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.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Being referred for OCD therapy

This post follows on from my previous post, 'Contacting my doctor for OCD guidance'.

After my appointment with my doctor and completing the questionnaires, I was told to wait a few days for the psychological practitioners to contact me. I had no idea who they would be or where they would be located and readied myself for a long wait.

It was to my surprise then that a letter arrived a couple of days later from a psychological therapy provider that was based about 20 minutes from my home. This filled me with a certain amount of confidence that I hadn't realised I was lacking: The service being offered suddenly seemed to be so much more intimate.

The letter told me to contact them to make a telephone assessment appointment that would take approximately 30 minutes. I rang them and spoke to a very friendly and professionally mannered lady who asked me a few questions as to why I was seeking therapy, and who then asked me questions related specifically to my obsessive compulsive disorder i.e. in what form did it take, how long had I had symptoms, etc. She then asked me questions relating to self harm and suicidal thoughts. I would assume that the people who contact them suffering in that state of mental anxiety would be given priority over people like me, and in my opinion rightly so. I was also to fill in six more short psychological questionnaires that they had provided that were all based on the 'on a scale of one-to-five' sort.

My appointment was booked in for a couple of days later with the same lady who took my initial call. The form of this assessment was to read the relevant numbers back to her from each of the questionnaires, the results then being used to determine the length of treatment and the severity of particular symptoms that result from my OCD i.e. depression, anxiety, etc.

If the questionnaires showed that my therapy would be short term (approximately six sessions or thereabouts) then I would be seen by them at their therapy centre nearby, if the questionnaires showed that my therapy would be longer term (more than six sessions) then I would be referred to the National Health Service (N.H.S.) psychological therapy providers.

The decision was made that my case warranted a longer course of therapy. This therapy, as many of you out there suffering from OCD will already know, takes the form of cognitive behavioural therapy (C.B.T.), which essentially means brain behaviour therapy, to influence and change the thinking patterns and behaviours that result from the condition of OCD.

Many people also have to perform exposure and response prevention therapy (E.R.P.) which I think may depend on the form that their OCD symptoms take but I am not sure on this yet as I haven't, at this moment in time, actually begun my course of treatment.

Medication can also be prescribed to rebalance the chemicals in the brain that, left alone, help to promote the OCD symptoms and related behaviours. I am not currently on medication and hope to progress enough in my therapy so as to not need it but if it is required then it should not be seen as a negative as it is there to assist with a smooth recovery.

I have been on the waiting list for approximately a month now for an NHS appointment and I have been advised that it could take up to three months or so, depending on availability and whether priority cases jump the queue ahead of me, which as I said before, I do not begrudge at all. I cannot imagine being in such a state as to contemplate suicide and my mental suffering, although not at all mild to me, has never lead my thoughts down such a path.

This is as far as I have got so far through my OCD journey regarding treatment so I am unable to explain more about the process followed in the United Kingdom until I begin my course of therapy. But I will be sure to write more as and when I have more experiences to write about.

My future posts will now focus more on my day-to-day life with OCD: The observations that I make and the impact it has over my thoughts.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Contacting my doctor for OCD guidance

My blog has been written so far in chronological order with the aim of detailing the steps that I have taken on the road to OCD recovery, a road not yet very far travelled, but a road that I am determined to see through to completion.

This post will focus on how I sought professional therapy after a few weeks of practicing the self-help techniques mentioned in my previous blog posts.

I found those techniques to be extremely useful in containing some of my compulsive behaviours but I have to place a certain amount of emphasis on the word some. My quest for knowledge and understanding of obsessive compulsive disorder has lead me to believe that a fair amount of stimulus behind the obsessions and/or compulsions could stem from other personal trauma or experiences, sometimes things that are seeming unrelated.

I know that in my personal circumstances some of the events from my past have helped to shape and exacerbate my condition in the present, finding an outlet in the form of an obsession that has become my torment. I will not specify the particular details relating to me or the events from my past, but I will say that they are related to number 1 on my OCD symptoms list (found here).

I should add that OCD is an extraordinarily personal thing and each sufferer's experiences are specific to the individual, so in your case self-help may be all that you need but I strongly advise seeking guidance anyway.

The result of knowing that my past is haunting my present is that I know for certain that self-help techniques will not be enough for my circumstances and that professional guidance would be essential to combat the origins of my obsessions. So, I contacted my doctor with the aim to finally expose my hidden mental health condition (luckily I also had an ear ache at the time and a legitimate excuse to make an appointment) and practiced my wording until I was script perfect.

(The website OCD-UK has an excellent resource to help you admit your obsessive compulsive disorder to your doctor should you find it difficult to find the words yourself. It is called the 'GP Ice-Breaker' and is found on this page, or a direct link to the downloadable .pdf file here.)

Speaking to my doctor was easier than I had imagined but needless to say that my well rehearsed words did not come to mind in the order that I had practiced. After some enquiring questions to ascertain some of the specifics that I was experiencing, I was given a few short questionnaires to fill in that were to assess my psychological state of mind and to be forwarded by my doctor to the psychological specialists.

This was a big step for me as my fears when I had previously considered this step were of not being taken seriously, or being dismissed by the people who I had turned to for support, and also that my medical records would contain this 'embarrassing' mental health condition. Thinking about it retrospectively, I am proud of the fact that I am gradually breaking down the barriers that I had placed before me and am not at all embarrassed that my OCD is now recorded on my personal medical file; in fact it is a marvellous thing that it is.

Having it on file is an acknowledgement, an irreversible acknowledgment, that I am taking the fight to my OCD and am taking control again of my life. It is a statement that is completely confidential and a statement that I am no longer alone. A statement of the fact that I am now on the road to recovery.

I hope that you can join me on that road too.

Pursuing professional guidance continues here.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

OCD self-help technique - Part 2

This post continues from part 1 and explains the final two parts of Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz's obsessive compulsive disorder four-step self-help technique. I recommend reading my introduction first, found here, followed by part 1 before reading this final instalment.

Refocus - This step is the part of the self-help treatment that should gradually enable you to free yourself from some of your OCD symptoms, or at least alleviate some of the intensity of your anxiety caused by them. This part, however, is the hard step. The part where you will start to take positive control but the part where you will need to muster all of your strength and resolve to fight back against your compulsions.

The aim of this step is to refocus your attention to some other positive action that is not related to your OCD behaviours and in the process, to occupy your mind with something more enjoyable and relaxing. This should help to distract your negative thought processes, your obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviours, and refocus them into something positive.

When suffering from an OCD obsession try to delay performing your compulsive response for 15 minutes. Even a short delay can help, each time extending the delay until at least 15 minutes are reached.

Do not be negative to yourself if 15 minutes cannot be reached as it is a difficult challenge, just try again next time, each time extending the time between obsession and compulsive response. After 15 minutes, the urge to perform your compulsion may no longer be as strong.

After you perform steps 1 (Relabel) and 2 (Reattribute), think of a new activity that you could carry out and occupy yourself with it immediately (or as soon as possible). This should help you refocus your thoughts and energies, and help you to reach the 15 minute time delay.

Perhaps you could read something, start a puzzle or game, sing along to your favourite music, or practice a hobby or pass time, just doing something that you enjoy is a good idea but it could be something simple like taking a walk or the ironing.

Refocusing is a difficult thing to do, particularly when your obsessions and compulsions are very dominating, but through repetitive training it will get easier and gradually the negative coping mechanisms that are symptomatic of OCD will fade in their intensity. Know that by paying little or no attention to your urge to perform your compulsion you are seizing the decision making power from your brain and regaining control.

Keep in perspective that compulsions are irrational and have no bearing on reality.

It could also be helpful to you to keep a diary/journal recording your achievements each time that you need to refocus such as:

·       What the obsession was;
·       What behaviour or activity you adopted to help you refocus;
·       How long that you managed to delay your compulsion.

Revalue - By performing the first three steps you will naturally revalue the significance that you place on your obsessive/intrusive thoughts and compulsive urges.

From gaining an understanding that OCD is a medical condition and that it stems from a chemical imbalance in your brain, and relentlessly practicing the previous steps, you will come to realise that gradually your compulsive urges have been reduced in their significance: You have revalued them and downgraded their importance.

You cannot make the obsessional thoughts go away but you can also learn to not pay any attention to them. When an obsession occurs, you will be prepared and will know that, 'it's just my stupid obsession. It has no meaning. It is just my brain and there is absolutely no need to pay attention to it.'

Do not take OCD thoughts at face value as they are not significant, they are not real, just:

·       Anticipate when an obsessive thought is forming or about to occur in order to be prepared so it can be recognised for what it is as it happens;
·       Accept that the feelings are due to OCD and refuse to let them shock you or get you down.

I hope that what I have written here will provide you with some direction as to how to fight back against symptoms of your obsessive compulsive disorder, particularly those of you, like me, who have yet to start their professionally guided therapy sessions.

The goal is to perform the steps daily as and when you have an OCD related obsession and compulsion. I have found them to be extremely effective at maintaining and controlling my own personal symptoms, although they do still catch me out from time to time, but I have definitely found some relief from how I previously suffered over the past few months.

So to recap the steps and what you need to do:

·       Relabel your obsessions as obsessions and your compulsions as compulsions as and when they happen;
·       Reattribute your symptoms to OCD by understanding the biological reasons behind them and convincing yourself that 'it's not me, it is my OCD. It's not me, it is my brain';
·       Refocus your thoughts by carrying out a positive activity and delaying your compulsive urge for a target of 15 minutes, and recording only your achievements (not your failures) in a diary/journal;
·       Revalue the significance of your obsessional thoughts and compulsive urges by knowing that you are able to delay them and ignore them, and anticipate them forming so you are ready for them and accept them as due to OCD.

Good luck to all of you in your success at beating some, if not all, of your obsessive compulsive disorder related behaviour.

I mean no breach of copyright, if indeed I have, and all credit goes to Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz and the source of my OCD education, OCD-UK at their website -

Monday, 17 October 2011

OCD self-help technique - Part 1

So, in my previous post, I said that I would write out the obsessive compulsive disorder self-help techniques that I have been trying out for the past few weeks before I begin my first therapy sessions.

My OCD rituals can be triggered by many things during the course of one day, from intrusive thoughts to something simpler like the bathroom tap, and, if you are anything like me, you may suffer from many different 'triggers' too. You may also find, as I do, that these triggers vary in their significance, or urgency, to perform your particular compulsive ritual(s).

My previous post titled 'Listing my own personal OCD symptoms' covers the order of severity of some of my obsessions and compulsions.

A few weeks back I discovered a website called OCD-UK (I am from the United Kingdom) while I was first trying to tackle my OCD related issues and on there, a section called 'The Four Steps' which is designed specifically for OCD self-help therapy.

This is a method pioneered and popularised by an American psychiatrist and researcher called Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz. The four steps to tackling OCD behaviour are labelled as follows:

· Relabel;
· Reattribute;
· Refocus;
· Revalue.

You may have heard from many sources a popular phrase when describing OCD that it is 'a chemical imbalance in the brain' that results in obsessive compulsive behaviour: Dr. Schwartz's methods use cognitive behavioural therapy to help an individual control their own mind's brain chemistry.

I found the website's article and subsequent descriptions of the methods to be quite a confusing maze of scientific terminology and difficult to read phrasing so I have broken it down, as I understand it, into easier to understand explanations.

I do, however, recommend that you research and read Dr. Schwartz's findings yourselves.

Relabel - Recognise when you are suffering from OCD behaviours and make a conscious effort to relabel each obsession as an obsession and each compulsion as a compulsion as they happen. For instance, if you suffer from a fear of contamination and subsequently wash your hands multiple times, relabel out loud (or in your head) your obsession is a fear of contamination and your compulsion is to wash your hands multiple times.

This is to recognise your symptoms for what they actually are: Symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder. To state them aloud or in your head is the act of relabelling them and reducing them down to their fundamental state which is just a component of the condition of OCD.

Remember that obsessions and compulsions result from a biological cause in the brain, a chemical imbalance, and will not disappear as soon as relabelling is performed. The important thing to do here is to assertively and definitively recognise and relabel OCD symptoms as and when they happen. 

Reattribute - This part of the four-step self-help therapy focuses on acquiring scientific knowledge and understanding of OCD to see how it affects your biology and brain chemistry. This should enable you to see it as a condition and that it is something that affects you, and, as a result, your symptoms can be reattributed to be caused by the condition and reduces their significance in controlling your actions.

Please read Dr. Schwartz's biological explanations of OCD brain chemistry under the heading 'Reattribute' here (for U.K.) or here (for U.S.).

By acknowledging that your OCD symptoms stem from biological causes and understanding how these biological causes promote OCD related behaviours, the thoughts, feelings, obsessions and compulsions, the sufferer can then identify that the condition is purely that, a condition, and that the symptoms are a result of that condition.

Acknowledge and understand where the thoughts, feelings, obsessions and compulsions are coming from, why they are happening and reattribute them accordingly by saying the following statement: It's not me, it is my OCD. It's not me, it is my brain.

Part two is here.

I mean no breach of copyright, if indeed I have, and all credit goes to Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz and the source of my OCD education, OCD-UK at their website -

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Seeking OCD self-help techniques

Once I had finally admitted that I was a sufferer of obsessive compulsive disorder, I decided to be as proactive as I possibly could in fighting the symptoms of the condition.

As many of you will be aware, fighting back against your compulsions is an incredibly difficult thing to do as, effectively, you are fighting against the irrational behaviour of your own brain: A psychological civil war perhaps.

It seemed to me that for every step I made forward, my brain thought of a twist to the obsession and/or compulsion that essentially doubled my anxiety and forced me to retreat another two steps. Maybe you as a fellow OCD sufferer can relate to this or perhaps your own experiences are more positive and your successes more frequent but after some time I was exasperated by my efforts and I resorted to online research to seek a new approach.

Researching the condition and finding methods of self-help was one of the best things I have done so far to help alleviate some, not all but some, of my OCD behaviours.

At the time of writing this, I should, perhaps, remind you that I have not yet undergone any form of OCD therapy so the practices, for want of a better word, that I am soon to explain could well be something that a professional therapist covers in greater detail. But if, like me, you have not yet begun your sessions then they may well help to pacify some of your symptoms and hopefully give you some moments of relief from your anxiety.

I would strongly encourage that you still seek professional guidance and not use these practices as a substitute to pursuing specialist treatment for the following reason: This is the route that I originally took.

I was determined to manage my condition without contacting my doctor as I didn't want my medical records to have to be updated with details of my obsessive compulsive disorder. I didn't want my history to be associated with a mental health disorder: Perhaps I was slightly ashamed and embarrassed by it. Perhaps I thought it would be harder admitting it to my doctor than my loved ones. Perhaps I was being pig-headed and thought that I could deal with it on my own given the right online guidance.

I was wrong. Again.

The practices that I found were indeed helpful and did help me to reduce the immediacy of my compulsions, and as a result my associated anxiety, but after a couple of weeks I realised that I was only taking the edge off of my fears and not dealing with the specific psychological events that my OCD originated from.

Without dealing with that fundamental issue, I knew that my OCD would eventually evolve in some way or adapt a new behaviour that would bring me back to the exact same point of psychological distress that I have been in in recent months.

For this reason I encourage you with all of my heart to contact professional help as soon as possible and adopt the self-help practices to assist in alleviating your personal OCD symptoms until professional therapy can be set in motion.

The following posts (part 1 and part 2) will break down the OCD related self-help techniques that I learned. I hope that you find some strength and positive relief by practicing them just as I did.

Good luck.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Listing my own personal OCD symptoms

I thought that perhaps it would be beneficial for me to see a list of my obsessions and compulsions, written out in front of me instead of being a hidden, secret list in my head. It should be a good thing and will provide me with a resource by which to compare my progress over the coming months but I do feel a certain amount of apprehension.

Like all symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder, mine are very specific to me and, as such, are incredibly personal. I have never spoken of the many smaller things that affect me, and may well sound ridiculous to others, so I hope not for judgement or ridicule but understanding that my difficulties are my own just as yours are specific to you.

The following are listed in order of severity: 1 being the most severe and diminishing down the list. The first two are the most debilitating with the following two also having a significant impact on my life.

Obsessions / Compulsions

1.      Cancer / Repetitive breathing and counting;
2.      Intrusive thoughts / Repetitive breathing and counting;
3.      Drawers and doors / Checking and counting;
4.      Fixations on written words / Checking and counting;
5.      Toothpaste tube / Checking and counting;
6.      Bathrooms taps / Checking and counting;
7.      Car permit and doors / Checking;
8.      Bottle lids / Checking and counting.

Trying to classify them into the categories specified by OCD resources is difficult without yet having the opportunity of consulting a therapist (my first session has not yet happened) but I would assume that number 1 on my list would come under the heading of contamination.

This, combined with the effects of number 2, is the reason that I have finally decided to seek help with my OCD as I just cannot get past the intensely horrific thoughts and images that appear in my head. The frequency with which they populate my mind increased dramatically over an incredibly short space of time and, quite frankly, knocked me sideways in my mental stability.

The others on my list have always been there in some form or other, changing and evolving over the course of time, sometimes severe and sometimes less so, but always there causing doubt and insecurity. They do, however, seem to have gained in strength since numbers 1 and 2 have become so dominant over my life. This does lead me to believe in the statements made on OCD resource websites that giving in to compulsions will strengthen the obsession.

There have been many other OCD symptoms that I have performed over the years that I have now thankfully forgotten but OCD is a condition that evolves and changes, fades and returns over time so who knows if those compulsions may return again one day.

Hopefully now that I am on the road to challenging my obsessive compulsive disorder those behaviours listed above will become easier to cope with and I will find the strength to live a normal life once again.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Coming out... in the OCD sense

Less than two months ago I was in a very bad way.

A part of my brain seemed to have developed a new found strength that completely dominated all of my rational thought, and as a consequence, my rational self control. My day-to-day living had become dictated by elaborate rituals that I had to perform. That I had to perform.

I will explain more specifically as to how I have been affected in a later blog entry, but for now, just know that pretty much every normal day-to-day action was affected in some way by the need to perform compulsive routines. If these were not carried out to a satisfactory standard then I would have to start again until I was somehow satisfied. If they were not carried out at all then I was dominated by intrusive thoughts of bad things happening to those closest to me.

The worst thing was that every time I performed a ritual, the next time it would get bigger, more elaborate or somehow more difficult to satisfy.

I stated in my previous entry that I was 11 when I first noticed that I was affected by these compulsive urges and intrusive thoughts and feelings. That was many years ago now; almost two decades in fact.

I always had the intention to admit my condition to my family and friends but I never could muster the courage. In the early days I was scared that I would be the only one in the world to suffer like this and so nobody would understand if I told them. In later years I just justified my silence by convincing myself that 'it just isn't bad enough to bother'.

I wish I had then and not let it get to the point of oblivion that I experienced a couple of months back.

At that point in time I was at rock bottom. I truly and honestly didn't know which way to turn to escape the intrusive thoughts and the compulsive urges and so, I finally told my family what was wrong with me. They had long since known that something was on my mind and they had many times tried to coax my problems out of me but I had always feigned happiness and told them I was fine.

Before that point, I would never admit my problems outwardly. Speaking out loud was a confirmation of my fears that I was not yet ready to acknowledge.

I can only equate admitting to those close to you that you suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, or some other form of mental health condition, to coming out as a gay man or woman.

Both would take a huge amount of bravery and courage.

If you are reading this entry and have not yet admitted that you suffer from OCD (if that be the case!), either to yourself or to those close to you, then I urge you to do so with all my heart.

It has been the biggest step that I have yet taken on my road to recovery and it has lightened the burden I have been carrying these many years past. Support and love cannot and must not be underestimated as it is truly the greatest thing in the world.

I now have a place to turn populated by the people I love.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

In the beginning... there was OCD

I was 11 when my pet hamster died.

It is needless to say that at such a young age a person is very sensitive, particularly when they first experience loss.

She was my first pet, my first real thing in my life that I had to look after and to care for. When she was taken to the vet and put to sleep I was absolutely devastated.

It was the conclusion to a situation that I had absolutely no control over but my age and nature made me feel that I was in some way responsible. Maybe I hadn't cared for her enough; maybe I had overlooked something that would've made it all better. Maybe it was my fault that she died.

The first memory I have of behaving with an obsessive compulsive disorder related symptom is shortly after this time. It was in the first chilly nights of autumn (‘fall’ I think if you are an American reader) and I had a photo of her by my bed. I remember vividly standing, shivering and endlessly repeating silent words (long since forgotten however) while looking at her photograph. This went on each night for perhaps two months, each night the repetitive words becoming longer and more complex, until eventually I adopted the needful feeling that I should be touching the photo a particular number of times as well.

This behaviour helped me relieve the anxiety I was feeling for my loss, to help fill the void I was experiencing in her absence, while also making me feel that I was taking positive action on her behalf to make sure she was still okay. I was continuing to bear the burden of responsibility for something way beyond my control or understanding. I can see that perfectly clear now in retrospect.

It is strange to reflect on that time and look at my younger self because in some ways, I haven't really changed. I still dread the thought of loss and I am still hypersensitive to things that are way beyond my control, even though I try with all of my might to carry the burden of responsibility for all things. All things.

That was my beginning. I bear it no grudge but I admit now, it is time for me to move on and confront those intrusive thoughts that have controlled my actions for too long.