Who Has It

It’s not a trend, it’s my life.

TW: This article discusses sensitive material around mental illness and mentions of self-harm and eating disorders.

We want to draw focus to a mental disorder that doesn’t get spoken about enough and is often misunderstood — OCD.

What is OCD?

OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is a complex disorder that can make daily life unbearable and unmanageable. It can manifest itself in irrational, recurring thoughts, compulsions or images that can’t be controlled, and can cause a lot of anxiety or depression for the individual.

These obsessions are usually unwanted or intrusive and repeatedly enter the mind, creating feelings of anxiety, uneasiness or disgust. Compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts that you feel you need to do in order to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings that accompany the obsessive thoughts. 

A common example of OCD is the fear of contamination (germs, diseases, animals, dirt, body fluids) which typically goes hand-in-hand with excessive cleaning of surroundings or the individual’s body (e.g. frequent hand washing), in an attempt to reduce the anxiety around contamination. Many people believe people with OCD are ‘clean-freaks’ or extremely neat and tidy, but it’s far more complex than that.

There are various different types of OCD but most will fall into these categories:

  • Contamination 
  • Fears of harming/being harmed
  • Checking
  • Symmetry, ordering and arranging
  • Intrusive thoughts — including violent, sexual, disturbing
  • Rumination — repetitive thinking/dwelling on a particular thought/theme/experience

It’s super important to note that OCD will affect each individual differently. It’s not something that you can easily control and you can’t be a ‘little bit OCD’.

It’s not an adjective to use because you like to keep your house clean or because you’re organised.

It’s a seriously debilitating illness that makes you feel trapped inside your head and makes you live through vicious cycles of behaviours and thoughts. It can be isolating and difficult to maintain relationships because of it.

According to the charity Mind, in any given week in England, 1 in 100 people will be diagnosed with OCD, compared to 8 in 100 people diagnosed with mixed anxiety and depression. It can often take a while for someone with OCD to be diagnosed as it tends to be expressed as anxiety and some individuals have difficulty explaining their symptoms and thoughts to a medical professional, leading to a misdiagnosis.

My OCD story

The Real Deal With OCD From Someone Who Has It - Camila Karalyte Content Executive

I’ve lived with OCD for as long as I can remember, along with severe anxiety (the two are often partners-in-crime). I don’t remember a particular experience that triggered the onset of my OCD but I was always a perfectionist, needing to have as much control over things as possible. 

OCD can manifest in many different ways

As a teenager, my OCD manifested itself in eating disorders. I struggled particularly when I started sixth form. Having no control over my school work and grades, and feeling overwhelmed, I started to obsess over food and controlled that area of my life in order to feel like I had control over everything.

I became obsessed with meal plans and calories, restricting myself to 300 calories a day because it ‘felt’ like a good number to aim for — based on nothing other than my favourite number being 3. This resulted in constantly weighing food to make sure of the calories, and most days I ate only an avocado or a few strawberries and a spoonful of yoghurt. My mind was on food 24/7 and if I had eaten something that I ‘wasn’t allowed’ (foods that I deemed bad) I would find temporary relief by over-exercising or purging until I felt like I had gained back control.

I became so afraid to eat anything that I would fight with my family if they tried to give me even the smallest amount of their dinner. I would be plagued with thoughts of ‘you shouldn’t have eaten that’, ‘you have to start all over again’, ‘you failed’ and felt as if I messed up on my ‘perfect’ routine.

But, over time it wasn’t just my eating habits that OCD controlled.

OCD can make you lose trust in yourself

As cliché as it sounds, OCD is this dark shadow that follows me everywhere. Things have to feel ‘just right’. But what does ‘just right’ actually mean? I have no idea, but I am always chasing that feeling regardless. I will arrange things until they’re ‘just right’, and touch random objects until it ‘feels right’ or ‘just enough’.

I go over every message I send to ensure I have actually sent it, but still feel unsure whether I have, even when I can see that it’s sent. I will keep checking doors until I’m satisfied with how it feels. I have three alarms on separate devices that I will check every night, and I even get my partner to check them for me before we sleep because I don’t ‘trust’ myself or what I see.

I go over everything I do or say in my head to make sure I haven’t done anything wrong, I will mentally map out routines I need to do and continue to think them over until I’ve done it. 

OCD can show itself physically

My OCD also shows itself in physical ways. I’ll be aware of swallowing and will have to forcibly swallow a certain number of times until it ‘feels right’, or force my eyes shut and open them repetitively until I feel like it’s enough. I will pick at ‘imperfections’ on my face or body in order to try and ‘perfect’ them.

I would deal with intrusive thoughts every day, spurring me to turn the wheel and drive into traffic if I’m on the motorway or worried when I’m handling knives or scissors that I will hurt myself, even though I have no actual desire to hurt myself or have any thoughts of suicide. When I have these thoughts, I will have to forcibly blink a certain number of times to feel better or count ‘1, 2, 3’ over and over again until I feel some sort of relief.

It’s really hard to explain because everyone will at some point experience an intrusive thought or similar, but with OCD you’re unable to control it and feel obliged to act out specific behaviours to eliminate or reduce the stress and anxiety.

OCD can become worse with stress

It wasn’t until late 2021 that I reached a breaking point. I was stressed, under pressure with a full-time job and a Master’s degree, I was too preoccupied with ensuring everything was ‘perfect’. My grades, my work, my appearance, housework and family life — I tried to control everything and it led to my breakdown.

I reached out to the local mental well-being service and eventually enrolled in therapy for my OCD. While I’m not 100% cured, and it’s likely to be something I have to deal with for the rest of my life, I have definitely got better at managing my symptoms and can spot the warning signs when things get too stressful or when my anxiety is heightened.

You can’t just ‘relax’ with OCD

I’ve been told by countless people before that all I need to do is ’relax’, something I’m sure many OCD sufferers have heard in the past, but it’s not that simple. We’re constantly at battle with our minds, and hearing comments like that just invalidate what we feel.

So, think twice the next time you go to say ‘I’m so OCD’ or ‘I let my intrusive thoughts win’ because you could be taking the meaning away from it for people who are affected by it.

OCD resources

If you are worried about your mental health and feel like you may be struggling with symptoms of OCD, go to your GP or a mental health professional. Or seek out your local council’s mental well-being service.

Other places you can seek help include:

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and only aim to inform using my own experience with OCD. People will experience it differently and this is only one example of the condition.