One of the keys to understanding and coping with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is the ability to recognise your feelings and realise that they can be managed, as Will Baxter discovered.
OCD is a mental health condition which can include obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour. According to the NHS, around 12 in every 1,000 people in the UK are affected by OCD.
Here he shares his experience of living with the condition and how he manages to cope with OCD so it doesn’t rule his life.
It was when Will was in his early teen years that certain habits started to form.
‘It started off with me feeling afraid that my alarm clock wouldn’t be working properly – I would check it several times during the night to make sure it was still set.’
‘I was anxious about getting up in time for school, but deep down I knew this ritualistic behaviour wasn’t quite right.’
The feelings of obsession started affecting other aspects of Will’s life. He constantly washed his hands and was also fixated on order and tidiness around him. Achieving this order was never possible for him and striving for it was either futile or unnecessary.
‘I constantly checked door locks and was keeping track of silly things that I didn’t need to keep track of, such as what I had eaten at every meal for the past week.’
Throughout his teen years, Will continued to have periods of time where he would feel obsessive about things, but the disorder wasn’t as well known about or understood then, so it was a frightening time for him.
At the age of 26, Will was working as a lawyer in London. The stress and the pressures of the job meant he also experienced bouts of anxiety which exacerbated his symptoms.
‘I felt emotionally drained at this point and it was making my symptoms worse.’
‘As time went on, the impact of an increased level of obsessive behaviour became more and more of a burden and I felt that I’d reached a tipping point where I needed help.’
At this stage, Will decided to visit his doctor who looked at his symptoms and general medical history, and explored his feelings of anxiety.
‘My doctor assessed these elements and came to the conclusion that these behaviours were a presentation of OCD.’
When Will was diagnosed with the condition, he was unsure about what it actually meant.
‘I was confused about how I felt and didn’t realise these symptoms were part of a recognised condition at the time.’
Discovering he had the condition led him to feel a sense of relief that there were others out there – and he wasn’t alone in coping with OCD.
As part of his treatment for his OCD, he underwent Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which works by changing the way you think and behave.
‘The doctor offered me CBT as a way of coping with my OCD and anxiety, which really helped me.’
The treatment also helped Will realise that he had unconsciously developed his own coping mechanisms, such as managing stress levels, which he discovered helped him to reduce symptoms.
‘Understanding how to act on my stress levels was the key to managing my condition and has ultimately reduced my anxiety which triggers my obsessive behaviour.’
Living with OCD
Growing up and living with OCD has had a big impact on Will’s personal life.
‘Having OCD is a very private matter as individuals are aware that their rituals are not necessarily the norm, so they conceal them or conduct them when they are not being watched.’
However, through appropriate treatment, awareness and education regarding OCD, he feels that he can effectively manage the condition.
‘I’m quite open with my family about OCD – people tend not to recognise the obsessive traits in me unless they know me very well indeed.’
‘I have never felt discriminated against for having the condition because people are so aware of it these days, which I find very reassuring.’
So what did Will learn from the experience of being diagnosed with OCD?
‘The single best piece of advice I’ve ever had was “Whatever you think now, you won’t always feel like this.”
‘You just have to realise you are going through a bad patch and that this is not a permanent feeling. Working out how to adjust to managing OCD is the best way to cope with the condition.’
Have you been diagnosed with OCD? To find out more…
•Cognitive behaviour therapy – Think differently