Weekend: HEALTH: The Secretive Disorder; They Are the Little Quirks That at First Appear Quite Endearing, but Are Actually Symptoms of a Very Debilitating Condition. Chief Feature Writer Paul Groves Looks at Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Groves

The tea is cold by the time I manage to get the cup to my lips. Anne is mortified and immediately offers to make a fresh brew.

'I'll try and let you drink it this time,' she says in an apologetic tone that she admits is a familiar sound to her family and friends.

Anne has spent years perfecting ways of keeping her compulsions in check, but quite often there is literally no stopping her.

'Keeping a lid on things can be really tough,' she explains. 'I manage to get by at work well enough, but I think that's due to fear of being found out and losing my job.

'It is a contradiction, but because I 'relax' a bit more when I'm at home I tend to slip up more often.'

Anne's experience of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) stretches back to her late teens but it was only a few years ago, in her mid-30s, that she received an official diagnosis.

'Before it was always explained away as 'nerves',' she continues with a self-deprecating smile.

'Now there's a proper term for it, I'm officially recognised and 'special'.'

The mother-of-two laughs and then remembers the tea and disappears in what can only be described as a flap.

Anne's OCD manifests itself in a number of ways. For example, she needs to repeat tasks as many as 30 or 40 times before she feels satisfied the job is complete - stirring a cup of tea, therefore, becomes a timeconsuming exercise.

When it refers to making a cup of tea it is something of a minor distraction. But when that same compulsion extends to locking the front door, packing a shopping bag in a supermarket, filing documents at work, then it starts to have a major impact.

'It is maddening for me and I can't begin to understand what it is like for those who have to live with me, or work with me, or even stand behind me at a check-out queue,' says Anne, managing this time to hand me my tea after just half a dozen stirs.

She clenches her fists in a small signal of triumph at having managed the tea trial a second time and continues: 'The real problems occur at work.

'I have developed some very useful techniques with my counsellor on how to function properly in the office and keep my OCD in check. A couple of friends know and help me when I do struggle to keep a lid on it, but my manager doesn't know. I'm sure he would be fine about it, but to be honest I'm ashamed about letting people know I have OCD.

'I still feel it is something I should cope with on my own, despite what my counsellor and my family and friends say.'

Anne works at a busy financial firm close to her home in Birmingham - driving or taking public transport can sometimes prove problematic, so having her office within walking distance is a huge bonus.

'I haven't had any serious problems at work and in many ways it has helped me to cope with my OCD. The disciplines I've learned to get me through a normal working day alsohelp at other times too. But what would really help is if people understood a lot more about what OCD is.'

An estimated three per cent of the UK population suffer some form of OCD and there are some high profile sufferers.

David Beckham, renowned throughout the world for his fluid playing style, reportedly craves straight lines and has his furniture arranged at right angles.

Former All Saints singer Natalie Appleton, who famously couldn't cope with roughing it in the jungle in the most recent series of reality show I'm A Celebrity . . . , apparently has a cleaning compulsion that goes a long way to explaining her extreme reaction. Leonardo DiCaprio recently depicted the anguish caused by the condition in his portrayal of Howard Hughes in the Oscar-nominated film, The Aviator. Although the billionaire was outwardly successful, privately he was tormented by a phobia of germs. He constantly washed his hands, and eventually became a recluse. …