OCD and the need to confess things

I recently posted a poll to Twitter asking people what they most wanted to know about my OCD: The fear of contamination, checking things, health anxiety or obsessions of guilt.

I started writing a post about all, but it turns out people are most interest in the latter; guilt. And so, I thought I’d write a whole post about it.

Believe it or not, guilt is a big part of OCD. I know, it was news to me at first, too.

In an article on BeyondOCD, it explained that doubt and guilt are two of OCD’s main features.

It reads: ‘While it is not understood why this is so, these are considered hallmarks of the disorder.  Unless you understand these, you cannot understand OCD.’

The author adds: ‘In the 19th century, OCD was known as the “doubting disease.”  OCD can make a sufferer doubt even the most basic things about themselves, others, or the world they live in.

‘Doubt is one of OCDs more maddening qualities.  It can override even the keenest intelligence.  It is a doubt that cannot be quenched.  It is doubt raised to the highest power.’

Doubt comes in many forms within OCD, often we just don’t realise this. When it comes to OCD, people have their own ‘thing’. Some people wash their hands multiple times, others check the doors and ovens to make sure no harm comes to their home while they’re out. These aren’t just rituals, they’re doubts. Every time we re-check that door, we’re doubting whether it was really locked. Every time we wash our hands again, we’re doubting they were clean enough the first time we washed.

However, doubt doesn’t have to be about a physical thing – and occur emotionally, too. That’s where the guilt comes in.

A big part of OCD is feelings of intense guilt and the need to confess things. I didn’t realise this until recently. I’ve been struggling with guilt and I came across an OCD forum from people living with the same thing. When I put it all in place now, it makes sense.

When I was around seven or eight, I was on a family holiday and I was in a tent with a male family member – who was a year younger than me – playing mums and dads, as you do when you’re little. Half a year later, I broke down to my dad about it. I felt it was wrong. He was a boy, I was a girl, I was only little but I understood at the time that girls fancy boys. I worried whether playing mums and dads had meant there’d been something sexual in it. Of course, there hadn’t been – I was eight, for god’s sake. But that didn’t make it any better.

Even throughout my teenage years – and now – this is a memory that makes me feel uneasy because it’s one that made me feel so dirty at the time. Like I was bad.

The problem is, this is a memory I’d even as a little girl spent time obsessing over. I realise now that this is a symptom of OCD. We forget this because we spell ‘OCD’ out by its letters. We forget that it stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. ‘Obsessive’ being the most prominent word in this case.

Just recently, at age 22, my guilt has been triggered again. I won’t go into it, but something happened a while ago that was completely out of character for me and I’ve spent the last week playing it over and over in my head, thinking about what I’d done and what I could’ve done differently. I’ve played various scenarios over in my head and it’s got so bad that I’ve actually started to convince myself of things I haven’t actually done.

Seriously, I’ve spent the evening crying because my head is telling me I’ve done something that I have absolutely no recollection of. I know in my rational head it’s not real, but my irrational head says otherwise.

In a study by Italian researchers in the journal Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, published in September 2016, it suggests that those with OCD may perceive guilt to be more threatening than most people do – leading them to finding it totally intolerable.

Those who feel intolerable guilt get rid of it the only way they know how: by confessing. OCD confessing is like washing your hands twenty times in a row. It’s a short sense of relief each time.

This is something I’ve been trying to control recently. I’ve been confessing and confessing and confessing to things that make me feel guilty. The guilt goes for a little while, before it hits hard once again with yet another thought to feel guilty about.

It’s a vicious cycle, and one that’s predominant in OCD – it starts with an intrusive thought, it’s followed by a ritual and it’s eased with a short sense of relief.

It’s a cycle that’s not easily broken, either.

I wish I had some advice for others going through these overwhelming feelings of guilt. But the only advice I can offer is not mine – it belongs to some wise woman on an OCD forum.

When you have an awful sense of guilt over an uncontrollable thought, ask yourself these questions:

What do you have to feel guilty about?

Is the guilt ‘real’ or is it your anxiety talking? AKA, is this a new sense of guilt that’s come out of nowhere, or have you actually done physical wrong?

Why do you feel guilty?

Assess the guilt. It’s likely you feel guilty because you have OCD and you are giving importance to your intrusive thoughts.

Who benefits from you confessing?

It may seem like a relief to you to get it all out, but it’s only temporary. Is confessing going to help you, or the person you’re confessing to, long-term?

Remember, you have OCD. OCD does crazy things, and the only way we can control it is learning to cope. Coping with guilt is hard, but it can be done. At least, that’s what I’ve heard – and what I’m hoping.

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What I wish people knew about mental illness

According to Mind, one in four people in the UK suffer with mental illness. I am one of those one in four.

I live with a number of mental illnesses. Bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, OCD and health anxiety. And so, as you can probably guess, I’ve experienced mental illness from a number of angles. I know what it’s like to be high and what it’s like to be low. I know what it’s like to be psychotic, obsessional and anxious. But most prominently: I know what it feels to feel like there’s no way out.

I’ve recently been so mentally unwell that I’ve really struggled to cope. To be honest, I haven’t wanted to. I’m terrified of admitting this to the outside world but for the first time in my life, I said that I didn’t want to be here anymore and I meant it. The words themselves felt threatening. I was scared. I’d never felt this way before, and the fact I was actually feeling it, like, really feeling it, made me realise just how much help I needed.

Luckily for me, I’ve felt these feelings while being under the care of the Crisis team, who are currently coming out to my house every other day to check on me and carry out risk assessments. I am not a risk to myself. But other people aren’t so lucky.

Other people don’t have the support. Instead, they suffer in silence. I know, it’s an over-used phrase, but it’s one that rings true. So many people living with mental illness don’t have anyone to talk to. They feel nobody will understand; that nobody will care. They worry they won’t be believed if they speak out. Some people simply don’t have the energy to do so. And this is devastating. People in a time of crisis should not feel as though they have to deal with it alone.

But some feel like they must do so – and I feel a big part of this is because there is still such a stigma attached to mental illness. So many people who haven’t lived with it don’t understand, and this is still so obvious when people suggest things like going for a run, drinking more water or just ‘getting over’ the likes of depression and mood disorders. I just wish the people without mental illnesses would attempt to understand the people with. In fact, there’s so much I wish for in regards to mental illness.

I wish people saw mental illness like they would a broken leg. No doctor would turn around and dismiss a broken leg or expect it to get better on its own. They’d treat it immediately, they’d take it seriously. And mental illness deserves the same treatment.

I wish people would acknowledge mental illness for what it is – an illness. It’s not a personality trait or a lifestyle choice. It’s something that affects and consumes the lives of millions.

I wish people would stop offering unhelpful remedies for mental illness. That they’d realise that while they can be beneficial, healthy diet and exercise is not a cure.

In turn, I wish people would respect those who need medication for their mental illness. That those who don’t get it would stop dismissing people for taking it, as though it makes them weak or something. Taking medication isn’t weak. It shows strength in that you’re doing what you can to cope.

Most importantly, I wish everyone with a mental illness felt comfortable enough to speak out about it to a family member or friend. I wish these people didn’t worry they were going to be judged or not believed. I wish these people realised themselves that their illness is worthy of help. That they are worthy of help. That there are people out there who do care and will support them through a dark time.

But the people who are meant to be there as a support need to prove this themselves.

Whether you know someone with a mental illness or not, be kind, always. Be the person others can reach out to in a time of need, and never turn your back on someone who does so.

You never know you’ll be helping – or just how much.

If you are currently struggling in silence – don’t. Reach out to Samaritans, on 116 123 or by email,  jo@samaritans.org.