OCD, Mindfulness and Me

When I say “mindfulness” people hear “meditation” and often they’ve zoned out already, imagining long haired hippies, free love and no alcohol. But mindfulness is for everyone and anyone (whether you’re of the long haired hippy variety or not).

Following a conversation with a lovely person on twitter (@RoseWiltshire who blogs here )  I decided to put together a FAQ to mindfulness.

I’ve heard of mindfulness but I don’t really know what it is? So what is mindfulness….In simple terms it’s about being present in the here and now. We live so much of our lives in the past or in the future without being aware we’re doing it. How many times a day do we replay conversations we’ve already had with people or plan the conversations we intend to have, thinking about the hilarious anecdote we’re going to tell or the sarcastic riposte to someone who’s been annoying us (or is that just me? ). Our minds are experts at jumping out of the present moment. What mindfulness aims to do is help us bring it back and cultivate more awareness of the patterns of our minds and an awareness of the present.

So can I just decide to be more mindful? Well deciding to be more mindful is a first step but unfortunately our brains are their own masters so it will continue to be unruly and follow it’s usual patterns unless we make a conscious effort. Just saying that we’re going to be more mindful isn’t usually enough. This is where meditation comes in. Mindfulness is often described as a practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes to bring mindfulness to your every day and so sitting down and actually practicing mindfulness is quite necessary. “Boring” I hear you grumble and yes sometimes it is a little dull but it’s also one of the most illuminating exercises that you can do.

OK so I’d like to do some practice, do I just sit and say “ommmmmm” a lot? A frequent misconception about mindfulness is that it’s all about being zen, having no thoughts and chanting. Seriously, people at work who know I practice mindfulness are frequently asking me about whether I’m really chilled out (my usual response is baahahahhahah). So let’s just be clear, mindfulness is not about getting rid of thoughts or existing in a constant state of calm, it’s about bringing more awareness to what is actually going on for us. So that constant feeling of panic? Thoughts that nobody likes you? Great, notice it, observe it, be aware of it. That’s mindfulness.

Ermmm that actually sounds pretty painful, thanks anyway but I think I’ll give it a miss. Yep that was my first response. Who wants to sit and actually draw their attention to what’s going on in their inner world which is frequently difficult? Mindfulness is not about flooding yourself with difficult experience or about sitting and really dwelling. It’s about just observing some of what’s going on for you. The thinking is that we exist in a paradox. The more we push away difficult thoughts or feelings the more they plague us. Mindfulness suggests that actually if we turn towards these experiences (even slightly) then we become less trapped by them, we can get some distance from them and maybe just maybe they loosen their grip on us. Mindfulness practice helps us notice the thoughts or feelings but not necessarily get caught up in them. A thought is just a thought but so often it becomes a whole story. Mindfulness can help us recognise the thought before it becomes a story that’s dragged us down to the pits of despair.

So how has it helped you? I have OCD and generalised anxiety (if you’d like to read more about how they affect me click here and here or indeed any of my previous posts). They’re disorders which are pretty much all about hyper fondness/attachment to our thoughts. An OCD sufferer experiences intrusive thoughts – these are usually unpleasant, terrifying and impossible to turn off. Prior to doing mindfulness, I really thought every thought I had must be true, that it must say something dreadful about me. I did everything in my power to try and get rid of the thoughts. I tried thought suppression (turns out they bounce back louder and in technicolour), I tried avoidance of things that trigger the thoughts (turns out that just makes life pretty small). It wasn’t until I did mindfulness  (and intensive CBT too) that I could just see them for what they were – rather weird, creative neural impulses. Mindfulness doesn’t get rid of the thoughts- in fact just yesterday at a meditation workshop run by Buddhist monks I had numerous intrusive thoughts about punching all the Buddhist monks in the back of the head. Time was when I would have run out of the hall sweating and panicking about what it all meant but instead I just sat and watched the thoughts pass on by (and smiled a little at the incongruity of it all).

So what do you think the best way to get into mindfulness is? 

There are several ways you can get into mindfulness. There are lots of great books with excellent audio guided meditation which you can do at home. Of course that takes discipline and it’s easy to just not do it. One of the best things I did was an MBCT course. This stands for Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy and is an 8 week course. There are also MBSR courses (mindfulness based stress reduction). Doing a course provides the framework to get you used to practice as you have daily homework to do. For those that are worried that it’s some kind of group therapy session and that you’ll have to share, it really isn’t. The focus is on mindfulness and your experience of it, not what’s brought you to the class or what you’re struggling with. If a group really isn’t for you then you can also find teachers who do one to one classes (see below for links). For those with OCD and Anxiety I would emphasise that I don’t think that an MBCT  course is an alternative to doing CBT and ERP but it’s an excellent add-on that helped consolidate everything I was learning in CBT.

So finally do you have any links to resources?

Yes, yes and yes!

If you would like to do an MBCT or MBSR course then you can find them online. You can find one in your local area by going to this website. There is usually a cost to them although some GP’s or Community Mental Health Teams do refer to mindfulness classes too. If you are going to do one privately (either in a group or one to one) then ensure that the teacher has a good grounding in mindfulness. If all they’ve done is read the book and done the 8 week course themselves then I’d steer clear. Be on the look out for teachers who have studied to teach through the Mindfulness centre at Oxford University, Bangor University or Exeter University. Don’t be afraid to chat to the teachers and ask questions as you’ll get a good feel if they’re the right people for you.

If you’d like to read some books on the topic then here are ones I’d recommend:

The Mindful Way Through Depression – I love this book. It’s so easy to read and to be honest I think it’s a good one for anybody, depression or not. It also comes with guided audio meditations.

Mindfulness workbook for OCD – A great book with practical tasks to use mindfulness in overcoming OCD

Finding Peace in a Frantic World – A book I’ve dipped in and out of and used some of the guided audios. It’s a very popular mindfulness book.

There are so many others. I’ve got some of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s guided audio meditations and he’s also written a number of books, he’s a big name in the mindfulness field. Click here to see a selection of these.

Phew so that’s probably enough info for now! If there’s anything I haven’t answered or you’d like to know more then feel free to post in the comments and I’ll try to answer 🙂

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

Blog hop – Favourite quote

This month’s blog hop is being hosted by the lovely Ellen and she’s asked us all to talk about our favourite quotes.

I have quite a few but this one is my quote of the month:

Image

 

I love this idea of perfectionism being a person. One of those irritating, slightly smug, never a hair out of place people who is always wearing shiny shoes. I hate those people, I far prefer the person with the messy hair, smudged make up and wrinkly tights so I have had to ask myself why for so long Mr Perfectionism has been my sought after companion. I should be clear and say I’m not a perfectionist in all areas of my life (I’m fairly sure my maths teacher didn’t see my perfectionist streak once) but certainly when it comes to being a “good” person I have strived to be the best – the kindest, the most thoughtful (no prizes for guessing that I work in a caring profession) and no wonder then that my OCD has always hooked me in with worries about being a “bad” person. 

This is classic black and white thinking. In my mind I’ve never even entertained the notion that perhaps I could be both – perhaps one day a kind person, maybe the next a little bit mean. One morning I may be happy and that evening I could be beetroot with rage and that both these things are OK. I love people who are open about their mistakes, happy to share where they fail sometimes and quick to giggle at the things they get wrong. Those people are awesome to spend time with so I’ve made a decision to dump Mr Perfectionism (he never did me any good) and I’m off to hang out with Ms Imperfection.  

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

Blog hop for hope

I was scrolling through twitter one evening and saw some tweets about a Blog Hop being set up by @ocyours. I was feeling nosy and decided to see what it was all about. The idea behind it is that every month that there’s a different theme and everyone writes their own post on that topic. The person hosting the hop that month then puts all the blogs on their blog. The thing that really caught my eye though was that this month is about Hope. Well this should be easy I smugly said to myself. My blog is all about hope, my twitter handle is @hopeforanxiety, I can easily write a post on that topic…and then came the reality. Hope is actually a really slippery topic which doesn’t seem to want to be pinned down and so my smugness has waned and I’m just going to write a personal account of hope and what it means to me. 

Whilst I was at my lowest point last year I had a motto. I know some people find mottos a bit sappy, a bit annoyingly over-positive perhaps but for some reason this one worked for me. It was: “There is Hope and where there is Hope there is Strength”. Hope was something that played on my mind a lot in the early days – I even painted a plate with the word on one day (please see here) – possibly in a desperate bid to find “HOPE” that had gone missing somewhere between being unable to keep a meal down, being tormented by an onslaught of weird and wonderful worries and all the while still trying to hold down a 9-5 job. To be honest I really didn’t have much hope but I knew that I needed to find it. It can be easy to motivatingly say to others “keep the faith, there’s hope” but when someone is staring into a black abyss or bobbing on a dark ocean it can just feel like empty promises. 

But do I think that hope can be cultivated? Absolutely. That’s not to say that if you’re having trouble finding it that you’re not trying hard enough, I don’t think it’s just about having a positive mindset but I think even in our darkest moments there will be the odd flicker flame of hope. It may die as quickly as it is lit but the flame can be fanned until it starts to grow. I started a challenge every day with my sisters to think about “Joys” for the day. It was hard to begin with – my battered soul was adamant that there was no joy, nothing to gain any pleasure from but I persevered. As I did, I started to notice that even when I thought my day had been the worst yet I could still find one small thing that had pleased me in some way. The rules are simple, the joy doesn’t have to be huge it can be as basic as your favourite TV programme being on, a nice sunset or a kind word, it just has to be something that you notice yourself feeling in that moment a little brighter about. Once I started doing it, I noticed hope tagging along behind. I started to hope that there was maybe more to come, that there may be more joys and that perhaps things could be better yet. 

Hope is an incredible feeling because if you taste it and hang onto it, it somehow strengthens you to face the next day and the next. If there is no hope the voice of despair taunts you “well what’s the point of trying” but if there’s hope, then the voice within you whispers encouragingly “why don’t you try again tomorrow”. 

Hope can arrive on the back of many different things. It can occur through having treatment and seeing positive changes, it can be reading other people’s recovery stories (I did it endlessly and it always strengthened my resolve and hope that I would get better) and it can be through the things you do for yourself. I have never written about this before (possibly through some mis-placed sense of embarrassment) but sometime last year when the going was tough I rang the Samaritans. I had arranged with my therapist that as a contingency plan if I was feeling overwhelmed during the week then one of the things I could do is ring a helpline to chat. The sneering voice in my head jeered of course and scoffed at what a loser I was for having to ring a stranger for help but I was frantic with the idea that I might be over-burdening my family (not true of course but anxiety has no patience for truths), I didn’t have supportive flatmates and my friends didn’t know the half of it. And you know what? It was one of the best things I did. Not specifically because the person on the end of the phone was uber helpful, in fact at points I thought it sounded suspiciously like she was reading a magazine (I’m sure she wasn’t it was probably just unfortunate rustling!) but in fact I didn’t care. I had made a choice to ring, share and off-load my fears and worries and because I had made a choice to do something to make me feel better and a choice to express just how awful I was feeling that gave me hope. It gave me hope that perhaps I know how to look after myself, that I have resources, that I could trust myself to look after me, hope that there are always other alternatives, Hope that there are people to help and people who are going through similar situations (after all the Samaritans doesn’t exist just for me, it exists for all the many people going through a difficult time) and most of all it gave me hope that there is hope. 

So yes, hope is a slippery thing, sometimes its impossible to find and sometimes it feels hollow but there is hope and where there is hope there is strength. 

Wishing and hoping that you are all finding your way on your recovery journey. 

Emily x

 

Relevant websites:

http://obsessivelycompulsivelyyours.wordpress.com/ This is @ocyours blog – She is the creator and host of the blog hop this month. 

http://www.samaritans.org/ The Samaritans – If you are feeling overwhelmed or just like you would like to talk to someone who isn’t immediately involved in your situation then the Samaritans are great people to ring. They will listen to you for as long as you need and offer a supportive and judgement free listening ear. 

 

Image

Like a bridge over troubled water.

First of all I’d like to wish any readers of the blog a Happy New Year. It’s slightly delayed as I went away but I hope 2014 is a year of great steps in recovery for you all.

So as is natural at New Year I got reflecting on 2013. Personally, it was one of the hardest I’ve been through. My OCD reached epic proportions, I started to feel that I couldn’t cope at work and my anxiety was so high that I couldn’t eat or keep anything down. I reached a pretty low place. But then something bright came out of the darkness. I started a blog. At first it was just for me to be able to vent a little and in part to alleviate some of the anxiety I was feeling. But gradually it started to become a place where I felt I could share my experience and perhaps even raise awareness a little. Through starting the blog I then joined twitter and to my delight started connecting with other people who also experienced anxiety and OCD, or who work with it, or who have family with it. It was a step in lifting the enormous weight that had been crushing me. I have found that in the most personal of issues I have found great comfort in the kindness and support of people I’ve never met sometimes more than with people I know – it can after all be so difficult to open yourself up entirely to people who know you. I would certainly encourage anyone who’s experiencing any of the issues that I raise in the blog to tap into online communities (not as a reassurance tool I should be quick to add but peer support is a heartening thing).

I’ve also had lovely emails/comments from some people who have read the blog. It’s nice to know it’s seen and I have appreciated each and every one of the comments that have been left.

I think at the heart of the matter is that in these kind of situations it’s essential to know that there are others out there – that you’re not the only one battling through with a quiet determination. Of course I don’t wish this on others but still I think it’d be a much darker place if there weren’t others to share your sorrow, your triumphs so today I am thankful for all the others out there who share their stories and even in their dark times reach out and provide a little support.

Warm thoughts to you all and wishing you all the best for 2014 🙂

Emily x