Monday, March 6, 2017

REMAINING IN THE PRESENT MOMENT


'Flight - Paris 2016' by Gemma Boyd

At the moment I'm no longer needing to write down reassurances to myself that I haven't been contaminated when I accidentally prick or cut myself while I'm gardening; another small victory.

Last week I was triggered badly by a very large man who was sat pressed up against me on a tube train for about 20 minutes.That dreadful feeling of being utterly powerless in the face of the bodily invasion of his sweat seeping into my trousered thigh crept over me, but I tried to distract myself by continuing to read my book of French poetry. I then did a reality check: What was he actually doing? Simply minding his own business doing a crossword. I had to consciously remind myself that my abusers are a part of my past and that I am capable of protecting myself against male sexuality.

Even though once I'd got off the train, the anxiety that this man could've molested me was so overpowering I had to compulsively note down a reassurance to myself that all was okay, the most important thing is that I didn't give up my right to sit in that seat, plus nowadays I'm coping much better in situations in which I'm alone with a man or when I come into physical contact with people in passing.

Instead of 'giving away' to others all of the good that comes my way, I'm learning to listen to my feelings and to try and nurture and care for myself first and foremost. This all feels pretty foreign right now, and sometimes I can't decide whether I'm breaking open or falling apart!

At times I almost forget to ask my partner, Jan for reassurance at the end of the day that nobody I'd encountered on my travels had raped, attacked or contaminated me, but I'm still not ready to stop doing this for fear of the deluge of confused and conflicting emotions to do with past traumas that I know will surface as a result. Hopefully with more counselling, this will change.

I'm looking forward to my three weeks in Paris commencing on 9th March, but am worried that my 'checking' OCDs I haven't got around to actively addressing yet, will take over and that the progress in terms of my OCD / PTSD I have made will count for nothing once I attempt to function more normally outside of my everyday surroundings. I do have the tools of yoga, meditation and mindfulness to draw on this time, however, so we shall see.

The thing I'm realizing is that I'm probably always going to be affected by OCD and PTSD to varying degrees: There is no cure. The best I can hope for is to work with this part of me instead of beating myself up for it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

BEYOND SURVIVING

OCD is no longer distressing me as deeply.

I've very nearly completely stopped writing down reassurances to myself when I have an intrusive thought: I can now see the reality that if I'd trodden on a needle, the needle would be there on the ground or stuck in my shoe, plus when a gang of heckling teenagers targeted me while I was busking, I trusted that I was capable of protecting myself (even though I felt mixed up and exhausted afterwards). I continue to ask Jan for reassurance that I haven't been hurt or contaminated, but having cut down dramatically on compulsively 'writing down' feels like a significant achievement.

I also went with an urge to start throwing away years worth of personal letters and other bits of correspondence in favour of just keeping the items which bring back happy memories: Files of the stuff have been lurking in dark corners weighing me down.

A male student I was teaching accidentally brushed past my chest while we were alone, which triggered memories of being alone with abusive men. Momentarily, it was tricky to separate out this past trauma from the reality of the present while trying to concentrate on teaching, but I managed.

Nightmares of being raped / of throwing my beloved tortoise at a wall; of fires igniting all around me; of my personal space being invaded by a house full of kids, have been plaguing me a lot - possibly because I'm edging out of my comfort zone and much more 'good' is happening: I've taken the risk of returning to my spiritual home - Paris, for three weeks in March, and am playing with other musicians again. I'm terrified it's all going to fail, but at least I feel alive.

Online yoga nidra for sleep is helping me with my racing thoughts, and I've had some really good sleeps recently as a result.

Doing intensive ERP has taken a back seat for now as I need to focus on finding more paid work, but so long as I can keep my OCD 'under the radar' with breathing properly, counselling, gardening and yoga, I'm fine with that.

Friday, January 6, 2017

A TOUGH CHRISTMAS


'Hearts' by Gemma Boyd: Spread love, peace, empathy and passion in 2017!


Christmas with my little family; my partner, Jan and our pets was a good one, but internally I struggled. 

On Christmas Eve I had an overloaded brain (which happens quite a lot since I've almost completely stopped compulsively writing down reassurances to myself each time my OCD is triggered): I'd had some pretty intense conversations the day before which I couldn't process, plus I was plagued by intrusive images (of an unwanted Christmas card from one of my abusers; a cup of tea I'd spilt at my double bass student's house; being stared at by a man while I was alone on my allotment).

When I spilt the tea, I apologized and my student was fine, but once I got home PTSD kicked in and I was right back being screamed at and thrown out of a 'friend's' house with nowhere to go for accidentally spilling red wine on his carpet: Such a small tea spillage became a major catastrophe for which I could expect to be punished or rejected, and Jan had to reassure me that all would be okay with my student.

The usual Christmas pressures and my performances as a musician had worn me out and so my ability to challenge the OCD was impaired. Having said that, though, I'd felt able to delete from the notes on my IPhone, more reassurances I'd written to myself on my travels that I hadn't been raped, attacked or contaminated. 

Soon after, this 'Notes' app packed up all together (probably from overuse ;)). I wasn't overly anxious about this, though, which shows that I'm learning to trust myself more and to separate out symptoms of my OCD / PTSD from the real me. I also took it as a sign that I don't need to write stuff down anymore so's to make it feel more real: I'm calmer inside.

Noting down reassurances to myself and keeping a far too detailed daily diary have been my main compulsions over the years, but nowadays I'm writing down only about a quarter of what I was doing: The other day I enjoyed a conversation with one of my fellow male allotmenteers without having to write down straight away afterwards, that he hadn't hurt me; yet another glimpse of the woman I used to be before OCD hit.

Next, I aim to stop asking Jan for reassurance that I'm safe and that I haven't been contaminated: Even though I can put off doing this until I see her in person instead of phoning her constantly, I'd like to knock this compulsion on the head completely. I'm hopeful that with the help of my counsellor, I shall slowly be able to do this.

Family issues which will probably always confuse, conflict and pain me, naturally come to the fore at this time of year, and even my friends are reluctant to talk about it (given that child abuse and mental health are still regarded by some as subjects best shoved under that carpet). Consequently I felt manic, alone and resentful for a few days. Due to this build-up of emotions I found hard to control, I was tempted to self-harm again - especially when I accidentally burnt myself and the physical pain lessened my mental anguish - but I didn't, and managed to salvage a friendship I almost destructively destroyed due to my distrust of peoples' intentions.

I was grateful for the phone conversations I was able to have with the women from Nia; East London Rape Crisis and for my yoga practice during this period, and tried to remind myself that the guilt and shame I often feel belongs to my abusers and not to me.

Looking back at how lost and defeated by my OCD I felt last year at this time, I know I've made some really significant progress but there's still a lot of hard work to be done - especially in terms of getting a handle on my 'checking' compulsions. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

I CAN'T AFFORD TO BE LAZY WITH ERP

A flu bug struck me down a couple of weeks ago, from which I'm still recovering. Due of this I couldn't leave the house for a number of days and when eventually I did so, it was hard to cope with the 'OCD / PTSD' triggers I'd worked so hard to keep at bay. The flu symptoms did give me a welcome break from those 'butterflies' feelings of anxiety which accompany these disorders, though.

My obsessive fear of contamination by needles infected with a fatal disease is really beginning to take hold again, plus my checking compulsions are still severe (to the extent that I've stopped leaving the house alone for fear that I'll accidentally burn it down - along with everything inside that I love): It's as if I'm having a delayed reaction to past traumas; am now feeling all the terror and loss I'd been too busy surviving, to experience at the time.

With the checking, I'm at times able to apply the strategy that's helped me reduce the strength of some of my other obsessions: Cut off the initial intrusive thought that fuels the obsession before I start doubting that I have, in fact, turned off a household appliance or closed a door properly. On my better days this works, but I know I'm going to have to really apply myself if I want to get my checking more under control with ERP, breathing properly and yoga.

On Saturday I fundraised at a local supermarket for Marie Curie Cancer Care and took the same route to get there that I did when I attended this event last year. As I walked, I thought about how all the OCD / PTSD triggers I encountered on this journey this time last year are still there, and I had to seek reassurance from my partner, Jan that I was safe. I didn't, however, compulsively make copious notes to myself that nobody / nothing had raped, attacked or contaminated as was the case a year ago - so I guess that's progress.

All the time (as I observe is the case with this disease), new OCDs are rearing their ugly heads ("Have I contaminated my pet tortoise's water with bleach?" etc. etc.), and maybe because this tough year is drawing to a close, I'm becoming lazy about fighting it: I regress when Jan's around. When we're out it's just easier to ask her for reassurance that I'm safe instead of applying all I've learnt about self care to alleviate my symptoms.

I know I must stop doing this and honour what progress I have made in tackling my mental health problems in my own way, because very slowly but surely, I'm beginning to recognize the person I was before I became prey to the bully that is OCD; when every move I made wasn't fraught with tension and danger.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A GIFT FROM AN INJURED PIGEON

Walking through the quiet local estate one morning on the way to work, my 'fear of men raping / contaminating / attacking me' OCD was triggered badly by a lone man with red hair who'd merely walked past me. Despite this, I refrained from compulsively noting down a reassurance to myself that he hadn't hurt me, but for about three days afterwards, the image of this man's red hair kept replaying and replaying in my head, making me feel extremely anxious and run-down. I couldn't work out the reason for this, apart from maybe it was my brain working extra hard against me to make this obsessive fear of men stronger so that I'd give into the compulsion to write down a reassurance to myself to the contrary? It's like I moved on, but part of my brain got stuck on the red colour of the man's hair.

Over the past three weeks I've continued not to give into my compulsion to write down reassurances to myself that I'm safe every time my OCD / PTSD is triggered (including by lone men and people who make sudden movements / behave oddly around me). The more I practice doing this on the way to, and during my busking sessions on the London Underground, the less power my OCD / PTSD is beginning to have over me. Doing this is so angst-provoking, though, that I still have to seek reassurance from my partner, Jan that I'm safe once I get home.

On Monday 7th November, I was on my way home from my allotment when I spotted a pigeon under a railway bridge struggling to get him / herself up onto the kerb and away from oncoming traffic. I went and rescued him. I couldn't see any visible signs of injury, so as soon as we got to a grassy patch away from the road I set him down thinking he'd fly off. He didn't, though. Instead, he sat on my shoulder all the way home and a woman I passed at a bus stop said that he was obviously happy staying with me. Back home, he didn't want to leave the jacket I'd been wearing, so I let him snuggle down in it where he slept for hours, then ate a little seed. In the morning, Jan took him to the nearest bird hospital where they said they'd treat him for an injured wing and concussion.

It was such a freak occurrence that I thought maybe this pigeon had been sent to me to remind me of what a gentle, caring and kind person I am, and not the poisonous assassin of my beloved pets that my OCD would have me believe I am: From this point on, feeding my tortoise, Trevor, became easier - though I still have bad days (and probably always will), when I convince myself that maybe I did poison a loved one, and all the ERP therapy I've done on my OCDs goes to pot.

I got through teaching my new double bass student (a man) at his house, and for the first time in 10 years, my 'OCD / PTSD' fear that he would do something to harm me, wasn't really an issue. A year ago, I never thought I'd ever be saying this. The anxiety I felt before and after the lesson about what could happen / could've happened was intense, but instinctively I knew I'd be ok. It helped that his girlfriend was in the house, but during our second lesson she left to go shopping and I was still ok. The passion I have for music and all the hard work I've done to become a professional double bassist, fortified me and made me feel more confident than I do normally.

I'm also continuing to excel in my Introduction to Forensic Science online course with FutureLearn. It's helping jog my memory about details of crimes that have happened against me, which in turn is helping me recover from related trauma.

For decades I've felt as if I've had no choice but to squeeze my life smaller and smaller beneath the power of abuse, but now I'm listening to my emotions / learning to protect myself against such people getting a foothold into me in the first place, so that I can strive towards a life of possibility, rather than a stagnant one of anger and resentment.

Finally, a note to the ignorant: One's ability to cope with the symptoms of OCD have nothing to do with one's intelligence.

Thanks so much, as usual, to friends, my counsellor, T., and Jan for their continued support and belief in me.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

STILL I RISE

Still I Rise 


You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
'Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

by Maya Angelou

Last Wednesday I pushed myself to go busking on the London Underground for the first time in a number of weeks, as all my money had run out and I needed to practice going out into the world again before I allowed my OCD /PTSD to gain the upper hand. The day before, my counsellor, T., had reminded me about how I could use a Grounding technique to achieve this: As I ventured out of the house and made my tube journey into London, I visualized myself as being rooted in and connected to the earth beneath my feet. This enabled me to remain in the present moment rather than to start catastrophizing about what dangers could befall me. T. also reminded me that my abusers can no longer hurt me, that I'm capable of protecting myself if anyone were to attack me, and that if a terrorist incident were to happen, there'd be other people around to help. I'm happy to report that as a result of bearing all this in mind, I was able to complete most of my busking session without writing down reassurances to myself that I was safe each time my OCD was triggered, though I needed to ask Jan for reassurance that nobody had hurt or contaminated me once I got home.

Having made it through the busking session gave me the strength to believe I could make it to Tech Day, London the following day. It was a struggle getting there because my brain was going over all the times my OCD had been triggered the previous day and I hadn't given into my compulsion to write down reassurances I was safe: Had that aggressive-looking man I spotted while I was busking really not contaminated me? Despite this, I remained anchored enough to attend the event, network, shake hands with and be bumped into by lots of people, without writing down each time that I hadn't been contaminated - something I couldn't have done back in June. Things fell apart a little, though, when I cut my finger on a piece of paper: The image of the open wound and blood meant (in my 'OCD' logic), that I was more susceptible to being contaminated by other people, which lead to me having to write down a reassurance to myself that I hadn't been hurt or contaminated at all since leaving the house. The important thing is, however, that I went and came away feeling more alive having had some face-to-face interaction with like-minded people.

I've been studying Forensic Science online with FutureLearn, and achieved 100% in my first test: I love it, and having been a survivor of crime, it's empowering to now be knowledgeable about how such crimes can be investigated and solved.

Some days I wake up and feel physically riddled with anxiety even if my mind is calm, which makes my OCD harder to overcome. Also, some combinations of intrusive thought and accompanying image, for example, having just been to the toilet then seeing a man in the distance, continue to immediately translate into "I've been raped," and I can't help but seek reassurance from my partner, Jan, that no harm has come to me. I'm trying to explore and understand the reasons for this in counselling even though part of me is scared of becoming overwhelmed. My OCD flares up (checking the pavement for contaminated needles) both before and after my counselling sessions to keep me stuck in that place of "I don't deserve to get better." Slowly but surely, though, I'm coming to realize that I do.

Thank you, Manya Zuba, for your support and encouragement over recent days: It means everything!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

STILL FIGHTING

Trevor the tortoise.


"You'll never deal with the fear of change until the fear of staying the same exceeds it." - Barbara Niven

As you can see from my last post, I haven't been in a good place. Despite feeling helpless about my future and as if I've got no reason to fight, I've kept going and continued to commit to my counselling, yoga, and I even passed a course in Creative Coding.

Ever since I've been getting into the nitty-gritty of exploring and beginning to really feel (for the first time) a mix of emotions associated with the childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence I experienced as a child - plus the traumas of a similar nature I've suffered as a consequence, I've become a depressed, terrified, confused, rageful, self-destructive, hypersensitive mess.

Having been brave enough to prevent myself from seeking reassurance from Jan that any lone men I'd encountered on my travels hadn't raped or attacked or contaminated me, was the trigger for these difficult emotions I'd been attempting to escape through the performance of obsessive-compulsive rituals, finally erupting into consciousness: Being as I wasn't compulsively seeking / writing down reassurances that I was safe, I became manic (even talking to myself out loud) in an attempt to distract myself from a backlog of horrific intrusive thoughts of me being fatally attacked or raped.

I questioned my counsellor, T., about whether it was necessary for me to relive the abuse of my past (that I can't change), in order to overcome my OCD / PTSD, but she (and I, deep down), believe that yes; talking through and analysing the experiences that have fuelled these symptoms, and then hopefully being able to set them aside, will enable me to not only survive, but to thrive further down the line.

This is already happening: In a professional sense, I'm going through a period of transition in that I want to find a better-paid and more rewarding job as an artist, musician and writer - or maybe a forensic scientist. Slowly but surely, I'm taking positive steps in this direction and have attracted a deluge of like-minded, interesting followers on social media. On an emotional level, I've had some nightmares involving being taken advantage of, mugged and raped, but instead of ending up being totally defeated by my assailants, I stick up for myself and get away. 

For the time being, I feel as if I've regressed a little with regards to doing ERP on my OCDs is concerned: My 'checking the pavement for contaminated needles' OCD has returned, and I've gone back to seeking reassurance from Jan that nobody would've hurt or contaminated me. The good news is, though, that I'm still managing to refrain from writing down these reassurances to myself and I'm not being so hard on myself in trying to make myself work a set amount of hours each day. Brett Larkin's Meditation for Anxiety and Nervous Energy has really helped me to regulate my breathing and to get some sleep when I've needed it.

Despite feeling panicky about leaving the house to go to my allotment (I've been too ill to go into London to work as a musician on the Underground), I've been making myself go because I know that the longer I stay indoors, the harder it will be to go out. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Jan, Manya Zuba, ocdtalk and Josh Langley for rooting for me throughout this dark time.

Last but not least, Jan and I have a new family member; Trevor the Hermann's tortoise who we rescued from a string of 'owners' who'd badly neglected him. He shares my bedroom, gives me a reason to get up in the morning, and it's as if we're both fighting for a better, happier life together. Each time I feed him, my bastard OCD tries its best to convince me that I'm poisoning him, but so far I'm doing a good job of telling it to piss off...