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What it’s like to have OCD during a pandemic

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

While most Australians are looking forward to lockdown restrictions being eased and life returning to normal, for some it only brings a sense of dread.

While most Australians are looking forward to lockdown restrictions being eased and life returning to normal, for some it only brings a sense of dread.

Tim Hiller has lived with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) since he was seven years old and for him, coronavirus has been one of the most challenging times amid his constant struggles with mental health.

Even as a child Mr Hiller would obsess over day-to-day things many of us would never think twice about.

"I had these constant thoughts that never went away and you just go around and around," he said. "I used to sit up all night because I'd worry about the sun coming up and the sun damage to eyes."

For Mr Hiller, daily life can be a challenge at the best of times, but when the pandemic turned his life upside down, his ability to manage his OCD became even more of a struggle.

"Within two days we were told to work from home and there was a huge amount of anxiety just the around that, it was very stressful to set myself up, I was thinking 'Do I have the right table, the right chair, getting connected to the internet, using the systems we work with, am I in the right stop for the sun, what if I damage my back?'," Mr Hiller said.

"For most people, those things are pretty straight forward but with me being an anxious person everything seemed to be really difficult."

SANE Clinical Director, Karen Fletcher, said the coronavirus pandemic has been particularly challenging for those living with OCD or anxiety disorder because the kinds of compulsions which people are trying to overcome are being actively encouraged – hand washing for example.

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"OCD isn't just overthinking, they are obsessive and recurrent or resistant thoughts and they're intrusive and unwanted," Ms Flecther told

"Compulsions are the behaviours that are obsessive, things that you feel like you have to do to ease that sense of anxiety and hand washing or cleanliness can be a really common symptom.

READ MORE: The invisible symptoms of coronavirus on our minds

"Of course those things are real and necessary at the moment but it's much harder to keep a rational belief particularly when your strategy for staying well or coping are not at your fingertips anymore because you're in isolation."

Over the course of isolation, Mr Hiller found himself struggling more and more to manage his OCD.

"It's always a risk with OCD when you're introduced to new situations there will be in a new symptom you might have to deal with … Some of the OCD stuff got worse and I started worrying about things that pop up day to day."

In normal circumstances, Mr Hiller would catch up with friends at his local golf club, but instead he has found himself becoming more isolated than ever.

"When you've got the stress of the situation plus the OCD you haven't got the things that would normally help you relax its really difficult.

"I found myself inside all the time even though there were nice walks to do but being really anxious I was retreating into my shell and staying at home and not keeping a good routine and being burnt out from the anxiety."

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While many Australians are looking forward to the day they are able to venture outside to visit friends, go shopping, enjoy dinner at a restaurant or even returning to the office, the prospect of restrictions being eased presents a whole new and overwhelming challenge for Mr Hiller.

"For me I like to know what's going, and plan but at the moment we're locked away and we're waiting for news and its totally out of our control and for me as time goes on that anxiety just builds more and more.

"Now all I can think about is 'how do you know if you've got it? How do you know if you're safe? Who is it safe to interact with? Should I go to that place? What if that person was a bit too close?'," he said.

Coronavirus Victoria

Mr Hiller's experience is a reminder that while the pandemic may have drastically changed our day-to-day routines, peoples' everyday struggles have continued and will continue to do so long after lockdown is over. 

"This current situation for a lot of people has really heightened those current symptoms and possibly added a couple more. But when things do go back to normal, people will still have a high level of anxiety … the crisis is just magnifying what's already going on," Mr Hiller said.

"It's not so much catching coronavirus, for us it's more worrying about it, the thinking and the obsessing that's difficult. It's just created one more thing to worry about on a long list of things and while the virus will drop off our OCD will continue."

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Ms Fletcher said she hopes government and workplaces will continue to recognize the importance of mental health support as we make the transition to life post-pandemic.

"We might get our freedom back, but the stresses are going to continue for quite a while – the financial stresses for example."

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.SANE Australia also has a dedicated help centre if you're struggling with COVID-19.

Source: 9News

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