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Wrestling the OCD demons

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Oven off? Check. Front door locked? Check. So there’s nothing stopping you going to work. Apart from the need to check again. And again. Sufferer Huw Davies describes his battle with obsessive compulsive disorder

The time is 8.50am. You are in your office's car park. Getting out of the car, you lock it and try each door handle and the boot once, twice, three times. That done, you walk around the car one, twice, three times to check all the windows are shut. You check the handles again and walk away. Thirty seconds later, you’re back, checking each door again. Locked. You walk away, before getting a nagging feeling you’ve left the boot open. After all, you were too busy checking the doors.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a debilitating anxiety disorder that makes people feel uneasy, even afraid of intrusive thoughts ¬– obsessions – they cannot control. This, sadly, does not stop sufferers from feeling they can control the situation by carrying out repetitive behaviours – compulsions – to alleviate their anxiety by 'fixing' the problem.

For example, an OCD sufferer might suddenly be visited by the thought of a particular loved one dying in a horrible accident. Sickened, he blinks five times to atone. Why does he think this will stop his loved one from dying? Because it did the last time. And every time since that he has blinked five times, the loved one in question has steadfastly refused to be killed in a horrible accident, confirming, consciously or unconsciously, that this blinking compulsion 'works'.

These compulsions do not have to be evident to the outside world: they can be carried out entirely mentally (this is known as Purely Obsessional OCD, or 'Pure-O'). But I'm probably going into too much detail. Excuse me: 'confessing' is one of my compulsions.

Compulsions can take many forms, of which confessing – telling people more than you need to in order to seek reassurance ¬– is just one. The most common compulsions are thankfully more self-explanatory: counting objects, hoarding objects, checking specific things are safe and as they should be and, perhaps most famously, hand washing to avoid germs.

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Main image: Corbis

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