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...

Monday, October 10, 2016

THAT'S ALL, FOLKS

Sorry guys - freak show over. I hope this blog has given you a few laughs.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

NOT GETTING STUCK ON THE THOUGHT

'Into the light' by Gemma Boyd

On Wednesday, my partner, Jan and I had one of our rare days out. It was lovely: We looked around the shops in Wanstead, North-East London and relaxed at our local pub.

Probably because I'd never been to Wanstead before (I'd ventured outside of familiar surroundings), plus I was tired, I 'took my eye off the ball' insofar as my OCD was concerned, and all of my OCDs came flooding back with a vengeance. I forgave myself, however, because quite frankly I needed a day off from trying so bloody hard all the time to regulate my behaviour. In the end I put this down to having simply been a bad day, and was confident I'd be able to start again from where I left off with ERP tomorrow - something which fortunately, I was able to do.

I carried on practising not compulsively seeking from Jan or writing down reassurances to myself every time I was triggered (which was practically all of the time while I was out of the house); by lone men, a foul-mouthed thug and a man sat beside me with a (potentially contaminating) bandaged wrist on the train, and things that resembled needles on the pavement (yes, my 'pavement checking' OCD has come back a bit recently). Instead, when challenged by these triggers, I physically stroked myself on the arms for comfort, as my counsellor, T. had suggested. This helped to keep me 'in the moment', and I succeeded in procrastinating for hours before finally asking Jan if anyone had hurt me.

This week was also one of major breakthroughs: For the first time in years (with the aid of yoga meditations I've mentioned in previous blogs), I managed not to immediately compulsively seek from Jan or write down reassurances to myself on two occasions when I was completely alone with men in confined spaces (in a train carriage and an office). Resisting this compulsion was so hard, though: Instantly I was beset by brain fog / felt removed from my surroundings; my anxiety levels increased; I couldn't concentrate; my head was a mass of different thoughts mixed in with past trauma of having been alone in rooms I couldn't get out of while my grandad sexually abused me as a child. Eventually I had to check with Jan that I was safe, but having survived these excruciating experiences twice, I knew I'd remember if a lone man attacked me, and that I can trust myself to protect myself.

The more I practise ERP on these most severe of my OCDs, the better I'm getting at snapping myself out of the intrusive thoughts that fuel my obsessive-compulsive behaviour, for example, I used to check again and again letters I'd handwritten to friends, because my OCD would have me believe that I'd written something either insulting or incriminating in them. Now, however, I can say to myself, "It's just my OCD trying to bully me," and pop such letters in their envelopes (after just a couple of read-throughs), and forget about them.

As a result of all my hard work, I've realized that all of my OCDs are part of the same malady; getting 'stuck' on the intrusive thoughts that drive them, and I'm hoping that if I can bear this in mind each I'm triggered, I shall be able to move on more smoothly through my days.

Here are three interviews and articles I found both informative and inspiring: 'Childhood Trauma: Overcoming the Hurt of Invalidation' by Sarah Newman'Meet Rebecca Ryan - the girl who has learned to beat her OCD demons' and 'How to Heal from Sexual Assault Through Music' by Amy Oes. I hope you do, too.

Finally, I'd love to hear from any of you I know read this blog, so please feel free to leave a comment! Also, I was invited to contribute to the conversation on #PTSDchat; an excellent online resource for people with PTSD. They have a great website!

Monday, September 19, 2016

THE PUBLICATION AND LETTING GO OF MY BOOK OF POEMS - 'VIVARIUM'


Vivarium; my debut collection of poetry.

Families survive only in photographs;
  their souls hiss through scratched LPs’.

VIVARIUM is a playful melange of lyric poems, list poems and dramatic monologues concerned with feelings of entrapment; where relationships and place are both held up to scrutiny and cherished. By turns hypervigilant, deeply sad, murderous and hopeful, Gemma Boyd’s succinct poems are infused with honesty and black humour. They feature everyday objects, a paedophile, an actress, a robotic bouncer from 2020, an eBay listing, and moments of freedom experienced through music and a communion with the English countryside: ‘spiders will hatch and crawl down their mothers’ legs
                                 like so many new beginnings’.

You can purchase this handmade, coptic bound edition of my book with hand-drawn illustrations by me, on my website: www.gemmaboyd.com under the link, 'Online Shop' for £20.00 plus shipping.

To at last be able to hold Vivarium in my hands after writing, designing, editing and publishing it, is a dream come true, but for the past two hours my OCD has been compelling me to check it word for word and to obsess over the spelling of odd words I never had a problem with before... but now it's time to STOP IT, and to just let my book do its thing!

This week I continued to be able to stall (for hours) compulsively seeking reassurance from my partner, Jan, that no lone man had raped, attacked or contaminated me as I went about my daily business, plus I fed my cat for the first time in months without immediately writing down that I hadn't poisoned him. Watching TV helped me to distract myself from the godawful intrusive thoughts that accompany this OCD. 

One morning while I was doing my daily yoga practice, I spotted my cat's box of food on the side and managed not to obsess about it. I'd just completed Brett Larkin's 'Grounding Root Chakra Guided Meditation / Stress Relief Meditation' which had really calmed my brain and body: 


My counsellor, T. suggested that instead of thinking about the atrocities others could inflict on me as I'm walking down the street, I focus all my love and attention onto myself. I tried this and I could rise above my fear of most of the lone men I encountered one afternoon - until I got home and had to seek reassurance from Jan that I was safe.

I'm finding it enormously difficult relearning how to function in the world after having had my experiencing marred by OCD / PTSD for over 10 years, but at least, little by little, I'm beginning to feel more ME.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

FEELING THE PAIN AND KEEPING IT TOGETHER

'Self-portrait - September 2016' by Gemma Boyd

"PTSD has taught me that I am what I choose... fear or love." - Jill Christensen (from her profound account, 'Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is Hard').

Increasingly, this blog is becoming as much about healing from PTSD as it is from OCD, because for me the two diagnoses are intertwined: This week I continued to postpone asking my partner, Jan, for reassurance that no man had raped, attacked or contaminated me while I was either outside or alone in the house: I spotted a young man ahead of me on my way to work yesterday, and even though it was a main road and there were cars passing, the terror automatically overcame me that because we were alone together on the pavement, he'd raped and attacked me.

Normally, I'd compulsively make a note to myself or call Jan to reassure me that he'd done no such thing, but instead I made myself actually feel that fear that he'd fatally contaminated me / taken everything from me - as I was walking along. In so doing, I felt exhausted and tearful, plus it became clear what past trauma I need to discuss next with my counsellor. Another part of me, though, was fighting to walk tall in the knowledge that I was safe and that I had to go and earn some money.

I then got on a rush hour train where there were smelly and noisy people pressed up against me; overcame the urge to write down that they hadn't contaminated me - and still managed to perform my folk fiddle set to crowds of people with a smile on my face.

All day, I felt as if I was having to contain so many different selves and emotions as a result of not giving into my compulsion to seek reassurance that I was safe - but I managed it for about six hours before finally asking Jan if anyone had hurt me. Of course the answer was "no," but I just needed to hear the words.

This morning my eczema has flared up as a result of all this effort, but instead of condemning myself for not having been able to make it into work, I'm trying to congratulate myself for the progress I made yesterday.

Whenever OCD bullies me into doubting my ability to perform routine actions effectively, such as closing my greenhouse door without leaving a bird trapped inside, I'm now able to say to myself, "That's an OCD thought," instead of, "I've shut a bird in there that'll die after I leave." This doesn't necessarily mean I can stop checking the greenhouse for birds an absurd number of times (I need to summon up more willpower to check just once or twice maximum), but at least knowing it's simply OCD prevents me from fixating on intrusive thoughts which take me to terrible places.

My 'checking' behaviours are, in fact, so entrenched, and made worse by even the tiniest amount of stress; something that Bryony White in her article, 'How My Checking OCD Crept Up On Me (And How I Learned To Cope With It)', can identify with.

Reading about others' experiences of OCD enables me to not feel so alone on this journey; and generally it is very lonely, which is why I'm very grateful that I've at last found a great counsellor in T. of Nia; East London Rape Crisis.

Friday, September 2, 2016

THE BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER!


Brett Larkin's 'Guided Meditation for Anxiety and Obsessive Thoughts', which really helped me go a small way towards overcoming my worst OCD of all; my obsession that any lone man I encounter could rape, attack or contaminate me.

Last month I slipped on my yoga mat and injured my elbow, so because the niggling pain still hadn't gone away, I decided to do some yoga meditation for the first time. 

Over the course of three days I practiced the above meditation, focusing on my obsessive fear of lone men, plus two other of Brett Larkin's meditations; 'Self-Love Guided Meditation' and 'Meditation for Anxiety and Rushing'.

On leaving the house to walk to the station having just done the 'Guided Meditation for Anxiety and Obsessive Thoughts', a lone man passed me and instead of immediately compulsively seeking reassurance that he hadn't hurt me, I was able to stay calm and present, and to trust deep down within myself that I was safe instead of allowing fear and panic to override my senses. Later on, I had to give into the compulsion to seek reassurance, but just having been able to stave off this urge for quite a substantial amount of time, felt like a huge leap forward in my recovery - and the best 41st birthday present I could've wished for.

Whenever a disturbing sound or image and an intrusive thought collide in my brain, however, I can't help but follow through with my compulsion to seek reassurance from Jan or to write down that I'm safe: I was cooking in the kitchen when I heard a gunshot on the TV the other day. Being as the back door was open, I simultaneously had the intrusive thought that a man had come in and raped, attacked or contaminated me. Even though I tried to distract myself with mindless TV, I couldn't help but call Jan so she could tell me that I was fine.

My counsellor, T., suggested that instead of giving into my compulsions in moments such as these, I should try to sit with the feelings (that are rooted in my abusive past), and eventually they will dwindle. In addition to this she said I might try employing a 'grounding' technique: When passing a lone man in the street, I could try distracting myself from the obsession that he'll hurt me by noticing the pavement firmly beneath my feet, the colour of the sky and other things that are around me so's to bring myself back into the reality of the moment; that I am safe and quite capable of protecting myself. 

Yesterday I convinced myself that a strange man had got in the house on being triggered by the sound of keys jangling near the side entrance at the same time as watching a harrowing I Survived documentary (maybe I should stop watching these inspiring documentaries while I'm confronting my own traumas)? I was able to sit with the feelings of anxiety and terror this obsession brought up and to focus on objects in the room around me as a way of grounding myself. Once again this felt like progress, until eventually had to ask Jan for reassurance that I was safe when she came home: Baby steps...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

GETTING BACK ON TRACK


'OCD + PTSD + stress + PMT' by Gemma Boyd

As you can see, I haven't posted anything on here for some weeks, but I have realized a few things: I think what's key to getting my OCD under control is the ability to nip an intrusive thought in the bud before the accompanying obsession takes hold. Also, I need to achieve a balance between 'normal' and 'OCD' behaviour, for example, it's normal (when in a rush) to ask my partner to double-check I've left the place in a secure state before we both leave the house, but it tips over into OCD when I get her to double-check that all appliances are off when she'll be remaining in the house to take care of things anyway.

Trying to give myself one full day off a week isn't working because I'm so used to subconsciously punishing myself every minute of every day for not having the energy to do all that I expect of myself, but last week after having found the strength to fight back against the 'HMRC' injustice, and in continuing to commit to my counselling sessions with T., my head was such a mash-up of thoughts, feelings and flashbacks, that something had to give and I had to take a week off performing as a musician on the London Underground. This helped, and I reminded myself that even though I'm not doing any ERP on my OCDs right now, I am still working hard on my recovery through committing to counselling to address past traumas which fuel my obsessive-compulsive and self-sabotaging behaviours.

Suffering from OCD has caused me to lose a lot of confidence in terms of feeling able to deal with people on a professional level, but I'm itching to move on and experience more success in career terms - and slowly but surely, I'm actively seeking to do this, for example, I'm about to publish my first book of poems, plus my continued daily yoga practice is helping me to literally walk taller.

My fairly new OCD; needing to seek reassurance from Jan that I won't have locked a cat in the toilet at the allotments, wasn't an issue just after I returned from my trip to Paris a few months ago (because I'd been able to widen my outlook and know that I'd never intentionally do such a thing, and what would a cat be doing in the toilet in the first place)?! At present, however, because my stress-levels are high (which in turn causes my PMT to be worse), I've gone back to checking about four times before leaving the toilet that there's no cat in there.

Since beginning to re-visit some of the traumas involving men from my past in counselling, my 'OCD' fear that when I'm alone anywhere with a man he will rape and attack and contaminate me, has intensified, but I'm hoping that once I've explored and laid to rest the emotions associated with these traumas, the fears will subside.

Monday, August 1, 2016

EXHAUSTED

A photo entitled 'Pansy at dusk' I took on my allotment last month: Life seems to be happening to me at such a pace that I have no time to just 'be'.

This week I felt unwell with a nasty mosquito bite, HMRC reckoned that they'd overpaid me (through no fault of my own) so I must now live like a pauper on the low wage I earn as a musician, and my counselling session with T. left me with a lots to process. As a consequence of this and of working extra hours to cover my bills, I've had no time for ERP.

I continued not to pander to the compulsions that accompany the obsessions I've already tackled, however, but some days it was easier to do this than on others.

With a couple of the OCDs I thought I'd got under control, I recognized that I still have some work to do, for example regarding my obsession that I could poison my cat's food and water, I hardly ever seek reassurance that I haven't done this anymore, but I do avoid going into the room where his food is and won't look at it for fear that doing this will trigger the intrusive thought that I've poisoned him without remembering I've done so. I must now do an exposure where I make myself go into this room and stay there until the anxiety lessens.

My plan to give myself one full day off a week in order to relax, is proving too hard to follow through with: I find not working so stressful, and in my head I'm always chastising myself for the hours I've failed to work because often I'm too tired.

I'm always on the go; performing, commuting back and forth from London, working on my allotment, practising my instruments, catching up on a backlog of writing projects... and now, despite trying to deal with my OCD and past trauma, I feel pressured to do even more to bring money in and all the time I won't be actually moving forward with my life. It all feels like too much...

Monday, July 25, 2016

POWERING THROUGH

I’m now more able to distract myself from that kernel of an intrusive thought which if allowed to establish, can easily become a new OCD (for example, my OCD telling me that somewhere along the line I’d given my purse to a random guy who could've rifled through it for my bank details with the intent of stealing from me).

The intrusive thought that automatically overwhelms me whenever I’m alone with any man; that if I don’t write down or ask my partner, Jan for reassurance to the contrary, this man will have raped, attacked or fatally contaminated me, has become a tiny bit weaker since I’ve been talking about the past traumas that are behind this OCD with my counsellor, T; in other words, I’m more able to rationalize this fear, and remind my vulnerable self (out loud) that I’m safe in these moments.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

DOUBTING MY OWN REALITY

I gain immense pleasure out of observing the wildlife on my allotment when my emotions are in turmoil.

This week I’ve had PMT, which always makes doing ERP therapy on my OCDs an uphill struggle, but I’ve nevertheless made some progress with my obsession that anyone who accidentally bumps into or touches me will somehow fatally contaminate me: My fellow ‘London Underground busker’ friend, John, kissed me on the cheek, and instead of compulsively writing down that he hadn’t contaminated me, I let this anxiety ‘ride’, and I’ve got to the stage now, where I can cope with the unavoidable (though fleeting) physical contact I make with people as I go about my business in overpopulated central London.

Even in the heat of summer I used to avoid opening my bedroom window before leaving the house; knowing that the window was just another thing I’d have to compulsively check was closed properly. Now my mind is generally more relaxed, though, I do open it in the certainty that I’d never deliberately leave it open for the cat to escape.

The physical demands of, and my devotion to my job as a performing musician have meant I’ve lost focus a bit in so far as pushing myself to do more ERPs is concerned, but however slowly, I am moving forwards, and believe that learning how to relax is going to be key to my recovery from OCD: As well as doing daily yoga practice, I’ve begun to allow myself one full day off work a week just to regroup - and hopefully be more productive in the long run.

It was difficult for me to process my latest counselling session with T.: For the first time in a number of years I opened up about physical, sexual and emotional unresolved traumas which, I believe, fuel my most challenging obsession of all (a terror of male sexuality). That night I couldn’t sleep because I was remembering and doubting my own reality over my grandfather’s sexual abuse of me – especially in relation to my family’s continued strong denial of my feelings and needs, then my eczema flared up all over my body.

Deep-down, I have a strong sense of self, but OCD constantly makes me doubt that - in much the same way as I’ve had my experiences twisted and devalued by those who were meant to protect me. I’m hoping that in time, I shall be able to wholly believe in that strong self without the compulsion to try to hold too tightly onto any happiness that comes my way.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

THE POWER AND IMPORTANCE OF RELAXATION IN FIGHTING OCD

Firstly, a big achievement: I've been able to walk along the pavement wearing sandals for the first time since my obsessive fear that I'd tread on a contaminated needle hit!

Last week I claimed that I’d more or less “nailed” (with ERP therapy) my obsessive fear that whenever somebody accidentally bumps into or touches me on my travels, they’ll fatally contaminate me. Well, unfortunately I spoke too soon, in that since then I’ve experienced two massively triggering incidents after which I was unable to prevent myself from compulsively writing down and seeking reassurance from my partner, Jan, that I hadn’t been contaminated.

The first incident occurred while I was on a tube train headed into central London: A big-built hooded man sat down next to me, and with the motion of the train his knee kept knocking mine. I could’ve handled that, but he was obviously still drunk from the night before as his head kept lolling all over the place and he stank of booze: This signified to me that he wasn’t in control of himself and therefore (given that the post-traumatic stress element of my diagnosis had now also flared up), a threat to my physical well-being. I then saw that he had a spot of blood on his jeans; a fatal source of contamination so far as my OCD is concerned. I made myself remain in my seat, however, determined to confront this fear, but was so relieved when he finally got off.

A few days later, I was busking my folk fiddle set at Bank station on the London Underground when a very pretty Portuguese woman stood next to me, listening to my music. She told me she loved what she was hearing, that I “really change the vibe” down there, then took my hands in hers and introduced herself. I was blown away by this compliment, and whereas normally I’d straight away have to make a note on my iPhone that she hadn’t contaminated me when she touched my hands, I didn’t feel the need.

Later on in my session, this woman reappeared and I was shocked by what I witnessed: She was chasing a Muslim couple down the corridor and hurling abuse at them. Again, I stayed put and rode out the fear that this woman could be a serious danger to peoples’ lives, and reported the incident to Underground staff (you wouldn’t believe this, but I’m actually quite good in a crisis – having saved the life of a commuter who was being viciously beaten up by a drunk at Oxford Circus a couple of years back). Having seen the woman flip so unpredictably, I compulsively had to seek reassurance from Jan that I was safe.

These experiences reminded me just how complex my symptoms are; that if bombarded by too many triggers at once, my brain can’t cope and my OCD kicks in.


I came across the above ‘Brett Larkin’ video as I was doing research for my next yoga challenge. What she says makes a lot of sense to me, but as an OCD sufferer I also felt it was an oversimplification of what it takes to get oneself into a positive mindset: Negative intrusive thoughts that are a part of my OCD emanate from somewhere in my subconscious totally unbidden, and for me it’s when I am feeling positive, that terrifying intrusive thoughts plague me.

Having committed myself to daily yoga practice; in other words, learning to relax, though, is really helping my brain to override my obsessive-compulsive behaviours and to more easily dismiss negative intrusive thoughts that could easily become new obsessions: I no longer feel that awful ‘butterflies’ anxiety in my stomach, which had in the past been my almost constant companion, plus I haven’t suffered as much from paralysing migraines.

Allowing myself the space and time to actively relax is incredibly difficult for me, but the biggest gift I can give myself right now.

Friday, July 1, 2016

BREATHABLE STEPS FORWARD

'The beauty of being a misfit' by Lidia Yuknavitch: I aspire to this.

“Compulsions are a lousy solution to the problem of having obsessions.” – Fred Penzel

Daily yoga practice in the early mornings is continuing to centre and relax me in preparation for the day ahead – plus I’m developing abdominal muscles for the first time!

Some beach resort hotel in Australia sent me emails to confirm that I’d booked a $1000 four-night stay with them this month. Even though I know it’s just spam, my OCD makes me question whether or not I did actually book this trip and have forgotten about it; another layer of stress I don’t need when I’m doing my best to overcome my mental health issues.

The past seven days have been about overcoming my old obsession that really took hold while I was in Paris last month; that anyone who accidentally bumps into or touches me will fatally contaminate me. As usual to start off with, I found doing ERP on this exhausting: After being jostled on the London Underground, I managed (even though I felt terrifyingly skinless), not to compulsively write down that nobody had contaminated me, but later on I couldn’t resist asking my partner, Jan for reassurance that I hadn’t been contaminated.

Having worked consistently on this exposure since, however, I’m happy to report that by enlarge I've nailed this OCD. It’s only when I’m tired that I can’t separate out an intrusive thought / image from the reality that most people I pass by in the street or sit next to on an Underground train are only interested in one thing; getting to their destination.

Sometimes I really resent the time and energy that fighting OCD is taking out of my life, and wonder if my inability to overcome it has been down to me being a ‘weak’ person… but then I remind myself that I’ve never let the symptoms rule me, that this is an incredibly debilitating illness, and that up until now, maybe I haven’t been ready to heal.

My friend, Sarah, gave me some great advice regarding doing ERP: “Remember to take it in strides; not to overwhelm yourself. Each time an individual gets through an ERP they actually gain strength.”

So far as my severe ‘checking’ obsessions go, I managed (for the first time) to check that I’d shut my allotment greenhouse only once and didn’t ask Jan for reassurance that I’d shut both it and the ‘allotments entrance’ gate properly, but I still had to write down that I hadn’t left anything open: Baby steps…

My first counselling session with T. from Nia; East London Rape Crisis went very well: Hopefully we’re going to explore core issues to do with my obsessive fear of male sexuality and of feeling intruded upon by others, plus we’ll work on building my sense of self-worth. My OCD kicked in big time when asked if I’d ever been violent towards anyone (one of my biggest fears is that I’m a danger to others). Even though the answer to that question is no, I sought reassurance from T. that she didn’t think I was a threat to anyone; in other words, OCD did its best to destroy this positive experience. Thankfully, after a walk in around the local park, I calmed down, became very tired, but was able to move on.

Friday, June 24, 2016

GREAT NEWS!

Dahlia at my beloved allotment.

I needed a rest this week; to catch up on work that needed doing on my allotment, and to try and reduce my stress levels as my skin was still flaring up with eczema.

With regards to commencing ERP on some of my ‘checking’ obsessions, PMT prevented me from making much progress, but on one occasion at my allotment I succeeded in checking my greenhouse door was closed only one time before leaving. I still had to seek reassurance from my partner, Jan, and write down that the door was securely shut, however, but this was a tiny step in the right direction.

I’m also no longer asking Jan to text me that household appliances are all off and that our cat, Tigger, is safely locked in after I leave the house: I figure if I can reduce acting on my compulsions little by little, eventually doing serious ERP on these ‘checking’ compulsions won’t feel like such a huge mountain to climb.

While at work performing my fiddle on the London Underground, I attempted not to indulge my newly out-of-control obsession that anyone who accidentally bumps into or touches me will contaminate me, and managed to at least put off compulsively seeking reassurance from Jan  / writing down that I hadn’t in fact been contaminated by anyone.

Lastly, some great news: On Tuesday I’m due to attend an initial exploratory meeting for counselling at Nia; East London Rape Crisis, and I’m hoping that finally I shall have someone I feel able to talk to about my traumatic family problems and the battle I have trying not to sabotage every bit of success and happiness I experience (though I’m getting better at this): I must carry on committing to looking after myself and trying to get better.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

MY DEMONS DIDN'T HOLD ME BACK IN PARIS

Doing what I love most: Playing my violin in Montmartre, Paris.

On my arrival in Paris I felt fortified by fellow OCD sufferer, David’s poem, ‘Kindling’ about a troubadour, which he’d shared and likened me to: That afternoon, I managed to leave my apartment (within a hotel on the outskirts of Paris) without checking the kitchen appliances numerous times and writing down that I hadn’t left them on. I was determined for the duration of my stay, that mine would be a ‘check only once’ apartment.

My obsessive fear about the possibility of being raped and contaminated by men (second highest up on my Anxiety / Exposure Hierarchy) – especially if I’m alone with one say in a lift, was really bad. Having said that, I was able to put off compulsively writing down that nobody had raped or attacked or contaminated me in my apartment during a brief nap; something I’d never been able to do before. Also, to my surprise and delight, Nia; East London Rape Crisis phoned to see how I was doing, and told me they’d call me when I get home from Paris.

Day 2: I got into a sweat of a cycle of checking that I hadn’t left anything on top of the cooker hobs and that they were definitely off before leaving my apartment. I hadn’t left the house alone back home in Essex for months for fear that I’d leave an appliance on and burn the house down, so the fact that I was able to leave the apartment at all was a big achievement, and I forgave myself for having had to seek reassurance from my partner Jan (over the phone), that I hadn’t left any appliances on once I’d left the hotel.

Day 3: For the first time (at my friend, Nicki Heywood’s suggestion), I did the 'Beginner Morning Yoga Sequence' with Brett Larkin on YouTube, and kept up doing this routine for almost the duration of my three-week stay: For those 15 minutes a day, I was able to pay more and more attention to my breathing; to where the tension lay in my body, and subsequently learnt how to quieten my mind a little; a skill I applied whenever I felt angsty with OCD or when performing my fiddle music.

That evening, however, my worst ‘OCD’ obsessive fear became a reality when an elderly man I considered to be a friend and who I’d looked up to as being a kind of father figure for five years, told me (while we were alone together), that he wanted to sleep with me and for me to move in with him so’s he could get his daughter back - following the very recent departure of his wife. I felt shocked, used, invaded, and it triggered flashbacks of how my grandfather would sexually abuse me whenever my grandmother was out of the room (a trauma which still affects me and that I believe is at the root of my obsessive-compulsive problems). Needless to say, this incident knocked me massively off-kilter, and other slimy men coming on to me throughout my stay, didn’t help matters.

Day 5: My ‘I haven’t been raped or attacked or contaminated’ OCD was terrible after I was triggered on hearing a man snoring loudly through the thin apartment wall during the night: In my mind, I envisioned that there was in fact no divide between us, and that this man was  next to me in my bed. Consequently (as I ended up having to do every morning), I had to rely on Jan to reassure me that nobody had hurt or contaminated me during the night, but I got on and achieved what I wanted in terms of my music despite the OCD, and let go of making a note of how long I’d busked for in favour of simply doing what I could.

Day 6: A “technical hitch” according to my bank, meant that I ended up not being able to access my bank accounts on my iPhone while I was away in Paris: Last year I had two large sums of money stolen directly from my bank account and as a result am still paranoid that it’ll happen again. Being able to keep an eye on my in-comings and out-goings daily had made me feel more in control. The sudden withdrawal of this stressed me out enormously, sent my OCD off the scale, and my skin flared up, but by the end of the day I’d gained some perspective on the situation and continued to use my bank cards as normal.

I missed working on my allotment garden, which has really helped me deal with the symptoms of my OCD.

Day 7: Early this morning, I had a nightmare about my sexually abusive grandfather (I hadn’t dreamed about him for years). It cast a disturbing shadow across my entire day but also fueled my determination to overcome these demons to do what I love (to perform my music on the terraces of Montmartre), and I did just that.

On returning to the hotel, however, I couldn’t unlock the door to my apartment; something the receptionist told me hadn’t happened before. After waiting at reception for an hour and a half surrounded by strange men (a massive ‘OCD’ trigger), I had to insist they sort this out tonight – which fortunately they did, however I didn’t feel safe knowing that the door lock (which they said would be replaced in the morning) was faulty.

Day 8: I had another nightmare; this time about my father not respecting my boundaries and about a male friend who had killed himself, but still, I went to work and made the most of my day.

That evening I decided to have an early night and mistakenly / destructively watched a gripping film about a psychopathic male killer of blonde women. I then hallucinated that there were predatory men in my apartment: The ‘damaged lock’ experience had really freaked me out; the third major ‘OCD’ trigger in a matter of days, and a nervous rash had broken out all over my neck, shoulders and chest.

Day 9: Another nightmare; this time about my grandmother (the wife of my abusive grandfather), who had lost her family home in Steyning to other buyers. I laid in bed crying (my OCD rarely reduces me to tears), and realized just how desperately I need help with trauma relating to my abuse and family problems: I felt so vulnerable surrounded by snoring, smoking, noisy men at the hotel and beaten by my OCD. For a few hours I felt utterly alone and suicidal.

I reached out, and fortunately received some support and understanding from members of the ‘Support 4 Everything OCD’ group on Facebook, my friends and Jan, which helped me turn it around. My friend Clare informed me that “You store up stressful experiences in your muscles, apparently. They build up over the years and yoga releases them and helps you move on.” I wondered, given the recent beginning of my journey into yoga, if this was what was happening to me.

Day 10: I’d been so tempted to go back to England, yesterday, but having survived that awful day and taken on board my friends’ encouragement not to give in to my demons (which haunt me constantly), I decided to try and push through these feelings and carry on. I talked to myself compassionately while obsessively checking appliances before leaving the apartment, but couldn’t rise above my compulsion to write down reassurances I hadn’t been contaminated whenever anybody accidentally bumped into me (like I usually can whenever I’m in Paris).

Day 11: This morning I was plagued by torturous intrusive thoughts that alone in a hotel apartment, were hard to distract myself from. I couldn’t cope with my OCD on top of a painful rash, fever, and another nightmare about my father. I went busking nevertheless, however.

Day 12: I stayed in the apartment doing artwork all day in a bid to try and relax, and bought some cream from the chemist for my eczema rash.

Day 14: A nightmare that I’d had a very small baby son I’d named after the word, 'Free' in another language. His paper / plastic eyes kept falling out and I lost some of his body parts. At the same time that all this was going on, my violin got destroyed: I simply didn’t have the strength not to give in to my obsessions, but managed them as best I could and went out and earned enough money busking to eat today.

Day 16: Knowing that I was now only days from returning to the comfort of my home in England, I began to sleep a bit better, and I had the company of my close artist friend, Nuna, for a couple of days, which did me good psychologically, and inspired me in a creative sense.

Day 19: Over the past few days I cut down substantially on the amount that I wrote in my diary; a really positive move given that in general my compulsion to write down everything I experience in a bid to feel more ‘complete’, had become burdensome.

Day 21: My obsession that anyone who accidentally bumped into me on my travels could’ve contaminated me, had spun out of control by the end of my time in Paris, but at least I hadn’t allowed OCD to hold me back from what was, all things considered, a wonderful trip that I didn't regret taking.

I arrived back home armed with the knowledge that I need to persist in seeking help with coping with my familial and personal relationships, and that during my time in Paris, I’d confronted a handful of my worst fears, survived, and grown as an artist.

Given the enormous stress I’d been under, I fully expected to have relapsed in terms of my OCD, but I’m very pleased to say that I haven’t: The minute I walked back into the house, my obsessive fear that I’d poison the cat reared its ugly head. I’ve had to work really hard not to give into my compulsion to write down / seek reassurance from Jan that I wouldn’t have harmed him – and have, in the main, succeeded in keeping this OCD, and the others that I’ve done ERP on, at bay.

I’d go so far as to say that I’ve actually made progress in my recovery: Regarding my old obsession that in checking my emails, I could delete something of vital importance, I’ve been deleting emails without checking them at all: Having survived the severity of my OCD in Paris, has put some of my less severe obsessions into perspective: In the great scheme of things, I shouldn’t imbue them with such power. Keeping up my daily yoga practise is also helping me to relax.

Tackling my ‘checking’ OCDs is next on my list to do ERP on, and I’ve already made small inroads: The other day I checked my greenhouse door was closed properly only once before leaving my allotment, and I no longer re-check I’ve locked the entrance gate to the plots when I go there.

Thank you so much to all of you who’ve been there for me emotionally during this time - especially Jan; words can’t express how much this has meant.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

PARIS AGAIN!

Myself on double bass, Eirik Zahl on guitar and Peter Conua on violin playing jazz and folk numbers in Montmartre, Paris - April 2011 (photograph by Jean Duchesne).

Well, I did it: Last week I was feeling desperately in need of a break from everything, and so I booked three weeks away in my beloved Paris. I've been visiting Paris on a regular basis since 2009 to work as a musician, writer and artist, and to just enjoy the vibe.

I'm uneasy about this trip due to the heightened threat of terrorism, and no doubt my 'checking of appliances' OCD will be in overdrive given that I've rented a whole apartment as opposed to just a room... BUT, as I've always done, I shall cope - and may even be able to go beyond that and begin ERP on my super-ingrained 'checking' OCDs. In preparation for this, I've been practicing checking my violin's in its case only once after a performance, and have invested in a yoga bible and mat in a bid to learn more about the art of relaxation.

This week I'd have liked to have begun work on another exposure, but have had some terrible migraines to contend with plus it's been a challenge keeping the OCDs I've already tackled under control. Happily - with only a couple of exceptions, I managed this, and my usual 'over-checking of important emails OCD' which flares up every time I'm about to step out of my comfort zone, hasn't been an issue.

Last night, however (as if to counteract this victory), an OCD I haven't suffered with for years reared its ugly head (the compulsion to check my body for signs of a life-threatening illness). Right now the compulsion to write down a reassurance to myself that there's nothing wrong with me is so strong. I'm trying to hold onto what my supporter and fellow OCD sufferer, David, said about how to contend with OCD trying to ruin everything, though: "Don't be beguiled; be a dancer, a martial artist. When it pushes, don't push back, just bend like a reed in the wind, reminding yourself that it's all just OCD lies... let it evaporate under its own steam."

Finally some more good news: I've been put on the waiting list for free 1:1 counselling with Nia; East London Rape Crisis, who are going to give me a call once a week starting on 19th June to see how I'm doing. 

Just so you know, I shan't be posting on this blog while I'm away in Paris but will be back after 9th June. Until then, take care, thanks for reading, and best wishes everyone!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

TIME OUT

The horizon at Southend, Essex: I'm feeling the need to step outside my tiny world and do something different and exciting in the face of uncertainty.

"Hold the vision. Trust the process." - Actress, media trainer and irrepressible dreamer, Barbara Niven 

It was my parents’ birthdays this week, which made me think about how painful, confusing and impossible my relationship with them feels like, and time is falling away with no peaceful resolution in sight.

I don’t want to exit this life with any serious regrets, and part of me wants to meet up in person with my mum after six years, because despite everything, I still care about her. I need support to do this, however, and today I filled in and returned the referral form to Nia; East London Rape Crisis for one-to-one counselling and access to their advocacy services: Finger crossed!

So far as doing ERP is concerned, I’ve had some days off before working on my next OCD: Right now I feel exhausted, directionless and passionless because I think I’m trying to do too many things (and not getting very far with any of them in career terms).

The most important thing at the end of the day, though, is that I’m so much better OCD-wise than I was at Christmas, and have been able to consistently keep under the radar the four OCDs I’ve done exposures on: I have to remind myself that there is nothing more important than one's health, and hopefully the hard work I'm doing now will enable me to experience a happier, more spontaneous future.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

REFINDING THE THREAD OF REASON

Gardening on my allotment allows me the space I need to relax and feel a sense of meaningful connection with the world.

With regards to my obsession that wherever I am in the house, I'm going to poison my beloved cat, Tigger, I managed to get my SUDS level down from five to one by not giving in to the compulsion to seek reassurance from my partner Jan / write down that I hadn’t poisoned him. I still feel anxious around the cat, but I’ll be happy if I can sustain this level of control I've gained over this particular obsession.

My ability to complete these exposures satisfactorily, however, varied inexplicably from day to day: Often during this week I felt tense, headachy and hypervigilant, and wasn’t able to do ERP. It was tempting to view this as failure, but instead, I showed myself some compassion, reached out for support from those I know understand, and determined to carry on with exposures either later on or the next day.

So long as I can constantly challenge my OCD, the more chance I have of being able to hold on to the ‘thread of reason’ that (as my friend and fellow OCD sufferer, Sarah, reminded me), is always there whenever this terrible ‘doubting disease’ gets a grip of my senses.

I phoned Nia; East London Rape Crisis, who emailed me information about their services plus an application form for free counselling to help me to talk about painful family issues, and to detangle unresolved traumas which make my OCD worse.

Doing this felt like a massive step in the right direction, but I soon began subconsciously engaging in self-sabotaging behaviour by making partial contact with people from my past I know should remain firmly there; in my past.

I also had nightmares which played on my most deep-seated insecurities about my body, so I’m waking up feeling more tired than I did when I went to bed!

On the wall in my office I have a list of affirmations I wrote down to myself when I first started work on my recovery from OCD, and re-reading them helped when I was really struggling.

Now it’s time, after a holiday (I wish)! to tackle the next OCD; probably one of my multiple ‘checking’ ones… 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

ENJOYING BEING AT HOME AGAIN

'Anything is possible and that's the problem. Or is it?': Khara Plicanic talking about her experiences of living with OCD and how she attempts to keep her symptoms at bay.

Even though PMT induced me to fall short of accomplishing a couple of exposures this week concerning my obsession that wherever I am in the house, I'm going to poison my beloved cat, Tigger, I was able to reduce my SUDS level from 48 to five by not pandering to the compulsion to seek reassurance from my partner Jan / write down that I hadn’t, in fact, caused him any damage – and I’m beginning to enjoy spending time with him again.

I challenged myself during some of these ERP sessions, to confront this fear head-on; to exercise in the room where Tigger’s food and water are for 20-minute bouts. The intrusive thoughts that flooded my mind afterwards of Tigger dying because I’d poisoned him, were dreadful, but I can now view such thoughts as simply being part and parcel of fighting OCD; the disorder’s pathetic attempt at keeping me a prisoner of my own mind.

Without the encouragement and empathy of Jan and members of Support 4 Everything OCD on Facebook, when certain images, for example, my fetching fly spray from the cupboard with Tigger in the next room, would ‘stick’ in my mind's eye and tempt me to avoid carrying on with exposures, I don’t think I’d have made the progress I have.

For the first time in a long while, I was able to refrain from noting down reassurances to myself that I hadn’t been contaminated when people accidentally bumped into me on busy London streets or on the Tube: As Khara puts it on the above TED talk, I was, in those moments, able to ‘widen my focus’ and know that the chances of someone deliberately sticking a contaminated needle in me while I'm walking along, are very remote indeed. I also continued to delete reassurances I’d written to myself over the years from my iPhone.

CARA; the Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse in Essex emailed me the contact details of Nia; East London Rape Crisis, who I’ll phone for help with the PTSD side of my diagnosis in preparation for tackling my most established OCD: the fear of being raped, attacked or contaminated by men.

Finally, do check out the ‘Pages’ tab on here which includes a link to the ‘OCD and Anxiety Treatment’ work offered by the widely-respected Dr Bradley C. Riemann, Ph. D. and the Rogers Memorial Hospital. Thanks to my friend, Patricia Ann Zabran for telling me about this!