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A Pandemic and OCD

***TRIGGER WARNING – Contamination OCD***

If you have OCD, right now COVID is your best friend and your worst friend.

The ‘good’ side for your OCD is that people are finally realising the benefits of good hygiene and social distancing. Those who experience contamination OCD will be relieved that they don’t have to look weird in a mask and with gloves and applying copious amount of sanitiser. In some cases, and in some places, the world is cleaner.

I think the ‘bad’ side of the OCD must be taking a terrible toll on some of us right now. It is our worst fear realised – a rampant, contagious disease that would scare the average Joe or Joelene into hiding. This is the disease we always imagined would never happen and it is the disease we have little ultimate control over. People do get sick, sadly some die.
Having had Contamination OCD myself, even now to a much lesser degree, saw me sanitise my delivered groceries and literally not leave the house for three and a half months.

I could see that I was quickly becoming a prisoner and losing the last of my freedoms. I decided to feel the horror and the terror and I began to accept it – little by little. Like many others, I got the best anti-microbial sanitiser there is, had a mask at the ready and practiced very small visits. At first I would go somewhere in nature (I think the beach was first). I touched nothing, I just walked. Little by little, I realised that my worst fears had come true, there was a global pandemic, and I could either choose to let that rule me or, as ERP recommends, agree that it is a catastrophic situation and sit with the discomfort.

I am happy to report that I can go most places now. Not only that but I have been sick twice with other illnesses so I feel I have been through the alarm of ‘what if?’.

It must be said that we here in New Zealand had a short spike of extended community transmission and took very serious measures to ensure the wellbeing of our people. But I think some of this can be applied to whoever you are, wherever you are.

My deepest empathy lies with those of you who are or have been affected by this horrible disease.

May we find the comfort of camaraderie in these extremely difficult times. And may those of us with OCD cut ourselves some slack for facing something we hoped would never happen.

Aroha mai.

P.S. Si vous voulez une explication en francais, dites-moi s’il vous plait.

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Sometimes the battle just goes away

I have had a few specific OCD incidents that were so deeply ingrained, I honestly felt that they could never be dealt with. Every time I checked my mind, there they were haunting me. Whenever I’d have a moment of peace, it would be interrupted with ‘but you’ve always got this hanging over your head…’.

After the gift of doing ERP therapy and after much work and angst, one day it just didn’t matter anymore. I can not explain it other than it ceased to be an issue. It has tried to flare up but has never had the power over me it used to. It used to bring me to my knees – literally.

I actually agreed with the thought and went ‘yeah, this might ruin my life’ and allowed it just to be. After a while, it lost its grip because I had finally got to the stage where I did not care. Wow, it sounds huge saying that. Huge. And it’s not everybody’s experience.

I hope and pray you end up giving OCD the big finger and see it for the kitty cat (not the ravenous lion), it really is. Don’t get me wrong, OCD in general can still sometimes be a lion. But I have a victory and I’ll sing it from the rooftops.

What is your victory?

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Anxiety christian depression ERP Exposure and Response Prevention faith Hope Mental Health Mid Life Obsessive Compulsive OCD

Ideal Conditions for OCD

Photo by Rohan Makhecha on Unsplash

Like any parasite looking for a host, OCD will look for anything to latch onto. And you know the best thing to do? Let it. If you have done any ERP, you will know that fighting OCD requires special weapons. It requires a type of reverse psychology. Sometimes, when you’re on a roll, it’s hard to ever imagine a relapse.

Let me share my relapse for you and the steps I’m taking to recover.

I recently went through an extremely hard time – my Granddad passed away, my cat got eaten by a hawk and then person and after person around me started falling like flies and were wanting me to be there. I was too weak and too polite to decline to get involved and in one situation, it was a potentially life and death situation. So I have this constant stress and adrenaline surging through my body and mind. My thoughts are completely occupied by the struggles at hand. Then I realise that I feel compelled to help in these situations and neglect exercise and eating well. But overall, no blame OCD.

Finally, when the situations that weren’t ongoing, resolved – I collapsed.
I slept and slept and I let the stress trickle out of me. The next day, my husband said something to me about not feeding the good peaches to the (poor, starving) sheep and when I said how selfish he’d been and my OCD was just going for it, his voice changed tone – a trigger for me.
Blam! Fight or flight pounced. I felt helpless, hopeless, like running forever, tight-chested and full of blame for his change in tone. Now, I am not talking about shouting, I’m talking about a tone change. But it’s OCD, you can’t explain it.

Can you see how the conditions leading up to my ‘meltdown’ were perfect? I was coming down from a high-stress situation my guard was lowered and I didn’t have the energy to even shower.

I am still working through this one. But what did I do to help myself? I agreed with the OCD that Andrew was a meany and then I hung out with him as much as possible. I exposed myself to this ‘nasty’ (AKA incredibly lovely) guy and went for a walk along the beach with him, ate with him, talked with him and let him cook for me.

And I know I’ll win this battle. Because the truth always wins.

Anna x

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When Exhaustion Exacerbates Your OCD

When I think of the change that has come about, I am so proud. From constant, compulsive questioning and blaming to actually feeling like I have a life.
Sometimes though, I seem to have a dip ‘for no reason’. Please know that this often there is a reason.

Recently, I started having compulsive thoughts that I just couldn’t shake.  I started feeling a fear that I have not felt for years. Then I entered a deep depression.  The OCD revved up and I was so scared of falling into that deep hole again.

When I stopped to think about the last few months of my life, it started to make sense. Andrew and I had been on a five week ‘holiday’ which included a two day stopover to visit my ailing grandfather.  That was upsetting in itself.  Then, we went on to try and spend as much time with my sister and her family who had come out form Oregon to New Zealand and whom I hardly ever see.  I wore myself out trying to cram a 40th party, social catch-ups, babysitting, etc into a small space of time, and then crashed after Christmas Day.  But, mentally, I was still flying reasonably high.

On our return, I crashed.  The M.E. flared up and the heat was immense.  Very soon after arriving home, my Granddad passed away and my cat died.  I absolutely bawled – over days.  I still feel sad.  Then I noticed a spiral into depression.  It should not have come as such a surprise that these were ‘perfect’ conditions for an OCD onslaught.
Multiple horrible thoughts entered my head as I wrestled with the concepts of life and death.
One day it struck me that I might be more vulnerable at that moment to OCD and hence the hassle.  You think?  Of course it was!  As soon as I realised, I practiced acknowledging the thought and then letting it stay for as long as it wanted.   In every case, it drifted away.

Please don’t lose heart if your OCD flares up – there usually is a reason and it’s a time to cut yourself some slack!

 

Anna 🙂

 

christian-erfurt-sxQz2VfoFBE-unsplashPhoto by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

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Delaying – a trick for OCD and anxiety

I know that delaying is often used more in traditional CBT than ERP but I have found this helpful on many occasions.  I’ll have a troubling thought come up and I am just bursting to share it and get it out there – everything inside me is buzzing and urging me to give in.
It is often here that I say ‘If this is till bothering me tomorrow morning, I’ll revisit it.’ In 90% of cases, I have either let it go or forgotten about it and as you know, that is sometimes seemingly impossible to do.  I think it’s an acknowledgement that you feel in distress but also placing some boundaries around its insistence.

I’d love to know how you get on with this – whether you’ve used it before or have yet to try it out.

Anna 🙂

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Enough. ‘I’ve had enough but I am enough.’

enoughimage

I’m hoping to put forth the Enough proposal to schools – it deals with bullying and mental illness.  The tagline says it all – ‘I’m fed up with being put down and feeling unloved and misunderstood but I am coming to realise that who I am in myself is enough.’

It wasn’t as a high school teacher that I could easily spot the bullying and the put-downs, but as a student.  It made me realise how little education providers can see even if they look really hard as I did.

I used to truly believe that I didn’t deserve to be here.  I used to walk past the retirement home on our street o the way to school and wish I lived there – I literally felt jealous of the residents being nurtured, mature and friendly. Who knows? Perhaps bullying went on here?  It’s definitely not something that stops at school but it’s a good place to start.

It got to the stage where I was not coping.  I tried broaching it with my parents but they didn’t seem to understand, and I couldn’t fully express, the distress I was in. I was called ‘Rej’, ‘Reject’, ‘Daddy Long Legs’, ‘smelly’ and more.  I was rejected, laughed at and I didn’t fit into any group until my high school years where suddenly I became respected then popular.  This confused me but not deter me in my efforts to treat everyone as special and everyone as important.

In the many years since I have received counselling – the wounds cut deep.  Because I have OCD with intrusive thoughts, I believed I was evil and unlovable. I also had to ritualise or I thought my parents would die.  Basically I thought I was horrible and crazy.  I am sure many of you can relate – even in the present day – it took me years to see the truth.

I am SO grateful that I don’t feel that way anymore!  And I’d love to share this message with whoever will have me.  I’ve put together a proposal and see where it goes.  Stay tuned!

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Just When You Think You’re Doing Well…

I’m sure you’ve experienced this; you’ve got to a good place, got into a good groove and things seem to be working.  You can’t imagine it being any different to how it is now – or at least, you hope you it won’t.

And then, it may be nothing obvious or it may be certain circumstances, but something comes up to shatter your pleasant bubble.

OK, so let’s take a real life experience.  My experience.  For the last three months I have been reasonably steady.  My ups and downs I have managed with mindfulness, eating well, concentrating on gut health, taking my medication, talking things through and practising my very tough, but life-changing, OCD Exposure and Response Prevention.
I know that I have turned a corner and I know that although this process is hard, I am proud of myself. I have experienced reasonably continuous low-grade ‘happiness’ for the first time and it is wonderful!

Then came the weekend.  Out of nowhere, I was low (borderline depressed), very tired,  upset and just ‘blah’. I thought it was because a certain issue in my life had come up and I couldn’t ignore it anymore.  I thought, although down, that I was in a reasonable head space to be able to talk it through. So I thought it through carefully and talked about it with someone.  I thought I had done really well and had managed to navigate the subject quite impressively.  Three hours later, I imploded.  I felt such raw feelings, such deep hurt and such a stuckness.  I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to talk my way out of this one.

I had a cry and talked some more, and listened some more not to the point of resolution (that my OCD brain so wanted!) but until there was nothing left to say and then I played on the computer.

I was woken this morning too early and I had the start of another migraine.  I went back to bed and slept for too long.  When I awoke again, I realised that I felt just as depressed.  I began to search for things to make myself feel better or to get myself into a better state of mind.

I now have a choice:  I fight this and pretend I’m fine or I dive headlong into despair.  I will do neither.  I will accept it but I will not tell myself a big story (a narrative) about how terrible this is.

I think I realise now that I need to accept these feelings and accept their sense of discomfort and angst.  I need to accept that I am tired and that for whatever reason, I am needing some rest.  I am getting on with the day-to-day stuff I need to do so I am not ‘giving in’ by stopping my life but I am not going to be hard on myself and I need to take a second at a time today.  And this issue is huge and fraught but it is not impossible and I don’t need to decide anything today.

And that’s OK.

Postscript: Directly after this, I won the most beautiful designer loveseat worth $3450!  I was cheered up I have to say 😉

 

throwyourhandsintheairifyoufeeldespair

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3 Things I Do When I Have An OCD Episode

 

 

fightorflightpicDuring a panic attack or through the process of OCD being triggered, your brain immediately goes into ‘flight or fight’ mode.  You may be familiar with the racing heart, the heat, the shaking and just the sheer terror of the episodes.
So it is important to realise that your brain can not make rationality of chaos in these moments.  You are not going to be able to think your way out of it (whether in a state of panic or not).

When an unexpected trigger comes I do these three things:

1. Acknowledge that I have been triggered and tell myself that the terrible feelings I am experiencing may or may not have basis in reality (classic ERP there 😉 ) and allow myself to feel them.

2. Take five or ten minutes (if I can) to do mindfulness.  I have some 3 minute ones mindfulness meditations ready on my phone.  If you don’t have anything handy, slow your breathing down and take deep breaths in and out, not judging what you are feeling.

3. Carry on.  Even though I feel like running for the hills, I try and carry on with work, the outing, etc.  It is amazing how your brain responds when you just keep doing what you were doing.  I stop the OCD from controlling my life and making a big fanfare.

One other little trick is that I tell the OCD that if I am still thinking about it tomorrow, I might do something.  Seriously, I rarely do or I have even forgotten!

Even those who experience panic attacks or anxiety will hopefully benefit from this.

God truly bless you,

 

Anna 🙂

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Poem

OCD

You Shall Not Pass

Nor will I

I will stand my ground

and stare at your face

until it melts into

a pool of nothingness.

I have everything behind me

and only good before me

I will not waste myself

on the terrors of the night

nor the arrow that flies by day

it wouldn’t hit me anyway.

I’ll be more than Gandalf

to your Balrog Demon

You will fall

But I will be standing.

You Shall Not Pass

But this will.

And that, as they say, is that.

Anna K 19/11/2015

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The Final Meltdown – OCD

meltdown

I’m going along nicely I think.  ERP is slowly but surely allowing me to stare my fear in the face and overcome it. It was hardest in the beginning – not asking for reassurance, not self-reassuring and feeling what was like a crushing weight of the world on the very top of my head.

I have had about a month of just enjoying life.  This has never happened to me before.  I start not to fear fear itself and I start to realise, just maybe, I can keep my OCD from controlling me and affecting others.  I also have several chronic illnesses so a month of doing well looks like being able to do my business from home when I want to, visiting the odd friend or neighbour, going out for dinner(!) and doing things all by myself and in harmony with Andrew.

I’ve had an uncanny sense of wellbeing which I have (rightly) chosen not to question.  After about a month since my last ERP session, I skype my therapist and she is absolutely thrilled at how I am doing.  Both she and I can see several positive changes. I think more positively, logically and less catastrophically.  I enjoy being in the moment rather than trying to escape it.  I hit a few major speedbumps where my OCD tried to take on different forms and I successfully allowed it to be, and it went away for the most part.  My therapist started talking about dialling back the treatment. Wow!

Then yesterday happened.  What was so different about yesterday?  Well, I was vulnerable and tired from my therapy session as I always am.  I was feeling especially ‘triggery’ and on edge. So I do, what I realise now, was perhaps partly stupid and perhaps partly prudent and I avoided my husband and my dog.  I slept the day away and woke up extremely perturbed.

Sure enough, later that night, I was triggered and I couldn’t just let it go or even let it explode inside of me and let the feelings be as they were.  I went straight to Andrew for reassurance.  What disturbs me the most was the way in which I did it.  I’m so used now to being completely transparent and honest and not hinty or manipulative in any of my responses. Unfortunately, I reverted to an old habit of asking to be reassured in a way that was whiny and just ‘old-school’ for me.  I started getting more and more worked up, Andrew said more of the ‘wrong thing’ and I felt completely exposed, raw and angry.  I don’t often get angry, but there was so much pre-frontal cortex, amygdala and basal ganglia stuff going on that I was ropeable.  I cried, I railed, I wanted to escape and just go somewhere peaceful in my mind but I was STUCK – entrenched in old patterns and had worked myself up to the point that I wanted to argue or go somewhere population-less and scream at the top of my lungs. I couldn’t think of anything else, my blood pressure was rising, I was pacing – I thought that stuff had gone a loooong time ago.

Thanks to Andrew (who I am still slowly letting back into my world), he did not engage me in an argument when he realised I was in distress, but instead acknowledged the shitstorm that had happen.  He admitted he really had inadvertently crossed the line with my triggers and said unhelpful things. In reality, everyone does this – exposures or triggers happen when you are not prepared or ready for them at that stage.  I also acknowledged that I said some hurtful things.

Now the healing begins (again!). And it hurts like hell because I thought I’d had my final meltdown months ago. But I will do the opposite of what my OCD wants – I will sit here typing this in the same room as my husband and my dog, I will offer him a drink even though I don’t feel like it, soon I will meet his eyes and not look at him like the enemy.

I think the lesson to take away is that there will be relapses, mistakes, triggers, upset and heartache along the way.  OCD is an old and seemingly ‘safe’ friend.  I think the lesson is also that an incident like this is normal, I will be uncomfortable in the moment but it might not always be that way. I may think this is the straw that broke the camel’s back but I may find myself even forgetting parts of this painful time, we both might.  I might find that I am creating again in a few days and might even crack a smile.  Maybe I won’t?

I think the biggest lesson overall is that I am not my illness.  I am actually a really nice, cool and loving person.  Take away the OCD and I’m really quite normal(ish).

So I’ve had a meltdown. But that’s OK.

It’s OK.