Tuesday, March 29, 2016

SEEING PAST A SEA OF BLOOD


I chose for my second ERP, ‘Walk down the street in trainers / shoes / boots without checking behind me for blood or contaminated needles, and don’t seek reassurance from my partner, Jan, or write down that I hadn’t been contaminated by anything on the pavement’. Before starting ERP my initial SUDS level was 90, and my goal, after ERP, is to get it down to 0.

The first time I did this ERP was a lot harder than I’d anticipated – but I did it (I walked down the street in walking boots without checking behind me for anything that could potentially contaminate me such as blood or needles, and managed not to ask Jan for / write down reassurance that nothing had contaminated me).

After I’d completed this 20 minute exposure, though, my brain fogged up and I felt very anxious and tearful. I’d just arrived at my allotment and made myself focus on the digging I’d planned to do. For about an hour, the anxiety remained, and I checked behind me once when I thought I’d seen a needle-type object in the grass.

I didn’t think I’d be able to do another ERP on the walk home, but after three hours, I’d calmed down sufficiently to be able to successfully complete another 20 minute exposure and got my SUDS level down from 90 to 87: All the way I felt so vulnerable (as if I didn’t have a skin), but kept thinking, “I am walking forwards. Keep doing it.”

On my arrival home, though, I began to feel extremely panicky and was hyperventilating: I couldn’t move or stop my mind from replaying what I’d spotted on the pavement during my walks (a red spot I’d seen became a sea of blood in my mind’s eye) and by now I was too exhausted to distract myself. Inwardly I kept shouting at the ‘OCD demons’ in my head to leave me alone, knowing that the blood symbolizes a lot of anger, which is what I need help with PTSD-wise.

It began to dawn on me, through my tears, how incarcerated I’ve been – and how incarcerated I’ve caused my partner, Jan, to be by this illness and how determined I am, after 10 years, to see the back of it.

I found it difficult to concentrate on my violin practise and to think positive thoughts, but with the invaluable support on some of the EverythingOCD community on Facebook, I was eventually able to trust that given time the anxiety and urge to seek reassurance that I hadn’t been contaminated would subside: One of the administrators of the EverythingOCD Facebook support group and fellow OCD fighter, Monique Gagne, shared with me this poem she’d written a few years ago. It helped me enormously:

Pain With A Purpose

“Don’t turn around. Keep on walking. You’re OK. Don’t turn around. Keep on walking. You’re OK.” These phrases cycled through my mind over and over again as I walked away from the subway platform. The surge of adrenaline spiking through my body caused such incredible shaking that I was sure others could see it as I passed by them. I knew I could not allow myself to look back. Every atom in my body wanted to look back. Just once. Just to check and see if I knocked someone off of the platform and onto the tracks below. I was beyond desperate to put an end to my uncertainty. Something inside whispered that I did not knock any poor unsuspecting soul over. That was my voice of reason, fleeting as it was. I would have heard screams, wouldn’t I have?

Everyone who’s been in an automobile accident has experienced an adrenaline rush. It’s a terrible feeling. Your stomach is in knots. Sometimes you break out into a cold sweat. Your body is ready to spring into action at any moment. You can get a sort of tunnel vision, where you only see what is directly in front of you. That was what this felt like. My body was screaming for me to glance back at the destruction that I must have surely left behind. However, I did not turn around. I willed my feet to move forward, though I could not really feel the motion of my legs. When I finally arrived at my waiting car, I had to sit until my breathing returned to normal and it was safe enough for me to drive away.

I don’t remember exactly when this incident occurred. It was a while after I’d been in CBT. By this point, I had learned that performing Exposure and Response Prevention can, over time, literally make visible changes to the brain. I compelled myself to keep walking because I was aware that with each painful step I made, I was re-wiring my circuitry. Experiencing that terrible anxiety was simply proof of the positive changes going on in my brain. Later, after some reflection, I was pleased that I had this strong physical reaction because of what it meant to my recovery.

At times, ERP will seem so incredibly painful. However, my psychologist reminded me more than once that I was already in terrible pain. With ERP, you twist that pain around and make it work for you, instead of against you. Eventually, the pain subsides, even during an ERP. Today, when I do exposures, the pain is never as bad, nor does it last as long as it previously did. Now, I even have times throughout my day when I am anxiety free.

You can walk away from the “subway platform” of your OCD too. One tiny step at a time. That is all it takes to get started. Don’t turn around. Keep on walking. You’re OK.

Throughout that night, the ‘sea of blood’ image continued to haunt me in my dreams, as did my parents who were unable to see the ‘needy child’ me, but by morning, the fragile ability I had to rationalize these 'walking' fears had returned.

Two days later, and armed with the realization that I was more able to do this exposure if I walked fast and with purpose than if I slowed my pace, I had got my SUDS level down another 47 points and was able to walk in lightweight trainers down a busy London street without compulsively seeking reassurance that nothing on the pavement had contaminated me. I even felt embarrassed that I’d been letting this irrational (to the point of laughable) fear rule me for the best part of a decade.

At present, my SUDS level, having continued to competently complete this exposure in both walking boots and trainers, is 15. I’m still struggling to cope with the anxiety I experience afterwards, however, when images of what I’d just spotted on the pavement, for example, a bunch of cigarette butts, replay and get exaggerated in my mind. My solution to this has been to distract myself with the TV and then have an early night.

I became aware that I was in danger of developing a new OCD: Asking Jan for reassurance that I hadn’t asked her for reassurance, and I know that I must stop myself from doing this.

One of my most severe OCDs has been to write down reassurances to myself that in checking emails, I haven’t deleted or deleted again, any important ones. Over the past few days as I’ve been checking emails, I’ve been asking myself what the worst case scenario would be if I did delete / lose an email – and the answer is, nothing catastrophic: I'm now more able to live with uncertainty for longer and longer periods of time.

The battle continues...

18 comments:

  1. Congratulations on making it through both rounds of ERP! I'm glad you're able to allow the anxiety to come down on its own, distracting yourself with TV. I do that a lot! I think it's so important for people with OCD to be aware when they are developing possible new obsessions or compulsions. OCD has such a sneaky way of finding other things to latch onto, especially as we're trying to defeat it! I'm so proud of you and I'm excited to read the next steps in your battle even as I wage war with my own. Hugs! ~Billie

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    1. Billie! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and for your encouragement and inspiration: It's so good to know that other people can understand what I'm going through. I wish you all the very best with your own battle and am proud of you, too, for confronting your OCD. I'm always here to chat if you need support. Hugs! - Gemma

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  3. Well I made it through this one(though I skipped the purple poem to give myself a running chance).
    Well done on having the determination and self-discipline to do the ERP work and keep doing it. It's hard. I was doing this in my therapy for a good while and there's really no describing the maelstrom of conflicting feelings that defy textbook logic and pithy advice sometimes. What I learned was, some days you're good for this and some days you're just not - and that's OK, you can take a day off when it's that bad - but the important thing is to keep going back to it. Cos it's a game of percentages, not a black and white do-or-die thing, but a dance and you've just gotta keep dancing with the right intention. Then eventually the tide will turn. Only thing is we have to keep dancing for the rest of our lives! BUT once you're over that vile initial bump it gets much easier, so you just have to remember to keep dancing.
    This bit rang true:
    "as if I didn’t have a skin" - that feeling of proceeding without the usual checks and balances is like nothing on earth. Like stepping blindfolded off a cliff.
    If you're lucky, and you manage to clean all the cobwebs out of your pantry, maybe you can get started on getting the spiders out. I never got there, my cobweb clearage was sabotaged by bastards sadly, but I hope to get back there when I can.
    I'm very impressed with your attitude and the work you're doing Gemma. I think you will enjoy a good measure of success with it eventually. Good on you.
    David.

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    1. David - thank you, thank you! To have you so articulately be able to empathize with the feelings tackling my OCD with ERP has thrown up, has made me feel totally understood - and believe me, when I have trouble deciphering reality from unreality, than means a huge amount. I'm glad, especially, that you could identify with my feeling that I'm walking around in the world with no skin: It is terrifying and I feel as if anything and anyone can get inside me and take what they want (that's the PTSD side of my diagnosis rearing its ugly head). A therapist once told be it'd be my life's work trying to keep my OCD under control - and I can believe it. I'm so sorry that your recovery was sabotaged by bastards. Do continue in your fight, though, and don't let them win. I find that I have to be wide awake and as stress-free as possible to do ERP right now. I'm hoping it's going to get easier. I wish you the best of luck with your journey. All the very best, Gemma

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    2. Hey Gemma,
      Well I can definitely empathise even though I didn't go all the way with it. I made some significant in roads there for a while and surprised myself. But as you say, I think there's a magic line of stress/circumstance that allows you the space to do the work, and towards the end I realised I'd embarked on it at very much the wrong time. I just couldn't focus on it any more due to mounting outside pressures. Such is the wicked world we live in!
      Also Gemma, I did reply to your comment on that Wall website but unbeknownst to me, the administrators inercepted my reply and have asked me if they can redact my comments because they're not compfrtable with what I said about pharmaceuticals! So that's why you didn't receive a reply yet. I've found there's this tacit pro-pharma undercurrent throughout the media when it comes to OCD sadly. There's a debate to be had but they simply won't permit it, they have to inhabit a paradigm whose foundations include pharmaceuticals being the answer. And I don't think it always is, and that's basically what I was trying to say in the reply.
      Yes the feeling of vulnerability in those exposed moments out there is just out of this world isn't it. Makes you question if the therapist *really* knbow what they're asking sometimes. And I used to butt heads with my poor therapist about that a lot, but then on the other side of it, you realise, that despite all that, it does still seem to work if you can just persevere with it. But it's far from clean or clack and white. I failed or half did exposures much more than I did them, but ti doesn't matter - all you have to do is keep getting back on the bike.
      All the best to you too Gemma - I hope your courage starts to pay dividends soon. Hang in there ;)
      David.

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    3. "clack and white"
      sorry for all the atrocious typos there! I really ought to check before I hit submit.

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    4. Hi David, Sorry for the delay. Thank you for your comment. Yes - I agree that one has to be in the right place to do ERP: I'd started this journey over a year ago and had to terminate six months into it because of other people: I had lots of money stolen on two occasions, bastards kept vandalizing and stealing from me allotment; all stuff that I couldn't control - and of course all of my OCDs centre around feelings of violation. It was all too much, and I ended up having a breakdown at Christmas: OCD Action didn't help as they said they could, I can't afford therapy, and the doctor just patronized me and sent me on my way - hence the self-help approach. On the subject of pharmaceutical drugs, I don't take them (after having made an informed choice not to). They're not for me, but they help some people. My music, gardening and writing are the best medicine for me. Thank you so much for the understanding and encouragement; this can be a lonely road. I hope you manage to stay on top of your OCD, too. Gemma :)

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    5. Oh that's terrible about the thieves. I ended up paranpoidabout crime for a long time after a series of break ins and attempted breakins where I lived/worked. I hate those bastards, you can[t relax in your own home, and you have to second guess everything you do.
      You're right - pharmaceuticals do help some. I just wish ti was allowed to be our choice but I've faced so much adversity for not taking them. It's funny - I saw about your music on here and I did wonder if that helps as I believe that and other creative pursuits can be an excellent form of meditation and they say meditation helps with things like OCD. Then again "they" say a lot don't they! I need to introduce some more creative meditation into my life for this same reason. I tried the cross legged sat doing nothing kind and its haaaaard to keep up.
      Well, it's been excellent talking with you Gemma - I have nothing but respect for your approach and your guts in taking matter sinto your own hands. I hope this pays off for you soon.
      David.

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    6. David; I'm so sorry you've had problems with thieves, too. Thanks to them, I've developed a whole new bunch of OCDs surrounding using my bank card and I'm too paranoid to buy anything online ever again. As you can imagine, I'm SUPER security conscious and to this day I don't know how the second lot was taken (the first lot of money disappeared after I used a dodgy AMT on a train station in Paris). Oh YES, there is a lot of opinion out there about what OCD sufferers 'should' do to offset the symptoms, but right now my attitude is I KNOW MYSELF & THIS IS MY INDIVIDUAL JOURNEY, & I'LL LISTEN TO MY INSTINCTS WITH REGARDS TO TREATMENT. I don't care if the fact I opt not to take medication, or that I've made my journey public bars me from work opportunities, as I wouldn't want to work for an employer who is that ignorant and controlling anyway! I've done some training as a therapist and also used to administer medication in my role as a care worker for adults with learning difficulties - so I've seen the 'medication' argument from both sides, as it were. They're not for me. I've chosen this ERP route and am going to stick to it so long as it's working for me. My approach may not work for some, I know. I've been let down so many times by health care professionals recently that I'm not prepared to put myself through that again - hence the self-help. We shall see... It's been wonderful chatting to you, too. Gemma

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    7. Hey Gemma,
      Once bitten twice shy. I know the feeling. I hate criminals because of the traumatising effect it has on victims. It's tolerated toomuch if you ask me.
      I've lost faith in healthcare professionals too after some recent bad experiences. They don't take OCD seriously at all. Once again I really dig your approach and I agree with where you're coming from. I agree we know ourselves better than anyone and should take charge of our own recovery if we can, cos a whole industry has sprung up around that and I think it's easy to get trapped in revolving doors without ever getting better. And sod employers who measure people by those things anyway - their loss. Hopefully what you are doing will serve as an example to people other OCD sufferers feeling bewildered with the choices available. There is another way!
      Oh and by the way, I was let down by OCD Action too regarding help with the benefits system. Wasted a lot of time and ended up having to go to the CAB anyway which is what I was going to do in the first place. Once again, after wasting an awful lot of time re-explaining myself to different people. I found myself on my own ultimately. Everyone wants a piece!
      Sorry Gemma - I seem incapable of terminating this conversation!! I had better m,ake this my last response really or I'll fill your blog up with comments!
      David.

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    8. David; DON'T APOLOGIZE, please. This is the whole point of my blog: I want it to be a place of OPEN discussion about OCD. From what you write, it would seem that we've both been through similar with regards to getting help with our problems - in fact, I could give you far more examples of having been let down in that direction, but I can tell you get my drift. What I'm discovering through my journey towards recovery is that there ARE decent, kind, competent people out there who can understand and empathize with our fight (I shall be including some great (trusted) resources I've come across this week in the post I'm going to make tomorrow here)). Always available to chat: After years of living in virtual silence with OCD, talking for me is good! :) Gemma

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    9. Well that's very cool of you to say Gemma. Thank you. I do get your drift yes ;) It sounds like you've had a hell of a road to get to where you're at. Yes, in a sea of judgement and blame, a compassionate person goes a long way. I know that feeling.
      I will try and remember to check back in to see this next post then.
      Thanks for the very cool chat Gemma - likewise - if you ever fancy a chat, you know where I am(well online anyway!).
      David.

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    10. Many thanks, David, for your offer of a listening ear. Wishing you all the very best, Gemma

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  4. MY allotment (I'm too quick to press 'publish', too!

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    1. HA ha ha - glad it's not just me!! I daren't look at the post I just made - bound to be more :(

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    2. It's probably good for us to go with these small imperfections! ;)

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