Living with OCD (and tips for how to manage it during a worldwide pandemic).
I think most people will agree that 2020 has not been the easiest year by a long shot! The spread of Covid-19 worldwide has been incredibly tough and has created a lot of change. Everyone has been struggling during this time of uncertainty and fear, however, there are other extenuating factors that can sometimes make things like this pandemic, even harder! For example, a mental health condition and in my case, OCD.
I have had OCD since I was 13. OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Mine manifests in health anxiety (constantly thinking I am ill or worrying I will be), a compulsive need to count everything and marking certain numbers as “good” or “bad” and tapping objects as I leave the room.
Like most mental health issues, my experiences with it have fluctuated constantly. I have had times when it has worsened and been incredibly hard, and times where I have been able to “work with it” and feel I am in control of it rather than vice versa. I have seen a lot of doctors, tried a lot of different methods of controlling my OCD so I am going to discuss the different things I have done and put in place that have enormously helped me deal and live with my OCD, and how these things managed to help me get through a worldwide pandemic without one panic attack that, 7 months ago, would have been impossible for me.
Disclaimer – everyone’s experience is different and this is just mine! Whatever hasn’t worked for me definitely works for others. It’s all about trying and figuring it out!
Sign up to therapy
The concept of therapy is pretty scary I know. I really put it off for a long time as I went through all the thought cycles of “I know better” and “I don’t need help, it is too scary”, but when I finally pushed myself to do it, it was life-changing. It is often a long process and you may need to change doctors and different types of therapies to find the one that works for you (I definitely had to) but it is such a worthwhile process. In November 2019 I had an OCD “relapse” where I fell into a massive hole of anxiety and worries concerning my health and having people in place to talk to was such a massive help and got me out of it! Having those things in place before the pandemic started was inexplicably beneficial too. A huge part of OCD is about being in control and having compulsions that help “cancel out” the anxiety that propels us to do them, so when this pandemic started and everyone felt a huge loss of control, lots of new routines and fear, these things can really affect OCD. Having counselling in place helped me to not overdo routines and live in constant panic during COVID-19. You can discuss lots of different options including medication and find something that will help you! I promise, no matter how unbearable it feels it can always get better.
Stay connected with friends and family
People care about you! I know it can be utterly terrifying to tell people about what you are dealing with or let them but it will help you so much. I know with OCD it can be even harder as people often reply with their version of “logic” as they don’t experience the same compulsive irrational fears that we do, however having people around to support you, listen and be able to check up on you can be so comforting. People can help distract you or help in whatever ways they can, and are also a good marker for being able to tell if you are going through a patch where your OCD may be worse. I wouldn’t have been able to live mostly comfortably like I do today alongside my OCD without my friends that helped me.
Do not research the things you are panicking about
One of the worst things for my OCD has been research. It is almost impossible sometimes not to research whatever your fear is. Mine is normally always health related. I google it, I think I could have it, I panic, and then repeat. I had to teach myself that with OCD, I was not capable of understanding the likelihood of having illnesses and understanding all the information given to me rationally, so I had to train myself not to research. The best thing to do is to go to your doctor. They know many more things than your OCD does and will be able to look for things and rule variables out without you even knowing. It took me ages to trust my doctor because in that moment I felt I knew for sure they were always missing something. But that is just how OCD sometimes works! The irrational thought can become rational in your mind and before you know it you are spiralling. So if your OCD is especially hygiene or health related, just go to your doctor and talk about your fears. Research provides temporary comfort but then you’ll read something else and it will make it all worse.
Don’t be embarrassed!
OCD is not embarrassing to have! 1 in 100 children and 1 in 40 adults have OCD. I used to be so embarrassed by it because when I had compulsions to do certain behaviours like tapping and I was in public, I felt like everyone was judging me. However, the people that care about you will understand! OCD is a treatable illness anyway so maybe one day you won’t need to worry about it anymore, but in the meantime the more stigma you place on yourself, the harder the process of feeling better will be for you. Once I let myself just embrace the fact I have OCD and cannot choose to not have it, the healing process began so much easier.
I hope talking about my experiences at all helped or at least resonated with you in some way. The University has an amazing wellbeing team so do not be afraid to reach out! You are never alone and something like OCD can feel very isolating as it is a very personal illness that manifests in a very personal way, however everyday people manage it and go to therapy and reach out and you are no exception to the “it will be okay one day” rule. A pandemic is really testing for your mental health so please reach out to people.
Stay safe everyone and remember social distancing please!
Please note: This content was created prior to Coronavirus, and some things might be different due to current laws and restrictions. Please refer to Government advice and the University of Lincoln for the latest information.