Thursday, February 25, 2016

MY ANXIETY / EXPOSURE MASTER HIERARCHY

The Giant Storytelling Bed at the Southbank Centre, London, last week: Fighting OCD is zapping all my energy, so I just want to snuggle up in bed early and hide from the world.

My Anxiety / Exposure Master Hierarchy

1.         I avoid smear tests / the doctor / waiting rooms / hospitals: 100
2.         I am terrified of being alone anywhere with a man: 99
3.         I avoid and fear being alone with children in case I sexually molest them and don’t remember I’ve done it: 99
4.         I avoid staying with people in case they rape / attack / contaminate me and because my routine will be disrupted: 99
5.         I avoid taking medication when the cat’s around / feeding the cat alone, and fear making meals and drinks for loved ones in case I poison them: 99
6.         I avoid and fear using appliances like electric hobs before going to bed or leaving the house alone: 99
7.         I am scared of being in bed / home alone in case I get raped / attacked / contaminated: 99
8.         I fear checking / sorting my e-mails in case I delete one forever, meaning that I will have missed life-changing information: 98
9.         I avoid red spots and anything that resembles a needle on the pavement or on toilet seats, as well as sitting down in public spaces like on walls or grassy areas: 98
10.       I avoid bumping into people for fear that they will contaminate me: 97
11.       I avoid responsibility for locking the car or doors, and fear not putting my musical instruments in their cases properly and leaving them behind: 95
12.       I fear leaving the house in case I leave an appliance on or a door open causing the house to burn down / the death / disappearance of loved ones: 94
13.       I fear writing something offensive / incriminating in my correspondence with those I love / respect, or with work colleagues and thereby jeopardizing my future: 93
14.       I fear missing pages out when reading a book: 92  

As you can see, I've scored six of my fears and avoidance triggers a SUDS level of 99, which is reflective of how during my waking hours I feel permanently stressed and hypervigilant.

Some of the items on here I took out, for example, I avoid sitting near to people who are eating noisily, because I don't perform a compulsion, such as writing down a reassurance, to counteract the irritation / anxiety I experience in such circumstances: They are more like by-products of my OCD.

After three drafts, I managed to get my master hierarchy down to the required 10 to 15 specific situations that trigger different levels of fear and anxiety, whereas when I began this journey, I reckoned I had too many fears and triggers to contend with.

I've written to Survivors' Network, Brighton, requesting help with the PTSD side of my diagnosis to do with my abuse, and await their reply, plus members of the OCD support group I belong to on Facebook reassured me that it's normal for OCD to get worse before it gets better when tackling it with ERP.

The other day, however, I managed to refrain from checking page numbers as much while I was reading a magazine; the first of my fears I plan to challenge: I'm so ready to see the back of this damn disease!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

ADDRESSING THE POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS SIDE OF MY SYMPTOMS

Every tiny piece of litter I encounter on the pavement that looks vaguely needle-shaped feels as if it could fatally contaminate me, and I can't stop compulsively looking behind me to check I haven't trodden on such things, plus wherever I am in the house, I feel as if I'm poisoning my beloved cat.

Last Wednesday, I fell out with Nuna - who I considered to be my closest friend. I knew, deep-down, that she was the wrong kind of person for me to be drawn to, and I'm realizing I must focus now on rescuing myself rather than trying to rescue others, which has been one of the biggest defence mechanisms I have against confronting my problems. The whole episode has been extremely stressful and as a result, I've been experiencing a worsening of my OCD, to the point that it's become virtually impossible to differentiate between reality and what's a symptom of my illness. 

OCD is also something I've decided that I can live without, and so as I've said before, it's doing it's damndest to bully me back into submission.

Nevertheless, I've been typing up my Anxiety / Exposure Master Hierarchy, and in so doing have changed the order of some of my fears and avoidance triggers.

At the top of the list (with a SUDS level of 100), is a fear to do with my estranged mother having cancer that I've kept making efforts to address with her, but however I decide to handle the situation, I end up feeling bad, and I rarely talk about it to anyone.

There was one item on the list that triggers my OCD I've decided I can simply stop engaging in, because it's self-destructive anyway, and in gaining some objectivity about my fears after seeing the whole list of them in front of me, it's become obvious that I need to get support from the Post-Traumatic Stress part of my diagnosis - especially in relation to unresolved issues to do with the childhood sexual abuse I suffered and have kept buried for the sake of my career: It's this trauma that I'm subconsciously perpetuating in my relationships and which is fueling my need to control my environment (my OCD). Survivors' Network in Brighton (http://www.survivorsnetwork.org.uk/) are going to be my first port of call because they've helped me immeasurably in the past.  

I've also become aware of the danger of inflating or inventing OCDs, in compiling this hierarchy, which don't exist.

It's so exhausting living with this level of anxiety on top of trying to hold down my self-employment as a musician, and the little punishing voice (my father's) in my head saying "Your OCD / PTSD is just a symptom of life; DEAL WITH IT!" isn't helping: There are many tears that I need to shed - but when and where?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A CHINK OF HOPE AGAIN

How my Anxiety / Exposure Master Hierarchy looks right now: a confusing mess!

In compiling my Anxiety / Exposure Master Hierarchy using the Subjective Units of Distress Scale, or SUDS (designed to measure the amount of anxiety a person reports experiencing, with 100 equaling the most anxiety-provoking situation you've ever experienced and 0 equaling no anxiety at all), a number of surprising things have occurred: 

I've been able to cut down my list of fears because a number of them were of a similar nature and so can be treated as a single fear.

This fear, "I avoid parties / large gatherings of people that could spiral out of control - especially where alcohol is being consumed," I've decided has nothing to do with my OCD because it's more of a personality trait; I've hated parties ever since I was a little girl and don't enjoy socializing en mass.

Some of my other fears, for example, "I avoid leaving the house for fear that I'll leave household appliances on or doors open, which could cause a fire or my cat to get out / die," have moved up the hierarchy: I accidentally started a small fire in the kitchen recently, involving an electric hob and a new microwave that'd just been delivered (I'll leave you fill in the gaps)!

Unfortunately I've developed a new obsession: Avoiding using cash machines and the Internet to pay for items, because I'm still recovering from the trauma of having had hundreds of pounds mysteriously stolen from my bank account last year.

In total, my list of fears average a score of 95 on the SUDS scale at the moment.

This hierarchy is taking me ages to get to grips with due to my compulsion to check that I haven't skipped numbers, and I'm aware that worries to do with family conflict / my partner dying / the abuse I've suffered that I can't bring myself to think of and seldom talk about, fuel the symptoms of my OCD, and I need to address this.

The important thing is, though, that I'm tackling my illness - however slowly, and in so doing, over the past few days have been able to lift my eyes from the pavement when I'm walking down the road with lightweight trainers on; to reduce my compulsive checking around for potential contaminated needles that could end up jammed in the underside of my foot.

Finally, I'd like to recommend this excellent and informative 'OCD talk' blog: ocdtalk.wordpress.com
Check it out!

Friday, February 5, 2016

HOW IT FEELS TO BE ME OUTSIDE THE COMFORT OF HOME

Skinless in Shoreditch

Dusty air clogs my raw flesh,
stinging shocks dart to toe-tips.

Some Norfolk guy behind me
boasts he's on the register.

Lit half-cigarette drops from
a window onto my head

singes through skull deeper and
stops just short of my brain stem.

Over-enthusiastic
Greenpeace activists and a dog

splayed with its tackle on show.
A tainted needle stabs in

the underside of my foot.
Pigeon-chasing brats throw grit

at me trying to stand in
a strip of shade but I get moved

for blocking a pavement sign.
Man-on-electric bike bays

and a shopper bangs my shin
with a trolley and a crazed

beggar spits at me and a
kindly suit presses 10p

into my crimsoning hand.
Felix like fire calls me a

wild card who's got my colours.
Sun newspaper on a bench

to soak up the morning dew
sticks fast to my saggy rear

of dribbly, broken blisters.
Tina in white beret

with her demon-eyed daughter
cast me the other woman

and click their mouths over me
as my heart vomits through ribs

clothing all in long-held-in,
poisonous pain.

by Gemma Boyd

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

FEELING VERY OVERWHELMED!

For about six years, I compulsively wrote down reassurances to myself in an attempt to neutralize my obsessive fears, for example, that a lone man I'd encountered on the street hadn't raped, attacked or contaminated me, then stored them in the pink folder above. I still write down reassurances to myself - but on the 'note maker' facility on my iPhone.

Starting this blog up feels like a positive move, in that through committing to update it, I'm making myself focus on my recovery more, whereas last year I allowed myself to be easily distracted from the task in hand because it felt too painful to confront. It's also something tangible I can think about that gives me strength when I'm in the midst of angst-provoking situations: This morning, knowing that I'm fighting my OCD again rather than passively letting it claim more and more of my life, I was able to only check household appliances a couple of times before leaving the house (normally I have to check up to 20 times)!

I've made a start on preparing my Anxiety / Exposure Master Hierarchy (the first stage of engagement in ERP). Right now, it feels as if I have so many fears, obsessions, triggers and compulsions, that I don't know where to begin. My friend, Richelle Leah said to me recently, "I honestly think you can start anywhere and you'll end up in a better place." Here's hoping!