12 months ago I was stuck in what I can only describe as hell. It wasn’t always like that, I was ‘normal’ once. Though I guess I had always been a clean person, but not manic as I became after my Dad died. You may think washing your hands is just part of life, like brushing your teeth or going to bed at night. But not for me!! Washing my hands became my life! My whole existence was concentrated on washing my hands.
My Dad died in hospital after getting an infection following a simple surgical procedure. I couldn’t comprehend how one day he was there and one day he wasn’t, he was my dad, my rock, then he was gone. So this was when it started, I got obsessed with infection and germs started washing my hands after I touched anything outside. I wore gloves to protect my hands most of the time even in the summer, but was still worried that the germs would get through somehow. Slowly it got worse, I didn’t just wash after being outside, I was washing just in case!! The hand washing escalated and got out of hand quite quickly. Once, soon wasn’t enough so I would go back and wash them again and again, convinced that I had missed a bit, or a germ might have got through. Then washing just wasn’t enough, so I started using bleach to make sure the germs were dead, but where they? Maybe not, better do it again! My poor hands were often read raw, blistered and chapped. I was prescribed cream by a doctor, which of course didn’t work as no sooner I had put it on, I had to wash it off!
The risk of infection was the only thing on my mind. I had other problems too, I was obsessed about my kitchen being clean, as germs can run wild there and the bathroom also became a huge issue for me, was I the only person who washed my hands before going to the toilet? And probably 50 after!! I stopped having friends round in case I passed germs on to them. I stopped visiting my friends in case they had germs loose in their homes, in fact I stopped going out completely towards the end.
My Mum called in everyday and was giving up hope I’m sure, we had visited the doctor several times, he just didn’t understand. On one of her visits she bought a cutting from a magazine about a charity called No Panic. It was the story of an OCD recoveree. I read the article and one line jumped out at me and something went click in my brain; ‘recovery is possible but has to come from within, people can advise but you are the only one that can make you better’.
Realisation hit me in that instance. ‘This thing’ was going to be with me forever unless I did something about it, so I did. I rang No Panic, had a chat with them and joined a telephone recovery group. The group leader was a lovely understanding lady who understood. Each week we were set tasks, things that we needed to do to make our lives better. We then had to set goals, this was tricky but I was determined. I didn’t want to be shut in my home. I didn’t want to ruin my hands anymore, I didn’t want to just exist, I wanted to live, be normal and do normal things so there was no way I was going to give up. It was tough at times, I’m not denying that. It was frustrating, petrifying and exhausting but I got myself better. I still get anxious now and again but know full well what I have to do to reduce that anxiety. Some of the important things I learnt were;
- Prevention is easier than cure.
- Take care not to let things get on top of you.
- Look after your mental and physical health on a daily basis.
- You are the only one that can change you.
- Life is too short to waste.
These are life lessons that I now live by every day. If you are a sufferer in that horrible black hole, please don’t give up. If I can do it, anyone can. Jo.
How can No Panic help?
No Panic specialises in self-help recovery and our services aim to providing people with the skills they need to manage their condition and work towards recovery.