real life

'I thought I'd be arrested for burping.' Why OCD is nothing like what you think.

The following is an extract from The Joy Thief by Penny Moodie, a personal and practical guide to navigating the complex world of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

I've spent a lot of my life sitting on toilet seats. My earliest memory of spending an awkward amount of time shut in a cubicle was when I was six years old. My older brother, Nick, was knocking impatiently on the door, because he was busting for a wee. Sick of waiting for a response, he barged in.

"What are you doing? You're not even going to the toilet!" he exclaimed. I was sitting on the toilet lid with my eyes tightly shut.

"Sorry excuse me, sorry excuse me," I whispered in a barely audible voice.

Watch: Lily Bailey has suffered OCD since she was a child. She explains what it is not. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

"What? No, it's okay. I'm just busting, so can you get out?" "Sorry excuse me, sorry excuse me," I continued chanting. "Pen, what are you doing? Snap out of it!"

Barely hearing him, I finally opened my eyes - satisfied that I was done and could now move on with the rest of my day. "I did a burp, and I needed to say sorry," I said in a matter-of-fact tone to try to hide my embarrassment.

"Say sorry to who?" Nick asked.

"Just say sorry... you know... so the police won't come." "Wait... what?" 

My much more mature and logical eight-year-old brother didn't even know where to begin with my outlandish declaration that I'd be arrested for burping, so he just shook his head and gently nudged me towards the door.


It wasn't only the fear of being arrested that had begun to plague me. 

At the age of six or seven, I started to worry that if my parents went out for dinner, they wouldn't come back. They might be in a horrific car accident, and the babysitter would have to wake me and my brother in the middle of the night to break the news to us. 

This is a very normal fear for a young kid to have. We rely so much on our parents that the thought of them suddenly not being there is overwhelming. But instead of worrying about it for a bit, and then being distracted by a fart joke or watching a cartoon on TV, I started to develop compulsions such as tapping on wood a certain number of times and repeating specific phrases in a precise order in my head before I went to sleep. 

In my mind, if I didn't carry out these compulsions, my parents would not come home. I don't really understand why these specific compulsions developed. I'd seen people knock on wood after saying something that scared them, and, in my mind, repeating phrases in my head somehow signalled a message to the universe: make these people safe.

Their safety suddenly became my responsibility.

That's a large burden to shoulder for someone who couldn't yet tie her own shoelaces.

Little did I know that over the next 25 years I'd spend a lot more time sitting on toilet seats, eyes closed, head in hands, trying to "work things out" or "make things right" (I quickly learned to lock bathroom doors). 

I became that annoying girl who'd take a stupid amount of time to go to the toilet at nightclubs and music festivals. But the people on the other side of the toilet door weren't quite as patient as my brother was. 


I heard some variation of the phrase "GET OUT ALREADY, YOU STUPID MOLE" more times than I'd have liked. 

But obsessive-compulsive order (OCD) will do that. It will humiliate you and put you in hideously cringeworthy situations. And you'll cop it, because the fear of your thoughts and the dread of uncertainty will always override your embarrassment or pride.

Image: Booktopia.

The Joy Thief by Penny Moodie is now available for purchase. Order here.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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