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!