My contamination OCD

Most of the things I’ve written in the last few months have been fairly easy to write.
I’ve got plenty of subject matter to choose from and the necessary drive, inspiration, frustration and anger to deliver it onto paper.
What I’m typing now WASN’T easy to write. It didn’t take much effort to think WHAT to write, but the thoughts, worries and fears it brought to the surface were far from comfortable.
Even as I type this I’m still not sure if I’ll publish it or not. It’s just a bit too personal and dark for me to feel comfortable with.

My OCD surfaced in many different forms. I will address some of the other (common and bizarre) strands of it in later posts. In this post I am going to try and list and explain the contamination based issues I faced when fully in the grip of this spiteful, selfish illness.

Passing on germs to my children, family and my friends.

By germs, I don’t mean a cold or a rash. What I feared was an obviously irrational passing on of a disease or illness that would kill or have long lasting effects such as cancer or HIV.
These thoughts would be countered by an over indulgence of hand cleaning.
Only an OCD sufferer can really describe the feeling of KNOWING if your hands are CLEAN or not. The constant awareness of your cleanliness and your ‘safety’ levels.
This feeling is almost impossible to describe and certainly impossible to show on screen. It can look like ‘well yeah, you wash our hands a lot’ but the fear and anxiety behind these washes is the big problem.
Below I will list some of the situations that would NEED me to perform a hand wash before touching my children, their food, my food, change a nappy, make a baby bottle, go to the toilet or pretty much anything else for that matter.
After touching:
Anything red (as it COULD be blood), Anything wet, Dirty towels, Door handles (as others will have touched them), Any toilet, After shaking someone’s hand (even if I know them), Dirt or dust, Library books, Magazines in shops or doctors waiting rooms, Cutlery in restaurants, Pens, Meat, Food packaging, Pill and medicine bottles and jars, Shoes, Clothes that have been worn outside, Chairs and tables, Work folders, Chemical packaging (such as paint tins), Petrol and diesel pumps, Post, Food stains, Tools, The floor (grass, tarmac or concrete).

Coming into contact with possible items/substances that could give me a life threatening illness which would hurt me and that I would pass on.

Touching syringes, Looking at syringes, Looking at picture of syringes, Talking about syringes or blood, Looking at blood, Looking at pictures of blood, Dried blood on the floor, ANYTHING that could possibly look like blood on the floor, Spit, Blood on inside of meat packaging, Homeless people, Drunk people, Freshly tattooed people, Anyone looking a bit ‘shifty’, Shaking hands (the other persons hands won’t be clean enough and may have touched piss, shit, semen, snot or have cuts or scabs on), Having cuts or scabs on my hands, Walking on anything red/shiny/sharp/litter/stones or anything I am not 100% sure of, Touching shoe soles, Sharing food, Sharing toothpaste, Touching others toothbrushes, Eating food prepared by someone else, Toilet seats, Public toilets, Toilet rolls, Laundry that has been dried outside, Cutlery in restaurants, Jewellery, Falling down, Cutting myself, Snagging on nails/screws/twigs, Kissing.

Sounds a lot doesn’t it?!

How did I grow up, get educated, learn and work as a tradesman and later forge a different career as a teacher, marry and have children?

Well it wasn’t always like this.

Less than 3 years previous to being at my lowest ebb, I was regularly getting 4 hours’ worth of tattooing done a month, having piercings done, removing my oversized 14mm earrings in pubs when drunk, pushing restaurant cutlery through my stretched earlobes, eating takeaway food after long nights out without a thought of what my hands had been doing, crashing my bicycle (a lot), going all weekends at music festivals without washing my hands once, working on building sites with nails and screws littered on the floor, using old Stanley knife blades to cut out splinters, washing in the site water butt before a night out, toasting sandwiches on galvanised wall ties, washing new tattoos in sinks in public toilets, getting friends to apply cream to fresh tattoos without thinking if their hands were properly clean.
Actually, I was a bit of a dirty bastard!

It was a BIG change

I would NEED to inspect all of the items in the second list (many several times if possible) to feel ‘safe’ enough to put them to rest in my mind.
Checks, reassurances and hand washes would be as many as I could get away with or as few as I would let myself do.
Asking someone to confirm my checks or dispel my fears was counterproductive as OCD strengthens its grip and worsens with this.
This kicked in about 11 years ago in my early 30’s during a pretty turbulent time for me emotionally and physically (bike injuries keeping me off work for months).
It reached its peak during my mid to late 30’s and here I am in my early 40’s in a much better place again leading pretty much the kind of life I want to.
I’m maybe not back to my carefree past and I still have a few little niggles but this CAN be stopped and OCD can be tackled and even defeated.

Breaking the Chain

Cold Turkey: A dangerous tactic. It may work for some, but the massive anxieties even attempting this would I feel make it virtually impossible unless the OCD was very weak.
There would be a real chance of a full meltdown and regression.

Medication: This certainly from my experience reduces the anxiety levels to a less scary level and allows the sufferer to live a bit more fully.
It also gives the patient a more fighting chance when undertaking CBT treatments.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) : This works by confronting the compulsions head on in a controlled manner under the guidance of a psychologist.
This is the proven effective treatment for OCD.

If any of this sounds familiar to anyone reading this, there is effective treatment out there. This can be changed and life can improve. It’s a fight, but it’s a fight that can be won.

Everything All The Time

What it’s so hard to portray in written or spoken words is the non-ending continuous anxiety OCD fills your days with.
So few mornings go by without the first thought entering your mind being related to a previous incident or a new irrational anxiety.
This usually then carries on constantly for the rest of the day. Day in, day out.
When I try to write or speak about my OCD anxieties, I find this so hard to explain.
When written down the anxieties appear as a list, as if you go from one to another with gaps of nothing in between.
In reality what it feels like is that these memorable ‘incidents’ are the edited high(low)lights of the day, as if you are watching Match Of The Day and seeing a 5 minute montage of clips from a 90 minute game.
The rest of the game and day happen, just at a lower intensity. These tend not to get reviewed with such scrutiny as the major occurrences as you only have so much time, but they are as, if not more important as they are the nitty gritty of the experience. The real problem that eats into the living experience.
If our OCD was ‘only’ 5 or 6 isolated incidents through the day then maybe it could be more easily avoided, coped with or treated, like a phobia perhaps.
Medication works for me in that it tempers this everyday all day buzz down to a more manageable level so that the methods and techniques learnt in CBT sessions can effectively work to attack the more major moments that arise.
OCD is an overwhelming illness; its constant barrage grinds the sufferer down. It can be fought and ultimately defeated but there’s no short cut cure and I have found getting yourself into a position where you feel able and ready to fight as half the battle.

If you are in that spot now, overwhelmed and unable to fight, REACH OUT.
There are people willing to help and there are ways to move forward. It’s not your fault you feel you can’t do it alone, we all felt like that. It’s one of this spiteful condition’s dirty tricks.

FIGHT OCD, no one likes a cheat!

Going Public with Your OCD

WHY WOULD YOU?…………WHY WOULDN’T YOU?

To go public about your OCD is a question that most of us unlucky enough to suffer with it will face at some point or other.
From the outside this may not seem such a momentous decision. Looking back for me it has certainly been a decision well made.

WHY IS THIS SUCH A BIG DEAL?
Several times a week I hear someone say “Oh, I’m a little bit OCD” or “I think my kid’s got OCD…..LOL” without batting an eyelid.
I guess the question is would they as flippantly say “Oh, I’m suffering from a mental health condition” or “I think my kid’s got a debilitating, crippling mental health disorder”?
Doesn’t slip off the tongue so sweetly and innocently does it?
…..To then say these sentences to your partner, parents, children, friends and employers, whilst in the grip of an illness founded on severe crushing anxiety and fear, elevates it to another level entirely.

WELL ISN’T IT OBVIOUS YOU’VE GOT IT?
Absolutely NOT! In many cases only those closest will have any idea of the internal torment and struggle occurring.
Despite assumptions to the contrary (not helped by certain TV programmes CHANNEL 4!), there aren’t any perks or benefits to be gained from having OCD.

NO! We do NOT all enjoy hours of cleaning the house – or even do it!
NO! It’s NOT satisfying to have an organised desk or CD collection – most don’t do that either!
NO! It’s NOT nice for us to know we are clean and hygienic – for many it’s a cursed NECESSITY!
The only thing you could remotely say you get ‘good’ at is ACTING.
By acting I really mean masking and hiding.
Masking and hiding the compulsions our minds make us commit to do to feed OCDs selfish desire.

Contrary again to assumption and our dear British TV channels, the vast majority of OCD sufferers ARE NOT proud or boastful of their conditions and compulsions.
They are much more likely to be embarrassed, ashamed and sometimes even disgusted.
To counter this embarrassment, skillful and sometimes elaborate cover ups are developed to mask the compulsions and rituals.

I became highly skilled at the ‘secret handwash’.
At home this would be to trick my wife into believing my compulsions were under control. By carefully timing trips to the toilet I could justify handwashes to coincide with kitchen and children related jobs that required additional ritualistic washes to alleviate anxieties.
These limited the number of washes, but continued to fuel the OCD cycle by serving it instead of fighting it.
Similarly at work, to avoid ‘detection’ I developed hand washing routines which timed washes to coincide with toilet breaks and eating times to make the number of trips to the washroom less frequent and less obvious.

With my floor checking obsessions I’m sure I’m not alone in having honed the skill of retracing my steps and staring at red or shiny objects on the floor (that just COULD have been blood or needles) without looking too suspicious or ridiculous.
The old ‘Oh, did I drop something back there?’ trick was a well trusted and practiced favourite.

WHY KEEP YOUR OCD A SECRET?
Obviously everyone will have their own reasons, but the embarrassment and shame felt and the feeling that others ‘won’t understand’ are major factors.
This is where the fine work being done by charities and countless brave sufferers is most needed and appreciated – to raise awareness of the TRUE face of OCD and in doing so crush the myths and break the stigmas associated with it.

Some find their thoughts and problems just too personal to share, even with professionals. The horrific thoughts associated with certain strands of OCD would shock many and to open up publicly with these for some would understandably be a huge step to take.
Some may fear the reaction of family friends and employers.

Will they be supportive, dismissive, negative, hurtful or even angry that you’ve kept secrets from them?
My experience has been a mixture of the first two.
My wife has been massively supportive (as well as deeply frustrated and bloody angry at times). My mum and in-laws have never really mentioned it (to me) in the half dozen years they have known. Whether this is them not knowing what to say or ask or whether it’s an old fashioned ‘some things don’t get talked about’ attitude I’m not sure, but I know that if I need them that they are there for me.

I work in a large educational establishment with 1000+ staff. The staff nurse was aware of my condition from an early stage, but it wasn’t until I needed an hour off each week to attend CBT sessions that I shared it with my line manager and immediate colleagues.
This again has been a relatively pain free and comfortable experience. For a bunch of rough old lads, they have been surprisingly grown up about it and the level and tone of support, piss take and well intentioned abuse has been spot on.

WHY GO PUBLIC WITH YOUR OCD?
Well I suppose there are levels of ‘public’.
Opening up truthfully and fully to anyone, no matter how close, can be an enormous jump for some. I feel that if it’s the right person, then the added support, trust and understanding can be deeply beneficial to both.
Unfortunately the ‘problem shared is a problem halved’ theory doesn’t necessarily apply with OCD as there is the possibility that the friend or partner can be used for reassurance purposes and to carry out tasks allowing avoidance of anxiety raising activities.
Avoidance and reassurance are just the type of thing OCD thrives on – THE CUNNING BUGGER!

The next natural step from this is to inform family and friends of your issues. This can well be a relief to all involved. It allows the sufferer to spend less energy hiding compulsions and more fighting them and can let those around them understand more what they are going through and how best to support them.

Work is tricky to call, as all situations are different and not everyone may be as lucky as me to have an employer with firm support policies in place and a generally thoughtful and caring workforce.

To go the whole hog and go fully public was not something I set out to do, or had even thought about.
To those that have done this whilst in the full grip of their problems is brave and bold indeed and I salute you.

To me it seemed a natural progression and the next step on from doing a couple of runs for awareness charities. By running for an OCD charity and publicising this to friends, at work and on the likes of Facebook and Twitter I was effectively ‘coming out’ to a wider circle of acquaintances and eventually to the general public.
Now I know not everyone is interested in OCD, other people’s problems or my story, but I can honestly say I have only had one negative reaction to being open about it – regrettable, but not bad percentage wise.

The way I see it is that if my running, ramblings and new found love of writing help one person, mean anything to anyone or help spread awareness then that means a heck of a lot to me and is my aim now that I feel well enough to do them.
The support and encouragement of those in a similar and often worse position is both motivating and inspiring.
I also feel that this openness and self-awareness is helping me fight my demons and will go a long way to preventing me slipping back into a hole again.

I wouldn’t dare to advise people what they should or shouldn’t do. We are all different and what is great for some could be awful for others.
But if you are thinking about making a giant leap or a small step, then I wish you all the best.
If nothing less, you’ll certainly hear a lot less people claiming they’re ‘a little bit OCD’ when you’re around!