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

Hope

Today I read an article that someone shared from The Mighty and the lady talked about her OCD compulsions like switching the lights on and off and then she went onto to talk about Pure OCD and that despite having an OCD diagnosis she had no idea that the intrusive thoughts around harm to others was an OCD symptom. She talked about looking online and finding an article on The Mighty that talked about someone else that was suffering with the same horrible thoughts she had. She expressed how this article she had found brought her to tears because for the first time in 20 years she didn’t feel completely isolated and realised that this was part of her OCD and these thoughts were actually really common themes in OCD.

I was so pleased to read she had then opened up to her husband for the first time and then was able to open up to close friends. Lately the secondary fears have crept back in even though I know that’s what they are. The ‘What if I am judged?’, ‘What if I am misunderstood’ and all those ‘what ifs’ and so I have taken a step back as mentioned in my previous post and despite knowing I was avoiding things like posting blogs I am still in that space of worrying. So I took down my facebook platform and withdraw my contact details from other advocates and I very nearly deleted some posts from here. There were a few things that built up that led me to that decision but it was mainly the ‘what ifs’ running the show again.

The reason I mention this is because in the article this lady wrote, she had a hyperlink where she mentions this article she had found and so I clicked the link and it took me a second, but there was my name! It was the article I shared on my deepest darkest OCD themes. Here it is titled ‘The story OCD didn’t want me to write’ but The Mighty changed the title in the editing process so it took me a second to realise but there was my name as the author. It was my article this lady had read that broke her 20 years of feeling isolated! The very article that I nearly deleted out of fear of judgment from others and fear of misunderstanding. The very article that I poured every ounce of my soul into and that discussed the most difficult part of my OCD that broke me. This article was the hardest thing I had ever written and I have been worried about it being out there because of the stigma but something made me keep it online and I am now so so thankful I did.

My aritcle reached out to someone, and my story gave comfort to someone in their time of need. Someone who I don’t know, have never met, read my words and my story helped them. I am so thankful they shared their story too because their words have given me confidence in myself, confidence that even though I was so anxious to share my story, that it is helping, confidence that our stories need to be shared because people are suffering in silence when it’s something millions are suffering with. Her words helped me feel like this was the very reason why something made me not hit ‘delete’ that day. I had been feeling weighed down by fear of judgement but today this lady’s words helped me too and I am so thankful to her.

I am overwhelmed that my story has had such a important impact to someone and it has given me the boost I needed to keep pushing through the fear and anxiety.

Keep sharing, keep talking openly, keep feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

A x

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