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.

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

Pyjama Poem

Hi everyone,

So I was very touched that a friend of mine Mark (@MB385) wrote this poem on the back of my last post (Where have all the Pyjamas gone?).

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks Mark!

Pyjama Poem

Hopefulem, Hopefulem
Brought her PJs home again
She went away
On an extended stay
Where OCD took control of them

But Em is strong and Em has power
There was no move to a corner and cower
Em stood tall
Defeated it all
OCD could do nothing but flounder

So the PJs survived and came on back
Em had won after a sneaky attack
Victory was won
Em quickly moved on
Proving she’s firmly on the right track

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

“There are no facts, only interpretations”

Last year I became preoccupied by the idea that I didn’t want to socialise with certain friends of mine. It wasn’t anything that I could put my finger on but I seemed to have this lingering feeling that perhaps they weren’t the “best” people for me. It drove me to distraction trying to figure out why I felt this way. Why did I suddenly feel anxious about seeing two of my oldest friends? What was the right thing to do? Part of me wondered if it was related to my OCD (a slight coincidence that it became an issue when my OCD was bad!) and it did in some way appear to be related to a worry about being a ‘good’ person but it wasn’t a clear cut thought that I could put my finger on, it was a blurry sensation – like an out of focus photograph.

On the other hand, I had also had some experiences with these friends that had left me feeling uncomfortable and so I wondered if I was just realising that they weren’t the right people for me. I wondered if perhaps I was just moving on. I was seeing a psychotherapist at the time who felt that it was related to changes I was going through and that this was my instinct/subconscious telling me that these friendships weren’t the right thing for me anymore. On the other hand when I started seeing a CBT therapist she offered the view that perhaps I was just trying to seek a certainty about my friendships, looking for perfection and that perhaps these thoughts and feelings were intrusions related to OCD.

So what is the truth? I am learning that perhaps there isn’t one truth. My psychotherapist had one view, my CBT therapist another and so clearly the truth is only the truth from that perspective. I continue to see these friends (although not as frequently) and try to just tolerate the discomfort this brings with the idea that perhaps I am investing time in relationships that have moved on and conversely sit with the worry that perhaps I am drifting from close friends for no real good reason. The truth of the matter is that perhaps I will never know the truth (now THAT’S a difficult truth to swallow!)

In my experience it is one of the hardest things about OCD, this feeling that you can no longer trust your instincts or know that you can rely on yourself to know what the truth is. But I have realised that if I can sit with that then I can probably overcome just about anything (now that is a good truth to have!).

I’d be interested to hear other’s experiences and thoughts in the comments section of trusting yourself when you have OCD 🙂

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