There is a statistic bandied around that the average time from
onset of symptoms to diagnosis for obsessive compulsive disorder
(OCD) is about 17 years. I don’t know about this but I can tell you
that in my case I waited 45 years for effective treatment.
It is 1963 and the Beatles are at No.1 with She Loves You,
London is beginning to swing and I am a tiny, scared boy in the
playground. I am picked on to a degree, but the main cause of my
fear is something different. I have no name for it, but I do have a
feeling, a terrible feeling, that if I don’t do the strange things
I am asked to do in my head then something awful, catastrophic,
deadly will happen to me and my family.
Two years later and I feel I’ve had enough. I’d had several years
of being pushed around by terrifying thoughts – such as having to
check/count/wash the requisite number of times. Although still
frightened out of my wits I had, at some level, twigged this was
not “real”. If I miss the rituals or are prevented from doing them,
the world does not stop spinning. I decide enough is enough. One
day I go to the bathroom and hold on to the toilet and physically
restrain myself from doing the rituals. I succeed! The incessant
thoughts disappear for a while. I punch the air in triumph – the
world seems bright and gay.
In 1974 I decide to look for the answer. Finally it comes, the
eureka moment, when I pick up a book in a library. There it is:
obsessional neurosis, together with a list of symptoms. Finally the
monster that is ruining my life has a name. I read everything on it
(which isn’t much) and try to seek help. I visit the Maudsley
hospital in 1976 after a referral by my doctor to someone whose
books I have read. I fill out a huge questionnaire only to be told
that, because I no longer have the physical compulsions, just the
thoughts, there is nothing he can do. I hit the canvas with a
Live Aid changes the world in 1985. My world remains depressingly
the same. I am sent to a psychologist at Barnet Hospital who has me
snapping a rubber-band on my wrist when I get an OCD thought. Guess
what? It doesn’t work.
I have a “lost weekend” in 2003. It is one where I am kicked from
pillar to post by my OCD. I’ve had enough. I go to my doctor and
ask him for a referral to Paul Salkovskis’ new anxiety and trauma
centre at the Maudsley.
Seeing Paul is a another eureka moment. His kindness, intelligence,
warmth and humour astound me and act as a kind of balm to the
quarter century of idiots I had seen before him. His insight and
ability to make you see things you never saw before are truly
incredible and he works his magic on me. So I go full circle,
finally reaching the man who helps me in my quest.
If it has been that difficult for me, a very determined individual,
what must life be like for the tens of thousands of undiagnosed
sufferers the length and breadth of the UK?
Colin Putney uses mental health services