Neighbour with severe OCD

Hi all,

I have a neighbour of several years now who suffers from OCD, the fear of contamination type.

She has apparently been this way all her life but I would say that she has become more extreme in the last few years. I have noticed more anger explosions and bizarre behaviour and am finding it increasingly difficult to deal with her demands. She has currently not bathed or changed clothes for several months due to fear of getting 'stuck' in the bath on a repeated washing cycle so no longer goes out as she is noticeably dirty and only wearing a thin thigh length shirt. She did have pants and undies on originally but recently threw them away. So I have been doing all her shopping for her. She leaves list/money in my letterbox ,usually late at night as she seems to sleep during the day and is up all night. We shop on a Saturday and Monday night so ask that lists are left in time for these two days. However, she often misses the deadline and leaves lists in between these times, telling us she is completely out of catfood etc. so we end up having to shop at all different times during the evenings in the week which we find quite time consuming and tiring. I should point out that we both work, my partner full time, myself part time due to suspected Encephalitis 2 years ago. I have spasticity, memory and fatigue issues which has meant that I am unable to cope with the working hours I used to do.

I deliver her shopping and put it on the outside bench, sideways to keep the rain out of the carrier bags as instructed. I often get collared for a chat, which I don't mind if it is brief but it can go on for over an hour as she is isolated and wants company which can be difficult if I am tired and it is late as I have to stand outside in all weathers and not lean against anything. She has a few cats and one in particular comes to me for a fuss, this was never an issue. More recently I have been chastised for responding to the cat, asked if I have handled money or what I have touched etc.,told to stroke it with the back of my hand or not to touch it at all, even though I have assured her that my hands are washed. This has put me right off staying to chat and I walked silently away last time after being chastised yet again. This caused an anger outburst from her and she followed me down the road to my gate, insisting that I listen to her and fiercely repeating the rules of hygiene as she believes - that even if I have washed my hands I have touched the bathroom door handle and probably other things so they are still dirty etc. In the end I pointed out that we have new neighbours, I didn't want them upsetting ( it was 11 o clock at night and not the time for an angry row ) and asked her to leave me alone, three times.She was still at it when I entered my house and shut the door. I actually felt bullied.

There have been other incidents in which we have unknowingly 'upset' her. Once when the car was having trouble starting we had to leave it running for a couple of mins while we unloaded her shopping and she flew angrily at us telling us that the noise was awful and to switch it off - when we pointed out that we daren't as it may not start again to get it into the drive she told us to buy a new car ! Only wish we could.

I was once not feeling well and asked my partner to deliver the shopping - apparently he left it on her doorstep so she was round the next day, asking why it had been left there instead of on the bench. Oops.

It seems that there are many rules, often changing that I cannot keep up with and no matter what we do we cannot get it right. Yet we are expected to do her shopping, at her convenience, not ours, and put up with the way in which lists and money notes in sticky cereal wrappers are presented, sometimes with handfuls of discoloured small change in when her money is running low. We have often soaked change in vinegar in an attempt to make it more presentable to shops, as I think it must be left outside, hence the discolouration. I learned long ago not to lend her anything after a book and electric drill got ruined that she had left outside in the rain, as they were too 'dirty' to go inside. Although I have often discussed with her about getting help and she agrees on one level, other times she appears totally irrational and seems to be forcing her beliefs on me, as if her methods are the only correct way and everyone else is 'dirty'. She once told me that Nature is clean, Humans are dirty.So anything natural or animals are clean but the fact that the cats go into places where humans have been makes them dirty. Last week she was chastising the cat for brushing against a food pouch on the bench that had not yet been wiped with Dettol. She was asking me why it says you can't use Dettol around cats. I replied that cats, like rabbits are sensitive to chemicals and can have allergic reactions, hence the warning on the bottle. She seemed to consider this briefly then continued to wipe the cat pouches down with it,neat, regardless. I do worry about the poor cats : (

I consider myself to be a very tolerant person but am getting to the end of my tether with this lady. Problem is, she has alienated herself from her relatives, friends and neighbours through her extreme behaviour and rules so that no one else will do her shopping, get phone credit etc. for her. I would be far happier just to provide the shopping without any personal interaction as I feel unable to remember or deal with all the accompanying sequencing rules and hygiene interrogation.It is like walking on eggshells these days.Any ideas on how to deal with this would be most welcome. On the one hand , am I enabling her to continue in her current extreme state by providing shopping and other errands ? If I discontinued this would she be forced to reconsider her state and given the incentive to help herself out of necessity, look elsewhere for another provider or worryingly, simply do without ?

A caring but very disheartened Angela x

4 Replies

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  • Firstly can I say that as a ocd sufferer myself, you and your partner have amazing patience and a kind heart. However you are yourselves suffering from the condition indirectly by helping her the way you do especially as it is having an impact on your own lives. I know this is very easy for me to say this, but have you considered just cutting the the strings here. Your neighbour needs to get HERSELF help. ( therapy works better if the patient acknowledges there is a problem) OCD is sadly a very selfish condition which can affect other people besides the sufferer. Thing is you and your family are important too. It is not selfish to take care of your own needs. Is there any way you can get people like social services involved to intervene. If you feel victimised, get the police involved. Sounds extreme but it might bring her to other professional people's attention and free you from this obligation you seem to have to help her. If you can get hold of any of her family members, they could ring up the necessary people themselves . They are her family after all. You and your partner have gone above and beyond. You both need a break from this anxiety. It's not fair on you both.

  • Hi rabbit in headlights,

    Thanks so much for your response and understanding our difficulties.

    My neighbour has recently been re appointed a social worker and has had 2 visits but only expresses that she just wants someone to talk to and some help with housework , although I am not sure how this would work as no one is allowed into her home, as per the contamination rules. Her property is rented and the landlord has been trying to gain access with workmen to carry out the appropriate safety checks as they are long overdue.

    Her next door neighbour did get the police involved last year .Due to having her drive power washed some of the mud had sluiced down in front of my neighbours drive so she went round to ask them to swill it away. Unfortunately my neighbour had kept the scissors she was using to trim the garden in her hand and was presumably quite angry, possibly waving the scissors about etc. I believe she mimed scraping the neighbours car with them in frustration, hence the police were called. It was me she came to after midnight when she was released, for comfort and reassurance. Of course, I can't be sure if she had intended to take the scissors as a threat or if it was just an unfortunate coincidence, as she put it. I have never personally known her be physically violent but she does get extremely angry and can say some unpleasant , argumentative things.

    She justifies much of her behaviour by simply saying ' I have an illness' or 'You know what I'm like'.

    So she certainly accepts that she has a problem and often says that she doesn't want to be like this but when it comes to the crunch, it seems that the power of the illness overides the desire to want to improve . Hence all GP or Psychology appointments that have been made are not attended due to the stress of having to get cleaned up/ready/travel etc. She has been in voluntary Psychology ward care before, for a break as she put it, a few years ago but didn't do any therapy and continued with her old ways again on returning home. I remember I got in trouble for feeding and watering the Guinea pigs in her absence ( touching the pen, bowls etc. She had told me that she would visit and do this herself but it had been five days since her last visit and they had completely run out. I rang her daughter to explain and seek permission, as it had become a necessity at that point.

    Her daughter and grandaughter live down South and only remain in contact by phone or letter.It is a few years since her Mum went to visit. I believe it was not ideal as Mum was trying to impose her hygiene rules on them both. Having had her own childhood severely impacted by her Mum's illness she prefers not to maintain personal contact or expose her own daughter to the same treatment. I can understand this. I am not sure if I still have her phone number but think I may have an email address.

    So although both Police and Social Services are aware of her severe condition, nothing seems to change. I do feel that with the current nonfunctional state of her severity that she really should be high priority.

    We shop and look after 2 other neighbours, one elderly with more physical problems and the other with suspected Alzheimers, awaiting diagnosis. So it is in our nature to help out where we can.I would feel 'mean' cutting off all contact but would prefer to keep contact brief as it seems to escalate into conflict with her ideals. Am I right to walk away as I did when the conversation/rules become overwhelming? My short term memory and concentration problems make it difficult for me to deal with changes in rules and argumentative behaviour. This does seem to further aggravate her but it can seem rather like a religious fanatic forcing their beliefs onto you when you cannot agree with them. I feel that by agreeing with her beliefs just to keep the peace is reinforcing that she is quite correct and therefore does not have a problem but walking quietly away also seems to fuel her anger. It is so tricky : (

    Thanks for listening, Angela x

  • Oh bless you. You really are a saint. I appreciate you do not want to desert someone who is clearly in need. She has shown you that she is aware that she needs help. I've been medicated since 2007 and have gone through group and one to one sessions with CBT. These have been so helpful. But the key to CBT. Is that the patient has to put the effort into carrying out the advice given. My compulsions also centre on contamination. Fear could be preventing your neighbour from attending appointments. Treatment can involve coming face to face with what is at the root of the anxiety. Not an easy process. She is caught in a vicious circle because it is the only way in her subconscious that she knows how to deal with what could very well be a mixture of different anxieties. I admire the help you are giving to other people. There is such a thing as burn out. I worry you could be putting yourself at risk of this. To help others you have to take care of yourself. Your neighbour probably feels that you will always be there to help her out but I don't think she truly appreciates what you are doing or that you are trying to help others who could very well appreciate you more. As a result she doesn't have the incentive to put the work in to helping herself. So with that in mind, for your own self preservation, if you feel you must carry on supporting her, you need to set up ground rules. Make clear that you care very deeply about her welfare but she is not your only prority. If she still wants your help she needs to seek therapy and attend appointments. She has to prove out right that she is doing this. If she refuses, walk away from her. Don't feel bad about it. Remember ocd is a selfish condition. We sufferers can find it hard to see past our own needs. I remember during one of my darkest days, I said to my husband that I really wouldn't blame him if he wanted to leave me as I didn't want to be with me.

    If you start feeling threatened by her don't hesitate to call the police, get a restraining order on her or get her sectioned. When it gets to that stage, it is very hard to reason with your neighbour and she will be deaf to it. You have your own health and safety to think about.

    I'm so sorry to waffle on. One of my bad traits I'm afraid.

    Take care. Keep safe.

  • Many thanks for your reply and advice . I only hope I am able to stick to the ground rules, although I am great at being tough on myself I am often a big softy where others are concerned !

    Although I have been busy reading a lot about the mechanism of OCD, I know I can never truly understand which is why it has been great to hear the experience and perspective of a sufferer.

    I am so glad you were strong enough to take matters into your own hands and seek help, recognising that it was essential in order to gain a better quality of life for yourself and those you care for.

    Anxiety and fear are horrible feelings ( I had a fair bit during rather scary illness ) so I can understand that considering therapy could be frightening. Perhaps my neighbour has not yet reached the level of desperation to truly want to face the fear. It seems that the more it dominates her , the more her world shrinks, as the outside world becomes off limits and people around her become exhausted with the challenging behaviour and leave her behind. She has tried several medications over the years with no improvement so clearly does need additional help from Psychological techniques. If her own daughter and grandaughter are not sufficient to spur her on ( and she clearly misses the interaction with them ) I know I don't really stand a chance of convincing her. I think it is exactly as you say, the desire to improve has to come from the sufferer themselves. No one can do it for you. I am not sure how much it will take for her to reach that moment of clarity.

    Thanks for the warning with regard to threatening behaviour. Although I have not personally encountered this , the sudden swings between manically energised and cheerful ,lethargic and depressed, angry and dominating and tearful and vulnerable can be rather confusing and unsettling.

    Thanks also for your concern about my wellbeing. Although I do still help others, I have had to learn to be realistic and cut back, as my body does enforce physical and cognitive limitations on how much I am able to do now. I have to work within those limits or face the wrath of fatigue payback and lose a day or so to bedrest !

    I hope you can continue to go from strength to strength in your challenges, thanks again,

    Take care,

    Angela x