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What is OCD like?

Well as someone who has lived with it for long as I can remember, let me help give you an idea.

What is OCD?

OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is a mental illness which affects 2.5 million people in the UK. There are many misconceptions about OCD, mainly that all people with OCD are clean and tidy, perfectionists. This is just not true; I am very messy.

OCD is a debilitating illness which conducts itself in the form of a cycle. Beginning with intrusive thoughts followed up by rituals, relief and intrusive thoughts again…and so the cycle continues. The “type” of OCD you have is dependent on what those intrusive thoughts are based around and you react in accordance with them. So, for instance, if your intrusive thoughts are that you aren’t safe or you feel you are responsible for keeping your family safe, you’ll likely adopt rituals to soothe these concerns such as locking doors or checking windows. Unfortunately, those intrusive thoughts then come back and you begin compulsively and repeatedly locking doors and checking windows. Sometimes the intrusive thoughts aren’t as “rational” as that and seem completely unrelated to your concerns but if left untreated or in times of heightened stress, you might adopt more rituals or change them completely. There is no set number of rituals, a single person could have 1 or 100.

I’m trying to put this in the simplest terms but to be honest, OCD is one of the hardest mental illnesses to explain or understand. Even for me and I’ve lived with it all my life.

Repetition is a key element of OCD. OCD is a cycle of behaviour that continues indefinitely when presented with their fear and the condition is left untreated. An individual will have an intrusive thought that makes them anxious, they will carry out a task in order to lessen that anxiety, and they will have a moment of temporary relief until the intrusive thought comes back. It may not be the exact same thought it could be another outcome the brain has projected but the task needs to be completed again

How do you “get” it?

OCD is very complex, my experience with it has been lifelong and I began adopting rituals as a child. At the time I, of course, didn’t know the ongoing implications although I could identify that it was quite “normal” behaviour. I wouldn’t have been able to explain at that age or have the inclination to do research on the topic.

OCD can start at any age but it usually is triggered in childhood or begins due to a traumatic event, childhood events and circumstances.

OCD is primarily a serious, severe anxiety disorder meaning those who have anxiety disorders are more likely to develop OCD compulsions, although this is not always the case. I personality tried to work out for years which came first the anxiety or OCD. With all the research I’ve done, therapy and self-reflection I became more aware of OCD in childhood, however from the moment of my first anxiety attack at 12 it was so overwhelming my OCD just fell into the background, because I was used to the OCD, the anxiety was more obstructive.

Many people will struggle to pin down a particular life event which caused their mental illness (wouldn’t that be nice though!) because in cases like mine, it can be an accumulation of small events over the years.

What does it feel like?

I’m not going to lie; at times it can feel torturous and it’s painful because it’s self-torture. I spent years of my life feeling utterly out of control with my anxiety and far too in control with my OCD. This is why it’s so hard to explain to others and often why those with OCD hide their condition, most of the time without even knowing they are doing it! I’ve had OCD since I can remember and yet the only thing, I knew about it was how to hide it, it was just second nature. It can be destructive in all corners of life, for me it affected my relationships, education, sleep and general progress. It becomes so easy to think of OCD as part of who you are and that’s what I did because I’d never known life without it although with a lot of years and work my rituals are easing, I continually struggle to understand who I am without them.

OCD is a constant state of anxiety and fear which usually revolves around one issue, in a way a bit similar to phobia. It feels like there is pressure all the time, sitting on you, it’s a sense of responsibility you can’t shake. The majority of what I felt with my OCD was frustration. Frustration with myself, in my mind I had to do these things but I knew I didn’t. A battle was always raging between my logic and my compulsions.

Most people with OCD are very aware that their behaviour is unusual but it's rooted deep, so deep that they may not know how it started, or why it's continuing, but they simply can not just “stop doing it”. It just doesn’t work like that and one of the hardest things to deal with when you live with OCD is misconceptions and misunderstanding from others, ultimately, I was embarrassed and I didn’t need to be reminded or judged by others, I did that enough myself.

Can you help?

Now, this is a question that is very difficult to answer. As I’ve previously said hiding the condition is part of the condition. You may start picking up on their behaviours if you spend a lot of time around someone, if this is the case you might want to say something like “why did you do that?” or even make a joke about it. Both of these reactions will likely not make the individual feel that they can tell you the full extent of the condition and rather push them into a sense of more careful hiding of it. Instead, you could try saying you’ve noticed a few things and you are open to talking about it if/when they are ready. Proclaiming that there won’t be any judgement from you could put them at ease. You may feel like you want to “help” them with their compulsions, helping them to complete them and ease their burden. There is nothing particularly “wrong” with this, but it’s certainly not a long-term solution and they may end up depending on you instead of seeking professional help.


For those who have a series of triggers based on past experience or trauma psychodynamic therapy or hypnosis can be of benefit in uncovering the root causes from childhood. Any mental illness is better managed when an individual is able to understand in more detail how it might have occurred. Psychodynamic therapy or counselling can be the best route due to the volunteering of memories, and childhood experiences as means of discovery. CBT therapy and ERP are more recovery-focused. CBT concentrates on the types of thinking leading to OCD tendencies and reinforces a different method of thinking over a course of sessions. ERP is an exposure-based therapy primarily used for those with OCD, where one is required to “face their fears” without the need for their compulsions. Therapies in all manners are available privately throughout the UK and easily accessible, however, they can be expensive and require a time commitment. CBT therapy is available on the NHS through means of GP referral, however, waiting lists tend to be long.

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