Saturday, July 9, 2016

THE POWER AND IMPORTANCE OF RELAXATION IN FIGHTING OCD

Firstly, a big achievement: I've been able to walk along the pavement wearing sandals for the first time since my obsessive fear that I'd tread on a contaminated needle hit!

Last week I claimed that I’d more or less “nailed” (with ERP therapy) my obsessive fear that whenever somebody accidentally bumps into or touches me on my travels, they’ll fatally contaminate me. Well, unfortunately I spoke too soon, in that since then I’ve experienced two massively triggering incidents after which I was unable to prevent myself from compulsively writing down and seeking reassurance from my partner, Jan, that I hadn’t been contaminated.

The first incident occurred while I was on a tube train headed into central London: A big-built hooded man sat down next to me, and with the motion of the train his knee kept knocking mine. I could’ve handled that, but he was obviously still drunk from the night before as his head kept lolling all over the place and he stank of booze: This signified to me that he wasn’t in control of himself and therefore (given that the post-traumatic stress element of my diagnosis had now also flared up), a threat to my physical well-being. I then saw that he had a spot of blood on his jeans; a fatal source of contamination so far as my OCD is concerned. I made myself remain in my seat, however, determined to confront this fear, but was so relieved when he finally got off.

A few days later, I was busking my folk fiddle set at Bank station on the London Underground when a very pretty Portuguese woman stood next to me, listening to my music. She told me she loved what she was hearing, that I “really change the vibe” down there, then took my hands in hers and introduced herself. I was blown away by this compliment, and whereas normally I’d straight away have to make a note on my iPhone that she hadn’t contaminated me when she touched my hands, I didn’t feel the need.

Later on in my session, this woman reappeared and I was shocked by what I witnessed: She was chasing a Muslim couple down the corridor and hurling abuse at them. Again, I stayed put and rode out the fear that this woman could be a serious danger to peoples’ lives, and reported the incident to Underground staff (you wouldn’t believe this, but I’m actually quite good in a crisis – having saved the life of a commuter who was being viciously beaten up by a drunk at Oxford Circus a couple of years back). Having seen the woman flip so unpredictably, I compulsively had to seek reassurance from Jan that I was safe.

These experiences reminded me just how complex my symptoms are; that if bombarded by too many triggers at once, my brain can’t cope and my OCD kicks in.


I came across the above ‘Brett Larkin’ video as I was doing research for my next yoga challenge. What she says makes a lot of sense to me, but as an OCD sufferer I also felt it was an oversimplification of what it takes to get oneself into a positive mindset: Negative intrusive thoughts that are a part of my OCD emanate from somewhere in my subconscious totally unbidden, and for me it’s when I am feeling positive, that terrifying intrusive thoughts plague me.

Having committed myself to daily yoga practice; in other words, learning to relax, though, is really helping my brain to override my obsessive-compulsive behaviours and to more easily dismiss negative intrusive thoughts that could easily become new obsessions: I no longer feel that awful ‘butterflies’ anxiety in my stomach, which had in the past been my almost constant companion, plus I haven’t suffered as much from paralysing migraines.

Allowing myself the space and time to actively relax is incredibly difficult for me, but the biggest gift I can give myself right now.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing what has been going on with you as you work toward beating your OCD. I think you handled the triggering events you experienced really well and you should be very proud of yourself. Your needing to ask for reassurance doesn't negate all of the positives, such as not moving your seat on the train. And daily yoga.......good for you! You've inspired me to take up yoga again myself :)

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    1. Thanks so, so much for your support: I can sometimes feel quite alone with this journey. I am proud of myself. I look back to the beginning of the year when I felt almost completely immobilized by my OCD - to the point where walking down the street was a terrifying ordeal, but now I'm wearing sandals again, sorting through emails and turning pages without thinking about it. Some OCDs I've worked on are harder to keep under the radar, but even so, I can so see some light at the end of the tunnel. Yoga has been a massive gift in my life (a physiotherapist suggested it as a result of my suffering from muscle strain when performing on my musical instruments). I'm FAR MORE chilled out and philosophical. Most days it's hard to force myself out of bed to do it, but I do and it's worth it! I'm happy to have inspired you to take it up again: ENJOY!! :)

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  2. Hi Gemma! I'm glad to see this post on relaxation. First of all, I must say that I am impressed how you handled yourself in these situations. I think when we are triggered, the OCD just starts screaming and taking over in our minds and we go into autopilot. If I had been sitting by someone that had blood on their clothes and they were making any contact with my body, my clothes would have been pitched immediately in trash. I am happy to hear that yoga is helping you. I've thought about taking that up. I have found myself this summer that relaxation truly does help. It helps you feel physically better and I think that in turn helps the OCD not feel so consuming. I have a hard time too stepping back to take care of myself, but I do believe it is oh so important and I am happy to hear that you are working on this as well.

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    1. Hi hopeful! Great to hear from you, and thanks so much for your comment! I really need the encouragement! Yes, that 'mind going on autopilot' symptom is so difficult to counteract - especially in times of stress. I can highly recommend yoga, and if committed to, it can really quieten our thoughts. All the best with your continued inspirational journey, Gemma

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