Co-existing with ‘the OCD monster’ During Lockdown

Yesterday, I came across an article in The Guardian that described a young man’s experience of OCD during lockdown. The article expressed how a time of heightened anxiety around hygiene made ‘the line between rational and irrational blurred’. As a sufferer of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, I can easily empathise with this. However, the writer described the mental health condition as ‘the OCD monster’. Again, I can totally empathise with this analogy, but for me, part of taking control of my OCD brain is to recognise that, in fact, the condition is not a ‘monster’ but a disorder or habit created by my own mind. This has been important to remember during a pandemic with potential to make an individual feel isolated with their thoughts. Thus, the article has encouraged me to share my experience of coping with OCD during a time of uncertainty, and how I have learnt to ‘co-exist’ with the disorder. Perhaps my experience will resonate with fellow sufferers, and hopefully some of what I have learnt may be useful.

To paint a brief picture of my history with OCD, as a young teenager I went through intermittent periods of what felt like torment. Intrusive thoughts led to compulsions of needing to harm myself. A very distressing time indeed. Fortunately, term-time at school and other focuses seemed to dissipate my OCD. Being at university and going travelling also seemed to usher my OCD into the background. Since settling in life a little, my OCD returned, so I underwent a full course of CBT with First Step. I had a very good therapist who helped me understand the formulation of how the thoughts present and gave me some useful techniques. I also have a person-centred counsellor who has helped me deepen my understanding of my experience. My OCD has now reduced to experiencing the intrusive thoughts but without the distressing compulsions. Day-to-day I seem to go through a fluidity of having what feels like good days where my mood is brighter, or more challenging days where my anxiety is heightened. When the PM announced lockdown measures, I knew a challenging road lay ahead for me.

The main challenge that lockdown brought for me was the limitation of activities that would enable me to ‘re-focus’ easier (a technique learnt in CBT) such as socialising and seeing family. Being discouraged to visit the Lake District where I fell-run as my main exercise outlet, also made life that bit harder. Not to mention experiencing low mood due to generally feeling isolated. My counsellor was kind enough to have regular ‘check-in’ phone calls with me and in one conversation, she offered this idea of ‘co-existing’ with my OCD after I reflected on lockdown as feeling like a ‘boot camp’ in dealing with persistent intrusive thoughts. What my counsellor meant by ‘co-existing’ was how I have been managing anxiety brought on by OCD whilst living under the government restrictions. So here is a list of techniques/strategies I picked up along the way:

Checking in with my partner – I am fortunate enough to have a supportive and loving girlfriend who frequently ‘checks in’ with how I am doing. Being able to talk things through with someone regularly helps me gain a clearer picture of what is going on in my head. This enables me to look on it and not be in it. I know that not everyone has that one person in their life whom they trust but there are local support services, such as MindLine Cumbria, available either online for a web chat or over the phone. Let’s get talking.

Finding a good counsellor – As mentioned earlier, I go to a person-centred counsellor. Don’t be afraid to shop around for a counsellor that best suits you. My counsellor has been kind enough to offer telephone catch ups every other week. This has been a very valuable outlet for me.

Written reflections – Every so often I would write a reflection, detailing points in the day when my OCD had been more, or less severe. I started to notice patterns such as feeling much better after a walk or feeling worse after watching TV for an extended period of time.

Structure to the day – Creating a structure helped me maintain a positive focus throughout the day. I incorporated things such as ‘wellness hour’ where I would meditate, read or even have a cold shower.

Cold showers – I understand this may not be to everyone’s taste, but they are a massive mood lifter for me. Boosting my mood seems to have a knock-on effect in reducing my OCD.

Light exercise – the endorphins created by exercise have a direct impact on my mood.

The power of language – “I am in control of my own mind” this is a mantra I would repeat out loud. Using positive language like this can retrain thinking habits into positive thought processes.

Acceptance and letting go – practicing acceptance, to me this means acknowledging that I am feeling anxious and experiencing low mood, then being able to let go. This sometimes alleviates the struggle to achieve immediate wellness and places trust in natural processes.

So there it is, my personal manifesto for managing my OCD. Just to reiterate, to me, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is not a ‘monster’, and this is transferable to other mental health struggles. We may experience our mental struggles as a ‘monster’ from time to time, especially when we find ourselves in a pit, but I like to remind myself that it is MY mind and I CAN be in control.

Danny North (Pseudonym)

For more information about OCD and how to access support click here