|Image courtesy of artemisphoto/|
At one of OCD Action's conferences, I got chatting to a fellow delegate, whom I'll call Cathy. Although we spent the day together, and talked extensively about our experiences - which included engaging in observable compulsions - neither of us displayed any overt sign of the condition.
We agreed to walk back to the Tube station together, at the end of the event, and both visited the toilet ahead of the journey. I finished quickly and went back outside to wait for Cathy.
After a few minutes, I began to wonder where she was and re-opened the door. I spotted her at the sink, washing her hands, and assumed that she had just come out of the toilet. A lot of women take a long time in the Ladies, so I didn't think much of it.
I closed the door and carried on waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Then I suddenly remembered the washing compulsions Cathy had spoken of earlier and realised she must have got stuck.
Now I didn't know what to do. I couldn't leave without her, though I was tired and wanted to get home, but I didn't know how to help her. Being on the outside of OCD was an unfamiliar experience and I had little knowledge then of how to support others.
In spite of this, after a few more minutes, I decided that I couldn't hang on indefinitely and went back inside. As I approached Cathy, all I could think to say was 'Are you OK?' Clearly she wasn't: the anguished look on her face and her teary eyes revealed the depths of her misery and frustration. She muttered something about needing to be alone and so I left her to it, helpless in the face of her difficulties.
At the station, we found ourselves in a crush of fellow passengers being held back until the platform below cleared. Bodies pressed against us on all sides and yet Cathy didn't flinch at the contact - surely germ-laden in her eyes? - or become visibly anxious. Perhaps her OCD would hold her hostage in her bathroom later, as payback for her current calm; for now, though, it had once again gone back into hiding.