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Lily Bailey’s OCD appeared as a voice in her head when she was just a child.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of those things that people often say they have as a joke. “Oh, I’m really OCD about germs.” or “I’m totally obsessive compulsive about eating the same thing for breakfast every day.” 

But actual OCD is very very different. Actual OCD can derail and even destroy your life and that’s very nearly what happened to 23-year-old model Lily Bailey who has written a book called Because We Are Bad which details her excruciating struggle with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which manifested itself as a voice in her head when she was a child.

Lily became convinced that she did horrible things that people noticed. And the way she dealt with this was to modify her behavior in ways that ultimately took over her entire world. Lily wrote her book, a memoir, to help others who have OCD and to help those of us who don’t to better understand it.

From child to teenager to young woman, OCD ruled Lily’s life. The following piece is an edited extract from her book Because We Are Bad.
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Our justification system — our way of not saying sorry all the time — starts to get out of control. Initially, the idea was to justify things we would normally apologise for, to make them go away without having to say sorry. But as we got better at it, we realised we could use the system to deal with pretty much anything. Unless you can remember what went wrong, though, you cannot put it right. So we take the first letter of each worry and put it in a list. We continuously repeat the list in our head until we have a quiet moment to go through them all. If we find a way of justifying the action, it becomes a green word. When we can’t justify it, it is marked as a red word. We must remember and learn from it so we don’t do it again.

Green words stick around for a day, being re-evaluated to check they definitely weren’t that bad, and then get left behind at some point between when we fall asleep and wake up the next morning.

Lily explains her condition to Mia Freedman on the latest episode of No Filter:

Red ones can continue to be carried forward for several days until we find a way to excuse them.

If a word is very red, sometimes we have to accept that there is no way of excusing it. It then goes into the master archive, which is the area in our head where we store all the really bad things we’ve done. We visit those words about once a week, to see if anything about them has changed.

Our list from today is EHHCSBR:

ENTER: When we came through Wimborne’s main doors, Mum and us were holding our trunk and we brushed past another girl. Will that girl think we were being a pervert trying to touch her?

HANDS: Was my hand sweaty when we shook my new housemis- tress’s hand in the entrance hall? If so, will she think I’m disgusting?

HELLO: When we met Alice, we said ‘hello’ and she replied with
‘hey.’ Is hello the wrong way to introduce yourself ? Will she think we are weird?

CRYING: Does everyone think we’re a ridiculous baby because Mum cried?

SHIRT: Mum dried her eye on her shirt. Will they think we’re disgusting and have been brought up to clean facial leakages using items of clothing?

BUM: After Mum left we were talking to Alice about her favourite bands and she turned round to get something out of the drawer under her bed, but she did it so quickly we couldn’t look away, and our eyes skimmed her bum for a second. If she saw, will she think we’re a pervert?

RUMBLE: Our stomach rumbled when we were all sitting in the room talking. Did anyone hear, and if so do they think we are vile because our body made a disgusting noise?

EHHCSBR. EHHCSBR. EHHCSBR.

We sit on our bed and try to quickly sort our head. We anticipate this could take a few minutes. Luckily, Alice, Ellie and Soo-jin are also sitting on their beds, having a conversation about Ellie’s old school. With the right amount of nodding and smiling in (hopefully) the right places, we’ll be able to look like we are involved in the conversation while sorting through EHHCSBR. Before we repeat the words, we must do the movements.

Years ago, when we promised Dad we would stop fidgeting in exchange for a pet, we learnt to be subtle with them. Now, we keep them as imperceptible as possible by only making tiny moves. We are grateful to him for this; we wouldn’t want to be marked out by some noticeable physical quirk. We tap our feet on the floor nine times, invert our feet to the left and right, pull our sleeves down on each side, and tuck our hair behind our ears.

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(Image: Supplied)

We repeat:

Tap, invert, sleeves, hair. Tap, invert, sleeves, hair. Tap, invert, sleeves, hair.

Sleeves is a reminder for us to pull our top down as far as possible to cover our hands; they are always rosy as clown cheeks from washing them too much. ‘It looks like you’re wearing red gloves,’ Ella said previously, ‘or like you dipped them in a cauldron of boiling water.’ It is best to keep them hidden.

Invert. A couple of years ago, we sprained our ankle and it never got completely better, so sometimes it gives out. When that happens our foot falls in on itself and we look like a freak who can’t even walk.

Invert had been a red item for so long we gave it special status. Why do we make ourselves repeat an embarrassing action? No idea.

Where do tap and hair come from? No idea either.

After the moving actions, we repeat all the words on the list three times. It must be done quickly and rhythmically, as if read- ing aloud from a shopping list. If the rhythm between the words feels wrong, or if there is a word that can’t be recalled instantly, the whole thing must be done again.

ENTER, HANDS, HELLO, CRYING, SHIRT, BUM, RUMBLE. ENTER, HANDS, HELLO, CRYING, SHIRT, BUM, RUMBLE. ENTER, HANDS, HELLO, CRYING, SHIRT, BUM, RUMBLE.

Then we assess the words individually:

ENTER: Brushing past that girl was clearly an accident. She prob- ably didn’t even notice. And anyway, it could have been her who brushed past us.

HANDS: We have felt our hand against our face nine times since to check and can confirm that it is dry and there is no need to worry about the handshake.

HELLO: Clearly saying hello is wrong and uncool. This must be remembered.

CRYING: Mum cried and it was ridiculous. There is no getting around the fact everyone probably thinks we’re a mummy’s girl.

SHIRT: They probably didn’t notice Mum wiping her face on her shirt. Since we don’t ever do this ourselves, we can prove over time that we are not disgusting.

BUM: Alice was facing away from me, so she could not have noticed the bum glance. The others were talking, so probably didn’t notice either.

RUMBLE: Everyone’s stomach rumbles sometimes, and it is very unlikely they heard it as everyone was talking loudly.

In our head, we colour the actions according to what is now OK and what is still bad. HELLO and CRYING are still red, so must be carried over to a new day.

(Image: Supplied)
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In the end it is all done.

Anger only hurts the one who feels it.

If you want nice friends you must be nice to them.

These mottoes get us through the day. The first reassures us that at some point we will have learnt enough from our routines to not do them again. Two and three are equally important, because without them we’d express unacceptable feelings like annoyance and anger. We fear that we could become nasty and violent. Finally we do:

Tap, invert, sleeves, hair. Tap, invert, sleeves, hair. Tap, invert, sleeves, hair

Then we land in Blank Slate, which is the time where we have come as close as possible to our head being clean — before we do another bad action.

Listen to Mia's full chat with Lily here:

Blank Slate can last anything from 10 seconds to a few minutes.

Unfortunately not much of the day is spent in Blank Slate, but, when we arrive, it’s a euphoric place to be. Relief pulses through our veins as we re-join the conversation, carefully, softly, so they never noticed we left.

From Because We Are Bad by Lily Bailey. Published by Allen & Unwin. Out now. RRP $29.99.

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