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Winning Mastermind and managing OCD

Monday, 28 April 2014 Clive

Clive shares his recent Mastermind victory and his experiences of managing OCD.

Having struggled for over fifty years, it is difficult for me to imagine a life without OCD.

In that time I have experienced OCD in all its insidious forms, enduring the agony of 'pointless' obsessive rituals and being driven to distraction by persistent and frightening ruminations.

I have also undergone many types of therapy, some yielding little or no benefit, and others which have helped me to escape the strong hold of OCD in order that I might fully engage with life. 

I recognise more than anybody what an intractable, stubborn and unforgiving affliction OCD can be. Yet, I also know that it is possible to adapt to and live with this condition, and in my case to even turn some of its characteristics to my own advantage.

In 2013 I was made redundant from the job I loved, teaching English. Whilst redundancy is traumatic for anyone, being an OCD sufferer I was faced with the unenviable prospect of an enforced period of inactivity, the worst possible scenario for increased OCD activity. 

I quickly realised that I needed a focus in order to stop myself slipping back down the obsessive slope, but what? It then struck me, that having been an ardent pub quizzer for many years and a fan of TV quizzes, that I might apply for Mastermind. Despite some serious misgivings about whether I would be able to cope with the pressures of an audience and television cameras, I decided to take the plunge and submit an online application.

So, my “Mastermind journey” began with phone and panel auditions. Apparently between two to three thousand people apply for the show annually, so as you might imagine, I was thrilled and excited a few weeks later when I was informed by the producer that he wanted to offer me a place on the show; thrilled and excited yes, but being a veteran OCDer, also worried that under the pressure of the spotlight I might succumb to obsessive thoughts and make a fool of myself on national TV!

After spending a couple of months swotting up on my specialist subject, Blackadder, it was time to travel down to Salford to record my heat and I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone who has struggled with any type of mental health problem how nervous I was beforehand. It certainly helped though that I was warmly greeted by the BBC production staff (although I was far too nervous to accept any of the food provided!); and that my fellow competitors were unstintingly friendly. 

As I waited anxiously to be called to the chair by host, John Humphreys, I tried to calm myself by concentrating on my breathing and then, suddenly, it was time to take my place in the infamous black chair. 

Thankfully, when the lights went down, the competitive side of my character kicked in and although the show is recorded in front of a large studio audience, it felt as though only Mr Humphreys and myself were present. At the half-way stage I was joint first, but a good general knowledge round meant I had won my heat and was through to the semi-final!

In my semi-final I took John Lennon as my specialist subject and despite dropping a couple of clangers, I once again pulled through on the strength of my general knowledge.

The final itself was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life. Once again my fellow competitors were friendly people, but I sensed an extra tension within the group, no doubt brought about by being within touching distance of the much-coveted title of Mastermind champion. 

In the event, the contest was incredibly close-fought. The only tactic I consciously adhered to was to try avoid passing, and this ultimately paid off as I tied with fellow competitor Brian Chesney on twenty five, but sneaked past him courtesy of my one pass to his four.

What happened next remains somewhat of a blur, but I do remember experiencing a huge feeling of relief as opposed to any feeling of euphoria. As John Humphreys presented me with the Mastermind trophy, he commented that I had appeared nervous – “if only you knew John” I thought, “if only you knew…”

If someone had told me thirty years ago that one day I would win a national title on TV, I would have laughed at them. At that time my OCD was so severe that I could barely function, let alone conceive of appearing before a television audience of millions! Yet, I am living proof that it is possible to live with OCD and, what’s more, to achieve your ambitions.

It can be really hard to cope and manage OCD, for help and support, contact your local Mind or call the Mind Infoline on 0300 123 3393. 


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