Thursday, June 16, 2016
MY DEMONS DIDN'T HOLD ME BACK IN PARIS
Doing what I love most: Playing my violin in Montmartre, Paris.
On my arrival in Paris I felt fortified by fellow OCD sufferer, David’s poem, ‘Kindling’ about a troubadour, which he’d shared and likened me to: That afternoon, I managed to leave my apartment (within a hotel on the outskirts of Paris) without checking the kitchen appliances numerous times and writing down that I hadn’t left them on. I was determined for the duration of my stay, that mine would be a ‘check only once’ apartment.
My obsessive fear about the possibility of being raped and contaminated by men (second highest up on my Anxiety / Exposure Hierarchy) – especially if I’m alone with one say in a lift, was really bad. Having said that, I was able to put off compulsively writing down that nobody had raped or attacked or contaminated me in my apartment during a brief nap; something I’d never been able to do before. Also, to my surprise and delight, Nia; East London Rape Crisis phoned to see how I was doing, and told me they’d call me when I get home from Paris.
Day 2: I got into a sweat of a cycle of checking that I hadn’t left anything on top of the cooker hobs and that they were definitely off before leaving my apartment. I hadn’t left the house alone back home in Essex for months for fear that I’d leave an appliance on and burn the house down, so the fact that I was able to leave the apartment at all was a big achievement, and I forgave myself for having had to seek reassurance from my partner Jan (over the phone), that I hadn’t left any appliances on once I’d left the hotel.
Day 3: For the first time (at my friend, Nicki Heywood’s suggestion), I did the 'Beginner Morning Yoga Sequence' with Brett Larkin on YouTube, and kept up doing this routine for almost the duration of my three-week stay: For those 15 minutes a day, I was able to pay more and more attention to my breathing; to where the tension lay in my body, and subsequently learnt how to quieten my mind a little; a skill I applied whenever I felt angsty with OCD or when performing my fiddle music.
That evening, however, my worst ‘OCD’ obsessive fear became a reality when an elderly man I considered to be a friend and who I’d looked up to as being a kind of father figure for five years, told me (while we were alone together), that he wanted to sleep with me and for me to move in with him so’s he could get his daughter back - following the very recent departure of his wife. I felt shocked, used, invaded, and it triggered flashbacks of how my grandfather would sexually abuse me whenever my grandmother was out of the room (a trauma which still affects me and that I believe is at the root of my obsessive-compulsive problems). Needless to say, this incident knocked me massively off-kilter, and other slimy men coming on to me throughout my stay, didn’t help matters.
Day 5: My ‘I haven’t been raped or attacked or contaminated’ OCD was terrible after I was triggered on hearing a man snoring loudly through the thin apartment wall during the night: In my mind, I envisioned that there was in fact no divide between us, and that this man was next to me in my bed. Consequently (as I ended up having to do every morning), I had to rely on Jan to reassure me that nobody had hurt or contaminated me during the night, but I got on and achieved what I wanted in terms of my music despite the OCD, and let go of making a note of how long I’d busked for in favour of simply doing what I could.
Day 6: A “technical hitch” according to my bank, meant that I ended up not being able to access my bank accounts on my iPhone while I was away in Paris: Last year I had two large sums of money stolen directly from my bank account and as a result am still paranoid that it’ll happen again. Being able to keep an eye on my in-comings and out-goings daily had made me feel more in control. The sudden withdrawal of this stressed me out enormously, sent my OCD off the scale, and my skin flared up, but by the end of the day I’d gained some perspective on the situation and continued to use my bank cards as normal.
I missed working on my allotment garden, which has really helped me deal with the symptoms of my OCD.
Day 7: Early this morning, I had a nightmare about my sexually abusive grandfather (I hadn’t dreamed about him for years). It cast a disturbing shadow across my entire day but also fueled my determination to overcome these demons to do what I love (to perform my music on the terraces of Montmartre), and I did just that.
On returning to the hotel, however, I couldn’t unlock the door to my apartment; something the receptionist told me hadn’t happened before. After waiting at reception for an hour and a half surrounded by strange men (a massive ‘OCD’ trigger), I had to insist they sort this out tonight – which fortunately they did, however I didn’t feel safe knowing that the door lock (which they said would be replaced in the morning) was faulty.
Day 8: I had another nightmare; this time about my father not respecting my boundaries and about a male friend who had killed himself, but still, I went to work and made the most of my day.
That evening I decided to have an early night and mistakenly / destructively watched a gripping film about a psychopathic male killer of blonde women. I then hallucinated that there were predatory men in my apartment: The ‘damaged lock’ experience had really freaked me out; the third major ‘OCD’ trigger in a matter of days, and a nervous rash had broken out all over my neck, shoulders and chest.
Day 9: Another nightmare; this time about my grandmother (the wife of my abusive grandfather), who had lost her family home in Steyning to other buyers. I laid in bed crying (my OCD rarely reduces me to tears), and realized just how desperately I need help with trauma relating to my abuse and family problems: I felt so vulnerable surrounded by snoring, smoking, noisy men at the hotel and beaten by my OCD. For a few hours I felt utterly alone and suicidal.
I reached out, and fortunately received some support and understanding from members of the ‘Support 4 Everything OCD’ group on Facebook, my friends and Jan, which helped me turn it around. My friend Clare informed me that “You store up stressful experiences in your muscles, apparently. They build up over the years and yoga releases them and helps you move on.” I wondered, given the recent beginning of my journey into yoga, if this was what was happening to me.
Day 10: I’d been so tempted to go back to England, yesterday, but having survived that awful day and taken on board my friends’ encouragement not to give in to my demons (which haunt me constantly), I decided to try and push through these feelings and carry on. I talked to myself compassionately while obsessively checking appliances before leaving the apartment, but couldn’t rise above my compulsion to write down reassurances I hadn’t been contaminated whenever anybody accidentally bumped into me (like I usually can whenever I’m in Paris).
Day 11: This morning I was plagued by torturous intrusive thoughts that alone in a hotel apartment, were hard to distract myself from. I couldn’t cope with my OCD on top of a painful rash, fever, and another nightmare about my father. I went busking nevertheless, however.
Day 12: I stayed in the apartment doing artwork all day in a bid to try and relax, and bought some cream from the chemist for my eczema rash.
Day 14: A nightmare that I’d had a very small baby son I’d named after the word, 'Free' in another language. His paper / plastic eyes kept falling out and I lost some of his body parts. At the same time that all this was going on, my violin got destroyed: I simply didn’t have the strength not to give in to my obsessions, but managed them as best I could and went out and earned enough money busking to eat today.
Day 16: Knowing that I was now only days from returning to the comfort of my home in England, I began to sleep a bit better, and I had the company of my close artist friend, Nuna, for a couple of days, which did me good psychologically, and inspired me in a creative sense.
Day 19: Over the past few days I cut down substantially on the amount that I wrote in my diary; a really positive move given that in general my compulsion to write down everything I experience in a bid to feel more ‘complete’, had become burdensome.
Day 21: My obsession that anyone who accidentally bumped into me on my travels could’ve contaminated me, had spun out of control by the end of my time in Paris, but at least I hadn’t allowed OCD to hold me back from what was, all things considered, a wonderful trip that I didn't regret taking.
I arrived back home armed with the knowledge that I need to persist in seeking help with coping with my familial and personal relationships, and that during my time in Paris, I’d confronted a handful of my worst fears, survived, and grown as an artist.
Given the enormous stress I’d been under, I fully expected to have relapsed in terms of my OCD, but I’m very pleased to say that I haven’t: The minute I walked back into the house, my obsessive fear that I’d poison the cat reared its ugly head. I’ve had to work really hard not to give into my compulsion to write down / seek reassurance from Jan that I wouldn’t have harmed him – and have, in the main, succeeded in keeping this OCD, and the others that I’ve done ERP on, at bay.
I’d go so far as to say that I’ve actually made progress in my recovery: Regarding my old obsession that in checking my emails, I could delete something of vital importance, I’ve been deleting emails without checking them at all: Having survived the severity of my OCD in Paris, has put some of my less severe obsessions into perspective: In the great scheme of things, I shouldn’t imbue them with such power. Keeping up my daily yoga practise is also helping me to relax.
Tackling my ‘checking’ OCDs is next on my list to do ERP on, and I’ve already made small inroads: The other day I checked my greenhouse door was closed properly only once before leaving my allotment, and I no longer re-check I’ve locked the entrance gate to the plots when I go there.