I had never heard of Tourette’s Syndrome until I was diagnosed with it at 8 years old, I started to hear other people talking about it as I moved onto secondary school, however this wasn’t because there was someone else suffering from it, but because of class mates cracking jokes about it. This only made me more determined to ensure that no one found out I had it, I remember desperately trying to hide my medication when we went on a school trip, because I knew that if anyone realised then the rumours would spread like wildfire and I would become the butt of the jokes until the end of my school days.
My case of Tourette’s was a mild one, my tics were twitches in my right arm and repeated clearing of my throat, which with the help of medication I managed to mask these well enough to avoid suspicion amongst my peers, but I was unable to hide my obsessive-compulsive disorder. At the time, I didn’t realise it was OCD, I don’t think I even knew what OCD was, I just remember feeling compelled by my own mind to do things because otherwise I believed that something bad would happen. The obsessions and compulsions at times didn’t even make sense or have any logic behind them, and I remember everything having to feel in balance and/or equal to feel just right, for example if I looked over my right shoulder I would then have to look over my left. When I say, “I had to”, I felt that way because if I didn’t give in to my obsessions I couldn’t move forward with my life in that moment, the thoughts would take over complete control of my mind leaving no space for me to function, it would be all I could think about until I succumbed to it by going through with a compulsion. This would happen over and over again.
Despite feeling like things had to be even and symmetrical, I often had to repeat my compulsions 3 times, or sometimes even 9 times because it was 3×3, like checking my purse was in my bag, or checking the door handle. I still have no idea to this day why the chosen number was 3. One of the things people did notice at school was that I checked my chair each time before I sat down, this might seem like a fairly normal thing to do, but we would change class several times a day, sit down to lunch, assembly etc, and each time I would be last to be seated because I had to wipe the area where I was about to sit 3 times even if I could see there was nothing on there. There was no hiding this, and I think it goes to show just how much of a hold OCD had over me, because even though I felt embarrassed as I could feel people watching me, not doing it didn’t feel like an option. I would take the humiliation over the torture OCD would inflict upon my mind any day. There were times when I tried to wipe the chair just once quickly to avoid being seen, however doing that would leave me restlessly perched on the end of the space and all I would be able to think about was that I needed to wipe the area 3 times. I would feel sick, tense and incredibly anxious, so I’d have to go through with it which was mortifying, but I’d face it in order to just be able to relax, free from the obsession, even though it was only temporary until the next one came along.
I am thankful to have grown out of my Tourette’s, yet the OCD (which is often associated with Tourette’s, as is depression and anxiety) very much remains. For a long time, I didn’t realise that what I was experiencing was OCD, I had my first suspicion when I started seeing documentaries on TV about it in my late teens, although these focused on cleaning and hygiene obsessions and compulsions, so I was still left wondering if that was what I had as mine felt very random in comparison. When I had my children, it stepped up to a level I had never experienced before, because it latched onto the most precious thing in my life and threatened me with it. I was petrified of sudden infant death syndrome and I would often have intrusive thoughts that my children would not wake up the next day unless I checked in on them every time I passed their bedroom door, I would then have to kiss them on the head 3 times even if it meant they stirred, I had to hear 3 breaths and then blow them 3 kisses from the doorway, once I got into bed I would have to switch the baby monitor display off and on 3 times. On top of this, I had to feel like I was keeping it equal on both sides of my body, so I would have to hear 3 breaths with one ear and then again with the other, blow them 3 kisses with one hand and then again with the other, and so on, you get the idea.
My husband obviously noticed what I was doing, we just had an unspoken understanding, because back then I didn’t feel like I could go into detail about it, even I couldn’t understand why I was thinking about my children not waking up, why my own mind was repeatedly generating these distressing thoughts about someone who I loved so much, so what on earth would anyone else think. I was convinced I would be sectioned if I told anyone, because I knew that these thoughts my mind kept tormenting me with were not right and that doing these random things to prevent them from happening sounded ludicrous.
Luckily, awareness of the condition has increased over the years and finally, at the age of 25, I said the words to my Husband and my GP “I have OCD”. At the time, you wouldn’t believe how difficult and scary it felt to say those 3 words, even though my Husband really knew way before then, but actually admitting I had a mental health condition to myself and someone else was huge. Since then though things have only got better, I have learnt more about it and I now understand that everyone has intrusive thoughts, whereas before I thought it was just me, and I now realise that the difference is that most people are able to disregard these thoughts, whilst for someone who has OCD, their mind is like an anxiety breeding ground, you see OCD is an anxiety disorder, and so it will take that thought and convince you it is real, cue an increase in anxiety, and somehow (I haven’t quite figured this bit out yet) OCD comes up with this totally random compulsion or ritual which you must follow because you believe that doing so will prevent the thought from materialising, when in fact you are just relieving the anxiety associated with the prospect of such a thing happening. The thought is not fact though, it’s just that – a thought. No more, no less.
I’ve become so used to my OCD that I don’t even fight it, it didn’t take long for me to learn that it was easier to let OCD win and so I’ve just accepted it as a part of me, in fact I’ve probably made it feel at home within my mind, I’ve allowed it to have free rein. Until now that is, because writing this has made me realise just how much of a grip OCD has had over too much of my life, and I’ve had enough. Opening up about my OCD was the first step in the right direction, reading about it and making sense of it has helped too, and now I need to take the next step to conquer it. I know it won’t be easy, and I’m not sure if it’s even possible to become completely free of OCD, but right now I can only imagine what life is like without it, and I want to try with all my might to experience it. The only way to beat OCD is to resist it’s demands, which is far easier said than done, I will have to refrain from my compulsions when obsessions occur, which will make me feel extremely uncomfortable, you feel as though you are subjecting yourself to elevated levels of anxiety, and if you just give in it will go away which is ever so tempting in the moment, however this only adds fuel to the fire in the long run. So, from today, with the help of a free app, nOCD, I’m going to try exposure response prevention therapy (a type of cognitive behavioural therapy), and overtime I will see that everything is still okay when I say no to OCD.
If you suffer from OCD and you’re interested in the free app, check out the video below or click here to go to their website where you can download the app for free now.