8 September 2014

Hide and seek

Image courtesy of artemisphoto/
Many people with OCD are able to hide at least some elements of their behaviour, so it can be easy to forget that they have a problem.

At one of OCD Action's conferences, I got chatting to a fellow delegate, whom I'll call Cathy. Although we spent the day together, and talked extensively about our experiences - which included engaging in observable compulsions - neither of us displayed any overt sign of the condition.

We agreed to walk back to the Tube station together, at the end of the event, and both visited the toilet ahead of the journey. I finished quickly and went back outside to wait for Cathy. 

After a few minutes, I began to wonder where she was and re-opened the door. I spotted her at the sink, washing her hands, and assumed that she had just come out of the toilet. A lot of women take a long time in the Ladies, so I didn't think much of it.

I closed the door and carried on waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Then I suddenly remembered the washing compulsions Cathy had spoken of earlier and realised she must have got stuck.

Now I didn't know what to do. I couldn't leave without her, though I was tired and wanted to get home, but I didn't know how to help her. Being on the outside of OCD was an unfamiliar experience and I had little knowledge then of how to support others. 

In spite of this, after a few more minutes, I decided that I couldn't hang on indefinitely and went back inside. As I approached Cathy, all I could think to say was 'Are you OK?' Clearly she wasn't: the anguished look on her face and her teary eyes revealed the depths of her misery and frustration. She muttered something about needing to be alone and so I left her to it, helpless in the face of her difficulties.

Eventually, she managed to break free and rejoined me. As we left, she threw away a carrier bag, which she told me contained soap she had brought with her, but would not be able to use again. Presumably it was now 'contaminated' from its exposure to a public environment; I didn't like to ask, and we didn't talk further about what had happened. 

At the station, we found ourselves in a crush of fellow passengers being held back until the platform below cleared. Bodies pressed against us on all sides and yet Cathy didn't flinch at the contact - surely germ-laden in her eyes? - or become visibly anxious. Perhaps her OCD would hold her hostage in her bathroom later, as payback for her current calm; for now, though, it had once again gone back into hiding.


Sebastian Aiden Daniels said...

OCD is an interesting illness. Unless the symptoms are very blatant, you usually can't tell someone has it. Thanks for sharing this story. It was a good reminder to remain compassionate in all situations because you don't know what the other person is going through.

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks for your comment, Sebastian - I wish I'd used your last line in my post!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Helen. Even though my son had severe OCD, many people who knew him never realized anything was wrong! As you say, those with the disorder are experts at hiding it.Hope all is well :).

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks, ocdtalk. Most people were also surprised when I first told them I had OCD. Hiding it, of course, only adds to the stress of the disorder.