Jon Richardson went into this documentary jokingly calling himself ‘a little bit OCD’ and ended up meeting genuine sufferers of the debilitating affliction that ended up scaring the shit out of him. Sure, now he only lines up the condiments in order and has to walk in a symmetrical pattern across paving stones, but what if he ends up trapped in his own home in a perpetual cycles of endless frenetic germ-busting?
Cracking the lid on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was part of Channel 4’s “Batshit Mental” season, or whatever appalling title they decided to give to their latest effort to explore those of us who are a little bit ‘different’. To be honest, despite being a batshit mental myself, I didn’t know very much about OCD sufferers other than they were folk who could become overly… well, obsessive, about certain, almost random things. The obvious obsessive acts, to my mind, were flicking light switches on and off a specific number of times, making everything symmetrical and cleaning things so incessantly that surfaces would wear away. That’s all I really knew. And that’s pretty much where Jon Richardson comes into it. He’s admittedly very particular about a lot of things – the need for order and symmetry. It bothers him more than the average guy when the cutlery draw isn’t arranged properly or if there’s a weird looking paving stone on his walk to town. But he wasn’t sure if he was a bit quirky or actually diagnosably Obsessive Compulsive. So Channel 4 sent him off to meet some genuine sufferers.
Jon first meets a teenager who controls his anxieties by forcing himself through well controlled routines: moving his chair back and forth, tapping walls and washing his hands for hours. For him, it’s a way of taking control after bullying left him feeling helpless and anxious. Unfortunately it has taken over his life so completely that he’s struck by a compulsive thought ‘every two minutes’, fully aware of how ridiculous it all is but completely unable to overpower the disorder. This teenager has Jon worried about where his own peculiarities might lead him, but it only gets more intense as the programme continues.
He meets a woman whose obsession with cleaning has become so intense that she effectively never leaves the house. She has a compulsion to rid everything of dust, including shutting down entire rooms of her house once they’ve been successfully dusted. These ‘clean rooms’ are now to never be opened again. Documents are individually dusted and sealed away into boxes. It’s an extraordinary dedication and reminds me of the tragic ant Spiral of Death. Later he meets a woman who believes OCD has a tendency to run in families. She suffered so badly that she had to give her son away at birth; her son later became so trapped in his own dark obsessive mind that he committed suicide just to be able to escape. Jon is noticeably upset by this, not just for the family, but afraid that his own silly quirks may be just the beginning of a quite bleak road.
A hospital specifically for treating and housing OCD patients who have become either dangerous or unable to look after themselves explains to Jon the difficulties the sufferers go through and the steps they take to get them out. In a quite bizarre routine, a doctor says that one of the key achievements is to get a patient to run their bare hands on a toilet seat and not wash them for a couple of hours. If they can achieve that, then that is a huge step. I just- See, she explains it by saying that it’s worth risking a couple of hours of germs than a lifetime of mental misery but- ew, toilet germs. I think anyone would feel uncomfortable rubbish their hands on a toilet and then going about the next two hours of touching things and people. I wouldn’t do it and that’s just sensible, right? I mean, am I crazy here?
Don’t answer that.
The programme concludes with Jon getting tested for OCD. It turns out that while Jon is indeed obsessive compulsive, the key is that it’s not a disorder for him. fact is that his obsessions don’t cause him untold misery and frustration, he can manage his life quite happily while linThe ing up the herbs and spices in alphabetical order. Which is nice. The problem I had with this programme is that is was just dark as shit. There was no, ‘but hope is around the corner as there are breakthroughs in treatments’ or anything. These were just people with horrible afflictions, some of which kill themselves, trapped and quite, quite alone. Obviously, this isn’t a problem with the programming – it’s an important truth to uncover but, Jesus. These people should be able to qualify for a grant to pay for a Roomba or something.