It’s been a while

Hi, it’s been a while!

I am writing today because I have been meaning to but in all honesty, and I promised I would be honest in my journey, I have been avoiding. This might not make sense to start with as I talk about recovery but bear with me. I reached recovery a couple of months ago. A place where in January I didn’t think I could ever reach. I worked my socks off in therapy and I was discharged from counselling a few weeks ago. It took me time to accept recovery, a strange concept because I thought I would just know when I was there, that I would feel the obvious ‘recovered’ feeling but it didn’t happen like that for me. It wasn’t a defining moment, or a specific day. It sort of gradually seeped through me. OCD felt more distant at times, like I could breathe. It was a slow process. It was difficult. I took a lot of steps back but also a lot of steps forward. I finally stopped counting down the minutes, hours and days until my next session, I stopped feeling compelled to google for hours and hours during my day (looking through my google history at one point was a scary moment seeing the hundreds, if not thousands of OCD related sites I was delving through daily), I stopped spending relentless hours on the online OCD communities, reading thousands of comments, reaching out for help myself and joining countless groups. All these things I felt trapped into doing began to stop. Yes it was helpful to learn as much as I could, it was necessary at that time. I needed to know as much as I could, I needed to be consumed by it and looking back I know for me that was just what I needed to do to survive at that time. Just over time I began to feel like I had a choice in it all. I could choose or more look at why I would be googling, or reaching out in online groups and I learned in the beginning of treatment, it was because I was looking for that reassurance. I began to stop seeking all the answers that I now know I can’t possible get definite answers to anyway. I began to do more and more things on my hierarchy until I realised I had actually done all of the things on it. I could get through the days without anxiety attacks and I began to function more and more each week. I finally got to a place where I was back to fully functioning, I was active in the home again, helping with chores, caring for our children and feeling like me again before this spike. I was seeing my close friends again, going to family events, enjoying life. There were still some areas that I needed to work on with social anxiety and I knew OCD was still there but overall I was out of that hole I had fallen into during December/January.

The day I was discharged from counselling was a good, but also heavy day. I struggle to describe it because it’s unlike anything I have experienced. I spoke through a few things that had happened that had triggered my OCD and anxiety in the previous weeks because I do still get triggered. I talked through how to keep moving forward and I was sad to say goodbye. My counsellor had been with me for around a year, before this spike, before we even knew I had OCD. She was a safe space for me to share literally anything and everything I needed to and I think it would have taken me a lot longer to get treatment and the diagnosis had I not already been in counselling with her for anxiety issues that I now know were linked in with OCD. She saw what I couldn’t to start with. When I returned after Christmas, after having my fourth baby, and I sat there shaking and quickly breaking during those next few weeks, convinced I must be going crazy, she saw exactly what was happening. What I thought was my mind breaking she knew was OCD. She rescued me and I expect if I was saying this to her she would remind me, I rescued myself with the work I have put in but she gave me the tools, the knowledge, the confidence to fight through this. I don’t think I could ever verbalise how grateful I am for her. So saying goodbye to everything we had shared, and gone through during my treatment was sad but I knew I was ready and I knew she wouldn’t let me go unless she knew I was ready.

Teary eyed I left and my husband and I drove to the same pebble beach we had gone to after my first session just after this spike started. After that first session back in January we drove to this beach and I needed to take medication to even get in the car because I was so anxious and the thoughts were drowning me. I got out of the car, red eyed from crying so much and feeling like I couldn’t even breathe fully. We walked down the steps onto the beach and I couldn’t go any further. I watched the waves, tried to breathe, tried to trust that I would be okay but feeling like I was loosing myself, feeling like in all this open space I was still suffocating, I knew I wasn’t okay. I remember holding my husband and watching the waves, trying to think of my thoughts like them, coming and going, like the waves. We picked up a pebble each, as a symbol of the strength we’d need to find and we placed them on our mantle piece as a reminder that I needed that rock of support.

Well six months on, after my last session we went back there. We took those same pebbles back with us and this time I walked down on to the beach right up to the waves. We watched them coming and going and I thought back to the last time I stood on that beach and how far I had come in that time. We talked about everything these pebbles represented to us… strength, support, the weight of the struggle… and I said to my husband that we don’t need these pebbles any more, we don’t need this strength any more because we have found the strength within us and we don’t need a reminder of that. We shared a kiss and both threw them back into the sea, and let the waves carry them away. It was closure on that part of my journey. I felt positive but also apprehensive.

So this is where it gets to the avoidance. Avoidance is a big compulsion of mine and although I have made huge steps in overcoming that compulsion it did start to creep back in. At first I didn’t like saying I was in recovery because I was worried there would be a trigger lurking at any moment that would send me back to where I was before. I feared saying it out loud then jinxing it so I wouldn’t say it to start with, I would say ‘nearly in recovery’ or ‘just in recovery’ to avoid jinking it. I would also worry that what if I wasn’t in recovery. Was I a fraud if I say I am in recovery but then I find out I’m not? All these silly ‘what ifs’ and fears. Eventually though with exposure I did get more comfortable saying it and typing it but then I noticed I began to withdraw from anything OCD related. I stopped writing on my page, I stopped blogging, I stopped reaching out so often in communities, I stopped googling, and I left pages and groups. I wanted to believe it was because I just didn’t need that extra support but the reality? It was because I began thinking if I now don’t have anything to do with OCD then maybe I can phase it out and not have OCD any more, or if I don’t talk about it or think about it, or I cut it out of my life then I won’t ever have a relapse, I can put it behind me now I am recovered and I can move on with my life and never have to think about it again. Well if you are reading this and you have OCD or know the ins and outs of OCD then you know that is not how it works and actually that was the fast track way to making my OCD and anxiety spike!

And after weeks of this avoidance and not nipping it in the bud, that’s exactly where I am. Last night the physical anxiety, the physical stomach turning started for the first time in months. Yes I could attribute that to a mix of hormones, being the last day of my period, to it being yet another late night, the constant changing weather and recent storms, the fact I had a hemiplegic migraine a few days ago and my stomach not being great, oh and eating take out food full of sugar and junk and it being the start of the summer holidays… yes I am sure it all plays a part but so does the fact I have been avoiding in order to try and prevent another relapse, and ultimately, that behaviour that I think will protect me is the behaviour that feeds the OCD. This morning the anxiety is still there, on and off but bubbling and I am beginning to argue with thoughts and try to reassure myself and question and ruminate and all those compulsions that feed the cycle.

So I grabbed the laptop and began writing. I have been asked for an update on my journey and because I was avoiding, I couldn’t write anything, but feeling that pull of OCD creeping back I refuse to let it grab hold fully again. I know I need to re-ground myself. So I am sharing this, because I need to, I need to share it even if I worry it will somehow jinx it (I know that’s magical and black and white thinking), I know this is what’s happening and I have the tools to work through it so time to get those tools out and stop being so hard on myself. We are in this together and I am sorry I have been quiet while working through my journey.

Even in recovery it’s okay to be triggered and it’s okay to fall but remember to fall forward. It’s about continuing to move forward, no matter how slowly that is, even if you have to crawl, just keep moving through it. I will do another blog later or tomorrow about an area of OCD that has been bubbling recently that I hadn’t really seen mentioned much so felt it would be good to share. Thank you for reading and although I wanted this to be a shining piece of writing on the amazing glowing feeling of being in recovery, it just isn’t like that, that isn’t the reality of living with OCD and that’s okay.

A x

Dear parents with OCD…

To all the other parents that are out there struggling with OCD…

I wish I could give you an answer to make it all better. I wish I could reach out and give you a big hug that will make the pain a little less. I wish I could pick up the phone and tell you all the things you need to hear and it would help…I wish all this because I wish someone could do this for me. Through all the support, all the hugs, all the phone calls there is no answer that will make this suddenly go away but until the time comes where you learn to overcome this by applying all the tools you are learning I hope this at the very least offers some comfort and hope. 

To all the other parents who feel like they are failing their children, who can’t be the parent they were or want to be, who can’t be around their children or who have broken down while their children see them cry, or they step out of the room not able to console themselves or not even able to get out of bed. To all the parents who have felt so isolated, guilty, afraid, doubtful and have questioned living. To all the parents that feel this illness has scratched away at their souls and everything that made them who they are. To all the parents that have felt numb, unable to love or feel happiness, like they are just watching their life float by, or so overwhelmed they’ve loved so much they can barely breath. To all the parents that have been stopped in their tracks unable to move at all. You inspire me and I want you to know these facts that although OCD will tell you are false, they are true. 

You are strong. A warrior. A fighter. A protector. You don’t know how strong you are because this illness makes you feel so weak. Everyday you open your eyes and take a breath you are stronger than you realise. You are loved. You are valued. You have an important place in this life. This illness will tell you otherwise, that you are a phoney, that you don’t deserve love or joy. OCD is lying to you. You deserve love, and all that is good. You do great things. You carry on through this darkness. You are kind. Caring. Compassionate. You are a good person. You are a good parent. An amazing parent. This illness will get its claws into your deepest fears and because you are a good person it will terrify you and make you doubt everything. You are brave. So brave. You stare in the face of pure torment every day and you keep breathing. 

You are the Phoenix rising out of the ashes. You are the lotus flower blooming in muddy waters, you are the rainbow when it’s raining, you are the sunrise after the longest night, you are a survivor. 

You inspire me. Each and everyone of you. You give me courage, you give me more ways to punch back at OCD, you give me understanding and support. Every time you reach out for help, with questions, with advice or even just breathe you are taking bigger steps than you realise. 

You’ve got this. I promise you, YOU can beat this. Every thought, fear, feeling you have, whatever the theme OCD has picked on for you, however ugly you think it is, there are others out there right now, experiencing the exact same. Right now.
 
Let’s be each other’s light when we struggle to light our own paths. Let’s walk together and when someone drops their torch we can hold their hand and they can share our light until they find theirs again. Let’s be united through this illness and kick it in the face together, and on the days we trip and lose our balance, let’s hold each other steady until we find our feet again. 

We are in this together ❤️ 

A x

Mountains are moving 

Today is a good day. I feel nervous writing this because even in times of hope it still feels like it might not last. It feels like I am balancing and at any moment could fall. But I am balancing. 

Yesterday I faced a big fear of going to a play group. I also began really committing to exposures that I had still been avoiding. I had used my broken ankle as an excuse to avoid the things that cause me anxiety and fear. My husband came into my counselling on Monday and agreed with my counsellor that he would work on not enabling me. He agreed he would bring our baby to me so I could change him and be with him which during the session made me feel so anxious discussing how my husband would stop being a crutch for my compulsions. I have been changing nappies and holding my 15 week old son lots more and today it feels like there has been a lift in the OCD. I feel more capable of living. I feel more capable of caring for my children like I use to before the OCD manifested in this way. 

There was a moment yesterday I was sat next to my baby and he held my hand so tight and looked up at me with his big beautiful eyes and his smile just radiated joy. I thought to myself, ‘this little baby is smiling up at me because he loves me, he feels safe with me and because I’m a good mother’ and he held onto my hand so tightly and I’ve shared that moment with you in the featured photo. This moment meant everything to me. I could be around him and not be full of fear, I could interact with him and not want to run away because the anxiety has gotten too much, I could look at him and not feel bad as a mother for my OCD intrusive thoughts. I will hold onto that moment forever. That small moment has moved mountains for me. 

I was sure like all the other glimmers of hope I’ve had that it would pass and I would wake feeling the same sense of dread but I was wrong. I woke feeling, okay, not anxious or worried. I got up and changed my sons nappy and cuddled him, saw to my other two children while my husband took our oldest to school and then gave my baby his bottle. I couldn’t believe how innate it felt to just be getting on with routines that before last December I had never questioned. I’m nervous yes, on edge and hyper aware that a trigger is lurking around the corner but I’m hopeful that I will learn to navigate those corners even in the darkness.

I can’t really describe how it feels to be writing a blog about exposure therapy actually really beginning to work. I feel like I can now stop saying I am in early recovery and I can say I am in recovery. That is something I couldn’t see writing for a long time. 

So I leave this blog here, still full of nerves and fearing some of the still remaining ‘What ifs’ but also full of hope.

A x 

Welcomed with open arms 

May I live like the lotus, at ease in muddy water”

Today I took what felt like a very big step. We took our two youngest sons to play group which is definitely one of my highest ranking fears on my hierarchy. 

When our older two were younger we went to this same playgroup weekly and it was the best group in our town for us. It is ran by members of the church and their support was always wonderful. When they asked ‘how are you?’ It’s because they genuinely wanted to know, it wasn’t an ‘in passing’ conversation. They would sit and talk through any worries, all the ups and downs and they were always there. During my third pregnancy I wasn’t very well and we stopped going, and when our son was around six months old we returned for a short while but then I was expecting our fourth child and with that came new health issues so again we stopped going.

With the way this OCD spike has manifested it’s made me avoid anything and everything to do with children. I feel bad for having this type of OCD, guilty all the time and so so anxious and I worry, ‘what if I get even worse thoughts triggered that I haven’t even thought of yet?’ which my counsellor tells me is catastrophising so I avoid. I do this ALOT. 

The church got in touch and sent beautiful flowers yesterday while I was at counselling and I felt undeserving of them. I struggle accepting help and kindness because OCD makes me feel so bad about myself. 

This morning though, I fought against every doubt OCD told me and we went to play group. It wasn’t easy. I was irritable towards my husband as blind panic set in when we were getting ready to go. Several times I snapped, ‘I can’t go’. I got there though. Full of nerves and apprehension about socialising and worrying about getting triggered. We were welcomed with such love and sincerity. I saw a friend there to and as I watched my second youngest running around and the helpers helping him onto the slide I just felt this overwhelming feeling…I loved that he was enjoying it so much but I was reminded of how he’s not been to a playgroup in around eight months and how I missed the old me so much. I thought of how we’d go to playgroup every week but because of OCD and what it’s done to me it’s stopped me doing all the things that made me who I am, thinking this overwhelmed me. Everyone was being so compassionate and I just felt so underserving of their loving support. 

I took a moment in the toilet to have a small cry to myself because I just needed to get away at that moment and allowed myself that time. I went back in and stayed and chatted and smiled and felt a slight sense of normal, a slight sense of belonging again and a slight sense of me again. I chatted to one of our dear friends from the church and told him a brief overview of what I had experienced and was met again with kindness, love and  support.  

I know I have to carry on despite what my OCD tells me. I have to force myself through the mud like the lotus flower and bloom anyway. It’s easy to forget you can carry on even when OCD is playing the drums in your mind. Tonight I feel as if a weight was lifted. I know not to believe it won’t return but for right now, in this moment, the drums are a little quieter. 

A x 

‘Yet’

Something I’m learning is to use the word ‘yet’. My counsellor always gets me to do this. 

When I say, ‘I don’t feel better’ or ‘I can’t do that’, she’ll get me to say, ‘yet’ and I can see why. It took me a while but I can see the benefits. 

By adding that one word it’s drumming it into me that I will do everything I was able to do before this spike and I will make steps. 

‘I don’t feel better yet’

‘I can’t cope without my husband yet’ 

‘I can’t be in busy public places yet’ 
(Just a few examples) 

When I began counselling mid January after the spike I said things like, ‘I can’t hold my children’, I can’t say words beginning with P, I can’t be around my children, I can’t get through a day without crying, I can’t get through a day without muscle relaxants, I can’t see my friends, I can’t get through the day without full blown panic attacks, I can’t watch any tv’ and so on. 

But you know what? I have done all those things. Yes I still get anxious and I’m still training my brain and it’s still a battle and I’ve still got a lot of things I haven’t done yet. Even early on in sessions she would ask me to say ‘yet’ and she was right. Even when I thought I couldn’t do all these things, I now know it was just I couldn’t do them at the time. I’ve learned that I can do all the things I use to but it will just take time. A lot of time yes and maybe there will always be things that feel challenging but I will do them just not yet

Adding that one word reminds me to be hopeful and reminds me of all the things I’ve already achieved that I didn’t think I could when I began recovery. 

Keeping this short and sweet. I hope it’s helpful.

A x 

Sweet dreams 

Sleep…the one time of the day where our minds can shut off and we can gain some relief from the noise of OCD right? 
Not always, well not for me and not for many, many others. I have found dreams can be upsetting and I can wake already feeling defeated. Sometimes they don’t even have to be what I would consider, that bad. Last night I dreamt that I forgot to pick my second oldest son up from preschool (a different preschool then he actually goes to) and my dad said he would collect him. I was half and hour late and as I was driving (I can’t drive in real life) my dad was walking on the pavement next to me and I felt like all I wanted to do was just get to my son but time was just moving so slowly. I was moving in a car but moving at walking pace. I thought I can get there quicker but my dad offered, I let him cross at the zebra crossing and think I had to be somewhere else and that was all I remember. I woke feeling bad. Feeling guilty.  
Since this OCD spike started last December I actually didn’t start getting bothered by my dreams until I began counselling. The meds I was taking would sedate me and I remember not having dreams. I was relieved. Then once I began therapy and weaned off the medications I began having more dreams. Every night I hope I don’t have a nightmare that will bother me for ages, I make sure the last think I look at on my phone before bed is positive.  
There was one study I found online, link below, that said actually with people suffering with OCD there was no difference in the reports of dreams that caused anxiety than those without the illness. This really surprised me but on reflection it makes sense. Dreams like thoughts come involuntarily and so just like everyone has intrusive thoughts, everyone has bad or peculiar dreams at times. Dreams don’t reflect us, yes they can feel more personal because we, of course obsess over them and search for answers, ‘why did I dream that? Where was that from?’ assuming they must be saying something about us. Others wake and shake it off as ‘that was an odd dream’ and carry on with their day but with OCD that’s not so easy. We attach meaning and feel bad that we had dreams of unpleasant content. We can feel bad and guilty before we’ve even gotten out of bed. I often ruminate about dreams, pray I won’t have more dreams and am even more aware of avoiding things like the news or anything like documentaries or tv series that I think are bad before bed. I carry out compulsions to make me less likely to have a bad dream. I didn’t realise I was doing these things to this extent.
Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/11516768/
I take comfort in knowing that this is common. I’ve seen many, many accounts from OCD sufferers expressing that they to struggle with dreams (or nightmares as they are often called when unpleasant) that can leave them ruminating on them. 
Here’s the definition of dreams.


Are these not exactly what we experience during wakefulness? So I feel, the best way to move past dreams is to apply exactly what I’m learning about my OCD to my dreams. I did that this morning and although feeling still a bit uncomfortable, I feel less personally attached to my dream last night, like I’ve created some distance between me and it and it’s not a personal assault on my character. 
I wanted to talk about this because there isn’t much research on it so it’s a topic I felt I wanted to bring to light.
A x 

‘Me too’

So yesterday I shared the darkest part of my OCD. The part that has ruined my life and I’m currently working very hard on rebuilding.
Within a short while of sharing my story, the responses began coming in and wow!! They involved words of amazing compassion and support and two words that made every ounce of anxiety worth it, ‘me too’.
Wonderful courageous people were replying and reaching out saying they suffered the same theme as me as well. I struggle to describe how much that comforts me and how thankful I am to hear responses of such brave stories from others.
This theme also known as PCOD (which still makes me a bit uncomfortable reading when I see it) is common! It’s so so common, like seriously, right now as you read this there are others with the exact thoughts you are having, ‘What if it’s not OCD? what if I want to? What if I’m a monster? Do I even know who I am anymore?’ And the list is endless, there are many many others feeling and thinking exactly how you are. Exactly the same.
In the claws of OCD it can feel like you are drowning, like you can’t lift the thoughts or feelings, and like you have this big secret eating away at you because if you talk about it OCD tells you ‘you’re admitting something and will be judged, maybe you’ll lose your children if you say it out loud, you could lose all your friends or your job, whatever it is you hold dear, and it will make it true if you talk about it’ and if you suffer in silence OCD tells you ‘you’re hiding something, others should know because you’re a potential threat, stay quiet’… OCD will do what it can to tell you, you are trapped and this won’t stop or ever get better.
I wanted to open a dialogue on this theme of OCD and show it for what it is…it’s an unpleasant theme that OCD picks on because it’s an easy target. OCD is a chemical imbalance. An imbalance that fills us with fear and dread. An imbalance that can be treated. I promise I’m here for you, if you need to reach out and talk, I can offer a listening ear, I get how scary it is, I get how the thought of even thinking about saying it can pause you in your tracks. There’s nothing about OCD that I could hear that will make me think less of someone. I completely get it. It’s disturbing, and ugly and uncomfortable. If talking about it is something you want to do then please reach out and if the times not right then that’s okay to. There’s no right or wrong.
I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who responded yesterday and continues to respond for your bravery in sharing your stories to.

I am just so taken aback by the compassion I’ve been met with and hearing those precious two words in this debilitating illness, ‘me too’.
Featured photo: I took this photo today on a short walk to an incredible forest. It’s been nearly two weeks since I went out for a walk (I’ve got a broken ankle at the moment) and I’ve had a rough couple of days with OCD being extra bad and the responses to my story gave me the motivation to get out today, sit in a forest and just breath so thank you!
A x

Falling into the OCD trap

I couldn’t blog yesterday because the OCD seemed to grab on.
I am currently doing a mindfulness workbook by Jon Hershfielf, MFT and Tom Corboy, MFT. I was so keen to get started but delayed it for a few hours when I looked at the contents and realised that there was a section on my specific theme. Seeing it there made me spike slightly. I flipped straight through to that section and read the first few words and then closed it. I knew that I would be working on my specific primary theme and needing to write about it which I still can’t do in any real detail.
I left the book then mid afternoon I picked it up and began reading it. It was interesting and made sense. I began working through the initial sections of it answering questions then challenging them as directed.
I sat for hours getting through the workbook. After seven hours we were watching a tv show in the background and a very attractive celebrity was on it. My husband at first when the series began last week said he didn’t find her attractive and said she wasn’t his type but tonight when the adverts came on he said, “oh look she’s in an advert to” and I said, “I knew you’d end up liking her.” He smiled and said “What?” and he said in the advert with straight hair she did look quite attractive. I began to get upset. Not because he thought a celebrity was attractive, she was, and I knew that. I was already thinking while watching the show, ‘Why can’t I be normal like them?, they all have it okay and don’t have OCD, why do I have this stupid illness’. 
All day I had my primary thought circling my head and I knew I was falling into the trap of trying to prove it or disprove it. I knew it had been bothering me all day and I wasn’t applying the right tools. I was falling into its trap of ruminating, withdrawing and telling the thought to just ‘go away and leave me alone’.
I burst out crying after the celebrity comment. I told my husband I was already irritated that the thought was bothering me more than it had been and this work book was reminding me in every paragraph how wrong my way of OCD thinking is. Every paragraph talked about different thinking patterns, ‘magnifying, future predicting, zoning in’ and I did it all and that upset me. I felt like I was being berated by this work book. My husband said it would be a good idea to stop now but I couldn’t. I wanted to stop but just wanted to be fixed and had to keep going. Another hour and I could barely absorb the information. I was struggling to even read the sentences having to reread parts over and over and over and it still wasn’t sticking. I wanted to get to the section on my theme even though that was so much further into the book. I wanted answers, I wanted to do the exercises and feel better or cured.
OCD had its claws so far into me and I allowed it. I sat and through passiveness to the world around me and through rising anxiety I allowed it. After eight hours of the OCD workbook focus my husband took the book from me. He then nodded off in the chair and I began googling for reassurance. I watched video after video, looked on peer communities and read information. I couldn’t help but try and feel better.
Another two hours later and I finally heard on one of the videos someone mention, not being alone. It hit me quite hard. I had let the OCD take hold and tell me, ‘I’m all alone, I’m the only one feeling like this, I’m isolated’ and I forgot about the millions of others going through this. The many many others that have the exact theme that I do. That have the exact same thoughts and worries that I do. Then I felt the slight relief. I could let go slightly. I wrote these words down, ‘you are not alone’ as pictured in the feature photo taken straight from my note book. It helped.
I have woken feeling a bit uncomfortable and drained from yesterday and annoyed I let myself fall into the traps. I did all the compulsions I was working hard to stop. I allowed myself to start believing the horrible lies of OCD. Yesterday OCD won that battle but as I will remind myself, it will not win the war.
A x

The ‘Exposure workout’

I am learning new things about OCD everyday. Learning about OCD is like New York. It’s like trying to visit every avenue, every shop, every room in every apartment and shaking hands with every person who lives there. OCD is always awake and making noise just like New York. But people live in New York, they live happily there despite the noise, despite how big and busy it is. I feel like I will spend my life time learning new things about OCD and I feel okay about that because I know I will learn what I need to to help myself. I will learn to stop listening to the noise.

Yesterday I learned something new. I was reading some articles online about my OCD themes and it was intense. Every other word was a trigger word. Words that I still struggle to say out loud. Reading them was difficult. When I first started reading the first article I chucked my phone onto the sofa because I could physically feel myself getting worked up, and had physical pain in my chest as I tried to force myself to keep reading so I just chucked it away and said, ‘I can’t’. I spoke to my husband and said I was struggling and that I knew what my counsellor would say. He asked me what that would be. I said, “She would say ‘why can’t you read it?’ And I would reply ‘Because it’s too hard, the words are triggering a panic attack’, and she would ask, ‘And what is panic?’ and I would say, ‘A fight/flight reaction to a perceived threat releasing adrenaline and cortisol…so because I am reading words that are uncomfortable and horrible I feel like there’s a threat so I am wanting to avoid as a fight or flight response’ and she would say, ‘Okay so why are these words uncomfortable to you?’ and I would reply, ‘Because I have attached meaning to them’, then she would give me that look and I would smile nervously at how silly I feel because I know all this already but still can’t apply it to myself.”.

I had literally relayed part of my counselling session to my husband which just demonstrated to me I do know what to do and I do know what OCD is doing to me and I do know why I am carrying out compulsions like avoidance and I do know doing that will not beat this. So I picked my phone back up and finished the article. I reminded myself, that I am not reading this to torture myself or test myself, I am reading it to help myself and of course the OCD will tell me to stop doing that. It wants to keep me miserable. I read it because it was an informative article about my main fear and although written very bluntly using my triggers words, what felt like hundreds of times, I knew I needed to finish it. I did and to my surprise I reflected on it for a short while then carried on with my day. I had won that battle. I didn’t feel like Rocky when he finally made it to the top of the steps. I didn’t feel victorious or super proud. I just felt a bit deflated. We got in the car and I read more articles from the same person, with the same blunt tone. There was no cotton wall writing, it was written as it is, with every horrible word being used in nearly every sentence. I read a couple of these articles then we picked our son up from school and had to get straight to hospital for an appointment. I was feeling more deflated. I felt mentally drained and physically exhausted and wasn’t sure why. I thought by pushing myself to read those articles was a big step so why did I not feel better about it. Why was I feeling so low in my mood?

The hospital visit was stressful, a nurse was quite unkind, telling our children off even though they were actually playing so well and I felt so bad for not defending them. I couldn’t speak. I struggled even speaking to the doctor because I could hear her still telling them off when they weren’t doing anything wrong. Where was my fight? Why wasn’t I able to tell her to not tell my children off? Why was I feeling so defeated?

We got home and the feeling wouldn’t lift. I was so tired and felt so foggy. I wasn’t sure why. I had exposed myself to triggers and really worked on using the tools I have learned. I was in the middle of chatting to my husband and a notification popped up saying that one of my favorite advocates was now live on youtube. This is the first time I have watched her videos live, so I jumped on to watch her live video. I can’t believe what they discussed! They talked about what I had experienced. The doctor, Jon Hershfield, MFT, was likening OCD and learning to manage it to a workout at the gym. He explained that when you are learning to build muscles you have to start small with 10kg and keep tearing and repairing your muscles until it feels easy, once your form is perfect with that weight you move up to 15kg then again keep training until your form is perfect and it feels easy then you move up weight again and so on and this is what happens in exposure therapy. You start with a trigger that feels small or anything you think would be good to start with, even just writing the first letter of a trigger word is a good start, it’s completely down to you and your counsellor to work out where is your best individual starting place. There is no right or wrong.

He then went into the exhaustion part of it. This is the part that really helped me yesterday. He said just like when you have had a really good workout at the gym you feel fatigued, weak, a bit unsteady etc and the exact same is true for your brain. When you are exposing yourself to triggers you are working out the ‘muscle’ in your brain that is helping you to manage the OCD and because you are giving it a workout and putting it through it’s paces it’s normal to feel fatigued afterwards, to feel a bit deflated and not be jumping for joy (before the OCD doubt creeps in and tells you, ‘well you are really elated when you conquer an exposure so what if….’, I’m going to tell you it is also great if you can feel wonderful about your achievement, because it is a great achievement, there is no right or wrong way to react).  This feeling is actually showing that you have had a good ‘brain workout’. Of course, if you jump on a treadmill on the highest setting for the first time then you could fall off, smack you face, and bolt off to the other side of the gym and the same is true for your brain. If you try and do the big things first you could feel like you are taking steps back. I noticed yesterday I could read the article out loud but towards the end of the third one I could no longer say my trigger words any more and my tone changed and my husband could tell I was getting more uncomfortable. I now know that yesterday I should have stopped after just one article or as soon as I started to feel I couldn’t say the words any more. I could have said to myself, ‘Okay, you’ve just read an entire article full of trigger words, even when you put your phone and said ‘I can’t’, you picked it up and carried on and reminded yourself what OCD is and that’s amazing, so now it’s getting harder because your brain has already worked hard today so take this victory and tomorrow you can try again’. This is hugely helpful to me. I am understanding how to pace myself, how to react when I feel like I can’t manage to avoid avoiding and it’s changed my perspective from feeling like I must have failed that exposure to actually I made such an important step yesterday that will help me on my path of recovery.

You’ve got this!

A x

Seeking someone the same

While discussing my blog with my counsellor yesterday she suggested it would be a good idea to blog about what I was talking about.

So I have discussed how much detail to go into around my violent/sexual thoughts OCD and at the moment I am just not ready to go into huge detail. I am still in early recovery and it’s an area that although I have made very good steps in, it still bothers me. Even though I understand these thoughts are nothing to do with me or my morals I still can’t shake that uncomfortable feeling that comes in waves.

I was explaining that when I looked online I was looking for other OCD stories based on my exact fear. I was desperate to find others who had my exact thoughts. I found an OCD advocate online who was amazing, I could watch her talk about violent/sexual OCD and I didn’t feel as ashamed, disgusted or guilty, she helped me to feel better about OCD and that it isn’t anything to be ashamed about. She spoke about it in such a light hearted but also factual way that I felt I could understand this even more. I remember watching and I was desperate for her to say what her fear was. She listed examples and mentioned my fear but didn’t say which ones were her fears. I thought, ‘Please say which is your fear so I can know if it’s the same as mine’. I wanted to know this person I looked up to had the same theme as me. However as I watched more of her videos and didn’t learn what her specific thoughts were that ‘need to know’ reassurance seeking compulsion lessened. I stopped caring what her specific theme was and I was able to apply the tools I learnt from her videos to my OCD even though I didn’t know if our specific thoughts were the same. After a while I learnt what her fears are and by reading her book I learnt more about her OCD and how it manifests. Her fears do touch on mine but her main fear isn’t the same as my main fear and it has taught me that it doesn’t matter what my theme is compared to someone else (although it is very reassuring to know many others have my exact theme, it’s actually not going to make my treatment any more effective if I only seek out research on just my theme) because OCD has the same traits and patterns no matter what the theme or content is.

I thought if others are reassurance seeking like I was, by needing to find others with the exact same thoughts, then maybe it’s best if I don’t go into super great detail because I wouldn’t want someone reading my blog or watching my video then me going into huge detail and the person thinking, ‘Well your thoughts aren’t the same as mine so this won’t be of help to me’. My blog/video/page is for everyone with OCD, with any form of OCD and I think people could begin missing out on important information by only ‘zoning in’ on people with their exact fear. The theme isn’t important which is one of the hardest parts to OCD to accept. Of course, the themes are distressing and unpleasant and there are common themes and thoughts, though the imagination of OCD is limitless, so please don’t be worried if you experience thoughts or feelings that I don’t list. I try and list the more common ones but like I have said it’s limitless. It’s the process behind the thoughts and how you react to them that needs focus, not the theme. The themes can be interchangeable which just shows how the content of the thought is actually not important…For example you could have thoughts like:-

I’m worried I might be…a murderer or pedophile or rapist or an abuser or an attacker or gay or straight or having incestuous feelings or inappropriate images of feelings about my God, contaminated etc

What if I….Stab someone or hurt or sexually or physically abuse someone or run someone over with my car or want sex with animals, contaminate someone else and they get sick or die, or like men or women or have sexual feelings to a family member or become a murderer or pedophile or rapist or an abuser or attacker or gay or straight etc

I must be…evil or a monster or a bad person or becoming this thought or being punished or disgusting etc

A lot of the questions we ask because of OCD have the same base to the question so… ‘I’m worried I might be…What if I…I must be…’ but yet the content of the end of those sentences change to a whole variety of themes person to person.

This shows how OCD has common traits and follow common patterns.

I understand what a relief it is to hear someone say your own thoughts and fears because you know you are not alone, it’s a comfort to hear someone else with the exact same thoughts/fears and themes as yourself and to not feel so crazy because someone else is the same but it can also be reassurance seeking and that can make the OCD worse or you may miss out on help if you decide you are only focusing on researching a specific theme. I have gone into my past OCD issues and am okay with that as they do not bother me to the extent the violent/sexual OCD thoughts have and continue to as I am early in recovery.

Whatever your theme/content/thoughts are, we are in this together. We all experience the same doubt, guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, embarrassment, low mood/depression, worries, what ifs, torment, pain and all the other emotions that go with it, of course to varying degrees person to person, and you may only have trouble with one specific emotion or all of them or other ones to like anger. There is no one theme that is worse than the other because to each of us, our own fear/theme/thoughts are the worst of the worst but the emotions that we all experience although different fears/themes/thoughts are all the same because that is what OCD does to us all.

I hope this is useful information as I feel it’s important.

A x