He spends up to three hours a day showering until his skin is red raw and has splashed out over $150,000 (£119,000) on procedures to alter his looks, describing his life as a ‘living hell’.
Stephen Forde, 49, from LA has endured a ‘life long struggle’ with both OCD and body dysmorphia, which leaves him constantly striving for physical perfection.
He goes days without eating and runs until the point of collapse and says he ‘always sees flaws’ in his appearance, while his OCD prompts him to wear latex gloves and only eat off disposable plates.
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Stephen Forde at home in Marina Del Rey, LA. The actor suffers from OCD and constantly wears latex gloves to protect himself from germs
Stephen said: ‘It’s a life long struggle. I mean, it’s a struggle day in and day out.
‘Over the years of having OCD and BDD – it’s horrible. It’s like dealing with the devil. It’s awful. It’s debilitating. You still get these people who are like: ‘go get a job’ but it’s ridiculous because it’s a physiological disorder.’
OCD is characterised by intrusive and irrational thoughts, images and impulses that the sufferer experiences. Unable to leave the house until he has completed his routines, Stephen has been fired by past employers for arriving to work so late.
He said: ‘There were times when I would wash my hands 75 times a day. My hands were raw. I’d take three-hour showers regularly. It’s exhausting. You feel you are going to die when you get out the shower.
‘I remember I once worked for this company and they did the time sheets and they were like: “No one has ever been this late anytime”. So I was fired.’
The episodes of OCD – and their severity – have varied throughout Stephen’s adult life but, triggered by a recent house move, it is currently the worst it has ever been – in spite of therapy.
Stephen, who now works as an actor, only eats food off disposable plates and uses wet-wipes to ‘decontaminate his hands’ after preparing any food.
Stephen uses wet-wipes to ‘decontaminate’ the home he shares with his mother
Stephen Forde wearing latex gloves to type at home. He admits to washing his hands up to 75 times a day
Stephen has spent over $150,000 on plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures and goes days without eating and he runs until the point of collapse
He frequently wears latex gloves – particularly if he needs to use a keyboard to type or to open door handles. The actor even uses a pencil to press buttons on the remote control and starts each day with a morning ritual.
‘Mornings are extremely difficult. It can take an hour to put on my sweat pants, shirt and shoes,’ he explained.
‘To put my shoes on, I tap my foot before I pull my socks on, make sure my hands are clean, tap the foot on the ground to make sure the dirt is off the foot then I can do my ritual with my hand wiping, tie my shoe, get the other sock, tap my foot, maybe wash my hands or have gloves on so I can take them off and have a clean layer.
A younger Stephen with his mother Marlene Hartje. He described his conditions as a lifelong struggle
Stephen’s mother Marlene Hartje – who he lives with – is his main support and has seen first hand how both BDD and OCD have crippled her son
Stephen strikes a pose for his acting headshot. He admits he’s lost jobs over turning up late as he can’t leave the house until he’s completed his routines
‘If you don’t do the ritual you feel something really bad is going to happen. Some people relate it to thinking something bad is going to happen to a relative, something won’t work or something catastrophic will happen.’
In one sense the compulsions and routines help Stephen but in another way they control what he can – and more significantly – can’t do.
The actor has had serious girlfriends in the past and is in what he describes as a long-term serious friendship. Eventually he hopes it will develop into a physical relationship but because of his OCD and BDD the thought of sex is far too terrifying.
Dr Eda Gorbis, Director of the Westwood Institute for Anxiety Disorders has been helping Stephen to overcome his anxieties
The actor wears latex gloves around the house as he has a fear of contamination
Sometimes Stephen can wash his hands up to 75 times a day, and he has also been known to shower for three hours at a time
He said: ‘I’m afraid of sexual activity. With BDD you want to look perfect when you take your clothes off and then there’s also the issue of contamination if they get in your bed and then you wash all your sheets and clothes again.’
The 49-year old also suffers from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) – a psychological condition where the sufferer’s view of their appearance is so distorted they hate their looks and strive for perfection.
Manifesting itself in a number of ways, Stephen’s BDD has cost him well over a quarter of a million dollars in total – his third nose job alone cost $12,000 (£9.500) and he has also had extensive Botox, Dysport, lip fillers and $1,700 (£1,350) worth of chemical peels.
Stephen has splashed out on three nose jobs, chemical peels and fillers to improve his looks
Stephen said: ‘BDD is an obsession with being perfect – it can hit every body part, your face, any feature and you just focus on this body part and it has to be perfect.
‘Perfection is everything.’
WHAT IS OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER?
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive activity.
An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters a person’s mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease.
A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that someone feels they need to carry out to try to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought.
For example, someone with a fear of their house being burgled may feel they need to check all the windows and doors are locked several times before they can leave the house.
OCD symptoms can range from mild to severe. Some people with OCD may spend an hour or so a day engaged in obsessive-compulsive thinking and behaviour, but for others the condition can completely take over their life.
Exercising intensively while eating very little, Stephen is on the verge of anorexia and admits at one point weighing just 54kg (eight-and-a-half stone) despite his 6ft 1in frame.
Steve said: ‘I have obsessively ran for hours – and all day exercising and swimming and running. It’s insane.
‘I will go days without eating. I have been on several runs where I will head out and get dizzy. I have to sit on the curb.’
What makes Stephen’s BDD all the more startling is that growing up he was a well-adjusted, popular varsity athlete. His mother Marlene Hartje – who he lives with – is his main support and has seen first hand how both BDD and OCD have crippled her son.
She said: ‘At the age of 18 he was playing quarterback for a football team. He was the one most likely to succeed in high school. He qualified for junior Olympics in swimming.
‘All of a sudden he started to display symptoms like continually washing his hands, just checking things. Just to watch him progressively get worse is heart breaking.
‘Right now I think he is probably at one of his worst stages. He’s been through numerous doctors and therapies. I think he’s seen about 15 different psychologists and psychiatrists before they put him on the right medication.’
One therapist who has had some progress with Stephen is Dr Eda Gorbis, Director of the Westwood Institute for Anxiety Disorders.
A teenage Stephen poses with family members at his home in LA
Stephen Fode (centre) pictured as a teenager with friends. Since then he’s spent over $150,000 on plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures
Stephen fears sexual contact but describes himself as being in a long-term and committed friendship
Dr Gorbis uses a combination of exposure therapy and response techniques – for example not allowing Stephen to wash his hands for three days and making him study himself in a mirror.
Dr Gorbis said: ‘We had a breakthrough when Steve was looking into the crooked mirror. There was a tremendous reduction of anxiety and laughter.
‘Like diabetes or high blood pressure, there is no cure for neither OCD or BDD. But there are ways to control it so that their functioning is not impaired.’
While no cure can be found – Stephen has learnt to live with his conditions by keeping busy with his acting and taking each day as it comes.
He said: ‘You try and have a sense of humour about it – that seems to help. Not take it so seriously so you just kind of have to laugh at it and get through it.’