‘I had to stay awake or something terrible would happen to them’

Rachel Charlett, 36, suffers from OCD.
Rachel Charlett, 36, suffers from OCD.
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Rachel Charlett’s life is dictated by time-consuming rituals. Catherine Scott meets her to talk about life with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Rachel Charlett was six years old when she first started showing signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

“I must have read something about the witching hour being between 10pm and 4am, so if I woke in the night I had to stay awake until 4am or else something terrible would happen to my family and it would be my fault,” says Rachel, now 36, from Calderdale. “Once 4am came and everything was ok I could go back to sleep.”

When she was eight she changed schools and went to a Church of England school where they said the Lord’s Prayer.

“I thought ‘that’s it, that’s a way of keeping my family safe.’ But it progressed so much that I had to say the Lord’s Prayer 100 times before I went to bed or something terrible would happen. I would say it in batches of ten and count it on my fingers before I could go to bed.

“I think I knew what I was doing was irrational and sometimes when I was really tired I didn’t want to do it, but there was always this other voice saying ‘What if you don’t do it and something bad happens? It will be your fault.’ When I told my parents they told me not to be daft, but I had no choice.”

From the age of 13 or 14 the OCD seemed to calm down, but when Rachel was 20 she started to develop more classic signs of the illness.

“I was in a relationship and he suffered from liver disease. For some reason tests found that his bloods had gone down. I remember thinking it must be my fault, I was training to be a teacher and I thought I must have brought the germs in from school and that’s when I started washing.”

Rachel would repeatedly wash her hands and clothes in bleach.

“It would take me half an hour to wash my hands and then they would be red raw. I became convinced that I could see blood everywhere when I was out of the house, so when I came back I had to strip all my clothes off immediately and put them in the washing machine, clean the outside of the washing machine and then have a shower. I would then clean all the stairs and where I had walked and then get back in the shower.

“I had to wash the car inside and out every time I got home. Only then could I start to relax.”

Ironically it was Rachel’s extreme behaviour which ended the relationship which had triggered it in the first place.

“He just couldn’t cope with my obsessions,” she says. “I couldn’t really blame him. By then they had got very extreme. I was obsessing about it all the time. I had to change the bedding every day. I wouldn’t go out at night because I didn’t want to come into contact with people in pubs or clubs. I even started to clean in secret at night. The funny thing is I am not at all a tidy person, but it wasn’t about being tidy, it was the fact if I didn’t do the rituals then something terrible was going to happen.”

It got so bad that she could no longer even enter her own kitchen for fear of spreading contamination.

“A friend came round and said I couldn’t go on like I was. She cleaned my kitchen four times but I just physically couldn’t go in. I felt so guilty, but I just couldn’t do it.”

Rachel did try to seek help from her GP, who said she didn’t have OCD and was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks.

When she met her now-husband she at first didn’t tell him about her OCD.

“He is so reassuring, but the problem with that is then I look for reassurance all the time. It is physically and emotionally draining for both of us.

“The problem is when you start looking for things you will find them.”

On one occasion Rachel hadn’t had time to ritually clean her car so she was forced to take the bus. “The bus was full and I had to sit next to a man who had dried blood on his arm and he started picking at. It was probably the worst thing that could happen to me. When I got home I was in floods of tears and I just had to strip off my clothes in the garden. My husband was there with a bin bag and I had to throw everything away.”

When Rachel had a baby, they were both concerned that her anxieties were not passed on to their son, now seven.

“He is a sensitive child and he does ask ‘why is Mummy so stressed?’ which is heart-breaking.”

It was when Rachel’s husband changed jobs and was no longer at home to reassure her that he convinced her to get some help.

“I started Cognitive Behaviour Therapy in June and it is helping with some of my rituals and helping me to see that I am not responsible for everything that happens. But we haven’t started working on my contamination rituals yet, that is going to be harder.”

Rachel is speaking out during OCD Awareness week which is calling for better understanding of OCD and an end to programmes such as OC Cleaners.

“The problem with these programmes is that they don’t look at why people behave the way they do. To me and other sufferers at the time it is life or death and not something to be laughed at,” she says,

Chief Executive of OCD-UK, Ashley Fulwood said: “We need to create a society that recognises that all forms of illnesses, physical and mental, are not subjects for comedy and that OCD is a serious disability, one that should be respected and acknowledged.”

OCD is a serious anxiety-related condition affecting 1.2 per cent of the population, sometimes with tragic consequences.

It is so debilitating and disabling that the World 
Health Organisation has ranked OCD in the top ten of the most disabling illnesses of any kind, in terms of diminished quality of life.

OCD-UK is using OCD Awareness week to challenge the current trend of programmes such as OC Cleaners which they believe laughs at people with the serious mental health issue.

Now the charity is inviting everyone to visit http://thatsocd.info to learn more about OCD.