Tuesday, March 29, 2016

SEEING PAST A SEA OF BLOOD


I chose for my second ERP, ‘Walk down the street in trainers / shoes / boots without checking behind me for blood or contaminated needles, and don’t seek reassurance from my partner, Jan, or write down that I hadn’t been contaminated by anything on the pavement’. Before starting ERP my initial SUDS level was 90, and my goal, after ERP, is to get it down to 0.

The first time I did this ERP was a lot harder than I’d anticipated – but I did it (I walked down the street in walking boots without checking behind me for anything that could potentially contaminate me such as blood or needles, and managed not to ask Jan for / write down reassurance that nothing had contaminated me).

After I’d completed this 20 minute exposure, though, my brain fogged up and I felt very anxious and tearful. I’d just arrived at my allotment and made myself focus on the digging I’d planned to do. For about an hour, the anxiety remained, and I checked behind me once when I thought I’d seen a needle-type object in the grass.

I didn’t think I’d be able to do another ERP on the walk home, but after three hours, I’d calmed down sufficiently to be able to successfully complete another 20 minute exposure and got my SUDS level down from 90 to 87: All the way I felt so vulnerable (as if I didn’t have a skin), but kept thinking, “I am walking forwards. Keep doing it.”

On my arrival home, though, I began to feel extremely panicky and was hyperventilating: I couldn’t move or stop my mind from replaying what I’d spotted on the pavement during my walks (a red spot I’d seen became a sea of blood in my mind’s eye) and by now I was too exhausted to distract myself. Inwardly I kept shouting at the ‘OCD demons’ in my head to leave me alone, knowing that the blood symbolizes a lot of anger, which is what I need help with PTSD-wise.

It began to dawn on me, through my tears, how incarcerated I’ve been – and how incarcerated I’ve caused my partner, Jan, to be by this illness and how determined I am, after 10 years, to see the back of it.

I found it difficult to concentrate on my violin practise and to think positive thoughts, but with the invaluable support on some of the EverythingOCD community on Facebook, I was eventually able to trust that given time the anxiety and urge to seek reassurance that I hadn’t been contaminated would subside: One of the administrators of the EverythingOCD Facebook support group and fellow OCD fighter, Monique Gagne, shared with me this poem she’d written a few years ago. It helped me enormously:

Pain With A Purpose

“Don’t turn around. Keep on walking. You’re OK. Don’t turn around. Keep on walking. You’re OK.” These phrases cycled through my mind over and over again as I walked away from the subway platform. The surge of adrenaline spiking through my body caused such incredible shaking that I was sure others could see it as I passed by them. I knew I could not allow myself to look back. Every atom in my body wanted to look back. Just once. Just to check and see if I knocked someone off of the platform and onto the tracks below. I was beyond desperate to put an end to my uncertainty. Something inside whispered that I did not knock any poor unsuspecting soul over. That was my voice of reason, fleeting as it was. I would have heard screams, wouldn’t I have?

Everyone who’s been in an automobile accident has experienced an adrenaline rush. It’s a terrible feeling. Your stomach is in knots. Sometimes you break out into a cold sweat. Your body is ready to spring into action at any moment. You can get a sort of tunnel vision, where you only see what is directly in front of you. That was what this felt like. My body was screaming for me to glance back at the destruction that I must have surely left behind. However, I did not turn around. I willed my feet to move forward, though I could not really feel the motion of my legs. When I finally arrived at my waiting car, I had to sit until my breathing returned to normal and it was safe enough for me to drive away.

I don’t remember exactly when this incident occurred. It was a while after I’d been in CBT. By this point, I had learned that performing Exposure and Response Prevention can, over time, literally make visible changes to the brain. I compelled myself to keep walking because I was aware that with each painful step I made, I was re-wiring my circuitry. Experiencing that terrible anxiety was simply proof of the positive changes going on in my brain. Later, after some reflection, I was pleased that I had this strong physical reaction because of what it meant to my recovery.

At times, ERP will seem so incredibly painful. However, my psychologist reminded me more than once that I was already in terrible pain. With ERP, you twist that pain around and make it work for you, instead of against you. Eventually, the pain subsides, even during an ERP. Today, when I do exposures, the pain is never as bad, nor does it last as long as it previously did. Now, I even have times throughout my day when I am anxiety free.

You can walk away from the “subway platform” of your OCD too. One tiny step at a time. That is all it takes to get started. Don’t turn around. Keep on walking. You’re OK.

Throughout that night, the ‘sea of blood’ image continued to haunt me in my dreams, as did my parents who were unable to see the ‘needy child’ me, but by morning, the fragile ability I had to rationalize these 'walking' fears had returned.

Two days later, and armed with the realization that I was more able to do this exposure if I walked fast and with purpose than if I slowed my pace, I had got my SUDS level down another 47 points and was able to walk in lightweight trainers down a busy London street without compulsively seeking reassurance that nothing on the pavement had contaminated me. I even felt embarrassed that I’d been letting this irrational (to the point of laughable) fear rule me for the best part of a decade.

At present, my SUDS level, having continued to competently complete this exposure in both walking boots and trainers, is 15. I’m still struggling to cope with the anxiety I experience afterwards, however, when images of what I’d just spotted on the pavement, for example, a bunch of cigarette butts, replay and get exaggerated in my mind. My solution to this has been to distract myself with the TV and then have an early night.

I became aware that I was in danger of developing a new OCD: Asking Jan for reassurance that I hadn’t asked her for reassurance, and I know that I must stop myself from doing this.

One of my most severe OCDs has been to write down reassurances to myself that in checking emails, I haven’t deleted or deleted again, any important ones. Over the past few days as I’ve been checking emails, I’ve been asking myself what the worst case scenario would be if I did delete / lose an email – and the answer is, nothing catastrophic: I'm now more able to live with uncertainty for longer and longer periods of time.

The battle continues...

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

I CAN READ A BOOK WITHOUT CHECKING THE PAGE NUMBERS!

My completed 'Read a book without checking I've missed out pages' Daily Exposure Practice Monitoring Form

Survivors’ Network apologized for having given me conflicting advice about my eligibility (in terms of my location) to access counselling with them, and admitted that this wasn’t acceptable – especially given that I was in crisis when I contacted them. It turns out that I am eligible for counselling, but even though I accepted their apology I’ve lost faith in their services, and so will look for help with the PTSD side of my emotional problems elsewhere.

I tried to trust in the process of habituation while walking down the street; that if I resisted looking behind me to check I hadn’t trodden on any contaminated needles, my fear and anxiety about doing so would lessen. I also glimpsed how unreasonable this fear is: If I was to tread on a needle, I'd definitely remember I’d done so because it’d be lodged in my shoe, and the chances of it actually hitting the sole of my shoe at such an angle as to penetrate the rubber plus my foot, would be extremely low.

It’s unwanted intrusive thoughts (often a symptom of OCD) such as “I might have trodden on a needle that's contaminated with a deadly disease and therefore I’m going to die” that make being alive persistently terrifying. This hard-hitting website: Intrusive Thoughts explains the nature of intrusive thoughts and where to seek help.

Whenever I left my office to do something around the house, I felt compelled to write down that I hadn’t poisoned my cat. A few times I was able to wait for the urge to do this to pass / to distract myself with positive thoughts, then was able to realize that this was OCD, not me! Breathing through these feelings, helped, too, as had having worked physically hard on my allotment beforehand. The more tired I got, however, the more spaced out I felt and eventually I was unable to stop myself from seeking reassurance from my partner / writing down that I hadn’t poisoned Tigger (my cat).

This ‘spaced out’ feeling is for me, one of the most crippling aspects of my OCD because it prevents me from concentrating on everyday tasks / increases my tendency to doubt myself, which in turn leads me to compulsively seek reassurance in order to quell the fear that I could've put either myself or others in mortal danger.

anxietycentre.com use the term ‘brain fog’ to describe this spaced out feeling: Brain Fog, Foggy Head Anxiety Symptoms

I met the inspirational, encouraging and very approachable Ashley Curry on Twitter (@AshleyCurryOCD) who refers to himself as “a recovered OCD sufferer, free for 11 years.” He is the founder and host of askashocd.wordpress.com 

Personal stories of hope for a life not ruled by OCD from members of the EverythingOCD community helped imbue me with the determination to successfully complete my first ERP: ‘Read a book without checking I’ve missed out pages’. In 13 days I managed to get my SUDS level down from 92 to 0. I was over the moon and bought myself some new books as a reward. I still have problems focusing on text, but I NO LONGER CHECK PAGE NUMBERS WHEN READING A BOOK!

Those with OCD who have problems with reading, is more common than I thought, as Janet Singer talks about in her ocdtalk blog, OCD and Reading

I must now decide which OCD on my Anxiety / Exposure Hierarchy to tackle next, and look forward to doing so.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

TERROR AND PROGRESS

Out of the dirt emerge the daffodils!

Firstly, a gift; please click on the links below to explore two invaluable resources about dealing with OCD (thanks, Patricia Ann Zabran and Leanne Marie for bringing these to my attention):

'"Dear Loved One, I have OCD" - Tips for Individuals and Family Members about Disclosing your OCD' by Jon Hershfield, MFT


So that I might continue to trust that recovery from OCD is possible, it's become imperative I keep reading up on OCD.

I’ve been feeling rundown due to the enormous amount of nervous energy trying to recover from OCD is taking up, and tearful / terrified thinking that in confronting my OCD / PTSD, I’ve unleashed so many painful memories and emotions, that I won’t be able to cope. On the flip side, however, I have been able to muster the strength to get angry at my OCD; to shout at it to “Fuck off!” when something triggers its bullying ways.

In my permanently spaced out state, I haven’t been able to convince myself that I would never poison my cat and so have been highly anxious about being left alone in the house with him – but I have been managing these terrifying feelings by doing breathing exercises while my partner goes about her business as usual, mostly.

I made some progress in that I was able to reduce my SUDS level regarding my first exposure task – ‘Read a book without checking I’ve missed out pages’, from 40 to six, and during ERP, succeeded in not checking I’d missed out pages  – even when I was turning them in quick succession: My anxiety rose as I turned the pages and I felt spaced out, fearing that my lack of ability to concentrate would mean I’d miss important information – which I did a couple of times (but hey, no one died)!
Traumatic flashbacks and flash-forwards teemed my mind; I fixated slightly on page numbers and experienced memory lapses pertaining to text I’d just read, but managed to keep going despite distractions such as a kid on the tube kicking his legs in front of me while I was reading.

It became apparent that I shouldn’t attempt ERP when I’m tired, and I wondered if OCD has caused real damage to my short-term memory. As well as trying to tackle my OCD, though, I’ve been, in a professional sense, exploring other career options – so it’s no wonder my brain is overloaded!

Some mornings, I haven’t felt the need to reassure myself (by writing things down), that I hadn’t deleted any emails, but performed this compulsion anyway, because it’s what I’m used to doing, plus I’ve been ‘procrastinating’ – in other words, putting off (for a little while, at least), compulsively ritualizing in order to temporarily lessen my anxiety.

A small victory: I haven’t been checking page numbers  in general, or re-reading text as much.

Survivors’ Network, Brighton, (who support survivors of sexual abuse and violence) got in touch and apologized for not having been able to locate (even though I’d had confirmation to say they’d received it) my e-mail asking for help and advice with my emotional problems (to do with the sexual abuse and violence I suffered as a child). I was informed that even though I no longer live in Brighton, I’d be eligible for access to their counselling services, then a week later was told that in actual fact I’m not eligible due to my location. They didn’t acknowledge or apologize for my anger and dismay at having been messed around by them – again, and so in the end I told them to just forget it. This left me seething, but I knew that somehow I must suck it up and refocus on my goal of getting my mental health difficulties under control.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

THE DEPTHS OF HELL

'OCD Brain' by Gemma Boyd

Survivors' Network, Brighton, who I was counting on to be able to help me regarding my need to talk about the childhood sexual abuse and violence I suffered that I haven't yet fully come to terms with, never got back to me.

All the time I'm bottling up this unresolved trauma, my OCD isn't going to get significantly better: Often, I don't feel in control of my self-sabotaging behaviours, which is why I don't fully trust myself to protect myself from what I / my OCD perceives as being (fatally) harmful threats, for example, spots of blood-like substances on the pavement.

I felt let down, uncared about and ignored by this lack of response from Survivors' - as I have done on a number of occasions when I've reached out for help from family, teachers and health care professionals with my emotional problems. This is why, for years, I've chosen to prioritize my career over my health: I've been determined to have some sort of life aside from the awfulness that's constantly rolling around inside me.

Murderous feelings build up in me whenever somebody violates my personal space, betrays me or disappoints me, and because I don't talk about these feelings, I am terrified that I could actually act on them. My psychotherapist, Eva, from 10 years ago, once told me that so long as I'm aware of such feelings, they will remain - just feelings.

On a much more positive note, however, Leanne and the administrators at EverythingOCD on Facebook, together with fellow OCD sufferers have offered me much appreciated affirmation that I can break free (even if not completely) from OCD so long as I continue to apply myself as determinedly as I have been doing.

Yesterday was the worst I've ever felt: Wherever I was in the house, I feared I'd somehow poison my cat and not remember I'd done it. I constantly had to write down reassurances to myself and call my partner, Jan, for reassurance that I hadn't done this. At one point I was literally rooted to the sofa with fear and honestly believed that I was no longer capable of being in the house alone without a carer -and even found myself contemplating suicide.

By complete contrast, though, earlier on in the day, I'd successfully completed my first official ERP (to read a book without checking I've missed out pages): Having practiced ERP on this exposure before, I'd already cut my original SUDS rating (92) by over half, which I was surprised about, and I managed not to compulsively check any page numbers. By the end of this 30 minute exposure, my SUDS level had reduced from 40 to 20; quite an achievement!

It's been so hard to locate and use the part of my brain that can still rationalize, but in reading more about OCD and the process of habituation, I've been able, sporadically, to separate out myself as a person from OCD and ask myself why, for example, if I don't worry that I'll poison our garden birds when I feed them, do I worry that I'll poison my cat? 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

KEEPING THE FAITH

'I Have OCD. This Is What It's Like To Be In My Mind For 3 Minutes' by Torre Catalano

My OCD is off the scale, still, and so I'm regularly going to bed early to rest my body and mind as much as possible: I'm craving 'psychological' space out from people because my brain is so rammed with obsessions, compulsions and healing from them, that I can't cope with much else. Through his use of voices, Catalano expresses this inner wrestling really accurately in his video above.

I wondered if I'm strong enough to do ERP therapy alone, but then I read Janet's 'The Truth About ERP Therapy' ocdtalk blog: https://ocdtalk.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/the-truth-about-erp-therapy/, which gave me the confidence to think that if I apply myself, I should be able to give it a decent go.

In the knowledge that I shall be taking on my OCDs one at a time, I'm not beating myself up for giving in to the more severe ones at the moment - so long as I can still function enough to do my work as a musician and writer.

I felt panicky reading the section of The OCD Workbook entitled 'Carry Out the Exposure, Allowing Your Discomfort to Rise', and had to have a breather while focusing on my potential 'Exposure Pitfalls'; namely that I could be tempted to perform private rituals such as counting / self-harm to neutralize anxiety; I might want to ask my partner, Jan, for reassurance that bad things haven't happened, and that I could become too perfectionist about the process as a whole. In order to get maximum benefit from exposures, therefore, I decided to start off with my least fear-provoking OCD (over-checking page numbers), and to gradually try to reduce the amount of times I seek reassurance from Jan.

When I was alone at home all day on Monday, I was scared I'd poison the cat: I had fresh in my memory, though, what I'd read the previous day about the process of habituation; the nervous system's natural response to prolonged stimuli, explained excellently in this article: http://beyondocd.org/expert-perspectives/articles/what-does-habituation-mean. For a little while, at least, I was able to refrain from writing down reassurances to myself (that I hadn't poisoned the cat), as well as from seeking reassurance from Jan that I hadn't poisoned him.

Only a few weeks ago, my OCD was nowhere near this severe, but I'm trying to trust that these symptoms are all part and parcel of having set myself on the road to recovery - and that I'm not going completely crazy.