Being Diagnosed With OCD Was The Happiest Day Of My Life
It was on the first day back at work after Christmas last year when, as I was cycling home, hands and face numb from the bitter cold and everything around me shrouded in darkness, a fox fell from the sky. No, really, an actual fox. The fox had been hit by a passing train overhead on the bridge and fallen over the side, straight into my path. I stopped, shocked, startled, helpless and a little perplexed, looking at the fox as its body trembled en route to its inevitable and untimely death.
When I got home to my empty flat, I pondered how unlucky someone would have to be, to be passing under the bridge at that precise moment. Pretty unlucky, I concluded, filed it under ‘Bad omens for 2017’ and climbed into bed. The next morning on my way past the fateful spot, however, the fox corpse was nowhere to be seen, which struck me as peculiar, given that just 12 hours had passed since the incident.
And that’s when it happened; that’s when a malignant thought dropped into my consciousness and took root: ‘What if the fox didn’t actually exist, and I had hallucinated the whole thing? What if I was crazy and was seeing things?
What if my mind had created the whole episode?’ It did seem pretty far-fetched…
In the days and weeks that followed this incident, I couldn’t move for foxes. Foxes on adverts, foxes outside my bedroom window, foxes in magazines, each and every one triggering the malevolent yet strangely seductive thought that I had imagined the whole thing, which I couldn’t for the life of me deflect with any level of conviction. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when my anxiety hit its peak and I asked a friend to verify whether he had seen the fox standing a metre ahead of us, that I came undone.
He had. I cried and cried, sweet tears of relief.Now, the comic absurdity of this story isn’t lost on me, far from it; it’s now safely lodged in my repertoire of ‘amusing things that happened when I was mentally ill’, which I often roll out to demonstrate to people that, as with anything in life, when it comes to your mental health, it helps to have a sense of humour. What I hadn’t realised, however, until recently, was that Foxgate was one of many such episodes that have recurred throughout my life, and was a symptom of my undiagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).You see, for as long as I can remember, I have been a problem-solver.
Now this is not, in itself, a bad thing. For the most part, my ability to identify issues and find solutions has allowed me to develop and maintain meaningful, enduring and mutually respectful relationships; to push myself academically, professionally, personally, emotionally and physically; and to dedicate my attention to the betterment of myself and the world around me. In fact, I am often called upon by friends and colleagues for advice, because of my natural ability to look at a problem panoramically.
However, during periods of prolonged or intense stress, this compulsion to find a solution to anything and everything that could be considered a ‘problem’ can sometimes malfunction, taking me to the corners of my mind that the light struggles to reach. This is usually because the ‘problem’ that I am trying to solve is me; that is to say, the thing that I believe to be intrinsically wrong with me, which is the sole cause of my inability to live the peaceful and loving existence that I so crave. As is common among sufferers of mental illness, this derives predominantly from a series of deeply held convictions about myself that I have historically believed without question, and which are all adjectives qualified by the words ‘not’ and ‘enough’. During these times, of which there have been only a few particularly acute episodes in my life, I have fallen down a well so deep it has taken months to pull myself back out again.
Yes, my friends, I’m talking mental breakdown.Over the years, this relentless pursuit to uncover and solve this mystical ‘something’ that makes me different from those around me has led me down some particularly dark corridors, during which times I have worried that I am one, or all, of the following things (to clarify, I am none of these things; I checked with my psychiatrist): an abuser, a narcissist, a sociopath, an imposter, an emotional manipulator, a cheater, a liar, and even a murderer. It has tricked me into thinking that I am physically repulsive, unloveable, mentally unstable, unkind, selfish, stupid, cruel; unfaithful, intolerable, untrustworthy, clinically insane, annoying, and without talent or skill.
This obsessive solution-finding exercise has stolen seconds, minutes, hours, days and years of my life, robbing me of peace, enjoyment, contentment and the ability to feel or appreciate the love of others. During particularly bad phases, I would even have to avoid reading stories, or watching TV programmes or films containing even the faintest suggestion of malevolent behaviour. This is because I knew that I would then spend the next few days worrying whether I too possessed that trait or affliction. God, it was tiring.