That Time I Got Diagnosed With Unexpected OCD
Anyone who has spent a bit of time with me will know that I suffer from bouts of anxiety. Either I’ve told you, you’ve had to force me to take slow deep breaths whilst I convinced myself I’d forgotten how to breath, or simply because I’ve shamelessly thrust my blog address into your hands at some point. These stats don’t create themselves.
Similarly, if you spent any time with me during September 2015, you’ll know that I broke my little finger running up the stairs in my flat (run with caution people). Either I told you, I waved my purple finger cast in your face, or you saw one of the 365 photos I posted in my ‘Photo A Day’ album last year. If you were still with me on September 21st after 263 photos, I salute you.
The solution for my broken finger was simple: a short wait in a minor injuries waiting room, a couple of X-rays, five weeks of a silly (yet amusing) finger cast, and two weeks of physiotherapy.
Yes, finger physio is a legit thing.
I decided if my finger was that easy to fix, then why not have a go at fixing the gyri and the sulci between my ears (three years of a psychology degree and I still had to google ‘bumps and grooves of the brain’).
One trip to my GP, two questionnaires, a regular phone call, a longer phone assessment, an eight week wait, and eleven questionnaires later, I found myself this morning on route to the Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma at London’s Maudsley Hospital. Think what you want, but the whole thing hasn’t cost me a penny. Respect to the NHS, and to the junior doctors.
As I sat on the bus on route to my first appointment with Martha (an alias, I don’t know the protocol for patient to doctor confidentiality), I convinced myself that I probably didn’t need the appointment in the first place.
For an hour and a half Martha asked me questions, and I answered. I told her all about my panic attacks, about the days I just wake up feeling anxious for no reason, about the times my tongue feels too big for my mouth, about how I can’t get on the tube without a bottle of water and a plastic bag, about the intrusive thoughts I have that won’t leave my head, about my intense phobia of vomiting, about my twentysomething woes of love, work and future.
We covered a lot and laughed a fair amount, too.
It’s quite surprising how once you get started, how easily the rest flows out of you. When else do you get the opportunity to talk wholly about yourself if not in therapy? Perhaps stating the obvious, but Martha really is a great listener.
When my turn was up, the reigns fell into Martha’s hands. She’d listened, questioned and scribbled away while I stripped my brain down to full-frontal emotional nudity right in front of her. What sense had she managed to find in my cerebral ramblings? Generalised anxiety, that wasn’t a big surprise. Phobic tendencies, again, I saw that one coming.
And OCD. OCD? I was confused.
Sure, I like to make my bed before I leave in the mornings and sometimes I sing song lyrics in my head repeatedly, but I know people who have to blink or stroke light switches a certain number of times before they can continue on with their day.
That was what I understood OCD to be. Not the case.
As I sat listening to Martha, I was surprised to hear of multiple, lesser-known, forms that OCD can take, some of which I am apparently guilty of possessing. As I listened to Martha explain things further, I began to understand that it was actually symptoms of this OCD, which could be held responsible for a lot of the problems I had categorized as anxiety, the intrusive thoughts in particular.
And on that bombshell, my two-hour assessment with Martha was complete. Having agreed upon the time for our next session, the first in my Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) treatment, and with my homework stored securely in my rucksack (more questionnaires!), I was left thinking about things as I made haste to work.
I’m an amalgamation of curious, anxious (obviously) and bizarrely excited to start CBT. It’s a form of therapy that supposedly has good results, but I’ve been warned that it’s not just a simple walk in the park. I’m anticipating delving into parts of my brain I’ve trained myself to avoid.
But what today taught me more than anything is that it really does lighten the load when you have someone to talk to. As I pondered about whether or not to write about this, I figured I couldn’t exactly preach about talking openly, unashamedly and loudly about mental health if I didn’t start with my own struggles. After all, acceptance and understanding never happen if we all suffer in silence.
So let’s go. Bring it on Martha. Hit me with your hardest questionnaires. Because if my finger can be fixed, then there’s hope for my brain yet.