“Oh, I’m a bit OCD…” – we have all heard this phrase, people say it almost as a boast. Well, I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and people who do suffer will know that it can be an almost debilitating condition which can prevent you living your life.
A little background… I have no idea where my OCD came from, I don’t have a traumatic memory or some obvious trigger but I started to find that certain things were becoming more difficult for me. I have a form of OCD that encompasses checking, ‘is the door locked’, ‘is the gas off’ – what started as me having to double check something, such as going back to check I had actually locked the front door became a nightmare when I would have to check a number of times, I used to get to my office and have to turn around and go back to check again.
OCD is a ridiculous condition, as an adult you know if you have or haven’t done something but OCD is the demon that sits on your shoulder and says ‘have you?’, worse it will make you think of all of the impossible things that will happen because of your actions. You will think… ‘Oh no I left the iron on.’ immediately you will think ‘…and the house will burn down’, ‘…and people will die.’ so you find yourself going back and checking. You create routines, I had to check each knob on my gas cooker three times each to be sure I could safely go to bed, even if I had not used the cooker on that day.
For me my life was becoming increasingly difficult, I was regularly late for work as I had to complete my checking routines and it was affecting my relationships so I knew I had to change, but did not know how.
I have to say upfront that I am not a medical doctor and the advice I offer worked for me, it may not do so for everyone, there are no guarantees, however I hope this will be useful, sensible advice for anyone who is suffering.
1. Realize You Have An Issue
The first and most important step for me was to admit that I was suffering and that this was no way to continue. I had tolerated the compulsive behaviour for a long time and made a conscious decision to change.
2. Understand What OCD Means To You
I analysed the issues I was encountering, I had problems with checking and with doing certain things three times. Recognising that this was what I was doing meant I could start to make changes.
3. Start to stop…
Recognising what I was doing, for example, checking my door was locked three times did not mean I could stop this action straight away. I knew what I was doing was a compulsive reaction, but my mind was telling me I had to keep doing it. So I looked for steps to mitigate the actions. I would tie a knot in my handkerchief when I knew I had locked the door (touch the knot and know it was done. I still often had to go back and check again but it was a support). Then I created a leaving the house checklist, a small pad that looked like this.
- Gas off Yes
- Iron off Yes
- Door locked Yes
When I then felt myself trying to recheck I would look at the list rather than go back and physically check.
4. Realize This is Not An Instant Process
I wish I could say ‘and I stopped overnight’ – sorry, it took ages, even with a checklist my mind would not let me walk away. However, I was getting closer, I would maybe check twice not three times, eventually I was able to stop rechecking the physical items and just believe the list and further on from this I was able to stop all together.
5. Recognize When You Carry Out An OCD Action
When I am stressed I can find myself doing things which I now recognize as OCD. Stupid stuff in my case, for example having to tread on a certain manhole cover on my walk to walk, I realized I was ‘having to do it’, changing direction to carry out the action. When I recognized that I was doing something like this I would tell myself (often out loud) that this was an OCD reaction and force myself to stop doing it. The idea was to try to stop doing something before it became ingrained.
6. Talk To Others
It was difficult to admit, first to my doctor and then my partner that I had OCD, but when I did I realized that there are people out there who will help you and try to support. Not everyone will understand, but help is out there.
I have to admit that I still sometimes carry out actions which could be OCD routines however I am now very good at spotting them and stopping myself repeating them. I am more aware and open about my condition and, I am pleased to say, I have not double checked my front door in many years. So, if you do suffer, there is light at the end of the tunnel.