Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Living with OCD | Mental Health

Hello everyone! If you didn't know, last week was a week of mental health awareness with Tuesday 10th being #MentalHealthAwarenessDay. The week was dedicated to getting people discussing mental health issues, a time for people to share their own stories of personal struggles and experiences, all aiming to help break down the societal stigma surrounding mental health problems and mental illnesses. It was awesome to see so much positivity on social media over those seven days, as well as all the support that was shown for people It was a nice reminder that there are lots of wonderful, kind-hearted people out there, and it's great to not feel so alone in my own personal struggles. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you'll know that I have generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and depression; I'm pretty open on here about how these mental health conditions affect me. However, there's another mental illness that I've battled with for the last four years or so (although the signs were there since my teens) that I don't really talk about, and that's OCD or Obsessive Compulsion Disorder. 

The reason why I've not shared posts about OCD before is because of both the stigma surrounding it and also my own anxiety. I've been too worried about opening up about it, I guess because I feel embarrassed by it and I really shouldn't! I decided last week that I wanted to challenge myself to talk about it on my blog. I did intend for the post to be up sometime last week but my nerves got the better of me. So, today I finally worked myself up into writing about how Obsessive Compulsive Disorder impacts my life, and even though I'm feeling nervous about sharing this, I feel that I need to: for my own recovery, and to help others too! I hope you find this personal post helpful or informative or whatever guys! 

Living with OCD | Mental Health

So what really is OCD? 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a type of anxiety disorder, of which symptoms manifest in two ways, as obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are basically intrusive thoughts, intense worries that mirror the specific anxieties of an individual with OCD. There are many common types of obsession, including thoughts involving harm of yourself or your loved ones, thoughts surrounding exposure to germs, or disasters happening, or based on your relationships and/or sexual orientation, etc. These thoughts cause those with OCD to have the urge to carry out compulsions; these are physical or mental activities that bring relief to someone dealing with unwanted thoughts. Compulsions are normally repetitive, people find that they have to do the activity several times to deal with the stress and anxiety attributed to their obsessive thoughts. Some examples of compulsions: checking something repeatedly such as a door lock, washing specific body parts, and repeating numbers or words.

There are A LOT of misconceptions when it comes to most mental health problems, with people judging sufferers and assuming things about them and their conditions based on these misconceptions. For Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, this is definitely the case! People think that it is all about cleaning, about liking to keep neat and tidy. This misconception is actually based on some truth, as having anxiety surrounding germs and exposure to diseases are very common symptoms of OCD. However, just because someone is very into cleanliness does not mean that they have a mental illness. People saying 'omg I'm so OCD' is very frustrating for people living the condition; it just undermines the severity of it and further perpetuates stigma. Due to these misconceptions, it makes it very hard for people living with OCD to open up about it. Even I have been told that I don't have OCD because I'm not tidy enough! It's ridiculous! Events like Mental Health Awareness Day are crucial because they help to provide people with information about the reality of mental health problems, and this is why I think sharing personal stories is really important. It's certainly tough to hit that publish button, but it can be so beneficial to your recovery if you talk about it and get things out in the open that you may have bottled up. Have you ever blogged about your mental health? How did you feel afterwards? You should be very proud of yourself if you did! 

Living with OCD | Mental Health

 OCD & Me

This part of today's post was the most challenging to write for me, just because I've not talked about these symptoms with many people and as I mentioned earlier, I have a lot of feelings of embarassment when it comes to my OCD. However, talking about how conditions affect you is what enables others to understand and relate, and get a glimpse into the reality of living with mental illness so I'm going to try my best to articulate how Obsessive Compulsive Disorder impacts my everyday life. I just wanted to note that not everyone with OCD will experience the same symptoms as me, and that there are so many types of OCD all steming from a variety of different fears and anxieties, I'm just discussing how it affects me personally. 

Repeatedly checking things...  

One of my most frequent symptoms is the need to constantly re-check things, to read them over and over. Whenever I write a message to or email someone, I have to repeatedly proof read what I've written to convince myself that it definitely makes sense, that there are no spelling errors and that I come across in the right way. I also do this whenever I write a card or letter to someone too. Basically anything involving one-on-one correspondance with someone is a stressor for me, unless I am very close to the person but even then, there are times when I still need to do this with them too.

This may not sound like an issue, but it's the amount of times that I need to read something that is problematic, and all of the intrusive thoughts that I get surrounding my need to do it. All of my insecurities about coming across like I'm stupid or something are what drives this obsession. It has gotten me to the point many times where it has taken me hours, sometimes days, to write or reply to a message. I have a few times gotten such intense anxiety that I have reopened letters and cards that I've already checked and thus sealed, because I have convinced myself that I must be wrong and that there's a mistake. I constantly seek reassurance whenever I have to do these things, by getting someone else to check over what I've written, to avoid the intrusive thoughts occuring. Needing reassurance is a big element of all of my mental illness combined and I'm sure that I annoy all of my loved ones with my constant asking them for approval. 


This is probably the second most well-known symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. You have all probably watched at least one show or documentary before about an extreme hoarder so you'll be familiar with how difficult it can be for people who hoard to get rid of their belongings, no matter how useless they seem to onlookers. There are lots of reasons why people collect too many possessions until they are eventually overrun with them. These obsessions to hoard items may stem from a trauma in their lives which makes them feel the need to store things to use in the future; they may also become emotionally attached to the things they own and these are just a couple of examples. 

I have always had a hard time throwing things away. I get really attached to my possessions, and it makes me worry that people will see me as a materialistic person because of it. I have struggled with depression for most of my life so far and my depression definitely plays into my OCD when it comes to hoarding. Like most people, whenever I get something new it makes me feel good. But because I struggle with my mood as a result of my depression, the happiness that I feel whenever I get something has a real impact on me. I treasure these moments and therefore, I treasure the items associated with these positive feelings on a subconscious level. This makes it so tough for me to part with a lot of my things, even if I know that I don't need them anymore. If I can give them away to someone else, I can usually do that... I like the idea of making someone else happy in the same way that I felt when I got that particular item, but throwing them away to go to waste is just something that I struggle with. I get very worked up about the idea of throwing something away, because of this and also because I think about how the item can be used in the future without me having to re-buy a similar thing some day. 

My intrusive thoughts have gotten me to the point before that I've gone back to the bin bag and taken the item back out again (don't worry guys! I'm not going rummaging through the household bin. When I throw things away, I put them in my bedroom paper bin or into a carrier bag). When it comes to things that have a face too so plushies or keyrings of cute characters and such, I can't bring myself to discard them and the idea makes me pretty upset. To help me overcome this symptom, I like to do clear out's in the company of others so that I can get the answers to my internal questions, and then be encouraged that I don't need to keep something. At the moment, we are in the process of decorating and I will soon have my own bedroom finally so this symptom is being very challenged as I try to organise all of my possessions that have been stored away in boxes and cupboards ever since before I moved away to attend university. My OCD is being really tested and I'm trying my best to not keep items that I really don't have any use for. Wish me luck! 

Living with OCD | Mental Health
(I hope I'm not boring you too much everyone! If you managed to make it though my post so far guys, well done haha!

Ordering & Symmetry... 

This is one of those many symptoms that have so many misconceptions surrounding it. Through tv shows and movies depicting OCD, we are shown many characters with this mental health problem having their house ordered to perfection, and whenever something is moved it causes them a lot of distress. This is not necessarily wrong, because there are people who's OCD makes the order of their possessions very important to their mental well-being. It is only a problem that this has now become one of those stereotypical indicators of OCD and the various other symptoms seem to be unheard of in popular media. I am personally one of those messy organised people, where my bedroom, etc., may appear cluttered to someone else but for me, everything is ordered and I know where to find something if I need it. Having to share a bedroom all of my life so far has probably had something to do with this, nonetheless my things are not stored with precision. 

So is ordering something that affects me when it comes to OCD? Yes, it is. I have mentioned before on my blog that I am a very fussy eater, but this is not just because of what I like to eat. I also have a problem with how my food is ordered on the plate, if certain types of food are touching one another, if the juices of something come into contact with something else on the plate.... it can get pretty ridiculous how stressed I get if things go wrong with my meal. I will often not eat something if it has touched something that I didn't want it to, and this probably makes me sound so silly but yeah it's a thing that has always affected me. I have gotten better with this as I've gotten older but it still makes eating out a stressor. 

As for symmetry, this obsession for me manifests itself in the form of dermatillomania. If you've not heard of this condition before, it's a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that causes sufferers to obsess over perceived imprefections on their skin to the point that they will try to remove them. Dermatillomania is also known as Excoriation Disorder, more commonly referred to as skin picking disorder. I don't want to go into too much detail here, but I shared a post all about living with skin picking disorder last year on Mental Health Awareness Day that you can read here. How this condition relates to symmetry is that I can't cope with my skin not being smooth or having any lumps or bumps. I have had this condition since my early teens but over time as my mental illness worsened so did the dermatillomania. It's a form of self harm thats very difficult to stop, but I'm working on it :)

Fear of Contamination... 

This obsession is unquestionably the most iconic symptom of OCD. Whenever Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is represented, whether it's in the media or thoroughout society, repetitive hand-washing is always the picture of this mental illness. This depiction of OCD probably derived from the original psychological observations of the condition from back when science wasn't as advanced as it is today and so only the most visual symptoms may have been categorised. Hand-washing is a very common compulsion, and I myself repeatedly perform this ritual whenever my fear of contamination is triggered. Whereas many people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder have anxieties routed in fear of germs or disease-causing pathogens, mine is caused by fear of chemical exposure. This is one of the symptoms of my own mental health that I am most embarrassed by, because I know how irrational my obsessions can seem to others :(

You may be wondering what exactly I mean by chemical exposure. Essentially anything that is a hazardous chemical, e.g. household cleaning products, is a stressor for me. As a consequence, I cannot touch certain things with my bare hands (batteries, bleach bottles and such). If I have to use something like nail polish remover, I panic about getting the chemicals off of my hands afterwards and I will continously wash them. Often I will do this until they are sore and red. However most of the time, I am still convinced that the chemicals are not washed away and then I am scared to touch my face or put my fingers near my eyes because I get intrustive thoughts that I'm going to blind myself or irritate my skin and whatnot. I also cannot make food or drinks for other people most of the time because I get thoughts telling me that I might harm them by exposing them to whatever dangerous chemicals and/or germs that I've come into contact with. I know rationally that this won't happen but at the time, the threat is very real to me. 

Living with OCD | Mental Health

Intrustive Thoughts & Compulsion 'Rituals'...

The final symptom that I wanted to discuss with you all is the worst one in my opinion; I've saved the worst 'til last! It is the worst one for me because of how much it impacts my daily life and causes me the most amount of distress. I've mentioned intrustive thoughts several times throughout today's post, because it's these kinds of thoughts that contribute to the obsessions experienced by those with OCD but I wanted to explain what an intrustive thought actually is. Some of our thoughts are involuntary, our brain filled with all of its memories of our past experiences, of our phobias, the things that make us uncomfortable or angry, initiates thoughts without our control in response to our surroundings, to sensory inputs and stimuli. Everyone gets intrustive thoughts from time to time. Let me think of an example... have you ever been out and about and suddenly thought to yourself 'everyone is watching me' even thought you've not seen anyone look at you at all... that's an intrustive thought. Or, you've been sitting in your room chilling and feeling perfectly fine then suddenly you think about that one time that you embarassed yourself in front of someone. This thought seemingly came out of nowhere, because it was an intrustive thought. 

Well, for people with a mental health problem, these types of thoughts occur very regularly, a lot of time everyday. They are hard to ignore, sometimes it's almost impossible to distract yourself from them and try to focus your mind on something else. They can be very debilitating, especially when the thoughts are about past traumatic experiences or about your insecurities. With OCD, you experience these a lot! They are what usually cause you to have to carry out a compulsion, in order to relieve some of your anxiety and thus make the intrustive thoughts go away. Sometimes you can preform an activity several times and you still can't calm down, and this is where 'rituals' can develop. Rituals are compulsions that involve repeated sets of actions, whether it's washing your hands in a specific routine or counting a particular way. My own rituals involve both counting and touching specific items. I have no idea why this sequence of actions helps me, but if I don't do it whenever I get a very intense thought, I get very agitated. 

It is very crippling to have to live with this symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as intrustive thoughts hit me at the most random of times and it sucks! I can be having a fabulous time and suddenly, a thought or an image comes to mine for no reason and stress sets in. Sometimes these thoughts are caused by an association, so I will see or hear something and ping! I think of something horrible. It can be very hard to deal with them in public places when I can't preform my little anxiety-relieving ritual. I have had to make an excuse to leave a room when I'm with friends because something has triggered my OCD.For example, I have been watching the news with people before and a tragedy of some kind had been reported. Everyone starts discussing how horrible it would be to experience it, so obviously I start thinking about that too and then I panic that because I've thought about it, it's going to somehow happen. I then try to ignore my thoughts but my anxiety is too high and I have a mighty need to go perform a compulsive behaviour to help me calm down again. I can't believe that I'm sharing about this, because it's so embarassing to me, eeek! >.<

Working Towards Recovery

I'm going to end this post on a more positive note :) When I talk about recovery, this does not mean that something heals, that it goes away as the word would suggest. Like in the case of some physical health conditions, which go into a state of recovery, where symptoms are pretty much gone but they could come back at anytime... this is what recovery of mental illness is referring to. Being recovered from a mental health condition means being at a point where you are experiencing less intense symptoms, where you are able to function more and have healthy coping mechanisms in place to help you keep those symptoms at bay. 

I am in the process of working towards a place of recovery with all of my mental illnesses and I'm still on the journey. It will be a while until I am where I hope to be, but in the meantime I am setting myself little goals to help me manage things along the way. When it comes to my OCD, I have already noticed so many little improvements and so I hope that one day I can share an update with you all on how things have changed. I hope that my post today has been an insightful one, that it has been interesting and I haven't gotten carried away with my writing, haha! If you've found my post helpful, please let me know in the comments. Have a lovely day guys!

Thankyou for reading!

You can find out more information about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder over on the Mind UK Mental Health website. They are a fabulous charity!



  1. So proud of you for sharing this, I hope getting it written down and out there helped a little as well. We don't always realise the struggles that go on for people behind closed doors and I have so much admiration for you.

    1. Thankyou so much lovely :) It has definitely helped me, especially with my feelings of embarrassment over it. You're so nice, thanks for your kind words <3 x


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