Side Hustle/ Activism
To know me is to know my OCD journey. I have written a number of articles about my experience and have upcoming speaking events with OCD Action to help raise awareness of this rather shit, soul destroying illness that so many of us keep to ourselves. Here is my article for Mother of All Lists, a blog curated by Clemmie Telford;
'Living with Sexual Intrusive Thoughts'
I have OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
I’m going to explain what that means, because not enough people understand.
It’s not what you might think.
It’s irrational, it’s cruel and it’s so, so frightening.
‘Obsessive’ – means obsessional thoughts and feelings that you just can’t let go.
Terrifying thoughts (they can be impulses too).
My obsessions are upsetting obsessional sexual thoughts.
Thoughts that I could do something awful – filling me with anxiety.
Constantly repeating in my mind.
‘Compulsive’ – Compulsions are your reactions to these thoughts.
Things you feel will stop the thoughts becoming real.
My ‘Compulsions’ were very covert, invisible behaviours.
I became a master at hiding them and didn’t always recognise them myself.
A big one was avoidance.
I’ve had times where I was terrified of being too close to members of my family for fear of doing something awful to them.
Another was being overly aware of my hand placement. I would often sit on my hands to stop them acting on perceived impulses.
I would argue with myself in my head for hours to the point of not being able to concentrate on much else. Once you start a dialogue with OCD you have lost against it.
The obsessional sexual thoughts started when I was 19.
I read something in a book about a young boy being abused (part of a plot line I wasn’t expecting) and became bombarded with intrusive thoughts.
I became hyper sensitive to any news reports along that theme and my brain tormented me with the constant ‘what if’. ‘If they are capable, I am capable’.
‘What if. What if. What if…’
It got so bad and so upsetting that I remember being alone in my room one day and screaming ‘JUST STOP’ over and over.
I was terrified it meant I was an evil person capable of doing these things.
I hunted desperately online for anyone else going through the same.
I found hundreds of forums about ‘intrusive thoughts’.
But so few people were talking about it without being anonymous, which made it still feel so shameful.
Little did I know that reading these articles again and again was a compulsion that was feeding my obsessive thoughts.
I lived through a rollercoaster of OCD episodes throughout my 20s.
Panic attack after panic attack never being sure what was happening to me.
Then I’d feel better.
Then I thought I’d beaten it.
Then I had my daughter.
When she was three months old my OCD manifested itself as an irrational fear that I could abuse her.
Despite knowing I may be hit with my OCD (it comes in waves of ‘episodes’) when she was born, my pregnancy was so good that I felt like I had a handle on it.
It crept up on me when I was at my most sleep deprived and vulnerable.
I saw a headline about the abuse of a child on Facebook and that was it, a huge trigger knocked me into the worst OCD episode I’ve experienced.
At first I just bawled my eyes out, it haunted me for days and then suddenly it twisted. It filled me with dread that I could be capable of harming her.
From then I became lost in a battle of compulsions.
When my husband left the house I would spend hours crying curled in a ball on the sofa just reading about other people’s OCD experiences over and over.
I could only just about bring myself to do the basics to look after my daughter.
Then I had a series of days where I would leave the house with her straight after my husband left for work so I wouldn’t be alone with her.
I didn’t realize that all of these behaviours were just fuelling my irrational belief and making me feel worse and worse.
Any parent can tell you that the thought of threat to their child will make them feel sick to their stomach.
The best way I can describe how my OCD felt is living with this constant sick feeling 24/7.
The moment I woke up with her lying in her basket next to me.
Every time I was alone with her, gave her a bath, changed her nappy.
I knew I had to do something.
I opened up to my husband, and a few close family and friends.
I had waves of relief.
They responded so compassionately and with such understanding I couldn’t quite believe it.
This was the beginning of my road to recovery.
After the initial relief I became overwhelmed with feelings of doubt.
I became convinced I should be locked up so my daughter could be safe.
I then completely broke down.
I called my health visitor in floods of tears.
She was so compassionate.
She called the NHS crisis team to come to see me.
My husband came home from work to look after us both.
We waited and waited and no one came.
I don’t want the focus of this to be about how underfunded the NHS is.
But when you’re in the system you realize how true it is.
I ended up walking myself to our local A&E.
I was numb with fear.
I laid there sobbing uncontrollably.
They kept me over night.
Most of the staff were incredibly supportive.
But one Psychiatric Nurse had not come across OCD before.
She mentioned social services.
I completely clammed up and refused to speak to her.
That moment was so damaging to me.
I was petrified they would not let me see my daughter.
The next morning my husband and daughter came up to see me.
Just thinking about this moment is so heartbreaking.
It must have been difficult for him to see me like that.
That was the lowest moment in this whole journey.
Now for the positive stuff.
I’m getting better.
I barely remember the horrific feelings.
I ended up being officially diagnosed twice.
Once on the NHS and once privately at The Priory.
They were both the same — Obsessive Compulsive Disorder — I needed to hear it from two Psychiatrists.
Getting a diagnosis is so important.
Exposure therapy (a specific form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) saved me.
I did ten weeks of weekly sessions.
It set me truly on the road to recovery – I still go every few months.
I take an antidepressant called Sertaline.
It works for me.
I might stop taking it one day.
I might not.
Right now I’m not prepared to rock the boat.
I also believe strongly in shaking the stigma attached to taking medication for your mental health.
Getting better is a process.
You have to be dedicated.
You have to be unimaginably brave.
There is so much to it.
Here are a few things I’ve learned:
Recognizing is not enough.
I did that.
7 years ago I went to a mental health clinic when I was living out in Canada.
They said I had OCD, but it was like I wasn’t really listening.
I felt that I’d done my part by acknowledging that there was something wrong.
The moment I started to feel a bit better I just carried on without addressing it.
Don’t push the thoughts away.
Let them in.
Accept them and let them be there.
Eventually they will subside naturally.
Stop your compulsions.
This sounds near impossible.
It will fill you with fear and anxiety.
But you must stop or delay them as long as possible as they are fuelling your obsessions.
My little girl is almost 2 now, she is the happiest little thing (aside from those tantrums!).
I now feel like I am able to be the mom I want to be.
A strong one.
If I can make it through this, then I can take on anything life throws at me. Even being back at work and dealing with teething and nights of little sleep feels like a doddle compared to battling my OCD.
I also volunteer for the charity Maternal OCD, the women who run it, Diana and Maria were an incredible support to me. You can read other success stories on their website – https://maternalocd.org/