I thought I'd won the Champions League for my team – but it was just OCD

From the age of 13, my morning routine started becoming unconventional.

I had to do certain things before I could leave my room. Wear specific underwear, deodorant (FCUK 2) and touch certain items.

If I didn’t do it, my mind would obsess about how I’d have bad luck that day. That could be anything from not being funny (mortifying to me) or getting cancer.

This is how I lived my life.

I had such fear over my thoughts that I would do whatever my head told me to do, or else bad things would happen. I now know it to be OCD but, at that age, it wasn’t something as well-known or diagnosed as it is now.

It took years for me to even connect the dots. Especially because when it started, everything seemed to be going well. I was popular and well-liked, but for some reason, things started to come apart at the seams.

I felt pressure to keep up the popularity. And if I felt that someone didn’t like me, or a girl didn’t fancy me, I’d feel devastated.

I started to obsess about times when one of my jokes had bombed or someone had made a comment, and felt as if I had no armour for dealing with it. My solution was to be friends with everyone so no one could ever criticise me.

It was then that I felt my behaviour began to change. I started feeling that – to be liked, funny and witty – I needed to get more ‘luck’. I became superstitious.

You hear of footballers or sportspeople having certain routines before big games, and I felt I had the same. Yet I wasn’t leading the team out at Wembley or serving for the match at Wimbledon, except I felt the pressure as if I was.

Objects became very lucky to me.

On top of my FCUK 2 routine before school everyday, I would drop coins on the stairs so I could walk by moments later and say, ‘See a penny, pick it up, all day long, I’ll have good luck’. I hoarded empty deodorant cans and old underwear that I thought were good luck charms.

I also bizarrely had to listen to Forgot About Dre before I could leave my room.

Slowly but surely – as OCD often does – it tightened around me like a vice.

Like the sportspeople who start believing that their success comes down to the boxer shorts they’re wearing, my routines started to become sacrosanct.

Breaking them felt terrifying.

And at the age of 13, I had no way of talking to people about it. A combination of shame, disbelief that it would help and FCUK 2.

The closest I got was asking my dad in the car whether ‘I was being myself’. He didn’t understand the question.

What I meant to say was, ‘Am I being the confident funny version of me I desperately feel like I need to be in order to get people to like me?’ A punchy question for any father to hear.

I couldn’t have an off day. I never thought for one second it was because I was tired or needed a rest.

So, in my early teens, I had a near-nervous breakdown. Silently.

I was so paranoid all the time and terrified of my own thoughts that no matter what happy or fun moments I was experiencing, a crushing thought was always moments away that would send me spiralling.

Sometimes there were lighter moments though. I genuinely thought I won Manchester United the Champions League when I was 13 based on hand signals my head was telling me to make as I sat on the sofa watching. I told some of my friends that recently and they thanked me for my invaluable contribution.

Then my OCD escalated to telling myself that I needed to flick light switches on and off, otherwise, I’d get a brain tumour.

At the age of 13, I discovered alcohol. For the first time in my life, I didn’t care about what people thought about me. My superstitious routines started to fall away. I stopped giving them energy.

It didn’t mean they weren’t in the background. So when they were I simply drank more. Simple.

However, after 16 years, I realised I was an alcoholic so this solution clearly hadn’t been the genius stroke I thought it had been. It was then that things really changed.

I finally had to face the feelings I’d buried since I was 13. I got sober, but still the obsessions came and went. I finally realised that I also suffered from OCD when I started revealing to my sister about some of the thoughts that go through my head and had to speak to someone.

While it was difficult, I built a support network of people who suffered from the same illness as I had. And slowly but surely, they helped me challenge the fear that fed off me.

They told me that I didn’t need to be entertaining anymore, I just needed to be honest.

That alone felt like someone had lifted a paving slab off my back.

One told me I should ‘try meditation as a matter of urgency’. That same day, I went to the London Buddhist Centre and witnessed a sense of peace in my mind that I had never had before.

I then read the book, The Power of Now ,which said that if I can see my thoughts, I can’t be them. For years, I thought my thoughts were me – I thought I was defective, wrong and my thoughts needed suppressing. I finally realised they were part of a disorder – not a reason I was an awful human being.

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That was powerful. As it meant I could give my obsessive mind the thing it always feared – apathy.

I stopped seeing my thoughts as things I needed to explore or believe and instead saw them as things I didn’t need to buy into.

That said, I still have the disorder. It manifests now as either having really dark thoughts – like imagining people close to me dying. Or that I buy an object or clothing and it’s unlucky and will curse me – I struggle to buy second-hand clothing even today.

But knowing I have OCD is half the battle. Accepting my mind will always be like this helps me to alleviate the shame of having these thoughts.

That, and realising – from going to support groups – that the fear never came from the thought itself. It was my reaction to it. I simply always believed them to be true.

Now, for the most part, I ignore them. Or if I get scared about it, I ask myself what the source of it is? If there isn’t one – it’s nonsense.

If it’s still buzzing around, I pick up the phone and speak to someone. As when I say exactly what my head is telling me, it disappears.

I also challenge my thinking on a regular basis. This is one of my best antidotes to my illness.

By doing the opposite thing of what my head is telling me to do and seeing that the awful scenario it projects in my mind doesn’t happen, bit by bit I stop seeing my head as the purveyor of truth.

All of those learnings and lessons have since set me free on a day-to-day basis.

So if you – or someone you know – think you might have OCD, I hope the above helps you as much as it has helped me. As it’s that knowledge that keeps me from living in the wreckage of my future.

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