It’s a condition that affects 1–2% of the population, but it’s often misunderstood. So what is it like to live with obsessive compulsive disorder? One man shares his story of acceptance and advocacy
When we hear the word OCD, many images come to mind: cleanliness, symmetry. Maybe even something comical – “I am so OCD.”
But for those living with OCD, it is the opposite of comical. I use the word ‘living’ and not ‘suffering’, as language is very important. ‘Suffering’ infers a constant state of negativity, trying to survive, whereas ‘living’ suggests a harmony. I live with OCD. So, let me tell you how I remain happy with its existence in my everyday life.
I received my OCD diagnosis on Saturday 4 June, at 27 years old. According to OCDaction, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety condition that causes someone to become stuck in a cycle of distressing obsessions and compulsions. And it’s much more common than originally thought, with estimates of those with the condition suggesting between 1–2% of the population have OCD. That’s anywhere between 600,000 and just over one million people.
Even so, OCD is often trivialised, not helped by TV shows like Obsessive-Compulsive Cleaners. First airing in 2013, in this portrayal OCD was shown to be almost desirable. That couldn’t be more wrong. Additionally, the numbers (given by OCD UK) show that “only 26.5% of people with it actually have cleaning compulsions”. Throwaway comments of willful ignorance about OCD perpetuate misconceptions, and do not reflect the torture it can, at times, create.
OCD popped up in my life around three years ago in the form of a sexually intrusive thought, triggered by being given chlamydia three times by people I dated and trusted. Thoughts like “You still have chlamydia,” “You must have HIV,” and “I need to go to the sexual health clinic,” ran through my mind like a never-ending marathon. Whenever I tried to remove the thought, like the Whac-A-Mole game, it kept popping up. OCD migrated to obsessional thoughts of sexual assault, with the intrusive thought of “rape” popping into my head constantly. Due to these thoughts, I incessantly and illogically believed that I was a rapist. My intrusive thoughts then moved to suicide.
As you would expect, depression hit me like a freight train. Why was I having such detestable thoughts? Thoughts so against who I was as a person?
I was unaware that sexually intrusive thoughts were a part of OCD. But now, since learning that OCD manifests itself through thoughts, urges, and images, I am able to differentiate between my own thoughts and OCD thoughts. It has been a relief. OCD remains a part of my life, but it is not all Shaun Flores is.
People often talk about triggers, what about glimmers? Glimmers are those positive moments that change our pain, turning it into something heartwarming. The glimmers for me are the things I took for granted. OCD taught me to live every day and to stop simply existing. My first glimmer was when I contacted Emma Garrick, aka ‘The Anxiety Whisperer’. She immediately knew what happened when I came to her. We began therapy, which allowed me to breathe a little and start my journey to recovery (which was difficult).
I had to perform some of the toughest actions in my life to face my worst fears of being a rapist, gay, and suicidal. Exposures are key with OCD, to show you your worst fear won’t come true because you think it. OCD directly throws all your fears and worries at you, like an assault on the mind. But time is redemptive. My therapist has been a revolutionary agent in my recovery from OCD. The thoughts still pop in and out but I react better.
Now, I have repurposed my pain into my passion and purpose. OCD brought me to my knees in torrid straits, but I have been lifted up through serving others in the OCD community. I now work to help others on their OCD recovery journeys. The OCD community is truly unlike any other; the supportive messages have been awe-inspiring, and knowing I am not alone has been a lifesaver.
I’m a volunteer advocate with the UK-based charity Orchard OCD, dedicated to trying to research and fund better and faster treatments for OCD. Why? Because only 89p is spent on research for every person affected by OCD.
Alongside this, I’m also aiming to research how many people in my community and other ethnic communities may have undiagnosed OCD. From articles and posts, countless people have reached out still ashamed of their OCD. My aim is always to leave people better than I found them. And so, my next mission to raise greater awareness of OCD is to give a third TEDx talk.
I wrote this to show you that there is hope – you are not your thoughts. The world needs you, the world deserves you. Tell the world your story because someone is listening. We will change the world.
Shaun Flores is an OCD advocate, model, and influencer aiming to have the right influence on the world. Follow him @theshaunflores, and listen to him speak on Happiful’s podcast ‘I am. I have’ available wherever you get your podcasts.
Header image credit | Nicole Jopek