Finding a Way Through: Scott Findlay's OCD Story

The advocate shares his mental health journey and why he feels called to help others.

Written by Aaron Harvey

Finding a Way Through: Scott Findlay's OCD Story

01 Scott Findlay is an OCD sufferer and advocate from Sydney, Australia.

02 Over the years, Scott has been a powerful source of wisdom and guidance in our Facebook support group. He's helped thousands of people better understand and cope with their intrusive thoughts.

03 To honor Scott's contributions to the OCD community, we collaborated with artist, Rachel Miers, to bring some of his symptoms to life. These works will be on display in 2021.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, and lived there until I was 27. Then my ex-wife and I moved to the United Kingdom for a couple of years. While we were there I completed a Masters degree in philosophy and literature. We then returned home and moved here to Melbourne. 

I had my eye on an academic career, but was unable to complete my PhD due to poor mental health. Eventually I found my way into patient advocacy in the public health system for people suffering from severe mental illness, most often Schizophrenia

I worked in that role for about four years, and then moved to working in public libraries, where I’ve continued to work ever since. For about ten years I worked part-time while being the primary carer for my daughter, who is now 15 years old. This was the most rewarding work I’ve ever had!

When did you first start experiencing OCD symptoms? What was your first panic inducing thought?

I started having OCD symptoms from about the age of 6, though I’m not sure that the symptoms would have been identified as related to OCD at that time. But by the time I was 11 it was very clear that I was suffering from Contamination OCD. This was quite severe throughout high school.

My first panic-inducing thought was that contact with my dog would give me Multiple Sclerosis.

Living with Intrusive Thoughts and Pure O

Dr. Phillipson defines intrusive thoughts and Pure O. He analyzes the different types of OCD and explains what life is like for sufferers.

Did your OCD themes change over time? 

I suffered from Contamination OCD for about ten years. At that point the OCD went “underground” and was replaced by severe depression.

After a traumatic event in 1996 the OCD came back in the form of relentless harm thoughts, combined with severe depression. I was hospitalized for my own safety, and eventually went through two full courses of ECT. I had no idea at the time that the violent intrusive thoughts were a manifestation of OCD. The fear that I would act on these thoughts brought me very close to suicide on a number of occasions. I had these thoughts for about four years before they began to subside.

The harm thoughts came back about 4 years ago shortly after my wife asked to separate. I’ve experienced Pedophilia OCD (POCD) as well, but it’s been milder than the harm theme.

How long did it take before you shared your thoughts with a friend or loved one? How did they react?

My parents were aware that my behaviour was “unusual”. I didn’t really need to tell them about it. The rituals were very obvious. My parents didn’t have any idea what was happening. My mother was caring and sympathetic. But my father was punitive.

Very sorry to hear that. How did you find help? And how long did it take? 

I saw a psychiatrist for OCD when I was 17. I saw him for a couple of years but it was not helpful. But it did give me a name for the condition at last.

What challenges have you faced in your road to recovery? 

The stress of separation and divorce has been very hard. Also the difficulty of getting access to qualified help. And I have other mental health difficulties which feed into the OCD and magnify it.

Has your recovery been a linear path, or have you had lots of ups and downs?

I wouldn’t say that I’ve “recovered”. But I have been improving. There have been many ups and downs on the journey. So it hasn’t been a linear path by any means.

From your experience, what's the relationship between depression and OCD? 

My impression is that people with OCD tend to be perfectionistic and hold themselves to impossible standards. They also tend to blame themselves for having intrusive thoughts. They take the thoughts very personally. They suffer a great deal of anxiety. Unfortunately this means that OCD sufferers are vulnerable to depression.

It’s so important to recognize that this is the way our OCD mind works. We need to show compassion towards ourselves as much as possible.

If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be?

Take advantage of the better times as much as possible. Build a solid lifestyle base for dealing with mental illness which will see you through the hard times. And try to be less serious about life.

How did you get connected to Made of Millions and the Intrusive Thoughts group on Facebook? 

Internet research on harm thoughts led me to the Intrusive Thoughts page about 3 years ago. Unfortunately I had to find out these things for myself, despite many years of psychiatric treatment.

Do you find your own therapy in helping others?

Yes, more than anything else. It’s been incredibly rewarding trying to help other people, and getting help for myself.

You've made a major impact in the lives of thousands of people around the web, and in nearly all cases, perfect strangers with different political, cultural, religious and other backgrounds. What is the common thread between everyone's experience with OCD?

I think that all OCD sufferers experience bewilderment and fear, and a sense of isolation. We feel out of control and vulnerable. There’s a rebellion happening in our own minds. It’s incredibly painful, disorienting and isolating. There’s a real sense of community which develops among people who suffer in this way. Understanding one another builds empathy.

How do you balance your own mental health while making yourself so accessible to so many people in need?

I’ve had to move away from trying to help people on an individual basis because it became overwhelming. I’m trying to focus on providing help through posts on the Intrusive Thoughts page and in a number of other forums. 

I think that all OCD sufferers experience bewilderment and fear, and a sense of isolation. We feel out of control and vulnerable.

How has the pandemic affected your mental health? 

We’ve been in very strict lockdown here in Melbourne for 12 weeks. The restrictions are now being eased. But it’s been tough for everyone. 

But people with mental illness are incredibly resilient. We don’t give ourselves enough credit for that. Time and time again we find a way through. It’s what we do.

What's next for Scott Findlay?

To continue to recover. To do what I can to help others to recover.

Anything else you'd like to share with the community?

Thanks Aaron for all that you do. Keep going everyone. There is a way through and you will find it.

Love to everyone.

Scott is featured in our upcoming 2021 mental health exhibition led by artist Rachel Miers. Learn more about her process and intrusive thoughts story here.

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