On the road to re­cov­ery

Derbyshire Life - - People - PHO­TO­GRAPHS: Phil Ainsworth

David Mar­ley talks to Ash­ley Ful­wood the Der­byshire-born chief ex­ec­u­tive of OCD-UK who swapped the cor­po­rate city

trad­ing world for a life lead­ing a na­tional health charity

For al­most all of his late teenage years and early 20s Ash­ley Ful­wood’s days were oc­cu­pied with a con­stant strug­gle to avoid be­com­ing con­tam­i­nated with dirt and germs. He would spend up to three hours a day wash­ing and scrub­bing his body over and over again in the bath tub, be­fore re­peat­ing the same in­ces­sant rit­ual in the shower for a fur­ther 30 to 40 min­utes.

For Ash­ley it was com­mon to get through two bars of soap each day and dozens of bot­tles of sham­poo and shower gel every week and de­spite know­ing this be­hav­iour was not typ­i­cal he was pow­er­less to con­trol his ob­ses­sive ac­tions.

‘I’ve come a long way since then,’ smiles Ash­ley. ‘But for far too long I couldn’t even shake hands with some­one without rush­ing to the bath­room to wash my hands.’

At the time Ash­ley was work­ing in Lon­don as an IT tech­ni­cal sup­port con­sul­tant for a fi­nan­cial com­pany and the stress of liv­ing in the cap­i­tal was mak­ing his con­di­tion even worse. ‘The thought of us­ing a pub­lic toi­let was tor­ture – so for over 10 years I would do ev­ery­thing I could to avoid do­ing so. I’d dodge food and drink so that I could get through the day and some­times I would even pre­tend to be ill so that I could dash home to use my own bath­room.’

On par­tic­u­larly tax­ing days all Ash­ley wanted to do when he got home was to take off his work clothes and spend hours wash­ing to rid his body of germs.

‘On one oc­ca­sion I spent over five hours in the bath­room. And on at least five oc­ca­sions in two years I found my­self hav­ing to throw my jacket, trousers, shirt, tie, socks and shoes away when I got home – and this was all be­cause my fear of con­tam­i­na­tion was rul­ing my life.’

The fi­nan­cial cost of re­plac­ing his clothes was run­ning into the thou­sands of pounds – and his wash­ing rit­u­als were eat­ing up every wak­ing sec­ond of his life. ‘It was all tak­ing a ter­ri­ble toll – I had no so­cial life or time for girl­friends; and I felt so im­pris­oned by the con­di­tion,’ he re­mem­bers.

The dread of germs and an ir­re­sistible de­sire to feel clean fi­nally led Ash­ley to seek help and ther­apy to take con­trol of his dis­or­der. He ac­cessed his pri­vate work-based health in­sur­ance and re­ferred him­self to the Pri­ory Hos­pi­tal in Southgate, North Lon­don. ‘Although the treat­ment did not par­tic­u­larly help me, it was the be­gin­ning of recog­nis­ing what I was suf­fer­ing from.

Fur­ther read­ing on the sub­ject of ob­ses­sive-com­plu­sive dis­or­der al­lowed me to start to have the con­fi­dence to re­duce my wash­ing time,’ he ex­plains.

These first brave steps led

Ash­ley to take a leap of faith and give up his job in the City to set up a na­tional charity to help other suf­fer­ers of the dis­or­der. A chance meet­ing with a friend while out shopping in Ox­ford Street in au­tumn 2003, en­cour­aged Ash­ley to take the first steps to found OCD-UK – which at the time was the UK’S new­est and most dy­namic charity ded­i­cated to help­ing peo­ple with the dis­or­der.

‘That friend was the muchre­spected busi­ness leader, Steve Sharpe. He and I were chat­ting about the lack of one ded­i­cated charity work­ing for peo­ple with ob­ses­sive-com­pu­lu­sive dis­or­der,’ Ash­ley ex­plains. ‘In that mo­ment Steve wrote a cheque and told me to get the charity up and run­ning.’

In early 2004, Ash­ley had reg­is­tered OCD-UK with the Charity Com­mis­sion and started to cre­ate a web­site as a way of shar­ing in­for­ma­tion about the dis­or­der. ‘I sup­pose look­ing back it was a brave move to quit my job as an IT con­sul­tant for Bloomberg in Fins­bury Square,’ he says.

‘I wasn’t paid for the first year and had to live off my sav­ings to get the charity up and run­ning.

But I never re­gret­ted it for a sec­ond – and 15 years later the charity has be­come my life and I love it.’

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