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...