A Family Affair: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

By Stephanie Westlake

I have lived with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) since I was a young child, although I did not get diagnosed until I had a breakdown from chronic anxiety at the age of 18. My first symptom was apparent when I was a child and a friend of my mother’s commented that I had grouped all of the same colors together in a bunch of flowers I had picked. This was an early sign of my obsessive need to colour match! To this day, I have to colour match all my clothes and accessories, or I feel extreme mental unease.

My OCD has had a pretty bad effect on my life, especially early on when I did not understand what was the matter with me. My worst symptom was constant morbid thoughts, and I now realise that my mother had this too. I’ve had morbid thoughts all my life and they have been exhausting. Hoarding is a problem and my tendency to over shop has cost a lot financially.

For a while, I took a tricyclic antidepressant for my condition, but it did not really help, and I do not take it now. I also suffer with chronic anxiety, and I took anti-anxiety medication during my whole second year of nursing school. 

What I did not realise for a very long time is that people with OCD can also suffer from hypersensitivity to noise and having too many people (or other stimuli) around. We can even be hypersensitive to material that feels too rough on our skin.

In spite of my OCD, I have married, had children who are happily married, and have children themselves. At the age of 40, my son realised that he was washing his hands too often, but he has not been officially diagnosed with OCD. His daughter also has been diagnosed with OCD and bipolar disorder.

Luckily, because I know now that OCD is hereditary and what it is like living with it (exhausting), I have been able to help my son and granddaughter. My son started obsessively playing chess when he was very stressed recently, and my granddaughter sits and catalogues her favourite books and music as a way of fighting anxiety. Thankfully, neither of them is a hoarder or shopaholic like me. 

I helped my granddaughter, who is attending a university in the United States, when she was being marked down for failure to attend lectures because she was sometimes unable to leave her room. I encouraged her to seek counselling and to see a psychiatrist because she needs expert help. I told her that these professionals have helped me in the past many times when I wasn’t able to stay afloat, just by talking to me and encouraging me. 

I also helped her with her relationship with her father and other relatives who did not understand that her “meltdowns” were not because she was being childish, but because she was being overloaded and overstimulated. She is a very clever girl though, and is now doing well because she is on medication for her bipolar illness and understands her OCD. 

I have not found a lot that has helped my condition, except understanding what it is and trying to fight some of the urges to shop and hoard that I have. Talking to psychiatrists and counsellors has been helpful, and I have managed to have a happy life in spite of needing help from time to time. 

A retired State Registered Nurse, Stephanie Westlake lives in Bradley Stroke, a town in South Gloucestershire, England. She enjoys listening to classical music, doing online puzzles, and gardening, noting that she never puts plants that clash near each other!

Thank you, Stephanie, for sharing your story of living with OCD with our readers.

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