07 November 2014
"I used to check the doors, the windows, and the oven. I'd then check them again. And again!"
John didn't realise he had anything wrong with him until one day his girlfriend was watching an OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) story line on Hollyoaks and she later turned to him and said, "You do that. You do exactly what he is doing!"
The Channel 4 episode prompted John - who can remember having the condition from age 10 - to consult a doctor and he was eventually fast-tracked for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust (C&I).
He explains, "My girlfriend saw somebody in Hollyoaks with OCD. I didn't see it myself but I think it was when Cameron Clark (played by Ben Gerrard) had it in 2005. She noticed that he was checking things just like I was.
"It took me a while to decide that I actually had a problem which needed outside help. It was starting to take over my life. I repeatedly checked everything, windows, doors, ovens. It was a strange thing to be doing but no one told me it was something you could solve. In my mind it was something I did because I didn't want bad things to happen. I just thought I was being conscientious and if I didn't do it then something terrible would happen."
John believes one of the biggest challenges is raising awareness of what OCD is since the term can be overused when somebody is being pedantic about an issue.
He says, "It can be used as a catch-all for people who want to put pens straight on the desk, but you wouldn't associate it with anxiety."
C&I Clinical Psychologist, Helen Page, admits it is often difficult to recognise OCD because the symptoms can vary.
"There's often a stereotype that sufferers will be keeping things orderly or excessively washing their hands, however OCD can present in many different ways. People might have obsessional concerns about harm coming to themselves or others and it becomes difficult not to think about these concerns constantly. People therefore find themselves taking excessive precautions such as continually checking or seeking reassurance," she says.
"OCD can also present as intrusive thoughts which the person feels very worried by. They might be thoughts that he or she doesn't want to have or act on, for example thoughts of harming someone, which they then try to avoid or control.
"It might not always be obvious that someone has OCD as they might have a lot of rituals that they do in their mind, but don't do physically."
John admits he tried to internalise the problem so it wouldn't affect those around him. He explains, "It was stressful for my girlfriend because she saw how distressing it was for me. Someone would say to me, 'Why do you keep checking the door?' and it would become more stressful and I would do it more. I would do all the checks and when I left the house there was a sense of nervousness."
Laura Cole, Senior Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner at C&I, insists guilt or a sense of shame can often force people to keep it to themselves.
She explains, "Although OCD is considered to be the fourth most common mental disorder, people may feel very much alone with their difficulties and internalise the problem. People may feel ashamed, a sense of guilt or too afraid to seek support."
John overcame his problem after having CBT and was delighted to find the technique helped give him an understanding of how the mind works.
Our Chartered Clinical Psychologist Libby Watson says CBT involves the therapist and client working together. Together they help understand and challenge the unhelpful thoughts which the sufferer is experiencing.
She explains,"Assessment will help determine whether CBT 'fits' with a person's difficulties and willingness to work on the problem. Therapy will begin by developing a shared understanding between client and therapist of 'the problem': from where it may have stemmed; its onset and course; things that make it better or worse - with a particular focus on beliefs and coping strategies that in the short-term the person may be using to reduce distress, but in the long-term may actually be maintaining it.
"The therapist and the client devise experiments to help 'test out' unhelpful beliefs and feared predictions, and encourage the person to face their fears in a graded manner. In OCD this tends to take the form of Exposure and Response Prevention. For example, if someone washes their hands excessively, you might 'expose' them to something considered dirty and support the person to sit with the anxiety/discomfort instead of responding in their usual way (i.e. washing their hands). This is done in stages, starting with least anxiety-provoking situations which act as building blocks for confronting more challenging situations."
If you would like to know more about OCD then please go to C&I's www.icope.nhs.uk website or ask your GP about our services.