We know that many disabled people have multiple diagnoses. Sometimes these are unrelated (we’re just lucky, I guess?), but just as equally, sometimes these are not; one diagnosis can trigger another.
Today I wanted to share my experience of how my OCD and my physical disability at times work together harmoniously, but at other times are at total war with one another.
Before I continue, OCD is categorised by two main components:
Obsessions – intrusive, persistent, and distressing thoughts, images, or urges.
Compulsions – Often, but not always, repetitive behaviors or mental acts performed in response to obsessions. Compulsions are acted out as a way to relieve anxiety and distress but often only provide temporary relief.
Generally speaking, I have a lot more ‘O’ than I do ‘C’ – but I do still carry out compulsions regularly, in response to my obsessive thoughts. However, sometimes, my physical disabilities mean I’m not able to. After getting COVID-19 in 2021, I had a relapse of MS which caused me to lose some of my mobility for a while. During this period, I was using walking aids and wheelchairs and spending a lot of time resting in bed or in a chair.
My compulsions from OCD really had to take a backseat because I simply couldn’t perform them. If I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t walk up and down the stairs, which is one my compulsions. Actually, with the physical problems I have, it’s one of my most frustrating compulsions, not only because it plays havoc with my mental health, but also because it causes me to feel great pain and discomfort when I get stuck in a loop while doing it. I found that many of my compulsions that couldn’t be completed during my bed rest time weren’t completed at all. This felt frustrating and upsetting at first, but over time, I learned to sit in with the discomfort. I was in pain anyway, so it was helpful to spend time learning a new skill for managing my OCD; it was useful to see how my brain reacted to not being able to complete a compulsion.
I found that after just a few weeks of getting out of the habit of being stuck on OCD auto-pilot and performing every compulsion, I was able to find more control in navigating my OCD better, as well as the motivation to do so.
There have been times where my OCD has been such a strong, driving force that I’ve become physically exhausted and in so much pain, but unable to stop pushing; despite my discomfort, I felt I had to complete the O’s and the C’s, as if I didn’t have a choice.
I have worked through some of these issues through counseling and I now have multiple tools that help me manage both my physical health and my OCD. However, I find it interesting to reflect on how we treat every illness. I think it’s worth noticing how we behave about our conflicting symptoms. Are we placing value on recovering from one thing but not giving enough attention to another? Once I was able to let go of my individual diagnosis, and treat myself as a whole person, aiming to meet as many of my needs as I possibly can, I found so much more peace within.
On reflection, I can be guilty of compartmentalising my disabilities and trying to treat them individually – but in truth, I am one whole person with multiple barriers. It’s okay not to know where the divide is and where one thing starts and another thing ends. Ultimately, it’s all me; I’m okay with that.
Written by a Member of Equal Lives