‘Do it again. Go on, just check it again. Best check it again just in case’.
These are the thoughts in my mind every night, and just like Bobby Beale (Clay Milner Russell) in EastEnders, I have OCD.
When we returned to Walford in September, we quickly discovered how most families had been affected by lockdown and the pandemic, and when we re-joined the Beale family, Bobby began showing signs of obsessive hand washing – something I can relate to.
It’s only been in the last few weeks that Bobby’s paranoia has started to heighten, recently he learnt Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean) was unwell and convinced she could come down with coronavirus, began washing the kitchen pots and pans, and laying them neatly out onto the table. Bobby also watched Kathy (Gillian Taylforth) take a tumble after a date and convinced it was his fault, rushed home to clean household items.
OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) can consume your life, and change who you are. The constant obsessiveness over checking the same things repeatedly is tiring, and the satisfaction gained after doing rituals and checking things can sometimes only be short lived, so the cycle you spent so long doing has to start again.
I’ve lived with OCD since 2016. During that year I left a long-term job, and quickly became unemployed. I wasn’t doing anything with my days, and because my brain had nothing to focus on, I started to check things, which eventually turned into OCD.
At my very worst, every evening I would check the: oven, hob, microwave, toaster, tumble dryer (it started at around the time Hotpoint tumbles were catching fire), candles and the radiator in the bathroom. I’d do this every single night, sometimes it would take five minutes, other times it would take 10 minutes, maybe more.
There’s one reason why I would check all of these appliances: I was worried if they weren’t switched off, they would catch fire and the house would burn down.
Even though I know the oven isn’t going to catch fire, I have to check it, and for so many people, counting while doing the rituals makes it more manageable.
During the time Bobby does his rituals or finds himself in a difficult situations, he counts to five. While this can look confusing to viewers who don’t understand the true extent of OCD, I understood what he was doing perfectly.
My OCD involves counting in groups of four. At my worst, checking the microwave, toaster, oven and hob had to be done four times, I’d then review, see if I was comfortable and if I wasn’t, I’d do it again, until I was satisfied with my counting.
Bobby counts to five because he thinks tragedy will strike if he doesn’t do it. For me, counting confirms in my head that everything will be fine, and checking things just once simply wasn’t enough (hence the obsessive part).
Typically, those with counting OCD will have specific numbers they are comfortable with, like odd or even numbers, or for Bobby it’s the number five, and for me it has to be a multiple of four. A big part of OCD is doing things to keep people safe, and during the pandemic, keeping safe became more important than ever before.
During the height of the pandemic, everywhere you went, you’d see or hear at least one advert telling you the importance in washing your hands, and rightly so, it reduces the risk of infection.
But for me, and Bobby, and so many others living with OCD, a constant reminder to wash your hands and be mindful about hygiene didn’t make things easier – it made things worse. I would wash my hands so often during lockdown they would become incredibly dry, cracked, and would sometimes bleed, but despite the damage I was doing to my hands, it wasn’t enough to make me stop; the government was drumming into us that we had to wash our hands, but for those living with OCD, the constant reminding had a greater impact on us.
The stigma surrounding OCD is something that frustrates and annoys me hugely, which is why Bobby’s storyline is so important to highlight the fact that many people do not take OCD seriously.
We’ve already seen comments from Ian (Adam Woodyatt), Kathy and Peter (Dayle Hudson) who have been making fun of Bobby’s cleanliness but comments like ‘don’t wash your hands!’ or ‘you’re so paranoid’ do not help, they actually make the compulsion to do your rituals so much worse. It is an illness incredibly difficult to manage, and having other people point out to you that it isn’t normal to check the oven more than once or clean a photo frame is something we do not want to hear.
I have had OCD for four years, but fortunately for me the severity of my rituals isn’t as bad as what it used to be, because I’ve learnt ways to help myself manage the rituals, and compulsion to check again, and again…
I am able to keep some appliances switched on now, and one of the best things I have been doing is videoing my ‘checks’. I do the ritual as I do every night, but make sure I video what I’m doing so when I’m away from the kitchen and get the sudden urge to check the oven again, I can watch the video on my phone, confirming to myself that the oven is switched off.
I can tell myself I know I have turned something off, but sometimes believing your own mind isn’t an option, so having physical evidence in the form of a video is enough to set my mind at ease.
I also challenge my OCD. If I’m having a particularly good day, I’ll use this and do my rituals quicker, and if my mood is so great, I’ll even think about possibly leaving something switched on, but this is very hard to do, and rarely happens.
After four years of switching it off and checking, this year I chose to leave the toaster switched on, which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but for me it was huge! It was another way to show that I am, albeit slowly, beating OCD.
My hopes for the future of Bobby’s storyline is simple: it must be long-term. OCD doesn’t just disappear after an extreme ritual check, so I hope we see Bobby battle OCD for a while because that is the reality so many people face.
A longer storyline also allows Bobby’s family to come to terms with the illness, and realise they all must step up to help him and stop with the comments about his hygiene obsessions.
I praise EastEnders for portraying this illness because we don’t see enough of it. I just hope after the peak of Bobby’s storyline, the accuracy continues, and his OCD doesn’t fade, because that isn’t accurate. OCD changes people’s lives, and what a simpler life those with OCD could live if it were a case of never having the illness again after one intense ritual.
It also gives EastEnders the opportunity to show a character on the road of recovery, and highlight to people that recovering from this debilitating illness is possible, it just takes time.
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