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

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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

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 

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