Mark’s experience managing OCD

Published 17 April, 2024

Before the pandemic started, I’d never had any problems with stress, anxiety or low mood. However, COVID changed all of that.

Like many people across the world, I found myself suddenly worrying constantly about my safety and the safety of those I cared about. In one way, I was lucky – none of my family were classed as vulnerable due to underlying health conditions – however, my parents were over 70, so couldn’t leave their homes.

This meant I had to do all of their shopping. Every time I needed to leave the house, I noticed that I was getting more and more anxious, worried that I would catch COVID and pass it to my parents or someone else. At first, I found following the guidelines on wearing a mask, keeping a distance and washing my hands helped with my worries. Pretty soon, though, this didn’t feel enough.

After just a few weeks, I found myself washing my hands repeatedly, sometimes for as long as 10 minutes. This then turned into scrubbing items before they came into the house, showering whenever I needed to leave the house and washing all of my clothes too – just in case they were contaminated.

After a while, my worries began to change, and I started having distressing images of terrible things happening to the people I love. I found myself doing things in a bid to keep them safe, such as counting, trying to get rid of the images and seeking reassurance that everyone was ok.

It got to the point where I was so anxious that I spoke to my GP; they recommended cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). I was apprehensive about starting CBT and had no idea what to expect.

Fortunately, my therapist was lovely; they were incredibly calm and patient, and most importantly, they let me go at my own pace. I learnt that what I was going through was OCD and that it’s really common. It was helpful to realise I wasn’t the only one who had experienced this.

Through my therapy, I learnt how to control the distressing images I was having, which my therapist called intrusions. I did this by gradually reducing and eventually stopping the compulsive behaviours. This helped me realise that the compulsions did not stop the intrusions coming true and that the intrusive images were just thoughts.

By talking to my therapist about my fears, I came to the realisation that I’m not solely responsible for keeping my family safe and that there are things outside of my control.

Although I found therapy challenging at times, it was definitely worthwhile; I no longer feel anxious every day, and I’m not spending as much of my time on the compulsive behaviours.

Although it has been hard, I can now see how I can get my life back on track and have a life after OCD.

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