It’s finally here 

It’s here. December 1st. The Christmas season. No hiding away from it. As I lay out my children’s Christmas jumpers that I’ve freshened up with a wash and I place them ready for them to wear after preschool and school tomorrow I feel… on edge. I feel like I’m waiting in anticipation. It’s not overwhelming fear really, its anxiety. Maybe it’s both. I know I am afraid but it’s more I feel like I’m waiting to fall apart, I’m waiting to get triggered and waiting to hit a spike in my anxiety. You often hear people say “The waiting is the worst part”, well I’m waiting. 
It’s now 1.30am and I see ‘DEC 1’ on my phone calendar and think about the things we’ll do today, and I need to take a breath. I was going to delay getting our tree until the weekend but feel bad that my boys would be missing out so decided we’d get it today. Previously I would have been counting down the seconds from November 1st until we could get our tree, usually it would be the last few days of November, I’d go and wait at the garden centre bursting with excitement waiting for the delivery truck to arrive so I could get first pick. But not this year. This year I haven’t felt the bursting excitement to do the festive things I normally would have. 
I was avoiding because it feels easier but I know it will ultimately feed my anxiety so tomorrow I’ll face it. I will do the things I use to every year. I’ll get the tree, put up the decorations, put out all the Christmas story books, hang the stockings and I will do it even though I might feel anxious. 
I know it might be difficult. I know I’m likely going to feel a range of emotion during this month and that’s ok. I know why I feel on edge. My counsellor told me before I left therapy to make a sort of rescue box for if I feel anxious and I didn’t. I have a thing where if I feel better I kind of assume I’m over it and don’t need to do anything else so like my leg. I broke it in February and after my boot came off I assumed it was fixed so tried to carry on but still had issues. I went to physio one time and again assumed it should be fine now so never went back. It’s not entirely fine but it’s ok enough I can get through day to day so I haven’t booked back in. I came out of therapy ready to fight and when I found I was managing enough to get through day to day I assumed I was ok and so didn’t make the box. I don’t know why I do that. A sort of self sabotage maybe? I don’t know. So I will make the box, and as I type this there is actually a little shoe box in my room that’s just come to mind that I can use. So I will do that. 
To save from late night ramblings I will finish this here. 
A x

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Anticipatory anxiety this Christmas 

Ok so again apologies I haven’t written in a while. I have a block sometimes, well a lot recently so it’s difficult but that’s for another post. I have a few I want to share so will at some point soon.
This post is about anticipatory anxiety. In my case anxiety about anxiety. Ahh!! I get anxious thinking about ‘what if I get anxious’ and it’s horrible. The main trigger for this is Christmas. This Christmas to be exact. A year ago I was pre post partum anxiety and still in my ‘everything is amazing bubble’. I had no idea what would happen last Christmas. Christmas was my favourite time of year, I absolutely loved that time of year. All of it. The tree, the lights, snuggling up, the Christmas markets, the crispness of the winter air, the decorations, the traditions, just all of it (except mince pies and Christmas pudding. I don’t like those which my husband still can’t believe ha!) but everything else I love. I would feel so warm and humbled by Christmas and what it meant to me and my family. But now it’s different. Now that I am post my post partum anxiety it’s changed. Now I feel anxious, on edge, it feels unknown this year. When I’m cooking a roast dinner it reminds me of making Christmas Day dinner which last year I couldn’t do. When I see photos from this time last year it reminds me of how happy and excited I felt on the lead up to Christmas which I don’t feel this year. When I see the decorations box in the cupboard it reminds me it will soon be time to put them all up and I can’t avoid that.
I now can’t hide from it. It’s going to be happening. Christmas will happen and I will have to face all those what ifs. ‘What if I have another breakdown’, ‘what if I’m crippled by OCD again’, ‘what if I can’t cope’, ‘what if I have to go through what I did last year’. I can already feel the pull to avoid, to reassurance seek, to ruminate. Already I feel the dread, the doubt and anxiety bubbling away. 
It’s scary. It feels like I might not handle it. It feels like Christmas means somehow I’m doomed to break again. It feels like I’m on a countdown to something super scary and difficult. 
And you know what? It’s ok. I know I’m allowed to feel like that. I know most people would feel like I do. I know most people would be anxious on the lead up to a time where previously they found it immensely difficult. I know it’s ok to be scared and worried. 
So what can I do? I could sit and stew on these feelings. I could let it consume me. I could let it push me into compulsions. I could delay getting our Christmas tree, I could delay putting the decorations up, I could ask my husband for reassurance (I do feel quite anxious even writing about these things because I do feel like if I avoid everything I can then it will help even though I know ultimately it will feed my OCD). I could do all the things to try to get rid of the anxiety right now but I’m not going to. Well I’m going to try to not to. I’m not perfect. I’m human so I’m not going to be too hard on myself if I do carry out a compulsion here and there but I’m going to try my best not to. 

So my plan. My way to cope will be to “face the fear and do it anyway”. I’m going to get our tree this weekend. I’m going to put up the decorations. I’m going to carry on. I’m going to do all our traditions. I’m going to do them even when the anxiety really ramps up. I’m going to keep going when OCD and anxiety tells me the only way to cope is to with draw from life and hide away and that I won’t cope. I’m going to carry on and not fall into compulsions. I’m not going to withdraw. I’m going to reach out to my closest friends. I have three friends that I lean on often. They are my absolute soul sisters. I will reach out to family and tell them when I’m struggling. I will ask to visit them even when I’m anxious. Especially my sister. I will tell her when I’m struggling and ask to see her so maybe we can go for a walk or I can just spend the day at hers watching Goldie Hawn films. She gets it. I will go for walks, practice mindfulness. I will carry on because I know through it all I can do this.
I can do this. I have the most powerful tools against OCD and GAD now. I have knowledge and support. I have a backstage pass to the secrets behind OCD’s tricks. I know how they all work and even though sometimes I’m still fooled, I will remember I’ve seen all these tricks before. I know what doing compulsions does to my anxiety and I know how to manage that. I know what unhelpful thought processes make it worse, I know how useful mindfulness is and I know I’ve got through it before so should it happen again, I know I’ll get through it again. 

Do I know it all? Heck no. I’m still learning everyday for sure but I know enough to keep my head above the water. I have support. I know where to reach out if I’m struggling, I know I can be open to those closest to me and I know there are millions of others struggling with the exact same battles that I am. I am now part of the communities online that offer me huge defence against OCD and anxiety. 
I’m the defence castle on top of the hill ready for battle. I’m prepared. I’m not perfect, I know a wall here and there may crumble but I will still stand. I have learned I have a fight in me, a resilience that before last Christmas I didn’t know I had. I have the gift of hindsight. I know the red flags to look for when anxiety is getting too unmanageable and even if I miss a red flag here and there it’s ok. It’s all ok and all will be fine because I know, the bottom line, however my anxiety is going to go or however I’m feeling or going to feel in anticipation of this Christmas, I’ve got this. And worse case if I drop a ball here and there I know my closest friends, family, the online community and any professionals I reach out to will help carry me through as well until I find my feet again and that’s ok too. 

A x

Reassurance: The life boat you don’t need to reach

A few weeks ago my husband asked me, what reassurance

meant to me. I tried to explain what it feels like to have OCD

and to be seeking reassurance with an analogy. This is only a

made up analogy to demonstrate my view on

reassurance and not intended to trigger.

As I explained the only analogy I could think of, the more I went into, the more obvious it was why reassurance seeking just doesn’t work. It’s almost like having OCD means that reassurance, is an urban legend. You know chances are it’s not real but you still chase it in the hope you will find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Reassurance to me…It’s like I am in the sea in a storm and I am desperately swimming towards a life boat. The life boat has launched a life ring and I am desperately trying to reach it. Every time my fingertips nearly touch it and I finally feel a sense of safety another wave comes and I get pushed further away so I keep swimming and swimming. This whole time I keep swimming, keep getting so close, feeling like I am finally going to get rescued but then the waves hit again. This whole time I am only swimming with one arm because in my other arm I am holding another life-ring but I can’t use it because it’s not the same as the life-ring the lifeboat are throwing me, theirs seems stronger, I don’t trust the one I am holding, they shout to me, ‘to use my own life-ring’ but I would feel more secure using their one and this is how the cycle continues.

(I really hope this makes some sense)

The sea is the OCD, and the lifeboat is the reassurance we constantly look for, no matter at what cost to our well-being. The waves represent the triggers and spikes that relentlessly knock us back after we feel reassured, and the people giving reassurance are the people in our lives that are telling us what we need to do, and how to do it but we struggle to apply that knowledge when the OCD storm is at it’s worst. We are too scared. We don’t trust our own minds. The life-ring we hold onto but can’t use represents all the tools we learn to beat OCD. We have all the tools but still look for reassurance elsewhere.

The real gem of this analogy? Is that I’m not even in the sea, I am in a swimming pool next to the side. There is no lifeboat that I need to reach. No life-ring I need to try and grab hold of. OCD tells me I am drowning, it feels me with physical symptoms that convince me there is real imminent danger that I must pay attention to when actually I am just in a swimming pool and I can get out by applying the tools I am learning. Yes someone could still drown in the swimming pool, there is still a risk but it’s learning to accept uncertainty. This is why reassurance seeking doesn’t work, we strive to prove we are safe or not safe, that our fears are real or not real but by desperately getting others to give us that ‘proof’ our brains learn that we need reassurance, that there must be a real threat and that fear that OCD fills us with then grows releasing more adrenaline and keeping our fight or flight alarm system on constant high alert. Accepting that we don’t need to pay the thoughts the attention and accepting that we need to learn to live with uncertainty is what changes how we respond to the OCD thoughts/fears/feelings. Trust me, this is something I am still working hard on accepting.

It’s about accepting there is a risk but going swimming anyway.

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