Today, 10th October 2018, is a reminder to the public to be aware, I don’t need to be reminded about mental health however it is useful that it reminded me that I must update this site more frequently.
Those of us that live daily with mental health issues are so busy coping, that this special day for awareness should be an opportunity to pass on a message for help, understanding or even just a little more patience from family and friends around us. In my case, with this OCD Exposed site, I have the opportunity to reach readers across the world.
Since my last post in June, I took a big step forward by reaching out for therapy with a professional, in fact a professor. During the last few months my emotions have been heightened as I delved into:
explaining out loud to a complete stranger, how I do live with OCD – e.g. how many hand washes per day;
what do I do differently with my peculiar behaviours – what is the rationale behind them;
why do I behave differently – what am I hoping to achieve by behaving differently;
what is the benefit to my OCD behaviours – am I happy when I’ve performed them;
how can I slowly, but surely, stop doing my OCD behaviours – baby steps leading to steps;
what do I want to achieve through therapy – picking off the most difficult or annoying behaviours;
how does my OCD impact the people I love – is it self-indulgent to impose my OCD on them;
what would I like my life to be like with the help of therapy – picture life without (some of my) OCD.
As you can imagine, this calls for a great deal of reflection (and imagination too regarding a potential future)!
Therapy has stirred up all my insecurities, and has eroded what little confidence I had a few months ago – it is as if I am exposing the inside of my head to someone who is paid to listen, even though I have chosen that person and have a great deal of respect for their experience and knowledge.
With my sensible hat on, I tell myself that it is probable that ‘things have to get worse, before they can get better’ and ‘no pain, no gain’. The daily grind and effort I put into obsessive compulsive behaviours needs to be transferred as energy I put into making my therapy a success in exposing, and reducing, the anxiety that causes me to behave differently to 97% of the population.
This post is my contribution to World Mental Health Day.
In my last post I mentioned how angry I was feeling with my OCD, and wondered if it was time to seek some solutions, probably therapy, and likely CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).
Well I’ve only gone and got that ball rolling at long last!!
I spent hours trawling information on numerous websites, and (everyone’s favourite) Google searches, looking for the differences between therapists, psychologists, counsellors, psychoanalysts – what did I need?
Do I want to understand why I have OCD?
What life experiences could have increased the likelihood of me developing OCD?
Is the cause relevant to the treatment?
Do I want to delve into the why, when my belief has always been that this doesn’t matter it only matters how it can be treated to remove it? Don’t look back just look forward is what I’ve always said.
I think I know the process for treatment if I visit my doctor and ask for help via the NHS, but also knowing that it could take months on a waiting list, I wanted to “strike whilst the iron’s hot” and go down the private route – after all it’s been 11 years since I apathetically, and therefore unsuccessfully, visited a psychotherapist for about 5 sessions of an hour. I’ve had OCD for 28 years, with unsuccessful medication trying to help for half of that period, so it is hard-wired and severe (in my humble opinion).
I then thought maybe if I look at the possible treatments available it may lead me to the title and necessary credentials of the person that could adminster it and …. I really hope to find someone that specialises in all the different traits of OCD I have e.g. contamination, checking, rumination, worry, (mild) hoarding, reassurance etc.
One thing I know I am not interested in is ERP (Exposure Prevention Response) Therapy – I will not be told to look at a toilet with the end goal to be coaxed to lick the toilet seat, as seen on television programmes about treatments!!
However cloudy that research was, it was then confused further by where that professional was based in relation to my home location – London is clearly the place to be to get the best help but as I find it difficult to leave home for more than a couple of hours because I need my own toilet, it is out of the question.
I found out:
There are websites out there that you can add your postcode and email address to and they will find the nearest professional to help you – some charge a small fee that will include an initial discussion between you, the OCD sufferer, and the professional involved.
Distance counselling (via phone and email) is available for those unable to leave their home, however it isn’t ideal because body language cannot be taken into consideration.
A great many professionals treating OCD provide an initial discussion to see if you think you will ‘click’ and feel comfortable to continue receiving their help/advice/treatment.
There was a massive amount of information to sift through, but I didn’t find anything worth pursuing (unfortunately I think?) but at least I could say that I’d spent several hours exploring treatment. However …..
The next day whilst chatting with my daughter I tearfully admitted that I had recently been coming around to the idea of therapy and that I’d made the big step to look at what treatment I could have, and who would need to provide it, but had not come to any conclusions. She works in a mental health facility and studies psychology and had been waited for decades to hear those words come out of my mouth.
Within an hour she had sent me a detailed email. She had found no less than a PROFESSOR to treat me, he has all the experience and credentials I could wish for, he is based in my local town, and at a cost within budget. As a bonus the consulting room shown on the website link she sent me even has leather seats (a huge relief to me as you’ll know if you’ve read my previous posts). What possible excuses do I now have? All my boxes to start therapy are ticked.
The pace of change is faster than I anticipated, but strangely I am surprising myself at how calm I am about these speedy developments. I keep thinking of wise words like “A long journey begins with the first step” and “Change is not a destination but a journey” and I am a big advocate of change is good as I used to be a Change Manager. I don’t know if these are accurate quotes to be able to attribute the originator/author, but …
Change, journey, steps are all words that are helping me to summon up the strength to pick up the phone and call the practice to start dialogue about making an appointment with a professor that could change my life for the better, and could help me become the person I was before the bully OCD took over.
It’s a couple of months since I wrote a post, as I do try to live in denial that it wrecks normal day to day activities, but last night I was so angry that I have to live with OCD that I was motivated to share how annoying this (expletives galore) condition makes normal living.
Because my OCD manifests itself with handwash after handwash every hour of the day, it is important to plan the most mundane of activities to minimise how many times I have to go through this palaver. So obviously tasks need to be done in the order of dirtiness e.g. empty the dishwasher immediately after you’ve washed your hands and don’t get distracted by anything else like putting the kettle on or moving items in the pantry. This means continually thinking about the order of jobs that need doing and often I plan them in my head before launching into everyday tasks.
In this exacting order, it stands to reason that once I’ve sat down on my germ-free sofa, with my germ-free dinner plate and germ-free glass of juice, I don’t want to get up to add salt and pepper from shakers that are not germ-free. I therefore work out everything I need once I’ve sat down with freshly washed hands to enjoy a couple of hours relaxing (both physically and mentally) in front of the TV with my dinner, dessert and drink.
Last night was no different, I filled my juice glass, I filled my wine glass, I selected my knife and fork – all lined up on my sofa side-table ready to sit down. I added salt and pepper to my dinner and washed my hands ready to enjoy my meal on my germ-free sofa. But ….
After I’d enjoyed my meal I realised I had forgotten to get my dessert prepared in a germ-free way on my side-table. I decided I was thoroughly sick of washing my hands that day and that I could get some kitchen roll to tip up the opened tube of Toblerone chocolate to extract the foiled wrapped (meaning germ-free) chocolate. Alas, as I used the kitchen roll to up end the tube of chocolate my hand accidentally touched the outer dirty germ-ridden wrapping. I told myself that it was only a small amount and for a nano-second, so with my “mind-over-matter” strength I should live with this and not feel the need to rush to the sink to wash the germs off my hand.
Even though I knew this was a difficult dilema, as I went to sit back down on my sofa …. I slightly bumped the side-table with my big backside and knocked the (expletive) TV remote control onto the floor! Aaagghh now the remote control is filthy dirty and I needed to clean it with “Kills 99% of all germs” spray, and then wash my hands AGAIN!
There is absolutely no escaping this nightmare thinking that OCD causes, minute after minute, hour after hour and day after day – I HATE OCD and feel so angry, which leads to being very upset. I wish my mentality was “don’t get angry, get even” all I ever end up doing is dissolving into buckets of tears after I get angry.
I try to rationalise my OCD by telling myself how it isn’t that serious, it isn’t living with cancer or a similarly serious condition – at the end of the day it is within my control to kick it’s backside into touch, but I haven’t been able to for approximately 30 years. Should I give therapy with a professional a try? Should I put as much effort into a solution, as I do into planning how to minimise washing my hands? It’s so tiring living with this, my brain is tired out, and yet I’ve not done anything useful or lucrative to cause my brain to be so tired. Should I just be grateful to be alive and able to see beautiful skies, the waves of the sea, and the birds sitting on my patio?
I know I’m naughty to continually want to shop. I am at my happiest when shopping, even if it’s for mundane groceries – any excuse to get myself off to the shops. I can’t wait for it to be someone’s birthday, anniversary or Christmas so that I can ‘shop ’til I drop’ and burn off calories in the process. On top of that the internet has made it possible for me to shop 24×7, 365 days a year, even from the comfort of my sofa.
I even bought a house so that I could return the largest room back into a shop, so that I can shop for stock! I was in paradise shopping for stock that I hoped customers would want to buy at a marginal profit, to earn a small living. I think the economy improved from 2013 until December 2017 with all the shopping I efficiently performed.
I started to get concerned that my spending on stock was equaling (if not exceeding) my income from sales, and eventually I slowly but surely came to the realization that my ‘little shop’ was costing me money and heartache – the heartache is a whole other story that I’ll write about another time.
So as the holiday period for Christmas 2017 arrived I took the decision to close the shop and not reopen it in January 2018. The fall out from this decision has meant that I’ve desperately needed to go on an economy drive and it was suggested to me that I keep a spreadsheet of ALL my spending, oh boy that was a nasty shock.
Because of my economy-drive and the accountability of even £1 spent, I’ve really appreciated how reckless my spending has been for many many years. The end result is:
My shop is full to over-flowing with stock, that currently has no access to customers purchasing any of it – so bang goes birthday or Christmas present shopping for many years to come, as I’ll have to use up my stock and hope the relatives and friends don’t notice.
There is too much stock in the shop to revert the space back to a living room (as it was when I bought the property) and the rafters would struggle under the weight if it was all put into the attic, plus that space is full to capacity with previous years spending.
My personal cupboards, drawers, wardrobes, ottomans, and shelves are full to breaking point with all my “treasures” and supplies of every conceivable consumable from hand wash to stationery – a woman can’t run out of toiletries and post-it notes or envelopes, but I could supply the whole village in the likelihood of an alien invasion.
Over the last six weeks I’ve come to realize that I do have a shopping problem – to say I love “retail therapy” or that I’m a “shopoholic” is not a funny throw-away comment anymore. It can’t be right that I look forward to running low on butter or toilet rolls so that I can have an excuse to go to the supermarket, but as you no doubt experience yourself, hardly anyone, especially a shopoholic like myself, can walk into a supermarket and not be tempted to buy more than you went for.
I thought I’d read a great deal about OCD, but clearly not because yesterday I was surprised about how big a problem shopping can be for sufferers – the condition is named monomania or Compulsive Buying Disorder.
It must be incredibly painful for people with OCD that absolutely dread having to go shopping, perhaps because too many people are in an aisle and can be off-putting that they’ll brush against them, or the process of even getting to the shops is too traumatic. I read that the packaging being perfect is a worry, that there can be no sign of tampering and that the item being bought needs to “feel right”, both at the shelf and then again at the conveyor belt/till.
On the OCD Action forum (see link above) I read how one lady was checking packets of toilet rolls for split/damaged packaging and was then horrified to see a colleague watching her. She covered her embarrassment by saying she had seen a competition on the wrapping last time she bought the rolls, and was looking for it on the packaging again! Us people with OCD need to be so creative with our excuses to hide our true behaviours, and it is sad in my opinion.
I do suffer with the above problems – always vigilant about the distance kept from strangers (if they touch me accidentally they don’t realise my outer garment will need washing), never touching the shelving or conveyor belts and never touching the handle on the trolley (I use the metal frame). I always take items from the middle to ensure that the least fingers have touched the item and that the potential for it to have been picked up off the floor after dropping off the shelf is minimised.
All of that said though, the pleasure of shopping for me outweighs the OCD inconveniences.
If you would like to read more information about this subject, the link below is very useful.
Over the last few days I have found a new challenge when it comes to shopping – I cannot purchase wool to knit with that is wrapped and not exposed to dirty fingers. Has the ball of wool been dropped on the floor in the factory or the shop? Did the shelf-filler wash their hands after the toilet? Have lots of customers touched the wool? Will the counter top at the till be clean to place my ball of wool on? Germs, and then contaminated wool.
I’m prepared to buy more wool than I require (a bale? of wool, or a packet of 12 balls), as long as it is in protected cellophane. I can tell you that this simple product seems impossible to find.
I’ve trawled around the usual shops likely to sell wool, starting on Sunday afternoon followed by Monday searching on-line with Amazon and Ebay, but even with their huge choice I couldn’t find chunky wool photographed in cellophane, so that I can buy it and get started on knitting a throw. It would also appear that there aren’t any wool shops near, or in a 15 mile radius of my address after Googling this need for wool.
I have it in my head that I need to knit to distract my wondering and frustrated mind in the evenings, whilst sitting on my ‘OCD clean white sofa’. Nothing (and definitely no one) gets to be on my sofa unless it is extremely clean – there is a 12 inch exclusion zone – even I have to change my clothes to sit on my sofa!
This is when my OCD infuriates me because I won’t settle until I’ve located wool that is wrapped. I tell myself to let it drop, and pick up another hobby, but the bully keeps reminding me like an itch that needs to be scratched. The message rolling over and over in my mind is “it can’t be impossible to find wool that is wrapped – picture the contentment of knitting on my sofa with clean wool that hasn’t been touched by dirty hands”.
After many hours of hunting on-line, I decide to hit the crafting sections of The Range and Hobbycraft but with no joy. I asked in Hobbycraft last night if they have ANY wool in the storeroom that hasn’t been unpackaged and needs to be put on the huge array of shelves holding wool, but “No everything is out” I was told. Can this really be true, or is the assistant too lazy to look. I decide to bear all and say “I have OCD and therefore cannot buy the wool on display” but I received a blank look and no sign of compassion for my conundrum.
Now being a fussy person, I was actually looking for chunky pale green wool with flecks of pink and yellow to match my decor in the living room, but by now I would compromise my colour scheme in order to buy wool protected from the elements – is this so hard, wool, I need wool, clean protected wool of any description!
In desperation at 7.30 p.m. I try the more bizarre options for one-off offers in Poundland, and Lidl – I was amazed to see that Poundland had wool – not the colour or thickness I’d choose but “beggars can’t be choosers” as the saying goes. However, upon asking the shop assistant I’m again told “no all the wool we have is out on display”.
I put my thinking cap on and wonder if a work-around solution to this crazy annoyance would be to buy the wool I loved in Hobbycraft (yes they actually had pale green with pastel flecks) and put it in the washing machine, in a pillowcase. Odd I know, but I have done this in the past but because you take the paper label off from around the middle, it just goes crazy in the pillowcase and I spent hours untangling and re-rolling it into a ball. I decided that much as I love the wool, I am very likely to buy it (being a shopoholic) and put it in a ‘safe place’ waiting to be brave, or is that daft, enough to risk the whisking up it gets in a washing machine.
Today is day three of the finding clean wool challenge and unfortunately my OCD mind hasn’t stopped berating me so I ended up mooching through drawers upon drawers of goodies I’ve stock piled over the years with crafting projects and pretty haberdashery, in the hope that I’ve some remaining wool from previous knit-feasts I’ve embarked on.
Joy upon joy, I find wool! Each ball is individually wrapped, and then in a cellophane bag that I bought from John Lewis a few years ago – thank you John Lewis. It may not be pale green with pink flecks, but hey isn’t a muddy grey colour a good substitute? No clearly it isn’t, and I won’t enjoy the end product nearly as much, and it’ll play on my mind each and every hour of the project I sit knitting, and I will continue to pursue my quest to find the right wool in a protected packet because that is what OCD living is like.
If you can help me find a supplier that sells OCD friendly wool, please get in touch and put me out of this misery.
It’s been a long break, but I’m back to share my experiences. What a journey the last couple of years has been.
The saddest time was losing my brother to cancer, within a matter of weeks, when he was really enjoying life in his fifties. He hardly ever saw a doctor and always appeared to me to be a big strong healthy man with a wonderful nature, that didn’t moan or speak ill of anyone – he never argued with anyone ever, therefore he was loved by all family and friends. Life can be so cruel to take people like him, so quickly and so early, but it proves how much he was loved by the amount he is missed every day by so many.
Nothing I can write on this site or in my book about how difficult OCD makes life will be at all significant in comparison to this loss – losing a close family member you love puts all of life into context and the lesson I’ve learnt from this sad event is that I must be grateful for every day I am on this planet.
I recently read a quote by Pablo Picasso that keeps drifting through my mind:
The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.
My brother’s gift to me was to remind me that life is very precious and mustn’t be taken for granted.
I have interpreted this to mean that I must not hide away, or be ashamed of having OCD, and I must make my purpose to be that I share my experiences with others that are interested, no matter how embarrassed or uncomfortably exposed I feel. There are many of us that live with OCD, but there is only one of me, with my personal challenges and unique solutions, and if I don’t share them here I may never be of use to anyone else – that would be a waste.
Apologies for the lack of blog entries, but I seem to be suffering writers block – hopefully it’s because I’m not experiencing stressful “meltdowns” however a couple of days ago there was an incident I thought might be worth writing about ….
My partner suggested a cocktail (one of our favourite treats) on a rarely relaxing Sunday afternoon – usually it’s chores followed by a last minute supermarket dash at 3.00 p.m.
The sun was shining, but the wind was whipping up as we walked into a coastal bar with a glorious seaview that gave the feeling of being abroad. The barman looked nervous when we requested the cocktail menu (list??) which my partner jokingly commented on as he passed it over to us, and then shot behind the scenes leaving his colleague to do the shaking and mixing.
We drooled over the descriptions and I carefully selected one that we weren’t familiar with, a Long Island Cooler that had vodka, rum, tequila and midori amongst its ingredients, whilst my partner went for a Manhattan. We were relieved that the barman, left behind with nowhere to hide, looked excited at the prospect of not serving coffees or pints of lager and had something he could “show off” with.
Unfortunately I then noticed he had a blue plaster on his index finger, which is a big ‘no-no’ for me, and whenever possible I stop the purchase – this applies especially in shops and supermarket check-outs (I have been known to put my groceries back into the trolley and move along to avoid the checkout person touching my purchases with a potentially bloody wound. However in this scenario I found it hard to say “Sorry I’ve changed my mind and now I don’t want a drink”. I could feel my anxiety rising and my heart starting to beat faster, with my smile quickly disappearing.
The barman filled a tall glass with ice (presumably to cool it, because that got thrown down the sink and refilled before the liquid was added which got me thinking was something wrong with the ice) and then he tossed a stainless steel mixer in the air, hoping to look like Tom Cruise, but unfortunately it slipped from his hands on to the floor.
My already growing OCD warning signs now notched up to a red-high-level – please don’t use it now it’s been on the floor I thought as I desperately looked for another he could use?! My partner immediately spotted my perturbed look and said “Don’t worry, I’ll have this cocktail to save you having to worry, and you order another”. Happily though the barman replaced the dropped mixer with a fresh one – phew.
He then went on to pour the alcohol into the glass from a free-flow spout rather than use an accurate measure but half of it missed the glass and went over the counter. Feeling deprived, I said “You missed” to which he ignored me but I must have ruffled his confidence because he then went on to top the glass up with Coca-Cola from the mixer trigger rather than soda or lemonade, making a dirty brown top to the pretty lime green cocktail below.
He looked mortified at this mistake and said “whoops” as he emptied it down the sink whilst I was saying “don’t worry” but it was too late and the whole process had to start again, but not before he got a notebook out and wrote down all the ingredients that had been spoiled for stock taking purposes – in your own time I was thinking.
Half way through his preparation I also noticed how dirty his finger nails were, so I quickly said “Don’t worry about adding the fruit around the side of the glass” to keep the contact with his hands to a minimum, but the fruit slices and umbrellas do make fun of having cocktails.
At that point another customer interrupted the barman’s show by saying “Excuse me mate have you got any toilet rolls only my son is stuck on the toilet needing one”. What!?! There I was trying to get into the mood of sipping a Long Island cocktail, and all of a sudden I was reminded of poo and toilets. How to completely spoil a moment.
This must have distracted the barman so much that he had to get a sheet out to look up the ingredients that this cocktail consisted of – blimey how much longer I was thinking. I got my straws ready from a glassful of them on the bar but whilst I was saying “I have straws thank you”, he ignored me and grabbed two straws with his dirty-plastered finger tips and man-handled them into a bent angle and added them to the glass. What I found amazing is my partner had been clocking all my expressions of worry and as quick as a Ninja Warrior swooped up the straws from my cocktail and whipped them into his coat pocket so that I could use the ones I had selected and wiped in case of germs. This is what years of living with me has lead to – a type of OCD carer instinct that I was well impressed with. He did it so quickly during the barman turning to make his Manhattan cocktail – there was no chance he noticed this manoeuvre but I was amazed and grateful.
My partner’s cocktail was made with less interruptions but when the barman came to flaming the orange peel and rubbing it around the edge of the martini glass you can imagine it didn’t go exactly smoothly. Singed hair and manky finger tips, rather than flamed orange was added to the glass, but my partner was one step ahead of this when he offered me a taste. “Use your straw to taste my cocktail” he said.
I think this story shows how tuned into my OCD my partner has become after years and years of watching out for me. I am very lucky.
I think too much time on your hands can be unhelpful when trying to keep OCD thoughts at bay, here is an example of this. Italic text shows my peck-peck OCD thoughts.
Feeling cold whilst sitting on my sofa, I pulled on a cardigan from my wardrobe and returned to the sofa. Simple you would think, but no, far from it. As I sat there feeling the benefit of the extra warmth from the cardigan I started to doubt whether it was freshly washed when added to my wardrobe (I’ll do a separate post about the complications of my wardrobe rituals). I smelt the arms, which smelt of washing powder, but that wasn’t enough because the peck-peck of my contamination OCD thoughts were not through with me. I tried hard to ignore the thoughts, and distract myself knowing that the warmth was improving and I mustn’t let the OCD win.
I tried but failed to beat it, so I took the cardigan off to see if there was any creases that would indicate it had been worn previously – no, the opposite. There was signs that it was washed and put away without being ironed, as this cardigan was for casual wear around the house, so no creases on the inside of the elbow, or creases on the back to indicate I’d sat in it.
So I put the cardigan back on and tried hard to relax and ignore the next peck-peck of OCD thoughts. This time they played hard-ball. When was the last time I wore it? Could it have been in a public place where germs were transferred to the back or the arms? Did I wear it on a public chair where someone else’s waistband had touched the chair, and that person had been to a dirty toilet and passed germs from the toilet to the public chair that I sat on? I was now rubbing the germs I’d picked up off the chair onto the cushion behind my back, the leather of the sofa I was sitting on, and the throw on my lap? I pictured the scenario of later resting my head on the contaminated cushion, dirtying my hair, that would then contaminate my pillow on my bed. That is an ‘Ultimate No-No’.
Stop thinking like this I kept telling myself, relax. I tried thinking about something more interesting and pleasant, but the peck-peck of germs being on my cardigan and transferring to my “safe” environment would not go away.
I know from the CBT workbooks that I’ve read, that I need to ride out this storm and last as long as possible before caving in to the OCD thoughts. Remind myself the cardigan smells and looks perfectly clean from the section of the wardrobe that I add ONLY clean clothes to. Try to relax.
After five minutes more, the cardigan came off and was put into the washing machine. The leather sofa was sprayed with Dettox and rubbed clean (a frequent activity that does no harm). Then the cushion I was leaning on was sprayed with Dettox, rubbed furiously with kitchen roll, and moved to dry out – I managed not to put that into the washing machine because it was “out of site and out of mind” to dry. Luckily the throw had not been contaminated because I took the cardigan off in time, but I headed into the wardrobe and pulled out enough clothes to make up a load for the washing machine. I feel sure the clothes were already clean, but I didn’t want to re-enact the above situation in the future. My rationale is get rid of any doubt and reassure myself, but I was weak.
So in conclusion, because I wasn’t busy and was trying to relax, I ended up being busy, and OCD won (this time)!