OCD

Taming Olivia

Please, please, please remember this… No matter how awful OCD feels for you now it can be managed, it can be treated and in many cases, it can be fully recovered from.

Hi, I’m Catherine, I’m 36 and I’ve lived with OCD for as long as I can remember.

It’s morphed and shape-shifted many times throughout my life and has also varied in severity and intensity.

I’ll briefly tell you about my experience before talking about the things that have really helped with my recovery – I ultimately want my story to be one of hope and encouragement.

My childhood was very much focussed on keeping my loved ones safe, it centred very heavily on external compulsions. I counted, checked… recounted and rechecked everything because I believed it would help keep my family safe.

I checked taps, switches, plug sockets, window latches, basically everything and anything. It was hugely time consuming. I also had to repeat things until they felt just right and at times it was very difficult for me to lead a normal life. There were times I was heavily reliant on others to do the simplest of tasks.

Apart from telling my boyfriend, who would go onto become my husband, I kept my OCD a secret until the age of about 25, when I told a few family members. I lived through those previous years in silence and with no mental health support at all.

Things took a nose-dive when I had my son in 2012. What began as endless checks on his safety quickly grew into my worst obsession yet – I was convinced that I was going to deliberately hurt him. I was tortured with images of this twenty-four hours a day… and my world fell apart.

I became very ill during this time and needed medical intervention. After a few misdiagnoses, and facing a constant battle against misconceptions, I was finally officially diagnosed with OCD. The fact that my compulsions had moved inward, and were now taking place mentally, meant that many medical staff didn’t realise that it was OCD, and it took a while for me to get treatment other than medication. In fact, it was me who realised that my new symptoms were OCD after I googled them and took my findings to my medical team. I’d just like to point out here that my team were amazing, very kind and supportive, but overstretched, exhausted and minus the training needed to help recognise the multitude of ways OCD can present itself. I slipped through the net for a while, it was not their fault.

I will never forget this time. When I think back to how poorly I was then, I realise how far I have come now and that if I can get through that phase of my illness, I can get through anything.

So, onto recovery. I had two sets of twenty weeks of CBT. I had to work hard, after 32 years my thoughts patterns were pretty rigid and took a while to shift.

I lost my parents within three months of each other just after finishing my first series of therapy sessions. This caused a relapse so severe, that I needed to return for another set.

Since then, I’ve gone from strength to strength. Something clicked and I realised that I would do anything it took to get well.

My well-being and health became the centre of everything because after all, if I wasn’t strong and well, I wouldn’t be able to look after anyone else.

I decided to stay on the medication for a while (I’d previously kept trying to come off them). I started exercising, not running – it gave me too long alone with my thoughts – but Zumba and fun dance classes.

I saw my friends more, I got out more. I spent time in the sun, I started to take supplements. I continued with my CBT homework and carried out really intense ERP exercises which at one time saw me going up and down the higher-level escalators at M & S in Stratford with my son in my arms for a whole hour! This was to help address my harm based intrusive thoughts that were very strong in this area of this specific shop. How I didn’t end up with security guards following me around I’ll never know! I ensured I got a decent amount of sleep. I learned everything I could about OCD and mindfulness and introduced the latter into my daily routine. I opened up about my condition to anyone and everyone. Listing it like this makes it sound quick and easy – it wasn’t, it took quite a bit of work and there were bumps along the way – so please don’t feel like this is out of reach for you, it totally isn’t.

One of the things that helped the most was creating a character to help me visualise my OCD. Many therapists recommend giving your disorder a name to help you realise it’s not actually you. This didn’t work for me so I extended the concept and created a little persona that I called Olivia. She had a physical appearance, an intense personality and could change depending on her current obsession type. She helped me so much. Within months of visualising Olivia, I noticed a huge shift in the way I viewed my condition.

I wanted the concept of Olivia to help me feel more comfortable and so I decided that instead of trying to fight against her, I was going to accept that she was there. Instead of being cruel and evil, Olivia was designed to be sensitive, dramatic, insecure and needy and these characteristics were going to help me show her empathy and compassion. I was going to use Olivia to help me learn how to accept the obsessions and compulsions. She’s worked. I’m not 100% recovered but my life is affected less by OCD now than it has ever been.

I’ve since learned this approach is the basis of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which is also well worth learning about, it’s incredible.

I also need to mention social media here. Thanks to social media I was introduced to the OCD community. A community made up of some of the strongest, kindest, most compassionate people you could meet. It helped me to know that I wasn’t alone and that I could get better. Checking out groups, pages and profiles of people who had OCD, and had similar stories to my own, was life changing!

Right, I think that’s about all from me for now.

Please, please, please remember this… No matter how awful OCD feels for you now it can be managed, it can be treated and in many cases, it can be fully recovered from. One day you’ll look back, be amazed you got through it, be thankful you did, then get on with your day. Believe it is possible, and until then learn everything you can about your condition and make self-care your absolute priority. You are not alone! 😊

Thanks so much to Stuart at The OCD Stories for sharing my story! I really hope it helps.

If you’d like to know more about Olivia please check out my website here – www.tamingolivia.com.

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