‘I call my OCD Olivia’


Catherine Benfield with Olivia

Catherine Benfield wasn’t diagnosed with OCD until she was was 31, after she had her initial child, yet it would seem she’s had it all her life. She recovered with a assistance of therapy – and by formulating a impression who personifies her obsessive-compulsive behaviour.

“She’s got a large ears, given she’s like a dismayed hare, she’s listening out.

“She’s bedraggled, given she’s been by a lot and she’s routinely carrying some kind of panic.

“The large eyes are about creation certain she’s gripping an eye out for danger.

“The large legs – for running,” like a fearful hare, says Catherine Benfield.

And she can change too – unequivocally quickly. She can be still one moment, though afterwards her mood will pitch and she’ll unexpected be feeling during a finish of her tether, forlorn, damaged and, during her worst, positively beaten.

You have now met Olivia.

She is a visualization – a impression combined by Catherine to model a condition she has lived with given she was a child.

The O in Olivia stands for OCD, an shortening for obsessive-compulsive disorder.

People are mostly mistaken about OCD, Catherine says. So many people consider it’s about being unequivocally refined and organising your pens unequivocally precisely on your table though it’s indeed a critical anxiety-related mental health condition, involving forward recurrent thoughts, images and fears.

In an bid to forestall one of her fears entrance true, Catherine would feel compelled to lift out a repeated earthy or mental act – in technical terms a fear is a “obsession” and a repeated act is a “compulsion”. This would yield proxy service from a anxiety, though afterwards it competence return, constrained her to repeat a poise again and again.

Catherine says OCD mostly preys on kind and caring people.

“They’re compassionate, they’re supportive to a needs of others,” she says. “They adore a people around them to an power where they will do anything to stop mistreat entrance to them.”

Between a ages of 4 and five, Catherine would mount staring out of a window for prolonged periods, watchful for family members to lapse home and fearing that they had come to harm.

“I suspicion somehow a wordless burial would assistance pierce them home safely,” she says.

Image caption

Catherine aged six

As a teen she was shocked to be a final one to leave a house, given of a fear that it would bake down once she had left – she would compulsively check a cooker was switched off and switches unplugged. And to safeguard everybody was protected she would compulsively close all doors and windows, and mislay all outing hazards.

These routines could take hours to perform, and if one thing uneasy a routine she would start all over again.

As time went on she became so bustling with her studies and her pursuit as a clergyman that OCD had reduction of an impact on her life. It wasn’t until she had her baby son during a age of 31 that she became unequivocally unwell.

“I had a terrible labour. we came away, we was unequivocally diseased and we only couldn’t do unequivocally most physically, it gave me a lot of time to think,” she says.

“Almost immediately we started staying adult all night to check he was breathing. Every primogenitor has been famous to check their child’s breathing, definitely when it’s newborn, though it grew to a indicate where we didn’t feel like we could leave him during all. we wasn’t sleeping, we wasn’t eating.”

At initial she was shocked that something or someone would mistreat him. Then she began to worry that she competence mistreat him herself.

“I remember sitting on a lounge looking during my mother-in-law holding my child in front of a wall and meditative how easy it would be to get adult and chuck him opposite it,” she says.

“I could see it all, it was positively terrible and unequivocally detailed, unequivocally vivid, accompanied with images in my conduct of my destiny and what I’d have finished to my family and my friends as a result.”

She didn’t know it, though what she was experiencing was perinatal OCD. Women with this condition would never indeed lift out a actions they visualise, though Catherine’s forward thoughts left her feeling anxious, vexed and isolated.

“I didn’t know it was OCD,” she says. “I suspicion we wanted to do it. we thought, ‘What kind of mom has thoughts like that about their child?'”

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Lynne Drummond says life events, both good and bad, are mostly a trigger for OCD.

“Childbirth is definitely a vital life event,” she says. “Let alone a whole emanate of unexpected carrying somebody who is totally and definitely contingent on you. Plus your [changing] hormones, and you’re knackered and you’re substantially during times down in a dumps and your physique has had a outrageous change. You’re physically during a reduce ebb. Emotionally we have to come to grips with your change in role.”

Catherine began to equivocate anything that could mistreat her son. She threw divided all a knives in a residence as she illusory herself spiteful him with them. She was shocked to go on a hire height with a pram after carrying forward thoughts about pulling her son underneath a train.

She eventually became so concerned that she couldn’t leave a residence with her son.

“I was never suicidal, though we do remember during one indicate thinking, if a unequivocally misfortune comes to a unequivocally misfortune and we can’t get by this, that is an choice for me,” she says.

“If we trust that you’re a risk to your child, you’ll do whatever we can to mislay that risk and that was, we suppose, a ultimate thing that we could do.”

She says nobody – including medical professionals – recognized her symptoms.

“I literally got to a indicate where my father said, ‘You need to come to a doctor’s right now,’ and so we went,” says Catherine. “I walked in and we was literally like, ‘I’m disturbed I’m going to mistreat my son,’ and only detonate into tears.”

The GP told her it was stress and gave her medication. But when she attempted to come off it her condition run-down again. One day, in desperation, she typed into Google “OCD and fear of harming son” and dozens of stories popped up.

“I hadn’t suspicion that was going to happen,” she says. “I suspicion we was a monster, and immediately all that we had been meditative and feeling and going by was created down in front of me by all these other people.”

Catherine had finally got a diagnosis – from a internet – after battling with OCD all her life. She afterwards sought medical help, and about 18 months after she had her son Catherine started therapy.

This enclosed cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a articulate therapy that focuses on how your thoughts and attitudes impact your poise and feelings, and bearing and response impediment therapy (ERP), a form of CBT diagnosis where we are asked to confront your obsessions or fears and conflict carrying out a compulsive behaviour.

Dr Lynne Drummond on “graded exposure” ERP therapy

What I’d do is get a studious to emanate a hierarchy of situations. we use a zero-to-eight scale with 0 being no stress and 8 finish panic. I’d get them to rate how concerned they would feel doing any thing though “putting things right” – in other words, behaving a compulsion. I’d start with something that had an stress rating of 3 or 4 – mild-to-moderate stress – and inspire them to display themselves to their fears for one to dual hours though “putting things right”. They would find that a stress would sojourn high and it would be positively horrible, though indeed over that time it would go down – and any time they do it will be only that small bit easier.

This helped enormously, though Catherine found there was a large stumbling retard on her highway to recovery.

“Unless we could get a hoop on a fact that indeed we wasn’t this monster, we wasn’t going to be means to lift on removing better,” she says. “And that’s where Olivia came in.”

Olivia was a approach for Catherine to apart herself from her condition. Olivia personified her obsessions and her compulsive poise – though she could feel care for Olivia, and this enabled her to feel care for herself.

“If we had a unequivocally terrible suspicion about harming someone, we would suppose that it was Olivia hopping adult and down and she was a one who was frightened, she was a one who was frightened – and I’d feel for her.

“I’d be like, ‘Come on don’t be daft, this is only anxiety,’ and by doing that we could afterwards speak to myself in that way.”

It was while she was soaking adult one day that a suspicion of Olivia came to her. She now visualised what Olivia looked like and motionless to write a blog. Then she told her artist husband, Pete, who drew a illusory quadruped his mother described.

The impact was immediate. Catherine even went out and bought a set of knives for a residence again.

Where to get help

OCD Action


Maternal OCD

Mind – Perinatal OCD

OCD Youth

“When we was removing a forward suspicion about a knives we could suppose Olivia bouncing adult and down in a fury beside me and all we wanted to do was go, ‘Look don’t be silly, this is nothing, it’s nothing.'”

Olivia Bamber from a gift OCD Action says therapy is a endorsed diagnosis for OCD and that remedy can also be helpful. But so can “separating OCD from yourself” – as Catherine and some others have.

“I consider they recognize it’s them, it’s only this is not what they wish to be,” says Lynne Drummond.

“The critical thing is confronting adult to these thoughts and not removing bullied and organized by them.”

Catherine says she knows some people with OCD have called their condition “the bully”, though she didn’t wish Olivia to be like this.

“I couldn’t bear a suspicion of perplexing to suppose myself vital with this immorality face hovering over my shoulder. So we motionless to have a impression that we could uncover adore and compassion,” she says.

At a same time, Catherine worked tough on tasks set by her therapist.

She had turn too shocked to go into a dialect store given of forward thoughts about throwing her son from a escalator. As partial of her ERP therapy she was asked to start confronting her misfortune fears and to transport adult and down a escalators carrying her afterwards two-year-old son in her arms.

“It was something that positively shocked me during first, though we went adult and down those escalators so many times and on so many opposite occasions that we don’t even consider about it any more,” she says.

She also had to mount on a hire height and deliberately pierce on a suspicion of pulling her son underneath a sight until it got to a indicate where she faced no stress during all.

“I don’t see liberation as never carrying a symptom,” she says. “I see liberation as being means to conduct them or them not interfering massively in my day-to-day life.”

Occasionally, Catherine says, OCD does try and poke a approach behind into her life.

“As we was walking out of [my son’s] bedroom final night, carrying pronounced goodnight, there was a book on a building and we suspicion if he gets adult in a night and runs in to me he could outing on that and tumble and strike his head, and so we changed it, that is what mums do, it creates sense,” says Catherine.

“I got behind into bed and we was like, ‘Ah did we pierce it distant adequate out a way?’ we knew we did, though we had to go behind and we had to pierce it and afterwards we was like, ‘Stop it, stop it!’ And that’s where we employed all a things we learnt by regulating Olivia.”

She didn’t go behind to check a second time, proof how distant she has come.

But will Olivia ever disappear from her life?

“I still use that visualization infrequently and we still use a things that we learnt from that each singular day, even in areas of my life that are zero to do with OCD,” she says. “If we start carrying a disastrous suspicion about something – ‘Did we do that right or wrong?’ – we remember that self-compassion, and it started with her, so we don’t consider we will ever contend goodbye to her.”

Through her blog, Taming Olivia, Catherine now tries to assistance new mothers recognize a symptoms of OCD, and encourages them to uncover care towards themselves.

“It’s a pursuit to recognize a Olivias,” she says, “but not to give into them.”

All illustrations of Olivia by Pete Benfield

Dr Lynne Drummond is a author of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: All You Want to Know about OCD

See also: My mental illness insists on fasten me on holiday

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