Monday, July 25, 2016
The second episode of my 'OCD' vlog, which includes a tour of my allotment!
Above is a video about how I've got on this week with actively doing exposures (ERP) on some of my ‘checking’ OCDs.
In addition to this, 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
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
My first (awkward) attempt at making a video for this blog - but it does contain some good news!
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
'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…