Here's what OCD is like in films, in books, in the amusingly intelligent characters whose traits are always just another hilariously irritating example of genius:
Preferring to only eat sweets of the same colour.
Liking to have things in straight lines.
Having an aversion to dust.
Here's what OCD is like for me.
I'm eight years old and I can't leave the bathroom until I've closed the door the exact right number of times until it "feels right" because otherwise somewhere, someone will be in pain and it's my fault.
I'm twelve years old and I can't get more than three lines of my schoolwork done because I have to check each one at least eight times after I've written it because my mind is screaming with the thought that I might have written something I didn't mean to, even though I know that I've checked it over and over.
I'm fifteen years old and OCD has entwined itself with depression and anxiety like a twisted family reunion inside my head. I'm lying on my bed, with heaviness draping itself over me like the worst blanket in the world and I know I should move. I can see it in my head, all the things I need to do, mounting up in front of me and it feels like they're climbing higher and higher, until I can't breathe because the anxiety is wrapping itself around my lungs and strangling me. I lie there, just trying to build myself up to the task of moving off the bed. It can take up to an hour.
I'm nine years old and I have to say the same word over and over until it feels right in my mouth, because without saying it over and over the world feels terrifying off-kilter, like a table slowly tilting over, with all the plates and cutlery of my thoughts and my safety about to smash on the floor. I sit on the stairs and make sounds over and over and listen to my mother cry in the bedroom where she thinks I can't hear her because she doesn't know how to help me. I sit on the stairs and curl up into my knees and cry.
I'm fourteen years old and I have to force myself to eat my dinner because every second my thoughts scream that it will turn to something disgusting in my mouth and after dinner, I end up almost vomiting in the bathroom because I can no longer tell if my thoughts are telling the truth or not.
I'm sixteen years old and I'm watching my little cousin, who I love more than anything, refuse to step on any cracks and my insides are eaten up with worry and the question of Is this normal, is this just a quirk or is this, is this, is this illness going to rear its' head in her too? She's laughing but it's my worst fear, being dangled in front of me, because I honestly, genuinely cannot bear the thought of her ever living like this.
I'm thirteen years old and I'm walking around and around my bedroom at five in the morning on Christmas Eve, trying to think things in exactly the right order, the right number of times, until it feels right so no one can read my thoughts, so that I can't become someone else when I'm not looking, so that my parents' can't stop loving me, so that any number of things that I know are impossible can't happen. I have three or four different chants in my head at once and I think I reach the point where I've chanted each one about seventy six times, when they start to run into each other and I start to cry and slap myself round the head because I'm a failure and now, all the bad things will happen and ruin my family's lives because I was lazy and stupid and worthless and couldn't keep up with the chants.
I'm sixteen years old and I can't remember a time when my life wasn't riddled with thoughts that have to be thought over and over and which number's the right number and what could go wrong any second.
I'm sixteen years old and I find myself standing at the side of the road, staring at the passing cars, and wondering if I should jump in front of one of them because I honestly think and believe that my family could have far better lives if I wasn't here anymore. Even then, I have to count the cars and there's something almost grotesquely hilarious about that.
That is a life with OCD. The constant, constant anxiety you're never quite doing enough to stop all the things that could happen. Constantly having that voice in the back of your head telling you you're not strong enough to keep everyone safe.
I'm eighteen now.
I'm a writer. I'm on a gap year. I'm surrounded by an amazing, strong, loving family and friends. I'm discharged from therapy with four years of amazing therapists and psychiatrists, talking and medication strengthening my thoughts when the OCD rears its' head. And it does rear its' head.
It is still there. It's always waiting, in the background, to whisper to me, to pull me back into the rituals, the counting, the reciting, the constantly trying to think my way out of all the dangers my mind insists could be waiting if I don't pronounce that word correctly, don't think that thought with exactly the right emphasis.
It's quieter but it's still there, in the back of my head. It always will be. OCD doesn't go away, doesn't ever completely die down. But it does quieten.
I don't know if this will matter to anyone reading this. But the reason I'm writing it is for the simple prospect of one person who struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder reading this and learning that, as cliched as it sounds, it can get better. It will get better. There is help.
I have debated with myself whether or not to write this post. My immediate reaction is still to disguise and conceal my OCD, still to try not to talk about it. But then I think about people like Stephen Fry, Alastair Campbell, Tabitha Suzuma. I think about what it meant when the MP Charles Walker stood up and spoke in the House of Commons about what it was like to live with this disorder. I think about what it meant to me, as a young person, to have someone talk about what it was like to live with a mental illness and to show that there was a way forward, beyond the stereotypical depictions.
I'm not comparing myself to any of those people. I'm not even close. But if this blog post can make even one person who reads it feel less like they're alone with this illness, then I want it to be here. I want this to be here for the people to struggle with this illness-because it is an illness-to read.
It's something I would have wanted to read when I was still trapped in the knots and lies of my own thoughts, to know that it was an illness. That there was a reason I was like this. That OCD wasn't a joke or a pun or a punchline. That it was real and only by acknowledging it was there, could it be beaten.
Because OCD isn't the TV character insisting the tins in the cupboard be in exact symmetrical lines. It isn't the laugh track when someone frantically manouveres all the books into alphabetical ordr. OCD is that nine-year-old girl sitting on the stairs, crying to herself because she's tortured by her own thoughts and she doesn't know why.
And for the one person who might be reading this who might be struggling with this illness, I want them to know:
Even if it doesn't feel like it now, it can get better.
And the world will not be a better place without you.