Many Years in the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive
Content Warning: This blog is about mental health, OCD and intrusive thoughts of a violent and sexually harmful nature that some may find distressing.
Getting to know a bit about me
Welcome to my blog about living with OCD. Spoiler alert, if you don’t know a lot about OCD, it’s not simply enthusiasm for handwashing and checking that the oven is off. If you are well versed in the subject of OCD, I hope to bring honesty, lived experience, and comedy to this difficult and often upsetting subject.
My name is Ria Fay and I am an actor, writer, director, and a “whatever pays the bills in-between” person. I was inspired to write this piece to debunk the common misconceptions that surround OCD and offer an insight into the reality of living with it day in and day out. It took me such a long time to find out that what I was experiencing as a child was a mental illness. I hope by spreading awareness about what it really means to have OCD, I can help reduce the time it takes others to recognise their symptoms and get the help they need as soon as possible.
Growing up, mental health was not a subject discussed at school, in my home or anywhere I was aware. Anyone who knew me as a child described me as a “worrier”, “She’s always worrying.” Back then it was just called worrying when in reality it was intense anxiety, a common symptom of OCD. My intense anxiety was seen as a personality trait not a symptom of mental illness, as it is listed on the NHS page for OCD. Each day I would ask if I was going to die because of a pain in my (insert body part here) and each time the response would be the same. “Ria, you are not going to die.” in an almost comical repetitiveness. This would reassure me (at least for an hour or so). Anxiety for me was a general state of being, it wasn’t something I noticed in my day to day life, because it was always there.
The many faces of OCD
OCD is often described in themes that OCD UK has described perfectly on their website. Each one brings with it different triggers, obsessions and compulsions, I went through several themes of OCD, from the more “known” aspects like washing my hands (3 times), checking the oven was off (3 times) and counting everything, you’ve guessed it 3 times, to the more unspoken themes related to sexually harmful or violent intrusive thoughts. Let’s just say if OCD themes were a bingo card, I’m pretty close to a full house. A lot of people are living with OCD, OCD UK states “(OCD) affects as many as 12 in every 1,000 people (1.2% of the population) from young children to adults, regardless of gender, social or cultural background.” and that figure isn’t including those indirectly affected by the disorder such as family members or friends of those with OCD.
The distressing nature of intrusive thoughts
At the time of discovery, I was experiencing intrusive thoughts of a very disturbing, often violent nature. I kept these worries secret. Often awake for hours ruminating over the possibility of harming people or assessing whether I was a bad person. “Do these thoughts mean I want to do these things?” “Am I dangerous?” “Am I a horrible person?” Round and round the thoughts went like a carousel of guilt, shame, terror and anxiety. I wanted to confess to all these thoughts but the fear of what would happen if I did was too scary to comprehend. As I said, people didn’t speak about mental health then and like many others, I thought OCD was simply a keenness for cleanness.
Congratulations, it’s OCD
Somehow, I was able to keep up with life whilst the never-ending loop of “I’m a terrible person” played on repeat. I was studying performing arts at college and was set a devising task. Our group came up with the idea of a circus where each act represented a different mental health condition. At this time, I was completely unaware that I had been experiencing a mental illness for 12 years and ironically was given OCD to research. As I began to read about OCD on Wikipedia, of all the websites, (my teachers would have not been happy if they had known), a sense of relief flooded through my entire body. My heart began to race but it wasn’t out of fear it was out of hope. Until this point I had convinced myself that I would never be able to have children in case I harmed them, could never have a partner because they wouldn’t know the “true, evil” me, so this revelation was one of the most important turning points in my life.
I’d like to say I rushed back into college the next day with a newfound understanding of OCD and created a show that would not only educate but entertain my class about the misconceptions surrounding OCD but that would come later. It’s odd to think that a project set at college, on a theme decided by a group of students, would be the way I found a diagnosis. Since then I have done a lot of research, had treatment from several mental health professionals, take medication daily and have had the pleasure of meeting and befriending others with similar experiences of OCD as my own.
The lack of awareness surrounding mental health in general but specifically OCD is what drives the work I do. Alongside my writing, I have created a play with my theatre company Concept Theatre called “I’m Just a Little Bit OCD” which offers a brutally honest yet funny look at OCD. I use my writing to tackle the stigma, isolation and shame that can so often accompany OCD. I was very fortunate to have the project supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and The National Lottery Community Fund. With their help, I was able to share my message with audiences across London. I want to encourage people to learn more about OCD and step in when they hear it being misused. We need to start having honest, accurate and open conversations about what OCD actually is. If I can be that Wikipedia page (but more reliable) for someone, to give them an answer and a feeling that they are not alone, then that would be amazing.
After my college project ended, I didn’t know what to do, who to tell or how to get any help but I did know that I was ill and if I was ill then I could get better.
For information about Concept Theatre visit https://www.concepttheatre.co.uk/
For information and support visit https://ocdaction.org.uk/ and https://www.ocduk.org/
For treatment options visit https://www.treatmyocd.com/