“There’s a lot of intrusive thoughts everyone has every single day and that’s normal. ‘What if I pushed someone in front of a car?’, ‘what if my nan died?’ that sort of thing,” Jones explains. “Someone without OCD doesn’t fixate on those thoughts or attribute any meaning to them. However, people with obsessive compulsive disorder see those thoughts as true or very likely to happen, so you start to develop compulsions to stop that bad thing happening. A lot of the time it’s physical compulsions. For me, personally, I’m fixated on the number four. I do everything in fours; I walk in fours, I drink in fours, I eat things in fours; my whole life is doing things in fours.”
The specific type of OCD Jones experiences is termed ‘magical thinking OCD’. By doing things in sets of four, her mind convinces her that she can magically prevent whatever troubling events she’s fixating on from happening.
The intrusive thoughts she suffers from are generally situational. When her sister’s fiancé first told the family he planned to propose, Jones became convinced her sister would die before he could. When her best friend became pregnant, she worried that something awful would happen to her or the baby.
It all came to a head last June on a flight to Canada. Convinced that the plane would crash, she spent the ten hour flight doing her compulsions to stop that from happening. On her return, Jones sought out therapy where she was taught to test the theory that doing her compulsions was what stopped bad things from happening. “So you say ‘my nan is going to die’ or whatever thought is bothering you at the time, and then you try not to do those compulsions,” she explains. “The more you test that and the longer you do it for, you suddenly find you’re doing things much less often.”
Just last weekend, Jones caught herself carrying a tray of tea cups and realised that prior to therapy she would have felt a compulsion to tap her chin four times before doing this. “It was almost funny to remember doing that and it being such a big part of my life,” she adds.
Despite her struggles, Jones says that she’s a high-functioning sufferer of OCD who’s lucky to have family and friends and work to distract her and take her mind off obsessive thoughts. Others aren’t so lucky. She tells me of stories she’s heard of OCD sufferers who can’t leave the house without doing all their compulsions, or those who drive around in circles to check they definitely haven’t hit someone when they get behind the wheel. That’s what makes it so galling to hear people describe their quirks and habits as making them ‘a bit OCD’.
“You end up in tears with it, you end up so frustrated and hurt, so when you hear someone saying ‘I have this thing where I can’t have the TV on odd numbers’, it just minimises the extent to which people with actual OCD suffer,” she says. “It’s basically being held hostage by your mind. Your thoughts trap you in this endless cycle and it takes a lot of courage and time to get over it. I think people are trying to level with you in some way, or make you feel like you’re not alone and I guess there’s good intentions to it, but primarily it makes me want to punch something very hard!”
And that’s why George Ezra talking about his OCD is so important to sufferers like Jones. “I think him speaking about it is going to help a lot of people and I think a lot of people are going to be relieved to have their own representative to look up to,” she says. “I did an article about it last year and the amount of people, both strangers and people I knew, who got in touch to tell me they didn’t realise other people were suffering the same things that they were going through, was incredible. A celebrity speaking about it is going to be really helpful.”
What is OCD?
“OCD is a mental health disorder which affects as many as 1.2pc of the UK population,” says Niels Eék, psychologist and co-founder of personal development and mental wellbeing app Remente. “These thoughts and compulsions can be distressing, often resulting in a continuous state of guilt and anxiety, where the individual with the condition feels as though they are unable to focus on anything else.”
The condition differs from generalised anxiety in that sufferers generally tend to fixate on ritualistic behaviour both physical, or in the case of Pure O, purely mental, in order to manage their anxiety or control their situation. Eék notes that a person can suffer from both generalised anxiety and OCD at once. The diagnostic criteria for OCD is that compulsions must “take more than one hour per day or cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”
It isn’t uncommon for OCD symptoms to begin in the late teenage years or early 20s when people are going through a period of great upheaval and stress, though many sufferers report having lived with it throughout their lives.