Monday, 28 April 2014

Conversations With Dave (I have OCD but my house isn't clean. This is why:)

I bet you all know someone with OCD.  That's a person who keeps a spotless house and likes things to look a particular way, can't have anything out of place and is bothered by lack of order, right?

Wrong.  That's not OCD.  That's liking things to be clean and tidy.  Liking things to be clean and tidy and being overly fond of order is a behavioural quirk.  OCD is a distressing mental illness.  Monica from Friends does not have OCD.  Monica from Friends just needs to chill the hell out and go to bed without doing the washing up once in a while; because even if disorder and untidiness really really bug her, she has the choice to leave the washing up and go to bed safe in the knowledge that nothing bad will happen (apart from - HORROR - the washing up still being there in the morning when she gets up, resulting in her feeling annoyed).  Feeling a bit annoyed and stressy is not OCD

She just really likes cleaning.

I do not like cleaning.  Organisation is not something that applies to me.  Disorder and mess reign in my house.  I don't do meal plans.  I'm often running late.  This morning, I ate half a packet of Bombay Mix and a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast.  My filing system involves writing things down on random scraps of paper and immediately losing them.  I don't own a watch.  Since my son started school in September, I have never once been late dropping him off or picking him up.  This advanced level of Being On Time is so unnatural to me that every day I walk out of the school gates mentally punching the air and congratulating myself on having Being A Grown-Up nailed.  I am as far away from the Monica stereotype as you can get, but I have raging OCD.

Does this look like the table of someone with OCD?

To try and help you to understand about OCD, you need to meet Dave.  Dave is my inner voice, and he's a lying bastard.  I've christened him Dave, because everyone knows a bloke called Dave who's full of shit.

Lets just pause to clarify two things quickly:

1. I do NOT hear voices.  That's psychosis, and I don't have that.  That's an entirely different thing.

2. I am not a liar.  In fact, I find it incredibly difficult to lie because my mum used to say that our lies come back on us ten-fold.  My OCD latched on to that, so if I was to lie, I'd spend the rest of my life torturing myself that I was going to be punished for it.  The liar is my inner monologue, who I like to call Dave.  Which, fair enough, is a bit quirky, but not mad.  OK?

Back to Dave:

Imagine some evil little git constantly jabbering a load of bollocks at you that taps into your deepest fears and insecurities.  If you're a naturally anxious person, you're likely to worry about all sorts of things - big and small.  Death might feature heavily.  Things happening to people you love.  Serious illness - that sort of thing.  Dave likes to reinforce these worries by going on about them constantly, lying about what is and isn't likely to happen and giving you entirely unhelpful suggestions about what you can do to prevent these things from happening.  He does not have your best interests at heart even though he swears he does, and - I cannot stress this enough - he is a lying liar who lies.

Examples of lies that Dave has told me over the years:

If I eat I will choke AND DIE.
If I eat, I will vomit.
If I leave the house, I will vomit.
I might hurt or maybe even kill my baby.
I might kill myself.
My parents are putting crushed glass in my food.
My parents are putting poison in my food.
If I step away from the window, my dad will be killed in a train crash on the way home from work.
If I decide to have another baby, I will die in childbirth.
If I get on that train, it will crash and l will leave my son without a mother.
I have left the iron on.  I absolutely have, and what's more, my house is in the process of burning down right this minute.

Dave is an absolute fucker.

These are thoughts that everyone has from time to time, but usually they last a split second and then go, because not everybody has a Dave who likes to obsess over these thoughts and attach significance to them where there is none, and won't let them leave your head.  The problem here is that however much you know he is lying to you, like all the best lies, his contain maybe a 1% chance of being true.  Nobody can assure you that these things will 100% NOT HAPPEN, and because of that 1% (or 0.001%), you allow him to have significance.

To make you feel better about the thoughts (not really - it's actually going to make you 100 times worse in the long run), he might come up with some handy suggestions to ease the worry.  Like so:


"Dude, you can't be trusted not to kill yourself.  you'd better go and hide all the knives and stuff.  Make sure you shove them in places where you'll forget they are.  Hide all the pins while you're at it, and the staples, because you could rip yourself up good and proper with one of them if you really wanted to."

Me: "WTF, Dave?  I don't want to kill myself at all.  Why do I have to hide the knives?"

Dave: "Pffff, I know best.  Do you really want to risk it?  Hide them.  Oh, also, better make sure you turn off the radio whenever Suicide Blonde plays, because that contains the word suicide and might push you over the edge.  You'd also better make sure that you never catch sight of Michael Hutchence's face.  Same reason.



Me: "So, so hungry.  Will just get a cheese sandwich."

Dave: "Hihihi, what do you think you're doing?  If you have food in your stomach you could vomit and you have a phobia about that.  You know how we like it when your stomach's empty.  Be a good girl and don't eat anything all day until you're safely at home after school - an apple and a slice of toast should do the trick."

Me: "But I'm so hungry and I'm getting too thin."

Dave: "Yeah, but if you eat you'll be sick.  Lets have a little panic attack about that thought. See? You're feeling sick now aren't you?  Maybe you've got a bug.  Better not eat to be on the safe side.  You know I'm right."

The first example was why I ended up being diagnosed with depression at the age of 11.  I didn't want to kill myself in the slightest, I was just terrified that I'd lose control and be compelled to do it.  Can you imagine how frightening that is for an 11 year old child?  The second example was why I ended up being diagnosed as anorexic when I was 17.  I wasn't anorexic at all.  I was just too scared to eat.  It was just OCD.  Just.

It's so tiring, you know?  First of all you're endlessly going over worst case scenarios, then you're being vigilant for signs that those scenarios could or might happen, and then you're doing the stuff that you're somehow convinced will stop them from happening.  And you're never completely in the moment - never.  Because all this stuff in your brain constantly churns, and you can't turn it off.  Dave was there on my wedding day, when my son was born, when I graduated, when I had my first kiss, when I lost my virginity, when I did anything - no matter how significant or insignificant.  It never ends.

These days, my OCD mainly revolves around my phobia of vomit and leads to frantic bleaching of the house during norovirus season and the ironing of everything (including towels, socks and pants) in an attempt to kill germs.  I have not coped very well with my son starting school and all the associated germs, but I muddle along.  It also rears its head if I ever consider having another child, because I had quite a traumatic pregnancy and birth with my son and my biggest fear is leaving him motherless.  However, it appeared at its worst in the weeks after his birth when I was bombarded with horrible, brutal intrusive thoughts and images that scared me so much that I still don't like to talk about them.  I was very lucky that I had an understanding doctor and health visitor, and am indebted to the psychiatric crisis team who visited me 3 times a day to check on me.  I was fine after a bit of medication.  Well, I say fine - I was back to ironing socks and stuff, but those particular distressing thoughts stopped and have never come back again.

Before I finish, I'd like to make something very clear:

I'm a normal person.  I'm not mad.  OK, so I iron stuff more than is healthy and constantly think about how to avoid stomach bugs and food poisoning and I'm too scared to have another baby, but aside from that, I'm just normal.  I went to university.  I held down jobs.  I managed to be a good teacher despite constantly fearing the children being sick in my classroom.  I'm married (and, aside from being a bit messy and a little bit crazy in the head, I am a delightfully low maintenance wife.  "You never really ask for anything, do you?" says my husband.  And he's right - I'm so focussed on just getting through the days that asking for material things or demanding demonstrations of undying love just wouldn't occur to me.  Not that they're not nice when I get them).  Before I was married, I had other men in my life.  I have fun.  I'm a good parent and I love my little boy so much that it makes my stomach flip.  I have friends.  I go out.  I laugh a lot.  I eat food that everyone else does (my episodes with food last recurred about 10 years ago.  I now eat anything and everything apart from ropey looking burgers out of vans and, frankly, I could do with losing half a stone).  I've done the same sort of stuff over the course of my life as you - exactly the same.  It's just that I wasn't 100% there at the time, because I was too busy listening to Dave and simultaneously doing what he told me to and trying to make him leave me alone.

So that's why having a neat house has nothing to do with OCD.  Unless Dave is telling you that if you don't keep things spotless, your kids will die (or insert any other distressing obsession); in which case it has everything to do with OCD and you have my utmost sympathy.  You poor thing.  You must be exhausted.  I'm exhausted.  I. Am. Exhausted.  


  1. You're very brave to write about your experience with OCD. I have experienced similar in the past, however not nearly as extreme except shortly after the birth of my little one too. I have always been told it was an anxiety disorder but I guess the two can present similar symptoms just as you said you were misdiagnosed with depression and ED.

    This is a really good post. I'm glad to hear you're managing a lot better. I hope others looking for someone to relate to can find some comfort in this :)

  2. I have this! I have this! I am so happy!

  3. Very brave and honest post. You are lovely and funny and gorgeous and dave can piss off. I wish he would. I hope he does. Xxx

  4. This is an extremely refreshing read, and a relief too. All my life I've felt occasional panic that I would kill myself. To be clear, I've never felt suicidal, or even suffered from depression. I would go so far as to describe myself as a generally cheerful person. But sometimes I panic that I might kill myself sort of by accident. It makes absolutely no sense to me, but it's a relief to see that I'm not alone in this bizarre fear.

  5. Wow. This is me. The hubby always jokes that I have OCD. But now I know. I have had the can't eat without being convinced I want to vomit. And the whole norovirus thing sends me into a blind panic. How I ever manage to clean up my kids vomit off the floor without freaking out completely baffles me. The hubby usually steps in. Thank you for your frankness.

    1. I could be wrong but to me, what you describe sounds more like emetophobia?

  6. A very brave, honest and fascinating post. I'm a bit of a neat freak a la Monica but I've always known it wasn't OCD. X

  7. I had actually forgotten all the bargaining I used to do with "Dave". It seems having the DVDs on the shelf the right way round and without the wrappers left on are just a small part of the problem. Ugh.

  8. I had no idea this is what it can be like with OCD. Dave - what a plonker. This is a very well written and brave post. Thank you!

  9. I understand i have panic disorder and am recovering from agoraphobia i get the intrusive thoughts my main worry is that i will pass out. Unfortunately my panic attacks present with dizzyness so my "dave" goes, see you best sit down you aren't going to make it home you will be stuck here passed out on the floor with people too embarrassed to help you noone will help you, your children will be stood around you crying then someone will abduct them while you are passed out and can't do anything "dave" is a cock. I also have a logical side to me that refuses to listen to him and that side with the help of cbt and hypnosis is winning now though after nearly two years i am starting to doubt whether i will ever get my life back. But we must keep fighting this and pushing boundary's if we stop then it wins.

    1. Exactly same as me. But I've alwAys thought this was panic disorder. Never thought about OCD!! Hypnotherapy has been my saviour twice over the last 12 years....wonderful treatment if you're prepared to be totally honest with the therapist and yourself. You will get your life day you'll go to bed and realise you've not had a 'dave' thought all day long. :)

  10. I hate Dave, my Dave seems much less severe than yours-but sometimes I wish Dave would P*** off and let me enjoy the things I should be enjoying rather than being sick with worry. Brave post, and it's nice to not feel alone on something like this x

  11. Thank you so much for writing this. My own Dave is slightly different from yours, but very clearly related. It's always good to know that you're not alone, and that Daves are causing trouble all over the place. xx

  12. I battled with OCD for many years and have written about it on my blog ( My husband says - half seriously - Why can't you have the type of OCD that's productive and keeps things neat and tidy. Thank you for sharing.x

  13. I never knew this was OCD. What a brilliant, honest, funny, sad post. Hope Dave fecks off too x

  14. You astound me. I'm always taken aback by the honesty and humour in your writing. Just when I think I know what to expect from you you up your game even more and post this. Brutally honest as ever, brave and open and so so funny! I want to see you write a book. (Dave as co-author??)

  15. thank you so much for this. It makes so much more sense of my teenage fear that I would stick a knitting needle into a plug socket and electrocute myself. I used to lie in my bed at night sweating with fear, hanging white knuckled onto the edges of my mattress in an attempt to stop myself from doing it - I wasn't the least bit suicidal, that came later!

    Thankfully my Dave buggered off after puberty. It resurfaces now and then - intrusive thoughts that I might do something awful just because it's technically possible - but is thankfully fleeting and liveable with.

  16. Its like my lips are moving and your words are coming out, this is me full on. I have suffered intrusive thoughts all my life with it being diagnosed only in the few years. when I tell others I have OCD they immediately think that this is why I DO have a completely tidy and organised house (organised to a degree, I do have cupboards rammed full of the crap I can't find an orderly place for- but at least I rarely see it, phew!) I admire you for writing this blog and hope that one day others will stop using the old 'relax, don't worry about it' as if that makes it all magically go away! Bravo to you!

  17. I should say that the reason I find peace in an orderly environment is all down to control, nothing really to do with OCD, it's more about being able to think straight when the cushions are straight....However I do have the same issue with regards to germs and this has manifested itself since having my first son now 4, it's something that I find extremely difficult to ignore.

  18. Wonderful post. I Have had OCD as long as I can remember. Really wonderful to hear I am not alone. So glad you talked.about the tidiness thing. People assume I must tidy madly. Thank you.

  19. Thanks Lise- really well written and identifiable. I developed horrible OCD a few years ago and although it's quietened down a lot, it's still just there and it is so fucking tiring. x

  20. Yep.

    My house looks more shabby than chic.

    I don't find it easy to have the time to clean because for me Dave says:
    -If you're late for anything, it will start a chain of events which will end up with you losing your job and home. Leave for work an hour early.
    -Check the freezer is shut. Do it again. And again. If you leave it open, it will melt onto the electric and kill you in a horrific fire. It WILL...

    And so on. People just do not get that it isn't to do with tidiness.

  21. Excellent, well written post. I'm like Monica, and things like not having all the hangers in my wardrobe in colour order and the same way around, or my pens lined up alphabetically (black, blue, green and red) irritate me, but I don't HAVE to deal with it there and then, I CAN leave it.

    Very best of luck getting Dave out of your life.

  22. My mother has this. Please if you have it, get treatment. It is very distressing for children. I feel my whole life has been affected by my mother's limiting lifestyle ("you can't do/be this/that/speak to those people", etc etc). Children believe that what their parents say must be so.

  23. Thank you so much for this, I hope you continue with your coping skills and that they improve for you. This has helped me understand what I have kind of known for years. My son has OCD and has done since he was 14. He was initially prescribed various meds including Seroxat, which made him feel worse. I'm thankful now that he stopped taking that after reading reports of distressing side effects. He has also seen various psychologists over the years but never wanted to involve me or discuss it with me. He's 30 now and recently he attended CBT sessions with the local Community Mental Heath Team, some of which I was involved in at his invitation. From what he tells me some of his obsessions are prompted by fears that people he loves may be harmed. My mum has OCD but doesn't realise it. She's constantly in fear of coming into contact with anything she considers 'dirty', her personal hygiene regime is relentless, she is perpetually worried about family members being involved in terrible accidents and is constantly worried about health problems she suspects she may have, but strangely enough she cannot grasp how OCD affects her grandson. Thanks again for your frank description of what OCD is really like and good luck with controlling 'Dave'.

  24. This is a brilliant article! Some people are so arrogant and refuse to listen to facts. The best thing I did was join a support group where others knew how I felt...defo a good starting point...keep talking. X

  25. Amazing.I'm crying.its 5am.I'm still doing my rituals.I'm do I comment here when I've still so much to do!!bit I am because amazing.ur very brave to share this,and even braver for continuing to fight the best u can.ocd,oh gosh its devastation.
    I'm so sorry fr all uve been through,I'd give anything to take it away.kill Dave.but I can't so I shall send a hug and strength fr you to go onwards.and keep doing so.u seem a beautiful person.a person I now admire even.thankyou,u put into words how I've never been able to.xx

  26. I started to have feelings about things 'I most do', when I was about 13-14 years old. At least thoughts, what I can recall. I always called them OCDs. Things like constantly washing my hands, or needing bath all the time. Now they sound funny! It was a long way, but - Thanks to God! - I managed to say no, it has to stop! It was the moment, when the fork fell out of my hand, because it was metal, and it just made me feel sick... At that point, I already couldn't touch door-handels, taps, or similar things made out of metal, without covering my hands. =)
    Now I am much better. I learnt to handle my 'problem'.

    Thank you for posting your story, it made me feel less strange and weird. I am really happy you can handle it, and just go with it!
    And just keep up being yourself!


    My room/place is total chaos most of the time, but I can find everything! After I tidy up, lots of things are missing. =))

  27. Hi Lisa, thank you for this deeply honest post. This is where blogging is such a powerful tool, airing a supposedly 'shameful' condition and educating others about it to help remove its taboo. OCD does sound completely exhausting, and I salute you somehow raising your son and managing all this too. Hope to meet up with you at The Brewery. Best of luck, Jo X

  28. Wow, this is a really informative post. It really helps explain what OCD might be like, to the sufferer. I hope Dave goes away soon, or at least calms down... I did have psychosis after my son was born, which was very acute, but this sounds like a much more chronic, ongoing, pervasive problem. Best wishes!
    @katgrant30 (Bumps & Grind)

  29. This is me, I stumbled across this by accident through Mumsnet and had no idea it was OCD.

    Ive definately left the iron on and the house will burn down
    My keys are not in my bag I have not really already checked.
    If I go to that show there will be an incident, terrorists will take over the theatre. Etc, I also go over and over situations that might happen.

    How can I calm these?
    Interestingly my ex was a Dave and definately full of shit...

  30. What a fantastic blog post. From the heart, with humour and thoughtfulness. Everything we do makes us the person we are and therefore there is more to celebrate than curse. My sister is Bipolar and whilst the lows are obviously very low, if you offered her a pill that would remove it she would turn it down. As she, says "It would be like deleting myself" It's part of her identity and as she puts it, "The ride of a lifetime!"

  31. I really connected with this thanks do much for writing it. I blogged about my obsessive thoughts they are intrusive and awful and as you say here that voice says something and you latch in to that small chance of something happening. My child could fall down a man hole, I genuinely believe if I become a driver or fly on a plane then I will die and I don't care how mad it sounds because to me it's very real!

  32. My Dave is anxiety rather than ocd. He doesn't give me options. He tells me I'm unlovable, annoying and don't deserve the good things in my life. Years of counselling, cbt's, sheer determination and people who DO love me despite what Dave says have got me through and he wears a gag most of the time these days. Brave and inspiring blog. Thank you x

  33. Thank you for writing this. It's a difficult thing to explain and a brave thing to explain it.