In 2016, aged 17, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). “ A mental disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), and behaviours that drive them to do something over and over.”
However, if you know me you’ll know that my struggles with OCD and anxiety began when I was much younger. My earliest recollection of having feelings of anxiety, and showing symptoms of my OCD, was when I was around seven years old. I remember that I was absolutely petrified of the world coming to an end, so I did what any rational person would do, and assigned myself tasks, such as tapping something three times or running up and down the stairs four times in a day. I believed that if I didn’t complete these tasks, then the world would end. I even threw up one New Year’s Eve because I convinced myself that comets were about to land and blow us all up. Talk about dramatic.
As I got older, my OCD manifested itself in the same way that it does with many others - through the need to clean. I started to throw things away, into the bin. Not just rubbish, I would throw away tea towels, pots and pans, hair brushes - literally the most random objects from my house. It got to the point where my mum and dad would have to go through the bin and sift out everything that I had thrown away, not to use anything again obviously (!), but to show me what I was throwing away and ask me WHY?! They realised that I was going through something when I couldn’t give them an answer, because I couldn’t even remember what I had been throwing away.
After completing my GCSE’s, I went to my GP and was diagnosed. However, I didn’t take any immediate action. Instead, my OCD grew worse. It got to the point where I would have to hoover my bedroom and the stairs, then bleach our family bathroom every single day. It would be the first thing I would do when I got home from work, the first thing I would do on waking up at the weekend and it was constantly on my mind. I would be faced with a horrible, deep angst in the pit of my stomach if I knew that I hadn’t engaged in my cleaning ritual for a day. It really took a hold of my life.
Earlier this year, almost two years after I was diagnosed with OCD, I completed my first bout of therapy. This course of therapy allowed me to face a lot of the issues that I had been harbouring away for so long. It became clear to me, that there had been elements of trauma throughout my childhood and early teenage years, that had left me feeling completely helpless. My OCD was me trying to gain control and order within my life, where this was otherwise lacking.
Therapy has completely changed my whole outlook on my OCD; I know now that my OCD is nothing but a bully, a mere voice inside my head which thinks it has authority over me, but doesn’t. I realise now that it took me so long, since first diagnosis, to face up to my OCD because I was embarrassed. It’s hard to be taken seriously when the thing that is causing you so much heartache, and making your life so difficult, can be funny. Little did I know, that embracing the humour was the only way to address the stigma attached to OCD head on.
After two difficult years, I can finally say that I have taken control and am no longer dictated to by the OCD which I have suffered with for so long. In the words of my fantastic therapist, “It’s important to tell your OCD to just fuck off,” and if you know me, you know how much I love to swear.
It is, however, a journey. One that I’ve accepted I’ll be on for life. Like everyone else, I’ll have good days, and I’ll have bad days. However, I feel confident entering womanhood with a powerful armour, in the form of a deep understanding around my mental illness. An understanding that has equipped me with resilience, that allows me to stare my OCD down, through times of worry, and simply say ‘No.’
My advice, to anyone suffering with OCD/anxiety like symptoms: You are far stronger than you realise. It is ok to say no and to resist those temptations, because the fact of the matter is that you cannot control everything. Unfortunately, bad things will happen, no matter how many times you bleach the floor. Even though, for that short while, cleaning feels like it’s helping - it simply cannot, and will not change the course of things. Take back the control, say no to the bully who’s sitting on your shoulder, go and do something you love, accept the hard times for what they are and always remember to laugh.
You can read more about Ellie and her life with OCD here on her blog