Rose Bretécher is a 28-year-old writer with OCD. When she was 15-years-old she started experiencing obsessive sexual thoughts which took over her mind for a decade. Rose has now written a tragicomic memoir about her life with OCD, which she is crowd-funding through Unbound. You can pledge to help her tell her story.
Part 1 of 3
HOW OCD CHANGED MY LIFE
My OCD started when I was 15-years-old with repetitive thoughts that I was a paedophile. Sounds pretty hardcore, doesn’t it? But it’s actually a really common obsessive theme.
It wasn’t a gradual thing which built up over months and months, I was just suddenly plunged into full blown obsessive fears, 24 hours a day, every day. Fears that I may have committed a paedophilic act in my past without realising. Fears that the graphic mental images I was experiencing were proof of my depravity. Fears that I would be punished for my sins.
I was repulsed and desperately ashamed of these thoughts, and terrified that if I told anyone I’d get arrested. So I kept them quiet, and fought them in lots of tiny, secret ways: I prayed repetitively; I tried to shout them out of my head; I tried to distract myself with reading and running and drinking. Nothing worked; and the anxiety hurt my chest from the second I woke up to the second I went to sleep.
The thoughts changed sometimes but they never went away. When I was a bit older I started relentlessly doubting my sexuality – how could I know for sure whether I wanted to have sex with men or with women? In the hope of finding an answer, I began to test my arousal responses different sexual stimuli, hundreds of times a day. This only prompted more questions.
By my early twenties I’d quit uni, I was self-harming and I was bulimic. Believing my life couldn’t continue until I found an answer to my questions, I felt utterly futureless. Then one day I Googled the phrase ‘intrusive thoughts’ and three life-changing little letters glared at me from the screen.
I burst into tears as I read my symptoms for the first time: uncontrollable intrusive thoughts, severe anxiety, mental avoidance, excessive rumination. I was stunned. The article mentioned other kinds of thoughts, too: thoughts about killing people; thoughts about acts of blasphemy; thoughts about suffocating babies.
It was the mid noughties. OCD was barely talked about in public, and media portrayals of it focussed solely on cleaning compulsions. Now my mind was opened to this ‘other’ OCD, which seemed to have a name: pure O. I would later discover that it’s a misleading term (there’s never anything ‘purely obsessional’ about OCD) but back then I clung to it dearly. In popular understanding I had a condition for which there was no word. Now I’d found one.
I was euphoric for a while, believing that this self-diagnosis would be my panacea; that it would banish the obsessions from my head. But no matter how many times I reminded my brain that it was merely sick, the thoughts continued to intensify, and it would be several more years before I found the help which saved me.
Next week, read the second part of Rose’s story: