On the surface, Pandora Morris, 35, has everything. She’s pretty, blonde, well-connected and has a posh London address – the type of woman you might see on the pages of society magazine Tatler.

But there is a sadness about her cornflower blue eyes which reflect a less golden story. Pandora, a lawyer by profession and scion of a large London banking dynasty, has spent decades battling obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which developed into a severe exercise addiction and eating disorder in her early teens.

It has been more than three years since her last ‘relapse’, and though wary of describing herself as ‘cured’, Pandora is now in a very different place to her condition before lockdown, when her heart rate fell to 31 and doctors told her that if she didn’t stop exercising eight hours a day and eat more than 700 calories, she would probably die.

When we meet, Pandora has just come from the studio where she is recording the second series of Hurt To Healing, the podcast she launched in October 2022, in which she interviews experts and those who have struggled with mental health issues.

Pandora certainly knows her subject. Her desperate parents spent the price of a small house on treatments — none of which, including seven months in an eating disorder clinic in South Africa, seemed to work long term.

Pandora Morris, 35, has battled an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) for decades

Pandora Morris, 35, has battled an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) for decades

At one point, she even considered trying electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which sends an electric current through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure with the aim of altering the brain’s chemistry and reversing symptoms.

She tells of some of the staggeringly expensive ‘recovery experts’ that she and her parents have consulted, like the one who charged hundreds of pounds an hour and insisted she trailed a banana on a piece of string round the shops in London to deal with her issues around food.

‘Later, my mother found her throwing up in the loo,’ sighs Pandora, as the pair of us sit talking at the kitchen table of her parents’ sprawling penthouse in West London. ‘But, then, a lot of these so-called experts have only recently got out of rehab themselves.

‘The irony is that my parents forked out all this money over the years when the NHS have some of the best doctors in the world working on OCD and eating disorders. The problem is that their work is so grossly underfunded it can’t be effectively rolled out.’

In the end, it was a six-month course of intensive exposure therapy at an institute in LA that enabled Pandora properly to confront her obsessive thoughts and gradually reduce her compulsion to exercise.

However, she also puts her recovery down to a medically assisted trip on magic mushrooms in Ibiza.

Yes, you read that correctly: magic mushrooms — even though Pandora rarely drinks alcohol and had never taken an illegal drug in her life. But more of this later.

As well as a course of intensive exposure therapy, Pandora also puts her recovery down to a medically assisted trip on magic mushrooms to Ibiza (file image)

As well as a course of intensive exposure therapy, Pandora also puts her recovery down to a medically assisted trip on magic mushrooms to Ibiza (file image)

Characterised by recurring thoughts and repetitive behaviours you cannot control, such as checking doors or hand-washing, OCD is an often-ingrained condition that can take months or even years to change.

It affects between 1 and 1.5 million people in the UK, and is defined by the World Health Organisation as the fifth most debilitating health issue in women between the ages of 15 and 44 in terms of lost income and decreased quality of life.

As a little girl, Pandora was a chronic people-pleaser, she says, desperate for approval from her glamorous, high-achieving parents and plagued by self-imposed rituals to alleviate her constant feelings of anxiety, such as repeatedly looking under her bed and checking the doors in the house were locked.

‘I had this phobia about the number six,’ she tells me. ‘In my eight-year-old head, I must have associated it with the devil.

‘I started skipping page six in reading assignments, getting maths sums wrong because of having to avoid writing it down, and eventually not being able to walk past houses with numbers which were a multiple of it.

‘Then there was the terror I developed of my Dad’s new car. I just couldn’t get in it. It got so bad that I couldn’t bear the sound of it pulling up outside.’

If she can isolate what specific incident triggered her into a full-on exercise addiction it was probably the trainers her mother bought her at the age of 13.

‘I’d seen her and my dad getting up on Saturday morning for a run, and always thought how grown up and cool that looked. And when I tried it myself, in my new trainers, I felt this wave of euphoria.’

It has now been almost three years since Pandora's last 'relapse'

It has now been almost three years since Pandora’s last ‘relapse’

Vigorous exercise soon became a non-negotiable ritual with which to ‘cancel out’ her constant anxiety and fear of anything new.

‘I remember being in Rymans, having just been given my first debit card at the age of around 13. As the assistant put it through the till, I forced myself to get down on the floor and do 20 push-ups.

‘There were times when, going to a friend’s house for the first time, I’d get caught in a spare room doing my push-ups.’

Soon she found herself getting up in the middle of the night and sneaking out of the house in order to run.

‘At one time, after a friend of my mum’s spotted me, my mum tried locking me in her dressing room.’ What had begun as OCD behaviour morphed into an exercise addiction, where Pandora used workout rituals to force some order and control over her life.

From there, she placed the same restrictive controls over everything she ate — and eventually spiralled into an all-encompassing mental health crisis.

She started whittling down the foods she allowed herself to eat, limiting it to fat-free yoghurt, dry cereal and sweet potato. Soon, her weight plummeted enough for the doctor at her private girls’ school to insist on weekly weigh-ins.

Somehow Pandora managed to pass her GCSEs with flying colours, but the following year, while studying for A-levels, she nearly died of hypothermia when, on a family holiday, she sneaked out to go swimming in below-freezing temperatures.

Again, she somehow kept up the pretence of being well enough to attend university and law school, and got a placement at a leading real estate law firm in London.

Because psychedelics are not yet legal in this country unless administered as part of a medical trial, Pandora had to go abroad to take them (file image)

Because psychedelics are not yet legal in this country unless administered as part of a medical trial, Pandora had to go abroad to take them (file image)

‘I’m a classic perfectionist and I’m brilliant at keeping up appearances, pretending, for instance, that I had a doctor’s appointment when really I just had to go running.’

It was in March 2020, after yet another exercise-induced stress fracture and a plea from her employers that she take a leave of absence, that she endured her last serious relapse.

Pandora shows me a picture of herself on her phone, taken at this time, and she looks, quite frankly, like an old woman, her skin stretched tightly over her cheekbones.

On the advice of a friend who had recently made a full recovery from anorexia, she contacted a psychiatrist in the U.S. who put her in touch with the Westwood Institute in California, renowned for its hardcore intensive exposure therapy for eating disorders.

Here, her therapist, Eda Gorbis, a leading authority on the treatment of OCD, had her walking through Walmart in a fat suit, studying herself in a room of distorting mirrors, and superimposing pictures of her head onto photographs of morbidly obese women.

All this was to demonstrate that Pandora’s true body shape was very different to the image in her head, and that being larger did not result in the catastrophic consequences that she imagined.

‘It’s odd how nostalgic I feel about that period,’ she says, her eyes suddenly pricking with tears. ‘I loved that I had my mother all to myself while there. In a sense, I think that was what I wanted all along — my mother’s undivided attention.’

It was while she was out there that Pandora began researching the effects of psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in 200 kinds of fungi, on severe depression, OCD and eating disorders.

According to Dr Francisco Moreno, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Arizona and a world authority on OCD, medically administered psilocybin has a similar effect on our brains as serotonin, the so-called feel-good neurotransmitter.

It may be particularly effective for OCD, he believes, because it can alleviate the doubt and rumination which underpins so much of the disease’s obsessive, ritualistic behaviour.

Because psychedelics are not yet legal in this country unless administered as part of a medical trial, Pandora had to go abroad to take them.

Accompanied by a medical doctor friend who had undergone the experience many times before, she met a shaman, a kindly-looking woman in her 60s, who gave them both a 2.5 gram dose of ‘Golden Teacher’ mushrooms in a piece of chocolate.

In the year since her experience with magic mushrooms, Pandora has slowly been on the up

In the year since her experience with magic mushrooms, Pandora has slowly been on the up

After blindfolding them, the shaman started singing and playing guitar. The whole process cost a little more than £500.

For the first 45 minutes, Pandora felt nothing and was convinced it wasn’t going to work. The shaman then gave her some more mushroom-laced chocolate (the equivalent of a further 1.5 grams) and proceeded to blow the smoke from a mixture of medicinal herbs — ‘that felt like wasabi’ — up each of her nostrils.

The ‘rapee’, as the smoke is called, immediately took effect.

‘Every nerve ending in my body was on fire, and I was transported back to the boarding school I was sent to when I was eight, and feeling the exact same yawning loneliness I’d felt then.

‘One by one, all these other traumatic memories came up — and they were so vivid it was as though I was actually there.’

Was she terrified?

‘No, because it wasn’t exactly tripping; I was just feeling very, very intensely in a way that I had never done before. I cried and I cried, which I hardly ever let myself do. I laughed, too.

‘I also experienced this overwhelming sense of compassion for the people in my life. And whenever the OCD default button popped on, because I wasn’t totally out of it, the shaman held me in her arms and I felt this terrific sense of peace and safety. It was like ‘Ah! So this is what Pandora is like without OCD!’

In the year since her experience with magic mushrooms, Pandora has slowly been on the up. Though there are still ‘sticky’ moments — when the OCD wants her to run until she collapses, or when someone she hasn’t seen for a while says ‘Oh, you’re looking well’, which, as all women know, is code for ‘You’ve gained weight’. But unlike before, when that remark might have made her go into a tailspin for six months, now it may last only a few days.

Pandora’s weight (‘though above what I want it to be’) is now stable, she limits exercise to a less punishing daily regime, and she has regular therapy sessions on Zoom. At last, three months ago, she got her period for the third time since she was 15 — more than 20 years ago.

Although she believes her experience with psychedelics helped loosen the hold OCD had over her, to anyone thinking of doing the same, she stresses the importance of speaking to a professional first, and then making absolutely sure that you are in the hands of an experienced shaman.

And, of course, to remember that taking them is still illegal in this country. ‘I know of people buying it online and then doing it alone with a pair of headphones, and that is so dangerous,’ she cautions.

  • The podcast Hurt To Healing, with Pandora Morris, is available at hurttohealing.co.uk
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