For most of us, the term ‘OCD’ instantly brings to mind symptoms where individuals are overly worried about cleanliness and germs, and have particularities with neatness. In reality, there are infinite forms of OCD and one individual’s experience is completely different from another. It’s a common myth that people with OCD love cleaning, but in fact those with OCD who clean, do so in utter misery, because they feel compelled to. It’s an obsession that drives these compulsions. Breaking down the acronym itself presents us with various traits and symptoms. Obsessions and compulsions can form around almost anything.
There are five extremely broad sub categories, which do their best to compartmentalise the different forms. However, they don’t cover all sufferers symptoms and many symptoms overlap categories. We have simplified these down to their very basics here.
- CHECKING: Compulsions with checking things – such as items being turned off or objects being kept safe, due to obsessions and thoughts over harm happening to yourself and others.
- CONTAMINATION: Compulsions over cleanliness, due to obsessions over perceived contamination of dirt and germs.
- SYMMETRY AND ORDERING: Compulsions with ordering and arranging things so they are ‘just right’, to relieve the obsessions over perfections.
- INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS: Compulsions, sometimes with mental rituals for eg. praying, to relieve obsessions with sexual, violent, or religious thoughts.
- HOARDING: Compulsions over collecting items, to relieve obsessions over losing or needing items one day.
4 out of 5 people experience intrusive thoughts. For 1/50 people however, the thoughts become harder to dismiss. They compulsively try to make them stop. Rose Cartwright’s memoir Pure is her story on how she grew up with and eventually found out about the form of OCD she has – Pure O. There are many subtypes within Pure O that span a wide range of themes that include pedophilia, sexuality, relationships and also take on harm (checking compulsions) and contamination (cleanliness compulsions).
Cartwright describes her intrusive thoughts as a moment where your reaction is, “f*ck, where did that come from? Thinking something totally inappropriate and shocking. Imagining your boss naked, punching an old person in the street or jumping off a train platform.” We can all relate in many ways, but most of us are able to dismiss these thoughts easily. It’s the obsession with these thoughts and them taking over your life which is what those with Pure O face.
For Cartwright, compulsive thoughts around sexual relationships and acts made it impossible to deal with everyday life. She didn’t’ know she had OCD and was deeply ashamed of having these thoughts – she hadn’t told anybody. In 2013, coming out the other side after effective therapy, she began to write. “‘The immense relief I felt, inspired me to tell my story. I had tried to articulate it to the people in my life. I had censored myself for so long, that I couldn’t find the words to do it, the only way I could talk about it was on the page.” She pitched her story as an article to the Guardian and they picked it up as the front page, with the headline ‘Dirty Little Secret’. “I knew at that moment, that everyone who knew me, would find out my secret,” she says.
There are still taboos facing Pure O and even though society has become more conscious and engaged around mental health, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Things are changing however, and Cartwright is determined to make a difference and increase awareness around this lesser known form.
Through her book and now hit TV show, Pure, Cartwright believes that positive changes are being made. Publishing her article in the Guardian was the first step. From there she received emails and messages from hundreds of people, saying they also suffered with the same symptoms and couldn’t understand them. One being from Aaron Harvey, who she co-founded her charity Intrusive Thoughts with. Another being from a 53 year old lady, who said “I’ve been born in a time when no one knows about these things”. Cartwright says “this lady missed it by a generation, I missed it by half a generation. We need to use the tools we have to make it the right time. I’m optimistic and think times are about to change.”