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


The story OCD didn’t want me to write

Here is my soul poured onto a page.

I am writing this for the millions of people suffering with this mental illness. For the many, many people that have this exact same theme and thoughts that are too fearful to speak up. You are stronger than you know and you are not alone.

I am sick of being dictated to by OCD. I am sick of being too afraid to move, breathe or function because of OCD. I am sick of not knowing who I am because of OCD. I am fed up of doubting everything because of OCD. I am sick of loosing time because of OCD and I am sick of not speaking up about things because OCD tells me to stay quiet.

Thoughts I battle because of OCD.

‘Don’t say that because you will be judged, don’t say that because no one will understand, If you say that thought out loud you are admitting it’s true, if you speak up it’s because you believe it, if you talk about how you are feeling it will make it worse, if you speak up the fear will feel even more real, there’s a threat so stay quiet, you are alone, there is no one else going through this, you must be evil, you must be a monster, No-one has this problem, what kind of person thinks and feels like this?What if you want it to be true? What if you become this awful person?What if you’ve lost the old you forever and this is who you are becoming?What if you feel like this forever? What if you if therapy doesn’t work for you? What if this isn’t treatable? What if this isn’t OCD? What if I am a horrible person? What if I can’t ever get past this? What if I stop having morals? Why me? Why is this happening? What went wrong? Why won’t it back off? Just stop and leave me alone!, No one will understand, I will be judged, I will be misunderstood, What if people become afraid of me? What if no one trusts me? What if people think I’m a threat?Your past history of never hurting anyone doesn’t matter, What if I go back to how unwell I was at Christmas? Maybe it would be easier if I wasn’t here, Maybe that’s an option if this doesn’t get better, I will die before hurting anyone. What if I go onto medications but they don’t help like last time? What if I am going crazy? Why is my brain doing this to me? Who am I? Why is this the theme OCD picked? Why can’t I go back to worrying I might stab someone? That felt so much less scary compared to this, Why has it picked on something so disgusting? Why do I have bad days? I must be so weak. Why can’t I get out of this? Why can’t I believe my own mind when I tell myself I am a good person? Why am I doubting everything? Why does everything make me feel uncomfortable? I must be being punished? Does God hate me? Do I believe in God? What do I believe? Do I know myself who I am? I must prove or disprove these thoughts? What do I even like? Can red still be my favourite colour? It’s the colour of blood so that must mean I like blood? What kind of person likes to look at blood? The foot stool is red so does that mean I’m a bad person for looking at it? Who am I? Am I straight? What if I am gay? What if my marriage is a lie? What if I am a lie? What if I am in denial about everything? What if I am a monster? Why did I bring that person up that day? Why did I talk about him? What if I am like him? What if there’s a link? He seemed so normal but wasn’t, what if I am like that? What if I don’t know if I am like that? Who am I? Why won’t this stop?

That man was a local convicted paedophile. My hands shake as I write this. I mentioned him at Christmas, five weeks after having my fourth baby and already suffering with harm OCD, while talking to the crisis team about the harm OCD and a BBC drama we had recently watched before the harm OCD began. I said, “I’m disturbed by the drama I watched, how easy it was for this man to be stood watching his wife sleeping then just jumping on her and strangling her to death. He went from being so normal to not, and that terrifies me, how anyone could just snap. That’s why the harm thought bothers me, I keep thinking back to that drama and how easy it looked for him to snap. Like that man we knew. He seemed so normal and then he wasn’t, he’s now a convicted paedophile”….and that was it…that was the moment the life destroying thought popped into my head, ‘What if I was a paedophile?’.

That one thought brought my world as I knew it crashing into a million pieces, cutting my soul as it broke. That one thought broke my heart and took time I will never get back. I was a statue sat rotting. I stopped eating, drinking, sleeping and how my heart didn’t stop I don’t know because it felt like it was going to explode. I hoped it would, because then I could die without having to take my own life. The compulsions spiraled. I did everything possible to get as far away from my own thoughts as I could because I was terrified to my core. I sat in the bathroom contemplating ending my life. I have never ever felt like that before. I never thought I would be a person to even get close to that edge, yet there I was, stood right up close to it, looking over into the darkness…..I’ve taken a moment because the tears keep flowing as I think back…I thought I would never recover from that moment. I was questioning my own character, my own morals, my own soul. I felt like I had lost everything I was. I couldn’t go near my own children or look at them. Not even photographs. It was painful being in my own home because everything reminded me of them. I couldn’t watch anything to do with children, or be near anything that reminded me of children. Everything was ruined. I hit rock bottom.

I have tried to avoid writing this. I have tried to write things in a way I can try and convince people that I am really a good person and no threat to anyone. I have torn my head apart trying to think how I could possibly word this to make it sound more understandable. I didn’t even understand it. Truth is, I have a recognised mental illness, truth is this theme of OCD and thoughts is so common that there is literature and workbooks with separate sections just on this theme, this is my OCD theme. Sexual OCD. This is what my OCD latched onto because it was the easiest target for it. I grew up in the church, strong in my morals, babysitting countless times over the years for family and friends, working in a nursery before having my own children. I grew up being told, ‘You’re so good with children, you will make a great mother, you are so kind and patient, you are so good at your job, you are a wonderful mother’ and I knew growing up my soul purpose was to have children of my own, to raise strong independent children who will go out into the world and make it a better place. And OCD decided it would take that security and knowledge in myself and rip it apart without mercy. How I have begged for Mercy!

I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask for this to happen. I have been in pain, physical, emotional, mental pain. Pain that has made me question living. The fear of sharing this truth in detail has been causing panic attacks and stress I can’t even measure. But today I have had enough. I have had enough of being to beaten down by the doubt OCD causes to stay quiet any more. I am sick of the stigma. I am sick of the fear of judgement. Judgements I am guilty of making before having these thoughts. If someone said this to me before, you know what, I would have questioned it, thinking ‘But are you then? How do you know you aren’t? Surely you would know if you were or weren’t?’.I understand hearing such disturbing thoughts said by someone is difficult. It’s ugly. I fear being judged by my friends, family and the entire world. I feel guilty and shameful everyday for these thoughts, I feel awful everyday, I beat myself up everyday looking for proof one way or another. I know the difference between an OCD fear and an actual paedophile (even the word fills me with panic), I know I have this theme because it goes so against my morals and is not linked to my being, I am learning to recover. I am learning to accept thoughts are thoughts, they mean nothing, they are not connected to me. I am learning to let them pass then carry on with my day, I have learned more in the last three months then I think I learned in three years at college. I have learned that this is treatable, I have learned that this is nothing to do with who I am, I have learned that this will take time and there will be falls on the way (that has a very literal meaning to me as I am currently typing this with a broken ankle!), I have learned that these thoughts ‘are not me, they are OCD’. This has affected the most important part of my life, the part that completes me, the part I love unconditionally and would die to protect. It’s affected my relationship with my children and I have made big steps in regaining my confidence again.

I promised I would help advocate for OCD. That I would become a warrior fighting against everything OCD throws and everything society throws at it to. I hope by finally, after all this time, by sharing the absolute deepest fears in me, that I have kept that promise, and this will give you the strength to fight as well.

A x

My OCD up close and personal; Relationship OCD

This is the fifth instalment in this series. I will discuss the Relationship OCD I have experienced in this entry. This area like all the others in my overlapping OCD has not been as severe as the violent/sexual OCD but I feel they all need discussing to build up the picture of what caused it to get to breaking point where I was diagnosed.

Our wedding was everything I dreamt. Perfect from the moment I woke up with all my bridesmaids around me, offering support and so much joy to the end of the night when me and my new husband shared a bath and collapsed in bed too tired to do any ‘wedding night’ traditions. The lead up to the wedding however was not so smooth. For 18 months from when we booked our wedding I was filled with fear. Not just fearing the end of the world as mentioned in my previous blog but for health reasons. I do have physical health conditions and one of those is Crohn’s disease. I was worried sick that I would be unwell on my wedding day. The biggest day of my life felt shadowed by this gut wrenching fear. I had images of me running out of the ceremony, loosing bowel control and bleeding onto my dress in front of all my friends, family and new in-laws. My perfect fairy tale dress. I had vivid images of me not making it to the toilet or my friends having to help me with my dress in the toilet and getting blood on it. The strong image or red against my ivory wedding dress tormented me. Because I was so worried we agreed we wouldn’t get married in a church. I wanted a ceremony that was as short as possible. I wanted it to be over quickly. The impending doom was unshakeable. We found a beautiful venue that we had no way to afford but thanks to having a friend who worked there we were able to a have a package that meant we could afford our dream wedding. The moment I walked into the banquet room and saw the ceiling flooded with lights like walking under the stars I knew this was perfect. I didn’t want a big ceremony room or long isle to walk down in case I was unwell, but the room was perfect. The aisle was short, it was beautifully lit with natural light, from it being made of glass panels, with a lovely high ceiling surrounded by beautiful gardens which made it feel like we were outside whilst being inside.

Several months before the wedding I sat in the office of my specialist and cried. I said I just want to be well. I’m so afraid my wedding will be ruined. I had a dress fitting once my dress arrived and I was so scared it wouldn’t fit or I would try it on and be ill and not be able to get to the toilet in time that for around six days before I didn’t eat. I got to the fitting and the lady was working on taking it up as it was too long. I had to stand for quite a while, and part way into it I felt really unsteady and then began to go really fuzzy and nearly blacked out. All my blood felt like it was rushing to my head and chest, I began to sweat profusely, and the colour left my face. I had to lean forward ready to grab the wall and asked to sit down. I was given water and started to feel a bit better but it didn’t completely pass until we grabbed a bite to eat afterwards where I told my mum I hadn’t eaten in nearly a week. I found out around six weeks before our wedding I was pregnant and diabetic. I made the choice to become vegan and felt that made a huge improvement to my symptoms. I lost nearly 40lbs dropping from a size 18 to a 10/12. My wedding dress needed altering twice at £199.99 a time! They said they would need to wait until three weeks before the wedding because I was losing weight so quickly, handfuls of fabric were needing to be taken out as it would swamp me due to the weight loss. I was under an incredible amount of stress worrying about being unwell, being able to afford the alterations, and my wedding day being ruined

My wedding day finally arrived. My dad had said my younger brother had been sick the day before and the familiar fear of me catching it to set in. I was on edge already and just thought, ‘why of all days’. I got to the ceremony and was so nervous. I tried to put on a fake smile because I felt so bad for feeling so worried. The savior of my day was the registrar. He needed to go over some formalities and as embarrassed as I was I broke down and told him how worried I was about being unwell. He said I could stop as many times as needed, and could leave the ceremony and come back as many times as needed, he said he didn’t need to rush off so I could have as much time as I needed and that he would have a chair there ready for if I needed to sit down. Where was he months and months ago when I needed this conversation? He put me at ease and for the first time I felt I could breathe.

Just before a photo of me sat waiting for the car to arrive was taken my photographer captured me having a silent panic attack. I am assuming I have deleted the photo he took where I can see the worry in me but that no one else could see. I was looking to my right out of the french doors with the many ‘what ifs’ taking hold..’what if I need the toilet on the way there? Why did I choose somewhere that is a 40 minute drive away? What if we get stuck in traffic and I mess my dress? I haven’t eaten for four days so I will be fine, but what if this time I’m not? What if this is the time you mess yourself and everyone sees? What if you have to run out of your ceremony? What if you get blood all over your dress and your day is ruined?’. I needed to sit down and stop talking,  I could already feel my chest feeling tight, I was sure my dress was shrinking by the minute! I couldn’t catch my breath. I sat on this sofa and my photographer snapped away. I was mortified he had managed to snap a photo while I was so consumed with worry. I immediately put on the biggest smile I could muster, then he captured a photo that you wouldn’t know looking at that inside I was in pani and I just said my dress was feeling a bit snug and must be all the nibbles we had last night even though I didn’t eat. I asked my photographer to get some photos of the flowers and asked my mum to help arrange them nicely so I could have a few moments without the attention on me. I think this photo shows how a smile can conceal a panic attack.

The day was perfect. I actually had fun and could relax. I felt confident in my dress. Confidence is not a feeling I experience often. As the day drew to a close, we said goodbye to the last of our guests and made our way to our room. We went to bed at around 2am. All was well. Until at 3.30am when I woke up feeling like I had been cracked over the head with a baseball bat. I made my way to the bathroom and vomited in the sink. I vomited in the bin and had diarrhea. I was loosing a lot of blood and very quickly I lost vision. I collapsed on the floor and felt the cold tile. I couldn’t stand up or see. I had no idea what was happening and was full of fear. I dragged myself back into the room and laid there until family came in the room and found me after we hadn’t come down for breakfast at around 9am. My husband slept through because I wasn’t able to shout for help before collapsing off the toilet onto the floor and after dragging myself back into the room, I collapsed where I was not able to reach up to the bed or call for help. I was covered in sick, blood and had lost bowel and bladder control. Paramedics were called and I was taken to hospital. I was told I had, had a Crohn’s flare and a massive hemiplegic migraine. I spent the first several days of married life in hospital. Even though I began to improve I couldn’t shake the feeling of something being wrong. I didn’t feel ‘right’.

I didn’t want to look at any wedding photos, I didn’t wear my rings, or change my name online. I didn’t want to talk about the wedding. The thought of it filled me with panic. I made the only logical conclusion, or what I thought was logical even though I knew I felt differently. I thought I had made a mistake. I thought God had punished me for marrying the wrong person, for sleeping togther before being married, for having a baby and being pregnant again before marriage. I thought that was why I was so sick on my wedding night. It must have been because I was being punished for sinning. Family began noticing I wasn’t wanting to talk about the wedding. My mum brought photos to the hospital and I said I didn’t want to see them. I said I was too unwell but really I didn’t want them anywhere near me. We went for a family meal and comments were made about me not wearing my ring. I left the table because I didn’t want to talk about it. I was increasingly feeling worse. I was thinking, ‘I must have made a mistake. Why would I feel like this otherwise? God must be telling me I made a mistake? Why would I be so ill? It must be because I am being punished?’.

I prayed. I would beg for understanding, that God would tell me what was going on, that it would make sense, that this feeling would lift. I prayed for healing. I prayed that God would take this pain away. I tried to talk to God and ask why is this happening. I asked if I was being punished. I prayed a lot. Throughout the day, everyday, in small bursts, I would say mini prayers. If I had thoughts about my marriage being a mistake I would pray that this feeling would lift.

I began googling how to get divorced and my heart sank when I read you are not legally allowed to apply for a divorce for one year. The realisation that I would feel this awful feeling of dread for over another year at least just made me feel worse. I also knew I don’t believe in divorce. If ever that happened it would be because my husband asks, I would never initiate a divorce. The confusion ate away at me, ‘Divorce is a sin…but so is sleeping together before marriage…but maybe divorce is less of a sin so God must want me to get divorced…why else would I be so ill? Why would God, on all days, allow me to be so poorly?Why would I feel this awful feeling of dread whenever I began thinking bout my wedding day. I was fine until I woke up unwell. Why has this happened?’. I began doing whatever I could to distance myself. I sold all of our wedding things. All of the glasses for our sweet buffet, table number holders, table centerpieces were given to family and the others thrown away, I had my wedding dress sent to family. I asked family to put all the cards and photos into a bag and just said it was because I wanted to look at it all when I was better but really I couldn’t bring myself to even touch things that reminded me of my wedding day. I needed to sign some documents but didn’t want to sign my new married name. For months I put off creating a new signature; just saying. I was still working on what I wanted it to look like. I eventually couldn’t put it off because our bank needed me to sign some documents so I knew I had to do it. I grabbed some scraps of paper and just made some squiggles. I just couldn’t write ‘Alice Burns’. I wanted to go back to before I was married, when I felt fine, when none of these feelings and thoughts existed. When this doubt had no hold over me. I eventually settled on a squiggle. I googled if you had to sign your actual name out in full and it said you can put an ‘x’ if you wanted to, it could be anything you wanted as such. So that felt just about manageable. Without realising it I had opened up about how I was feeling to my midwife and she had contacted my doctor. I was referred to counselling and began a couple of months later.

During counselling I didn’t know what to say. I just spoke about the wedding and how it must have been a mistake for me to feel like this. She said she didn’t think it was because of my marriage. We began working through some issues from my childhood but OCD was not mentioned. The counselling helped me move past the feelings I had about the marriage. I didn’t even mention the other compulsions I had because I didn’t know they were relevant. I didn’t know how much of an impact it was having on my life.

Me and my husband have been together for over 10 years. We met when we were 18 in 2006 and began dating three weeks later. We had our first son in 2011, married in 2013, our second son later that year, our third son was born in 2015 and our fourth born in 2016. We have been through three redundancies between us, two job losses and 10 house moves to name just a few life stressors. I have realised there have been times that relationship OCD has reared its ugly head. The worse was after our wedding because it made me question my marriage. Everything I believed in and loved about my marriage felt tainted for the first near year of marriage.

There are times where doubt will fill my mind and I will look for reassurance, ‘Are you sure you love me? What if you start liking someone else? What if you change your mind? What if I get to ill and you don’t want to be with me? Are you happy? Are you sure? How do you know you love me? If you want to leave please tell me, don’t let me go on thinking you are happy if you aren’t, you would tell me wouldn’t you?’ and these times of intense questioning feel like an itch you can’t help but repeatedly scratch. You scratch and scratch which feels good but then you scratch too much and it bleeds. That’s what the questioning feels like. I feel myself getting more and more on my husband’s back and can’t stop. Then it ends up in an argument because I don’t feel like he’s taking my questions seriously or he will stop answering once they begin getting really repetitive and then I am not getting the reassurance I need which my mind tells me, ‘It must be because he doesn’t care, why wouldn’t he answer these questions? If he loves me surely he would want to put my mind at ease? What if there’s someone else? What is he doesn’t love me? How could he love me being so unwell?’. I know now there is no ‘ease’ in OCD.

I trust my husband, I know in my heart I trust him, he is kind and loyal and has taken on role of carer during this. He is my best friend, my biggest supporter, my everything, but even though I know that, OCD tells me otherwise. OCD tells me not to trust that, to doubt, to question and then just when I think I feel reassured and feel more at ease OCD takes that away to. The ease comes when you begin working on understanding how to manage OCD. It comes from you. No one else can reassure you. I am just thankful that this part of OCD did not destroy my marriage. I now look back on my wedding day as the perfect day it was. I was ill after it had gone midnight so my wedding day was not ruined. We returned for our two year wedding anniversary and stayed over night and it was such a lovely experience. I didn’t have any horrible feelings about being there like I thought I might. I am now working on not relying on my husband so heavily for reassurance and he is learning too, how to help me by not feeding the OCD which is so easy to do. This is just one small area of the OCD I battle. There is a small piece to a much bigger fight I am working on winning.

A x