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.
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.
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.