THE news that David Beckham suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may have been a surprise but it was also proof that it can happen to anyone.

Gayle McBain meets one Bolton sufferer who believes Beckham's revelations could help the three per cent who suffer from OCD.

FOR Alyson getting to work on time is not a simple procedure she needs to reserve around two and a half hours before leaving the house to carry out her compulsions.

The "best" she has ever managed is three quarters of an hour but that rarely happens.

While many of us are rushing through our morning routine of getting ready for work, having given ourselves an extra five minutes in bed, Alyson is up and about spending literally hours checking her home is secure.

This pleasant young woman she' is 32 knows that her OCD blights her life but she has learned to accept it.

She knows that the danger of forcing herself not to carry out her rituals would only mean she would develop a new obsession so finds it safer to stay with what she knows, which is a checking obsession.

Before leaving her Horwich home she must check all the doors and windows are locked (and then check them again and again) and this leaves her fingers, hands and wrists sore as she must apply pressure when checking the locks.

She worries about her pets so must ensure her home is safe to leave them in.

Alyson, who did not want her real name using as so many of her family and friends do not know about her condition, used to have an obsession with hand and body washing and would have up to 20 baths or showers a day.

It is thought that almost everyone has a tiny bit of OCD and three per cent suffer to a more serious degree. It might be that you check your alarm clock twice to ensure it is set, or perhaps you go back to check the door is locked the difference is that it does not take over your life and you are not afraid something disastrous will happen if you do not check.

Numbers are another source of obsession for Alyson as they are for many OCD sufferers. "When I'm checking things I can't end on an odd number. Sometimes a number just doesn't seem right, for instance 32 doesn't seem right as it's my age," she said.

David Beckham has admitted that he counts the cans of cola he keeps in his fridge and has to throw one away if the number is uneven. He also reportedly counts clothes and places magazines in straight lines.

But having OCD has not prevented Beckham from becoming a huge football icon and for many people it is their organisation that makes them good at their job.

Alyson holds down a job working for the mental health service in Bolton and describes her desk as "organised chaos". She said: "To anyone else my desk would look a mess but I know where everything is," she said.

Some days she can be five or 10 minutes late, but never more than that as she gets up a couple of hours before she needs to, ensuring she has enough time to do her checking. "Most of the time I am really tired because I don't get a lot of sleep. I can't go to bed until I've done my checking and sometimes I get into bed and have to get up again.

"I have to get up very early to give me time, before work, to check everything," she said.

She knows her neighbours have spotted her making repeated trips back to the front door to check the door and windows but she can not stop herself.

Alyson is hyper-sensitive to changes, even small ones.

If she buys a new book, for instance, she is constantly looking at the book and can not simply put it down and forget about it.

Interestingly OCD sufferers may, for instance, have a washing ritual but can live in an untidy house. They may have to keep their home spotless but do not feel the necessity to be ordered at work.

But there are many downsides to the condition and for many sufferers their lives can be mental torture, particularly if they feel unable to leave the security of their home.

Help is at hand in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy and in some cases prescription drugs can help but for many people living with the condition simply becomes a way of life.

Sadly Alyson feels unable to maintain a personal relationship. "I'm difficult enough to live with, and if you add to that my OCD it's really not possible to have a relationship," she said, with a smile.

She does have a social life but has to plan, well in advance, when going out.

Alyson had a difficult childhood many OCD sufferers first notice their obsessions when they are teenagers and sadly she feels unable to tell her family about it and only a handful of friends know.

Deputy Manager of MHIST (Mental Health Independent Support Team) in Bolton, Dave Rowley, said many sufferers felt they could not open up to family or friends because of the stigma.

"It is very sad that many people don't feel they can talk about their OCD. But I feel David Beckham admitting he has OCD could help lots of people understand that they are not alone and it's not something to be ashamed of," he said.

Alyson is delighted Beckham has felt able to tell his story and hopes it will help other Bolton people who, like herself, are suffering often in silence from OCD. "The more people who try to understand OCD the better," she said.

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

OCD is the name given to a condition in which people experience repetitive and upsetting thoughts and, or, behaviours. It has two main features: Obsessions and compulsions.

Obsessions are involuntary thoughts, images or impulses, and include fears about dirt, germs and contamination; fears of acting out violent or aggressive thoughts or impulses; unreasonable fears of harming others; abhorrent, blasphemous or sexual thoughts; inordinate concern with order, arrangement or symmetry; inability to discard useless or worn out possessions and fears that things are not safe, for example household appliances.

The main features of obsessions are that they are automatic, frequent, upsetting or distressing and difficult to control or get rid of.

With compulsions it is common for people to carry out an action in order to reduce the anxiety they feel from an obsession.

Common compulsions include excessive washing and cleaning; checking; repetitive touching, counting, arranging and ordering; hoarding, ritualistic behaviours that lessen the chance of provoking an obsession (for example putting all sharp objects out of sight) and acts which reduce obsessional fears.

Compulsions can be actions like hand washing or mental rituals such as repeating words or phrases or counting. For the majority of sufferers, OCD can be controlled and treated.

The OCD Action Support Group has a branch which meets at MHIST, Deajan House, Chorley New Road, Bolton every other Monday from 7.30pm to 9pm. The atmosphere is informal and the group hosts speakers and has programmes which focus on relaxation.