20 July 2016


Image courtesy of blackzheep/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
While I wouldn't wish OCD on anybody, if I see someone experiencing similar anxieties and responses in a non-OCD context, I welcome this as an opportunity to raise awareness of the condition by drawing parallels to 'normal' life.

Take, for instance, reaction to the recent EU referendum. 

I live in London, where the vote was in favour of 'Remain', and everybody I know was devastated by the result. The ensuing uncertainty about this nation's future was - and still is - the cause of most people's distress. And uncertainty is something that those with OCD find difficult, if not impossible, to tolerate. 

It's that inability to tolerate the unknown that leads to compulsions such as excessive hand-washing, to avoid contamination and illness, or repeatedly checking the front door is locked, to prevent a burglary. 

The disorder causes a myriad of other less well-known behaviours, many of which appear utterly illogical, having no basis in common sense or practicality. We all wash for sanitary reasons and lock up for security, but most of us don't, for example, feel compelled to perform actions a set number of times.

So how does all of this translate to the EU referendum result? 

In the immediate aftermath, the government's silence as to the way forward fuelled anxieties. One colleague repeatedly said - almost wailed - 'What's the plan? Why hasn't anybody told us what they're going to do?' 

A week or so after the result, she circulated an email with a link to a petition to 'Prosecute Nigel Farage* under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006'. Now clearly this petition wasn't going to provide clarity as to our future, but as she said 'I know there are so many [petitions] at the moment. I think signing them might be helping my feelings of helplessness.'

She wasn't the only one. People across the country have been driven to take action - any kind of action - to regain some sense of control. The uncertainty is just too great to sit idly by waiting for something to happen.

There's a very clear parallel between how all of these people are feeling and reacting in the wake of the referendum and how those with OCD feel and react on a day to day basis.

And so how was I faring in all of this? - surprisingly well, as it turned out.

My ordering compulsions are often triggered by distressing events on the world stage and I was certainly upset by the result. However, within a few days, I had resigned myself to it, concluding that there was little I could do to change things. 

I admit, I was quite surprised by this response, as I frequently worry about things I can't change. When I reflected on it, though, I realised that those anxieties are generally about situations where I can, at least, imagine the possible outcomes and consequences, such as, say, my car passing or failing its MOT.

In relation to 'Brexit', I don't know what all of the repercussions will be and, as a result, there's no clear focus for my anxiety. The uncertainty is just so huge that it's beyond comprehension and so - perhaps strangely - I've been able to stop worrying about it.

If you also now feel helpless and anxious in the face of an uncertain future, I'd ask you to spare a thought for those of us who live with that constant tyranny. It's really no fun at all, is it?

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*Former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, who fought for the country to leave the EU for years.