Mental Health on the Internet 14/9/2014

Blog of the Week

Thoughtcatalogue is not an ED (Eating Disorders) blog or even a mental health blog as such but an interesting hotch-potch of articles submitted by all sorts of bloggers. However I have found it to be a good source of writing on ED.

Given some of the issues I’ve been having with food over the last few weeks the following article was a timely reminder to me that my issues with food are mostly issues with my emotions:

http://thoughtcatalog.com/ella-ceron/2013/12/17-reasons-why-food-is-not-the-enemy/

Links I Love

  • Kristina Wong shares her mission to fight stigma in the Asian community about depression in the following article.
  • Jenna Lahori bravely shares her experience about binge eating in the following video which also explores why disordered eating is under-reported in the black community. I felt sad for Jenna that she was unable to access treatment due to cost.
  • The way depression has affected me means it is hard for me to think that there are any positives to having that condition. The following article asks if depression has any positives and comes up with some intriguing theories.

Video of the Week

I’m a sucker for these types of educational videos. An interesting way to get across the latest in scientific research on depression:

Body Dysmorphia – A Moment of Clarity


Photo credit: ❤ ResinMuse ❤ / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains frank discussion of negative body imagery and thoughts about weight – as such it may be triggering for anyone struggling with body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Please proceed with care only if you are comfortable with the subject matter.

One thing that is really striking about body dysmorphia is quite how distorted your thinking can become. As someone who likes to pride myself on logic and rationality it is particularly puzzling to me why part of my brain wants to resist these things as much as possible.

The OCD means that I am unable to assess and be comfortable with reasonable probabilities in certain situations. Body dysmorphia means that I almost always see something completely different in the mirror than what is reflected back at me.

I was struck by this the other day.

My ex-partner stopped by to drop off some of my old photo albums that he had found at his house. I didn’t really want to accept them as there had photos reminding of times when we were together and happy. However I didn’t feel I could throw them away either.

Against my better judgement I started looking through them. The tears flowed liberally.

The Mirror Lies

I was struck by one photo, taken one summer at a friend’s wedding. My face I will probably always detest as an abomination but I suddenly thought about just how thin I was.

I have a proportionally large head and big thick hair (now thinning slightly due to stress) so this made the slightness of my frame look more apparent.

I was slightly heavier on the scale than I am now (despite the fact that I have slightly more muscle mass these days having taken up weight-training) but I looked frail and my legs looked so spindly it looked like they would snap from the weight of having such a large head.

You see I’ve been having a lot of negative thoughts about my body. Worries that my stomach is fat, back fat, thigh fat, fat fat fat. In the mirror, I see myself as being short and squat.  Seems to be very far from the truth.

The photo showed me that if anything I could do with putting on a few pounds, even if that’s slightly more  in body fat. Of course this does not justify my bingeing on extremely unhealthy foods (there are healthier ways to add weight).

It is also not true that I am short.

A Moment of Mindfulness

I went out to catch a train for the first time in ages at the weekend. When I got off at my destination, I had become unaccustomed to my senses being assaulted by walking by walking through a major city station.

I noticed details.

Highlights in people’s hair, the condition of their shoes. I also noticed despite me being in one inch healed ankle boots, that I was at least half a head taller than the majority of the female travellers who were wearing shoes of various heel heights.

That shouldn’t be surprising as I stand at just under five foot seven. Not astoundingly tall but probably just about tall enough to be considered so in this country.

But my dysmorphic brain sees fat. Short and fat.

The Need for Body Acceptance

What I really want to happen is not only for me to start having more of these moments where I see things as they really are (I don’t know how I would do that but if there is a way I will try it), but also for my rational, compassionate brain’s attitude to my body and other people’s bodies to stick.

If I can truly believe and not doubt my belief in the power of body acceptance I will be able to release much of the binds of my condition.

It is not right to judge anybody on the size and shape of their body. This whole business of using someone’s weight and fat percentage to determine someone’s moral worth. It disgusts me.

It’s often done under the banner of “health”. Yes, probabilities have it that someone who is five foot and thirty stone will likely have some health problems caused by being that size, but still this ignores the fact that health has multiple factors and that size is but one of many metrics we can use to assess health.

The biggest metric for me is being able to experience happiness.

My OCD Challenge and Blogging Hiatus


Photo credit: autumn_bliss / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

As regular readers may know, I have been struggling very hard with anxiety and depression. The past two weeks have been particularly bad.

It has been very hard to do my regular blog posts, as my moods have been up and down like a yo-yo. I’ve gone from feeling monstrously tired (as in barely keep my eyes open) to manically agitated, sometimes in the space of just a few hours. This is something I am not used to and I have found it very hard to concentrate.

What happened?

Fortunately, I know why I have been feeling the way I have. I am certain that this is down to my efforts to give up my OCD.

At my last session my therapist discussed what kind of time-scales would be reasonable for my full recovery (I think we are looking at around six to twelve months taking into considerations about possible Asperger’s diagnosis).

We had already established that anxiety and OCD were my primary diagnoses – it was her firm belief that the depression would lift as a result of treating these two problems. Strictly speaking I’m probably getting more one to one help than would normally be available but it is her belief that if I am not treated correctly now I may be in danger of developing a full-blow eating disorder (this I’ll explain fully in the next couple of posts).

That frightens me. But in a good way.

I need to stop this now, before it gets any worse.

The OCD Challenge

I was given two exercises to complete (minimum) which we will use as discussion points in therapy. These exercises are called The Vicious Flower and The Virtuous Flower and I will post on these separately later this week.

I was also asked to specifically challenge one of my beliefs about OCD.

“I can’t control my compulsions!”

Can’t I. Or is it just that I find it really hard?

Question: How would I challenge that?

Answer: By proving that I can control my compulsions.

I am generally wedded to my routines – The first thing I normally do in the morning after I get out of bed is scan.

Scan and Check.

It involves me looking in the mirror and running my fingers over my face foraging for imperfections and signs of infection. On a really bad day I can get stuck for hours.

I could disrupt my routine by forcing myself to start it later – this would involve delaying the initial fingertip scan and looking at a mirror. As I work from home right now, I could wait until midday to do my checks.

So that was that.

My challenge for the week, postpone the checks.

Okay, I know it doesn’t sound that great as I am still scanning, checking and doing as much damage to my skin as before but this is to prove a point.

Being able to delay checking is still a sign of having some control and it was very important to me that I was able to complete the task.

I was tempted on some days just to sleep in and wake up after midday but that would feel like cheating so I woke at my normal time and just endured.

It was horrible.

Endurance and Success

I had extended crying spells. I punched pillows. Felt lousy. Had those horrendous mood swings.  My anxiety was still above the baseline after my first check and scan ritual of the day – a build up of stress hormones from having to wait so long.

What kept me going was the massive support I got from my friends on social media and my blog readers.

I have succeeded and done my challenge for the week. I won’t be doing a new challenge yet for a couple of weeks until I see my therapist again.

I have a sneaky suspicion that the next challenge might involve “exposure”. Meaning I will probably have to do something like touch an imperfect area and then delay picking. I am not looking forward to this either but it must be done. I must endure it to move forward for I want to be well more than anything in the entire world.

NOTE: To anyone who doesn’t have OCD – it cannot be underestimated quite how scary having OCD is. I believe its likely that even after I have recovered my brain will still want to send me more scary thoughts than the “average” person. I don’t think I will be able to control that but hopefully I will have control over the compulsions part.

While I believe that the common statement “a little bit OCD” is misleading (it is normally said by someone who thinks they have perfectionist Type A tendencies and who doesn’t get distressed by obsessions or compulsions), OCD is said to be a spectrum disorder and hence the level of distress, intensity of the obsessions and compulsions will vary from person to person. Having seen some good documentaries on OCD I think I come out at the mild to moderate end (with a bit of ebb and flow within those ranges).

The point I’m trying to make is that if I make a recovery, I don’t want my account to be used to guilt someone who isn’t making or can’t make progress with OCD recovery. I also expect that relapse could be part of the picture (although I am aiming for the maximum outcome). We are all different though we share a common diagnosis. The most important thing is compassion for ourselves and for others.

As I’m not any kind of medical professional, don’t just take my word for it – please seek out a qualified professional if you have any specific concerns about your symptoms or that of a friend or loved one.

Mental Health on the Internet 7/9/2014

Blog of the Week

http://blackdogrunner.wordpress.com/

This is one of my favourite mental health blogs written with so much compassion and insight. My favourite post has to be his on depression and masculinity which deals with gender stereotyping in mental health.

He has earlier today completed the Great North Run to raise monies for Mind (mental health charity) dressed as a black dog (a symbol of depression). If you can, please consider making a donation at his Virgin Money Giving page.

Links I Love

  • Blackdogtribe.com was set up by Ruby Wax who has experience of depression and is not afraid to be vocal about issues around mental health. The site is not only a useful resource but also has blog submissions from Ruby and other site members. The following blog post caught my eye and deals with the stereotyping of creative genius and mental health – specifically talent for comedy. Even “positive” stereotypes can be harmful
  • An interesting post in The Telegraph covering children’s mental health (the topic of which is not discussed enough in my opinion). There is a five point plan a headteacher recommends – good things to consider, it but I wonder whether it would work in practice.
  • Personally I’ve found social media to be very beneficial to my mental health (although I draw the line at Facebook as I find it far too intrusive) – but it isn’t always the case for people. The following article discusses some tips on maintaining mental health while using social media. I would also add to that list to be aware of privacy settings, how to use them and how to block people who are unhelpful for your wellbeing.

Video of the Week

I’m a fan of dance but I haven’t always appreciated modern styles. I came across this powerful portrayal of the drama of mental health on YouTube. It builds slowly at first into a frenetic and inspired performance. Check it out:

OCD Recovery – Staying Strong

IMG_0979.JPG

I am still riding through the storm of anxiety set off by my attempt to disrupt my a OCD rituals.

Today I experienced a further challenge when I broke out in an itchy rash all over my body. It is something I am familiar with as a symptom of extreme anxiety – or at least that is what my rational brain has told me.

OCD has other ideas. OCD has seen the reports on Ebola and thinks about other infectious diseases. It is almost unbearable that I suffer this on top of the awful greasy bumpy skin that frightens me on a daily basis.

The urge to have a peek at the medical websites for symptoms and get reassurance nearly overwhelms me.

But no. I must stay strong. No website checking for me. Moreover no scanning of my skin until after midday now.

The anxiety will pass I keep telling myself.

OCD lies. It tells me that anxiety is forever. Lies. The truth says it will end soon. I must keep faith in myself and the OCD survivors who have come out the other side.

I thank everyone who has sent me messages of support – it means everything to me.

I hope I will soon be one of those people providing a light through the darkness.

R x

POEM: The Eye of The Storm


Photo credit: Tobias Lindman / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

So I open the door

I run outside

They told me not to

Better stay in and hide

There’s a mighty storm coming

They told me

I push that fear to one side

I face the oncoming tide

The wind howls violently

Batters right through me

You’ll never make it

They told me

You’re too weak for that journey

I stand fast, though it hurts me

Gaze into darkness

It glares back at me

You’ll never make it through

They told me

But I’m in the thick of it

The eye of the storm

Laughing, scorning hardship

That’s not your way

They told me

But here I am on a wing

And a prayer

Daring Hell to give its best shot

That’s just “not you”

They told me

I swagger boldly

When the chaos subsides

Dusk arrives – it’s gone quiet

“I am the storm queen”

I told them

I faced insanity

And I won.

Overcoming OCD – Learning How to Embrace Fear


 

Photo credit: Florin Gorgan / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

TRIGGER WARNING: This post has specific and graphic details of my skin-picking rituals which may be triggering for people with self-harm or dermatillomania issues. Please proceed with care only if you are comfortable with this.

Dear readers, I apologise for the relative lack of blog posts in the last few days.

I had been logging in to do my posts every evening (as I have been doing for the last three months) but sadly I’ve ended up typing rambling nonsense which has led to abandoned posts.

The reason for this is a sudden spike in anxiety levels caused by my attempts to disrupt my OCD rituals. (I have a couple of OCDs – one about driving and the other about the skin on my face.)

My skin-picking ritual

The face skin ritual consists of negative thoughts about my skin. Obsessions about the texture and skin purity.

I cannot tolerate grease, bumps, blackheads – all of them have to be removed.

Even worse are those hard painful lumps you can get beneath the skin. For me it is a sign of infection and impurity. I have to prise the skin open to get it all out. I expect to see heavy quantities of pus and a “flattening out”. My OCD logic tells me that once it has been exposed I can disinfect the area and then it is “purified”.

You’d think that would be the end of it but no. No no. The scab must heal symmetrically and flat. It gets picked and re-picked again until it is “just right”.

Sometimes it is not “just right”. Then I worry some more and I browse medical websites to check symptoms of rare infectious skin diseases.

I check and monitor every hour every day making a mental note of where all the bumps are, and do my picking rituals two or three times a day. It has gotten far worse in recent months to the extent that I now wash my face several times a day to get rid of the disgusting grease. I scour at it and use harsh disinfectants.

Rose fights back

I told my therapist everything - we went over it in painstaking detail. Awareness is important.

  • Firstly,  the medical sites were deleted from my browser Favourites and History. Okay I could still search for them again if I wanted to but this step made it less automatic and therefore less easy for me to complete the ritual.
  • From yesterday I started delaying the time of my first check. I am not allowed to check until after midday. No hands on face or mirror scanning.

What was the result?

Utter chaos!

Anxiety sucks

I have never ever remembered experiencing anxiety that was this bad. So bad that in some ways it almost mimics the manic “highs” that some of my bipolar friends tell me about:

Some of the things I am experiencing:

  • Racing heartbeat – my resting heart rate has gone up to just over 100 beats per minute at times (normal is said to be between 60-100 BPM – my normal baseline is around 50 but that’s thanks to having had a very fit active lifestyle previous to the depression).
  • Extreme irritability – I’m a bit of a sensitive to certain noises and sensations anyway but this has been magnified ten-fold.
  • Tics – bouncing legs, flickering eyelids. I’ve never had this happen before!
  • Insomnia – as in not actually sleeping (or having any notion of having slept for any brief period).
  • Racing thoughts – my baseline is very active mind (that’s OCD for you)but it hasn’t usually got to the level where I am no longer able to concentrate on even mundane things like watching TV.
  • Sudden surges of energy – this might seem like a blessing given that I have been complaining about depression fatigue but its not. I don’t feel in control. The result has been a cleaner flat, but I am finding it extremely difficult concentrate on anything which doesn’t involve significant energy expenditure.
  • Sugar cravings – in particular cravings for chocolate and cola drinks. Okay I have a sweet tooth any way but not to the extent where I feel compelled to have sugar.

All in all very frightening.

I am told that anxiety drops after a time. This is a key thought to cling on to when overcoming anxiety conditions. Anxiety reduces of its own accord over time and with repeated exposure.

Looks like I will just have to sit this one out.

I will wait for the levels to drop a bit more before pushing back the time for picking rituals any further. For now I will keep going, keep up the suffering and remember how much I endured when I once ran a marathon.

I cannot wait to cross that finish line!

Mental Health on the Internet 30/8/2014 – OCD Edition

I thought I’d do a collection of helpful posts I have found on OCD, specifically as OCD is so poorly understood.

There’s been quite a lot of disappointing jokes I’ve seen blighting the twitter-sphere over what is a serious and debilitating condition.

Two myths:

1) The only type of OCDs are those concerned with germs (contamination) and symmetry. Yes, these are common variants of OCD, but at OCD’s core is an irrational fear which is followed by a compulsive ritual to ward off this fear and reduce anxiety. The irrational fears are not limited to germs and symmetry. Some of us with OCD are quite unconcerned with germs and symmetry.

2) OCD is a harmless eccentricity. This belief is very common. Also wrong. The obsessive thoughts cause a great deal of distress which gets allayed by unhelpful rituals. I have read some articles which suggest that people with perfectionist tendencies might be at greater risk of conditions such as OCD but assuming that is true it does not mean that perfectionism and OCD are the same thing.

However even people who are well-meaning and who do a lot of good for mental health awareness get this wrong.

From personal trainers who confuse orthorexic tendencies in their clients with OCD to well-known celebrities like Stephen Fry making ill-thought quips, ignorance persists.

Blog of the Week

http://ellensocdblog.wordpress.com/

If you are an OCD sufferer pop over to this blog and prepare to be delighted at some of the uplifting tips on this site. Ellen is a fantastic advocate for OCD and amazingly wise words from someone who is only 15.

Links I Love

  • Back to an earlier point that OCD can be about things other than contamination and symmetry – have a read of this blog explaining “Hit and Run” OCD
  • I was hoping to get back to one of my loves which is watching movies – apparently there are quite a few now which purportedly feature characters with OCD so I am keen to add those to my LoveFilm list and review them at some point. This interesting blog points me in the direction of one such contender.
  • Useful words on how to overcome OCD – sounds like hard work, but hopefully worth it!

Video of the Week

If you know anyone who isn’t convinced that OCD is a serious condition, please refer them to the following link:

https://www.nfb.ca/film/ocd_war_inside

Incredibly moving and well-produced film featuring the stories of OCD sufferers. For those who wish to watch please note that there is some strong content featuring discussion of suicide, so please be careful if that could be a trigger for you.

POEM: A Single Shade of Grey


Photo credit: shattered.art66 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

It only comes

In a single shade of grey

Not fifty for me, not even forty

For my life is not that naughty

But lacking somewhat in energy and spice

Excitement and novelty

A little flavour in my rice

Instead my brain entertains

Visions that exhaust me

Monotony and survival

In a single shade of grey

A Recovery Wish


Photo credit: Hybie / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

During my relapse there have been times, sometimes only a matter of hours, where I feel somewhere like my old self again. A ray of optimism appears from nowhere and I am suddenly able to focus my mind and enjoy what I am doing for a time.

During one such moment at the weekend, I ordered a beautiful (if somewhat expensive) dress at the weekend in preparation for the time that I would start going to the theatre and social events again and maybe even think about dating.

I would never wear that dress right now.

I am bloated again from several weeks of binge-eating, my face is a bloodied mess from my skin-picking antics and I feel too tired most days to even take a shower never-mind style my hair.

But the dress is important. It is an invitation to better times ahead.

I shut my eyes and imagine me in it.

Forties-style glamour in black and white hounds-tooth print. The weight of the soft ponte fabric hugging my curves as I sashay up and down.  Its the kind of dress which requires glamour, poise, self-confidence, high heels and the deft application of red lipstick.

I breathe in trying to imagine the perfume that I’d be wearing. Something earthy like sandalwood with a little bit of vanilla. My hair would be clean and shimmering with health. It feels soft and glossy as I run my hands through it.

I feel the pressing of palms with an unknown lover…

I feel alive, I feel me again – the dress embodies so much of the life I want to take back. I shed tears when I re-awaken back in my disordered reality.