When most people think of OCD, they think of obsessive hand washers, they think of neat freaks and germaphobes. While these are stereotypically among the most common forms of “overt” OCD, OCD also has a secret, lesser-known twin, “Pure O” OCD.
“Pure O” means to say that the symptoms are “purely obsessional”, that is, that they are purely in the mind. In reality, many Pure O sufferers demonstrate symptoms very similar to those seen in “classic” OCD, but as the compulsion is “covert”, so many people don’t see it.
For example, someone with an obsession with germs will wash their hands frequently, whereas someone who fears they may be gay may try to avoid members of the same sex for fear of being attracted to their same-sex friends. Someone who thinks stepping on gaps between floor tiles will cause future misfortunes may take huge leaps to ensure that they only stand on whole floor tiles, whereas someone who worries they may strangle their partner may sleep in another room, and so on.
It is important to note also that someone who is genuinely homosexual will not worry about or question their desire for members of the same sex. They may feel guilt and shame for having them (just as someone with homosexual OCD might), but they will not worry about what it means to have them. If you are in any doubt, please speak with a trained clinician who can help you determine your thought processes more clearly, but please do also understand that it is also absolutely 100% okay to be gay. Being gay does not mean you have a mental health disorder, the difference between your sexuality and a painful mental health disorder is ultimately how you feel about it!
For me, my obsessions revolved around stabbing someone. my future husband in particular. I remember the afternoon I was slicing up an apple as a snack when suddenly..
“Oh my god!” I gasped and put the knife down, I recoiled in horror and hid behind the bed. “Oh my god! Oh my god! I.. I thought about.. ” I said with tears falling freely down my face, when Matt found me, I was clutching the side of the bed for support.
“I thought about stabbing you, in the heart. Oh god Matt, you can’t marry me! I’m a psycho! I’ll end up killing you!”
That was the beginning of eighteen very hard months for me. I tried to live with the knives around but eventually I threw them away, fearful that I would end up harming Matt or me. I haven’t had kitchen knives in my home since.
Looking back, we should have called the wedding off more or less then and there. Ashamed of now telling anyone that we won’t be getting married (at least, not for a while), I went ahead with our big day. I spent a lot of the time in a heightened state of anxiety, frightened that I was going to butcher our guests with the cake knife. Our photographer took a photo of me crying at what everyone thought was a sweet moment. In fact, I was having a mini nervous breakdown. On our honeymoon, I spent fourteen days worrying that I would jump on the train track. Wherever there was danger, my brain wanted to worry about it and eventually I had enough.
“Have you heard of OCD before?” the doctor asked me.
“Like handwashing and stuff?” I looked at him quizzically. I wasn’t visiting the facilities nearly enough for that!
“Well yes but.. there are many forms of OCD” he went on. “I think you have something called Pure O OCD, or Purely Obsessional OCD. I’d like to refer you to speak with a psychiatrist, if that’s okay?”
I think my eyebrows left my forehead. A psychiatrist?! Was it that serious?! I went home and did a Google search for “thoughts of stabbing”. Sure enough, Pure O and “Harm OCD” came up. I alternated between crying and laughing for a while. This was all just part of my anxiety!
I wasn’t seen by a psychiatrist, but rather a psychiatric nurse. He nodded and agreed with much of what I was saying and referred me for six sessions of “CBT therapy”. I smiled, there were presently only two forms of CBT that I knew of. One involved motorbikes, and the other? Not so much.
Turning up to my first session, I was met by a voluptuous Eastern European lady who was to be my therapist. As I cried about my thoughts and the nature of my obsessions, she seemed unmoved, unphased and not at all bothered. Instead, she just nodded.
“I cannot promise you that you will not do it, because a small number of people do do it, but I think you are a very good person and you will find you will not worry so much if you do your homework” she smiled reassuringly, “real killers don’t worry so much about these thoughts.”
By the the time I finished my therapy, I was able to dismiss my thoughts as little more than “brain farts”. Occasionally my brain lets out something really foul and I do need to leave the room for a while when it happens, but usually they’re fairly manageable.
I’m still loathed to have knives in my kitchen now, but I am a lot more confident than I used to be. We have kitchen scissors now, and I’m more of a risk to myself with a saw (because of my clumsiness!) than I think I am to anyone else. I’ve used kitchen knives a few times on holiday but I’m still uneasy about having them in my home. Anxiety is not something that you recover from, but I firmly believe that with support, therapy and maybe medication, you absolutely can get better. Better is not cured, though, don’t ever hold onto the false hope like I did. Anxiety never goes, you just get better at managing it.
I decided to say I do again to Matt in 2023 as I sort of feel like my mental health ruined our wedding. It won’t be a redo of our wedding, but it will be something better and happier for us to remember. There were a lot of other calamities on our wedding day, like the groom’s car getting lost (I got to the venue before he did!) and a guest trying to steal our decor for her own big day.
Anxiety may have ruined my wedding, but I won’t let it get a hold on my next special day.
Remember, if you’re struggling to cope, please, please do seek professional help. Don’t suffer in silence like I did.
Until next time,
Stay safe & have fun,