side effects may

Side Effects May Include

November 29th 2016

My OCD has taken many different forms over the years but primarily it revolved around contamination. With that came the obvious side effects like dry hands from excessive washing and ripped skin from way too many showers. I’d throw away brand new clothes because they’d touched something bad or not wear a certain nail varnish because it had the power to contaminate me. The impact these things had on my life was crippling and it was obvious they were a direct result of my OCD. But there were so many other things in my life that were ruined or damaged by my disorder that weren’t so easy to spot. It was these hidden side effects that really dragged me down and almost made me give up.

For the first twenty years of my life, I didn’t know I had OCD. During that time I beat myself up over everything: not being able to make my bed perfectly, homework not being neat enough or food making me bad and worthless. I spent so many nights hidden away in my room, sobbing my guts up and wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Why wasn’t I like everyone else? Why was normal life so hard and why did I constantly wish I didn’t exist?

I was profoundly depressed and battling against an ever-growing list of physical problems like severe weight loss, Raynaud’s, hair loss and self-harm. The list went on and on. I’d try to dismiss my problems as a phase or scream at myself to snap out of it, but I couldn’t. Nothing eased the pain and eventually my rules and rituals took over my life to the point where I could no longer function or keep up the pretense I was okay.

Then, in 2015, I was diagnosed with OCD and everything fell into place. Suddenly it wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t leave the house, eat a meal or fall asleep without carrying out a million routines. There wasn’t something fundamentally “wrong” with me and I wasn’t bad. I had a disorder that I could recover from. I was so relieved because for the first time I felt like I was in with a shot of getting better.

But as I started to look back over my life, the relief I’d felt quickly turned to anger. I’d missed out on so much because of OCD. There were so many basic teenage experiences I never got to have like learning to drive or going to a school dance. I’d never gone to university or even finished my A-levels. I’d ruined family Christmas’ because I couldn’t cope with changing my routine, I’d put my parents through hell and spent months barely able to get out of bed because life was just too hard. Nearly every bad thing in my life could be traced back to OCD and I hated it. I went from being so glad of a diagnosis to despising the thing I’d been diagnosed with. And the worst thing was, it was still dominating my life and I didn’t know how to make it stop.

I spent far too long trapped in my anger, going over and over all the things OCD had taken from me and the years I could never get back. It felt so unfair and I didn’t know how to get past it. I felt like OCD had won and there was a big part of me that wanted to give up completely.

Then I met a man who’d struggled with OCD for over fifty years before he was diagnosed. He told me about the trip he was planning with his son; they’d bought a camper van and were going to drive the length of the country. His whole face lit up as he told me about it. He said he was so grateful that he was able to do these things with his family. He told me how, for so long his relationship with his son had been blighted by OCD as a lot of his rituals revolved around keeping his son safe. But now they were closer than ever and about to take off round the country without a care in the world.

I stared at him, dumbfounded. How could he be so calm and happy? How was he not angry? I would’ve been in his shoes. For nearly six decades OCD had ruined his life. I was only twenty and I was livid. But as the man spoke more about his son, it was clear their relationship had always been strong, despite his OCD. That was when I realised that OCD hadn’t completely ruined my life. Okay, it had brought a lot of pain and sadness but it wasn’t like I hadn’t had one single happy moment in my entire life. I’d had loads. I had a family who loved me, I’d watched great films, written a book, performed on stages, swum in the ocean and raised a gorgeous (if slightly neurotic) dog. I had so much to show for my life and so much more I wanted to achieve. But instead, I was spending all my time focusing on the things OCD had taken from me. I knew I had a choice to make: I could give up and accept that OCD had destroyed my life or I could fight. Like the man travelling with his son, I could start a new chapter.

Thankfully, I chose to fight and set about building a new life to replace the remains of my old one.

I can still get upset about all the things I missed out on. Every time I watch Gilmore Girls and see Rory studying at Yale, I get a little stab of longing. But the more I build my new life and live authentically, the easier it is to let the past go. OCD didn’t beat me. It had a good try, but it failed.

When you come off medication, it takes a while for the side effects to ease and for your body to begin the healing process. It’s the same with OCD. The side effects were horrific, from dry skin to dropping out of school. But the further I get in recovery the less those side effects impact me and soon, they’ll be a distant memory.

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