From OCD crisis to a joyful life - Georgina's story
Trigger/content warning: self-harm
For Mental Health Awareness Week, Georgina reflects on her long-term struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and how far she has come since her last crisis. Although her condition was unmanageable ten years ago, Georgina has taken steps to better her wellbeing and is now able to appreciate life more.
Those early days come back to me in flashes - scalding water on my hands, blood seeping from my nail beds, my mother’s tears. Long days, longer nights. A scream of anguish leaving my body as I collapsed on the laundry room floor. The memories play back like a horror movie, as if I were an unfortunate lead character subjected to some cruel torture day after day. I suppose that’s exactly what happened when it came down to it.
My OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) developed when I was seventeen. My obsessions were largely contamination based at the beginning. Excessive cleaning and handwashing are commonly associated with OCD, yet I still failed to recognise those symptoms in myself. Rather than being afraid of catching an illness, I was convinced I already had one; that I’d pass it on to others if I didn’t engage in increasingly elaborate cleaning and washing rituals.
OCD is my clingiest, most toxic frenemy. It is a shapeshifter; taking on new and more frightening forms.
At the height of my crisis, I was spending up to ten hours each day in a continuous cleaning ritual. I couldn’t break my rituals to eat or drink, so I lost weight and became unwell. On top of that, I limited my food and water intake so that I didn’t need to use the bathroom throughout the day – the hours of rituals that came with a trip to the loo was too much to contemplate.
I had to scrub everything – my hands, my body, the surfaces – in sets of eight. To this day, I don’t know why that number was important. But eight soon became sixteen, which became thirty-two, and so on. I’d scrub my body until I fainted in the shower, clean my bedroom until I had repetitive strain injuries. My OCD told me that my fingernails had to be cut as short as possible in case of germs, so I cut them until they bled. I used boiling water and bleach products on my bare hands, so they were covered in ghastly rashes and blisters that I hid from friends and family. During my first year of university, I spent more hours in a doctor’s office than a lecture theatre – desperately seeking reassurance that I wasn’t the disgusting, diseased thing my mind wanted me to believe I was.
I don’t know how I convinced myself to keep waking up every morning. At my worst, the only peace I could find lived in the depths of the night - in a state of heavy semi-consciousness after my mind had finally run itself into exhaustion. It’s not that I never wanted to wake up, exactly, but those moments of late-night peace were like a drug to me. The temptation to cling on to sleep grew stronger the more difficult my waking hours became.
It stole so much from me, entire years of my life, but gave me nothing back.
At first, I resisted psychological input. After all, my OCD had convinced me that my disease was a physical one; that the solution would come when I had finally decontaminated myself to my mind’s satisfaction (spoiler alert – I never would). My first step towards treatment came when my desperate mother called up our local doctor’s surgery in tears, shoved the phone into my hand, and begged me to speak to them, to say anything. Through my own tears, I agreed with the kind receptionist that I would attend an appointment. During the appointment, I found it almost impossible to articulate what was going on in my mind. But that messy first appointment put me on a pathway to a diagnosis, medication and the therapy I so desperately needed.
I wish I could tell you that I was diagnosed, received treatment, and then put that phase of my life behind me. I wish for myself and for every other sufferer out there, that it could be so simple. OCD is my clingiest, most toxic frenemy. It is a shapeshifter; taking on new and more frightening forms every time I learn how to overcome the previous one. It has taken me over a decade to develop my toolkit of medication, therapy, and techniques to fight back, but fight I must, and I’m finally winning the battle.
I still need to actively fight my obsessive thoughts hundreds of times each day.
Ten years ago, I couldn’t work or study. OCD sabotaged every romantic relationship, every family gathering, every new friendship. It took my smart, imaginative brain and poured poison in it, until I was too consumed with my obsessions to read or to learn or to think at all. It stole so much from me, entire years of my life, but gave me nothing back.
Today, I’m in my twenties. I still have OCD and probably always will. But now, I know how to fight it, how to make it small so that my life can be big. I’m a trainee solicitor in a big city. I thrive at work, study part-time, and my life is full of beautiful friendships. I take medication, have had hours of therapy, and still need to actively fight my obsessive thoughts hundreds of times each day. It’s not easy, and it probably never will be, but it’s worth it. Because I can travel, exercise, hug people, walk my dog, share delicious food, do my laundry, wear jewellery, stay hydrated, touch my face, paint my nails – so many small things and so many huge things that my OCD had taken from me over the years. I don’t need to hide my hands under the table anymore. I can sleep – not the desperate dregs of sleep I used to grasp at to escape my thoughts, but real, peaceful sleep that I fall into at the end of a busy day; knowing that whatever happened before, and whatever happens next, I can overcome.
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