OCD Awareness Week
Today marks the beginning of OCD Awareness Week, which is a cause that's very close to my heart. For years I've had 'quirky' rituals that consist of obsessive checking combined with what I now recognise as intrusive thoughts, but I thought that everyone's brain worked that way. It's well known in my family that I have to check each door multiple times before bed and that I love things to be organised properly. However, it never crossed my mind that I could have had OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), as I'd always thought that this was reserved for 'super-clean people that wash their hands too much'. I've since learned that there are many forms of OCD and that the reason so many people go undiagnosed with OCD is due to a lack of information, which is why OCD Awareness Week is so important.
It's estimated that OCD affects 1-2% of the population in the UK* and it's thought to occur in 1-4% of the child and adolescent population. That means that in an average primary school of 500 pupils there could be between 5 and 20 young people struggling with OCD**. I often think that if there was more awareness around this illness when I was a child, then I might have had a diagnosis and the help of a therapist earlier on in life.
It took me until 29 to seek help and get a diagnosis for OCD and anxiety. From the age of 20 I realised that regular exercise, mindfulness and a plant-based, alcohol and refined sugar free diet were the anchors that kept my life and mind in check. I knew that I had to go to the gym each morning before work in order to have a clear head and to help manage the physical symptoms of anxiety. It's no surprise that caring for our physical, mental and gut health became the ethos behind VALA. I still love routine and thrive off being organised, so I make an effort to schedule each week and have things to look forward to and to keep my anxiety and OCD in check.
OCD is quite complex and can feel like obsessive or intrusive thoughts, rumination and seeking reassurance combined with feelings of anxiety or guilt. I remember my therapist saying that the common connection between the 'obsession' and 'compulsion' often involves getting a thought (obsession) and believing that it will only go away by acting on it (compulsion), but it's a vicious loop that takes over the brain and becomes an invisible bully. The best way for me to describe one of these cycles is by likening it to a computer virus that makes my mind go haywire for a few minutes, hours or days. The brain fog sets in and my thinking goes fuzzy for a little while - I feel like I'm split-screening my worry with my daily activities.
My rituals were always very subtle, so even people that had known me and worked with me for years wouldn't be able to pick them up, as I'd become so adept at doing them under the radar and integrating them into daily life. However, when something went wrong I would find myself ruminating about it for hours and sometimes days, where I would sometimes get to the point of becoming distraught. Since diagnosis, I've managed to recognise and reduce these cycles and my quality of life has vastly improved. I've also learned to recognise triggers and speak up to family and my partner if I feel like I'm starting to slip into a thought loop.
I feel so grateful to live in an age where we are constantly opening up the discussion around our mental health and have an abundance of information at our fingertips. There are so many incredible resources available online - mind.com, rethink.org and ocduk.org. If you love running, check out It's All Good and Run Talk Run, which are doing amazing work combining exercise with mental health awareness.
I hope that this post helps to spread awareness of OCD and to change perceptions about it jokingly being referred to as a 'neat freak' illness. To anyone that suspects they may have symptoms of OCD, please speak to a friend, family member or health professional about your concerns. There is so much help out there that you don't need to suffer in silence.
*statistic from ocdaction.org.uk