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.