Obsessive Compulsive Disorder


Obsessions are spontaneous and unwanted thoughts or impulses. These are experienced by the person as abhorrent and out of character. They can become persistent. An example would be the thought of harming someone even though you would not want to do so. Obsessions usually have themes around violence, sexual acts, doubting, blasphemy, and contamination by germs, bodily fluids or dirt.

Compulsions are the responses people make to obsessions or unpleasant feelings. They are usually repetitive and follow certain rules. They are intended to reduce unpleasant feelings or prevent bad things from happening. Some compulsions are private inner responses such as counting, praying, repeating special phrases or having certain ‘safe’ mental pictures. Other compulsions are overt and include behaviours such as repeated hand-washing, checking things, placing things in order or aligning objects.

Obsessions are normal and studies have shown that approximately 80 per cent of people have them. They do not mean anything about the person and they do not signal danger.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) occurs when the individual becomes highly distressed by obsessions and/or compulsions become time consuming and difficult to stop. Such obsessions and compulsions interfere with the person’s quality of life and in more severe cases can prevent normal everyday functioning. For example, someone with contamination obsessions may have difficulty using public washrooms and using public transport, and washing rituals may consume so much time that the person is often late for work or appointments. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is highly effective in treating OCD.

Below Emma shares her story before and after therapy:

Hi you. If you're reading this you're probably feeling low, you're probably feeling wired and exhausted at the same time and you're probably feeling terrified, maybe even paralysed with fear, but most of all, you're probably feeling alone. 

I was diagnosed with OCD a year ago, almost to the day, and I was feeling all of those things along with the massive weight of shame and guilt that surrounded my obsessions. When I was at my lowest I was obsessing every waking hour of the day, the only respite I got was a couple of snatched hours of sleep at night. I would wake with the thoughts already swirling, ready to take over my whole day before I even opened my eyes, and I would go asleep with them as the last thought on my mind. They were as constant as my breathing and my heartbeat and seemed so much a part of me that they may as well have been. 

As I said before OCD is lonely and it's isolating, you're too afraid to admit what you're thinking about in case you become the very thing that you're afraid of being - completely unlike everyone else around you. I remember thinking if I told anybody what I felt were the deepest darkest secrets of my twisted mind that I would either be thrown in jail or committed to some sort of institution. I was a bubbly outgoing person, in the middle of my degree in the United Kingdom, I had nothing to be worried about. I kept thinking of all the awful things going on in the world and would constantly berate myself for having these irrational thoughts that seemed so real. 

My OCD got so bad that I hit rock bottom, I had to leave my course and return home. I was as low as I think a person can get. I'm writing this for whoever is reading this and needs some sort of hope, but I'm also writing this to me a year ago, in a place where there was not only no light at the end of the tunnel, but not even a tunnel, just a black hole. I know what it's like to be so afraid of your thoughts that you think you're a monster, I know what it feels like to be so crippled with anxiety and fear that you can't breathe, I know what it feels like to wish you had cancer rather than the horrors in your head and I know what it's like to go asleep praying you won't wake up, just to be released from these horrors. I know how you feel. 

Besides knowing how you feel and I mean really knowing, not textbook knowing, I also know that you can be okay. Hear me out. A year ago I did not envision any sort of future for myself bar one marred with endless cycles of anxiety, reassurance seeking and compulsive behaviours. I can tell you now that I have my life back. It's hard work, it's really hard work. There'll be days when you want to throw in the towel, days when it feels too much, too raw and too hard, days when you'll cry, days when you'll physically cringe saying some of your thoughts out loud. But there will also be days when you make progress, days when you challenge what seems to be hardwired in your brain and there'll be days when you win. What if I told you that if you put in the work, I mean really put in the work, that I can guarantee you that you can get better? Me a year ago didn't believe this. How can you separate yourself from these thoughts? How can you stop doing things that have kept you "safe" for years? The answer is - willpower, courage and Cognitive behavioural therapy. I wish so much that I could have read this one year ago and known that somebody else (and believe me there are thousands) felt like me, but more importantly got better. I have my life back, my relationship is back on track, I'm back to my masters degree in the U.K. (Hoping to pursue another) I'm socialising, I'm eating well and sleeping well. I'm living. Something that I was only half doing before. I know how it feels to only be half present because your mind is racing, checking, counting. I know how it feels. But I also know how it feels to live without it, on the other side of obsession. Imagine yourself as the person you should be, free of your obsessions and rituals, that's who you are behind your OCD. It is so worth the work, invest in yourself, you deserve to be free and I promise you can be.