When someone says “OCD” (generally) we automatically think of people compulsively washing their hands, turning on/off light switches or performing repetitive rituals. The reality is that this is not always the case; there are different types of OCD. We have recently spoken to Bethan who has been diagnosed with a lesser known type of the condition, Pure O. She bravely, and honestly, answered some of our questions about living with the disorder and how it has impacted her life.
Having known Bethan for many years, we were both surprised to learn that she had been diagnosed with OCD. On the surface, Bethan is bubbly, friendly and one of the most genuine people you could ever meet. She is kind and caring and currently in her final year of her Nursing degree. From an outsiders’ perspective, you would not have believed the thoughts and compulsions that Bethan was having to cope with and battle on a daily basis. To us, this highlights how mental health does not discriminate.
When we asked Bethan if she could define the disorder, she stated, “it is a mental disorder where an individual is engulfed with torturous, intrusive thoughts in which they feel compelled to carry out compulsions in order to relieve the anxiety. However, this is a vicious cycle as the compulsions actually only feed the OCD.”
This definition really resonated with us as the words “torturous”, “intrusive” and “engulfed” made us really think how this disorder could take over your life. Luckily for Bethan, she has found several ways to manage and cope with this disorder.
Here are some of the questions that we asked Bethan to give us a better insight as to what it was like to live and cope with OCD:
When were you diagnosed with Pure O?
I’ve had OCD since a young age; however, it wasn’t until I was 16 that I was diagnosed after being taken into acute care (somewhere a patient receives active but short-term treatment for an episode of illness). I was seen by a paediatric psychiatrist and then moved onto treatment straightaway where the diagnosis was confirmed. I was put on high intensity Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and was put on – and am still on – SSRI medication (a form of antidepressant).
Can you give us some examples of the thoughts you have?
My OCD compulsions are mental not physical. For example, working out whether I’ve committed a crime by mentally reviewing memories, asking and checking people and places. I genuinely cannot tell whether I have committed a crime or not. The thoughts are very real even though I know that they are completely against my morals. This is why it becomes so distressing. OCD can contain very taboo subjects. Did I set that person’s house on fire? Did I hurt that person? Did I send explicit pictures to a boy? Did I contaminate that drink? I never have the urges or intentions to do these things, they are always things I never ever want to do or happen. I’m physically sick a lot of the time over them. I doubt myself so much to the point I think I’ve done them for certain.
We asked Bethan if she could recall or pin point any potential behaviours that could be identified as OCD prior to her diagnosis at the age of 16. She said that she could recall things back to her Primary School years adding, “I used to have to do things to my body a certain amount of times but it’s nothing compared to what it is now.”
What triggers your OCD and how do you cope on a day to day basis?
The triggers could be anything; I could see something on Facebook, could just be doing something normal like shopping, and a thought would randomly just pop up…it could be anything. I manage now by talking to other sufferers and educating myself on false memory/Pure O and trying not to engage with my compulsions by doing things that calm me. When I was initially diagnosed, I was taken out of school for two weeks. It affected my day to day living like concentrating, leisure, relationships, etc.
As a Trainee Nurse within the NHS, Bethan added that she is able to use her own experience of a mental health condition to further understand and empathise with patients that she meets as she can relate to those patients in distress.
What advice would you give to your younger self or anyone else reading this who may be going through something similar?
To someone undiagnosed, I would say please go and speak to a medical professional or even someone you trust, like a relative. There is help and this awful illness is so much easier to deal with when you’ve got it off your chest.
To someone who’s just received a diagnosis, it will be a process where recovery won’t be overnight. It’s chronic so it’s something we just learn to live with. There are some support groups and accredited charities that can help you through these hard times whilst you’re waiting for treatment.
The most important message that Bethan wanted to stress was for people to talk to somebody. It is okay to need help and the right help is out there. Be an advocate and use your pain to make a difference in this world.
We cannot thank Bethan enough for agreeing to help us with this latest post and for being so enthusiastic for raising awareness and helping others. For us, it goes to show that you have no idea what other people are having to deal with on a daily basis, what demons they are facing and how they could be in a constant battle with themselves.
REMEMBER – “You are not your illness. You have an individual story to tell. You have a name, a history, a personality. Staying yourself is part of the battle.” (Julian Seifter).
Nick & Lucy x