By Tom Midlane @GoldenLatrine
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Videographer / director: Ruaridh Connellan
Producer: Tom Midlane,
Editor: Marcus Cooper
While most people associate OCD with tics like hand-washing or turning the light switch on and off a set number of times, Brandon Petulla, 22, experienced a very specific form of the condition known as ‘scrupulosity', which focuses on religious or moral perfectionism.
Plagued by thoughts of the devil, and terrified of the colour red and the number six, his family watched him wander around their home ‘blessing’ objects and muttering prayers under his breath.
Brandon, based in Brooklyn, New York, said: "I started sleeping with a crucifix and my habits at home just got incredibly weird.
“I’d write out Bible verses and put them on my wall and at school I would wear like a cross under my shirt, even though I’m not religious.
“I actually thought I was going insane, and that I’d end up being someone on the street who talks to themselves.
"My thoughts were so jumbled that it was almost like I had voices in my head, but it was actually just my OCD."
Brandon’s OCD first flared up around the age of 15, but went into overdrive the following year as he tried to come to terms with his sexuality - and the more sinister religious compulsions began to take hold.
Brandon stopped eating and he lost a huge amount of weight, plummeting to a minuscule 107lbs.
He said: “At first it kind of started with hand picking, weird habits with my skin, and then it developed into me being incredibly cautious with food, in terms of contamination.
“That’s the reason I stopped eating.I’d have a thought of ‘If you take this bite, it means you are selling your soul to Satan’ - which is ridiculous but in my head I was like, oh my god I can't eat this.
“From there it started to get more physical. I would like go around the house literally blessing objects and draw a cross on them and weird like superstitious things like that."
Brandon’s father Jimi Petula, 57, added: "I mean, as a parent to see your son like it was, it was awful.
“When we finally brought Brandon to Dr. Gorbis for treatment, it was, he looked bad. He had lost a lot of weight. He wasn’t eating, he was crying a lot."
Brandon’s OCD quickly spiralled to the point he had more than 5,000 compulsions a day, forcing him at age 17 to temporarily drop out of his senior year at high school, and to eventually seek treatment with Dr Eda Gorbis at the Westwood Institute of Anxiety Disorders in Westwood, California.
She said: “Scrupulosity is the patient’s fear that they have done something unscrupulous. In other words, said a lie, or caused someone pain, or acted with bad intentions - it s as though they are guilty.
"Brandon’s father Mr. Pitula called me in a panic and I instantly knew that this was an emergency case, but he responded to treatment so well."
Dr Gorbis helped Brandon slowly get his compulsions under control by forcing him to undertake exercises to confront his fears, like covering a room with sticky notes saying “Satan” and “666” - and getting Brandon to sign a fake contract selling his soul to Satan.
Brandon said: “I had to write little notes, they weren’t that long and it would just start with "'Dear Satan, I Brandon - I have to say my name like almost signing a contract - am selling my soul to you'.
“That was like enough at that moment to get my anxiety up to like a 10, but I would just keep rewriting and rewriting it and eventually the anxiety would subside."
Dr Gorbis also changing the end of her mobile telephone number to ‘666’ and made Brandon dial it.
She even drafted in a Catholic priest, Father Andrew, to offer Brandon a theological perspective on his struggles.
Brandon said: “Father Andrew was probably one of the more important aspects almost of the entire therapy because when I first started, I was the against idea of doing anything related to my OCD.
“But him being there was almost like the Pope telling you that it’s fine. He helped me a lot.”
Although Brandon still struggles with his OCD, he recently graduated from Parsons The New School of Design in NYC with a BFA in Photography, where he did a thesis project on OCD, and is now making a living as a freelance photographer and graphic designer.
He said: “OCD will always be a part of me in a sense, I can’t get rid of it, so I have to deal with it."
And whereas once Brandon fled from red - the colour of fire, of hell and the devil - he now incorporates into his work.
"I didn’t want it on my room, I didn’t want it on my body. I didn’t want to see it in my house. So I threw everything that was red and got rid of anything that was on my wall that was red,” he said.
"Even on the internet if I just even saw the colour red like I would quickly shut my laptop or look away.
"But once I started wearing it, I started to actual like the colour and now I like love red. I use a lot in my work. I guess it is a symbol of recovery in a sense."