“OCD felt like my protector” – Kiran’s story


Kiran has lived with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) since childhood. She debunks misconceptions of the illness, drawing attention to compulsions, perceived threats and avoidant behaviour.

There’s something satisfying about smashing a glass. Taking aim. The launch. The blissful relief that follows impact. Tiny shards shining proudly. I’ve just finished a cry that’s trying to make sense of things. No sympathy, thanks. I’ve got this under control.

The problem? My ‘outside’ clothes have somehow ended up touching my ‘inside’ clothes. Now, the whole wardrobe is polluted. How careless of me. Will this matter in a week, a month, a year? Yes, almost always, yes.

OCD can erode your sense of self, damage relationships and, in some cases, be fatal. My own OCD’s been exacerbated by paranoia (scouring every corner for the camera the repairman definitely installed) and award-worthy catastrophising.

  • OCD demands attention, so compliance feels like a necessity rather than a choice.

I displayed symptoms from as early as I can remember: obsessions (rumination, intrusive thoughts) and compulsions (mental rituals, hand washing, checking in a specific sequence, symmetry and ordering). The form and intensity varies. Any lucky dip of symptoms emerges at any time. OCD is insidious and unpredictable; the classic toxic friend.

My earliest symptoms were ‘fresh starts’. My coveted mental clean slate, achieved through a private purging of ‘bad’ words. I exorcised these verbally in a hierarchy, from bad to worse. Later, symptoms included preoccupations with symmetry, ordering and contamination.

Fixating on contamination doesn’t mean I love cleaning. I don’t mind mess; I prefer things clean in a way that most people might. Sometimes cleaning is tedious, but necessary. Other times, cleaning is required to remove the threat of contamination. Which brings me to the crux of it.

  • Fixating on contamination doesn’t mean I love cleaning.

For me, one constant accompaniment to OCD is a sense of threat. The threat could be germs, which might become linked to a person or object. This leads to mental heaviness, wherever that threat is (on me, someone else, an object, in the air). Everything is secondary to the threat, and it’s my job to contain it. OCD demands attention, so compliance feels like a necessity rather than a choice.

That said, my illness doesn’t define me. OCD doesn’t replace my insightfulness, confidence, inquisitiveness or creativity. However, those kinds of qualities get sidelined in the full throes of a threat. The amber traffic light ready to turn red, forcing me to slam down the brakes at a moment’s notice. In survival mode, I’m laser-focused on containing the threat. Everything else can wait.

This state leads to avoidance and compulsive behaviour. Compulsions help me get closer to a fleeting, almost-unattainable feeling of ‘just right’. Because my compulsions started early, I found it hard to pinpoint where my personality ended and OCD began. If you’re naturally vigilant, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re not ill. You might consider symptoms an extension of your personality.

What blurred this line further is that OCD felt like my protector. My symptoms seemed like a natural, obvious response: why would I, detecting a threat, react in any other way? I couldn’t imagine my life without compulsions, I didn’t want to. How would I manage threats without them?

  • I found it hard to pinpoint where my personality ended and OCD began.

When faced with your own ‘threat’, consider, ‘How do I react, physically and mentally? How are others affected by my reaction? Could my reactions be considered extreme?’ Though difficult, seeking answers to these questions from people you trust is a good start.

Things came to a head in my mid-thirties. My reactions became more extreme and, alongside a worsening undiagnosed eating disorder, led to unmanageable stress. I closed myself off more than normal, making my world and social circle a lot smaller.

When I finally sought help, I was referred to a nurse who trivialised my concern over excessive hand-washing because of the ‘good’ condition of my skin. It was frustrating to see a health professional reinforce a misconception that OCD only has visible symptoms. I left underwhelmed and emotionally drained after being advised to try meditating. I delayed seeking help, again.

  • OCD is insidious and unpredictable; the classic toxic friend.

Then, after heightened contamination fears due to coronavirus and my Dad’s sudden, unexpected death from covid, my symptoms soared. Threats seemed to be everywhere. Stress became overwhelming and I finally heeded pleas from loved ones to seek help. I opened up to my GP (more uninvited, cathartic tears) who recommended medication.

Long story short, medication was a massive wake-up call. I’d long-begrudged the thought of taking any tablets that might tinker with my brain chemistry or personality. Turns out they’ve made me feel so much lighter without compromising ‘me’. They’ve rounded the edges.

OCD is still there, and probably always will be, but the volume these days is much lower. My mental focus has room to be elsewhere. While I’ve still got a way to go, it’s liberating to experience a lightness of mind that I never imagined.

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