Pure O – How I realised I had the lesser-known version of OCD …

How I realised I had Pure O and gradually learned to manage it
(Picture: Dave Anderson for Metro.co.uk)

You’re probably familiar with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – a mental illness where sufferers can have obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours such as performing certain rituals and routines in order to ease the anxiety that comes from obsessional thinking.

Pure O stands for ‘purely obsessional’.

This means that there are fewer obvious rituals (such as checking or counting) and these often take place in the mind itself.

Up until a few years ago, I was completely unaware of Pure O and what it meant.

I had been told that, most likely, I had generalised anxiety disorder and depression.

It was only once I had read about Pure O online did I realise that I was suffering from the exact same thing.

The best way to describe it is this: You see someone crossing the road. A car is coming around the corner. A thought appears in your head and you envision the car hitting the person.

Most people are able to dismiss this as a silly, fleeting thought. A glitch in the galaxy of the mind.

I, or other sufferers, would hold onto this thought. Fixate on it. Obsess over it.

‘Why did I think that? Am I an awful person? What is wrong with me?’

Things fell apart when I was 18.

I had always been a worrier growing up, and had a habit of overthinking things and what people thought of me.

Had I upset a friend at some party two years prior? What did that person exactly mean when they said that throwaway comment about my hair? And so on.

When I started my final year of college, I envisioned the year ahead.

I’d get the grades I needed and would be at the university I wanted to attend.

Come the summer, this didn’t happen.

Things didn’t go how they were supposed to, and I found myself with a gap year I didn’t really want.

I got a job in a bookshop and the next few months trudged by.

Until, one night, I woke up with tears running down my face.

My heart was racing, and I felt the most terrified I had ever felt.

I had a nightmare that was so frightening, I couldn’t catch my breath.

Instead of calming myself down and going back to sleep, I replayed the nightmare over and over again for the rest of the night.

I had violently hurt someone I loved, and my mind wouldn’t let it go. It told me I was a bad person and that I was capable of doing bad things.

For some inexplicable reason, I believed it.

So this is how it began. One moment, one thought, one nightmare.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is often referred to as ‘the doubting disease’ which I think is the most accurate description.

(Picture: Liberty Antonia Sadler)

For the next few months I became stuck in a dark cycle.

A horrifying thought would come into my head, I’d spend days convincing myself that I was ‘good’ and I’d never really hurt anyone, the thought would lift, but then another would instantly appear in its place.

I couldn’t read, or sleep, or think properly. The joy was sucked out of everything.

I remember going to the cinema with a friend and not being able to watch the film in front of me because I was pinching myself so hard from worrying.

Once, I caught sight of myself in the mirror and burst into tears.

Huge dark circles had appeared under my eyes and I looked like a ghost of my former self.

I wasn’t sure whether I’d ever be able to get back to her.

I didn’t feel I could talk about it with anyone because what if they thought it was true?

What if I was a terrible person? What if they abandoned me and I was even more alone?

For those months, there was not one single waking moment where I felt peaceful and calm.

From the outside, I’m sure I seemed okay.

I kept it all inside and when I was around others I was able to make myself seem as if I didn’t have a care in the world.

On one particularly bad night I woke at 3am and went to the bathroom so I could splash some water on my face.

I locked the door and cried as quietly as I could. I found myself wondering if this would ever end.

Would I spend the rest of my life like this – locked in a cycle of fear and doubt?

I wondered how on earth I’d get through three years of university away from home.

Somehow, I did manage to carry on.

September came in a flash, and I had made the choice to move away for university.

I decided I would see a doctor as soon as I arrived and try to articulate what was happening to me.

Luckily, I saw a doctor who understood me through my tears and reassured me that things would get better and that I wasn’t losing my mind.

I saw her regularly over the following years, and I would not have gotten through university without her.

When I read about someone else’s experience with Pure O, it dawned on me that this was exactly what I had been experiencing.

Intrusive, frightening thoughts that I had no control over.

I remember Googling Pure O, reading about others’ experiences and finally feeling as if a weight had been lifted.

I wasn’t mad, I was just ill.

Seven years on, things are much better.

I still have days where I struggle and find it difficult to cope but I am better equipped to distance myself from the thoughts and obsessions.

Antidepressants have helped enormously, and I feel no shame in taking them or talking about taking them.

I had therapy which had mixed results, but I intend to give it another try.

I only wish I had gotten some help sooner.

One of the cruellest aspects of any mental illness is that no one can see how much you are suffering. The pain that you are in.

The mind can be a desolate and frightening place and it can feel as if you are living a nightmare.

The one thing I have taken away from all of this is this: please do not suffer in silence.

Please talk to someone and get some help. It will save your life.

MORE: Kicking babies and driving into traffic: We talk Pure O on our mental health podcast, Mentally Yours

MORE: Beyond the therapy room: three activities that can contribute to good mental health

MORE: I spent a week documenting my OCD on camera