PURE OCD: Not so pure after all

At aged 16, I developed a little-known form of OCD called Pure OCD, which results in mental rumination and subsequent compulsions, usually revolving around taboo subjects. What started my OCD off was an obsession that I had a brain tumour. I thought because I had constant headaches, and a lumpish shape on the back of my skull, that that definitively meant I had a brain tumour. Luckily for me, my uncle is a radiologist — the person that scans brains — so he nipped that obsession in the bud by letting me have a scan, which, of course, came out completely normal. He said my brain was very “juicy” and healthy, unlike other brains he’d seen. To be honest, I would’ve probably been better off if he had left me to continuously worry about my brooding tumour, because what I moved onto next was nowhere near as plausible.

I was watching Grey’s Anatomy at the time, which most definitely wasn’t helping with my health concerns, and seeing a lesbian couple appear on the show brought out another uncertainty in me. What if I was a lesbian? Now, I had had a couple of fleeting sexual thoughts about girls in the past, but, I was young and as I now know, those thoughts are normal, whether you are gay or not. Well, this uncertainty was enough to bring on a full-blown OCD attack of intrusive thoughts. I became entirely consumed with the idea that I was a lesbian, or trapped in a lesbian’s body, and I wasn’t allowed to date guys because, well, I was a lesbian. I had always been so utterly besotted by boys, so the idea that I could no longer feel that flutter of excitement in my stomach when I caught eyes with a cute guy was very upsetting for little me. Where I got the idea that I was controlled by an enforced sexuality upon me is unknown, but it got there, somehow. I was preoccupied with the sadness that I wasn’t going to be able to have a normal life, and I wasn’t going to be happy. That my life was ruined, basically. Now, I know this sounds a little homophobic, but it’s not that I had anything against gay people, I just didn’t want to be gay because I really liked boys. I know that doesn’t make sense, but in my head, it did, and it stuck there. The thoughts filled my head 24 hours of the day, every minute of every day, I was thinking about it, no exaggeration. After months of contemplation, I accepted that being a lesbian wasn’t the end of the world. Therefore, it wasn’t worthy of my obsessive thoughts anymore. I moved on to much much worse, something that couldn’t possibly ever ever ever be okay. I thought I was a pedophile.

My compulsions included:

  • Analysing my past to check if I had shown any signs of being a lesbian or pedophile. That meant, for instance, thinking back to when I was 5 and checking if I had done anything to suggest it. I remembered playing naked in the bath with a friend of mine who happened to be a girl. This girl also happened to kiss me on the lips, which I probably thought nothing of at age 5, but this struck me as noteworthy in the present. I thought this was hard evidence.
  • Looking at every person who passed me on the street and analysing whether or not I was attracted to them.
  • Asking my parents every day if they thought I was what I thought I was. They would say ‘no’ and I would be temporarily reassured. But this would only bring about more doubt in the never-ending cycle of my thoughts.
  • I avoided certain things, like watching tv, because it was too exhausting to analyse all the people on the programme, and I didn’t want to run the risk of seeing sex scenes, which would probably play on my mind for days after. I avoided babysitting, doing anything fun with my friends because I was scared of how I would act etc. Avoidance is a very common OCD compulsion, and facing the situations avoided is part of recovery.
  • I created ‘pros and cons’ lists in my mind, evidence that made me what I thought I was, and evidence that didn’t.
  • Googling ‘pedophile’ or ‘lesbian’ online and checking if I matched the criteria.

Here are some diagrams I found online that really outline the cycle/process of OCD:

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I’m sure there were more compulsions, but it was a while ago, so I can’t remember fully. I was in agony, I cried every day and I wanted to die. Every day when I waited for the tube I obsessively thought about jumping. I was never properly suicidal, but I really wanted my thoughts to end, they were destroying me, and exhausting me to the point of destruction. My parents got very worried, they didn’t know what to do, but they were extremely understanding. Some people probably wouldn’t even consider telling their parents, but I’m so glad I could and not be judged, just loved. They enlisted me in therapy, and I was then referred on to be reviewed by an OCD specialist. Without a gleam of doubt, she told me that I had OCD. I didn’t believe her at first, I was confused as to why I would inevitably feel physical sensations if I wasn’t attracted to what I thought I was. This was due to hypersensitivity, she told me. I was so tuned into my body that every little feeling that I had was multiplied by my mind. A little tickle felt like a sharp scratch, and it was all propelled by anxiety. I was extremely relieved to hear that I wasn’t this horrible, disgusting creature that I had convinced myself I was. I was put on Sertraline and I undertook CBT and ERP therapy.

Throughout my recovery, I found some really helpful examples of other people who were suffering with similar obsessions to me. One of them, her name is Rose Bretecher, even wrote a book about it, which is very insightful and beautifully written. Her article in the Guardian and a video she posted really changed my life, making me see that I wasn’t alone, and I wasn’t crazy. A great quote from her is,‘The obsession is the thought and the compulsion is the attempt to explain away or get rid of the thought. The more you do, the worse the obsessions become.’ Give it a read!

I will explain the techniques I learnt in my next blog post, and how anyone can use them as self-help, if they aren’t able to access a therapist for some reason, or they want to try that first.

Fi x

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