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Advice for teens with OCD

Article written by Jack from BBC3's Extreme OCD Camp

As patronising as it undoubtedly reads; being a teenager is not easy.

People will tell you that it’s an awkward stage full of insecurities, mixed and intense feelings, confusing thoughts and often is a time of doing things you don’t really want to do because you just feel you have to, and the peer pressure or desire to please the people you shouldn’t really want to please becomes a bit overwhelming. OCD is much the same. You feel insecure constantly, you’re confused by your own brain, your feelings and thoughts get very intense very quickly and that peer pressure leads to rituals and compulsions to please that nasty little ‘friend’ that is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Having OCD at any age is a tough battle, having OCD as a teenager is a kind of special mix of horrible more appropriate for a horror movie.

I hated my teenage years. I do not miss them now and I do not envy those of you going through it. I had many friends but felt so very lonely. My anger levels were frightening and uncontrollable. My mates tried so hard to understand me but just couldn’t. So did my family. So did my doctors. Most didn’t, but some did. I was getting involved in the wrong sort of things and making poor choices. I was confused, lost and scared beyond words. I thought this was forever. It was a murky time and one that it is vital we take great care in safely and happily steering yourself through.

I’m nearly 24 now so I’ve had my teenager certificate and signed out of being a teen, I’ve experienced it and got through it despite never thinking that was possible. There is so much I could write here about that time but my biggest and most important peice of advice to those of you with OCD would be this: keep trying. Always. Just because that one Doctor, that one Psychiatrist, that one friend, family member or teacher dosen’t quite get it or makes things worse does NOT mean the next will. You WILL find the people, support and help you need to get better. You will. It’s all out there for you. The harsh fact is that it may take time and it will be tough. It may not come easy and it will involve you constantly working at it but all the tools you need to make being a teenager with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder not only a livable world but an enjoyable one are out there.

I saw about 10 GP’s in 2 years who all lazily diagnosed me as having ‘teenage angst’, I saw family and child therapists, art therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists and more. Hundreds of them all. I felt like giving up daily. I assumed i’d never find the help for me, and I was wrong. I eventually got the help I needed about a year ago (at what felt like the millionth attempt) and a combination of a great support network within the therapy, skilled professionals and a bit of luck, and A LOT of work meant I’m now in a much better place. I have to fight every day and often every hour, but not every second like I was before. Slow, steady and sustainable steps. That was not at all possible if I hadn’t kept knocking on doors till I found the right treatments for me.

Take the wins and ignore the losses. That is important. You’ve got OCD, that’s tough and that’s going to be challenging but don’t beat yourself up over the bad days. They will happen. Celebrate the good days and at the end of a good day allow yourself to enjoy it and indulge in the feeling and give yourself a well done, then when you wake up wipe the board clean and start afresh. Work hard to not let OCD win and if at the end of that day you feel it has, do not indulge in that feeling. Let that one go. Enjoy the wins, forget the losses. Remember that you may lose the battle one day, but it doesn’t mean you’ve lost the whole war.

The irony of such a notoriously confusing time is that a really important move for you at this time would be to know yourself and your needs really well. To know what YOU can do to help yourself, you personally. The bad news is this is the time of life most people really do not know themselves. Try to take confidence from the fact you know you better than anyone. Remember that OCD is incredibly unique, you are the expert of your own OCD. That means you have an unlimited amount of ways that you can create EVERY SINGLE DAY to improve your life and make things easier and tame the beast that is OCD. It’s all possible. You’ve just got to keep trying to work what works best for you out.

There’s no point in anyone lying here and pretending this is an easy age to have OCD. It may actually be the hardest. It was for me. I lost count of the bad days, panic attacks, rituals, compulsions, lost friends, missed memories, frustration, heartache and the non stop questioning but try to remember that’s OK. That feeling is fine, it’s not nice, but there’s   thousands of people who understand. OCD Action can provide you with support and advice, and you can help them (and your family, carers, doctors and others) by doing the exact same thing and supporting and advising them on how you can be helped. You’re the boss here, no one or nothing else.

Perception is one of the most incredible things in the world. OCD is undoubtedly bad and you have no choice in having it. What you do have the choice in now is how you look at it. You can get bogged down in the fact OCD is affecting the ‘best years of your life’, or you can take the other route and accept that is true but promise yourself you’ll not stop trying until you control OCD and not the other way round and make sure that ‘the best years of your life’ become the ‘best decision of your life’. Good luck.

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