Going Public with Your OCD


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.

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.

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.

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.

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!


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