Author of Obsessive Compulsive Diary, Charlotte Dennis, blogs for us about her experience of obsessive compulsive disorder and intrusive thoughts.
Charlotte has had OCD her entire life but was only diagnosed in her late teens. She lives in Southampton studying her degree in Art.
Purchase Charlotte's book on Amazon here.
When I was young I didn’t know what OCD was. I thought it was something I could pray about and ask God to make ‘go away’. I would wish to wake up and not worry anymore, but neither of these were solutions to my mental health condition- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Because that is exactly what it is. It’s not a joke, something to aspire to be, or a way to describe an organised friend.
“I hope my child has OCD so they always clean the house for me!”
“Don’t you think you only worry because you’re bored and have nothing important to worry about?”
“I’ve made a spreadsheet- I’m so OCD!”
These are all things I’ve heard in casual and professional conversations. Even when I have taken books out the library on OCD a librarian has ‘joked’ “I was going to take that book out, but I didn’t want to ruin the order of the books on the shelf. Ha!”
The thing about OCD is that sufferers can have some really intrusive, intense, disturbing thoughts, which are very uncomfortable to say out loud. And because of this we don’t talk about it and it remains misunderstood and people will continue to make the jokes without realising the damage it does.
When I was young my intrusive thoughts started quite quiet and tame, for me- they got worse as I got older. I would worry about fires starting, the house flooding or being broken into. This would result in me pushing down on door handles and trying to open (a locked) door, to ensure it was definitely locked. Turning the taps so tight my dad- a 40ish year old man at the time- would struggle to turn it back on. And finally pushing on my closed blind to ensure I could feel the window the other side was shut. After all this before bed at 7 years old, I felt safe. Until the next night when I’d do it all again but for longer as I was feeding my OCD.
From the age of about 9-14 I can’t really remember much about my OCD. I’m not sure if I’ve just repressed those memories, or if it was something I accidentally managed without realising. Around that time I was starting to get into music and playing guitar, so maybe that acted as a slight release for me. It’s hard to know how I coped during that time, and for now thats about all I can say about those years of my life. But luckily for you, I do remember what happened at 15, and that’s when it begins to get especially juicy!
Without being overly dramatic being between aged 15-18 were probably the worst years of my life. Year 11 was a struggle to say the least, and I think that’s when I began to crack and became vulnerable to my OCD returning with vengeance. (He had probably missed me). He didn’t just rock up with my 7 year old worries- just like me, he’d also changed. He wanted me to worry about technology, inappropriate photos of myself being taken by accident and shared, or sending offensive, crude emails- as well as fire, floods and burglary. When I was 7 I didn’t really worry I’d send an email to my employer of a picture of my boobs, but thats the important thing to remember about OCD; it changes and develops with us. It’ll always try to capture what we feel most insecure and vulnerable about.
I would spend about 2-4 hours a day checking my phone and laptop. This would entail checking my sent box on email accounts, refreshing social media accounts- and any online account- to make sure my profile picture was what I wanted to be, or that there was no profile picture. I would have to make sure all my apps were closed on my smart phone, the bluetooth was off, and that it was locked before bed. If I wasn’t completely sure of this, I believed my phone could attach or upload photos by it’s own doing.
I remember one Christmas we had all the family around. Everyone was celebrating in the lounge, but me and my OCD were sat in my bedroom having a lot less fun. I kept going back and forth between Christmas and my crisis. I sat on my floor and completed my usual checks. No inappropriate emails sent. No nude photos of me as a profile picture. After half an hour or so I then felt safe and decided to turn my laptop off- but this wasn’t as simple as it sounds. I had to shut my laptop ‘correctly’ and place it down on my shelf ‘correctly’ or again, I believed it would cause the laptop to post all sorts of humiliating things that’d ruin my life. If I wasn’t satisfied I would turn my laptop back on, and start the whole process again. (To anyone with ‘Obsessive Christmas Disorder’ t-shirts or signs, I think now would be the appropriate time to realise your purchase isn’t that humorous nor festive and should probably go!).
By the age of 18 I went to college for the first time, to study Music. I felt I had finally started to overcome the trauma secondary school had left me with. And where this is true- socially I felt more confident- my OCD decided it’d sabotage me once again. During the last 2 terms of studying I wasn’t using a computer/laptop, and had a very basic phone (with no camera). This meant I had to handwrite all my coursework and I couldn’t listen to the songs I was meant to be learning on guitar each week, so fell behind dramatically. (I could’ve been headlining Glastonbury this year if it wasn’t for you, OCD!!). It was around this time when I was finally diagnosed and could start accessing help. This didn’t happen instantly, but it was a relief to know why I was behaving like I was, and to have an explanation for my behaviour. I was very vulnerable in general during this period of my life. I remember a lot of tears in the college toilet as I checked my phone’s notifications were clear- which they usually were, no one ever text me!
But joking aside, it is easy for me to forget the extent that OCD impacted all aspects of my life. I didn’t have social media accounts so wasn’t involved in group chats which meant I missed out on lots of social events. I left jobs I enjoyed because of the immense fear of sending crude, racist emails to colleagues. Academically, I disengaged because I needed to use technology to do well, but couldn’t. OCD is still hugely misunderstood, and I don’t think this is always through ignorance but through a genuine lack of information/the portrayal of OCD in the media. Even as a sufferer I still feel like there is so much to learn, as everyones experience is so different. This is why it’s important for me to keep telling my story and opening a dialogue.
Although OCD took over most of my teenage years, with therapy and support from my family I have managed to reclaim the ‘now’. There are still days where I struggle. I am constantly aware of my thoughts and it’s something I think about, and will have to live with everyday. But OCD doesn’t stop me from doing anything- I still have the intrusive thoughts, but tell myself if there’s anyone I’d send an inappropriate email to it’d only be to my OCD telling him exactly how I feel- and that would be perfectly okay.
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