British Columbia

Canadian writer explores his OCD through performance

If Brendan McLeod didn't regularly repeat the Lord's Prayer to himself flawlessly and without blinking — 30 times over — he worried something awful might happen.

Brendan McLeod takes one-man show across country

Brendan McLeod's play deals with the workings and evolution of the brain and his own struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. (

"If I don't do 30 in a row that are perfect, my mom will get hurt, my dad will get hurt, or my dog will die." Those were the fears of writer and performer Brendan McLeod when he was in grade seven.

Although he wasn't a religious child, he believed if he didn't repeat the Lord's Prayer to himself flawlessly, silently, while looking at the ceiling, without breathing and without blinking 30 times over, something awful might happen.

That was one of his first clues that he might have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

According to Vancouver psychologist Melanie Badali, irrational fear has a unique power in the mind of someone with OCD.

Even as an adult, McLeod said his OCD still, "latches on to things you care about or find distressing. Without even knowing it, you start making up all these obsessions."

'Performance is a catharsis'

He is now cataloguing and poking fun at his fears on stages across the country in his monologue, Brain.

The show debuted at the Victoria Fringe Fest last year, and has since toured Canada, with shows in B.C. this week and next.

"Performance is a catharsis," he said. "Sharing that with other people is really helpful. Hearing their own experiences normalizes my own experiences."

Melanie Badali is a registered psychologist with Vancouver's North Shore Stress and Anxiety Clinic. (North Shore Stress and Anxiety Clinic)

McLeod's childhood obsession with repeated prayer is just one of the many forms obsessive compulsive disorder can take, but generally, there are two categories of behaviour.

Badali describes the obsession side as sudden urges or thoughts that, "don't really fit [in a person's mind]."

These are usually unwanted, distressing thoughts, or snowballing internal fears.

Obsessions and compulsions

Compulsions appear as habits motivated by anxiety and taken to the extreme, such as excessive cleaning, or constantly checking that the oven is off.

"Compulsions start as an attempt to manage the anxiety, ironically they end up worsening it over time," Badali said.

The rule of thumb is if those behaviours take up more than an hour a day, it's an indicator that someone might be suffering from OCD.

That's not a hard and fast rule, according to Badali. "But I think it conveys that this isn't the occasional 'oh, I'm upset because there's dirty footprints on my floor,'" she said.

Communication is key

McLeod says his OCD can often send his mind into dark areas of thought, which can result in self-blame.

"You think, 'oh someone got strangled to death,' or something... 'boy, I hope I don't want to do that,' and then before you know it all you're doing is thinking about strangling people," he said of his internal monologue.

"'I'm a horrible person for having that thought, what does that thought mean? Am I going to do that thought?'"

His remedy is communication.

"Talking to people, for me, has been the saviour," he said.

"You have to get to the point where you are not afraid to say the thoughts out loud and tell them to someone, because then you can separate yourself from them."

With files from B.C. Almanac