Have you watched Jack Nicholson on As Good As It Gets? He won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of a person with a few quirks, some which I still remember to this day. OCD awareness week is also held in October, and we wanted to show you all a close look at what it’s like to live with this disorder.
First, a disclaimer. I want to make it clear that I have very mild OCD, my symptoms peak at 17 out of 40 on the Yale-Brown scale which is in the moderate range. This means that even at its most severe my OCD only ranks as moderate. Therefore, my experience is going to be very different from someone with more severe symptoms. If you feel you may have a form of anxiety disorder or OCD I strongly encourage you to get in touch with a mental health professional, either through your doctor or an appropriate organisation.
Okay, now that that is out of the way I want to share with you what my personal experience of this illness is.
Imagine a hamster ball
I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at 16 so I’ve had plenty of time to learn to live with it. My symptons are mild enough that I can manage my condition without medication and I am no longer in therapy. Instead, I have established a lifestyle which, while not terribly exciting, does allow me to be happy, and minimises anxiety-inducing encounters.
For me, managing my OCD is about routines, and control of my personal space. The best way I can describe it is to imagine one of those plastic balls you put a hamster in so it can safely run around and then picture it rolling around on a track.
That’s how I manage my life, by being in control of what’s in my hamster ball and keeping it running on the same track. Of course, I do allow additions to it or even changes to the track, but it takes me time to adjust to even the idea of changes.
OCD has a stereotype of people who are obsessively clean and while that is certainly a common compulsion, what is less well known is that people with OCD can also be prone to hoarding.
For example, I save the tags from clothes I buy, sorted into bags from their respective shops. It’s not a disruptive enough compulsion to have a major negative impact, but I do experience anxiety symptoms if, for example, the assistant removes the tags before wrapping my shopping. I do also, in common with many OCD sufferers, wash my hands often. Sometimes for no particular reason my hands will suddenly feel dirty and I will have to go and wash them.
I’m also very particular about what kind of lotions I can use on my hands. Anything I can’t rub in completely is a no go. I also can’t stand the feeling of hand sanitiser gels on my hands, so I will go out of my way to wash them properly rather than use the gel.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed, my sense of touch is where I feel the impact of having OCD the most. Different textures can trigger anxiety symptoms for me, things that are sticky trigger the worst symptoms, and I generally avoid touching things as much as I can (unless they’ve been admitted to my hamster ball).
I don’t like having other people touch me, either, and avoid contact with anyone but those I am most comfortable with. It can take me a year of knowing someone to get to a point where I’m comfortable enough with them to hug them. I love when the weather is cold enough for me to wear gloves, because that layer of protection reduces my overall levels of anxiety quite a bit.
Another way texture impacts my life is in what I eat. I find that a lot of food textures, or rather texture combinations, make certain foods impossible for me to eat. This includes things like sandwiches, as I struggle with the combination of the bread and filling textures. I also keep different foods separate on my plate, even if they were cooked together, I have to separate them before I can eat them. Also, I have to be careful about going out to restaurants and often check menus online to work out what I can have beforehand. It requires a little extra effort but the end result is a really nice meal out I can actually enjoy!
Yes, the rituals are true
One of the other classic symptoms of OCD is performing what are known as rituals, usually multiple times. I don’t have many rituals in this category, my symptoms tend more towards patterns and routines, but those rituals I do have, I do in threes. If I don’t perform the ritual three times I can feel the knots of anxiety tightening. Thankfully three is quite a low number and there are a lot of tasks that can be performed three times without impacting your life or indeed most people noticing.
This is by no means a comprehensive look at what life with OCD can be like, and it’s certainly not even a glimpse of what someone with severe symptoms can go through, but I do hope it opens your eyes to the little ways this illness can impact everyday life, even for someone with very mild symptoms.