Disability

The unbelievable hangover caused by Pure-O

Life as a disabled person can sometimes be quite different and difficult. But amid the awkwardness is humour.

The following is an edited version of a sketch by Sarah Collins, who has a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which occasionally creates false memories for her. She delivered it for the BBC at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Sarah diving into the bin to search for the paracetamol box Image copyright Sarah Dousse

I have a condition that some people call Pure-O. It's short for purely obsessional OCD, a kind of OCD that doesn't involve the more traditional OCD traits like needing everything to be symmetrical and my bedroom is the messiest room you'll ever see.

For me, purely obsessional OCD is about reassurance seeking, or basically asking my poor mother over and over whether she is absolutely sure I'm not going to push her in front of a train.

When living with OCD, it's easy to get lost and misled by a voice that isn't my own. The voice doesn't reflect my personality as it can be melodramatic, attention-seeking and downright mean. At its most extreme, it can generate false memories.

A few years ago, when I finished my A-Levels, I went on a night out with friends.

Luckily OCD has never affected my ability to get well and truly slaughtered in the fine British tradition. The after-effects of drinking for me, however, can extend well beyond your usual hangover anxiety.

When I got home, I realised I'd over done it. I was due to go shopping in Birmingham with my sister the next day and knew that, without prevention, my plans would be derailed by a seriously vindictive hangover.

I went to the kitchen, got a huge glass of water and took two paracetamol tablets - I was a bit drunk, but aware - and went to bed.

Sarah Collins

I woke up the next day with a massive headache and lay motionless for a few moments.

I ran through my memories of the night before to check whether I'd done anything so embarrassing I'd ruined my life. I watched myself come home, go into the kitchen, get the water and the paracetamol/

And then it came, the intrusive thought...I had taken a whole box of paracetamol.

In my drunken stupidity I had taken all 24 tablets, maybe even more. I could feel the cardboard between my fingers, the sensation of swallowing each pill. I was in grave danger. If I didn't act quickly, I'd experience irreversible liver damage leading to certain death.

The panic rose, so did the nausea - evidence - I was dying. This couldn't possibly just be a hangover.

I ran downstairs in search of the empty box or boxes, the abandoned packets on the counter.

But there were nothing lying on the counter.

In an uncharacteristic move I had actually cleared up after myself. I opened the cupboard and with overwhelming relief, saw the box of paracetamol with only two tablets missing. I was going to be fine.

But hang on. How could I be 100% sure that this box was the same box from last night? What if I had taken the tablets, drunkenly thrown the box in the bin and someone had gone out and bought another one?

As if by magic, there it was, another memory - the sound of the bin clanging shut.

Oh God. I was going to have to look in the bin.

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Storytelling Live: Lost and Found

Sarah was one of seven people with a disability or mental health problem to perform a story on the theme of lost and found as part of BBC Ouch's storytelling event at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe - hosted by Chris McCausland.

You can watch the programme on BBC Two at 23:35 BST on Friday 23 August.

It will be available on iPlayer afterwards.

The 2019 storytellers from BBC Ouch: Storytelling Live
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I have never looked less like your stereotypical OCD sufferer than in that moment. I leaned over the bin, face down and trawled through mouldy cabbage and cheese.

No box in the bin.

I had a brainwave. Of course, the empty box wouldn't be there. I'm a millennial - however drunk, I would never forget to recycle.

I checked the recycling. No box. There was only one thing for it, call 111.

Operator: "Hello 111, what's your problem today?"

Me: "I think I might have taken a paracetamol overdose."

Operator: "How many tablets have you taken in the last 24 hours?"

Me: "I only really remember taking two, but I was drunk, and I've just got this feeling that I've taken an overdose."

Operator: "But you can only remember taking two tablets? You've just got a feeling you might have had more?"

Me: "Yes and I feel sick, and tired and awful."

Operator: "I think you've just got a hangover, love."

So that was the official opinion. I was going to live. I could get on with my day.

Later, on the train to Birmingham with my sister, along came another thought - me lying on a hospital bed covered in tubes.

Sarah Collins performing at Storytelling Live

Words on a black screen flashed into my mind and taunted me: "If only you had listened. You could have prevented this. You could have gone to hospital and had your stomach pumped".

As the train pulled into Birmingham I came up with a plan. I told my sister I had some bits to buy for university and I'd meet her later.

I sprinted to catch the train heading for the station nearest Queen Elizabeth Hospital. I had at least a couple of hours before liver damage set in.

I was sweating as the train pulled into the station. I hurried up the escalators, pushed through the gates and ran across the road. I paused for a second outside A&E and, as my breathing slowed, I acknowledged that even though I knew where I was, I was lost in a world of menacing thoughts.

I replayed the moments before I went to bed the night before, this time slowly and carefully. I had walked through the door, gone into the kitchen and taken two paracetamol tablets. Then I put the box back in the cupboard and went to bed.

My OCD screeched: "What are you doing? What about the other memories?"

Sarah celebrating her victory over OCD Image copyright Sarah Dousse

But when I tried to recall the 24 tablets, the recycling, the hospital bed, I couldn't find them. They just morphed into other terrible fears and 'what ifs'?

I heard my own voice, underneath the chatter: "Turn around and walk away."

In front of me people with broken legs and raging fevers hobbled into A&E, but I turned back towards the train station and my sister.

I had found my way.

From Storytelling Live 2018, you may also like to read:

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