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Living with OCD

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After finding out she was pregnant with her first baby, OCD came roaring back into Laura Peppas’ life. She writes about her experience…

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a bit of a worrier. Whether it’s about other people, deadlines or making decisions, it’s a habit that has been hard to shake.

When I was in fifth grade, I started worrying that “bad things” would happen if I didn’t do things in even numbers – the amount of sultanas I ate, the footsteps I took, the number of times I switched off the light.

Looking back, I now know this was a ritual that was a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. At the time I was being bullied by a particularly nasty boy in my year, so it’s likely that it manifested as a way of coping.

The term “OCD” gets thrown around a lot: “Oh I’m so OCD, I like my pens to be neat on my desk at all times;” or “I get so OCD about my clothes being folded nicely”.

In actuality, OCD is as an at times debilitating anxiety disorder, where people can become troubled by recurring unwanted thoughts, images, or impulses, as well as obsessions and repetitive rituals. They feel relief when they perform these impulses, but soon feel the need to repeat them. It can result in social disability, such as children failing to attend school or adults becoming housebound.

When I reached high school and college, my OCD completely went away, and I assumed it was just a childhood blip.

However, I was surprised to find it come roaring back again when one of the biggest changes in my life occurred – finding out I was pregnant with my first baby.

Here was a situation where I knew many things would be completely out of my control – the labour, my due date, whether the baby was born healthy, the list goes on – and I guess the OCD was my way of clawing back that control.

It sounds terrible, but I was completely mortified it was happening again. Wasn’t this just a weird childhood thing? I thought.

It started off slowly; I found myself becoming concerned with having an even number of boxes of crackers in the cupboard. Then it began spiralling, as it so often does, and before I knew it, all kinds of unwelcome thoughts began circling my mind.

If I don’t sip from this glass of water the right amount of times today, the baby might get sick.

If I don’t choose an even number of apples at the grocery store, something bad will happen to someone I love.

If I don’t turn the volume on my computer up to an even amount, I’d lose my job.

I’d often come home utterly exhausted because every decision began to be scrutinised.

Of course, I always knew the thoughts were irrational and frankly, ridiculous. But as anyone with OCD knows, that doesn’t stop them from manifesting, and they can be very hard to control once they start. You feel the urge to “satisfy” the thoughts or rituals, just to be on the safe side.

I was terrified my friends or family would notice, because I was so ashamed – and even admitting it to myself felt ridiculous. I was a perfectly rational person in every other way, but for some reason this was out of my control, and starting to take over my life. I was happy and excited about the pregnancy, but at the same time the compulsions weren’t slowing down.

I also thought it would be hard for people to understand if I tried to explain it – until recently, it was something that people either didn’t really take seriously or simply had trouble grasping. “Well, you know the thoughts are silly so just ignore them,” seemed to be the most common answer. But these are people who have clearly never experienced OCD, and don’t know how deeply ingrained in your subconscious it can be.

While I was pregnant, I started seeing a counsellor who was recommended to me by a friend. She told me that it’s one of those things that is difficult to simply make “go away,” as often it’s deeply ingrained from childhood. There’s no quick fix. However, there are ways of managing it. One of those ways is “being in the moment.” When I’m taking a walk, shopping or working, often I don’t tend to worry much, because I’m concentrating on the task at hand. There’s no time to think of “what might happen.”

I started to take more time out for myself, along with exercising more and spending less time on social media. It wasn’t an overnight cure, but slowly, things started to get much better. It’s also great that OCD is more in the public eye now, with more people speaking out on their experiences.

Now that I’m into my second pregnancy, I have barely had a worrying thought and feel much more calm – a world away from my first pregnancy. If there have been any niggling thoughts in the background on occasion, I’ve made a habit of thinking “I’ll worry about that later, not now.” Sometimes that’s all I need to forget and move on.

I’m aware that another big change in my life may bring things to the forefront, and that it might always be there in the backdrop like an annoying friend. But I’ve become better at “managing” it.

And speaking out about it is probably one more step in the right direction.

If you or someone you know needs help contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or visit beyondblue.org.au

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