OCD Recovery – Staying Strong

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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


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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


 

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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


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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


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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.

Dealing With My Internalised Stigma


 

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Stigma. As if having mental health problems wasn’t enough to have to deal with. However, I’m not just talking about other people’s stigmatising views but, sadly, my own.

Intrusive Thoughts

I’ve had a very up and down couple of days. Yesterday I felt quite happy and was waxing lyrical about my fruit-picking activities, and almost feeling “normal” again; come today, tiredness and lethargy punctuated by several crying fits.  I’ve been plagued by many intrusive thoughts.

One of those thoughts was guilt for being ill when there are others around me who are far more unwell. That I shouldn’t be ill because I have a job. That my illnesses were that severe really  – that I should just be able to cope and “get on with it”.

The CBT Workshop

Then I remembered, with some embarrassment, the meltdown I had at last Saturday’s CBT workshop.

I was already irritable and self-conscious that day, as my dermatillomania was particularly bad and the result was a dozen large weeping scars on my face. I didn’t want to be in an environment where I could be seen by lots of other people.

Not that I would have relished it even if my skin was relatively clear.

I always find the prospect of meeting new people inherently scary partly due to my immense talent for causing offence (none ever intended). However, I was determined to go anyway as my therapist had been very kind and good to me – I didn’t want to let her down by not going when I said I would go.

I turned up after getting a taxi to this odd concrete building in the middle of a large industrial estate.

I wasn’t late but most people had arrived some time before me and when I got into the room where the workshop was taking place, I found that the only seat available was in the very middle of about six rows of closely packed chairs. I felt hemmed in, scared. I had not prepared myself for how closely I was going to have to sit near strangers.

  • Could they smell the fact that I had barely washed?
  • Could they see the sticky barely healing wounds on my face?
  • What were they thinking?
  • Why were they here? I could see several rows of nicely groomed people with brushed hair, polished shoes and no marks on their faces. Why are they here?

I was shaking like a leaf. What finally triggered me was when a late-comer had to take a chair from outside and had to ease his way through the clump of chairs (and workshop participants). He accidentally brushed past me and sat closely behind me.

The Melt-down

I freaked out and ran out of the room crying and shaking. I sat down on the carpet outside in the corridor, knees together, back against the wall. I cried and rocked.

One of the facilitators ran out after me. After a few minutes I noticed that she had started talking to me.

I can’t remember exactly what she said; I can remember most of what I said.

“What are they doing here? I’m a bona-fide mental” I screamed, then cried some more. “What are they doing here? – they are all nice and tidy – they are normal!”.

“Look at me! Look at me!”

It was true –  I looked a mess. I had taken the trouble of wearing a brand-new sweater for the day but my jeans I had worn for the entire previous fortnight and slept in them. It had couple of stains from some barbecue sauce that I had spilt. I wore my battered Converse trainers, shrivelled up from my ill-advised attempt to put them in the washing machine.

My hair was greasy from not having been washed for weeks. It had a slight halo of frizz from having walked through some drizzle earlier. I was deodorant and make-up free.

In my meltdown my brain decided that appearance was a universally reliable diagnostic tool for mental health.

Tears and prejudice

Indeed my appearance is not my “normal” baseline and is indeed caused by the lethargy and decrease in self-esteem that I am experiencing with depression. However having previously talked with my therapist I consider the possibility that I have in fact been unwell for quite some time before my actual breakdown.

The OCD thoughts had been sapping at me, I started having crying spells, anxiety and intermittent insomnia. I did used to make an effort – nice hair, nails and elegant dresses – but OCD was such that it compelled me to spend hours so that I could look that way. I was burning the candles both ends. Beneath the professional exterior lay a mind in turmoil.

Yet I judged other people for looking “tidy”.

Some time later when I had calmed down I ventured in. The nice facilitator lady had got me a chair next to a side table and away from the main group.

I started listening.

Amongst the presentation of the material people shared their stories of how anxiety and panic attacks had prevented them from driving, going to the supermarket and a whole load of other common scenarios.

The fact that they looked presentable did not make their distress any less real. I suddenly felt ashamed at myself.

Challenging Stigma

One of the disturbing things I have encountered over the last couple of weeks is the realisation of how much of society’s stigma and stereotyping of mental illness I had internalised.

I realised that if I was to make progress in my recovery, I would have to ensure that I am more conscious of these thoughts. I need to challenge them and not use them on myself as a tool of oppression.

Mental Health on the Internet 24/8/2014 – Love Your Body Edition

Blog of the Week

If I could have half this woman’s body confidence I would weep for joy! Please check out Jes Baker’s blog promoting body acceptance. In particular I love the blog stating the best things she has learnt whilst being twenty-seven.

Learning to accept my scars and believing that I am worthy of love are definitely things I wish to learn.

Links I Love

  • Are you conscious of having stretch marks? This is a lovely article on body acceptance – I think women (particularly as mothers) have so much pressure on them already – its refreshing to see something like this emphasising the positives.
  • Here’s an article doing a take-down on skinny shaming. I can’t believe that there is a site dedicated to mocking thin women with a hearty appetite!
  • Body dysmorphia and pressures to achieve a body “ideal” don’t just affect women. James Fell writes a thoughtful article exploring the increasing pressures on men and what the leading film stars really have to do to get those six pack abs.

Video of the Week

Via Huffington Post – Watch Jes Baker ‘s talk about how we should change our world rather than our bodies.

As someone who has put my life on hold due to the distress I feel over my appearance this really resonates with me.

Why wait?

Love ourselves now. Love ourselves even if we a re always shy of perfection (in other words – do it!)

POEM: Love – No Substitute


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TRIGGER WARNING: This poem describes, with frankness, my current experiences with disordered eating and therefore may be triggering for some vulnerable readers. Please proceed with care only if you are comfortable with the subject matter.

There is no substitute for love in that overflowing basket

Filled to the brim with boxes of cakes and ice cream tubs.

No amount of chocolate can ever take away or numb

Those feelings of emptiness, grief and loneliness that I suffer

No amount of doughnuts can quieten the noise and turmoil in my head

The almond croissants and cherry pies make a poor buffer

Against thoughts of worthlessness and the injustice that I fear

Could never be put right – a debt left unpaid

No substitute for love in that apple custard bun, filled to the brim

With fatty highs but no comfort when I lay awake at night

Welling with anxiety and the terror of existence

I stuff and stuff the food down inside in a vain attempt to fill

The void within,  the hunger remains insatiable

I mistake the physical realm for the kingdom of the heart

No food can wrap its arms round me and tell me that things will be alright

The brief moment of fullness is not the same as a kiss

A cuddle, the holding of hands, or a wishing me goodnight

A treacle pudding lasts just hours where the trace of an embrace

Imprints on the memory of my flesh and lasts a lifetime.

Food is no substitute for love.

POEM: The Only Thing Is Now

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The only thing that I have is now,

The soft breathing, the rise and fall of my chest

Ribs expanding then contracting,

The sensation of air taken in,

And pushed back out through my nostrils.

The pulsating in my chest that is my heartbeat

Sending life-giving oxygen around my body

Travelling neatly in spurts of red blood cells

My unquiet mind, ragged and insistent at times

Wells with thoughts, blocks of meanings, images

Noise, rousing my emotions,

They come and go as they please

But change, there’s always change, nothing stays still

Now is not infinity.