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Maddie horror made my OCD so bad that I thought patting my little girl would stop her being snatched

Original Source: SUN: FRIDAY 03 JULY 2009
Published: 03 Jul 2009

HAMMERING on the locked holiday hire car, Ben Gander yelled at his wife to open up and let him hold their little daughter.


But as a deranged victim of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the young father did not just want a cuddle.


He believed that only by touching baby Freya would he prevent her disappearing like Madeleine McCann, who had vanished three months before the Ganders' trip to France in 2007.


With the tragedy playing on Ben's mind, he even contemplated smashing the car window to get inside
But his violent antics soon drew a crowd to the lay-by near Biarritz where the family had hastily pulled over, and an ambulance was called to rush the troubled Brit to hospital.

It took four months of psychiatric care before Ben fully recovered from the OCD

rituals that plagued him up to ten hours a day, left him an emotional wreck and even drove him to the brink of suicide.

The 33-year-old says: "To anyone who hasn't experienced extreme OCD, my behaviour appears over the top.

"But in my head I had to protect my daughter, and I would stop at nothing to keep her safe.


"What happened to Madeleine McCann scared the s**t out of me.

"I was in a foreign country with my gorgeous daughter, so there were parallels to the McCanns' story.


"The Maddie case got me worried because it showed what little control we have over our lives, and everything came to a head on the way to Biarritz.


"Thankfully I was taken away in an ambulance because that marked the beginning of my recovery from OCD."


Ben was 25 when he first noticed strange habits developing. To his mates he was a 6ft 2in rugby fanatic with a law degree and a great job as a tax adviser.


But they did not realise he was also becoming a slave to behaviours that would take over his life - and that of wife Nicky, 29.


Ben says: "As a child I had mild OCD. It got serious eight years ago when I met Nicky.

"I was very much in love and worried something might happen to her.

"I began getting lines in my head, such as, 'Nicky is killed'.

"To stop this coming true I had to reply, 'Nicky is not killed'.

"I could spend hours going over these sentences in my head.

"On the train I'd lock myself in the toilet so people wouldn't see me fidgeting.



"When I was working in Canary Wharf I'd take the lift up and down for ten or 15 minutes at a time to be alone.

"My work began to suffer badly as the ritual became more complex.


"While mentally repeating 'Nicky is not dead' I'd cough during the word 'not'.

"If it wasn't perfectly timed the whole thing would have to start again. I also totted up my coughs each day.

"The total had to be divisible by four but not 13. It left me physically and mentally drained."


Worried about his mental state, Ben confided in friends and family. But they thought OCD was a minor complaint and he struggled to be taken seriously.


He says: "Many people will light-heartedly claim to have a bit of OCD.

"They don't realise how extreme the condition can become.


"It's not just washing your hands a couple of extra times a day.

"OCD left me mentally paralysed and very nearly cost me my family.


"My mind was consumed by OCD and I had to act in this crazy way."

Freya - Ben and Nicky's first child - arrived in February 2006 and is now a happy three-year-old.

As the couple settled into the routine of raising her, Ben's condition greatly improved.


But by summer 2007 he was fretting over Freya's safety, and the related ritual did not just involve repeating sentences and coughing but also holding her while he did it.


Ben, from Petersfield, Hants, says: "I was in a bad way when we left to go to France, and it was there that things got totally out of hand.


"While driving to Biarritz I began coughing and trying to touch Freya from the driver's seat.


"Nicky got scared and told me to pull over in case I killed someone. Freya looked very shocked and unsure of what I was doing.

"When the ambulance arrived I was outside the car, talking like a madman.

"Nicky was so terrified she had locked the doors.


"After being sedated I spent a week recovering in hospital in France before returning home."

Nicky was shaken to the core by her husband's behaviour but the couple tried to put the incident behind them when he got home.

With Freya staying at her gran's house, things appeared to go well.

Then a few days later Ben's OCD flared up again.

He says: "I was supposed to be treated at Petersfield Hospital but I ran away and tried to find my daughter.


"I checked her nursery but she wasn't there so I went home.

"I was beside myself with worry and desperate because I couldn't get to Freya to complete the protective ritual.

"Some neighbours gathered outside our house with me in the kitchen.

"I grabbed a knife and threatened to commit suicide. I didn't know what else to do.


"The cops came and I was sectioned and admitted to Elmleigh Hospital's psychiatric intensive care unit."

As Ben settled in, he suddenly realised OCD would cost him the very people he was trying to protect.

For the next four months, mental health experts used cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to build on this realisation and undo Ben's destructive habit.


He says: "I received medication to calm down, but the CBT basically rewired my brain.

"With a lot of persuasion, therapists got me to hold Freya's hand and say that something bad would happen to her in a day.


"Of course, the day would pass and she'd be fine. The timeframes increased yet still nothing bad would happen to Freya.


"With counselling and amazing care from the hospital staff, my outlook slowly changed.

"I relied on OCD for so long it took a huge leap of faith to admit it was meaningless. But I did, and that has given me my life back."


Ben was released from Elmleigh in December 2007. Now he is back at work and has written a self-published book on his experience, called OCD And Me.


In January this year he and Nicky welcomed their second daughter, Darcy, into the family.


Ben says: "Many people suffer OCD in silence. I want them to know you can get over it.

"It's hard work - but nowhere near as hard as keeping up pointless rituals that do nothing but ruin your life."


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