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U.K. Channel 4 Airs Series Based on Memoir about "Pure" OCD

Moving to a big city in your early 20s with dreams of making it on your own is a coming-of-age story many can relate to. When portrayed in movies and on television, however, these stories don’t usually star a protagonist besieged by explicit sexual mental images of those around her in everyday situations.

“Pure,” a new comedy-drama series on U.K.’s Channel 4 is about a 24-year-old woman named Marnie who moves to London to start a new life away from her small town in Scotland. While navigating her new living situation, job and friends, she’s troubled by intrusive, obsessive thoughts she doesn’t have a name for.

The series is based on Rose Cartwright’s memoir of the same name, which captures her experience with “pure” obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD obsessions include intrusive thoughts, which are typically unwanted and can feel out of control, according to the International OCD Foundation. Compulsions are behaviors that counteract the distress and anxiety caused by obsessive thoughts. 

Compulsions can be external behaviors, like someone who checks to see if the door is locked multiple times before leaving the house or repetitive hand washing. Compulsions can also be internal, meaning a person uses a series of mental rituals to deal with obsessive thoughts. This is sometimes called “pure” OCD.

Cartwright told The Mighty she began experiencing intrusive thoughts around 15 years old. As she got older, the thoughts turned to a sexual and graphic nature about everyone. For Cartwright, she said compulsions meant always trying to figure out what her thoughts meant, why she was thinking them and questioning her sexuality frequently. Learning how to manage her OCD, which included exposure and response prevention therapy, was a process.

“It was really a long road to … a more stable life and to a sense of peace,” Cartwright said. “It took me until I was in my early 20s to discover I had OCD, to do my own research and get that corroborated by a professional and then had many failed therapies until I hit on something that really worked.” 

Cartwright then began to share her journey with others, starting with an article for The Guardian, followed by a memoir and now the TV series, “Pure,” helmed by writer Kirstie Swain and actress Charly Clive as Marnie. Cartwright was also involved in the show’s production to ensure the series struck a balance between relatability and the reality of living with OCD. 

“It’s always been a fine line between wanting to appeal to a broad audience — people who don’t have OCD to have entry points into the story,” Cartwright said. “But also wanting to protect the very unique and special horror of the OCD story because someone with OCD watching, knowing what they experience is so acute and so excruciating, I wanted to do that justice too.”

In the TV series, viewers witness snippets of sexual images and videos from Marnie’s head and hear about her subsequent questions of, “Why did I think that? Do I really want to do that? Am I a pervert?” While these experiences are specific to “pure” OCD, Cartwright hopes people with and without OCD can enjoy the show with its “universal themes about trying to fit in, wanting to be popular, wanting to be loved.”

“I think people with OCD will see themselves in it … and hopefully will feel a sense of hope as they see she is a likable character and that she still has a life and friends and she’s not defined by her condition,” Cartwright said. “I also hope people without OCD will be able to empathize and that the show humanizes OCD for people who this might seem like a really weird subject matter and … just enjoy it.”

“Pure” airs Wednesday, Jan. 30, at 10 p.m. GMT on Channel 4. The series is only available in the U.K. for now. 

Photo via Channel 4