11 Feb 2016

Living with obsessive compulsive disorder

2:42 pm on 11 February 2016

As told to Jess McAllen by an OCD sufferer who wishes to remain anonymous.

My OCD first manifested itself when I was 16 and started out small.

I would shower three times a day, more if I had my period. I didn’t like touching things in public - like handrails. I washed my hair every shower and never used public toilets. Some days I didn’t go to school if I had my period, not because I had cramps, but so I could shower and change whenever I went to the toilet.

It sounds crazy, but I thought if I wasn’t clean I’d probably get sick and then die.

By the time I was 19 it was much worse. I used hand sanitiser after touching most surfaces by accident and would follow up with moisturiser because my hands were always dry. At one point I started wearing gloves and a face mask, but the stares from people stopped me from wearing the mask.

My showers were frequent and unnecessarily long. I washed myself three times and if the shower curtain touched me on my way out, or I touched unclean surfaces, I would have to wash myself again - three times. I only used clean towels straight from the wash. I didn’t like touching the ground after showers so I had my towels on the ground, red carpet style.

I did most things in threes.

My mum complained because our power and water bill was colossal.

I cried a lot about germs and almost all my thoughts were about germs and me getting sick and dying.

They were definitely difficult times because no one understood. If I touched a dirty surface I could feel the germs burning my skin. Again, crazy, but I definitely felt something.

I sort of got over it on my own until motherhood when it started up again. I didn’t let my daughter play in Chipmunks for fear of germs. I would bath her after every nappy change, which isn’t good for her skin. I joined playcentre when she was 13 months and learned the importance of playing in nature. Seeing children playing happily in mud made me want to loosen up and allow my daughter the same freedom. Now she’s seven and still makes mudcakes. Her brothers love it too.

People are not aware of the realities of OCD. I hear the term being thrown around in casual conversation: “I’m so OCD when it comes to x” when I know they’re really meaning fussy or a perfectionist.

I’m often late to things and people will say “oh yes, I know what you mean, I don’t like leaving the house untidy either, but I just leave it and come”. I couldn’t do that. Something ticks inside me. If I don’t get it done I feel sick.

If people really were OCD they wouldn’t be so quick to declare “I have OCD” with a massive laugh and smile. It’s debilitating.

When my depression and anxiety come back the OCD tendencies do as well. It can make things very hard, but I know my triggers and after good therapy I know how to avoid and manage it.

I started taking medication in 2012, so yes, I went a whole decade suffering with mental illnesses before taking medication and getting therapy. I had no idea I was depressed and didn't realise I'd been suffering with it.

I know I mentioned my doctor saying to watch out for OCD, but I didn't share anything else with her. She just noticed how dry my hands were. Looking back, she prob should've asked more questions.

I gained a lot of weight while taking the medication and didn't like the numb effect I got. I would usually cry and feel emotional but I found it hard to do any of that, didn't feel right. Last year I came off medication but did CBT (therapy) for 5 months and started doing more of what I love, stayed away from toxic people and situations, and spent more time in nature

There are challenges dealing with mental illness in the Pacific community. It takes a lot of turning yourself inside out, talking about things that are taboo - most people aren’t willing to do that. With increased poverty in our communities it’s only going to get worse.

I’ve heard “you need to go to church” said to someone after a failed suicide attempt. There is the belief that people are mentally unwell because they aren’t being good Christians. Such backward thinking that does nothing to help the person suffering.