After my novel had been delivered to the publisher, I set about trying to fix some extremely troubling things about my house. Firstly, because of my OCD, it was impossible not having an en-suite bathroom. This was because every time I left the room at night, I would have to check the laundry basket, chest of drawers and wardrobe for miniature serial killers, as well as checking the windows and locks on the door. Although I locked the door every time I went to the loo, it was obviously possible that invisible people would get through the locked door and open the windows again. As re-checking the entire room required turning all the lights back on, and took at least half an hour, this process completely woke me up and ensured I never got back to sleep. As I was obsessed with sleep, this was intolerable. So I adopted a solution that had been used by all the occupants of the beautiful Edwardian House in Willesden Green which was, instead of leaving their rooms at night to go to the loo, to have a bucket instead. They didn’t even have the excuse of the OCD for this bizarre practise. So, obsessed as I was with the novel, I’d been using a bucket for almost two years before I embarked on the project to create the en-suite bathroom.
My previous building project had made me suicidal as, after having made a “mistake” in the project, I thought a demon was possessing my brain and forcing me to kill myself. This demon was unemployed so spent 24 hours a day hassling me. My other building project to build the house in Notting Hill had ended up with me out on the scaffolding at 3am (in the pitch dark) filling and painting the front of the house, wondering why anyone did this in the day. Even this tiny building project to create the en-suite bathroom had an incredibly damaging effect on my mental health. The plumber was aggressive, the work kept being delayed, and after a couple of weeks I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown.
I was bereft after the break up with Sarah, my friend from “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous,” who I was totally out of contact with. So I called my Ex, Fred, the ex-armed robber round, desperate for support with the project. With hindsight this wasn’t the best idea. But before this happened he’d asked me: “do you think you and I are over?” and it was obvious he didn’t think we were. I was devastated as I had stopped fancying him, (temporarily as it turned out), so said to him at the time that we would never get back together. But I still felt he was the only man who understood and accepted me. I think, after all we’d been through, it was some kind of trauma bond. And he did give me “support.” Now, as far as I was concerned we were back together. I wondered out loud whether he would move back into my house, and he said, “who knows what will happen in the future.”
Every time he came round to my house, the feelings between us were intense. But he was distant after these events, not phoning me up or paying me much attention. Despite this, I started getting hooked again and fantasised about us getting back together. While waiting for a response from the publisher to the first novel, I had started writing the sequel, which was about the break up of two characters very like me and Fred during a massive building project. When he read the synopsis he said “are you seriously saying this is fiction?”
I was devastated when the first novel was rejected by the publisher who said it was “too commercial” for their list. Nonetheless I was heartened by the detailed feedback I got on the novel which had been read by many people at the publisher’s including the Editorial Director. She said “It is a multi-layered novel which deals with the desperate consequences of addiction through a complex family drama, successfully weaving the two together. There are convincing darkly comic moments and characters. Despite the appalling situations all the characters find themselves in, there is a sense of hope threaded through the novel which offers an uplifting message to a very serious topic. Overall, I thought it provided a real insight into addiction and exposes the sad truths behind it but it would be too commercial for our list.” Having not bothered to try to find an agent, I set about doing this.
My male lodger, who I’d got on very well with and had been able to tell all about my addictions, had been fired and left suddenly. But after he’d gone, Bailiffs accosted my house about his parking tickets, sending endless threatening letters and turning up on my door. I said to him that, if he didn’t sort it out, I would give them his new address. But then I was overcome with a wave of paranoia, thinking that he was going to kill me. I also feared terrorist groups on the news were going to come after me, because of a couple of harmless jokes I’d written in the novel, so I had to stop watching the news. And that random people in the street were going to kill me. My therapist repeated her conclusion that I had PTSD.
I got a referral to the local psychiatric unit, telling them what was going on, and was horrified when I saw the letter they wrote to my doctor. Although completely true, it made me sound totally mad. They said that, although they’d confirmed the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, I may well have PTSD because of the threats from my mother when I was a child. I tried paroxetine to control the PTSD but this was a disaster. When I went to my local supermarket, I decided that the tiny cuts in the packaging of the frozen blue berries meant they’d all been poisoned by a blueberry-hating terrorist group. I took the blueberries home, wrapped in a thousand bags to avoid them poisoning the rest of my shopping. It was like having a nuclear reactor in my freezer. I was barely able to leave the house, thinking that an electrical wire was in the wrong place, and that the house would, obviously, burn down. And when I did, I had 9 panic attacks, thinking I was having a heart attack and called an ambulance. I ended that day thinking I was definitely going to kill myself. After speaking to my doctor I came off the paroxetine and resolved never to try anything similar again. At least, after I came off the medication, I was able to eat the blueberries.
One event that did penetrate my total news blackout was the hacking to death and decapitation of off duty soldier Drummer Lee Rigby by Islamic extremists just outside London. Although I tried my best to avoid reading about the story, it was all over the front pages when I travelled on the tube. With paranoid fears about terrorist groups myself, this horrific event made my determination to avoid the news even stronger.
I spent the first half of 2013 sending the first novel out to a couple of agents, and working on the second novel. As I spent all day writing about Fred’s rather idealised character in the novel, I fantasised about us getting back together. I wrote a detailed scene by scene breakdown of the third book in the trilogy, in which, at the end, we naturally re-united. But Fred’s interest in me was waning. He said: “for ages I was desperate to get back together with you, but now I don’t want to go back to what we had before because it was all about you. I want things to be about me.” Because of my mental health problems and that I had so much more money than him our relationship had been all about me with him in the role of caretaker. But now, despite the fact that I was facing a financial crisis, he didn’t bother to call me.
The thing that I had dreaded most was happening to my rental property: the dilapidated, totally unmodernised, house next door had been sold to a property developer who was demolishing and re-building the house. My tenants complained bitterly about the noise and eventually said they were leaving. I was facing a financial crisis unlike any I had had before as the house next door was a massive building site there was no way I could rent my house out. I decided that I would use the period to do some improvements to my rental property.
Before the tenants moved out I resolved to finish my second novel so, in a blast of creativity, wrote 75,000 words in 5 weeks, finishing the first draft.
I was preparing for my building project most of the day, so ended up writing till midnight every night. Of course the fantasies about getting back together with Fred went into overdrive. I had created a version of him in the novel that I was completely in love with.
But when my tenants moved out, I had a nasty shock as it became clear that the house needed massive amounts of damp proofing. All the plaster would have to be removed on the ground floor and re-rendered. I had to move all the furniture out of the house, clearing it for the work. I had used an expensive builder, who had done a lot of other work on the street, thinking that the service would be better and have less impact on my mental health problems. My builder’s labourer started removing the plaster at the beginning of December. As the house was pulled apart and in chaos, and I had no prospect of renting it out, I had an upsurge of OCD. The sight of the empty house, with all the plaster gone, freaked me out as I walked around thinking, “I used to have a house, this is a building site.”
At first the OCD at my rental property would only take about 45 minutes a day and I would have to take only half a dozen photographs. I became obsessed with the fact that the builders may have damaged the boiler, so had to photograph the central heating controls to prove the heating was off.
I would check all the doors and windows had been locked, repetitively. And when I found the builder had not locked the downstairs window I thought, see they’re careless I won’t be insured if this window’s not locked, I’d better check some more. At first I had left the machines in the kitchen on but, terrified of a fire, I started switching them off and checking repeatedly. Then I decided the builders leaving things plugged in may cause a fire so I went round the entire house every day unplugging everything and checking repetitively that everything was unplugged. I thought if a single light was left on the house would burn down and therefore had to check all the lights at least five times. I started on my path of a ninja warrior, doing karate chop movements in front of the switched off lights, shouting “Dark! Dark! Dark!” in pitch black rooms. I just couldn’t believe what was in front of my eyes. Luckily I was on my own, apart from the invisible people of course. When I left the house, I would stand in the street in front of the darkened house saying “Dark! Dark! Dark!” and doing multiple karate chop movements in the direction of the lights. All the neighbours thought I was crazy and they were right.
A catastrophe occurred in my life when I found out, on Facebook, that Fred was having a baby with his girlfriend and that the child was a boy. Fred, who hadn’t been a very good father to his daughter, had always wanted a mini me and now he had one on the way there was no way he would ever leave her. His strange lack of contact with me during the building project all became clear, he had known she was going to have a baby. I was devastated that he hadn’t even bothered to tell me letting me find out on Facebook.
I was so upset I could barely move, felt like I was dying inside. But no matter how much pain I felt, I had to keep myself together on the surface to supervise the building project. I forced myself to go round to the building site, but inside I was dead. I was in total agony all the time so the OCD got worse.
I started having to take more photographs both at home and my rental property.
By my birthday, 30th December 2013, the OCD had escalated to almost 5 hours a day. I had a miserable birthday. The electrician who I’d found for my rental property, became threatening when I asked him for an invoice, and I’m pretty sure vandalised the house, throwing a bucket of plaster at the door downstairs. Being alone in close proximity to an angry, explosive, man brought back nasty memories of the row with Fred where he’d hit me and smashed up the house. I was terrified. I had invited friends to a meal at a restaurant but had to cancel it at the last minute because the meal would not have allowed enough time for the OCD. Then during the meal, which I spent alone with my friend Vas, a drunk woman from recovery came up to us and kept abusing me. It was one of the worst birthdays I’d ever had. As I hadn’t had time to do the OCD before I’d met up with Vas, I had to go back to the freezing building site after dinner to do three hours of OCD.
One bright spot on my horizon was that I’d reconnected with my childhood friend Susanna. I’d started to ring her up as I knew she’d gone grey because of problems with builders in her house. Soon, we were on the phone every day and I would regularly pop round to her flat. She was incredibly tolerant as I could never give a specific time, as it all depended on how long the checking was going to take. Just as Fred and Nicola had looked after me now I was being looked after by Susanna. I also reached out to my neighbour, Diane, a therapist on the NHS who’d had OCD herself, and would be on the phone talking to her for hours at a time.
The OCD had become so bad that I’d gone to my doctor looking for help. I’d been referred for CBT at my local mental health unit and was waiting to meet the therapist. I’d also been put in contact with my local psychiatric unit where I’d previously gone to get the diagnosis of PTSD. I phoned them and said I was desperate and was about to relapse on alcohol and drugs. They said “that’s not really our concern we don’t think it poses a threat to you or anyone else.” I then went into detail about my behaviour on alcohol and drugs, warning that this would happen again if I relapsed. Once I was definitely a threat to myself and society, they decided they’d better help me and assigned me a psychiatrist and a social worker. I was sent a prescription for Sertraline for the OCD but, terrified at the reaction I’d had to the paroxetine, didn’t want to take it.
In February I received an email from Sarah, saying she wanted to make amends to me for any hurt she’d caused me. The email was light and jolly, and said she “was sure” everything was going well for me. As I was going through one of the worst crises of my life I couldn’t deal with the turmoil of contact with Sarah and didn’t answer it.
The building project was proving to be a nightmare. The main worker on the project was incredibly hostile, refused to talk to me and, when I tried to speak to him, would just ignore me and literally turn his back. It became torture to go to the building site, ravaged as I was by the situation with Fred. The builders were bemused by the OCD as, to them, my behaviour seemed irrational. They were doing a project opposite and would be there till 10pm every night. They would constantly try to get into my house to dump rubbish from the other site, which meant that every time I did the OCD checking I had to keep starting again. I began putting off starting the checking until they’d left every night so I’d still be in the freezing building site, not having eaten, at midnight. I started taking the keys away from them so I could start the checking earlier, which they didn’t understand. But the fact was I couldn’t start the checking if there was the slightest prospect of anyone else going into the house.
I would come home from checking my rental property at midnight, have dinner in front of the TV then go out at 1am in my dressing gown to check the car for an hour. All my neighbours thought I was mad, would ask me if I was alright, but I was so distraught I didn’t care.
At 2am I would start the 3 hour checking of the house, usually after phoning the psychiatric crisis line or a friend in recovery. Ivor, my friend who is a comedian, worked late and would always take my calls. I tried the Samaritans but they just didn’t understand. I wouldn’t get to bed till 5am absolutely shattered. But however tired I was I had to do the checking, in fact the more tired I was the more I had to check, it was a tyrannical master.
So many days I just wanted to fall screaming to the floor in my rental property not able to go on. And so many days I thought I would not make it through the day without ending up at the Liquor Store. When I was drinking I had not had OCD and part of me thought if I started drinking again the OCD would go away. I had practically stopped going to recovery meetings because they conflicted with my checking at the building site. But my sponsor in “Vodka for Breakfast Anonymous” convinced me that my life would get worse if I picked up alcohol. And indeed, just as I had to check more when I was tired, if my senses had been impaired by alcohol the OCD could have got worse.
When I would phone the psychiatric crisis line saying, “I feel like I’m having a nervous breakdown,” they would say to me, “you need to be on medication.” But the Sertraline had a warning that it could cause seizures in people who’d had epilepsy. I’d had epilepsy as a child and was terrified to take it. Eventually I had an idea: I could try fluoxetine another anti-anxiety medication which I’d taken throughout my twenties and thirties. I had had no adverse reactions to it and it had a much lower seizure rate than Sertraline. I was prescribed 20mg, the lowest dose, which did almost nothing at all. The OCD had now reached crazy levels.
Eventually the majority of the building project was finished with the OCD taking 9 hours a day. I took to bed for a month, locking up my rental property. Apart from being physically and emotionally shattered I also picked up a bug which I just couldn’t shake off.
After I’d done the checking downstairs and gone up to bed in the day I often couldn’t be bothered to come down to eat at night as that would have meant I would have had to do all the checking again. I was thin already, down to a hundred pounds, but started getting thinner.
The OCD was self-perpetuating: because it was so bad I couldn’t complete the building project at my rental property and therefore had no income. But the lack of income was the main reason behind the OCD. The building project next door was also never ending and kept missing every deadline they’d given to finish it. So, resolving that I would wait until the OCD had improved, I just locked up my rental property and went to bed with Bunny.
Next week: a day in the life of someone with hurricane force OCD.