A Must-See Documentary: 'Living With Me & My OCD'
A new documentary aimed to tackle the ongoing stigma of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) has recently been released online, which was directed by UK-based filmmaker Claire Watkinson, is one of the most powerful and realistic portrayals of OCD I have yet to come across. After watching the documentary earlier today, I felt compelled to not only write an article on its brilliance, but to also interview Claire for The Mighty so that I could give readers and viewers a more personal look into the person behind the camera.
“Living With Me & My OCD” was first conceived by Claire back in 2012 when she decided to turn the camera on herself to document her daily struggles with OCD. From there, Claire developed the idea that she could interview other people concerning their battles. She put together a five-minute trailer which was shared by OCD UK. When Claire went back to view the video she was astounded to see that it had been viewed over 50,000 times, and that is when she became aware of the documentary’s full potential.
Speaking to me over Skype, Claire explained that this was a “passion project” for her, and it is easy to see why. She dedicated five years to the making of this documentary and traveled across the UK over 20 times. On top of this, she also spent a large amount of her free time conversing with people over Skype and via emails. Still, I was shocked to learn that Claire recorded over 80 hours of footage in total; it’s a testament to her editing skills and ability as a filmmaker that she was able to condense so much into a one-hour documentary.
“Living With Me & My OCD” opens with a series of small clips asking the general public to give their impressions of OCD. Given how misunderstood and stigmatized the illness is, it was not at all surprising to see how wrong people were in their answers. Regardless, no matter how prepared you think you are for the misconceptions, it is still unbearably hard to hear the mockery of an illness you have spent your life trying to beat. Answers ranged from the expected “cleaning too much,” “having everything in its right place,” “people who are just organized” to the more harmful language we are used to seeing in memes. One man believed us to be “clean freaks,” while another insisted that “everyone has got OCD, whether they admit it or not.”
In reality, obsessive compulsive disorder affects 1.2 percent of the population from young children to adults, regardless of gender of race. Furthermore, The World Health Organization (WHO) has ranked OCD in the top 10 most disabling illnesses of any kind.
With such a high percentage of the population believing that OCD is no more than a desire to clean, it is clear to see why such a documentary is needed. While those with OCD try our hardest to advocate for OCD, to bring attention to the true nature of this illness, we are aware that combating this stigma is not something we can achieve overnight. Rather, it is a slow battle that begins with inspirational individuals such as Claire who devote their time and energy to such a cause.
During the one-hour documentary, we encounter so many strong and resilient individuals who are passionate about raising awareness for OCD. Individuals such as Steve tell us that he would have to make the same journey 10 to 15 times over to check to see if he harmed someone. He talks of the impact his OCD had on his relationships, and goes on to say that even something like going to the shop was “a massive traumatic event.”
Contamination and fear of spreading disease are discussed by a fair few of the interviewees, but each with their own unique fears and rituals. One woman, Danielle, describes how the intensity of her OCD leads her to grieve for her children every day. “I actually go through a grieving process for my children dying when they haven’t,” she says. “I can actually feel [it]. I go through the whole process of dying.”
At the start of her journey in 2012, Claire met up with Emily and her mother Gale. Emily, who discovered she had OCD at the age of 7, describes her excessive hand washing, and her fears that something will happen to her family. When we first see Emily, she is seen sitting in her bedroom, describing to the camera how she had to leave school due to the severe bullying she faced from her peers. She tells of a time she was strangled by five boys because they believed she was “weird.” She was 9 years old.
“It makes me feel really depressed, angry and sad because I don’t know why it’s happening,” Emily says.
Her mother Gale tells viewers that no matter what information she offered the school on OCD, her teachers were not interested in accommodating for Emily’s illness. In fact, Emily was bullied and mocked not only by her peers but by her teachers, too.
Gale goes on to tell us that, at her worst, one of Emily’s compulsions was to stab herself because if she didn’t, her OCD (“Mr. Meanie”) told her that her mother would die.
“To see your child want to hurt herself to save you. And you can’t say ‘that won’t happen, don’t be silly… that’s not going to happen’ because it’s real. It’s really, really scary and she would rather hurt herself than make sure that things didn’t happen to me. And that’s my daughter… and she’s really consumed with this horrible thing that people think is funny.”
As heartbreaking as Emily’s story is to watch, the silver lining is very much in her mother’s compassion and validation, along with a later visit Claire makes to Emily and Gale which I won’t spoil for viewers.
“Living With Me & My OCD” introduces viewers to so many wonderfully open and strong people, some of whom preferred to remain anonymous due to the more “taboo” nature of their obsessions. One woman, who can be heard talking with Claire, told of her lengthy legal battle with her workplace after she was suspended for being “a danger to kids.” In reality, the woman was suffering from a little known type of OCD called Pure O, which can cause those to have it to believe they are capable of committing heinous crimes such as abusing or harming children, having sex with an animal or murdering someone. In this woman’s case, she lives with something known as POCD; that is, Pedophilia OCD, which causes the person to suffer painful, unwanted obsessions about children.
Claire told me that even as she travelled across the UK and carried out extensive research on OCD, she had not heard of POCD until she spoke to the woman she interviewed for her documentary.
I related heavily with this woman’s battle, as I also have POCD, and I can honestly say that out of all of my obsessions the fear of harming a child is the most unbearable, and has on more than one occasion caused me to attempt suicide. In fact, according to the Louisville OCD Clinic in Kentucky, there are higher levels of suicidal thought and depression in people with POCD.
“A person with contamination fears generally has those fears because they do not want to die. Whereas someone with POCD might be so worried they will harm an innocent child that they would rather take their own life.”
With so much misunderstanding around even most basic obsessions, a person with pedophile OCD may feel shame or worry that others may not understand.”
In my interview with Claire, she told me that no other people described what it was like living with POCD. Whether or not those she interviewed do have this type of OCD and felt they could not say remains a question that goes unanswered. Because of the silence surrounding POCD, it is still unclear just how many people it affects. Claire and I both agreed that breaking the silence on this type of OCD will take time and that the responsibility lies with big organizations and platforms who have influence.
Claire’s documentary features a number of people, all struggling from extremely different types of OCD. While each person’s story is unique, it is evident that one thing remains the same; we are all plagued by the crushing “what if,” each of us feeling debilitated and defeated not only by the illness, but by the misconception of OCD in society.
During my conversation with Claire, and in the documentary, she attests to how much the five-year journey helped her with her own battle with OCD.
“I was very privileged to be able to speak with so many people about their personal battles with OCD,” she says. “It was extremely upsetting to hear the torment that OCD had caused others, but at the same time I felt reassured that I was not alone in feeling the way that I feel and the things that I do.”
“Living With Me & My OCD” is such an inspirational, raw and realistic portrayal of an illness that is in desperate need of some truthful media coverage. I am absolutely honored to have spoken to Claire – a person who is clearly extremely passionate about this cause, who has given me a renewed sense of motivation to continue campaigning, continue writing and speaking out about OCD.
“Living With Me & My OCD” is a crucial watch for not only those who have the illness but teachers, students, employers and members of the general public. Please help Claire and this wonderful group of people by sharing the documentary far and wide, by using it as a tool in your workplace or even as a way of opening up the conversation about OCD to family members.
You can watch the documentary on YouTube, or in the video below. Huge thanks to Claire for chatting with me on Skype.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Screenshot via Living With Me and My OCD