Giggles erupted between us as we launched ourselves towards the cubby house. Back then, my sister and I loved watching the Wiggles together on the VCR, and I remember we were both wearing Dorothy the Dinosaur costume tails on that particular day. Even at the age of 4 or 5, I remember very clearly avoiding contact with the part of the cubby house that had old cobwebs. I know that I was a very anxious child, but I truly thought that everyone was just hiding their difficulties much better than I was. Despite my sister being younger than me, she radiated a confidence that I tried to emulate but could never seem to match.

Over time, I’ve learnt that people deal with stressors in different ways; just because I didn’t notice, doesn’t mean that others weren’t struggling too.

As I reached my teenage years, I recall being so frustrated when I’d be sent to my room for saying something unkind or having an unexplainable emotional outburst if something wasn’t done the way I expected. But now, at 24 years of age, I’ve lived with a diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) for over a decade. Now I realise that some of my immature behaviours were because I just couldn’t understand the intrusive thoughts that glued themselves into my mind.

In the months before my diagnosis, I had such severe difficulties understanding who I was. I was constantly bombarded with internal intrusive thoughts which forced me to carry out compulsions, such as washing my hands until they bled. And I could see how much pain it was causing my parents when I would scream in terror from an image my brain created by the presence of OCD.

But a different ‘glue’, which held me together, was the support that I received from my family. Living with OCD is hard, but navigating the associated complexities of childhood and adolescence with it is much harder. I am incredibly grateful to my parents for giving me a blissful childhood. Their guidance, love and understanding are the reason I am still here today. And my maternal grandparents also significantly influenced my life for the better.

Summers were spent with my mum’s parents, only about 20 minutes from where we lived. They owned a small farm and I was immersed in the realities of small-scale farming from a young age. The impact animals can have on a child is amazing. My sister, cousins and I would feed the sheep as we ran our hands across the wool. I named one of the sheep Ulysses after the Greek hero, Odysseus from one of the early reader books I had at the time. I was an avid reader, often found surrounded by books, until OCD began to affect my concentration.

Watching sheep being shorn was a frequent occurrence, as was walking along the perimeter and running up and down the extremely long driveway. The carefree feeling that washed over me as I ran was indescribable, and with the responsibilities of adulthood that I now have, I long to experience it again. I’m slowly getting there.

OCD is greatly misunderstood as we are often exposed to stories which have been created by ill-informed media. Until I reached mid-adolescence, my comprehension of stigma had been poor, but I’d known at 11 years old that being different would make me a vulnerable target to bullies. And I’d already been excluded by my ‘friends’ previously, so I didn’t want it to happen again. I decided not to expose my diagnosis, and it lived under the radar of others for many years. But inside my mind, I was really struggling.

Now, I have completely accepted that OCD is just a set of hurdles in my life. And in therapy, I am training my mind to jump over these; they probably won’t ever disappear but if I can ‘jump’ higher, I’m hopeful that I can achieve everything I set my mind to. There will be times that I stumble, and maybe even fall, but up to this point, I’ve managed to get over each hurdle, eventually.

When I am utterly overwhelmed nowadays, I reminisce about the times in my childhood of tranquillity, those that I was so fortunate to experience. Friday afternoons have always been my favourite time of the week, especially during the first years of school. After a tiring day of doing simple addition, art, and extremely basic Spanish, I was picked up from school and I played with my sister until we were called for dinner. Two trays of cut up fruit and tiny sandwiches were placed on the lower table for easy access and our little plastic chairs were set up neatly beside them. So, now as an adult, I attempt to recreate these evenings for myself, often inviting my sister over for a movie night.

Although my family are still as supportive as they were when I was a child, the realities of living in pandemic times with my already intense obsessions about germs and cleanliness have been hard to navigate. So, I am grateful that I have the support to keep me stable while I engage in therapy and mindfulness to lessen the effects of OCD on my life.

Living with OCD is really hard, and it’s tough on everyone close to me, especially my partner. And because OCD is such a confusing disorder, I still don’t always understand why I obsess over the things I do.

Will spiders crawl into my empty shoes if I don’t put them in the exact spot where I think they need to go?

Probably not, but the OCD in my brain demands that I comply to reduce the likelihood of danger.

Imagine being 11 years old and having such thoughts bombard your brain all day, every day. So, I am an advocate for talking openly about mental health. I don’t want any other kids to struggle the way I did. Not everyone has a support system as strong as mine.

Family history of mental ill health means that future generations are at higher risk of receiving a diagnosis for a mental illness. My partner and I are planning to start our own family in the next couple of years and I would be lying if I said that I have no concerns about my mental ill health affecting our children. Will they think it’s their fault when tears constantly roll down Mummy’s face?

But I have improved greatly over the last few years, and I know my lived experience of OCD means I’ll empathise and support my children as they grow into successful adults, whether they have mental ill health or not.

Georgie Waters is a 24 year old emerging writer who lives with obsessive compulsive disorder. She often writes about her experiences to reduce  the stigma associated with mental health issues. While working full time, she also is undertaking a Graduate Certificate in Creative and Professional Writing at Griffith University. 

Instagram: georgie.wwriter50