Beth’s Story

A bit about Beth:

'I love nature, spending with my family, writing and music, and my favourite song is Creatures of the Night by Janet Devlin. I'm currently attempting to create an Android app with advice on managing OCD, although it's a lot more confusing than I'd anticipated!

(Photo credit: Ben Osteen)

Eleven Years and Counting (Multiple Times)

Where It All Started 

My earliest memories of OCD were in nursery school, when I thought that if I didn’t give my mum a kiss every single day when she dropped me off, she would think I didn’t love her. I remember very clearly one day when I forgot and ran after her in a panic. Luckily, she hadn’t gone too far. This is an obsession that I don’t really have any more, although I do still think like that if one of my parents says “I love you” to me and then leaves the room before I can say it back.

Another obsession to develop at this time was a fear of contamination, which I have had ever since. I quickly realised that a small room full of three year olds – many of whom couldn’t quite control their bladders – was not going to be a particularly clean place, especially since there was a girl in my class who was sick on the difficult to clean carpet on many occasions. Why she still came to school on those days I have no idea, but she did, and whenever she showed even the first sign of being ill I was off to the other side of the room to hide. What followed this was the most clichéd compulsion of them all: repeatedly washing my hands to the point where my dad threatened to put a bolt on the bathroom door if I didn’t stop.

Having said that, though, my fear of germs was not nearly as bad then as it is now. I was still perfectly happy to play on the outdoor equipment, and the thought of my favourite game at the time (pretending to eat strawberries and cream with a toy spoon that literally every other child had put in their mouths at some point)
now makes me feel queasy.

Since Then

In the years that followed I developed many more obsessive thoughts and compulsive rituals, without a clue as to what was causing them. I stuck religiously to the “don’t step on the cracks” game that other children quickly abandoned (which is a pretty challenging feat on the many brick-lined pavements of my home town), and when the media buzz about the swine flu pandemic started, I was terrified. My worst year of primary school was year three (when I was around eight years old). It was a pretty bad year by all accounts – My grandad died of cancer, the girl my teacher sat me next to teased me relentlessly because of my shyness, and the medication I had been prescribed for my hayfever made my OCD much worse.

I suddenly became very paranoid that sunlight shining through any kind of bottle would start a fire, and I started obsessively picking up every empty bottle I saw and putting it in the bin, regardless of whether or not it was sunny at the time. I particularly remember a time at school when I started crying in a maths lesson because I had seen a plastic smoothie bottle outside the now locked school gates that I had not been able to pick up before I went in. Thankfully, this episode was resolved, and led to my school giving me more help in managing my paranoia.

My OCD improved after I switched to a different antihistamine, until my last year of primary school, when I began to fear that other people could see and hear what I was thinking. As a result of this, I avoided sitting or standing with my back to anyone as much as I possibly could (something I still do) to prevent people from looking at my thoughts, and in order to stop people from hearing them, I had to take a certain number of steps every time I entered a new room. This was fine at first, but the number of steps I had to take increased, and if I had to leave a room before I was finished then I would have to take more steps in the next room to compensate. At the end of a school day, particularly once I started secondary school, I could be walking on the spot for more than 500 steps, and if I thought I had miscounted the number of steps I had taken, I would have to start again. This particular compulsion is better now than it was, and although I still follow this ritual, I now take fewer steps, less often.

How I Manage Now

My OCD has been at more or less the same level in the three years that I’ve been at secondary school, and while I still have many of the compulsions I have mentioned here (and others besides), there are definitely areas of my OCD that have improved, and I am always discovering new ways to keep it under control and to manage the anxiety it brings. By far my best resource for coping with anxiety is music; I love listening to, playing and attempting to write songs and pieces, and I can nearly always find a song to describe any feeling I might have.

As well as this, I have also realised that OCD isn’t all bad. My mum greatly appreciates my permanently tidy bedroom, and I am well liked in my form for always having hand sanitizer and hairbands (which I never need anyway, as my hair is actually too short to tie back). Best of all, I am able to teach my peers about what OCD really is, and how it differs from the stereotypical presentations of it that they may have seen. My latest English project, which I will hand in when I go back to school in September, contains a long explanation of OCD and the kind of things that I and other OCD sufferers experience. I’m hoping that it will be able to help my teachers clear up the misconceptions they have about OCD, and benefit others in my school who also suffer with it.

I hope that sharing my experiences has helped some of you realise that you are not alone in the things you deal with, and that things do get better, even if it happens slowly.

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