Friday, 9 March 2012

A two-month summary of my absence

Well, here I am again.

It has been a couple of months since I last posted a blog entry and I feel that it is time to reapply words to describe my experiences with obsessive compulsive disorder. But, firstly, I should perhaps explain a little of why I have been absent for so long.

I have been plagued by an intermittent internet connection problem for the last 5 years that has become an absolute nightmare to work with. I have contacted my provider approximately 50 times in that time period and it still has not been sorted. Maybe that rant is for a different blog but the problem has still prevented me from connecting with those of you who read my words, whose opinion and support I value, and my ability to reciprocate on your blog posts.

My main reason for not writing though has been this.

Shortly after I last posted back in January, I got incredibly frustrated by my lack of progress as it seemed that each day I was taking steps backwards towards the darker period of my life from which I was trying to escape. I was beginning to be plagued more frequently by the terrible images, ideas and thoughts, and my compulsions developed into increasingly complex ritualistic behaviour.

Basically my new start to the new year wasn't going as planned.

So I decided to take action and chase up my treatment sessions that I had been waiting three months to start to see when I could finally begin my course of cognitive behavioural therapy. After making an initial enquiry with the receptionist, not even a minute later, a therapist contacted me to say that I was next on his list to make an appointment with.

Call me a cynic but that did seem like a little too much of a coincidence.

But, giving benefit of the doubt, contact was made and arrangements were discussed and, after what had seemed like an age of waiting, I was finally scheduled to discuss OCD with the guidance of a professional.

So that, in a nutshell, is why I have been absent. My full concentrations and efforts have been focused on trying to make progress by carrying out experiments, reading the literature that we have been working with, trying not to spend too much time alone and overall, just trying to get past some of the thought patterns that have caused me such misery and subsequent compulsive actions.

Now that I have arrived at this point some two months and nine therapy sessions later, I feel that maybe I have come far enough to sit alone at my computer with the strength to fight my compulsive urges that used to strike with intensity whenever I was on my own.

So far so good.

But there is still a long way to go on my journey and plenty for me to share with you, both what I have learned so far, my realisations, and what I hope to be able to achieve.

So, here begins my personal tale of therapy, of how it has helped me and developed my understanding of OCD, and how a couple of short months have made a world of difference (internet connection dependent, of course!).

If you have not yet enrolled in a course of cognitive behavioural therapy, or even been diagnosed with OCD, then I thoroughly recommend that you do as I sincerely wish that I did some 15 years ago, a period of time that OCD stole from me during which I only existed as a fraction of myself to how I wanted to be.

Don't make the same mistake that I did.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Annus horribilis - A retrospective look at 2011

I write from a personal point of view as this is after all a personal blog, and from my personal point of view 2011 was not a year that I will remember fondly.

Or will I.

You see, my first impression when beginning this blog post was that of utter distaste when looking back at a year that has brought me some of the worst mental torment that I have ever experienced. I shudder to recollect even the smallest hint of the anxiety I suffered at certain points last year and the darkest places that I visited during these times.

As a consequence of these emotions I could quite easily wipe the entire year's existence from my memory. And I would have no regrets at all.

But hindsight is a wonderful thing, they say, and now, as I look back with a sense of detachment, I can see some examples of wonder.

In March of last year I had an aching sensation in my neck that lasted for a number of weeks. I was sure it was because I was spending a lot of my time hunched over my computer screen but gradually, over time, my thought began to fixate on it and my thoughts grew more and more negative. I was probably not aware of it even happening at the time but after a while I did get agitated enough to look it up on the internet.

Bad decision.

The internet is a bad resource to use for research when it comes to subjects matters relating to personal health and wellbeing. I have absolutely no medical training or understanding whatsoever and, when confronted by some of the things that I read, I had no resource to make a rational judgement. I only had the statements and articles that related accounts of fear and, subsequently, a stimulus for personal paranoia that I carry with me to this very day, albeit, in a somewhat diluted form now. But it has still taken me months to get this far.

But on a more positive note, that day in March enabled me to set off a chain of events that I am now truly grateful for:

  • I have finally been diagnosed as suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, something that I have been aware of for many years but have never had the courage to face;
  • I believe that I am also suffering from hypochondria which is intricately related to my obsessive compulsive disorder;
  • I am now due to undergo cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling to help me tackle the conditions and to also face the origins of my main anxieties;
  •  I have grown closer than ever to my family as they have offered me love, support and compassion that I honestly do not have the ability to express in words;
  • I value my relationship more now than I ever thought possible. Not that I ever undervalued it but my experiences have highlighted what a special person it is who I get to call my own;
  •  I travelled to Rome for a number of days which is a city that I have always wanted to explore and the memories I gained will be carried with me for the rest of my life.

I think it should be said that my family and relationships have always been important to me and that I have been lucky enough to live my entire life surrounded by love. But, unfortunately it is easy to take those wonderful things for granted, to assume that your love returned is obvious enough for all to see. A positive side effect to suffering from OCD is that it has forced me to re-evaluate my life and to seek the reassurances of those I love, and, as a result, I have realised that I haven't always been as obvious in my affections as I should have been.

I have come to realise that I honestly could not have gotten through the year without them.

The Queen famously called 1992 her 'annus horribilis' (horrible year or year of horrors) after Windsor Castle was badly damaged from a fire and some tabloid articles were negatively focussed on the personal lives of her children.

I, too, could call 2011 my 'annus horribilis' for the OCD related intrusive thoughts that I have had to endure and the resulting anxiety, fear and distress, but, for all of this year's negativity, I feel that I have become a better, more loving person, certainly to those whose opinion I hold dear.

I would never wish to experience another year like the one just gone, indeed I would not wish it on anyone, but the lessons and experiences that I have gained will help to guide me with the strength and resolve to live my life as best and as positively as I can in the future.

That can't be a bad thing.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Mental health and the media

The topic of the media and its impact on mental health sufferers has been in the forefront of my mind for some time now and I thought it would follow on nicely from my previous post about OCD and hypochondria.

I have always been sensitive to the world around me and, in my own quiet way, extremely observant of the happenings and goings on that occur, even if outwardly I do not react much to them. I know that others in my family are similar to that too and I have no doubt inherited the specific gene that makes me very introspective and thoughtful.

I saw this as a personality trait that I quite enjoyed. I would spend hours alone with my thoughts mulling over ideas and opinions, and pretty much keep myself company. This is not something that I see as a negative, even now, after a few months of torturous and intrusive thoughts.

But... a sufferer of OCD and hypochondria those thoughts that were once so enjoyed have taken on a life of their own that I now find hard, at one point almost impossible, to escape from when I need to find respite in human company and interaction.

The obsessive side of the OCD condition makes the most trivial of things begin to carry significance and if left untreated, or acknowledged, can develop into the biggest of emotional hurdles.

My particular obsession was/is to do with cancer and my compulsions were/are to act to prevent it from happening to myself and those close to me.

Those of you who suffer from OCD know of your own particular obsessions and how truly awful it can be when it is all that you can think of, when you can find no means of escaping those haunting thoughts that torment you and allow you no safe haven in which to hide.

For months, or even years, the U.K. has had mass health campaigns to raise cancer awareness focussing on television, newspaper and radio advertising, posters and billboards, cigarette packets, direct marketing and many other outlets. Many of them are hard hitting and use emotional means to place emphasis on the message including the use of graphic images (particularly on cigarette packets).

Many people have lost somebody close to them or have been affected by the illness directly or indirectly, myself included, and do not wish to have those difficult memories thrust upon them when emotional healing is so difficult to achieve.

I know that I do not and believe that many others, whether OCD sufferers or not, do not wish for it either.

When the advertised facts, and distortions of the facts, are forced upon a person who is particularly sensitive to these things and who has an introspective character, then they can and will become negative, life-changing obsessions.

I have lost almost an entire year of my life in utter, life-destroying terror because of it.

My point is this: Why are media outlets not being monitored with this kind of thing in mind? Surely it should be a consideration just as nudity or profanity is before the watershed?

One slogan used during the campaign which became my tipping point was quite simply this:

Is it just a cough?

By playing upon that doubt and fear of the unknown, knowing full well that 99 per cent of the population are not doctors and unqualified to answer the question, is just irresponsible to the very extreme. Whether you suffer from OCD or not, it is a terrible thing to make people ponder and question, and subsequently worry about.

I know that awareness needs to be raised but it must be done with some sympathy to those who have loved and lost, and to those who do not want to be confronted with despicable, detailed images.

I say all this because as far as OCD is concerned, we are all prone to obsessions of a varying nature and it occurred to me that advertising also targets germ killing products.

I do not suffer with contamination fears of that kind but I know that many of you do and advertising of those kind of products always uses the 'kills 99.99% of germs' - Is the 0.01% germ allowance a marketing ploy to make us worry and use the cleaning product more than we generally would?

Are those OCD sufferers who have obsessions regarding driving having their anxieties increased by road safety campaigns? The U.K. ones say 'look, look and look again' before the advert shows the motorbike hitting the side of the car in slow-motion detail.

I honestly don't know why media watchdogs allow some of these things through but I sincerely hope that the control is tightened as soon as possible so as to not allow another sensitive person or OCD sufferer to have their world utterly blown apart by those thoughts and fears that they should not have to face in the privacy of their own homes.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A short blog post

I thought I would write a short blog entry as I haven't had the time recently to write a full update on my OCD experiences.

Since my last post on the 28th of November things have been relatively smooth, minus the odd pebble on the tarmac here and there, where I have had to focus my efforts a little harder to overcome the OCD obstacles. Perhaps it is to do with Christmas and the thoughts and preparations associated with its rapid progression towards us.

Yesterday was probably the worst it has been these last two weeks but today I feel a little more in control again and less agitated or 'on edge' as I call it.

It's the intrusive thoughts that are the hardest to dismiss and move past.

It's as though once the thought appears, and it's always out of nowhere to seemingly catch me off guard, it leaves behind a sticky residue of its imprint on my mind that takes some time and effort to move beyond. After some concerted rational thinking followed by a good night's sleep, my mind felt refreshed again when I awoke and has managed to prevent my thought processes from following that downward spiral of repetition to anxiety.

I will make some time in the coming days to read and respond to those posts that you, my followers, or others, may have written, and to write a more complete entry.

I hope that this post finds you well and that these early December days are offering you all plenty of cheer and high spirits.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Hypochondria, OCD and me...

My struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder have confused me recently.

I have struggled with OCD thoughts and behaviours for many years and have defined my actions to be a direct result of this. However, for the past 8 months or so, new and intense feelings have overcome me that I presumed to be resulting from my OCD.

I believe that I may have been wrong in making that assumption.

You see, my psychological world has recently become divided into two polar opposites, a yin and a yang, where the yin represents my internal focus and the yang represents my external focus. It is only in the last week that I have come to realise that there is a big difference in my yin and yang behaviours, and from that understanding I have gained a certain amount of clarity that may help me to fight back against the way I have been feeling.

My yang, or my external focus, has been the central point of reference for defining my condition. It is OCD. It is my thoughts, feelings and anxieties. It is the condition that makes me act in the way that has become familiar, and distressing, throughout the course of my life so far.

Up until a week ago, I assumed my OCD was also the cause of my particular distress where my psychological focus became fixated on internal things.

I should say here that through my OCD I have adopted certain behaviour compulsions to prevent 'bad' things happening to those who are close to me, to those who I love and cherish and would do whatever it takes to keep from harm.

But also, when my focus becomes internal, I fixate on things that might happen to me, primarily, the thoughts and fear of cancer. I check my body and my breathing continuously during these phases, freaking out at the slightest thing that I deem to be different. I attach significance to things that I would not previously notice because I micro-analyse myself, I obsess, and cause myself an enormous amount of anxiety because of it.

I related this obsessing to my already recognised OCD behaviours but something never quite sat right about it. I was never 100% convinced that OCD covered exactly why I behaved the way I did when my focus looked inwards.

I stumbled across an article about hypochondria and was surprised that the definition described exactly how I was behaving.

I have often heard the word and took it to have a negative connotation. It seemed the phrase to be popularly used to aim at people who acted excessively when suffering from a cold, or those who sought sympathy when experiencing the most minor of ailments.

That was my mistake.

It seems that hypochondria is intricately related to OCD and is a recognised psychological condition. The sufferer is convinced that they might have a particular illness or at least obsessed that they may be showing symptoms of that illness, even though doctors, or anyone else for that matter, cannot find anything wrong with them. Cancer is one of the illnesses mentioned by name that is related to those who suffer from hypochondria.

It also states that media coverage and wide-spread attention to the particular illness, in this case cancer, are one of the primary causes that can cause a person to suffer from hypochondriac.

My problems began when I felt that I could not escape the torrent of press articles, television and radio advertisements, printed media, discarded cigarette packs (that in the U.K. are branded with despicably horrific images) and many other sources of reminder dedicated to raising cancer awareness.

I can now understand why my obsessive thoughts began and assign blame for them. I can now remove some of the guilt that I have experienced that those intrusive thoughts and images were from my own doing, from my own mind, and designate blame elsewhere for feeling the way I have.

Like all mental health conditions, hypochondria needs to be understood for what it is, just like obsessive compulsive disorder does, as it is a disorder that causes an enormous amount of distress to the sufferer. I can state that with true, first-hand knowledge and understanding. I will never use the term lightly again.

But for me, the important thing is that I now know what my internal focus is, my yin, and why it is happening. I will bear it in mind if my brain continues to tell me to check and obsess about one particular bodily thing, and recognise that it is a result of my hypochondria, just as my external intrusive thoughts and feelings are due to my OCD.

I feel that I am still a long way from full mental health recovery but understanding why things happen in the way that they do is helping me to fight back, to refocus, and to strengthen my determined effort to become my full self once again.

(Continued on my blog post, 'Mental health and the media')

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

OCD, anxiety & another trip to the doctor

I revisited my doctor last week.

I didn't want to but I felt that I needed some reassurance.

It's silly really as I know there is nothing wrong with me but my OCD won't let me believe that to be true. It's hard to make a convincing rationale when the condition simply distorts the truthful logic in my mind to see the very worst outcome of something that simply isn't there. It leaves me feeling weak and anxious. Disorientated.

It started, as it normally does, after a period of relative calm. I find myself maintaining a level of sanity without too many intrusive thoughts, a couple of days of relief where my obsessions and resulting compulsions pass me by and my life is normal. Comparatively normal at least.

Then something happens. Nothing specific but enough to make my brain more alert and I begin to analyse and obsess. I begin my compulsions again to make my obsessions right; well to feel right but nothing actually changes.

Checking seems to be the ritual of choice here. Checking to pacify my concern and to reduce my anxiety, which it does. Only for a short amount of time though and then I am checking again: Just once more I say. And then again.

But the problem I find is that once my awareness has been raised it is incredibly hard to forget and move on. That's what my self-help techniques have been aiming to do and with some success.

Sometimes I have great difficulty moving on though. That point when I can't seem to shake the feeling, the dread or fear or whatever it is, and I feel like there will be no 'righting' the intrusive thoughts. No escape.

I made an appointment to see the doctor and promised myself that this time, this final time I will be able to put my fears behind me once and for all.

He, of course, confirmed that I was in fine bodily health which I, of course, knew all along.

I think for a person like me, whose brain seemingly likes to fixate on horrible ideas and negative thinking, I need that professional confirmation. The knowledge of an experienced doctor seems to be enough for me to smother my thoughts and destroy my OCD related thinking, to give me the strength to trust in my own logical ability. To help me move past that mental barricade and find solace again.

My visit has helped me to recharge my strength and to trust once again in my own rational mind. So far I have not again spiralled into that anxiety trap and I plan to tread water for the long term this time until, after therapy, I can once again swim amongst the happier thoughts closer to shore.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Everything carries significance...

Obsessive compulsive disorder is trying to destroy me.

My life has been so chaotic over the last eight or so months that I can hardly remember any semblance of normality. OCD has been in my life from a very young age and at times it has manipulated my actions more than others but it has always lurked there, in the background, ready to pounce again when I least expect it.

This year has been one of the hardest I have ever experienced and to be quite honest I will never look back with fondness for 2011. In fact I have been contemplating knocking this year off record and rewinding my age by a year to start it over again for 2012.

Perhaps I am being harsh but life with OCD is hard. Very hard indeed.

I went to Rome a few months ago with my significant other as a break away together but also to help free my mind from the recurring, intrusive thoughts I had been experiencing. This should be something that I can look back on with fondness while wearing a silly grin and a whimsical look upon my face but my most vivid memory is having an anxiety attack about my breathing, then checking it and panicking then rationalising, checking it and panicking then rationalising, checking it and panicking then rationalising, and so on...

I did enjoy my time there, in fact it was wonderful, and it helped to bring our relationship even closer than it already was. I just wish my OCD hadn't tainted it, not just for me but for my partner too.

My problem is this: Everything I do, from the simplest everyday task to a wonderful holiday, seems to be manipulated by my OCD thoughts and it makes it 1000 times harder to live a relatively normal life. Everything carries significance.

I don't seem to be able to shut a drawer at home without my brain telling me that I must perform a ritual to do it successfully. If I don't then something bad will happen. I feel guilt and fear. The what-if syndrome. Do I leave it to chance? No, I can't, I mustn't.

Leaving the bathroom has become problematic of late. I have to touch the tap eleven times, then the door lock twelve and a dressing gown twelve. Why? Because 35 is one of my safe numbers of course and everything will be alright.

Checking. Counting. Touching. Checking and counting. Counting and touching. Checking and touching. Checking, counting and touching. My whole day is controlled by actions that I know are pointless and yet, I cannot stop them.

I have got past some of my obsessions and they have faded in their significance but then they are always replaced by something else. And when they too are faded, the original obsessions return again, probably with compulsions even more complicated than before.

I keep returning to my breathing. My biggest obsession and how OCD has finally got me to the point of oblivion is a terrifying fear of cancer. Even though I know my breathing is fine, I cannot help but micro-analyse it with each breath, looking for something that doesn't sound normal, even though I know that it is. Check, check and check again. Then I will get past it only for it to return a few days later.

Is this my life's course?

I honestly need to get past this as I believe my other OCD thoughts and rituals will fall back in line (or at least diminish slightly) once this is dealt with once and for all. I need to believe that therapy can help me because I have a lot of baggage, and subsequent burden, that I need to work through to become a fully functional human being again, and to once again enjoy my life.

I want to return to normality so very, very much.