If OCD ever seemed like a funny condition suffered by tiresome neat-freaks, it won’t do after watching Horizon’s new documentary A Monster in my Mind.
Sophie, a perfectly sane person in every way, lives in total terror that she will kill someone, or has killed someone, while Richard spends his days and nights obsessing about contamination, to the point where he can barely eat a sandwich.
“This is my life and I don’t get to go home and leave it at the door,” says Richard (above). “This is my life. And it’s hell. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And I don’t know how I’m still here. Because if I was stronger I’d have killed myself a long time ago.”
It’s a deeply moving, tragic yet hopeful film about people whose lives have been put on hold for years and years because they are so tormented by a constant stream of obsessional thoughts. Apart from anything else, the sufferers are absolutely exhausted by their endless anxiety. For most of us, the worrying stops now and then, but for the people in this film, it doesn’t.
As well as showing the human face of this nightmareish condition, Horizon also looks at how different treatments work on OCD sufferers, with varying degrees of success. Psychologist Uta Frith watches patients undergo different forms of therapy and introduces us to Nanda, a Dutch patient who is having deep brain surgery (those scenes are not for the squeamish) to lessen her agony. She waits in fearful anticipation to see if the treatment will provide any escape at all from her debilitating condition, which prevents her from having the children she wants.
As someone who had OCD as a teenager (not even a fraction as severe as the sufferers in Horizon, but bad enough to regularly make me late for school, keep me up at night and stop me finishing exams properly), I think this Horizon documentary is well worth a watch — for the shocking personal stories, but also for a literal peek inside the brain. It’s amazing to see just how that grey-white matter can cause some of us such torture. Frith, grinning with excitement at the new treatments in development, yet compassionate towards the patients, is also entertaining in her enthusiasm.
And Frith sums up OCD perfectly: “Most of us most of the time can dismiss unwanted thoughts but OCD removes the option”. This documentary busts the myth that OCD is just a synonym for anyone who plumps up their sofa cushions or has a spotless desk. If only it were that simple.
Horizon: OCD — a Monster in my Mind is on BBC2 at 8pm on Wednesday 26th August