Zombie?

Well where are we, three weeks into medication and two therapy sessions down, I’m feeling positive.

Part of it is the medication, it relaxes me, calms me down and turns my anxiety into something manageable. It doesn’t stop it, I still fret, feel guilty if I don’t think I’m working hard enough, if the house isn’t clean or if I didn’t run far enough but I’m not paralysed by it.

Take for example this evening, I planned to run but had to work late, a few weeks a go I would have run, anxious about getting fat and never running again. Instead, as I’m doing a running challenge over the next month, I resolved to rest, I stayed in, still busy, tidied the house, cooked dinner, decorated the tree, did some Christmas shopping and wrote the cards but I’m not consumed with fear and guilt. I feel bad for not going but not bad enough to make me go.

Now that’s the thing I’m scared of with medication, if it means I’m not all that bothered about missing something I love, what else could it mean? Will I soon become an unfeeling zombie? Will I stop working properly because I can’t be bothered and be fired? Will I cheat on Gary because it doesn’t matter? I don’t know.

I’m keeping on the medication whilst I learn the CBT techniques properly so when I do come off the medication I’m equipped, able to handle the anxiety the way normal people do. Medication scares me, I’ve steered clear of drugs as I’m worried about what it can do and yet here we have a mind altering tablet I take each day. I have no idea what it’s doing, not really, will it have lasting effects? Will I ever be off it properly? I just don’t know.

But for now, it means I’m able to get through the day without crying, able to handle an intrusive thought without descending into a ruminating mess and able to feel a bit more positive.

I’m happy to chat and if you would like to then do reach out on the ‘Contact’ tab, however I am not a mental health professional and if you would like this support please see the ‘Support’ tab.

I need help

So tonight, as a sit awake at half 3, wired. I’ve had two herbal sleeping tablets, a few shots of gin and nothing. I’ve cried, unsure why anxiety isn’t letting me sleep.

I’ve decided I do need to go back on anxiety medication, just to get me started. I have a therapy session booked in with a CBT therapist in a couple of weeks and I’m doing a little CBT each day but I need help. I can no longer do this on my own.

The last week has been tough, the presentation made me realise how little I have dealt with this, passing it over to the side and I’ve been overwhelmed this last week.

I’m feeling pressurised by my job, I want to do well, I enjoy it. The people are lovely and I feel valued, for the first time in about 3 years I want to work hard and I want to acheive. But it does mean I’m adding an additional layer of stress to myself but regardless I enjoy it. Plus I’m busy, being idle is my enemy, I’m no good at it.

So back to now, I’ve not had a great week, I’m actually scared to go to bed. Scared of a bad nights sleep, scared to toss and turn. Why am I scared? Poor sleep equals poor performance, poor performance equals failure, failure equals disappointment and I don’t want to let anyone down. So slowly, after the last week, my sleep has got worse. I have plans in place to help my anxiety but unfortunately they require waiting. Doctors, therapists, even sleeping tablets and alcohol need time to work, I needed a now.

I rang the samaritans. To be honest, I felt like a fraud, I’m not suicidal. I have thought about it this week as the anxiety is so great I see it as my only way out, the only way it will end but I would never do it, not in my current state. I wouldn’t do it to those around me. But I needed to talk, I needed to say to someone I feel really, really shit, I can’t even do the basics. And he was great, I mean he has no idea what phone line he is answering, I was probably quite a nice one, I just needed a chat but I dread to think who was on the line after me. We spoke for about 40 minutes and he calmed me down, I started the call a crying mess and ended it still a mess, but a mess that can get through it all. I’ve got this far, I can do so much more. I need to remember eaeach day just how strong I am, OCD and anxiety doesn’t make me weak, it makes me so much stronger. I’m just having an incredibly tough time, he also said I needed to be kinder to myself. I give myself such a hard time, expecting nothing less than perfection which I cannot achieve. I need to stop striving for what everyone else has and focus on what is right for me. I’ve spent years focussing on what others expect of me I’ve neglected myself. I put a front on that everything is ok, it’s not, I’m not ok and that’s ok. I have terrible self esteem my weekly running mileage is creeping up because I’m desperate to be skinny as everything will be ok then but I eat shit because I feel bad about it all. I still enjoy the runs but there is so much pressure to do it that I can’t miss one. Still, we’ll get through it, we’ll go on medication and I’ll go on medication, I will get better.

I’m always happy to chat and you can drop me a message on the ‘Contact’ tab, however I am not a mental health professional and if you would like this support please see the ‘Support’ tab.

And so it begins.

As expected, doing the OCD presentation a couple of weeks ago brought up all kinds of feelings and I entered last week just feeling anxious.

Every day, anxious about something and it was the urgent kind of anxiety. If we don’t do the washing now the world will go to shit kind of anxiety. It also messed with my sleep, I’m used to not being very good at sleep but it’s fair to say I’ve not handled it properly. Like my OCD symptoms, I’ve bumbled through them, crying through the bad days hoping to hell it’s only short.

I usually manage my sleep, if I need to get up early with herbal sleeping tablets and if I can get away with it, a large gin. Now usually it’s not enough gin that I’m passing out drunk, it’s more of a extra large measure enough to take the edge off and allow some calm in my mind. I’m almost certain it acts as a placebo as I can usually sleep about 10 minutes after the gin sans juice meaning it’s unlikely to have actually done anything at all but I feel better for it.

That is until the morning, when I wake utterly despondent I’m unable to sleep normally like the snoring Gary next to me. Why can’t I sleep like everyone else? Why do I have to be different? Ordinarily, that night I won’t have to wake early the next day and I go back to normal, however not this time. Not because I had to be up early, but because I’m ready to tackle this.

I resolved, contacted OCD Action for support, contacted a therapist and started reading a CBT book and actually started doing a bit of CBT each day.

We’ve ran into a problem mind, therapy, they don’t exactly fit the schedule. I work Monday to Friday normally 9-5 depending on where I’m travelling to and so do therapists. I found one that works Tuesday night, exactly the time I have running club which helps body and mind for me so I’m in a bind. They also cost a fricking fortune, I want to go private as I’ve not had great experiences with the NHS near me and the current wait time is about 6 months. But they’re charging on average £80 an hour! £80! Now I get it, I should look at this as a long term investment, small injection of cash now and long term health, forever. But seriously, no wonder we have a mental health problem in this country, most people don’t have that kind of money, £320 a month! That’s nearly half my mortgage. It hurt that private treatment is restricted to the wealthy. The problem is that they’re in short supply, there was a list of perhaps 2 or 3 CBT therapists within a half hour drive of my house. If I lived in central Cambridge the number ups to 10-12. That’s not many really, in Ely there are about 25,000 people meaning about 6,000 people will have some form of mental health problem annually and 3 private therapists and I looked, no NHS therapists. Disgraceful. I’m now looking into ‘virtual’ therapy, see if that helps. If those with mental health problems find the strength to seek help, there bloody well should be help available.

I’m always happy to chat and you can drop me a message on the ‘Contact’ tab, however I’m not a mental health professional and if you would like this support please see the ‘Support’ tab.

Presentation

Well I did my presentation and I think it went ok! I’ve never spoken that openly about OCD before, essentially told a group of strangers my fears around being a paedophile. It was daunting and I did tear up, need to sit down and just read my notes for a bit to get through it but it’s done.

Afterwards people came up to me to thank me, congratulate me and tell me their stories. One has very similar fears, several were concerned for their children as they could see things happening that we adults hide so well. They sought me out for reassurance wanting to feel better. I got asked if I felt better for being diagnosed. Yes I did, for a moment as it meant I wasn’t a dangerous person just an ill one, then reality hits of being mentally ill and the burden that goes along with that, the stigma people would now place on me. They sought me out for diagnosis, I do this, does this mean I actually have OCD? Sorry but I have no idea, I’m not a doctor and I’m not going to advise you.

I received several thanks, calls that I was brave and even a hug. I did feel immensely proud of myself after I had done it, something I have kept silent for so long up there for all to see. Stood in front of people telling them my ultimate flaw, open entirely to their judgement, I was so completely vulnerable but yet I wasn’t scared. Nervous yes as public speaking is horrendous but scared of what they would think, no. There was no need, I’m already my greatest critic and think the worst of myself that it doesn’t matter what a stranger thinks of me. I’d purposefully told friends not to go, I didn’t want their judgement, their eyes on me as I said these words, couldn’t handle it. Gary was there, of course he was, he always is and it didn’t bother me. There’s nothing I would have said up there that was new to him and I know he loves me in spite of it all.

It left me exhausted, like a therapy, an intense exposure session I felt lighter yet shattered. I lay on the sofa all afternoon and dozed, I was drained. Now a few days on, it’s a distant memory, confined to the corners of my mind. It’s not something I would want to do again but it’s certainly something I’m glad I did.

I’m not a mental health professional and if you would like this support please see the ‘Support’ tab but if you want to talk, I’m happy for you to reach out via the ‘Contact’ tab.

Guilty pleasures

Few things in an OCD life are without spoils. Everything gets overthought, analysed and considered. Lunch with friends, am I talking to much? Focussing too much on me? Did I say the wrong thing? Running with my club, they all think you’re fat and slow. As I indulge over the weekend, disgusting, fat and unattractive. As I sit enjoying a coffee with my family, they’re only here because they have to be, they don’t like you.

But one thing remains untouched. Now I may be jynxing this, but somethings I just enjoy, pure, unadulterated enjoyment. One of these things is my all time favourite movies. I don’t watch a whole load of movies, my attention span isn’t that long, I don’t like watching violence or gore, not only does it trigger me, it’s just gross. I do love soppy movies, those that are ridiculously predictable and make you fantasize for that kind of true love, the kind of arguing and making up in the rain with grand gestures, not arguing over the dishwasher and falling asleep on the sofa but I guess that’s reality.

I have two favourite films, they’ve been my faves since I was a child and I have memories of singing the songs and practising the dances. The first is ‘The Sound of Music’, I bloody love it and know all of the songs by heart. My ultimate favourite is ‘Dirty Dancing’, I’ve probably seen it over a thousand times, can recite the entire film and piss off Gary as I say the lines before they arrive and swoon over Patrick Swazey. As I’ve grown, you notice a lot more that goes over your head as a child and your perspective does change as Baby is ultimately a child messing in very adult topics but I remain unfaltered, my favourite film.

It’s also entirely unspoilt, it makes me feel better, a kind of therapy for my soul. Taking me back to being a child when times were simpler and I’d sit on the floor then order my younger sister to be my dance partner.

Mental illness is cruel, it takes so much of your life, I can’t even eat my favourite sweets or have a gin and tonic without feeling guilty, so if you find something that keeps you sane. Keeps you at your core, then grab it with both hands and hold it tight.

I’m always happy to chat, so feel free to reach out via the ‘Contact’ tab, however I am not a mental health professional and if you would like this support please see the ‘Support’ tab.

Thinking of you

Do you ever want to say something and then never know how to say it? So you say it and then it sounds wrong and then you panic? Me too.

So a friend of mine had a personal tragedy around this time two year ago, at the time it was heart breaking, the kind of hurt that causes you physical pain, my heart actually ached. A year after I sent a message, thinking of you, and this year. I simply wasn’t sure, do I reference it still? She definitely hasn’t forgotten and I don’t want her to think I have but I also don’t want to remind her if she’s feeling ok and bring her down. I settled with a card, but I agonised over the message for days, do you just say sorry? You can’t say it will get better, but what do you say? It’s ridiculous, she’s been a friend for a decade, one of my best and I could tell her anything yet I shyed away from it. Which only made me feel worse which in turn made me feel guilty. Why the hell was I feeling bad, get a grip, this isn’t your story it’s hurt, stop making it about you, you’re such a bad friend.

I’ve been listening to a podcast recently called Grief Cast in which the presenter, Cariad Lloyd who’s a comedian speaks to her comedian mates about a friend, relative or pet that has died and how they dealt with the grief and it spans in to wider tragedies and how people deal with them. All of the comedians have said that they knew who their bad friends were as they wouldn’t ask about it, wouldn’t talk about the tragedy, be it cancer, Alzheimer’s or other means, people would shy away from it. So now I have it in my head that if I don’t ask, I’ll be that bad friend but also logically know if I were to reference it all the time, I’d come across as either nuts or she’d avoid me because I talked about it.

I don’t know, I’m panicking now as I’m not sure if she’s read it, sitting nervously waiting for a sign that may never happen that what I did, what I said was ok. I’ll sit with it a while, I can’t ask her, I just really hope that it’s ok, I just want her to know that I’m here always.

I’m always happy to chat, so feel free to reach out on the ‘Contact’ tab, however I am not a mental health professional and if you would like this kind of support, please see the ‘Support’ tab.

Talking

OCD is an exclusive club. 2% of people have OCD in some format and we range on a spectrum – some housebound, some like me bugged occasionally by breakdowns and some with barely noticeable symptoms.

I’ve joined a WhatsApp group for people with OCD and honestly it’s refreshing, already in the space if a morning I’ve met people with very similar symptoms to me. Not exactly the same of course, OCD is different in the sense that it molds and shapes itself to the individual which why it’s so difficult to shift, it’s our own greatest fears, our own nightmares. But it is as always, a relief to find there are others like you, I’ll never be bored of knowing I’m one of many, my battle unique, my army of the masses.

I’m constantly amazed by how brave these people are who are able to share so openly, I do not see myself as brave mind, rather, having little choice, if these thoughts don’t come out this way, they may never. they may fester, linger and permeate, forever keeping me trapped. So I speak for my own sanity.

I’ve also noticed I’m reluctant to write in my diary, I don’t know why, but I end each night disinterested in wanting to jot down my thoughts. Hopefully I was using my diary as a coping strategy and that not writing in it each night is a good thing but you never can tell with these things!

Regardless, I’m not fancying it.

Should yo wish to talk, feel free to reach out vie the ‘Contact’ tab, however, I am not a mental health professional, so should you wish to seek professional help there is some information available on the ‘Support’ tab.

Suicide.

When will this stop?

Today I’ve read about an Olympian that at just 18 took her own life and the media has been a frenzy with the singer Demi Lovato whom his currently hospitalised for an overdose which is a suspected attempted suicide.

I’m fed up of it, how many more people have to die or attempt to kill themselves before this is taken seriously? Death is the only inevitable thing in life but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it when it happens too soon or take it ourselves, it doesn’t make it ok that the person chose to die.

It is also not ok that we brush it under the carpet, uncomfortable when someone mentions that they’ve thought about it. It’s not ok that we’re scared by it, it’s the only thing we are destined to do. I don’t believe in God or a grand plan, but I do believe that as people, we have the right to choose.

My argument here isn’t that people shouldn’t be able to choose to die. I am all for people going to assisted dying facilities where they can safely end their lives, they are often severely disabled and have spent years living that way, having made the decision with family and friends that dying is the right thing for them to do as they simply aren’t living.

My argument is that people should not be dying alone, in painful circumstances, afraid. My argument is that dying should not be a form of escape, a fear that there is no other choice. My argument is that suicide off the back of treatable mental illnesses should not be happening. What kind of society are we that we allow people to hide their true feelings, feel shame and embarrassment at their minds leading them to not seek help and spend days, months, years in torment leading them to think they have no options? What kind of people are we that every time this happens we vow that next time we’ll do better, there shouldn’t be a next time to try, there should be help for all that seek it.

It’s a fanciful ideal but one we’re slowly getting to, with the high-profile suicides and attempts, it shakes us, it can happen to them those we think have it all, but they’re too far from us. They exist in a separate reality to ours, sadly, only when it happens to someone close do we really act. Only when the loss is ours will we do anything. It shouldn’t have to get to that, so maybe if we start to talk before hand, normalise suicide, normalise mental illness maybe it will happen less and we can treat it.

Hello, my name is Serena, I have OCD and I too, have thought about ending it. I have recited the letters my family would read at my funeral. I have wondered how many sleeping tablets it would take, how deep the razor blade would need to go. But it was never serious for me, from an ego perspective I wanted to know who would turn up at my funeral, I wanted to know if I would be missed. This is not at all what it is like for someone really thinking of it, they don’t wonder these things, they don’t wonder at all. It’s a case of either knowing people wouldn’t miss you, would be better off without you or wouldn’t care. It’s knowing that it’s the only way to end the way you feel, or, a way to feel something. It’s hitting a dead end.

If you would like to chat, feel free to reach out on the ‘Contact’ tab, however I am not a mental health professional and if you like this support, please see some resources on the ‘Support’ tab.

I don’t have to be beautiful like you…

It’s something I wrote a few months ago on an old blog but wanted to bring the words here, as think they’re becoming increasingly important in the world of filtered selfies and zealous over-sharing of only the good things in life.

“I’m beautiful like me.’

Words I read this morning.

I don’t plan what I’m going to write on these blogs, I wanted to write today but didn’t know what to write about. I like to wait until something inspires me or something happens. Something inspired me today. I was scrolling through Facebook, and there was the usual, cats, dogs, cakes, gin, someone went on holiday, someone got engaged, etc etc etc. Then a video of a larger set woman posing in a bikini in a changing room with her daughter in the corner also trying on a top when she asked her mother if she agreed that she looked beautiful. The video started explaining their trip to the shop that day, how the girl had been polite, kind and complimentary to everyone she met. Why? She was imitating her mother, her mum was kind, polite and complimentary to those she met, friends and strangers, the young girl had watched this and learnt that this was the way to treat people.

Her mum had also told her every day that she was beautiful, so the girl thought nothing else. She was beautiful. The mum was going to comment on her own appearance, say she felt fat and ugly, but bit her tongue, if the child would pick up on the positive behaviour she would almost certainly pick up on the negative behaviour. So she said she was beautiful, she felt fat, but said she was beautiful. She didn’t want her daughter thinking anything else, she was beautiful. The mother realised how important what she said and how she acted was on other people.

If she was mean, rude and offensive, her daughter would copy this, if she felt bad about herself and consistently said negative things about herself, her daughter would copy this. Then it’s only a case of falling down a rabbit warren of the thoughts becoming your own reality. True or not. The mother then realised she was beautiful, not in someone else’s definition, but for her own definition. She was kind, polite and had raised a child to be this also, she has confidence, self-esteem and empathy, she is beautiful.

I, naturally, related this to me. I have low self-esteem, my brain has a split personality of incredibly arrogant and pitifully low self-opinion. I want to be thinner, I won’t, my bones won’t allow it. I want to be kinder, more generous, more careful, thoughtful, less shallow and worried about what people think. I want to be beautiful like you, not beautiful like me. But I think the words have such power, 7 billion people in this world and only one Serena Moden. Actually is, I’ve checked, but even if there were more, I’m Serena 1.0, the only one, the one with OCD and from Ely, the one with a crazy family and a penchant for being witty, the one that likes gin and cries when someone else cries. I’m the only one and that in itself is beautiful. I will soon be beautiful like me, not beautiful like you.

You do you, you’re smashing it and I’ll do me.”

If you’s like to chat, feel free to reach out on the ‘Contact’ tab however I am not a mental health professional and if you’d like to speak to a professional, please see the ‘Support’ tab.

Control

Had a few days off blogging as been at the in-laws caravan by the coast and the signal is notoriously bad, but back today and suitably depressed in the colloquial form. Currently fed up of life. I’ll go into more detail later but currently, fed up.

Anyway, after my last post, I received messages from my running community about how they had all felt the same at some point, defeated and struggling, so I thought I’d help. I’ve recently seen Steve Bull at a conference and reached out to him for advice. If you don’t know Steve Bull, he’s a sports psychologist and author of ‘The Game Plan’. He’s worked with Olympians and sports teams like the England Cricket team keeping them focused when the anxiety bubbles. I wrote an article on a previous blog about Steve’s piece at the conference and how it had helped me, there were two main themes – attitude is a choice and controlling your controllables.

Essentially, if you’re stressed or having a bad day, it helps to strip things back to those two themes. Attitude is a choice first, I’ve always taken with a pinch of salt as someone with mental health issues as often, if I could change my attitude I would but it is grounded in rituals, avoidance behaviour and doubt but when, like today, I wake and immediately dread the day, it takes me a while but eventually I go, ‘pull yourself together, this day will only get better if you make it’. I don’t miraculously turn into a pillar of positivity but it does kick start me.

The second, control your controllables is misleading to an OCD sufferer. I’ve been taught through CBT that I am not in control of my thoughts and to try to control them is only going to make the situation worse, so when I heard this I did reject it. But as I listened to Steve, it began to make more sense, this isn’t about controlling everything, it’s controlling what you can control. He gave the example of an Olympic high jumper he worked with ahead of the gold medal test, eyes of the world on you and the pressure mounting. In that time, the Olympian is taught to focus on three things, and three things only. There is so much out of our control and this is often what causes anxiety, focussing on things we can do nothing about. As someone with an anxiety disorder, in the midst of a panic attack it’s difficult to remember this and harder to believe it but it’s true. The Olympian can’t control the weather, the other Olympians, the noise in the stadium or what people will say and think. He can control his legs, the motion in his arms and leaning back. So in the moments before his go, he is taught to focus on these three things only, high knees, pump arms, lean back. High knees, pump arms, lean back. Very simple.

I reached out to Steve for advice for those with specific mental health issues, he responded naturally with a disclaimer, same as I put at the bottom of most posts, that he is not a mental health professional but could offer some words. He’s said that controlling your controllables has proved effective when he has worked with those with mental health issues. Choosing things very specific and achievable to focus on create an air of confidence and mean you are less likely to get distracted but also, keep it simple. Plus, it may help to create small goals each day that as you achieve them will help to build confidence.

I have found his work very helpful, for example, if I’m struggling, just remembering to breathe is enough, control your breathing, deep and slow it down. My goal each day is to drink 2.5 litres of water and to make my bed. Small, but the first ensures I’m looking after the body and mind, the second means no matter what, I have accomplished something each day. Small, specific and achievable.

Ultimately, having a mental health problem is like being the Olympian. We are both facing what appears to be an insurmountable challenge, we could spend our time worrying about what everyone else thinks, pressure building, worrying about the many different outcomes there could be, focussing on failing. Or, we can boil it down to something simple, three things we can do and do our best.

If you want to chat, feel free to reach out using the ‘Contact’ tab, however, I am not a mental health professional and if you’re looking for support then please see the information available on the ‘Support’ tab.