Dylan O’Keeffe tells us of his journey through battling ‘Pure-OCD’, and urges us to know that whatever you are going through, help and support are always available.
Picture this: you’re walking down the street, headphones in, not a care in the world. You stop at traffic lights, waiting for the green man. An old lady walks up next to you. She smiles politely and you smile back. The light is red and while the cars go by, you suddenly get a thought – “push her in front of a car.” You’re taken aback. “What the fuck?” you think, what a weird thought. The light goes green and a few seconds later you’ve completely forgotten about what you just thought about doing.
Now imagine you didn’t forget about that thought. Instead, it stays there, swirling around in your brain. “Why did I think that?”, you ask yourself. You’re at home now and you’re lying in bed, analysing what happened. “Did I really want to push her onto the road?”, “Oh god, what the fuck is wrong with me? Am I insane? I’m a horrible person.” Fear. Shame. Guilt. These emotions coincide with the thoughts you’ve just been thinking. You lie in bed, trying to distract yourself and when that doesn’t work you argue with yourself, trying to remind yourself of all the times you didn’t push people onto the road when waiting at lights, that you’re not crazy. You finally calm down, roll-over, and go to sleep.
Then you wake up in the middle of the night. “What if there’s some significance to that thought? I wouldn’t have had that reaction to it otherwise, right?” You’re sweating, clinging to the sheets. You begin to scrutinise yourself, re-evaluating every single aspect of your personality, trying to find something, anything, that could explain what is going on. But you don’t find anything. Nothing about you is inclined to act like that. You start crying, wondering what the fuck is going on, eventually falling back to a troubled sleep.
That is what it is like having Pure-OCD. It’s like normal OCD, but focuses on the obsessive part more than the compulsive. Now this is just one example. I haven’t necessarily got the impulse to push an old lady onto the road, but I have gotten thoughts like that, about people I love, people I care deeply about, and it shook me to my core. When I first started experiencing this, I thought I had reached the end of my tether. I got a random thought about hurting someone who I love very much, and I went through the same process. It left me contemplating suicide just to stop the thoughts and to keep myself from hurting someone. One night, as I lay there staring at the belt of my jeans, I got up and went into my mam and dad and told them that something wasn’t right. I needed help. I didn’t want to die.
My mam and dad would tear off their arms if it meant they could help me (or my brother and sister) and they spared no effort in getting me the help that I needed. They contacted Pieta House, located at Shanakiel by Sunday’s Well, and my local GP. I went to a meeting with a psychiatrist at Pieta and he assessed me, whether I was at a high risk of committing suicide or not. I was at 4/10 on their scale. My GP referred me to the home-based crisis team (HBCT) who are situated in St Mary’s health campus in Gurranabraher.
My head was all over the place. It was a whirlwind and I had more darker days than I care to admit. Pieta set me up with a kind, funny and intelligent doctor named Nadine. Once I told her what was up, she told me that I was displaying symptoms of ‘pure-O’. She explained to me exactly what it was and gave me material to read. It was like putting on a new pair of glasses with stronger lenses. The HBCT set me up with a key-worker named Jessica, a bubbly, insightful, and compassionate person. I could tell from the minute I met her that she really did care about me. A psychiatrist at the HBCT later confirmed that I had OCD. To put it simply, these people saved my life.
I wouldn’t be able to write something like this without mentioning the absolute support I get from my friends, particularly my best friend Antóin. They are nothing but supporting and I can never repay them for their goodness towards me. I love you guys and gals.
I don’t really know what kind of point I want to make, but if you have hit a rough patch, talk to someone you trust. The HSE might be clogged up when it comes to mental health services, but there are places like Pieta and the Youth Health Service who provide counselling. There is also the counselling service of UCC. It is important that you never let yourself feel alone, or you will find yourself spiralling down a hole, and you may find it difficult to climb out. Your family and friends should be the first people you confide in. We are lucky to live in an age where the stigma surrounding mental ill-health has diminished significantly. Your mental health is as important as your physical health and if you feel something is off, then you should seek help in the same way that you would seek help for broken bone. It’s important to know that there are other people who are going through something similar to what you are. It turned out that one of my good friends suffers from OCD too and was kind enough to lend me a book which detailed every form of OCD and how to deal with it.
Right now, things are stable. I still have my bad days, but the important thing is that I have good days. At the start, I could barely manage a smile and was suffering from depression. I feel like I have come a long way in terms of how I deal with intrusive thoughts, like being able to identify that they are irrational and that I am not going crazy. They still get to me every now and then, and sometimes I want nothing more than to curl up into a ball in my bed and sleep the day away. I still find myself gatekeeping, being extremely wary of things that might trigger my OCD, which often leaves me feeling exhausted. I don’t think I will ever get used to the flurry of emotions that come with an intrusive thought that I cannot deal with, and sometimes it gets me really down when I think about dealing with this for the rest of my life. But I try to focus on the positives, like finishing my degree and doing a Masters, whatever new video game is coming out, spending time with my friends. I don’t drink anymore and I also take medication daily. Things right now are a lot better than they were.
If you are in a bad place, there are people out there who are suffering too, you’re not alone and help is available, if you want it and it seek it out. Our mental well-being is as important, if not more important to take care of than our physical beings. I hope that anyone who is reading this who is going through a rough time will feel comfort in the fact that there is hope, even if some days it seems like the only colour in your life is grey. Trust me, I’ve been there.