DR MAX PEMBERTON: Being a neat freak is world away from torture of OCD

DR MAX PEMBERTON: Being a neat freak is a world away from the torture of OCD

We all know someone who has, let’s say, certain quirks.

Perhaps they like their pens and pencils perfectly aligned on their desk. 

Or they are forever plumping up their cushions. Or their cutlery drawer is a work of art and their wardrobe perfectly colour-co-ordinated.

All too often they will try to laugh off this quirky behaviour by claiming they’re a ‘little bit OCD’ — that is, they have obsessive compulsive disorder.

All too often they will try to laugh off this quirky behaviour by claiming they’re a ‘little bit OCD’ — that is, they have obsessive compulsive disorder

Take Paul Hollywood, of Great British Bake Off fame, who claimed to have OCD because of his ‘obsessive’ cleaning — sometimes every couple of hours — of his Aston Martin. 

I don’t think so, Paul! As regular readers of my column will know, nothing makes me more cross.

This is not OCD. These are just habits, in my view. 

Maybe they’re a little odd, a little neurotic, but they are not symptoms of a crippling mental illness that is the reality of the OCD I see in patients referred to me.

If people could see what real OCD looks like, then they’d think twice about laying claim to it.

This week the OCD debate took a new turn when the award-winning singer George Ezra detailed his constant battle with distressing and intrusive thoughts because of a form of OCD known as ‘Pure O’.

Take Paul Hollywood (pictured), of Great British Bake Off fame, who claimed to have OCD because of his ‘obsessive’ cleaning — sometimes every couple of hours — of his Aston Martin

He described how he’d compulsively think of the ‘worst thing’ to say in any given situation, and then punish himself for being a ‘horrible’ person for those thoughts or for acting on them.

So what is Pure O? It stands for purely obsessional and, unlike ‘classic’ OCD, it isn’t marked by repetitive behaviours or visible rituals. 

Yet sufferers experience similarly persistent and often shame-inducing anxieties.

There’s some controversy about Pure O and it certainly isn’t a medical term. 

I suspect it was coined by sufferers, partly to differentiate it from the narrow view that everyone with OCD just washes their hands a lot or touches their hair or face repeatedly.

Real OCD is typically characterised by obsessive thoughts — unwanted mental images or urges — associated with feelings of anxiety or disgust and can cause great distress. 

Compulsions, repetitive behaviours and rituals may relieve those unpleasant feelings but can, if they get out of hand, become a vicious cycle.

For tens of thousands of people, OCD is tormenting and torturing. 

Sufferers feel ‘trapped’ in their own minds — at times out of control and being driven mad, unable to rationalise what they are experiencing and move on. 

‘It’s like having a stuck record playing constantly in your mind, it drives you mad,’ a patient told me.

I had another patient who had to get up at 3.30 every morning in order to get to work for 9am because her rituals — endlessly checking sockets and flicking light switches — took so long to perform before she could leave the house. 

The OCD debate took a new turn when the singer George Ezra (pictured) detailed his constant battle with distressing and intrusive thoughts because of a form of OCD known as ‘Pure O’

That’s why trivialising OCD is an insult to those who must face up to it every day — sometimes every hour — of their lives.

We do not know what causes OCD, although studies on twins suggest there may be a genetic component. 

There is some evidence that infections by bacteria known as Group A streptococcus can trigger an auto-immune reaction that may result in symptoms.

Brain scans show differences in those with the condition compared to those without. 

Some studies show that people with OCD have imbalances in the neurotransmitter serotonin — often dubbed the ‘feel-good’ chemical.

However, there is indisputably a psychological element. Treatment typically consists of both medication and psychotherapy.

George Ezra has said he hopes that, by discussing his OCD, it might help others, and, yes, that is a noble aim for which I applaud him. 

But I hope it also teaches those who claim to be a ‘little bit OCD’ that it is no joking matter. 

Michelle Mone, founder of the Ultimo lingerie range, revealed that she first felt financial pressure at the age of ten after her parents lost their jobs.

They had found it hard to cope in the workplace after the death of her younger brother. So she got a paper round to help the family finances. 

When she was 15, her father was paralysed. It was then, she says, that she took on responsibility for the family. 

No doubt this helped to foster Baroness Mone’s phenomenal work ethic.

I’ve heard similar, incredible stories from patients who have turned negative experiences into a positive. 

Wallowing in self-pity never gets anything done!

 Patients deserve to take priority

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Government urged everyone to ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’.

It’s now becoming apparent that our determination to protect the NHS may result in the eventual deaths of many thousands of people who failed to get the diagnosis and treatment they needed during lockdown.

A report by the Department of Health and Social Care estimates that more years of life — known as Qalys or ‘quality-adjusted life years’ — will be lost as result of lockdown than to Covid-19. 

(A Qaly is equivalent to one year in perfect health.)

We need to do everything we can to mitigate this while we can. 

But this week senior doctors said that many patients will have to wait until 2022 to see an NHS consultant because of the backlog. 

There are around 300,000 people waiting for knee and hip operations, yet surgical wards still resemble a ‘medical version of the Mary Celeste’, according to one orthopaedic surgeon.

My friend who is a knee surgeon echoes this. She complains that she is left twiddling her thumbs while her waiting lists continue to grow. 

All her attempts to start operating again are being thwarted by managers still twitchy about a ‘second wave’.

I predict that the public won’t take much more of this dithering. 

I know from what I see and hear that many are starting to feel neglected and forgotten by the NHS — the NHS, let’s not forget, that they clapped for every Thursday night for ten weeks through lockdown.

Now, with the crisis passed, those who run the health service seem more concerned with protecting it than caring for patients. 

The pressure is on to get schools, universities and the economy up and running. Shouldn’t that apply to them, too?

Yes, there’s a risk that the virus might surge again — but this ultra-cautious approach is costing lives and causing misery, too.

The madness of lip fillers for children 

Health inspectors are calling for stricter regulations governing beauty salons that offer semi-invasive procedures — lip-fillers, microblading eyebrows or tattoos, for example — because too few beauty therapists have any ‘understanding of infection control’.

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and Institute of Licensing report highlights unsafe practises, such as reusing needles or treatments carried out by untrained staff.

What really shocked me, however, were claims that children were able to get intimate piercings and semi-permanent make-up — and it is legal. 

Reality TV shows such as Love Island have been blamed for fuelling demand for cosmetic treatments in teenagers and women — but now it seems that even younger groups view these kinds of ‘enhancements’ as increasingly normal. 

What are their parents thinking? 

I stepped on the scales this week and, to my horror, discovered I’d put on 5kg since lockdown began in March!

And I know why. I haven’t particularly changed my diet but I have let my exercise routine go.

Prior to the pandemic I would work out at least four or five times a week. So in a bid to beat the emerging bulge, I’m following Boris Johnson’s lead and have got a trainer to kick-start a proper regime. It feels amazing.

So if you have also let your exercise routine slip, don’t feel bad about it. Just get back on that treadmill — now!

 Dr Max prescribes… Dancing by the Light of the Moon

My sister gave this book to my mum a few months ago and she has been raving about it. 

The writer and broadcast veteran Gyles Brandreth — founder of the Poetry Together project which encourages old and young people to learn poems by heart and share them over tea and cake — has compiled a collection of 250 poems that he believes will transform your memory and change your life. 

I couldn’t agree more.

Published by Penguin Books, £14.99.

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