She battles OCD daily

Ritualistic tasks can be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder. (AP photo)
Ritualistic tasks can be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder. (AP photo)

For people who are contact lens users, it only takes a minute to remove the lens and place it in the solution box. But for Natalie (not her real name), she used to take almost 15 minutes just to perform that same task.

That was when then-17-year old Natalie realised she could be suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

"I had my first pair of contact lenses prescribed when I started Junior College and was scared to lose them, as they were expensive. I started obsessing about them being in their case and would keep checking to make sure I had really put them into the case, so I would open, check, close and then reopen again and the cycle repeated itself over and over," said Natalie, who is now 35 years old.

The repetitive routines, the anxiousness to check stuff, the obsession over cleanliness — all such behaviour of hers in the past six years struck her at that moment.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder characterised by obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions such as cleaning, checking, counting and hoarding.

An affected person may be obsessed with repetitive actions which give the individual some relief from the high anxiety that plagues him or her if the rituals are not performed. The actions differ from individual to individual.

For Natalie, it took one incident for her to develop the disorder. Raised by a single mother, Natalie and her brother were clearly aware at a tender age of their family's financial difficulties. Anxiety over their situation grew on the night of the annual Christmas affair her mother's company sponsored for the employees and their families.

Natalie was 11 that year. She recounted the events as she spoke to Yahoo! Singapore.

"My mother had asked me to lock up the house and bring my younger brother to meet her on Orchard Road. That particular year, upon returning home from our stay in the hotel, a neighbour told me that I had not locked the main door properly, and another neighbour was snooping around. She managed to frighten the other neighbour away and pulled our door shut."

That began the onset of OCD. "Since then, I started checking the door to make sure I had really locked it before leaving the house and going to sleep. I was really upset I could have got our house burgled by my carelessness, and we were already so tight financially."

Nearly 17 years down the road, Natalie is still battling to overcome her OCD.

"I am obsessed with cleaning and checking. The things I keep checking have changed over the years, from doors and wallets to contact lenses in their case and the battery covers of alarm clocks and remote controls," she said.

Natalie once saw a psychiatrist at the Institute of Mental Hospital. She discontinued the sessions as the medication was unsuitable due to her multiple drug allergies.

She continued to seek help by seeing counsellors in her university when she was studying overseas, and counselling did help.

"Counselling was good for me in the sense that I was able to share the things I felt anxious about with professionals who could understand and not think I was 'crazy'. By talking about my anxieties, it made me feel at times that my anxieties were unfounded and I could even laugh about them," she said.

She pointed out that laughing has been a great way for her to cope with her anxieties.

"I even broke out laughing when I was telling them [counsellors] I repeatedly checked to make sure the battery cover of my alarm clock was intact. It was funny then and I knew it sounded ridiculous or silly but I just couldn't help myself from checking," she joked.

University was where she met her boyfriend and now husband. While they were dating, they were already living together as roommates. It did not take long before he noticed she was different.

Speaking of how her husband copes with her OCD, she said frankly, "Although he has accepted that I have OCD, it hasn't been easy for him to live with me, as he is not the neatest person in the world. In the early years of our marriage, we fought a lot over tidiness and cleanliness. My checking at times frustrated him."

Her husband even joked about her drawing "parking lots" for items in the house as he did not put in stuff exactly in the places she wanted.

Natalie admitted that it took "a lot of compromise from both ends to keep this marriage".

She added, "He learnt to be neater and cleaner while I relaxed my standard of tidiness and cleanliness. We still fight over these and my checking but not as much now compared to the past."

The couple has been married for over a decade now. They have a three-year old daughter.

Although Natalie is not ashamed of her condition, she has not informed her in-laws for fear they may not understand.

The 35-year old homemaker now generally tries to limit relatives' visits. She still over checks that the door is locked or that the drawers are all shut, but she deals with it better now with less time spent.

She finds it tough sometimes to deal with her OCD as her daughter grows up.

"As with any curious toddler, she loves to get her hands on things she's not supposed to, and she does make a lot of mess. In a way, she does make me relax my standards of tidiness even more, but I still have to have the house reasonably neat and clean."

She plans to let her daughter know about her condition when she is old enough to understand.

Natalie said that for OCD sufferers, the first step to cope is always admitting they have a disorder. She advises they follow that up by seeking medical help, be it counselling or medication.

Natalie also urged family and friends to be tolerant and understanding towards OCD sufferers. "We are not much different, other than we have high anxieties about certain things, may want certain things placed in a certain way," she said.

Her message to all OCD sufferers, "Above all, do not feel inferior and give up hope."

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