I Thought I Might Be A Paedophile For Years; I Had No Idea It Was Because Of OCD
I tell people quite often that I have OCD. It’s not something I’m ashamed of at all, I sort of see it as just describing another part of me. I have blonde hair, my favourite food is Italian, and I have OCD.
I mean, sure, it definitely has a lot more of an impact on my life than those other things. But at the end of the day, it’s still just something else I’ve learned about myself over the years.
I find though that often when I tell people I have OCD, they don’t really know too much about it. Why would you, really, unless you’ve had some experience with it? I definitely didn’t know what I do now before I got diagnosed with it in 2016.
People tend to assume that I’m some sort of cleanliness monster, or that I have to wash my hands a certain number of times a day. It’s true, I do like to keep the flat tidy, but that’s totally unrelated to my OCD.
I have a form of OCD called Pure O. Yup, just like Cancer, OCD has a few different types.
I thought I’d write this: a little lowdown on that thing we all sort of know about, but don’t really know about at the same time.
(Briefly) Explaining What OCD And Pure O Actually Are
To caveat something here, I’m definitely not a doctor or an expert of any kind. This is simply my own experience and interpretation of OCD. Ok, moving on.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder where the meaning of certain thoughts becomes overwhelming, to the point that you feel compelled to do something about it.
My type of OCD – Pure O – is when you endlessly obsess over your intrusive thoughts, instead of seeking out compulsions that make you feel better. Hence the name Pure O.
What I’ve found is that often people who know me are surprised when I tell them I have OCD, like I was when I found out myself. That’s because we normally think of the compulsions people have as characteristic of OCD, which I don’t really have too much.
But then I learned about Pure O, and it was like, YUP! That’s the one.
For me, I can become fixated on an intrusive thought. And you know, because this is such a cheery topic, that thought is normally a pretty dark one. Pure O makes me obsess over why I have these thought, and what they mean about me that I have them.
Instead of having compulsions per se, I have quite a few mental rituals that help me feel better when these obsessions lead to intense panic attacks, which you know, are never fun.
What Kind Of Intrusive Thoughts Do I Get?
With Harm OCD (Pure O), the clue is sort of in the name: I obsess over thoughts that often involve harming other people.
My most common intrusive thought is that I might be a paedophile, a rapist, or a murderer. Like I said before, cheery stuff.
I always get asked why I think I became fixated on these particular things. The truth is, I’m not entirely sure, it just sort of happened. But if I was to break it down a little, I remember it starting when I began to question whether any of these people (paedophiles, rapists, and murderers) were born that way, or whether one day they suddenly became those things.
If they were born that way, then that would explain the intrusive thoughts I got: they reflected desires I was born with. If they one day became that way, then that would mean that one day I might turn out that way too.
Either way, it wasn’t about obsessing over whether I was or wasn’t, it was more that I became fixated on the idea that I might be. And no matter how I looked at it, I always found proof that I might be. That’s what OCD does.
How Does It Affect My Life?
The short answer is that now, it affects my life in a much smaller way than it used to.
Before I got diagnosed, went through therapy, and educated myself about OCD, it was a different story. It affected my life hugely.
The thing is, you have to imagine that for six years of my life, I suffered from this without knowing what it was. I would think that I might be a paedophile (or rapist, or murderer), and not have the knowledge that it was because of OCD.
I genuinely believed it.
The impact that has on your life is enormous. I whole-heartedly believed that it was just a matter of time before I acted out and did something synonymous of these bad people (i.e. raping someone, killing someone, abusing a child). I believed with every fibre in my body that I was going to spend the rest of my life in prison. Genuinely.
It wasn’t like I wanted to, quite the opposite; I hated the fact that I thought this was my reality. But that’s the point, I thought it was my reality.
I adopted vast amounts of mental rituals and coping mechanisms that would help me get through each day. I stopped using public transport for a long time, so as to minimise my chance of interaction with children (for their sake, and for mine because I didn’t want a panic attack).
I used avoidance as a mechanism to keep me away from things that might trigger me to acting out. But also to keep me away from panic attacks, which I was averaging around ten a week at my worst. And it totally worked!
The only thing was that I once I learned that avoidance worked, the more I relied on it. Anything that would trigger a panic attack, I would add it to my list of things to avoid.
Copious amounts of alcohol, leading to memory loss and lack of control over myself: avoid. Passing a school on my way to work: avoid. Catching up with friends with children: avoid. Conversations about people’s nephews or nieces: avoid. Newpapers (with headlines about murder this or paedophile that): avoid. TV shows that featured any of these things (like Game Of Thrones): avoid. The same with podcasts, books, films.
Avoid. Avoid. Avoid. That became my life: a series of trying to survive, instead of actually living each day.
On top of that, this was all happening in complete secret. When OCD makes you convinced that you might be a paedophile, but you’re not obviously displaying any of the usual characteristics of OCD, no one picks up on it. Not even you. It’s also not exactly something you can bring up over coffee with a friend.
So for six years, I lived with it. No, I survived it. Until I got to therapy.
Therapy And Beyond
I won’t go into why or how I got referred to a therapist, because that’s an entire piece itself about the treatment of mental illness in the healthcare system.
But, six years after the onset of my (unknowing) OCD, I made it to a therapist at London’s Centre for Anxiety Disorder and Trauma.
The first session was orientated around me just answering questions. I can remember a moment where I asked myself, “Do you really want to get better?” If the answer was yes, I would have to open up to the therapist sat in front of me; tell her all these dark things I had kept to the confines of my own mind for years.
The answer was yes.
I thought that, thanks to my various coping mechanisms (avoidance, reassurance-seeking) I had things under control. I knew what my triggers were, I knew what caused my panic attacks, and I knew how to avoid them.
I had after all been in survival mode for over half a decade.
But therapy taught me otherwise. I couldn’t even say the word ‘paedophile’ out loud. The first time my therapist asked me to simply write it down, I sat looking at a pen willing my arm to pick it up, but completely unable to.
When I broke down in tears over and over again, it wasn’t just a revelation to me, it was actually shocking. I hadn’t realised how unwell, mentally, I had been. I hadn’t known that I had been living with OCD, and trying to navigate my way through it, for so long.
That’s what therapy gave me: a map to a healthier life.
I learned a lot of different techniques during the course of my treatment, and when I look back at them now, I question how helpful they were. Really, the thing that kick started my recovery was getting the diagnosis of OCD.
There’s a lot of talk about labels in regards to mental health; whether we need them, whether they are useful, whether they are pathologising ‘normal’ human behaviour. But I am so thankful for my label.
It made me realise that I wasn’t any of the horrendous things I had feared I might be for so long. I just had a mental health condition.
Say what you want about labels, but that was huge for me.
Suddenly, I could read about it, learn about it, read studies about it, listen to podcasts about it. That, and certain exposure techniques I had to go through in therapy (such as having a session in a children’s playground, or sleeping with a knife on my bedside table) slowly started to build a confidence in myself that I had never had.
Or at least, that OCD had taken away from me.
That confidence is still in me now. It waxes and wanes, comes and goes. It’s not always there, and sometimes it’s there in abundance. I have good days, I have bad days, and I still have days where I have to go back to a therapist.
But when I look back at how my life used to be, before I knew about OCD, before I got my label, and before I stopped being ashamed of it, there is no comparison.
I’ve stopped simply surviving, and finally I’m living again.