Diagnosis. Is it a blessing or a curse?

For many, getting a diagnosis may just be regarded as being given a label, assigning them to a particular group, assigning them to be viewed as ‘mentally ill’. Others find it reassuring, that they have a recognised medical condition, one that they can find specific help for.

Some people are scared of going to their doctor, admitting their symptoms and getting that diagnosis. Mental health is misunderstood by the public in general and there are so many stereotypes and misconceptions that even a diagnosis won’t help anyone understand the condition any better. People fear that the diagnosis will become known and they will be viewed in the light of those misconceptions. There are so many labels out there these days and people are all grouped together as the same. For anyone with a mental health problem, you know that each case is different. It can be dangerous for everyone with ‘depression’, ‘OCD,’ ‘anorexia’, ‘anxiety’, ‘bipolar’ to be treated in the same way, so people recoil from being given that name. Most of the time when mental health is covered in the news it’s often because someone has committed some terrible crime. It’s hardly encouraging then to want to be given the same diagnosis.

There are others for whom a diagnosis comes as a relief. They finally have a name to their problems, that it is something that is recognised, something other people go through too. With a diagnosis there is also the hope that the problem can be helped. Not all mental health conditions can be cured, but a lot can be managed. A diagnosis means an individual can research their condition, find out all the possible things that might help and start finding out which is best for them. They can find other people with the same diagnosis, compare notes, use them as examples to try and explain to others what it is they struggle with. Doctors may offer medication or therapy. A diagnosis doesn’t always mean the right therapy, or there might be long waits. Mental health is seriously underfunded and there isn’t enough of the right help out there. But there is more hope the right treatment will come once diagnosed.

For me, I certainly found my diagnosis a relief. I knew already, before going to the doctors, what it was – but to hear a medical professional confirm it for me was a huge reassurance. I was able to have medication, I was able to get relief. I wasn’t alone and it wasn’t my fault. I’m well aware that every other person’s OCD is different from mine, but there are also great similarities and, although I don’t wish OCD on anyone, I find it comforting that I’m not alone. I’ve researched my condition further over the years and am finally really beginning to understand it. With this understanding comes the weapons for me to fight the battle.

I do understand people’s fears about getting a diagnosis, but in my experience it has only helped. There’s no need to tell anyone if you’re not ready, but I found strength in knowing. I would be most interested to hear what you think – are you scared of getting diagnosed? Have you got a diagnosis and did you find it helpful?

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How habits become Obsessions by mistake

I’ve always been the type of person who has phases of tastes. ie I’ll listen to the same album (even the same 2-3 songs) for 6months without change, or watch the same TV series for 5months, with nothing else quite capturing me as much, then move onto something else for a year, before returning to it again.

Because of this, I’ll get into the habit of watching something before bed, or going to sleep listening to certain music – every night. Before I know it it’s become a habit I can’t break and straight into my nightly routine. It means I have to always see that TV show, that movie, listen to that song before I go to sleep or something bad will happen. I’ve managed to get it down to clips of certain things and I’ve made myself a compilation DVD for ease – but it still takes 20minutes to get through. This has been going on for several years now. Gradually I am changing things (and by gradual I do mean the speed of glacial ice). I can now watch my DVD & the various clips on my ipod at the same time, so I get through things quicker, I can have them on in the background, so not paying a lot of attention to them. I also have a clear out at the start of each year so that any I’ve accidentally added to the list can be taken out so I’m back to the core few. (It’s supposed to be every month, but I found that come the critical time I would be away from home, or something big was happening so I didn’t want to change things in case there was an effect).

I know it’s ridiculous, because honestly and scientifically – how can me watching anything have any effect on anything else other than keeping me awake longer than I should? Recently I had fallen into the trap of watching a new short clip of something everynight (it started out, because I wanted to, it kind of inspired my imagination) but then I didn’t want to anymore but had to anyway. This past week has been a real struggle for me sleep-wise and I’ve only just realised that for the past 2-3 nights, I’ve missed this bit out of my routine. Even thought, it’s probably saved me 40seconds, in a way I’m quite relieved. Although I do kind of want to watch it again, because as I said, I like the clip, I’m trying to avoid it – certainly at night, so it dosen’t get added to the routine, which is quite long enough.

It’s not just with TV or songs, it can also be checking new things, like the gas or certain lights etc and this just leads to longer and longer routines each night. Then they act this huge hurdle between me and bedtime because I don’t want to do them because of the time they take. Then I get to bed later and later and then I get more and more tired which sets of my OCD even more. It’s a never ending spiral.

The challenge I have to give myself is not to form the habits in the first place and if see a pattern forming I need to get out of it immediately. Then, gradually I need to let go of some of the habits I already have – maybe just concentrate on 1 at a time.

It would be great to hear from anyone else who has similar experiences or any tips.

Distraction

When I began this blog I was coping quite well with my OCD. Unfortunately it’s reared its really ugly head over the past few days and it’s got quite bad. Not the worst it’s ever been, but I’m stressing out over all sorts of things across my entire spectrum of worries.

For the past 4 nights I haven’t got to sleep before 2.30am because I’ve been up checking on the imaginary noises I hear. Clearly this makes me tired and then my brain becomes weaker and can’t fight off the thoughts as easily.

So, how do I get myself out of this part of the cycle? Good question. I’ve not really logged it before, but I am going to monitor it this time because I know it will get better. One of the things I know works is distraction. I need to give my brain something else to think of, something quite powerful and quite absorbing. Right now I don’t think gardening, baking or doing a jigsaw will help. I need something active rather than to zone out to.

Having a good song in the background I can sing along to helps; if I can’t resist the urge to sing the words, I can’t be having those thoughts. Currently I’m singing along to Gary Barlow & the Commonwealth Band’s ‘Sing’ which is proving very catchy.

Television is also a good distraction – if it’s something good then I can’t zone out and it’s a form of escapism; I’m transported to another world – one where my problems don’t exist. Reading is another great way to lose yourself into another world.

If I can find a time when my brain isn’t having to fend off too many thoughts (ie not late at night) I find meditation quite good too. For that half an hour my brain is active but resting. It feels like it’s repairing itself and it’s so absorbing that there are no negative thoughts and can sometimes break the specific cycle of the day. I’ve found the ones by Deborah Kerslake particularly good and there’s even a free one you can download and try for yourself on her website (just scroll down towards the bottom).

My other weapon is writing. I love to write. I’ve wanted to be a famous author for as long as I can remember. I’m under no illusions about my skill – I know I’m not actually that good and I’m not going to be the next JK Rowling, but it doesn’t stop me dreaming. One of the best things to distract me from my OCD is to throw myself into a story – then I have other problems to focus on. What are the characters names, their backstories, how do they come together, what are their strengths, weaknesses, what is the landscape they’re living in? To me all these questions are highly important and I find I can’t just pick out anything, it has to fit with the same sense of ‘rightness’ as a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. These questions go round and round in my head until I figure them out. The great thing about this is, not only creating something, but also it means there’s no room left for those obsessions or compulsions.

None of these distractions actually cure my OCD, but they do give my brain the chance to rest, recharge and come back stronger to fight those thoughts.

What ways have you found to distract from the thoughts?