Hayley's story

It started with a thought, when I was maybe 5 or 6. I would jump across my parents’ fish pond. I don’t even know why, I was just compelled to do so. Even though I knew I couldn’t swim and potentially could have drowned, I still found myself jumping across the pond trying to make the other side. I also had a fear of people watching me eat and this, too, started as a child and continued into adulthood. I would sometimes get so anxious that people were watching me eat and judging me that I would physically be sick.

What started with a thought, ended with me suffering for a very long time, worrying about germs, contamination and the fear that my family would come to harm as a result of my inaction. Of course, cleaning and contamination fears are not the only ways that OCD manifest, but for me, the fear of germs was the biggest source of my anxiety.

I was unaware I had the illness. I started using neat bleach on my hands constantly washing them and using bleach everywhere. I was so consumed with my cleaning and intrusive thoughts that I became housebound I would sometimes forget to collect my oldest son from nursery, or I would not feed the baby myself – I would prop up a bottle on a blanket because it was more important to me for the house to be free of germs and free of contamination.

I was convinced if I didn’t clean and sterilise everything properly my son would get sick and potentially die as a result of that which was very distressing. Imagine for a second thinking your child was going to suffer and you would be to blame for it! And imagine thinking and feeling that all day, every day. I would become so upset and distressed if my husband didn’t sterilise the bottles properly or if he wasn’t holding the baby right. It was a living hell.

I have heard a lot of people say “oh I think I have OCD” and I would say, if you genuinely feel that you do have this illness, seek medical advice. However, please do remember, checking your car is locked more than once doesn’t mean you have OCD, sorting your wardrobe in colour order doesn’t mean you have OCD, keeping your house tidy doesn’t mean you have OCD. Where I’m going with this is most OCD sufferers, and certainly for me, live a constant battle with their compulsions – so much so that it will interfere with their day to day lives.

OCD affects your social life because it consumes you, it affects your daily life because it consumes you, it will leave you feeling anxious MOST of the time. So it really isn’t as simple as well I like a clean house I have OCD, or I check my car is locked I have OCD, or I use an awful lot of bleach I have OCD. I would hate for people to worry unnecessarily and I would also hate people to start labeling OCD as a cool illness to have. It is such a devastating mental illness, which affects so many people and impacts not only the sufferer but the families who watch their loved ones live a diminished quality of life due to this illness.

I felt I couldn’t ever escape this torment of cleaning and checking and feeling like harm was going to come to my family. But after years of making excuses my husband finally got me to see a doctor. Even though I would never admit cleaning for 19 hours was not right, deep down I knew it – I just didn’t want to hear it. I remember having to tell my doctor my daily routine and my husband joined in at this point as I tried to play it down.

After discussing all the factors, he advised me he would be referring me to an OCD specialist. He explained to me and my husband what OCD was and I remember crying, thinking ‘I’m mental.’ It was so, so upsetting but at the same time I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

My appointment came round quickly. I began cognitive therapy and was put on a medication and, slowly, I began to feel less anxious. I used techniques I was given to slowly stop using neat bleach to wash my hands and spending less time each day cleaning even – if only five minutes less. It was a slow process but I began to feel like I could leave my house and the world wouldn’t end.

I slowly stopped having intrusive thoughts and now after many years of suffering and being consumed by my OCD, it is manageable. Not only am I able to raise awareness about an illness that had devastating effects on my life I’m also able to help people!

I want OCD sufferers to see how far I have come and I do think when you are at a management stage with your OCD, it’s good to challenge your fears and keep pushing forward to prevent it from controlling you again. I had OCD and it was extremely severe, but it got better – and yes I do still use bleach, but the important thing and the message I want to send with this article is that, people who have OCD, no matter how young or old, can get help and things can get better.

I do think it’s important to raise awareness about OCD, but I feel it’s equally as important to support sufferers and show them that they can get help. OCD doesn’t always have to be shown in a negative light. Yes, I think it’s important for people to realise exactly how severely it can affect people, and how it can affect their families, but I would like to also focus on the positives that treatment can give a sufferer and how it can massively improve the quality of their life.

Rather than totally focusing on the here and now, I think it’s important to have some fight in you to want to be better and if that means celebrating people who lead a much better quality of life since seeking treatment, then that should be spoken about and highlighted.