Starting Afresh

8627472057_e3b2d292fc_qPhoto credit: marco monetti / Foter / CC BY-ND

It has been a few weeks since I last did a regular blog post – unfortunately my condition has been such that I had been unable to complete any blog posts.

I spent the last few weeks in an unhappy mixture of extreme agitation and depression. My thoughts were extremely muddled and I suddenly found that my confidence in my blogging voice had failed me.

It just so happened, for no particular reason I can discern, a few rays on sunlight have made their way in through the gloom and despite a patch of disturbed sleep I am starting to feel more positive again.

I’d like to start the blog challenges up again – I may well pick a few of these old habits up again over the coming days. For now I am being cautiously optimistic before making any firm commitments and am content to just dip my toe back in the water of daily blogging.

Looking forward once again to sharing my journey

R x

Mental Health on the Internet 5/10/2014 – BFRB Edition

For those of you who do not know BFRB stands for “Body Focussed Repetitive Behaviours” it is “an umbrella term for any chronic behavior that causes a person to consistently cause physical damage to oneself unintentionally through a compulsive act in order to relieve anxiety.” (http://www.skinpickingsupport.com)

BFRB includes:

  • Hair-pulling (Trichotillomania)
  • Skin-picking (Dermatillomania
  • Nail-biting and picking at the skin around the nails

There are also other behaviours included in this as well which are said to share a similar characteristics.

BFRB Awareness Week is on October 1-7 – Find out more about it here

I thought I’d post a few helpful sites, blogs, videos and news articles on this. There is isn’t enough out there in terms of quality information on these conditions – lets hope this is changing for the better.

Blog of the Week

I’ve found Tumblr to be a rich source of quality blogging on BFRB but one of them that I find myself going back to time and time again is this one:

http://diaryofaskinpicker.tumblr.com/

I love how the author takes the time to write beautiful sensitive replies to the many people contacting him for advice. There’s also art and personal reflections on the impact of the illness.

Links I Love

  • The Trichotillomania Learning Centre is an excellent resource not just for people who hair-pull but also has excellent advice on skin-picking as well. I also found their booklet providing evidence-based guidelines (as in scientific evidence) on the treatment of BFRBs here (first PDF). It may be useful to have with you if you are dealing with therapists or GPs who have limited knowledge of the condition.
  • Check out Beckie0’s blog – honest and raw account of her experiences with hair-pulling. I recommend her YouTube channel as well.
  • Dr Grossbart has written the following article on skin-picking. You can also read his book “Skin Deep” for free via his website covering the mind-body connection and skin health. I haven’t read it all yet, although just to warn you in case you are inclined to obsessions or compulsions around medical disorders, there are some chapters that look potentially triggering from that point of view. It looks to be a worthwhile read so far.

Video of the Week

I went to see Black Swan in part due to my love of ballet but also in appreciation of Natalie Portman as an actress. I didn’t expect to see a frightening and complex drama being played out on the big screen.

Moreover, I didn’t expect the file to resonate with me psychologically in the way it did, reflecting back at me my own troubled relationship with my mother and some of the psychological issues that I suffer.

One of the recurring themes in the film was the main character’s compulsive skin-picking. Angela Hartlin does an excellent commentary on her site via the following video. I urge caution before watching it as many of the scenes highlighted are not for the faint of heart and could potentially be triggering. It is a very insightful analysis and I plan to write my own blog post on this at some point.

Mental Health on the Internet 21/9/2014

Blog of the Week

A new one I have come across is Douglas Cootey’s “A Splintered Mind” – combines both an entertaining and engaging style of writing with poignant insights into depression and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

Links I Love

  • One thing I have been really struggling with recently is motivation. Clare Foster shares some of her ideas in this interesting article on how to get moving during a depressive episode.
  • So, you’ve read up on everything to do with anxiety but still feeling anxious? What’s going on here? Paul Dooley a.k.a. Anxiety Guru explores.
  • Many people with mental health problems who belong to a faith community find themselves faced with stigma from that community when being open about their challenges. Rachel Held Evans (writing from a Christian perspective) interviews Amy Simpson and discusses how their communities can provide better support in this article.

Video of the Week

Instead of the usual video this week I’m posting a link to a pod-cast from the Anxiety United website:

Alice Rose explores just how debilitating anxiety can be:

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


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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

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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


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.