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Obsessive compulsive distraction

By River Reporter Mar 1, 2012

By Natalie Mason

Whether I’m sitting in a class or relaxing at home I’m never quite free, with every action comes the familiar intrusion of worry.

Watching the television I can only get through five minutes before I’m wondering if I’ve lost something, or if I’m supposed to be somewhere or do something.

Before long I’m straightening a lamp, attempting an assignment or cleaning the flat and it can be hours later before I realise my TV programme is long gone and I really have forgotten something.

When people talk about obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) it’s often a laughable subject, even being called a trendy affliction.

Washing your hands a few too many times, lining up the soup cans in your cupboards and all the other funny little things we do, must be a tad OCD right? Wrong.

Crippling illness

The truth is OCD is a real mental health condition, with symptoms including irrational and intrusive thoughts, rituals, physical compulsions, checking, fear of germs and hoarding. OCD affects up to three in 100 people, and can be a crippling illness for those that suffer.

The day I was told I had OCD I laughed it off too. My school teacher suggested it, after pointing out I’d written the same thing eight times over. I hadn’t even realised I’d done it but saw the funny side and put it down to tiredness.

That was just the start; soon I began noticing I had certain routines I couldn’t stop. Checking my school bag five or six times, repeatedly turning my alarm clock on and off, saying out loud everything I had done that day before I could sleep and feeling anxious if I dared to try and break the routine.

By the time I started college I knew things were bad. My routines were keeping me up at night, I had become afraid of things I’d never feared before, spiders, burglary, fire and germs. I began turning off plug sockets and disconnecting electricals, all for fear that if I didn’t something awful would happen.

Shame and embarrassment

When my family started to notice I felt embarrassed and ashamed, I couldn’t explain my behaviour so turned to a doctor for help. The result was as I feared, I had OCD. Being formally diagnosed and entering straight into a year of counselling, I felt mortified and every bit of the crazy person I associated with mental illness.

That was nearly seven years ago now. I’ve since been through three different types of therapy, dropped out of university, visited several doctors and suffered my way through a long course of antidepressants.
Sadly there’s no miracle cure for OCD, it’s something you have to learn to control over time with therapy or medication. The good news is I made it back to university.

I quit my first degree because I couldn’t face doing something new, my OCD made me afraid to change my routine.

But a year of full-time retail work soon gave me the strength to try again and here I am in my final year of a journalism degree, admitting to a lot of people that I have OCD for the first time.

Hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Studying for a degree whilst battling obsessive compulsive disorder is by far the hardest thing I have ever done.

OCD is a secretive illness, it feels shameful and it is very common for sufferers to hide it, including me. I have only one friend that knows and a couple of family members, but it has taken me my whole life to tell them.
The years of counselling have helped me to stop some of my physical routines but the stress and pressure of university has unfortunately introduced many new problems.

A symptom of OCD is having hundreds of uncontrollable thoughts that come all at once.

Intrusive thoughts take over

It makes it very difficult to pay attention and listen to people as the intrusive thoughts take up all concentration. The thoughts can make everything seem impossible, leaving me fearing the worst in every situation.

The stress OCD causes is overwhelming and makes coping with deadlines and workload feel almost unbearable.

With so many obsessions and compulsions I easily forget even the most basic things, let alone university work. I have white boards in every room of my flat with each day broken down into tasks, sometimes even reminding myself to eat.

Giving presentations or talking in front of the class are the worst days.
The biggest symptom of my OCD is excessively panicking, on many occasions making me physically ill with nerves. When I know I have to present I will worry for weeks and barely sleep.

Panic can be crippling

The panic that ensues when I stand alone in front of a class is crippling, but it’s not just the presentations that bring challenges.

Completing any task is hard; I have to do everything when I’m alone, be it essays, news stories or coursework, because of my low concentration levels. It takes hours sometimes just to get out two paragraphs because the intrusive thoughts stop me from even knowing what I’m doing.

There have been times when I’ve missed university for a week or two because I couldn’t bare to leave the house and face people.

Many decisions I’ve made have been wrong ones and I’ve passed up many opportunities because I’m too afraid I won’t cope. Sadly OCD controls my life not just at university but also in my relationship, at work and socially, although I’m determined not to give up and will continue trying treatments until something works.

The good thing is the university knows and they offer services for people with mental health conditions including deadline extensions and counselling.

Whilst I’ve never used them myself I have allowed the university to alert lecturers of my condition. There are times when it all becomes too much and having someone that understands is honestly the best help you can get.

Take it from me, there really is no benefit to suffering in silence.

Read the rest of the article and hear more from Kingston students who suffer in the latest issue of The River out March 2.

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