This essay starts back in 2017, when Danielle realised her obsessive behaviour was becoming an issue, and concludes around a year later, after having successfully found ways to manage it.
Any of my close friends will tell you that I have an obsessive personality. In fact, you wouldn’t have to be a close friend to realise this. I like to have a routine and I obsess over the details. I’ve always seen this as a positive trait in my career as a graphic designer – I am a perfectionist and have high standards.
So recently when I noticed that these traits were interrupting my day to day instead of helping it, I took a step back to think about what was wrong.
The most obvious thing to me at first was that I had started to become worried about a phone charger being plugged in while I was out of the house or asleep. I was petrified that it would cause a fire. At first I didn’t think anything of it – everyone worries about leaving the oven on or not locking the door from time to time. But I couldn’t shake the thought every time I walked out the door – I would spend all day worrying, thinking I was going to come home to a burned-down flat.
It would possess my mind.
Every time I caught a whiff of something burning I would immediately think I had caused it. On my way to work, I would have to turn around and come back home to check I had not only turned it off at the wall, but unplugged it. I stopped charging my phone overnight.
Then, it wasn’t just my phone charger, but my fan, extension cable and hair straighteners. Even if I hadn’t used my hair straighteners that morning I would worry that I had left them on. As I was leaving for work I would have to go back upstairs and check they were off.
One morning when I got half way to work and had to turn around to check my fan wasn’t on, I began to cry. I felt crazy going back home to check, because I knew even if it was on – what’s the worst that would have happened? But I had to go and check. Of course, when I got home the fan was off. That morning was when I decided I should seek some help.
That night I researched obsessive behaviour, and started to read the symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. More things started to click into place. I had been second guessing all of my decisions. Over the past few months I had been convinced I had a serious disease. I went to the doctors and took three tests. I rang helplines, who were telling me there wasn’t anything wrong with me. My friends thought I was being ridiculous. But I couldn’t shake the thought. I still can’t.
After reading more into OCD and Anxiety Disorders I decided that it was worth pursuing help. I rang up my doctor and had an appointment booked for two weeks’ time. In the meantime, I looked at ways I could help the obsessive thoughts. One website mentioned taking extra care to remember turning something off. This helped me more than I thought while I was at work. I still had to triple check while I was leaving the house, but at work my mind wasn’t being drawn towards plug sockets nearly as much.
As I was waiting for my appointment, I was anxious. Having had counselling in the past, I knew not all medical professionals were helpful or supportive and it can be hard to speak about your problems. I could cause a fire with my plug, I could have a serious disease – so what if this wasn’t a problem? What if this is something that everybody deals with?
However, when I walked into the room my doctor was very understanding and helpful. I told her that recently I had been experiencing obsessive behaviour, and gave a few examples. I hadn’t been sleeping well, and had been suffering with nightmares. I told her I’ve always been a worrier and that I do spend most of my time worrying about things. She told me I definitely had features of OCD and I could go down two routes – CBT or medication. We both agreed CBT would be a good place to start and she gave me a card for Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT).
IAPT provides access to psychological therapies for people who have depression, anxiety or other emotional stresses. My doctor told me to complete the self referral form on the website, and wait for a response – which could be a while depending on the demand for this type of therapy. She told me to come back if things didn’t improve – I left feeling positive.
Three months later, and I have an appointment for CBT. It’s been a long time coming, and I am ready for help. Irrational thoughts and ideas occupy my head daily, and I become fixated on them. I realise that they are not rational but I cannot stop thinking about them. I worry about things that are beyond my control. I worry about people I love being hurt and that I will be the blame for it. When one worry stops, another one creeps in. It never ends. Since I know these thoughts are irrational but I can’t stop them, I tell my close friends so they can reassure me it’s just me who thinks I will hurt someone.
I feel like a failure at work and as though I can’t be trusted. People praise me and I don’t believe them. How can they think that when I make mistakes? I try and tell people I don’t know what I am doing and no one seems to believe me. They tell me I am doing a good job but I don’t believe them.
It’s been a few months since my first CBT appointment, which have now finished. I’ve also been on antidepressants for a couple of months as things didn’t improve for a while. Although I still check things in the morning, and I sometimes become fixated on hypothetical situations, I feel like I can cope with them so much more, and it’s no longer my private, silent, struggle.
Telling my close friends, my boyfriend and my boss what I was struggling with made dealing with my issues so much easier. They were understanding, and I definitely felt less crazy. In fact, a few people I spoke to were dealing with the same issues as me or were taking the same medication, which definitely made me feel less alone.
Reading back from when I first started writing my story to now, I can see how much I’ve progressed and how much better I am doing. I feel like my life is back to normal(ish) again, I am happy, and I am coping much better than I ever could have imagined just a few months ago.
My advice to anyone who is struggling with their mental health, is to speak up. The combination of telling a doctor and telling those around me what I was going through was a turning point for me – oh, and taking a week off work! I didn’t know whether I should take time off – and I didn’t want to – but it was the break I definitely needed and helped in more ways than I could have thought.