Monday, 14 October 2019

Realising I needed help

Lottie shares her story of standing up to the OCD bully and seeking professional help.
- Lottie Brown

As a teenager, I knew that my brain was a bit different to other peoples. Whilst everyone else loved the interactive nature of science classes, I was absolutely terrified of all the chemicals. I'd be too afraid to eat at school in case I accidentally ingested any. At that time, I didn't have a name for it, and my chemistry teacher was so understanding that I managed to establish a pattern of avoidance that satisfied my OCD. At 15, my fears turned to religion and I was obsessed with the thoughts that God would curse me. The compulsive handwashing really ramped up a notch at this point, it took so much time up that I began to search for answers. I know it’s not advisable, but I googled all the symptoms I was experiencing; that's where I first came across Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Some of the symptoms sounded so familiar, I began to suspect that I had it. As a result of my Google searches, I believed that the only way to treat something like this was to expose you to your triggers over and over again, and the thought of this terrified me. So, I tried desperately hard to hide my symptoms. As I continued to thrive academically, I began to believe that the OCD voice was responsible for my success, I thought it was saving me from being cursed by God with failure. The more I succeeded, the more of a hold OCD had over me. But as with many mental health conditions, the longer OCD is left untreated, the worse it gets. In the final year of my degree, this came to a head and I suffered a breakdown.

It took months for me to finally understand the breakdown. I’d had some counselling at university, but there was no specialised help for the OCD. The support from university was mainly designed to get me through my final weeks at uni. So, when I returned home, I decided it was time to visit the GP and get some professional help. I know that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I truly wish I’d sought medical help earlier. OCD affects so many aspects of your life, it makes everyday activities so difficult and time-consuming to carry out. I very nearly dropped out of university, I became so detached from my life that I could barely hold a conversation with people, I spent every moment of the day trapped in rituals. I was in such a mess. I try not to think about it, but I know that my university experience would have been so much more enjoyable if I had just sought help sooner, before I’d reached crisis point.

It’s hard opening up and talking to someone about your mental health, but this crucial first step will help you tremendously. It started me on my path to recovery. So far, it has involved CBT, medication and various support groups. I'm still on this journey, I don't know if I'll ever be free of the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours for good. But one thing I do know is that without professional help I wouldn't now be able to manage my symptoms more effectively.

I know that I am far from alone in the struggle of living with OCD. So many people live with OCD for years before seeking help. Standing up to the OCD bully is terrifying but getting professional help can be life-changing. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for OCD, but speaking to a professional can help you establish a treatment plan that works for you.  

To learn more about OCD and seeking support, please visit OCD Action or Student Minds.

Lottie is a PhD student in Classics at the University of Bristol. She has been struggling with OCD and anxiety for several years, and is very passionate about raising awareness of mental illness and challenging stigmas. She regularly blogs about her own experiences with mental illness here.

Facing my fears

Krishna writes about one of the biggest challenges of her OCD - telling the people close to her.
- Krishna

I vividly remember when I first told my parents about my OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). It wasn’t out of choice, I didn’t plan to sit down with them and explain how I had been experiencing something so utterly confusing and debilitating. I told them because I physically couldn’t hide it any longer… My mom had asked me to mop the floor, a typical task on a Friday. The problem was, the kettle needed filling and she was handling raw meat by the sink. Raw meat was the thing at the top of my list of fears and triggers for my contamination OCD at the time. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t move. I must have stood there for at least an hour trying to fill that damn kettle. I just wanted to cry and scream and escape. We both got frustrated because of course, she didn’t know why I couldn’t just mop the floor. So I tried, I really did, but I physically couldn’t. Every fibre of my being was telling me to stay away from the danger, going near the meat felt like my whole body was burning. I cried, I screamed, I ran away. What followed was nothing short of a few hours of uncontrollable blubbering as I shut myself off in the bathroom.

I couldn’t really brush that off as a bit of PMS (I thought about it). No, I was forced to explain why something as simple as filling a kettle caused me to have such an extreme emotional reaction.

You see, it isn’t just scary living with a debilitating illness. It isn’t just scary trying to get through university when you can’t physically leave the house. It’s also terrifying trying to explain this to the people you care about. Its scary imagining what they will say, what they will think, if they will treat you differently. It's even scary writing this to share with the world.

We all know that fear is a useful response, but when that fear takes over your life, it takes away pieces of your life. For a long time I wasn’t honest with my parents and the people around me. It was easier to hide, lie and pretend that everything was fine than trying to explain something even I didn’t fully understand. Looking back, that behaviour fuelled the shame and stigma of what I was experiencing. Opening up wasn't always easy, I learnt that not everyone will understand, and that’s okay.

But I also learnt that it is so very valuable. Opening up to my parents was one of the most challenging moments of my illness, but I can honestly say that I wouldn’t of been able to get through the most difficult years of my life and treatment for my OCD, without my parents' support. And what followed was a passion for OCD awareness that changed my life.


Do you ever avoid walking under a ladder? What do you do if a black cat crosses your path? What do you feel is going to happen? The answer, probably something bad. So we avoid those situations. When I talk about OCD I often liken the feeling to superstitions as I see so many parallels, the worry we know is irrational, the avoidance or neutralising behaviours.

If you want to imagine a fraction of what it is like to undergo treatment for OCD, walk under that ladder. Let the black cat cross your path. Step on that crack in the pavement. And don’t just pretend it never happened to make yourself feel better, no, you have to experience it. You have to feel the worry and the stress, until that feeling reduces. Over and over again.

Since my recovery there are many days that I am forced to continue to face my fears. Whether I notice that my hands are feeling more dry and chapped than usual, or I see OCD behaviours manifesting in different ways. Now that I understand the illness and how it can dictate your life, I try to continue to put myself in difficult situations and do the things that terrify me.

My one ask this #OCDweek is that you do one thing that scares you. However big or small it may seem on the outside, it doesn’t matter. Whatever makes your skin crawl. Perhaps something that you have always avoided, maybe you want to open up to someone about your own experiences. Because this is the biggest lesson I could ever give you on what it is like to live with OCD. And what it feels like to battle OCD.

You aren’t alone, so do it with me. Together, we can face our fears.

If you want tips on understanding OCD or want to seek support visit OCD Action or Student Minds.

Hi I’m Krishna, the Design and Office Manager at Student Minds. I setup my first OCD awareness campaign back in 2013 which led me to the Student Minds group at Sheffield Hallam University. I then joined the Student Minds staff team in early 2016. As a graphic designer I am passionate about using design to raise understanding of mental health difficulties, inspire conversations and help to show people that they are not alone.