Tuesday, May 8, 2018

MEDITATION AS A TOOL TO SUPPORT WELLNESS

'Buddy' by me.

Maybe the fact that I haven't posted in a long while on this blog is indicative of the fact that my OCD / PTSD symptoms are no longer taking centre stage in my life: They're there, of course, at every turn, but having deepened my meditation practice with Aprille Walker over the past five months, I've discovered tools such as breathing meditations, which are helping me gain more perspective and control over my anxiety.

Yoga and meditation teacher, Aprille, has also become a close friend of mine due to us having much in common both in a professional and a personal sense: We're able to talk about things we've rarely shared or explored with others, which has made me feel not so alone in the world. My new cat, Buddy (above, who I adopted from the allotment site I work at), also brings me great comfort and is a great educator in the art of 'just being' and not stressing over what should be getting done.

I'm more mindful of certain activities, such as social media, that I can obsess over in an unhealthy way, so I've actually deactivated my Facebook account (preferring just to message my friends instead). My interactions with people in person and with my garden feel much more real and substantial than most of my interactions in cyberspace, so I choose to focus on those.

My OCD / PTSD symptoms are triggered hugely by members of my estranged family (especially my dad), who despite knowing I want no contact, continue to stalk me in any way they think will provoke a reaction. I refuse to grant them the satisfaction of believing they can control me from a distance like they did when I was growing up, but knowing that they're never going to stop, tips me into an intense need to control my immediate environment by checking appliances, the pavement, etc.. It's practically impossible for me to heal under these circumstances, but yoga continues to provide me with a safe haven which I'm enormously grateful for, plus gardening keeps me grounded and uplifted.

I just wish I had more people in my life who I could talk with about my OCD / PTSD, as most people I mention it to continue to ignore it... pretend it doesn't exist. At least this blog has afforded me the space to reflect on how far I've come in attempting to free myself from this disorder's hellish grip.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

FANTASTIC FINDS

'Roots' by Gemma Boyd

First of all I'd like to wish readers of this blog from all over the world a very happy, healthy, peaceful and loving 2018!

This article, OCD and PTSD - and the relationship between the two, was one of the best presents I received last Christmas: About 11 years ago when I was diagnosed as having OCD / PTSD, no health professionals explained to me all of the hellish symptoms I was experiencing and how the OCD and the PTSD related to each other - plus OCD in particular, wasn't taken as seriously in the UK as it is today. I wish I could've been given this article to read at the time of my diagnosis, as it would've saved me so much angst (I'd have know I wasn't simply losing my mind).

Often the symptoms of my OCD / PTSD are exacerbated by stress, change, hormones and exhaustion: In November I convinced myself that I'd taught one of my piano students the wrong thing by accident, which triggered a tidal wave of bullying intrusive thoughts towards myself such as,
"You're going to get fired," "You can't trust yourself," "You're crap at what you do," "You don't do enough with your time," "You're a loser." etc. They kept replaying uncontrollably in my mind, and at one point I felt as if killing myself was the only way I was going to be able to make them stop. This all links back to how as a child I'd often get a beating from my parents for the mildest of misdemeanours: One small mistake could lead to my fearing for my personal safety. Just after I turned up at my piano students' house I burst into tears, and he couldn't believe that my having made a mistake had got me into such a state. As it turned out, however, he said that he admired me for having had the guts to own up to not being perfect.

Sometimes the combination of terrifying intrusive thoughts and the bodily sensations that accompany them are so overpowering that I lose the ability to reason with myself: Even though nowadays I'm generally more comfortable in the company of lone men, occasionally if I encounter a man in a context which reminds me of where I was sexually abused, for example, while walking in the woods, I can experience a graphic flashforward of this man raping me. I'm able to delay asking my partner for reassurance that I'm okay after such incidents, and I'm learning to be more compassionate towards myself through studying Maintaining a Mindful Life with Monash University, run by FutureLearn: I've found the section on 'Cultivating Self-Compassion and Emotional Health' especially helpful, along with the mindfulness meditations on Kristin Neff's Self-compassion website. The more I'm able to be kind to myself, the less stressed and more productive work-wise I'm able to be, and I'm learning how to avoid the 'rabbit holes' of negative reactions I have regarding what I assume others are thinking of me.

Two years ago, at the beginning of this journey to being able to find more freedom from my mental health issues, I found it impossible to relax, but now as a result of my daily commitment to yoga and meditation, I'm able to completely let go of the tension in my body in most situations. This in turn gives my racing mind a rest: I heartily recommend the excellent Yin and Restorative Yoga teachings of Aprille Walker (The Yoga Ranger Studio with Aprille Walker on YouTube) if relaxation is something you find difficult. As I've said before, I believe that the ability to be at peace and present in your body is key to being able to reign in symptoms of OCD / PTSD.

My checking compulsions still affect me quite badly on a daily basis, but sometimes I'm able to leave the house without unplugging an appliance!

I liken suffering from OCD / PTSD to being stuck in quicksand: I feel as if I'll never be completely free of it, but the less I struggle and the more I breathe, the more reserves I'll have to keep stepping away from it.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

THE DISCOVERY OF LOUISE HAY


'How to Love Yourself' - Louise Hay

July 2017 was the month in which I stopped keeping a diary altogether. By this I mean that I no longer slavishly write down who said what, how many hours of, and the type of work I'd done, who'd 'liked' my posts on social media, for every day of the year. In fact, I no longer write anything down - and certainly not reassurances generated by my OCD / PTSD fears unless I feel it's necessary, and it's been so freeing! The amount of hours I've spent writing such detailed daily accounts over the course of over 20 years doesn't bear thinking about, but the fact is that doing this had been a crutch I'd needed to save my sanity: I couldn't trust in the truth and authenticity of any of my experiencing unless I wrote it down, but now I can trust myself to be able to hold and remember what I've done, the communications I've had with people, etc.. I have much more time, now, to actually live my life.

I've found that alongside the growth of my yoga, meditation and noting down of positive affirmations practices, my 'checking' compulsions continue to lose their power over me: When I was reviewing my business accounts I didn't feel the need to check then re-check I'd done my calculations correctly, and when it comes to making sure that household appliances are off I'm able to say to myself, "Think positively... You're capable of making sure that you've unplugged this."

If I pass a lone man in the street, the intrusive thought that he will have raped or contaminated me rarely enters my head because I'm no longer firmly lodged in that 'rabbit hole' frame of mind, and if I do find myself struggling, my friend Manya's advice about feeling my feet, setting them down and letting myself settle into the present moment, really helps.

I felt the risk I'd taken in deciding to leave my job as a licensed busker on the London Underground had paid off because just before my license was about to expire, I was asked to privately teach an eight-year-old girl the piano. Teaching children was something I'd dismissed out of hand as not being possible: Back in February 2016 when my work of liberating myself from OCD began, my OCD/PTSD-generated fear, I avoid and fear being alone with children in case I molest them and don't remember I've done it, featured third from the top of  my Anxiety / Exposure Master Hierachy (scoring a SUDS level of 99 out of 100). On this occasion, I felt able to go for it, though, and am so glad I did because I formed an instant rapport with the little girl who three months on, describes me as being the "best teacher." I know I'm a caring person who'd never intentionally hurt another living being, but my OCD / PTSD causes me to constantly project onto her the feelings I felt when I was her age in a room alone with predatory adults. It's a reminder of how vulnerable I was, which in the past I've just wanted to push away - along with the child: Sometimes when I'm teaching I experience horribly distressing intrusive thoughts / images, and it's so hard to stay focused on what I'm doing, but I survive these moments through breathing deeply and thinking compassionately. I have to seek reassurance from my partner, Jan, that I've not hurt her after finishing the lessons, but with every week that passes I'm becoming more relaxed in the girl's company. I love her energy and want to encourage a sense of fun, exploration and enjoyment of learning the piano. So far this seems to be happening, which is enormously rewarding.

Counteracting this massive step forward has also been the exhaustion and what I've come to recognise now as being the inevitable urge to self-destruct. This happens at a subconscious level; in nightmares of things going wrong which I feel powerless to change, in my OCD compulsion to check the pavement for contaminated needles, and in an urge to sever friendships that have meant a lot to me over the years. I've come to be able to anticipate these symptoms, and therefore to mitigate their effects. I guess what it boils down to are the ingrained beliefs that I'm not worthy of happiness and that everything will go drastically wrong in the end. Last month, however, aid came my way in the form of a wonderful woman - American motivational author, Louise Hay.

Hay died on 30th August 2017, aged 90, and it was on this day or thereabouts, that I first heard one of her 'positive affirmations' meditations on YouTube. She'd been sexually assaulted in childhood just like me; her voice is lovely and soothing, and she lived an inspirational, full life, so I felt a real connection with her teachings. Her meditations have helped me to think more lovingly about myself, my appearance, other people, where I'm at in my life, and on 10th October (World Mental Health Day), I was able to perform my feature night at Romford Folk Club: I managed to overcome numerous demons to celebrate my musical journey so far. My next challenge is to communicate more positively. 

I've noticed that despite having the ability to think more positively, almost everything that comes out of my mouth when I'm not working is a negative: I'd adopted an 'expect the worst then I won't be disappointed' attitude towards life - with good reason, as self-protective tool. This mindset no longer serves me: I'm living proof that it's possible to turn your life around through a dedication to self-care and a commitment to trying to enjoy life in the moment. I'm looking forward to continuing my journey along this challenging path to see what fruit it bears (while going easy on myself at the same time).

Monday, July 17, 2017

LETTING GO



An extract from a recent list of my positive affirmations.


I decided that I can cut down even further on my diary writing: All of the interactions I've had online will stay there, and I can now trust in my memory enough to remember that friends of mine have 'liked' my posts, and to feel that their care for me is real. My friend, Ralph King died suddenly last month. This made me realise how much of my precious time I've wasted writing EVERYTHING down (holding onto things with such a tight grip that I haven't been free enough to simply live my life).

My OCD is quite bad at the moment (fearing that I'll have poisoned my pet tortoise, Trevor's bath water, and checking the pavement for contaminated needles). In addition I'm having awful nightmares most nights to do with missing out on golden opportunities and people vomiting / being out of control or dying around me. I'm aware that all this is because I'm still determined to make the personal and professional changes I need to grow more as an artist and a person. Sticking to my yoga and meditation practices are helping to counteract all the awfulness.

Instead of always going over past events in my diary, the daily noting down of positive affirmations is helping me to look to the future: Consequently, I'm forgetting on occasion to ask Jan for reassurance that I haven't been raped, attacked or contaminated whenever I leave the house. I guess that going out into the world is no longer the ordeal it once was and it's months since I've compulsively written down any reassurances to myself.

I'd like to thank my friend, Manya Zuba for her continued support throughout this journey.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

DAILY POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS

I decided that it was time to move on from my job as a busker on the London Underground. Even though I was going to miss making money performing on my instruments, I'd grown sick of the increasingly mobile phone-obsessed public no longer appreciating my music; of having to put up with drunken behaviour; the heat down there; noisy station announcements and of exposing myself to the threat of terrorism just to pay my bills. It was good while it lasted, but enough's enough.

It's scary, though, thinking that I could fail in my quest to find more satisfying work as a musician, but when I think about it, I'm already doing it - earning good money locally as a double bass, piano and violin teacher. Hopefully it's simply a case of building on that; of nurturing my new-found sense of self-worth.

Whilst still in the midst of working through the trauma associated with being a survivor, trying to regain control of my 'pavement checking' OCD and now, struggling with a serious disconnect I've experienced with my counsellor, fighting for better things feels as if it's going to be a lot easier said than done.

Even in my darkest hours,however, my allotment, pets and partner, Jan, keep me loving, hopeful, and at the end of the day however bad life's got, my music's always had my back (so long as I work hard). Over the past year, yoga, too, has helped me enormously in terms of both my mental and physical health: OCD is no longer the boss of me, my headaches are fewer, and I've learnt how to breath and remain grounded throughout terrifying flashes I'll probably always have, associated with PTSD.

I've suffered from 'the doubting disease' of OCD for over 10 years: In that time I've learnt not to rely on my own memory in favour of compulsively writing down my experiencing and up until recently have lived life in a constant state of hypervigilance and fear. It's become clear to me that if I'm ever going to reverse this tendency and trust in myself and life again, I'm going to have to train myself to think positively.

Therefore, in addition to my yoga practice, I've added more or less daily meditation, journaling and the noting down of positive affirmations into the mix - and slowly I can feel my mindset shifting: Now when I fall into obsessively checking household appliances are off before leaving the house, I can think to myself and believe, "I can trust myself to protect myself and others." This doesn't stop me over-checking, but I no longer get myself into such a state in the process.

There are days when I feel so confused, so sad, not in control of my emotions, suicidal, utterly exhausted; like a lit firework in a confined space, and when my brain is having to process lots of new experiences or a change of routine it sometimes goes into meltdown and I find myself fixating on imaginary monsters coming out of an air vent; the pattern on somebody's shirt. It's beyond frightening, and I have to go straight to bed and stay there until it passes. It's also helped in these moments to take every day as it comes and not to look too far ahead.

And so to end with a couple of small victories: In the past whenever I taught my male double bass student, I suffered from bloating and abdominal pains throughout the lesson (somatic pain connected to having been sexually abused whilst alone in rooms by my grandfather). For the last three sessions, though, I haven't experienced this and have felt a lot more relaxed. Practicing kundalini yoga online with Carolyn Cowan has helped in this regard.

I also managed to put off asking Jan for reassurance for a couple of days that a man who invaded my personal space hadn't hurt me when I was badly triggered. This is the longest I've gone without this type of reassurance.

Onwards!

Monday, April 3, 2017

MAKING FRIENDS WITH UNCERTAINTY

A couple of days before I left for Paris, my subconscious demons beat me up: I convinced myself I'd somehow messed up my chances of attending my 'Paris Métro' audition - all in anticipation of the chance I might be about to have a happy time in Paris. I told my demons to shut the fuck up!

On arrival in Bagneux, Paris, I immediately felt overwhelmed and my PTSD was triggered by the crowds of people and all the different noises and smells. Despite this, however, I managed to resist writing down any reassurances to myself and needing to calm down, focused on my breathing during a yoga practice: Knowing that I'm capable of controlling the intensity of my obsessive-compulsive behaviour and intrusive thoughts simply through using my breath, reassured me.

The following morning I felt anxious after having had a nightmare about my neighbour back home chastising me for laughing with his kids and labeling me "nothing." A 'Kundalini Yoga Flow to Detox your Kidneys' helped to bring all of my attention back to the present moment and my body.

The lovely aparthotel I stayed at for three weeks had the use of a gym included in the price and I made the most of it; spinning almost daily for between 10 and 20 miles. Although throughout my stay I experienced intrusive images of men attacking, contaminating or raping me every time I had accidental physical contact with them, or if I was, for example, alone in a lift with a man, I was able to trust myself and stay rooted in reality enough, not to immediately write down that I hadn't been raped, contaminated or attacked - and to actually relax and enjoy male company for the first time in about 12 years. 

There were a few instances, for example when a man coming off a métro train shoved me in the arm, that my PTSD was triggered so badly I had to reassure myself by writing down that I hadn't been hurt, but with the help of grounding techniques and yoga, I quickly recovered from these incidents.

This all felt like a massive achievement - especially given that in Paris I was out of my comfort zone, and I even found myself studying forensic psychology as I was spinning on an exercise bike in the gym with a lone man on the running machine beside me!  I still asked my partner, Jan, for reassurance at the end of each day that I hadn't been hurt or contaminated, but so what?

I also further cut down on my general writing activities, such as my diary writing; finding quicker ways to document my experiences. This meant that I was able to leave the hotel earlier to get on with my day.

As if to counterbalance this new-found confidence, though (as often happens with OCD, I've found), my 'checking the pavement for contaminated needles' OCD returned with a vengeance - especially when I was tired or had PMT: I found myself constantly having to look behind me just in case I'd trodden on a needle contaminated with a fatal disease. I knew I was behaving completely irrationally, but I just had to keep looking behind me in order to continue on my journey (even if it wasn't at the pavement). 

At one point this became chronic and distressing, but then I thought back to all the ERP on myself I'd done a while back in order to rein this OCD in: I had a 'flash' that I'm constantly scanning the pavement as I'm walking, so I wouldn't have trodden on a needle, and if I had have done, it would've been there in front of me. This helped for a while, but by the time I left for England, this OCD was out of control (but not as out of control as it has been in the past). It's got easier now I'm back in England, again, though, thanks goodness!

My 'appliance checking' compulsion was bad, but not as debilitating as it was the last time I stayed alone in Paris (almost a year ago): Last year I not only felt the need to check each light, electric hob, heater was off about 20 times before leaving the room, but the compulsion was so bad I'd dread this daily hell and would have to write down a reassurance to myself that I hadn't left anything on (that could cause a fire and potentially kill someone). I'd then have to ask my partner, Jan for reassurance on top of that. 

This time I still had to ask Jan for reassurance that I'd left everything in a safe state, but I didn't feel the need to write down a reassurance to myself, too. On a few occasions I almost felt strong enough to not seek reassurance at all, but I know I'm not quite there yet.

During my stay I took lots of beautiful photographs: I consciously sought out beauty, which forced the 'ugliness' that goes on in my head, into the background. That's not to say I denied the existence of this troubled part of myself; more that I'm getting better at making friends with uncertainty.

Monday, March 6, 2017

REMAINING IN THE PRESENT MOMENT


'Flight - Paris 2016' by Gemma Boyd

I'm no longer needing to write down reassurances to myself that I haven't been contaminated when I accidentally prick or cut myself while I'm gardening; another small victory.

Last week I was triggered badly by a very large man who was sat pressed up against me on a tube train for about 20 minutes.That dreadful feeling of being utterly powerless in the face of the bodily invasion of his sweat seeping into my trousered thigh crept over me, but I tried to distract myself by continuing to read my book of French poetry. I then did a reality check: What was he actually doing? Simply minding his own business doing a crossword. I had to consciously remind myself that my abusers are a part of my past and that I am capable of protecting myself against male sexuality.

Even though once I'd got off the train, the anxiety that this man could've molested me was so overpowering I had to compulsively note down a reassurance to myself that all was okay, the most important thing was that I didn't give up my right to sit in that seat, plus nowadays I'm coping much better in situations in which I'm alone with a man or when I come into physical contact with people in passing.

Instead of 'giving away' to others all of the good that comes my way, I'm learning to listen to my feelings and to try and nurture and care for myself first and foremost. This all feels pretty foreign right now, and sometimes I can't decide whether I'm breaking open or falling apart!

At times I almost forget to ask my partner, Jan for reassurance at the end of the day that nobody I'd encountered on my travels had raped, attacked or contaminated me, but I'm still not ready to stop doing this for fear of the deluge of confused and conflicting emotions to do with past traumas that I know will surface as a result. Hopefully with more counselling, this will change.

I'm looking forward to my three weeks in Paris commencing on 9th March, but am worried that my 'checking' OCDs I haven't got around to actively addressing yet, will take over and that the progress in terms of my OCD / PTSD I have made will count for nothing once I attempt to function more normally outside of my everyday surroundings. I do have the tools of yoga, meditation and mindfulness to draw on this time, however, so we shall see.

The thing I'm realizing is that I'm probably always going to be affected by OCD and PTSD to varying degrees: There is no cure. The best I can hope for is to work with this part of me instead of beating myself up for it.