An update & moving forward

I can’t believe my last post was back in March, so here’s a brief update on how I’ve been getting on.

The year started well, but then I’ve had a little blip. Strangely I’ve found myself worrying about things that I worried about when I was first diagnosed 11years ago; things that haven’t bothered me in years.

My OCD has cycles and they’re usually stress related, but this recent blip didn’t seem to be. I wondered whether it was anything to do with paying it too much attention – blogging about it, tweeting about it, comparing notes etc so I took a step back from social media to see if it had any effect. It didn’t.

The other big factor for me is sleep. I know I haven’t been getting enough sleep these past few months and as such I think I’m too tired to mentally and physically challenge these behaviours.

Last night I finally caught up with ‘Extreme OCD Camp’. I’d been a bit worried about watching it wondering whether it would trigger me, or give me new ideas of things to worry about. I’m also scared of exposure therapy, so watching other people with OCD being forced into doing it was not going to be pleasant viewing. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the show. It was very well done and for once showed the variety and severity of OCD and the emotional turmoil that an individual goes through when triggered. I identified with so much of it. I thought every single one of the participants was so brave and strong for even agreeing to do the show, let alone all the amazing exposures. The exposures were terrifying – I particularly felt for Jack doing his first exposure in the bathroom – not sure I could have done that – but the guys leading the camp weren’t ogres. I felt they had a true understanding of the condition and its effects as well as being compassionate. They made everyone do their exposures, but they allowed the individuals to have a say in our far it went and they were there for them at all times. I’ve not seen another programme where the therapists have been so supportive.

It certainly got me thinking. Whilst I’m not going to go on that particular camp, there are things I can do myself. Exposure, I realised, doesn’t have to be the worst thing first, I can set myself a small challenge and see how I go. At the start of the year I began trying to get rid of a ritual a month and had some success, so now I’m going to try a little bit of mild exposure. Perhaps I won’t wash my hands for 5minutes after touching a newspaper, perhaps I’ll leave it 5minutes before I go and check on family at night and extend this minute by minute. I’ll still be able to ritualise eventually, but hope that over time I’ll do this less.

A quote I’ll remember from Extreme OCD Camp is “Do something that scares you everyday”. I might not make it everyday, but that’s something to aim for. I’ll keep you posted!


OCD – my self sabotage

Just a warning – this might be a trigger for some people, so read with caution.

The latest way my OCD is taunting me is my paranoia about what is in my drinks. I’m fine if someone makes me a drink (although it does have to be in my mug at work and I don’t drink the tea), but I find it hard to make my own drinks. If I can get away with making it once, that’s fine, but if I have a problem with the first drink it usually means I’m in for trouble.

I know this sounds utterly bizarre. I know logically that there is nothing wrong with any of my drinks, and that what I see are shadows, air bubbles or light refracting from what I can see through the glass or air bubbles of the surroundings – but I am absolutely convinced it’s something bad. There’s no logic to it – I will often throw away the drink only to pour more squash out of the same bottle. It doesn’t usually work for milk – but hot chocolate, sugar, teabags, pretty much anything else.

There was one time when I saw a mark on a tea-bag that should not have been there and ever since then I’ve been checking every tea bag. I hate being asked to make tea for family as it means confronting this fear and looking to make sure it’s safe to use. This happened probably a couple of years ago and stayed at that until a few months ago when it got ridiculously out of control and transferred itself to all types of drink. It always seems that when I make a drink for someone else everything is fine and I very rarely have to remake it. When it’s a drink for myself I can remake it 5-6 times, sometimes I give up. It is easier when I’m “home, home” and not at the house I share in the week or at work. I think that’s because I’m more relaxed and comfortable at the place I’ve lived my whole life.

When I give up making myself a drink (even getting tap water) is when it becomes self-sabataging. I know logically that the drink is fine, however I don’t drink it – I can’t. I put off making or getting drinks for myself. This means:

1) I end up buying bottled water
2) It’s costly – because I have to buy a lot of bottled water & even then this is ‘contaminated’ so I have to throw it away and open another
3) I get dehydrated. This in itself then leads to dry skin (I have very sensitive, dry skin as it is, so hydration is important), lethargy, my brain function decreases and with this I’m less able to fight my OCD so it spirals out of control. If I’m not careful, in hot weather it could even lead to kidney trouble.

As I wrote in my previous post – I’m aiming to combat 3 rituals I have – I’m really hoping that I can control this OCD issue as it has other implications other than just time and money.

Are any of your OCD rituals self-sabotaging in this way?

New Year, New Me – Same Old OCD

With the dawn of a new year, the tradition is to set lots of New Year’s Resolutions, mostly along the same old lines of trying to become thinner, fitter, a better person, to stop smoking, to drink less. The majority of these will be forgotten before we get to February. I gave up making New Year’s Resolutions a while ago because I ended up disappointing myself. I now give myself ‘objectives’ for the year.

This year they look something like this:

1) Go horse riding
2) Help raise £100 for charity
3) Go somewhere I’ve never been before
4) Read 15 books
5) Overcome at least 3 of my OCD rituals
6) Continue to spread awareness help in the understanding of OCD

Overcoming just 3 OCD rituals doesn’t sound much, especially compared to reading 15 books (I usually manage about 5-6 a year), but I think it will be a significant challenge for me – I usually just add more rituals.

We’ve just had Christmas at our house and over the holidays we had at various points, my sisters, their husbands, my 6 nieces & nephews and my grandmother. I love seeing them, but it always makes my OCD spiral – my grandmother insists on wearing her shoes around the house (one of my biggest bug bears) and then the kids put everything on the floor including themselves and then put everything on chairs, tables etc. I did my best over Christmas, but it was more about avoidance or by doing things such as putting a quilt over ‘my chair’ which I could then remove when I wanted to sit in it.

I remember the time when that wouldn’t bother me at all – when I would be lying on the floor with them. I’ve recently unearthed some old family video footage that’s 10 years old. That was the significant start of my OCD but I saw the times when I still wore shoes round the house – it’s very alien to me. Now, I’m not suggesting that 2013’s objective is to start wearing shoes in the house again, I’m not entirely sure what rituals I’m going to work at, but I’m ready to take the challenge head on.

I would love it if you would join me on this challenge and fight a ritual or two of your own. Let me know and we can do this together!

Rumoured OCD sufferers

I’ve been surfing the net again looking for celebrities who suffer from mental health problems. As usual, I’m finding little success finding people with confirmed OCD. However, I thought I would compile a list of those I’ve seen rumoured to have it to see if anyone can confirm or deny.

David Beckham
Katy Perry
Charlize Theron
Leonardo DiCaprio
Cameron Diaz (I think she’s now said she doesn’t clean the doorknobs anymore, so not sure how real her OCD is)
Donald Trump
Alex Baldwin
Charlie Sheen
Jennifer Love Hewitt
Billy Bob Thornton
Woody Allen
Roseanne Barr
Justin Timberlake
Rose McGowan
Jane Horrocks
Martin Scorsese
Harrison Ford
Penelope Cruz
Megan Fox
Steven Gerrard
Jeremy Kyle
Tim Howard

If anyone can shed any light on the above (especially links confirming actual OCD), I’d love to be able to add those with this condition to this page as it’s looking a bit bare at the moment. From what I can find so far, I think a lot of them are referring to it in that ‘a little bit ocd’ way which we all know isn’t true OCD. Some are trivialising the condition as it sounds like they prefer things to be tidy and what goes through their heads when facing a ‘situation’ isn’t clear, or others who say ‘since I had the kids I didn’t have time for that rubbish’. However there are a few, like Megan Fox, who may have the genuine thing.


Is OCD real?

I’ve just read a forum thread about whether or not OCD is real (you can read it for yourself here). For those of us fighting the battle on a daily basis, or know someone who is, this is a ridiculous question. Of course OCD is real. I’ve been living with it for 10years and it really isn’t a whole lot of fun. I wish it was made up so that I could take the day off from it and do all the fun things that it stops me from doing!

I think some of the problem is that many people still insist on using all mental health phrases incorrectly.

“I’m a little bit depressed” for when someone is just a bit sad for genuine reasons

“They’re schizophrenic” for someone who can be nice one moment and angry the next

“I’m a little bit OCD” for when someone is extra tidy and likes things their way

These, and other such phrases, are the ones that are thrown around general society – I hear them all the time and it doesn’t help those of us with the real problems. The phrases trivialise the issues far too much and put us off from speaking out because we know we’ll be ridiculed and not taken seriously. They also lead to questions like ‘Is OCD real?’

One of my main issues with what this person has written is that he questions whether it is a made up condition from attention seekers who clog up doctors’ waiting rooms pretending to be ill. I can only speak from personal experience, but my OCD makes me hate the doctors and avoid going there as much as possible. Apart from my initial diagnosis I’ve hardly spent any time in the doctors about my OCD. I had to go to yearly appointments to check how I was getting on, but for the past 5years this has been a couple of minutes on the telephone. So I hardly think I’m clogging up his time. More people are taking his time up with colds that he can do nothing for. I have also never taken a day off sick because of my OCD (I know I’m lucky here and that lots of others have had to be signed off from work). I pay for my own prescriptions so I hardly think I’m a burden on society – to myself and my family yes, but not the general world.

I wish there was a way to make those who doubt OCD (and other mental illnesses) experience what it’s like living with one for a week. I think they would soon change their minds. As there’s no quick pill we can give them to induce the horrors, we have to turn to education. My OCD is a constant. Sometimes it has a snooze and I can get on with my life as best as I can, but it’s always there waiting to wake up and paralyse me with fear, my mind going round and round and round with anxiety. I’m jealous of all those around me living what I see as ‘normal lives’, wishing I could be the same.

Mental health needs to be taken seriously. We need to talk about it more and people need to learn the correct terminology. No one would ever say they’re hyperglycaemic when they’ve eaten way too much chocolate. We have to get to a position where they’re using mental health phrases properly too.

I do think mental health should be discussed at school. I’m not aware that it is – it certainly wasn’t in my school. It should also be discussed more openly in the workplace. I don’t mean that you have to stand on a chair one day and shout ‘I have OCD’ but there should be regular days set aside for mental health where someone can go up to a volunteer (could be someone with a mental health problem, knows someone with one, the occupational health officer) and ask questions. It should be encouraged – there could even be a pop quiz making people think more seriously. (We did this at work recently with environmental issues the business faces and people’s eyes were opened).

In the meantime those of us who know the truth, must stand together and support one another. One day attitudes will change. We just have to hold on until then.

Poll – Mental Health in families

Even before I studied Psychology I always had an interest in the subject. One of my favourite debates is “nature vs nuture”. I will say here, I don’t think anything is solely one of the other – I think it’s a blend of factors.

However, interacting with lots of people on Twitter with mental  health problems has got me thinking. How many of them have family members with a mental health issue? Whilst this won’t tell me whether the cause of their’s is genetic, or because they’ve grown up surrounded by it; it will get the ball rolling.

I’d be really grateful if you could spend a few seconds completing the poll below and sharing it with your friends / contacts.

Many thanks!

Coping techniques to help you fight your OCD

I’ve been living with OCD for 10years this summer. Every now and then I contemplate going to therapy, or doing something more proactive to help myself get better. Then my so called ‘logical/scientific’ brain kicks in and tells me I have valid reasons for concern over the issues I do, so getting better might actually be the wrong thing to do. Stupid, I know – but it’s true.

As such I’ve been happy to sit back, take my pill every day, accept my OCD comes in cycles and that bad times with it will pass. Since starting my blog and my @girlwiththehat Twitter account, I’ve been interacting with lots of other people on their own mental health journey. Many of them are doing (or have done) proactive things to improve their situation. It’s helped me realise it’s time for me to do more.

Whilst I’m not nearly ready for therapy I have begun to develop techniques that at least help make me mentally stronger and face my OCD rather than hiding away from it. I have only just started doing these techniques consciously (and I’m not always in the mood – I might be too tired, or it might be inappropriate) but I have noticed a difference already. It’s slight at the moment; but at least I’m starting to recognise the thoughts for what they are and that’s an important first step.

These techniques aren’t cures. They’re not going to fix your OCD overnight. What they are, are coping strategies – things to have in the back of your mind to bring out to attack your OCD when confronted with an issue. Hopefully as you get used to them, they will become second nature and the OCD will catch you off guard less often. This way you can build up your strength against it and get to a point where  you can take the next step – be it that therapy, reducing your medication, talking to others more about it.

I thought I would share with you all the techniques I’ve found useful and I hope you find them helpful too.

The poem above my desk

Whenever I get stressed, either through OCD (which is quite often) or by everyday life, I find strength & comfort in the poem “Invictus” – written by William Ernest Henley (1875). I find it so valuable that I have it printed out and blu-tacked to the wall directly above my computer monitor. I discovered it through the film of the same name, staring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.

It was an important poem to Nelson Mandela who used to recite it to fellow inmates on Robben Island as it gave him great inspiration. Not only are the words powerful and inspiring, but it reminds me that so many people are going through difficult times. And if someone can survive what Nelson Mandela had to, and come out as strong as he did, then surely I can get through my latest episode of OCD.

Here’s the poem. Enjoy!


Conditioning my OCD

When I did my Psychology degree I learned about Conditioning – the likes of Pavlov’s Dogs – where you can train an animal to come for food when they hear a bell. Quite useful stuff. There was also an experiment I read about involving pigeons that were rewarded with grain when they hit a certain symbol. Initially they were rewarded everytime they hit it, then the rewards became more spaced out – so every two times, every three, every 10, every 100 and so on. In the end the pigeons would hit the symbol thousands of times in order to get the reward. Thew knew it would come so they didn’t get bored or give up.

We see this kind of behaviour in gambling. Gamblers will keep betting because of their occasional wins. I saw this when I used to sell scratchcards. Those who were addicted to them would buy £50 worth but not win, then another £30 worth and they might get £5-£10 worth back. This would reinforce their behaviour. It didn’t need to be large wins, just something every now and then.

I see a lot of similarities with my checking. To try and save me from having to do it, or from staying up after the last person has gone to bed, my family will say ‘I’ve checked everything’. However, I still need to check for myself. This is because over the years, I have done it, every now and then I’ve found a window unlocked, or the TV mains still left switched on. It doesn’t happen every time, most of the time everything is absolutely fine. For most people they’d build up a trust and reassurance that if someone has told them everything is okay, then it is. But my OCD brain is different. I’ve now got to the stage, like the pigeons, that I could check 1000 times and only find a problem once, and that solo event will set me back to square one and will be enough to keep me checking every night no matter what anyone says.

I suppose I should reassure myself that there are times when I’m ill or so exhausted that my checklist goes awry and the next day I find that windows are unlocked. But it’s difficult for me to do this. It’s even difficult to say it, just in case I jink things and the next time they are left unlocked something bad happens. I know a lot of people have their windows wide open during the summer – even people in my house – because it’s too hot; but I find even this fairly stressful. I am trying to convince myself that it’s okay. Windows can be left unlocked – or even open. It’s been done before and will be done again.

However, it’s the probably abnormal level of responsibility for others that I’ve taken on for myself (or rather my OCD has given me) that makes this conditioning all the more powerful.

As yet I haven’t figured out a way of overcoming the conditioning – after all it’s been going on over 10 years now – and quite frankly I can’t see a way out of it. For the time being as long as I’m allowed to do my checking and do it in a certain way, I only need to do it once and it doesn’t take up too much time. It’s a small price to pay to get rid of the anxiety I’d feel not doing it.

If anyone’s got any good ideas of how to get over conditioning or have had the same experiences – I’d love to hear them.


A little something that centres me

When I’m having a bad day or going through a rough patch, I read this, the Desiderata, and it centres me and makes me see more clearly. As it helps me I thought I would share it with you.

“Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.”