Wednesday, 28 April 2010

OCD - a beginner's guide?

I started to write a post, based on my experiences, to attempt an answer to the question:

What things can people do that would help or demonstrate love to people with OCD?

But before I got very far, I thought that it might be helpful, if I first provided some (more) basic information about OCD. I'm a bit wary about doing this though. I'm not viewing myself as an expert or anything, I'm just sharing information that I have acquired over the years. Also I'm thinking that you may know more about OCD than I do - well if that is the case, please feel free to contribute via Comments. That would be excellent - thank you.

So here's some basic information about OCD, illustrated from my own experiences.

OCD takes many different forms, and everyone's experiences are different. However, there is also some similarity between people's experiences of OCD.

OCD consists of two parts.


These are thoughts that take over an individual’s brain. Some people with OCD have loads of really distressing thoughts. They can be almost continual. For example, they may be thoughts relating to accidentally harming others, or doing something obscene. I am fortunate, as my thoughts are a lot more settled now than when I was younger.

I used to worry terribly over things. Here is a couple of examples.

The Milk Bottle I can remember we used to have milk at school in glass bottles. I re-call that I put a damaged empty bottle in the crate. Later in the day I was beside myself with worry over the bottle being damaged and whether anyone would notice, and would it end up being re-used and people might get hurt. The worry affected me physically. My fear was extreme. It is only recently that I have realised that this was all part of the OCD. When this level of anxiety took over, there was just one thing that brought me relief, and that was talking to my mother about whatever my worry was. She would re-assure me that it was all ok. I was really fortunate, I knew that I could talk to my mother about more or less anything, and that was an amazing help.

The Unforgiveable Sin I am a Christian, and back in my mid teens I had massive worries over whether I had committed the ‘unforgiveable sin’. I won’t go into details, but it was something to do with the devil. I did not raise this with my mother. I just re-call weeks of overwhelming anxiety.

Some people with OCD have solely obsessions, no compulsions. This is referred to as ‘pure O’ OCD.


These are the actions (rituals) that individuals feel driven to carry out. Some people count, some do certain things a set number of times, others wash their hands until they are virtually raw. For me, the compulsions mainly consist of checking things. This was and is still driven by anxiety that what I do might not be good enough, and that I might inadvertently make a mistake. Making a mistake has a huge amount of baggage attached to it. The anxiety also covers the possible consequences of a potential mistake. For example, if the gas on the oven was left on, there could be an explosion.

As a teenager, I handled this by avoiding situations that triggered this checking, and the anxiety which drove it. Here are a couple of examples of this.

‘The Last Man Standing’ I would avoid being the last person downstairs before bed, as if I was last, I would check that the cooker gas was off, the lights were off, the taps were off, and the list goes on and on. The checking was not quick it would take me some time. My mother would wonder what I was doing, still downstairs, and call down to me. If I moved quickly so as I was not the last person downstairs, then I ran the risk of comments being made about that. Either way, I felt that what I did was wrong/bad. Then once upstairs, I was faced with a similar scenario as I would do what I could to ensure that I was not the last person to use the bathroom. There was the feeling around that I was selfish, pushing in.

‘Home alone’ I would never stay in the house alone. So I normally went on holiday with my parents right up until I was about 30! In my late twenties, there was one occasion, when I did stay at home alone, when my parents went on holiday. The anxiety and checking were so bad that it took me more than two hours between being ready to leave the house, and actually leaving it. That two hours was filled with repetitive checking. I just could not cope and took holiday from work, so I could stay at home until my parents returned.

I checked things exhaustively, and still do when the OCD is severe. It was very, very difficult, and stressful to get to the point where I felt sure enough to move on to the next thing that I needed to check. I believed that doing the checking was something abnormal and bad. So I did not talk about it, I went to great lengths to hide it, even my parents did not know. It was not until I was about thirty that I sort help and started to understand that what I did was not bad or wicked.

Thankfully, nowadays, there is a lot of information available about OCD. Much is right at your fingertips on the internet. There is one site that I came across recently, which contains testimonies by people who have OCD about their experiences of OCD. These give you a feel for the wide variety of ways OCD affects people.


  1. Thank you for this, it's so helpful. I actually understand the obsessive side a little bit, my brain tends to obsess, but most likely not enough to be diagnosed with the O type of OCD. I just got told by my psychiatrist that I'm neurotic. Nice.

    The compulsion side, I cannot imagine how awful that must be for you. But thank you for describing it so well. I look forward to the next installment!


  2. Thanks forever Learning,

    I too can relate a little to the Obsessions and I wonder whether some of my phobias are a little like the compulsions. However, nothing like what you have suffered.. well done for pulling through this far, and thank-you for posting and explaining it.

  3. Thank you for writing about your experiences so eloquently.