Date: 26 July 2017
I was diagnosed with OCD about 10 or 15 years ago, when I was in my early twenties. The problems I have are intrusive thoughts, checking things such as that lights are turned off, windows are shut, doors are locked. It used to take me fifteen minutes to check the car was locked. At the time, my GP referred me to a counsellor, who I had to pay for. The therapist was nice but he didn’t give me things to work on myself. Overall, I didn’t find it very helpful for my OCD, but I didn’t think I had any other options but to just try and get on with life.
Much later, I went back to my GP as my symptoms were troubling me again. This time he referred me to an NHS service close to home called Time to Talk. The treatment involved several weekly sessions at a centre, where I was given exercises to do, as well as talking through problems. The exercises included writing down the thoughts I had while I was checking things, and trying to gradually reduce the number of checks I made. I was also asked to try to identify triggers for my anxiety like being worried about work.
I’ve always done manual shift work. My employer at the time used to allow me time off to go to the sessions, or arrange my shifts so that I could get to them. At some point, I was also prescribed citalopram, to help with my anxiety. The medication seems to help, but I have had side effects such as increased tiredness and an upset stomach. These issues are hard to cope with in my kind of work, as shift work is tiring anyway, and I work outside. So I don’t eat any meals at work, to try and manage things.
Some years later, I moved to a different area. When I realised that my OCD symptoms were causing me difficulties again, I went to see my new GP. He referred me to Time to Talk again, in my new area. This time, my employer refused to give me time off to attend face to face sessions during the day. There weren’t any evening sessions available at the centre, the days they were open were quite restricted, and the service did not offer phone appointments apart from a short assessment. This caused a delay for me of many months in receiving any help, until the service provider said that they were trialling an online service.
Chatting with a therapist could be arranged for any time, at a few days notice. I only find out my shift pattern the week before, so I cannot make appointments far ahead. The online arrangement worked very well, as it was available on any weekday. They didn’t do evenings, but I fitted it round my shifts at short notice.
Before each session, I had to fill in an emailed questionnaire about my moods and anxiety that week, to use as the basis for a session. My OCD symptoms got a score out of ten for the level they were at each week.
Using the online service was like talking to someone on Facebook. The online chat was for about half an hour to 45 minutes. I logged on at the arranged times and started chatting with the therapist.
I found it much easier to talk to the person online than face to face, as I felt less pressure. The therapist asked how things were going, and we would decide at the start what we were going to talk about and work on together.
They would give me a couple of tasks to work on before the next session, for example, we would agree homework like not checking door locks more than twice, and I was to write down how I felt about that. I never felt pressured to talk about things I couldn’t handle.
By the end of the series of sessions, my OCD score had improved. How they left it was, if I got worse again, I should go back to my GP. I am aware that I could also refer myself directly by phoning the service. I’d prefer to go via the GP because I think it’s a bit quicker, but maybe the wait was made much longer because of the problems with my employer, I’m not sure.
A person living with OCD discusses the challenges of balancing their treatment with work commitments and how online therapies helped them work through this.