There was a time when my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) became so bad I begged my partner to kill me. I remember lying on the bathroom floor trying to make myself vomit because I was afraid to eat anything. It sounds almost funny to say it now but, at the time, it was terrifying.
For me, OCD usually took the form of intrusive thoughts, which is when you have involuntary obsessional thoughts that cause you fear and distress. For example, fear of being violent towards a loved one.
My thoughts were mostly related to issues I feel strongly about, particularly the environment and animal welfare, and it was while reading about these online that I had my first panic attack - around four years ago when I was in my early twenties. I collapsed onto the carpet shaking and couldn't stand up.
For two weeks afterwards, I just lay in bed staring at the ceiling. My brain was screaming at me that I wasn't moral enough, and that everything I did was destructive to the world around me and destroying the environment and damaging the welfare of animals, even eating. I starved myself to avoid eating the 'wrong' thing and I even felt like I needed to kill myself to compensate for how immoral I felt I was.
For two or three months I was pretty non-functional. I could hardly dress, wash or feed myself. All my energy was just drained by this obsession. I lost about a stone in weight, I barely left the house, I looked like a skeleton. I had chronic insomnia. I couldn't even concentrate on anything for long enough to read half the page of a book. I had to shut down my eco-friendly business temporarily and live on savings.
I later found that this type of moral obsession is a well-known sub-type of OCD called scrupulosity but at the time I had no idea what was happening to me.
What started as a fear of accidentally harming the environment, or an animal, turned into a fear that I would deliberately cause them harm.
I was so obsessed that I might go mad and somehow harm an animal that I asked my partner to lock me in the house. People who experience these kind of feelings, known as harm OCD, never actually do the things they're afraid that they will but I didn't realize this.
When I did have to leave the house, for example, to go into university, another fear gripped me; I was convinced that I would buy something which would somehow harm an animal. For my entire first term I never carried any money on me because, again, I thought I might go mad and buy something I shouldn't.
I would only carry my train ticket and a packed lunch, but when I came home I would still be panicking. I watched the clock until the shops were finally shut, because then I'd get a couple of hours relief overnight, knowing that I couldn't buy anything harmful.
My obsessions would change and become more and more difficult to deal with. One night just before I was about to go to sleep, it suddenly hit me that I was somehow causing climate change by breathing. I know this is absurd, and I knew it was then, but I just couldn't stop it. I was seized with this urge to seal up all the windows to prevent the CO2 escaping, or buy millions of plants for my flat and make it carbon neutral - or possibly just choke myself to death to be really certain.
I wrote a suicide note and began researching suicide methods online, it was only when I told my partner my intentions that he talked me down and I agreed to seek help.
I initially saw a counsellor at my university who then referred me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with OCD. Both of them were very kind and supportive but everyone's experience of OCD is different and what eventually helped me manage the condition was actually a therapy I discovered through my own reading.
I started doing something called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), which is also a technique used for tackling phobias. You gradually expose yourself to the things that frighten you most and resist the urge to perform your usual rituals (such as never carrying money or sealing up the windows).
I meditated too, because the idea of breathing was frightening to me and meditation forces you to focus on your breathing and what your body's doing. The more I did it, the more in control I felt.
But for a while it felt like I was playing Whack-a-mole with my obsessions. Whenever I got a handle on one, another would pop up in its place. I had to really fight them.
I also had to give up caffeine—as it's terrible for people with OCD—and I joined a support group, which was amazing. Talking to people who understood me, and exchanging tips for battling obsessions was a real help.
There's so much misinformation about OCD and it's dangerous for people to throw around the phrase "I'm a bit OCD" when they're just talking about wanting things clean and tidy. They think people with OCD enjoy cleaning and washing their hands but there's no enjoyment in OCD, we're motivated by pure terror. It doesn't help to use medical terms incorrectly, I wouldn't say "I'm a bit diabetes" if I had low blood sugar just before eating lunch.
I don't feel my obsessive thoughts will ever be totally gone but I have recovered now and I've been working in a new research job for three months. I could never have managed to sit in an office when my symptoms were at their worst but with help from my partner (who is now my husband) and my family and friends, I'm able to live a normal life again.
For information and advice about OCD, call support organisation OCD-UK on 0845 120 3778, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the OCD-UK website.
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