Me & OCD
I didn’t know what Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD) was.
I had never heard of it. Then one day I was waiting for an appointment in my Doctor’s surgery and was reading though a magazine and came across an article about it. My first thought was “I’ve got that”! And I had had it for years.
My compulsion to clean everything to within an inch of its life in my home was driving me mad but I couldn’t stop. I had to clean every day. I had to wipe down all the architraves round every door, with bleach. I had a sofa and years ago, the seats and backs of the sofa were not fixed to the frame If someone sat down, the cushions moved. I couldn’t stand this. I would spend hours sometimes getting all the seat cushions lined up to within a millimetre and then spend ages making sure the coffee table was exactly in line with the sofa. I couldn’t bear it if anyone sat down on the sofa. I literally couldn’t wait for them to go so I could straighten it again. I wouldn’t even let my little girl sit on the sofa. In the end, she knew not to sit on it as it would upset me. I had a Chinese rug in front of the fireplace with tassels on each end. Those tassels had to all be straight. If someone walked over the rug and disturbed the tassels I would have to go straight to the rug and straighten them again. I hoovered multiple times a day. I had to do all of this before I could venture out of the front door to go anywhere. It literally took all of my time to make sure it was how I thought it should be.
Weird right? My friends and family used to laugh at me and make fun of me but I genuinely could not go out without doing all of this and if I was forced to leave the house before I had a chance to do it, I would feel physically sick. But no one ever said those words to me – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I knew it wasn’t right and it used to make me cry when people thought it was funny and laugh at me. They didn’t understand how bad it would make me feel if I couldn’t do it.
Now, I know and understand the link between domestic abuse and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It makes sense to me, completely. I had no control over my life when I was with my abusive ex-husband. Cleaning was the only thing I had any control over. When I started volunteering at the refuge at the beginning of my career, I saw lots of women who all did the same thing. They would be cleaning the refuge, even when it didn’t need cleaning. Years after I had escaped the abusive relationship, I was still doing it! At the time of being with my abusive ex-husband, if I didn’t bleach down the architraves daily, and my ex-husband came in from work and couldn’t smell the bleach on the framework, he would use this as a reason to hit me and punish me. But after I had left him and for years afterwards, what did I think was going to happen if I didn’t do it? I didn’t know, all I knew was that I had to do it! Maybe though, I thought something bad would happen as I associated not doing it with getting beaten.
It helped me to put a label on it and know what is was and I knew what had caused it. But I didn’t get any help or therapy with it. I didn’t know who to ask and felt to ashamed to admit it to anyone. I sort of cured myself! And ironically, it was my work in domestic abuse that made me better.
As the years went by and my work in the domestic abuse field became more and more successful I inevitably found my way to working in London. Back in the ‘noughties’, if you worked in the field of domestic abuse, it was a given that eventually you would need to work in London as that was where the best jobs were, the best salaries and where all the important campaigning work took place. So I got my job in Westminster where I developed and managed the first IDVA service for the borough. BUT, I had to leave my house at 6.30am every day and I couldn’t do my cleaning and hoovering.
It was pure torture!!
I clearly remember feeling so nauseous when I left the house and would worry all day about not having done it. Of course, nothing happened as a result and I compensated by literally cleaning all of the weekend. Gradually, I started to feel better about it. I started to be able to leave the house without feeling sick. I wouldn’t worry about it all day. And when I got home, nothing bad had happened. No one was hurt or distressed.
So I’m all better now?
No. I still have it. I have to work really hard to control IT so that it doesn’t control me. It is not really known what causes OCD, but it is accepted that traumatic life events can trigger it. And of course, domestic abuse is a traumatic life event.
I still HAVE to do my housework, top to bottom, every weekend. If I don’t, I don’t feel sick, but it is on my mind. When I am really stressed I can feel the obsessive tendencies coming back. It isn’t something I talk about. It is what it is. I have always called it ‘my legacy of abuse’. I don’t think it will ever go away completely, but that’s ok. I know how to manage it.
So if any of you are reading this and you think, as I did, “I’ve got that”! please reach out and speak to someone about it. You may not be able to cure yourself so ask for help. Don’t do what I did – nothing! There is so much more help out there now than there used to be.
Don’t let it be your legacy!