Anxiety disorders, including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), can often manifest when people are quite young. That was certainly the case for Lisa, WayAhead’s newest Support Group Leader, who is facilitating the newly formed Cabramatta OCD Support Group.
“I first experienced symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder at the age of twelve and that was me worrying about, and checking, if any of the books I had put into my school bag, if any of the edges of the covers had been bent,” said Lisa.
“I would check quite obsessively every night, packing my bag before I went to sleep. It distressed me so much that I still remember it quite well.”
Lisa’s undiagnosed OCD continued throughout high school and university, making study difficult and generally becoming quite overwhelming. She experienced many symptoms that others have also faced when living with OCD. Her worry about taking down notes down perfectly would often leave her the last one left in class as the teacher waited to turn off the overhead projector or have her asking friends for their books to take home to copy their notes. It got to the point where she felt she couldn’t even be sure that she’d written down numbers and figures correctly.
“I couldn’t trust myself to write down numbers without feeling insecure that I had written what I had intended to write and if it even looked like the number 2 or the number 5 so that’s when I felt that I was at my lowest,” said Lisa.
“That would have been when I was seventeen, about 2007, in first year of uni. I was definitely having suicidal thoughts and my boyfriend insisted that I get help so I did go and see my GP.”
For Lisa, that was the start of a journey in treating her OCD. Her doctor wrote her a mental health care plan and referred her on for treatment. She was officially diagnosed with OCD and began seeing a psychologist. It wasn’t until 2012 though that Lisa found the psychologist who she felt she connected with best.
“Around 2015, I was maybe in my fourth year of sessions with my psychologist, who I liked, and we’d just gotten to a point where we were just going over the same things again. I was just afraid of having another panic attack, I was afraid of relapsing, so she suggested I connect with other people who have obsessive compulsive disorder to get a feel for what other people are going through,” said Lisa.
“I sought out an OCD support group and I went to the Kogarah OCD support group where Julie [WayAhead’s Small Steps Coordinator and long-time Kogarah OCD Group Facilitator] was facilitating and that made me realise that there were other people who were experiencing very similar things…I got to really put into perspective the kinds of things I worried about and where other people were at in their journey. There were some people that were just still in denial then there was Julie, at the other end, who was quite well and truly in her recovery.”
After five years of working with her psychologist, Lisa was encouraged to gradually work towards managing her OCD on her own. She began by enrolling in a self-development course and it was by doing the program that she came to the realisation that she could help other people through her experiences.
“The program encouraged me to do a project that would get me out of my shell and get me to really find what I want to do for the community so that’s where my obsessive compulsive disorder support group – me wanting to facilitate it – came out,” said Lisa.
Initially, when Lisa thought about starting a group in Cabramatta, she considered making it a general anxiety group because she was worried that there wouldn’t be enough people who’d be interested in an OCD-specific group. It was Rachel, the Anxiety Support Group Coordinator at WayAhead, who convinced her otherwise, encouraging Lisa to follow through with her initial instincts that there was a gap that could be filled.
With only two OCD Support Groups in Sydney, the one in Kogarah and another in Chatswood, Lisa’s concern throughout has been about access. Having a driver’s licence and a car made it possible for Lisa to attend the group in Kogarah but she knew that that it would be helpful for people to have a group closer to home and accessible by public transport.
“When we were looking for locations, I requested that it was close to a train station so there would be easy access as well for people coming by public transport,” she said.
Today, Lisa is positive about where she is in her life and what she can contribute to others. She is excited for the kinds of results she could see and the number of people she could reach, for whom she could help make a difference.
“It’s been a long journey for me, to really be okay with having obsessive compulsive disorder and just accepting my flaws. Being really honest about it keeps me really present and grounded. There’s less pressure on me as well to be perfect because with any mental illness, you’re always trying to hide it, I find, so with this, I can’t hide as much as I used to and that’s really great for me. Helping others – using all my flaws to assist others – makes me feel really empowered, so that’s why I want to keep sharing my story. It can be quite confronting for me but then, at the same time, it’s very rewarding.”
The Cabramatta OCD Support Group will run on the 4th Sunday of each month, 1:00 pm, starting in October, at the Cabramatta Community Centre, on the corner of McBurney Road and Railway Parade, Cabramatta.