OCD did not kill Jo Cox

For readers in other countries, you may not be aware that sadly, this week, one of our MP’s was killed as a result of being shot.

As often happens following these tragic events, there has been much speculation as to what happened and what drove one man to these actions. The reason I am writing this post is because much has been made in the media, of the fact, that the man who allegedly killed her also suffered from OCD.

This was one headline from our tabloid newspapers:

Man arrested after Jo Cox shooting is ‘obsessive compulsive who rubbed own skin with Brillo pads’ relative claims

It is a damaging headline. The link is immediate. He had a mental health condition; he must therefore have been a danger to the public and this is what drove him to murder a member of parliament.

OCD is a disorder, not a killer.
At its’ heart are intrusive thoughts that torture the sufferer inexplicably. There are often themes to the types of intrusive thoughts that occur and these vary wildly and uniquely from individual to individual. Themes can include topics such as contamination, sexually intrusive thoughts and yes even harm thoughts. But the emphasis has to be on the word intrusive. They are, what is otherwise known as, “ego dystonic”. Simply put, they are not congruent to the persons’ core values.

Why is this so important to emphasise? Because even if Jo Cox’s alleged killer did have OCD in the form of harm thoughts (and there is no evidence at this time to suggest that he did) this would absolutely not have led him to carry out such an act. In fact, quite the reverse. OCD sufferers, along with the agony of intrusive thoughts, will have compulsions they carry out to try and prevent the thoughts from occurring or becoming true. Anyone with OCD experiencing intrusive thoughts about killing someone are the least likely candidates to be researching murder methods and creating home-made ammunition.

Following Jo Cox’s awful murder, I have read articles and tweets that lament the fact that mental health provision in the UK is woefully inadequate. There is no doubt that mental health services are under-resourced (and some will be woefully inadequate) and this is definitely a discussion that needs to be had at a more suitable time; but to push this political agenda when discussing the murder of Jo Cox conflates that mental illness was to blame for her death.

Whilst much is made of his mental health problems, it draws attention away from other more pertinent discussions. It has been widely reported that this particular individual had contacts with far right, neo-nazi groups. It has also been mentioned that he was isolated and lonely. Of course, these are not the only factors and I am certainly not arguing that loneliness a murderer makes. But these are all relevant discussions to be had.
Prevent (who work to prevent terrorism) state in their policy guidance that “where there are feelings of isolation and loneliness, radicalisers can exploit this by providing a sense of purpose or feelings of belonging”.
Where are the discussions about marginalisation, social exclusion and that taboo topic, loneliness? Or maybe we need to be having an open discussion about politics, hate and fanaticism.

It is impossible to know what drives an individual to kill but let’s be clear; there are few mental health conditions that drive people to murder. The fact that this individual potentially had a diagnosis of OCD is about as relevant as a diagnosis of eczema.
OCD did not kill Jo Cox; an individual who is currently in police custody did.

What’s your gut telling you?

I have been struggling with some big life decisions in the last week or so which inevitably I have found very anxiety provoking. I am lucky to have lovely friends and family who wish to help but I have noticed a number of well intentioned cliches that get trotted out in these times and I also noticed how untrue they are when it comes to anxiety and OCD. Here are a few of the ones I’ve noticed. Can you add any more?

  1. What’s your gut telling you?  – Honestly. My gut is telling me that I want to throw up and that I can’t sit still. Why what’s your gut telling you? This one just baffles me. I get the sentiment behind it- that we should go with our instinct and not get confused by the myriad of thoughts that are telling us what we “should” do. When you suffer with anxiety however your gut is just a swirling mass of wriggly worms. If I lived by my gut I wouldn’t get very much done because all it tells me is “You’re doomed. The world is doomed. Now vomit”. The sensation is so strong that it overrides any sensical message that may be trying to get through.
  2. You’ll know when it’s right – Now this one is just SO untrue especially when it comes to OCD. You do know OCD is known as the doubting disease right? We never know when anything is right. That’s the whole problem. If I did I wouldn’t have spent the last 14 years obsessing about a vast array of worries including whether I could be a paeodphile. Nothing is “right” with OCD. This statement can also be especially untrue when it comes to relationships if Relationship OCD (ROCD) is present. I’ve heard so many people say to others when talking about their loved ones “I just knew” or “you just know” but in ROCD that just doesn’t happen. Sometimes even when it’s right, OCD will be telling you that it’s wrong. OCD likes to mess like that.
  3. Everything works out OK in the end –I’m not saying this is completely untrue, in fact I think when you have a sense of perspective it is possible to see that most things (unless it kills us) aren’t the end of the world. Rational human beings can see that if they make a wrong decision, life won’t end but for someone with anxiety it just doesn’t feel like that. Instead, it feels like life will be miserable forever, you’ll never be happy and you’ll spend the rest of your days in a permanent state of regret. Try making a decision when your brain is telling you that.
  4. Write a list of pros and cons – Again, so well intentioned but try reading a pros and cons list written by someone with anxiety. For every pro there will be a con because that’s kind of how our brains are wired. Every time your brain comes up with a nice positive, the sneaking voice of anxiety whispers a negative in your ear. I have never written a pros and cons list that has provided an illuminating answer (except that I’m a neurotic worrier that is paralysed with indecision – and I already knew that anyway!).

    I’d be interested if anyone has experienced any others. If you post in the comments box I’ll publish them.

Emily x

It’s a whiteknuckle ride

I came across an expression the other day which I absolutely loved. It was this: “white knuckling your way through an exposure” (found in this post by Angie)

It summed up something that I’d been thinking about in relation to exposures but I’d never heard mentioned in great detail. Having said that I think it could be the key to why a lot of treatment doesn’t work as adequately as it could.

So what is “whiteknuckling” your way through an exposure?

I became aware of it through a friend who is also undertaking ERP (Exposure Response Prevention) for her OCD. She was describing doing exposures but explaining that it all felt rather perfunctory. Whilst I heard her talk about the imagery scripting she was having to do it sounded as if she had very little anxiety from it. It was like she was doing it as a rather academic exercise but not really connecting with it. Once she described this I began to honestly reflect on some of my exposures and I remembered that I’d “whiteknuckled” my way through some of them too.

In my experience I didn’t always fully commit to the uncertainty and the exercise (sorry CBT therapist). In fairness to myself I did become aware of this but I never had a word to describe what I’d been doing.

Now I do. And it’s “whiteknuckling”. Whiteknuckling in my mind is doing your exposure but not really “being there” either. It’s doing an exposure but detaching yourself from what is going on. My friend spoke of not really believing it’s OCD so half heartedly doing the exercise fully expecting to have to “figure it all out” later. It’s gritting your teeth and kind of telling yourself that maybe you’ll believe that you’re contaminated/a paeodphile all the while telling yourself that you’ll keep checking later.

So now we’re aware that we all whiteknuckle our way through some of our exposures (we all do right?) what can we do to address this.

The first one is showing up wholeheartedly to whatever exposure it is. Really connect to whatever it is you’re doing; if it’s writing an imaginal script really embody the words that you’re writing. It’s no good writing it as if you were writing your times tables. You have to really step inside the script.
If you’re having to contaminate yourself with dirt then really smear it on and commit to the belief that you might be really truly dirty and so on.

Secondly, check your breathing. If you’re holding your breath then it might be a clue that you’re whiteknuckling through an exposure. When we hold our breath tightly then we’re often not really allowing ourselves to feel whatever sensations may arise (usually terrifying anxiety). I can remember having to look at pictures in magazines of children and kind of holding my breath and crossing my legs whilst I did it. I was doing my exposure right? Wrong, I was squinting at a picture but with one eye on the exposure whilst the other part of me looked in the other direction (metaphorically speaking).

Thirdly, be honest with your therapist if this is what you are doing. They may have some things they want to try to help you truly commit to the task at hand.

And remember it’s not about getting an exposure 100% right but it is about being honest with ourselves and getting down and dirty with exposure.

Any thoughts? Anyone else identify with whiteknuckling?

Emily x

 

Compulsive habits

When I was a teenager I had contamination fears. To deal with these I came up with some rituals which helped ease my mind. I was never an excessive hand washer particularly but I had other little routines to enable me to do things such as use a public toilet. Over the years my contamination obsession faded away, to be replaced with other more intense obsessions, but my toilet routines remained – except now they were just re-labelled as “quirky habits”. They weren’t extreme, they didn’t take up hours of my day and I wasn’t particularly distressed by it but I still needed to do them in order to be comfortable in certain hygiene scenarios.

I got thinking about these “habits” towards the end of my CBT and ERP. I think it could be an important part of CBT that when identifying your compulsions, that a good look is taken at “habits” that slip through because they’ve been given a more palatable name. Rightly so, in CBT I focused on my extreme compulsions related to my more current obsessions, that were taking up hours of my time. But now I am no longer having regular CBT I have decided that a useful next step is to challenge some of my other old ingrained beliefs and “habits”. This weekend, we have people to stay and I am doing some exposures around using the toilet when I know that strangers (I don’t know these people very well) have used it. How do I know it’s an exposure? Because not doing my usual “habits” leaves me feeling pretty uncomfortable. My anxiety isn’t through the roof but I’m left with a lingering feeling that something isn’t “right”. So those compulsions all those years ago (15 years ago!) that just became a habit? Turns out they’re just compulsions by another name. They’re ideas and beliefs that I never challenged. 15 years on it’s just a fact in my mind that I can’t touch the flush with my bare hand and so on. Yes, it’s very mild and yes a lot of people who don’t have OCD may have certain things they will and won’t do in a public toilet but why not challenge it? Why let OCD have the final say?

Emily x

“Something good comes with the bad, A song’s never just sad, There’s hope, There’s a silver lining…”

I’ve been thinking about silver linings a lot recently. It helps that I love this song by First Aid Kit quoted in the title. It was then suggested as a blog hop topic too by @FightAgainstOCD

It has always seemed a complete anathema to me that there could be anything positive about OCD. It felt a bit like saying that Hitler was just a bit misunderstood. OCD – you know the monster that convinces you that you’re some sexual deviant harbouring murderous tendancies that’s also likely to contract HIV, nope not much fun to be had in any of that. Let me be clear, having OCD is miserable, I would never try and argue otherwise, but since recovering I have grudgingly started to see some silver linings.

1) My blog – I have always thought that I like to write and would like to do more of it. It’s been the kind of thing that I’ve told myself throughout my life, a fact about me, as true as I’d like to do an open mic night and I’d like to dye my hair a brilliant red. All of which have never happened. If it wasn’t for OCD and anxiety I would never have set up a blog, I would never have started writing regularly and as much as it pains me to say it I am kind of thankful for that.

2) Support network  – Through having the blog I went on to set up a twitter account. I have connected with an amazing twitter community and have met some lovely people (some in person and some online).  I would never have known that lots of other people have the same thoughts as me and that there’s a whole little community if OCD hadn’t reared it’s head and pushed me in that direction. I can’t honestly say it’s been all awful when I’ve met such wonderful people who have really made a difference. Actually scrap that, I can say it’s been awful but it’s been made a whole lot better by the lovely people out there. I actually wouldn’t change that for the world.

3) I have learnt to say “No” – I’ve always been someone who thought that I ‘should’ be doing various things in my life. I’ve never been good at saying no to invitations or truth be told putting myself first. Last year that all changed. I was forced to re-consider my priorities, figure out what I did and didn’t like doing and what felt right for me. This came about through duress, anxiety made it impossible for me to do all the things I had done previously but actually I’m realizing that something good has come of this. I’m now able to say no with few qualms to things I don’t fancy doing and without feeling like I’m missing out. I put my health and well-being first so if something doesn’t feel right for me I am able to choose. Anxiety and OCD pushed me to the edges of myself but with that has come a greater understanding of who I want to be.

4) Mindfulness – I’d always had a fleeting interest in meditation (in the same way that I’ve decided I’m going to become an epic knitter only for it to be discarded after a few half-hearted attempts). When my anxiety and OCD reared it’s head I decided out of desperation to give it another go and so has begun what I really think will be a life long daily practice. It has taught me more about myself than I imagined it would and has given me a quiet confidence that I have the answers within. It has helped with tackling the cycles of rumination and compulsions beloved to an OCD sufferer. Not only that but it has given me a new career route – I have decided that I would like to train in facilitating Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy groups and am currently going through the necessary steps to start this. This will complement the work that I already do but now I will be able to do something that is a passion. It got me out of the house when I couldn’t face doing anything as the only thing that didn’t seem too daunting was sitting in a group of people who smile serenely and don’t say anything to you! In the same way that I have learnt to say no, through mindfulness I have also learnt the simple pleasure of just ‘being’. I love sitting quietly these days and have shaken off the false ideas I had that to live a happy life I must always be constantly busy, always on the go. By going through the experience of having a mind that has been filled minute to minute with horror, like a record stuck on the worst bit of the song, I now have glorious minutes where there is just peace and quiet and whereas peace and quiet perhaps once struck me as a bit dull it is now music to my ears.

It is as if now I have known absolute misery I can know absolute happiness. Mindfulness helps me see those moments. I notice and observe things in more detail; objects, views, music – things that previously I may not have paid much attention to I now enjoy with the pleasure of a thirsty person coming across water. Rose Bretecher sums it up perfectly for me (and more eloquently than I could ever hope to) in her article for the Guardian when she says:
“If it wasn’t for the comparative cacophony of pure O, I wonder, would these moments feel so impossibly beautiful in their sheer, simple unthinkingness?”

Emily x

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” – Roosevelt

 

I have a fear of relapse.

There I’ve said it. Not all of recovering from OCD/anxiety is smooth sailing. It seems to be the case that the more I head towards recovery, the greater my fear of relapse is. I have more to lose now it seems than when I was only at the beginning – there is further for me to fall. I have a bad day and I become convinced and anxious that I am slip sliding my way back into the pile of mud at the bottom of the slide. It reminds me of the game ‘Snakes and Ladders’ that I used to play as a child – move forward a couple of spaces and before you knew it you’d landed on a snake fast on your way back to the bottom of the board.

It terrifies me that my brain could go back to where it was and not to really know what may set it off.  It scares me that my brain can do as it pleases without a heads-up (surely it would have just been common courtesy to warn me what it was planning?!). What really terrifies me is that I feel that I can’t trust my mind. I have spent quite a long time trying to work out what caused my OCD to escalate so badly. I analyse all that was going on in my life at the time and for a while I have made changes according to that. Perhaps it was the friends I was socialising with at the time. Simple, I just won’t see them. Stress at work? I’ll just do the bare minimum to keep stress levels low. Flat situation getting me down? I moved out and in somewhere else. I have fortunately reached a point where I have realised that this perhaps isn’t the healthiest of mechanisms. Of course it’s useful to look at where you can make positive changes in your life and I actually think moving out of a slightly toxic flat situation probably did help. But what I’ve really realised is that this fear of relapse is all part of my OCD thinking. I want 100% certainty that I won’t relapse. I want an absolute answer as to what caused my OCD and really what I know (I should know) after months and months of CBT is that maybe I have to be able to tolerate the uncertainty. Maybe I will have another OCD struggle on my hands in the future. Maybe I will face more stress that might trigger another OCD outburst. Maybe just maybe I’ve done enough work (emotionally/psychologically) to stand me in good stead. So what I keep trying to remind myself is that if I can’t ever really know for sure then maybe there’s just no point in worrying about it at all. 

Emily x

 

OCD – Our Closet Demon?

Guest blogger @DaveJPosti has kindly written another very helpful post about opening up to people about your OCD. In this post he talks about the benefits of opening up to friends and family (it doesn’t cover romantic relationships as that requires another blog post…) Here’s what he has to say on the issue…..

Who knows about your OCD? Who do you wish knew about it? Everyone? No one? I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot recently. In fact, doing as well as thinking. Telling people close to me about my OCD/anxiety. Close friends. Not so close friends. The desire to be open overcoming the shame of my own mind.

You already carry the weight of the world and more around with you every second of the day. Releasing some of that weight becomes vital, life affirming. A reconnection with who you really are. But who to tell? How much to tell? A glossy coating of ‘stress’ and ‘some strange thoughts’, or the unvarnished truth of the excruciating torture of your OCD? Would your friends/family understand the depth of the mental maze you’re lost in? Would they even need to, so long as they accept and listen without judgement?

If you’re thinking of confiding in friends about your OCD, then I would say, go ahead. Those that mind don’t matter, those who matter could never mind. Of course it may feel hurtful if someone doesn’t understand (something which will hopefully be dealt with in another blog post) but the people you want in your life are the ones who listen without judgement and ask questions with compassion. Don’t sugarcoat your experiences. You’ve been hurt. Painfully so at times. But fundamentally, you’re still the same person with the same capabilities as before. You may have forgotten that but it’s true. Don’t understate this. But I don’t think you would experience negative reactions. More likely is the lighter feeling and freedom of casting a burden aside. And the potential for an even closer relationship with friends/family. You’ve swept aside the superficial stuff and made yourself vulnerable. In a way, this is when you’re strongest. You’ve done the thing most people run away from. You may well find that your friends/family deeply respect this and value you even more.

And then confide in you about their own struggles.

So by confronting your fears in this way you’re actually shining a light onto the path for others to confront their own demons too. Worth doing I’d say.

OCD our closet demon