Sunday, May 28, 2017

DAILY POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS

I decided that it was time to move on from my job as a busker on the London Underground. Even though I was going to miss making money performing on my instruments, I'd grown sick of the increasingly mobile phone-obsessed public no longer appreciating my music; of having to put up with drunken behaviour; the heat down there; noisy station announcements and of exposing myself to the threat of terrorism just to pay my bills. It was good while it lasted, but enough's enough.

It's scary, though, thinking that I could fail in my quest to find more satisfying work as a musician, but when I think about it, I'm already doing it - earning good money locally as a double bass, piano and violin teacher. Hopefully it's simply a case of building on that; of nurturing my new-found sense of self-worth.

Whilst still in the midst of working through the trauma associated with being a survivor, trying to regain control of my 'pavement checking' OCD and now, struggling with a serious disconnect I've experienced with my counsellor, fighting for better things feels as if it's going to be a lot easier said than done.

Even in my darkest hours,however, my allotment, pets and partner, Jan, keep me loving, hopeful, and at the end of the day however bad life's got, my music's always had my back (so long as I work hard). Over the past year, yoga, too, has helped me enormously in terms of both my mental and physical health: OCD is no longer the boss of me, my headaches are fewer, and I've learnt how to breath and remain grounded throughout terrifying flashes I'll probably always have, associated with PTSD.

I've suffered from 'the doubting disease' of OCD for over 10 years: In that time I've learnt not to rely on my own memory in favour of compulsively writing down my experiencing and up until recently have lived life in a constant state of hypervigilance and fear. It's become clear to me that if I'm ever going to reverse this tendency and trust in myself and life again, I'm going to have to train myself to think positively.

Therefore, in addition to my yoga practice, I've added more or less daily meditation, journaling and the noting down of positive affirmations into the mix - and slowly I can feel my mindset shifting: Now when I fall into obsessively checking household appliances are off before leaving the house, I can think to myself and believe, "I can trust myself to protect myself and others." This doesn't stop me over-checking, but I no longer get myself into such a state in the process.

There are days when I feel so confused, so sad, not in control of my emotions, suicidal, utterly exhausted; like a lit firework in a confined space, and when my brain is having to process lots of new experiences or a change of routine it sometimes goes into meltdown and I find myself fixating on imaginary monsters coming out of an air vent; the pattern on somebody's shirt. It's beyond frightening, and I have to go straight to bed and stay there until it passes. It's also helped in these moments to take every day as it comes and not to look too far ahead.

And so to end with a couple of small victories: In the past whenever I taught my male double bass student, I suffered from bloating and abdominal pains throughout the lesson (somatic pain connected to having been sexually abused whilst alone in rooms by my grandfather). For the last three sessions, though, I haven't experienced this and have felt a lot more relaxed. Practicing kundalini yoga online with Carolyn Cowan has helped in this regard.

I also managed to put off asking Jan for reassurance for a couple of days that a man who invaded my personal space hadn't hurt me when I was badly triggered. This is the longest I've gone without this type of reassurance.

Onwards!

Monday, April 3, 2017

MAKING FRIENDS WITH UNCERTAINTY

A couple of days before I left for Paris, my subconscious demons beat me up: I convinced myself I'd somehow messed up my chances of attending my 'Paris Métro' audition - all in anticipation of the chance I might be about to have a happy time in Paris. I told my demons to shut the fuck up!

On arrival in Bagneux, Paris, I immediately felt overwhelmed and my PTSD was triggered by the crowds of people and all the different noises and smells. Despite this, however, I managed to resist writing down any reassurances to myself and needing to calm down, focused on my breathing during a yoga practice: Knowing that I'm capable of controlling the intensity of my obsessive-compulsive behaviour and intrusive thoughts simply through using my breath, reassured me.

The following morning I felt anxious after having had a nightmare about my neighbour back home chastising me for laughing with his kids and labeling me "nothing." A 'Kundalini Yoga Flow to Detox your Kidneys' helped to bring all of my attention back to the present moment and my body.

The lovely aparthotel I stayed at for three weeks had the use of a gym included in the price and I made the most of it; spinning almost daily for between 10 and 20 miles. Although throughout my stay I experienced intrusive images of men attacking, contaminating or raping me every time I had accidental physical contact with them, or if I was, for example, alone in a lift with a man, I was able to trust myself and stay rooted in reality enough, not to immediately write down that I hadn't been raped, contaminated or attacked - and to actually relax and enjoy male company for the first time in about 12 years. 

There were a few instances, for example when a man coming off a métro train shoved me in the arm, that my PTSD was triggered so badly I had to reassure myself by writing down that I hadn't been hurt, but with the help of grounding techniques and yoga, I quickly recovered from these incidents.

This all felt like a massive achievement - especially given that in Paris I was out of my comfort zone, and I even found myself studying forensic psychology as I was spinning on an exercise bike in the gym with a lone man on the running machine beside me!  I still asked my partner, Jan, for reassurance at the end of each day that I hadn't been hurt or contaminated, but so what?

I also further cut down on my general writing activities, such as my diary writing; finding quicker ways to document my experiences. This meant that I was able to leave the hotel earlier to get on with my day.

As if to counterbalance this new-found confidence, though (as often happens with OCD, I've found), my 'checking the pavement for contaminated needles' OCD returned with a vengeance - especially when I was tired or had PMT: I found myself constantly having to look behind me just in case I'd trodden on a needle contaminated with a fatal disease. I knew I was behaving completely irrationally, but I just had to keep looking behind me in order to continue on my journey (even if it wasn't at the pavement). 

At one point this became chronic and distressing, but then I thought back to all the ERP on myself I'd done a while back in order to rein this OCD in: I had a 'flash' that I'm constantly scanning the pavement as I'm walking, so I wouldn't have trodden on a needle, and if I had done, it'd be there in front of me. This helped for a while, but by the time I left for England, this OCD was out of control (but not as out of control as it has been in the past). It's got easier now I'm back in England, again, though, thanks goodness!

My 'appliance checking' compulsion was bad, but not as debilitating as it was the last time I stayed alone in Paris (almost a year ago): Last year I not only felt the need to check each light, electric hob, heater was off about 20 times before leaving the room, but the compulsion was so bad I'd dread this daily hell and would have to write down a reassurance to myself that I hadn't left anything on (that could cause a fire and potentially kill someone). I'd then have to ask my partner, Jan for reassurance on top of that. 

This time I still had to ask Jan for reassurance that I'd left everything in a safe state, but I didn't feel the need to write down a reassurance to myself, too. On a few occasions I almost felt strong enough to not seek reassurance at all, but I know I'm not quite there yet.

During my stay I took lots of beautiful photographs: I consciously sought out beauty, which forced the 'ugliness' that goes on in my head, into the background. That's not to say I denied the existence of this troubled part of myself; more that I'm getting better at making friends with uncertainty.

Monday, March 6, 2017

REMAINING IN THE PRESENT MOMENT


'Flight - Paris 2016' by Gemma Boyd

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 was 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.