World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day.

Today I have taken the time to thank all the amazing people in my life that have given me continuous support over the year. I thanked my brother for always supporting me and being there for me even though he is eight years younger than I am. I thanked my Dad for enabling me to laugh at my myself, laughing with me and showing my the lighter side to everything in life. I thanked a friend a made through OCD-UK, I am grateful to be a part of her journey and that we are able to share our experiences together. I thanked my Manager for understanding that I need a little more support than the rest of the team. I thanked my Mum for never giving up on me, taking care of me and always putting me first. I thanked my girlfriend for being my comforting blanket, wiping away my tears, making me feel safe and offering me endless support and love.

These people make my good days better, and my bad days somewhat manageable. It is so important to have a strong support network and I am so lucky to have such understanding people in my life.

It is vital that we keep talking about mental health, check on your friend and family, and let them know it’s ok not to be ok.

An image can speak a thousand words and this one does just that.

I came across the image this morning. I instantly shared it on all of my social media platforms. I think the above image is a great visual for people that have a vague understanding. It shows not only that mental health is as important as physical health but it also addresses stigma.

It is extremely sad that we live in a world where mental illness is still a taboo subject. I will spend today spreading as much awareness as I can.

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OCDtober

On the 11th October 2017, I sat in my room and reflected on my journey with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I reflected on the shame, loneliness and unhappiness that I had experienced due to my mental health. I thought of the people that know me as Sarah and only Sarah. The people that see me with a smile on my face all the time, the girl that jokes and laughs a lot. I thought of the person that I want to be. I thought of myself without this debilitating illness and I thought of all the sufferers that I have never met. I began to think of ways I could help myself and other people. This is when I started writing.

Over the last 12 months I have formed a close relationship with OCD-UK, gained a close friend that also suffers with OCD, started therapy, told somebody about my condition that I only just met and began to challenge stigma. However, I have also suffered many panic attacks, sought reassurance every day, suffered from frequent and disturbing intrusive thoughts and carried out extreme compulsions.

I support OCD awareness because I do not want anyone to feel the shame and loneliness I once felt. I also support OCD awareness week because I know first-hand how terrifying and debilitating living with the disorder is.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is more than it is portrayed to be. Rather than being a useful trait, OCD is a debilitating anxiety disorder that prevents sufferers from living life as they chose.

Television has become a serial offender of misusing and mocking OCD. Social Media is also another big platform using memes and quizzes such as ‘how OCD are you’. I have overheard many conversations in which people have stated they are SO OCD because they have to use a certain pen to write, or they have to put things in a certain place.

Last week I visited a family member in hospital. As there were a few of us, we went together in groups, so the rest waited in the waiting room. A family member turned to my partner and asked her how she coped with my OCD – she replied that she loves me for me and it is a part of me. My family member began to laugh and said that she thinks her partner has a bit of OCD because he likes to straighten the bed after sex. I sat there gob smacked. This family member is well aware of my illness; she has seen me in some terrible states. She knows the medication I am on, she knows how passionate I am in the understanding of OCD and she knows I am currently having therapy. After this, I began to question why. I have sat and explained it to her, she has read my writing and she knows the pain I suffer. She is somebody close to me and still uses OCD to mock and joke.

It was not just this instance where I have over heard OCD references and jokes. I counted that I heard over ten in total in the last few weeks. Mainly at work but some from Health Professionals that should have the knowledge and empathy to know better.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder took over my life from a young age. It frequently changes its shape and form but it is always there. I doubt myself on a daily basis and I am in a constant state of confusion. I feel powerless to my own mind. No matter how much I try, OCD always has the upper hand. If you are reading this, whether you suffer from mental illness or not, please question stigma. The best way I have found is to ask someone if they like things in a certain way just because – they do not have OCD but if they put things in a certain way because if they do not a family member will die – that is OCD.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is life consumed with fear and the inability to control your own thoughts. I am attempting to spread awareness not only this week but throughout the month.

IAPT sessions 1 and 2

At the first appointment I was very nervous and on edge. I was unsure of what to expect and I walked in circles round the car park numerous times before entering the building. The building is in the middle of the town centre, as I walked through the doors I met the receptionist and signed in. To my surprise, the waiting room was empty – there was myself and one other person. I imagined that the service would have been full due to my 30-week wait. After a few minutes of looking round the room and reading, the posters on the wall four times over, my therapist appeared at the door and called me through.

She led me down a corridor past a number of unoccupied rooms. We entered a room and I took a seat. She began running through the assessment with me, and as she did so, she told me that she was checking that I needed CBT. My therapist stated the many times I had been referred to the IAPT services but not attended therapy – and asked me why this time was different, why I needed CBT now and why would I be committed to it. She also told me that we had six sessions together – six hours of CBT in total – which I knew straight away was wrong, as it is twelve. I felt as though I had to prove myself worthy of therapy. I was already very anxious and felt like I could not answer the questions quick enough there were many awkward pauses throughout the assessment. She told me to order a book from Amazon – break free from OCD – because we had a limited number of sessions and she worked from this book so I could carry on myself at home.

Towards the end of what I thought was the assessment she told me I am suffering from ‘OCD like tendencies’. I could not believe what she had said to me. I was in shock and extremely annoyed at the use of this phrase especially from a mental health professional. To her statement, I answered with – I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at the age of sixteen and I have been on medication since. She carried on by saying I have ‘a bit of OCD’. Another phrase that I cannot bear to hear. The terms that were used by my therapist are the reason why there is so much stigma surrounding OCD. Although the appointment was supposed to last an hour, after half an hour she said we had finished. Maybe it was because I had felt so let down by the service that I jumped to conclusions but I seemed to think she wanted to go for her lunch break, as it was twelve o’clock.

As I left the building, I felt so upset and disappointed. I began to think of all the other people that have attended the service or were waiting for the service and how they would feel. I consider myself self-aware with my illness in the way that I know how it works, I understand my triggers to a certain degree and I can separate myself from my OCD. I understand that everyone is different, they do not understand there problems and I cannot help think what chance they have with services like IAPT. I met with my Mum on the car park and told her I was not going back.

My second appointment was due for Thursday 28th. After the experience I had the week before I rang the service and told them I could not attend due to physical illness. I spent the week searching for private therapists that are specialised in OCD. I found a few in my area but the prices were extremely high.

I decided to attend my session the week after. I adopted a fresh attitude towards my therapist and tried to convince myself that I could make it work. It was the same routine; I walked round the car park many times and then decided to walk in. My therapist called me in and I followed her down to the room. I gave her the sheets she asked me to fill in and she tallied the scores up and wrote them down. She began to ask me similar questions to last time, which I presume was still part of the assessment phase. My therapist asked me questions more focused on events in my life, family history and relationships. Before I had chance to blink the session had finished. Again, this session only lasted half an hour. Although this appointment was short I felt agitated and worn out from it.

My next appointment is in two days. I currently have no faith in the IAPT service but I am willing to see it through and make the best out of a bad situation. By doing so and using several other self-help techniques that I have acquired over the last few years, I am still hoping for a possible recovery.

My experience with CAHMS and IAPT

CAHMS – Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

At the age of sixteen, my GP referred me to CAHMS. During this time, I was very anxious, very unsure and very frightened. I remember walking up to the building with my Mum. It was a medium sized building. There was nothing on the outside to show what we were walking in to, but I can clearly remember the blacked out windows. As I remember, the inside was bright.On the walls sat pictures that had been coloured and drawn by the children that had attended the service.I did not notice this on the initial appointment – but further into my time at CAHMS I began to notice distressed small children (probably coming out of therapy) which in turn made me feel distressed. I remember thinking to myself, how can a child so small even begin to cope with various mental health disorders – all I wanted was for them to feel better.

I have very vague memories of my diagnosis – I can only remember being in a room with my Mum and a Physiatrist. He informed me that I had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The Physiatrist prescribed me medication and a course of Therapy.

The therapist a saw was a woman. She had blonde hair, glasses and always seemed stressed whenever I spoke to her about my intrusive thoughts. My mum and I often still talk about how red in the face and shocked my therapist seemed when I discussed my OCD to her.

My therapist often read extracts from books. She gave me self-help worksheets and tasks to complete at home. The clearest memory I have from CAHMS involves a raisin and myself. My Therapist asked me to put in a raisin in my mouth. She asked me to consider – the taste, texture, smell and how it felt in my mouth etc. – this exercise really frightened me because I had a panic attack. Little did I know that the technique she was showing me, I would still use 8 years later and is referred to as Mindfulness.

My overall experience of CAHMS was OK – from what I remember. Although just before I reached the age of 18, I had to leave the service and had no direction where to go next.

IAPT – Improving access to physiological therapies

My first encounter with IAPT was at the age of nineteen. My GP referred me to the service and I attended 2 sessions and left.

I have been currently waiting for therapy since March 2018. I received my initial phone call from a therapist towards the end of April. During the telephone conversation, I confirmed my scores that I had rated myself on the sheet they had sent me a week earlier.

In June, I received a letter stating that I had to attend a group therapy session and the local gym – if I did not attend, they would me discharge me from the service. Although I was hesitant and late – I did attend. The meeting consisted of two people flicking through a power point presentation explaining the meaning of anxiety and depression. At the end of the meeting, a man sat next to me went to the back of the room and explained that he had been in the wrong place for over an hour – because nothing was relevant to him. I found the meeting to be extremely uncomfortable and completely pointless.

Towards the end of July, I received another letter in the post asking if I still needed/wanted therapy – if I did not contact the service within 10 days, they would remove me from the waiting list. I contacted IAPT over 5 times in one day – I left voice messages that have still not been returned.

I managed to get in contact with IAPT at the beginning of August – I spoke to a woman on the phone that agreed the waiting times were much longer than they should be. She told me that I am at the top of the list – so I feel greatly for the individuals that have to go through the same process I did.

Last week (12.09.18), the service wrote to me to offer me an initial appointment.

My therapy starts tomorrow, 28 weeks after referral.

I do not have much confidence in the service given the contact, procedures, and waiting times I have experienced. Nor do I feel ready to fight my demons. The thought of resisting my compulsions seems impossible to me. I cannot imagine going for a shower without tapping the floor sixteen times. How is my body going to feel if anxiety is no longer present? Will I be able to walk around my house without stopping every two minutes to check everything is in order? Can I leave my room without taking multiple pictures of everything to ensure the plug sockets are off? Will I be able to have a drink without passing it from one hand to the next sixteen times? Will I be able to dry myself with a towel without experiencing thoughts that I am inpregnating myself? How can I stop myself from asking for reassurance?

I have a hard 12 weeks ahead but tomorrow is a step in the right direction and hopefully a clear path to where I want to be.

Avoidance

A common way to deal with fears is to avoid them.

Fear of flying – You don’t travel by plane.

Afraid of the dark – You keep the light on.

Fear of heights – You stay as low as possible.

Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has enabled me to become the master of avoidance. I have avoided taking showers due to fear of bodily fluid contamination once in contact with a towel. I have avoided rituals in the office by calling in sick to work. I go to great lengths to avoid certain objects and scenarios in the aim to keep my anxiety as low as possible.

In particular my partner has assisted me the most in avoidance. I can avoid my compulsions when she is with me – every night when I take my medication I tap the box four times with each finger, then another four, and I do that two times. When she is with me she will give me the medication in my hand so I don’t have to touch the boxes myself. I can also avoid decision making as I pass the responsibility to her.

But when my partner leaves – it’s down to me again. By avoiding certain actions for days and then having to face them makes things more difficult. The fears are enhanced and the compulsions are fiercer and become even more time consuming then they were before.

By using avoidance, I am not dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder head on. Continued avoidance actually worsens my condition and although it provides short term relief – in the long term it does not help me whatsoever.

Excessive Apologising

I compulsively apologise for things that are out of my control. My obsessions manifest from being a terrible person. I get myself so anxious and upset over the thought that I have hurt somebody’s feelings and that they will never think the same of me again. To relieve the anxiety associated with this, I apologise.

When I have sought reassurance – I apologise. Partly because I know how ridiculous some of the questions are and I can understand how irritating it must be for the person involved.

When I practise avoidance – I apologise. An example of this is after I have had a drink I pass my cup over to my girlfriend so she can put it out of sight so that I can avoid my compulsions.

If I have had the slightest disagreement with a loved one and I mean something so minor that it really does not matter I apologise profusely.

I apologise a lot for the way I am feeling – I constantly tell my Mum and my girlfriend that I am sorry. Although they tell me that I don’t need to apologise – I cannot help it.

Carrying out my compulsions is another matter I apologise for. It adds time and complicates even the simplest of tasks. When I walk up the stairs, I ensure each foot brushes against each step. I get to the top of the stairs and I twist my body several times to ensure both sides of me have touched the bannister. Most of the time I do this compulsion I have somebody behind me – usually carrying something upstairs.

I say sorry continuously. A single sorry is not enough. As I obsess over certainty I have to be certain that I have apologised properly. I am aware that I am doing it but I cannot help it. It’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorders famous last words – just one more time, but it never is. I will tell the person ‘this is the last time now – I’m sorry’ I’ll even joke with my girlfriend and say ‘I’ll probably say it again in 10 minutes’. I will also ask if they are sure it’s ok. I become so distressed over the way I portray myself to the people I love the most. My anxiety fills me with guilt and my obsessions add to it until it spirals out of control.

Another worry associated with over apologising is that if I ever need to say sorry it may not seem genuine because I over use the word. Apologising is a positive way to take responsibility for your actions but when it comes to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder this is not the case. I need to work on excessive apologising and learn not to fall into the trap. With this being said when I do apologise I mean it with the up most sincerity and I am deeply sorry for causing distress to those closest to me – even though they tell me I have not caused distress. These people mean more to me than I could ever put into words and I love them dearly.

I also want to emphasise that I a have never been made to feel guilty about my illness, although I apologise excessively I haven’t done this out of pressure or lack of support. I know that I am loved unconditionally and the compulsion has no reflection on my loved ones behaviour towards me.

4 Disney Quotes to alleviate the stress of every day life

Mental health awareness week took place last week and the focus this year was stress. Personally, I find stress incredibly difficult to manage, and as I suffer with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder stress magnified my illness a considerable amount.

Although stress is not a mental health problem it is closely linked to mental health as it can cause mental health problems or make the existing problem worse.

Stress affects me emotionally, physically and mentally. It leaves me feeling restless, agitated, overwhelmed and unable to concentrate.

Here are five Disney Quotes to alleviate the stresses of everyday life and how I relate to them

1. Think of the happiest things it’s the same as having wings – Peter Pan

“You think of a wonderful thought”

“Any happy little thought?”

“Like toys at Christmas? Sleigh bells? Snow?”

When I begin to feel stress mounting up I think of the things that make me happy. I think about the first time I met my girlfriend. The day my little brother started School. The times I have laughed uncontrollably with my family. The holidays I have shared with the people closest to me. When I think about these moments in my life, the memories I have automatically lift my spirits. I attempt to concentrate on the people that make me the happiest and try to block out the negativity that it causing me distress.

2. Laughter is ten times more powerful than screams – Mike Wazowski

The pressures of everyday life can prove to be extremely stressful. Regardless of the situation we have all had a point in our lives where we feel like screaming. I have had many days where I feel like I could just sit there and scream due to stress. Instead of doing this, I find a way to laugh. I dig out a memory, find a photo, make a phone call, look online or spend time with a loved one. I find that laughter is the best medicine – after all laughed decreases stress and releases endorphins.

3. In every job that must be done there is an element of fun, you find the fun and snap the jobs a game – Mary Poppins

For me stressful events have led to anxious and overwhelmed states. I feel that this quote applies to many situations where stress is overclouding life. I have to think of the reason that I am doing what needs to be done. For example – I have to go to work – when I go to work it means I can do things with my girlfriend and my family. I try to look at what I can do to get through the situation and ways it can help me. I look forward to the end product knowing it will give me joy.

4. Look for the bare necessities. The simple bare necessities. Forget about your worries and your strife’s – Baloo

There are many different reasons that people experience stress. Finance, illnesses work, education and confrontation are just a few examples. When I begin to feel stress – I strip it down. To the bare necessities. I have what I need and more. Warmth, food, a home, happiness, family and friends. I look around me, the people, the place I call home, even at the sky. Sometimes I get stressed about things that really do not matter, I take a mole hill and make it into a mountain. I look at the bigger picture and I am thankful for what I have.