I have OCD, brain implants changed my life

Everyday tasks could be an ordeal for Nanette, until she found an incredible solution
  • Nanette Vardy-Forth, 52, from Mango Hill, Queensland, had obsessive compulsive thoughts from the age of five.
  • She had an array of daily rituals that she couldn’t give up without living in fear of dire consequences.
  • Accepted into a trial for deep brain stimulation, her transformation was remarkable.

Here, she tells her story in her own words.

Sunlight seeping through the windows, I stretched my arms out with a big yawn.

‘Good morning, darling,’ my husband Gary, 53, smiled.

Although it was a dream come true to wake up next to my love each morning, I knew the day ahead would be a nightmare.

Living with obsessive-compulsive disorder, uncontrollable thoughts steered me into repetitive behaviour.

Day and night, I had a mental checklist with dozens of inane rituals.

Brushing my teeth up and down, then side to side, I’d do it in sets of four, over and over.

That wasn’t right, I’ll do it again, I’d think, frustrated.

I was worried that if I didn’t do everything exactly right Gary or my lovely parents, John and Adrienne, or brother Matthew and his partner Ty, would suffer illness, be harmed, or even die.

Before I left the house, I’d check that every tap was off, and I’d click all the light switches on and off again.

Even certain outfits on some days gave off bad energy, and I’d have to change clothes.

I knew it was absurd thinking, but the obsessive urges – and the dire consequences I constantly imagined if I didn’t play them out – were so strong.

Nanette Vardy-Forth
Nanette and her husband, Gary (Credit: Supplied.)

‘I was only five years old when I began to struggle with obsessive thoughts.’

Driving off to my casual hospitality job, I’d feel anxious.

I better drive back and check the garage door is closed, I thought, after opening and closing it four times already.

‘Just let me do the cleaning up, I have OCD,’ I’d jokingly warn my colleagues when I finally arrived at work, but meaning every word.

Thankfully, my hubby was always supportive.

‘I love you the way you are, and want to help you in any way I can,’ he’d soothe when I’d spiral.

I was only five years old when I began to struggle with obsessive thoughts.

My stuffed animals always had to be perfectly lined up on my bed.

And in primary school, walking home was a struggle.

Take four steps, turn left, then check behind you to see if someone’s there, I’d think, repeating the pattern until I eventually arrived at my front door.

Each night, I’d say prayers aloud before bed to make sure my family was never harmed.

If I stuffed up my wording, I’d start from the beginning.

It wasn’t until I was 18 that my worried mum took me to the doctor.

Nanette Vardy-Forth
Nanette as a child (Credit: Supplied.)

‘This is ruining my life, I thought.’

Arriving, the doc immediately diagnosed me with OCD, as well as bipolar disorder, and prescribed me meds to manage my mental health.

Starting therapy, it felt good to express my feelings.

But over the decades, no matter what cocktail of meds I was on, my OCD continued to spiral.

Leaving my hospo job in 2013, aged 43, I decided it was best I stayed home.

This is ruining my life, I thought.

Watching TV, I changed the channel repeatedly so nothing bad would happen.

I love you, Gary would text me each day while he was at work.

Aged 45, I went to the hospital to try electric shock therapy, and then again two years later.

But the extreme method didn’t help either.

In spring 2018, when I was 48, my psychiatrist suggested a new trial for deep brain stimulation run by the University of Queensland, the Queensland Brain Institute and the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

A therapy widely used for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease it was being trialled to see if it could help people living with OCD too.

‘If you’re chosen for the trial, surgeons will implant a thin metal wire into your brain and the electrodes will link up with a battery-operated device that goes into your chest, similar to a pacemaker,’ she explained.

The electrodes would deliver a continuous electrical impulse to a targeted region of my brain called the amygdala to reduce my fear response and help me challenge my intrusive thoughts.

I’d do anything to make it stop… I thought.

Intrigued, I asked her to register me.

After half a dozen interviews with psychiatrists and brain surgeons, I was officially accepted, along with eight others with severe OCD, for the trial.

I’d had to prove that meds and therapy had failed to help me.

In February 2019, I kissed Gary goodbye before being wheeled in for the lengthy surgery.

Nanette Vardy-Forth
Nanette after surgery (Credit: Supplied.)

‘Three years on, I’m happier than ever.’

Coming to, I was groggy and in some pain.

Discharged two days later, back home when I woke up the next morning, I realised I hadn’t checked the kitchen tap was off before I slept, like I usually do.

That’s different, I thought.

For the next six months, my ridiculous rituals gradually lost the majority of their meaning.

I don’t have to check the appliances are off, because I know they’re off, I’d tell myself, resisting the urges that sometimes seized me.

Finally, something works! I thought.

At my six month check up in August, I reported my progress.

‘I feel like a big load has been taken off my shoulders!’ I told the doctors.

Three years on, I’m happier than ever.

‘I’m going to the shops,’ I’ll tell my new fur babies James, a chihuahua, and Louie, a ragdoll cat, before closing the front door.

Driving off, I don’t feel the need to turn around and check the garage door is closed.

Every Saturday, Gary and I pop out for a walk and enjoy a beer and espresso martini at our local bar.

I wouldn’t have been able to do this before, I think as I take a sip.

Although my OCD is still here, it’s much easier to manage, and now I only feel the need to check the bathroom tap before I go to bed or leave the house.

I’ve been given a second chance to enjoy life.

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