R U OK? // How My Battle With OCD Conflicts With My Career

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In the light of R U OK day, it’s important to share your thoughts and feelings with those around you. In this instance, I wanted to take the time to delve into a personal story of my own. The story about my battle with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and how it continually conflicts with my career.

It started when I was just eight years old. I remember walking out of the toilet to wash my hands. At the time, my mum was walking past the bathroom, only to drop a harmless remark about how I should be washing my hands with soap. I thought she made a valid point, but from here, things really spiralled out of control.

I started washing my hands with soap, regularly. Sometimes when I hadn’t even gone to the toilet. My desire to ridden germs intensified by the day. Soon before I knew it, I was petrified of the concept of germs. From the age of 8-12, my life was an ongoing battle to stay clear of anything I deemed to posses germs.

My OCD would trigger whenever I’d come into contact with something I’d thought to be ‘germy’. Sometimes I wouldn’t even need to physically touch an object, but would still consider myself affected by the germs it carried. When I felt exposed, I had no choice but to run to the closest tap and cleans myself.

At its worse, I’d often wash my hands until they’d crack and bleed. I also couldn’t come in contact with members of my family as I thought they carried germs. When I did, well, it’d often result in an immediate shower to fight any unwanted germs. 

As I was young, I was never quite able to explain why I behaved like this. The most effective way I described my OCD to others, was as a voice inside my head that had no reason. The voice would make the most ludicrous demands, in which I had no control over.

Fortunately enough, I was able to see the help of a psychiatrist, in which after years of therapy, relieved me of my condition.

Lachlan Kirkwood as a child without OCD.

After being relieved of my condition for six years, it was when I turned 18 that my next obsession began. This time around, the focus wasn’t on germs, but was instead about my body. One day I was reading a generic 101 fun facts book, when I stumbled across an interesting observation.

“If you think about your muscles, it will help them grow”.

One thing I should openly admit, is that I’ve had one consistent goal throughout my life – to always remain in good shape. Growing up I’ve always been active. Whether it be through swimming, athletics, playing football, or in more recent times, riding my BMX bike, I’ve always been active. One of my biggest fears is letting life get the best of me and finally ‘letting myself go’.

Lachlan Kirkwood running athletics race and riding his BMX bike.

Now bearing this is mind, you could begin to understand why this bold statement would intrigue me.

At the time of reading it, I had again put no thought into this statement… but like my first experience, things escalated quickly. I soon found myself not only thinking about my muscles regularly, but tensing and touching them to remind myself that they were still there. 

I knew that this started becoming a problem when my actions were embarrassing to explain to those around me. To this day, I know my habits are obscure, but the voice of OCD inside my head continues to tell me it’s necessary.

But unlike my first round of germ-related OCD, I was actually happy to reason with this voice, as it agreed with my goal of remaining fit and healthy.

After graduating school, I started studying and began working a part-time job. With these new responsibilities, I began worrying that they’d get the best of me and take away from my health and fitness. There’d be countless times throughout the day where I’d have to drop whatever I was doing, only to perform my routine OCD checks on my muscles. 

But what really began to trigger my OCD, was food. If I was to think about food, or even hear a mention of food, the voice inside my head would convince me that I was gaining calories. This would of course result in me performing a compulsive check to ensure I hadn’t lost my muscles.

Throughout university, I was fortunate enough to work in a retail sales role. This meant that I was constantly on my feet, which I knew was good exercise. But one day, I had read another article. This time, the article explained the benefits of burning calories by standing at work all day. From here on out, I refused to sit in general. 

I also started making small changes to my eating habits to ensure I stayed in shape. I stopped eating lunch to avoid a subset of daily calories. Whenever I did eat, I also had to be standing. This is where my bad relationship with food started. Absolutely ridiculous, I know.

As time passed, I graduated uni and entered the full-time workforce. Now this, is when things really started getting out of control

My first impression of the full-time workforce was two things:

  1. You have to sit at a desk for eight hours straight,
  2. And adults seem to have two main interests – food and drinking

At this point, my OCD reached a new peak. Now whenever I’d worry about my health, I wouldn’t just touch my muscles, but I’d ruthlessly strike at them to ensure they were strong. This would include scratching, punching, and even throwing objects into myself.

Now again, I know just as much as you how ridiculous this sounds, but my OCD gave me no alternative.

In the workplace, my colleagues would often talk about food, which is of course completely normal. But frequently hearing about food made me only resent it more.

I’d started eating less and riding my bike more – often 6 times a week to ensure I was resilient to becoming unhealthy. I was terrified of settling into a full-time job and letting life get the best of me.

But when I turned twenty-one, I started to really enjoy my work. Now while you’d assume that someone enjoying their work is great, in my case, it was the beginning of the ultimate catch twenty-two… 

You see, because I enjoyed my work, I started investing more time in my career. This in turn, would then worsen my OCD. I turned to riding my bike, but whenever I’d ride my bike too much, I was worried that I wasn’t taking my career seriously enough. 

I’d then force myself to work harder, which of course, would completely backfire and set off what I call, ‘an OCD attack’. 

An attack is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a moment where I lose complete control over my thoughts and actions. It’s a tipping point where I can no longer handle the pressure I’ve put on myself.

There’s a fine line in which I can walk between either working too much, or what I’d consider to be having too much fun. This green zone looks similar to a car temperature gauge. Anything out of this safe area, only results in me tipping.

Gauge that represents the imbalance between work and life

Attacks started to become frequent when I’d prioritise work over my life, in particular, exercising. This would normally occur whenever I’d attend networking events or other work functions.

So why am I sharing all of this? Well, a couple of weeks ago it all became too much. Everything had caught up with me and I’d pushed myself too far. After remaining on the fine line of the green zone for a few months, I tipped. 

Except this time, I remember coming home from work one afternoon and having this feeling of utter melancholy. I’d been so hard on myself to the point where I had broken. 

I was in a bad state, but I knew that I needed to talk to someone. I picked up the phone and spoke to my mum. 

Although physically picking up the phone was an easy thing to do, it made a difference in a big way.

Being able to openly share my thoughts and feelings was exactly what I’d needed. I didn’t expect my mum to solve anything, but I knew that she could listen. 

My mum has a wise saying – a problem shared, is a problem halved.

I knew that by the time I’d gotten off the phone, my problem would be sliced right down the middle – and it was. 

In the light of R U OK Day, I wanted to highlight how important it is to reach out to someone when you’re in need. I may not be completely okay, but I know at what point to make others aware of it.

It’s tough being a young person in the digital space. Things evolve at such a rapid pace, and it’s harder than ever to remain relevant or of value. In general, a lot of passionate workers put unnecessary pressure on themselves to perform, yet no one actually expects it from them.

If you’re not feeling okay, I urge you to talk to someone. There’s absolutely no shame in letting someone know that you’re not okay. 

At the end of every piece of content I publish, I always include a CTA to reach out and connect with me. In this case, I’d genuinely love to hear how you’re feeling. If you made it this far into this post, take the time to let me know if you’re okay.

If you’d like professional advice, I’d urge you to reach out to any of the incredible free resources available here.

Support lines for the R U OK foundation.

You may not know it, but there’s more than likely to be someone within your network who struggles with a mental battle of their own. Make the effort today to reach out to others and show them your support.

Just remember, a problem shared is a problem halved.

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