At the worst point of my OCD, April 2014, I was spending more than 10 hours a day on crazy OCD checking rituals that involved more kung fu poses than a 3 hour Jackie Chan film and more texting than a teenager with textitis. I would also have to take about 1000 photographs a day, which meant my Iphone would run out of storage space after an hour. This had happened because I had had a nervous breakdown due to the stress of having no income as my rental property needed major work and I couldn’t rent it out. Also because the “love of my life,” an ex-armed robber pimp and drug dealer who’d forgotten how long he’d spent in jail, was having a baby with someone else. When the building project on my rental property started in December 2013, the OCD was taking only 45 minutes a day. But by the end of the year, after I’d found out about the ex-armed robber’s baby, the OCD had escalated to 5 hours a day. By March 2014 it had gone up to 9 hours a day.
However tired I was I had to do this endless checking – in fact the more exhausted I was the more fearful I was of making mistakes so the checking would take much longer. So many days during the nervous breakdown I just wanted to fall to the floor of my rental property and start screaming and thrashing on the ground. And so many days I thought there is no way I will make it to the end of this day without relapsing and ending up drunk. I was being treated by the local psychiatric crisis team and I would ring my social worker repeatedly saying “I want to cut my throat.” I knew what I was doing was totally irrational but I just couldn’t stop.
I’d been prescribed Sertraline, an anti-anxiety medication, by my doctor. But after going psycho on a similar drug Paroxetine, I didn’t want to take medication. Eventually, as I was threatened with losing my home or my rental property as I couldn’t complete the building project because the OCD was so bad, I went on the lowest dose of fluoxetine, another anti-anxiety medication. The sertraline had terrified me as it said it could provoke seizures in people who’d had epilepsy which I’d had as a child. I’d taken fluoxetine before with no ill effects and it had a much lower seizure rate than Sertraline.
The OCD had started when I was a child of about 12. I would repeatedly check under the bed, in the wardrobes, the shower room, bathroom and even the deep freeze for serial killers who I was convinced were going to kill me. They were resilient and flexible creatures these serial killers I thought that could shrink to the size of a packet of Birds Eye peas. Checking wasn’t enough I also had to find hiding places from the serial killers and practise my escape routes which involved sprinting along the roof. My mother had become very threatening towards me, saying quite calmly that she was going to put a contract out on my father, that I was just like him and wasn’t even her daughter. It was only recently that I realised there were no serial killers at my boarding school they only existed in my mother’s house. I’d had a phobia of serial killers since I was 8 when I’d seen ultra violent horror films such as Friday the 13th and Halloween on American cable TV in Jamaica. I think the reason I was so frightened by these films was that I had almost died twice by the age of 2 – firstly as I was born and then because of a massive epileptic fit when I was 2. I was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic stress disorder.
The OCD disappeared when I started drinking as a teenager. But as soon as I got clean in 2005 it flared up again. I was behaving in such a crazy way in 2006, jumping out of bed at 3am to iron the leaves of thousands of artificial plants, that I had to go on respiridone an anti-psychotic. This stopped the manic surge I had always had at night which the doctors said could be cyclothymia, a milder form of bipolar.
I also developed a phobia of dogshit and became unable to walk down the street at night (in case the dark patches concealed a poo) but instead would hop, like a frog on speed, from one lighted patch to another. When it snowed I was completely housebound as it could conceal a poo.
The OCD improved after this but then spiralled out of control when I had the nervous breakdown at the end of 2013.
At its height the checking consisted of the following. Every action had to be precisely described (with the number of repetitions) in texts that were pages and pages long.
At my rental property (where the central heating had been disconnected and it was minus 5 degrees)
Forensic and repeated examination of the roof terrace to make sure the builders had not left anything behind which could fall on the heads of my expensive neighbours in Notting Hill leading inevitably to a lawsuit in which I would lose everything.
Checking all the windows and doors were locked hundreds of times
Checking and photographing that the boiler and all the central heating controls were off multiple times. I feared the builders had damaged the boiler and if it was on the house would burn down.
Unplugging everything in the house then shouting “checked off” with multiple karate chop motions in the direction of every socket in the house. Repeating this 5 times.
Shouting “dark dark dark” (if the room is dark) or “off off off” (if the room is light) at every individual light in the house. Repeating this 50 times.
Taking multiple photographs of the unplugged convector heater, kettle and microwave, photographs which had to show the plug clearly lying in the middle of the floor. (fear of fire) Repeated checking that all the machines in the kitchen were switched off and that the knobs on the gas stove were at the maximum off position. Photographing the stove to prove the knobs were off.
Cleaning the stove for half an hour (in the filthy building site) as I thought if one speck of dust was on the stove the house would burn down.
Checking all the floors forensically (while shouting “nothing left behind”) to be sure that I had left nothing there. I feared if I left an empty wrapper of chewing gum on the floor the builders would clone my identity.
As the builders had drilled through some electricity cables (although they had been repaired) I had to switch most of the breakers on the fuseboard off each night then photograph the two fuseboards 20 times. If the photographs weren’t clear enough I had to start again.
Set the alarm (which had to be set again if there were any problems with the text message or the beeps weren’t loud enough)
Lock the door and check it 400 times.
Stand in front of the darkened house saying “dark dark dark” and making multiple karate chop movements in the direction of all the lights.
Forensically check the ground outside the house to make sure I had left nothing behind. If I’d dropped a key the house could be broken into or a credit card my identity would be cloned.
Fielding the extremely bemused looks and questions of neighbours as to what the f**k I was doing.
Driving off in my car, then leaving the engine running, leaping out of the car into a kung fu pose, staring fixedly at the space just vacated by the car while shouting “nothing left behind.” This is as above to prevent my identity being cloned, my rental property being broken into or my home being invaded by miniature serial killers.
I would get home at midnight, freezing and starving then slump in front of the TV with my dinner (no news because of my paranoia) before starting the rest of the checking.
I would go out in my dressing gown at 1am to check the car, which would take an hour, ignoring the curious questions of my neighbours. The main thing about the car was to check (as if my life depended on it 5 times with a torch) that I had left nothing inside it (which could obviously provoke a break in). And check that all the windows and doors and boot were locked 1000 times.
Repetitive checking of windows and doors at least 400 times. Banging on the garden doors to check they were locked 900 times. As this happened after 1 am I was reported to the council for noise nuisance more often than a ghetto blasting crack house. If I didn’t do this I thought I would be exposed to immediate rape and murder by miniature serial killers.
Photographing of the boiler to confirm it was off. I forget my precise anxiety about the boiler, something like a screw fixing it to the wall was the wrong size, but I feared if left on overnight the house would burn down.
Checking all the machines in the kitchen are off and the kettle is unplugged multiple times
Cleaning the stove for half an hour as obviously if a speck of dust was on the stove the house would burn down.
Doing karate chop motions in front of the burglar alarm panel then rushing upstairs and leaping into a kung fu pose before the two beeps go off confirming the alarm is set. If there is not enough gap between assuming the pose and the beeps going off the alarm has to be set again.
Doing 50 karate chop motions in front of every light.
Checking the laundry basket, wardrobes and chest of drawers in my bedroom for miniature serial killers.
Checking the alarms are set a hundred times and that my phone and the alarms are switched off 300 times. (fear of not waking up and of being woken up)
After this I would slump into bed exhausted at 5am not knowing how I was going to go on. You will not be surprised that the only difference between someone with OCD and psychosis is that the OCD person realises they are irrational.
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It was the day my anti-anxiety medication fluoxetine went up to the maximum dose of 60mg a day that my recovery from OCD started. I immediately felt a reduction in the desire to check. I was doing cognitive behavioural therapy for the OCD. Every week we would have “goals” in reduction of the OCD. I would write these goals down in documents that were 20 pages long and update them with my progress every couple of days. I have always been an achiever and although these goals were modest, such as reducing the car checking from 1000 to 980 a day, they gave me a sense of achievement. I would discuss my OCD goals with my best friend Susanna and neighbour Diane a therapist in hour long chats every day as well as other friends from recovery. It was vital that whenever I tried to achieve a breakthrough I had enough support. Gradual reduction of the OCD was essential to my recovery. If I tried to do anything too dramatic I wouldn’t sleep that night and, if I was tired, the OCD would take double the length of time the following day.
As the OCD improved I was able to resume the building project on my rental property and get it ready to be rented out. But I was still checking 7 hours a day. As the new tenant didn’t want to move in for another month I decided to harness my desire to move into my rental property – which was looking fabulous after the building project – to break through a major barrier in the OCD. I hadn’t left my home overnight for over 5 years because I feared if I did the house would be burgled or burn down. I decided I would go to stay at my rental property.
This involved scanning thousands of documents in my home (in case of a fire) and taking a suitcase of paperwork with me.
I had to have 20 new smoke detectors installed in my home, all linked the fire station. I checked the electrics and every electrical item in the house umpteen times. And installed a hundred new locks on the bedroom door and shutters of my rental property. Before I left my home I had to unplug everything and switch all the sockets off, check the doors and windows hundreds of times and do the karate chop thing with all the lights. This took over 4 hours. I had my neighbour Diane on speed dial 24/7 to calm my anxieties about the house.
I stayed at my rental property for almost 2 weeks, still checking 3 hours a day, and got into trouble when I was checking the car for an hour with a torch as everyone thought I was stealing it.
When my tenant moved in, and I had an income for the first time in a year, I decided I would continue looking for an EMDR therapist, convinced that the OCD was a symptom of PTSD. I had had EMDR but the therapist had been very critical and reminded me of my wicked stepmother so it had had almost no positive impact at all.
I decided I wanted a therapist with foreign roots who looked ethnic like myself and my main therapist Mei Fung Chung. I found a clinical psychologist called Raquel Correia on the EMDR UK website. When I met her she was perfect, almost Jamaican looking, with long dark hair and dark skin. Of course I fancied the pants off her. But once we’d got over that hurdle the EMDR was amazing and had a dramatic impact on the OCD.
It was now time for a bigger challenge to my OCD and I decided I would leave London overnight. This required scanning another mountain of paperwork and also finding a hotel where the bedrooms were like Fort Knox and neither the staff nor aliens could get in at night. But unlike the trip to my rental property I didn’t unplug anything and only took 10 minutes to check the house before I left. I was so unconcerned about the house I didn’t even call my neighbour Diane once. I went with my 12 Step sponsor, Ellie who said she would accompany me on all my OCD busting trips.
After the success of this trip I decided I would go abroad which I had not done for six years. My sponsor wanted to go on a writing retreat in Greece but at the last minute pulled out saying the timing was wrong. When I questioned her she dumped me as a sponsee. This, as well as the fact that my sponsor in Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous made me ill by encouraging me to come off psychiatric medication, has left a bad taste in my mouth about 12 Step sponsorship.
But all my friends said I had to still go to Greece even if it was on my own. A friend of mine in recovery told me there were English speaking Vodka for Breakfast Anonymous and Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous meetings in Athens. He gave me the number of several recovery people there who were very friendly when I spoke to them. I decided I would go away on my own for the first time in my 10 year recovery.
Of course this required scanning a mountain of paperwork and finding a hotel where the bedrooms were like a bank vault. I demanded a room with no balcony or view in case agile Athenian serial killers could put a ladder up and enter on the 4th floor.
My close friend in recovery, Sarah, took me to the airport which helped to calm me down. I was terrified on the plane not only because I was leaving the UK for the first time in years but because I thought the plane would crash. But I had a magic weapon in my hand lugguage – a Bible, my falling apart toy Bunny and 100 portable locks I’d bought off Amazon. I had bought them in case the security arrangements on the hotel door were not up to scratch. I tried to lock myself in on the plane but was not successful at all.
The trip was a roaring success – I was not only welcomed with open arms by the Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous people in Greece but did my first piece of journalism for my entire 10 year recovery. I covered the Greek elections and the refugee crisis, interviewing dozens of refugees camped out rough in Athens. On the OCD front, I also managed to move to a room with a balcony where the bathroom window didn’t even close. I got round this by buying enough wire to cut off the border of an entire European country and wrapping it round the window. Even when disaster struck and I got a call from my burglar alarm company saying my house had been broken into I was able to get a friend to call the police and stayed relatively calm. Luckily it was a false alarm or I would never have gone abroad again.
I had another breakthrough at Christmas when I went down to Somerset to spend the holiday with a group of recovering addicts in various 12 Step fellowships. For a start I didn’t scan anything before I went as I was confident the house was not going to burn down. Also, although I had to leave the room at night to go to the loo as there was no ensuite bathroom, I did not do my usual trick of checking the wardrobes for miniature serial killers when I came back. This required turning on the lights and ensured I never got back to sleep. Also, amazingly, I was able to share cutlery and plates with all the people on the trip without the presence of a Proton Particle Purifier (aka dishwasher) to sterilise all the utensils.
On top of this I drove on a motorway, on my own, for the first time in my life, challenging my OCD fear of death on a high speed road.
I still have OCD but it has been reduced to a few minutes a day and no longer controls my life. My scanner is now printing out plaintive automated messages saying “YOU DON’T NEED ME” at 4am in the morning. I have ejected the serial killers from all the of the following locations in my house: the laundry basket, chest of drawers, wardrobe and the deep freeze. After I gave the serial killers their P45s they all retrained as psychiatrists instead. I have been unable to have a relationship for years because the OCD was so bad. But now I am actively dating. I am practically cured!
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Next week: Where the f**k is Mr Right?