On the road to recovery
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.’