OCD made me think someone would kidnap my children if I didn't check the locks
Dany Grimwood, 39, lives in Suffolk with his wife Kim and their son, 12, and daughter, 7. His obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) was so severe, he could barely leave the house at one stage. Eventually, through therapy, he learnt new ways to manage his thought process. Words: Anna Moore
My childhood was very normal – I thought I was like any other boy, I loved football and playing out with my friends. But, looking back, I used to do a lot of checking. It was doors, lights and windows. I had to turn the lights on and off an even number of times, I had to make sure the doors and windows were locked.
When I was 11, I was given my own house keys which I knew were very important. I would always worry about losing them and I was constantly checking I had them on me.
Some of these compulsions carried on into adulthood. I still had a problem with numbers. There’s a clock on our oven and I felt something bad would happen if I didn’t wait for it to be on an even number before leaving the kitchen. But it didn’t take up too much of my life. I just lived with it, didn’t think about it too much and never mentioned it to anyone. There are no mental health illnesses in my family and if someone had told me that I had OCD, I’d never have believed it.
If someone had told me that I had OCD, I'd never have believed it.
Compulsions and rituals
It was around October 2021 that the compulsions really started to take over. I don’t know the trigger. By then I was married, our children were 10 and five and we were in the process of moving house so that caused a lot of stress.
A big part of it was the checking of doors and windows. To leave the house to pick up my kids from school, I’d have to prepare myself and it would take 15 minutes to check every window was locked.
We have a gas hob and if I’d used it – or even if I hadn’t – I’d have to check it was turned off, then check again. If I saw the clock on the oven, I’d have to wait for an even number before I could leave, then when I finally got out, I’d lock the front door behind me, check it, check it again.
Often, I’d walk away, then the anxiety that I’d left it open would be so bad, I’d have to go back and check again. I could finally drive away, then five minutes down the road, I’d turn the car round and go back to the front door again.
It would take 15 minutes to check every window was locked.
Obsessions spiralling out of control
In the car, if I was listening to a CD, I couldn’t stop or turn off the engine until the display, which shows how long the track is, was on an even number. If I was walking the dog, I’d have to get to a certain point in an even number of steps. If I was unloading the dishwasher, I’d find myself rearranging things again and again until they were spot on and lined up perfectly.
I work nights as a CNC operator – you’re running machines but really, you should be able to walk away while they run themselves. I’d always be checking them over and over. When I left work, I’d lock the gate, drive home, then start thinking, ‘Have I locked the gate?’ Work is only 10 minutes away, so I’d drive back again to make sure.
OCD was my secret. I was ashamed. I'd go to bed shattered and wake up shattered.
All this I could deal with – though it was hard. The worst parts were the intrusive thoughts that lay behind them. I felt that if I didn’t do all these things, something bad would happen to my family. If I didn’t check the windows and doors, someone would break in and kidnap my children or murder my wife.
You’re carrying out these compulsions all the time to protect them. In your head, though it sounds crazy and it doesn’t make sense, it’s keeping them safe.
No one knew. At some point, I’d looked online and read about OCD. Like lots of people, I’d thought OCD was all about needing to wash your hands but the more I read, the more obvious it was that this was what I had.
A hidden struggle
It was my secret. I was ashamed. I thought, ‘If I keep it hidden, I can carry on as I am’ but I can’t explain how hard that was. I’d go to bed shattered, wake up shattered. I didn’t want to get out of bed some days because I thought, ‘If I don’t get up, I don’t have to do any compulsions.’”
I’d often cancel plans to see friends as I didn’t want to leave the house. I used to watch rugby and football regularly but I stopped going.
One night I started crying and told my wife everything – she had no idea but was very calm and supportive
Confiding in my wife
In February 2022, I finally told my wife. I’d had a really bad day feeling really anxious, with every compulsion, every light, every door, every gate. It was just building up ready to spill out. I got home from work and my wife was still awake. I said, "We need to talk about something" and I started crying. When I told her everything, she said she had no idea but she was calm, supportive. She said it was fine, it was something we could deal with. It felt like a relief straight away.
Every Monday for 12 weeks, I had a therapy called ERP – Exposure and Response Prevention. It was on Zoom and the therapist was so good. What I was telling him sounded crazy but he’d heard it all before.
ERP is very, very hard. It works by exposing yourself to those anxious feelings and not responding with your compulsions. So I’d have the therapist on my phone, and he’d ask me to go out the front door, lock it and just stand there for maybe two minutes, without touching the door. Then he’d ask me leave it and walk a bit further away. The anxiety builds up but then, at a certain point, it starts to come down a little bit. Slowly, gradually, you walk a bit further.
Facing the problem
Another thing we did was to get the cutlery from the drawer and just chuck it all over the worktop. You sit a while with the mess and let the anxiety build – which is huge as all I wanted to do was put everything back in order.
We did the same with the shoe rack – I knocked all the family shoes into a massive pile and sat with them for a while. Everything I’d learn from the therapist on a Monday, I’d try to put into action during the week, doing the exposures and waiting for the anxiety to drop down. Sometimes I could lock the front door, sit in my car for a minute, then drive away and it would be fine.
I also started having a talking therapy. At first, I thought it wasn’t going to be for me but that really helped too. The birth of our son, our first child, had been very traumatic. My wife was taken to theatre as an emergency and she nearly bled out, she almost died. Being there, surrounded by doctors and nurses, thinking, ‘What the hell is going on?’ was something I’d blanked out for a long time.
Sharing my feelings
A few years later, my wife had a miscarriage – that was something else that never really gets spoken about, especially if you’re a man. Then we had our daughter and at five weeks old, she got viral meningitis. You can’t do a lot for that, she had to fight it off herself. You have to watch your five-week old baby in hospital just laying there while you can’t help her.
My therapist asked if I’d ever spoken about any of this. I hadn’t. As a man, you just get on with it. I had to be strong for my wife, I had to be there for her. No one asks, ‘How are you feeling?’ and it seems a bit selfish to expect that.
I'd been doing all these compulsions to protect the people that mean everything to me
My therapist thought all this could be linked to my OCD. I was scared of something bad happening again. Every family has problems, life is never perfect but I just wanted everything to be good for them. I was doing all this checking, all these compulsions, to protect the people that mean everything to me.
A new outlook on life
Things are so much better now. On a good day, I’ll get through without doing any compulsions – it’s never 100% but near enough. There are bad days too when they start to creep in – especially when life gets busy – but I know how to deal with it now. I’d always go back for more exposure therapy if I felt I needed it.
I do wonder if the David Beckham documentary will show how debilitating OCD can be. To me, it just looks like he wants a tidy house! But if it raises awareness and gets people talking, then that’s a good thing. I know how hard it is for men to be open about it. We’re supposed to look strong, like we can cope with everything. Telling my wife and getting help was the best thing I ever did.
Where to find help for OCD
As well as seeing your GP for a referral to NHS mental health services, for information, advice and support you can visit Ocduk.org, a charity that helps adults and children affected by OCD, which is run entirely by those with lived experience of the condition. You can also call their advice line on 01332 588112 Monday-Friday (usually 9am-12pm).