Saturday 20 January 2018

Living with OCD: “I have a rare minute when I’m not thinking about OCD but other than that my brain is always turned on”

Artist Jacob Billsborough (25) features in an RTE documentary which delves into the lives of Irish people living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Jacob Billsborough struggles each day with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Patricia Murphy

Patricia Murphy

A pounding heart, cold sweats, and episodes of overwhelming anxiety are all daily occurrences in the life of Irish artist Jacob Billsbourough who is one of thousands of Irish people struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

The 25-year-old is part of the nation’s 2-3pc of people who struggle with OCD, an anxiety disorder which causes a person to have regular and unwelcome obsessive thoughts often prompting repetitive compulsions.

“Every day with OCD is absolutely exhausting,” said Jacob an artist who lives in Dublin City Centre.

“I regularly have panic attacks which are episodes of extreme anxiety where my heart pounds, I break out in cold sweats, I might be talking but I have absolutely no idea what I’ve said. It is exhausting for your brain to be going and processing all the time.”

The artist suffers from contamination OCD where he views the world in terms of ‘OCD clean’ and ‘OCD dirty’.

Read more: 'I can only imagine how awkward those meals were for everyone else involved, sitting and eating dinner with a ghost'

Tasks which many people hardly register, for example bumping against a passerby or pressing a button in an elevator, are ones which cause episodes of overwhelming anxiety for Jacob.

 “I plan my whole life around my OCD tendencies and sometimes when I’m not in the mood for that anxiety I just avoid going outside my apartment. It can be exhausting,” he said.

"If I've been out, I can not relax until I've showered and if there is a pile of dirty clothes I can do nothing else but think about it and worry about touching it," he said.

Jacob features in an RTE documentary ‘OCD and Me’, which delves into the lives of Irish people whose lives revolve around coping with the compulsive disorder.

“The documentary is an opportunity to disassemble the sometimes comical stereotypes and associations people can make about OCD,” said Jacob.

“People often have preconceived notions about OCD which are often untrue or unfounded.”

The documentary also features Jacob’s mother Mella who is also a sufferer of OCD. She and Jacob haven’t touched in over four years despite their close relationship.

The artist said fly away phrases like ‘he’s a little bit OCD’ are frustrating for people who are trying to cope with the mental illness on a daily basis.

“Generally OCD is taken with humour and that’s fine when you’re talking about a funny Bill Murray film but in reality people can’t differentiate between the comical and the reality.

“An interesting part of this documentary was meeting Adrian the producer who didn’t know much about OCD before we began. It was quite cool to watch someone gain a better understanding of it. I don’t perceive myself as fragile or broken and I guess many people with OCD are seen this way,” he said.

“I’ve become friends with Adrian since the documentary and it was interesting to see him understand other aspects of OCD rather than just see it as a debilitating illness.”

OCD is the third most common concern reported to St Patrick’s mental-health support services where Jacob has sought help during points throughout his struggle which began when he was involved in a serious accident six years ago.

“When I was a child I had OCD tendencies. They were never physical they were always mental and it wasn’t invading my life. In all aspects I guess I was just a weird kid.

“When I was 19 I was hit by a car and my brain hemorrhaged and that is when my symptoms really began for me. It was gradual. I began to wash my hands a little bit more if I touched something. My symptoms built up over time to my worst point over three years ago.

“I feel like I’ve come a long way since then but I’m still a long way off being able to complete an exercise like picking a stone off the ground and putting it in my pocket.”

Battling with OCD has been a barrier for many of Jacob's friendships as many of his friends spend time and meet in places Jacob sees as OCD dirty. He believes some people have a very difficult time accepting and understanding the disorder which makes it hard to continue relationships.

"I have lost a lot of friends because of it. There is a barrier because many people may want to spend time or meet in places I see as OCD dirty and others just don’t really understand or are part of a life I don’t really want any association with anymore."

Jacob gets a rare escape from his constant battle with OCD through means of his work (www.millionmonkeys.ie).

“Art is a great escape for me and it allows me to relax. Sometimes when I’m painting or playing Playstation with my friends online my mind switches off for a minute or two but that is literally it. That is the longest I go without having one of those thoughts,” he said.

OCD and Me airs tonight at 9.30pm tonight on RTE1.

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