Obsessive-compulsive disorder – it’s a topic that’s fairly well known, possibly because of people’s bizarre fascination with OCDs most extreme examples. But talked about doesn’t equal understood. For a lot of people, it’s not a case of ‘I need to turn the light switch on and off 50 times or my family will die’. There are many different forms, and often they are so subtly integrated into people’s behaviours that you might not even notice.
I have experienced sensorimotor obsession since childhood. It’s a lesser known kind of OCD, and is basically intense focus on automatic bodily processes. Sometimes it’s breathing, but most often mine takes the form of compulsive swallowing. It’s usually triggered by stress or anxiety and most often occurs at night, when there are no other stimulants to distract me.
I will swallow, and then start thinking about swallowing, leading me to swallow again. I then think about how I don’t want to keep swallowing, which leads to more swallowing. I then get panicked and try not to swallow, I don’t breathe through concentration – but inevitably the swallow happens and each and every time, I become more anxious, upset, scared even. Sometimes I‘ll be in tears. Sometimes I’ll try to wash the sensation away with water, which of course makes it worse because you need to swallow it! An attack can last from minutes to hours, but always feels like a lifetime.
I am aware of how bizarre this sounds. And that’s why, despite not having talked about this to anyone really, I‘m writing this post. Genuinely I always assumed I was mad, and until very recently, I didn’t even realise it was a real disorder: a form of OCD, diagnosable, understandable.
And now it’s like a weight off my shoulders. Realising you are not the only one is absolutely the best medicine.