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Playwright reveals secret OCD ordeal

'I’ve heard some people with OCD will convince themselves they hit someone, or something, driving home'

26 July, 2018 — By Tom Foot

Lucy Danser (left) with actor Kerry Fitzgerald, director Helena Jackson and actor Liza Keast

LUCY Danser never really talked to her friends or wider family about her obsessive compulsive disorder.

After she was diagnosed aged 17, she noticed how people with OCD were often mocked and caricatured for their behaviour. “You know people who avoid the cracks in the streets?,” she said. “It’s like that, but on steroids. I’d always been a pretty anxious child. But when I got to about 16, when I was on the cusp of sixth form, I became absolutely crippled by intrusive thoughts. It was almost like someone had flicked a switch.”

Now 31, Ms Danser has written a play based on her own experience which is previewing in London ahead of a month’s run at Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Lost In Thought aims to offer an insight on the deeper roots of what for many is a serious mental disorder.

Ms Danser, who grew up in Belsize Park and now lives in Kilburn, said: “It’s like a butterfly effect – that a tiny movement can create a massive effect later on. So if I don’t close the door properly, then in my head something big can develop from that.”

In her play, the lead character, Felicity – played by Kerry Fitzgerald, who has OCD in real life – and her mother go out on separate dates. Felicity is having a great time, until she uses a bit of toilet paper to smudge off her make-up in the bathroom. Ms Danser said: “She feels like she didn’t tear the paper in the right way, and so she starts going through sheets and sheets of toilet paper, ripping it up, until she feels like she’s done enough to neutralise the situation. Twenty-seven minutes of the play are in that bathroom.”

She said people with OCD are plagued by unsettling mental images. The compulsive behaviour associated with the condition – the constant checking, re-aligning of objects, the scrubbing of hands – is a way of coping.

“These intrusive thoughts are ego-dystonic – it basically means they go against what you really want,” said Ms Danser. “If you are thinking of killing someone, and thinking about that feels good, then you are probably a murderer. But if it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t mirror what you believe, well then that is an intrusive thought. That is OCD – thoughts that are not what that person really feels.”

She added: “It’s weird how it comes out in different people. It could be thinking about having sex with someone really inappropriate. I’ve heard some people with OCD will convince themselves they hit someone, or something, driving home. They will drive back to double check they did not. It’s a trick of the mind.”

Ms Danser is part of a theatrical family that has for years performed and produced shows for the Tower Theatre Company. Her grandmother, Joyce Terry, who lives in Belsize Park, was a singer in the Ivy Benson band, an all-women troupe that toured ballrooms and servicemen’s clubs during the Second World War.

Ms Danser has run the Camden Comedy Club, above the Camden Head in Camden High Street, for four years. In the play the mother and daughter talk to each other a lot but “do not communicate well”. The actors say what they really feel to the audience in soliloquy.

Ms Danser said: “My mother has always proof-read my work and helped me. But I banned them all from knowing anything about this. I sat down with my mum and I said ‘before you come, I want to clarify that this is not a memoir, but I have drawn it from you and me’. I was worried she would go home and feel bad. But her response has been really great.”

The show is on at the Bread and Roses Theatre in Clapham on Sunday before going up to Edinburgh in August.

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