I am learning to trust I have the ability to deal with the worries and ‘what if’s’ if they became true.
I have OCD. Contamination OCD.
It has taken me many years to write those words without feeling crippling shame or performing a humorous apology. I have embraced the fear and vulnerability and I have found strength and power.
Today I feel healthy: managing my thoughts and doing the work to succeed in recovery. I have dug deep and swam into the dark pockets of my psyche to understand the reasons my OCD manifested. I know the theory of how to heal, so, emotionally I continue to carve a new path of newly created thought patterns. Patterns of understanding and truth and self-care. Patterns that will serve the self of today not the lost and fragile girl of the past.
Trauma and grief I believe are the cause of this dance with OCD.
I have not had any more or any less of these two emotions or experiences than the next person. I have experienced things in my life however that caused me pain and I did not know where to put the hurt that these moments created so I suffocated my grief and my shock and it became fear.
People are fragile and they break. Hearts can hold so much but there needs to be an outlet and everyone’s outlet is different and specific to them. OCD became my friend and my enemy. My protector and my abuser.
My OCD was born with the sudden death of my beloved mother.
It was fed and nurtured by a stint in a U.S jail and a horrific deportation experience, reckless drunken behaviour, leading to regret, guilt, doubt and shame and the need for there to be consequences. My OCD, in part, caused the shocking breakdown of my marriage and took nourishment from it.
My name is Skyler. And I have had OCD as long as I can remember.
My dad was the first person to start calling me “OCD”. Before I even knew what it meant. With some of my compulsions being obvious to him since I was little. Such as: making sure closet doors are closed all the way, excessive and often aggressive eye blinking, excessive stretching and contorting of my limbs. Particularly my arms and wrists. Picking up pieces of paper or trash off of the carpet, repeatedly touching things or checking things, making sure adjacent objects are flush with each other, (books, dvds, cd’s, toys, cards) flipping light switches on and off and looking at the clock every 30 seconds.
Most of my compulsions I had as a child, come and go. Or have faded in intensity over time.
The only compulsions that have become more severe with age have been the stretching and especially the blinking… which causes me daily headaches and eye pain.
Now onto the real problem…. the obsessions.
As a child, my obsessions were the smaller half of my OCD. With my compulsions being in the spotlight..
But as I entered adulthood, my obsessions began to increase in severity, complexity and frequency. Until arriving at a point where they rule my life from the moment I open my eyes.
To get Jeff and Shala’s OCD course with 25% off, click here >>
In episode 67 of the podcast I interviewed Professor Paul Gilbert. Paul is Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Derby. Through his research he created compassion focused therapy (CFT). He has written and edited 20 books and established the Compassionate Mind Foundation in 2006. He was awarded an OBE in March 2011.
I had a fun and insightful chat with Paul about Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), using breathing to tone down anxiety, how compassion can help ERP, Mindfulness and compassion exercises. Enjoy!
It was an everyday struggle. It still is.
11 years old. 5th grade. That’s when it all started:
I would wake up at 5:50 on the nose. Not a minute before, not a minute after. I’d dash into the kitchen and begin making a pot of coffee for my mother. I would prepare everything the night before– the filter already filled with fresh coffee grounds, the water container already filled to the line, the spoon perfectly aligned on a fresh napkin. While waiting for the coffee to brew, I would prepare and eat my breakfast. When the coffee was finished, I’d pour it into a cup and place it to the right of my mother’s “spot” at the kitchen table, with the handle perfectly aligned to the right. By 6:05, I HAD to be finished in the kitchen and on my way to my next morning task. I’d get dressed, brush my teeth, make my bed, curl the tips of my hair, and run to the living room to start my next morning ritual. At exactly 6:30, I would turn on the television and watch QVC (the home shopping network). The show was so structured, which was appealing to me. I was fascinated as to how they could talk about one single item for an hour straight, without it seeming too repetitive or mundane. The show brought me an odd sense of comfort, which is why I let it into my life every single day. At 7:20, I would grab my backpack, head to the car, and mentally prepare myself for a day of school.
To start my day in the classroom, my pencil would be placed horizontally on the top of my desk, my composition book to the left, both perfectly aligned, of course. I sat next to the same girl all year long. She was eccentric—in both her personality and disposition. I respected her, but she was a complete mess and it drove me nuts. She’d spread her things all over her desk, would leave a mess, and fidget and chew on things. I was constantly reaching over and organizing her desk for her. Surprisingly, she never said a word. Although we were opposites, she understood me, and I understood her. We were “different”.
I am learning that I CAN have thoughts I CAN have emotions…
My Story…So far! I think back to when I was a pre teen & there is so much happening, not only physically but also mentally… This is when I first recall OCD happening to me. I was around 12 years old & I began to count & touch doors, handles, count my steps, turn off the T.V. at the “right time”. I had no idea what was happening, it all seemed innocent to me back then just a little quirk I had, I just wanted to get that “right feeling”, no big deal. As I got older and into my later teen years I will never forget this feeling… ever. I woke up one sunny morning & it was like I was HIT by a Bus (Which I actually was years later, lol!!). I had this feeling of anxiety/sweating/tightness in my whole body…All from one single THOUGHT…Am I homosexual because I did that “thing”???? Prior to this thought I had never been attracted to the same sex… Ever. It was just a thought in my head, that’s all… But for some reason it would not leave me.. It hung around for months on end, every waking minute it was there, I would try & resolve it by looking at men out in public to “check” & see if I was attracted to the same sex but that just made matters worse, I would sit and look at magazines with pictures of Men to see if I was attracted to them… It was all so confusing & scary & stressful.. before this thought my life was just going along fine, usual life stuff. How could a single thought turn my life upside down for months??? I look back now to that morning of “the thought” and with all my OCD experience and think… I was Truly living in my head… I was nowhere to be seen, just a shell of my former self, walking around the planet earth trying to find an answer out of this nightmare, only to go deeper down the “Rabbit Hole”!! The more I tried to scratch my way out of the hole the deeper I fell, every time I reacted to these thoughts & try and make sense of it all my Brain would throw another one at me.. Hey Scott what about this one?? I would try & figure that one out only to lead me onto another thought & completely forget about the first thought that popped into my head! Eventually this obsession left me, how I can’t recall? There was a brief period where I thought I was back to the old me… But I still had those underlying “quirks” of touching, counting & turning off the TV at the right time, no idea that I was keeping the OCD Beast alive in me for bigger & better things to pounce on & make my life hell again. Around 23 yrs old I went globe trotting for around 2 years, my OCD was still there unbeknownst to me, I just continued on with my “Quirks” of touching, counting, etc while I was working & traveling the World and the OCD booger not really bothering me much…. I found myself living in London England for a while with some friends, I had a job as a Gardener. It was a fun job UNTIL one day I was cleaning out a commercial garden & came across a Hypodermic Syringe… I didn’t really think much of it at the time until about 2 years later when I was working as a Gardener again back in my Homeland of Australia… Working away one Sunny morning, cleaning out a garden bed I was pricked by something prickly, usual gardening, it happens almost daily… Then all of a sudden my Brain throws up a thought…WHAT IF IT WAS A NEEDLE AND I CATCH AIDS!!!!! In an instant my Brain was going crazy with “what if’s”… Down the “Rabbit Hole” I went again, trying to scratch & kick my way out of this one…Only to find myself deeper down that Hole once more..! This Obsession has been my Nemesis over the years coming & going for the last 15 years of my life, when I was first triggered back on that Sunny morning while Gardening I began on a path of Checking, Coping, Controlling. Having HIV Blood tests A LOT over the years, I have lost count! I have to say it’s been at least 6 years since my last test, I am still alive believe it or not!!
In episode 66 of the podcast I interviewed Epifania Rita Gallina. Epifania is an Italian/American Masters student at Columbia University’s Clinical Psychology program. In September of 2015, she created the online private Facebook support group called “Living on Edge: Taking back your life through ERP,” which now holds 147 members and she peer supports both online and in person. She also plans on becoming an OCD and anxiety disorder specialist and a neuropsychologist.
I had a wonderful chat with Epi about ERP, mindfulness, how to lower stress, living by your values, not underestimating student therapists, loving yourself more, book recommendations and OCD advice. Enjoy!
In episode 65 of the podcast I talk about The OCD Stories book. I discuss why I decided to curate this book, and my hopes for it, as well as sharing my gratitude for the people who have shared their stories over the last 18 months.
Author and model Lily Bailey wrote an inspiring foreword for the book, and Andreas Belanner kindly illustrated the book. Both former guests of the show. Thanks to the 16 authors who allowed me to share their stories with you. Enjoy!
One way is recovery and the other is OCD. It is awesome to have that choice!
Growing up I used to worry a lot. About everything. I never told anyone though. I’m not sure if this was because I thought ‘If I don’t say it its not real’. Or maybe I didn’t want to seem weak? Or perhaps I didn’t want people to worry themselves? Probably all of those. It does not matter too much now. The fact is I had a load of anxiety taking a ride on never ending waltzers in my belly and, despite having a wonderfully supportive family, I never felt comfortable vocalising its existence.
So where does this anxiety go? How is the pressure relieved? Unfortunately the natural mistake any child, teenager or adult can make is to try to work that feeling out. To try to think themselves out of that feeling. It can work briefly. But if that anxiety pot is always on the verge of brimming you have to keep thinking of more ways to reassure yourself that everything is going to be okay. Throw a frightful “intrusive thought” into the mix and its not too much of a jump to see what can happen next. The individual starts to dedicate their whole lives to convincing themselves that thought was not real. But the issue is the anxiety made it FEEL real. And so the cycle continues. OCD is born.
I remember in my early 20s I used to say to myself “I will NOT have that thought today” and manage about 5 minutes at best. That track got stuck more than the NOW 54 CD that I used to use as a tea coaster and frisbee. And was even shitter. I was so desperate to have a ‘pure’ brain without ugly thoughts. But anything from a pair of scissors to a dark BBC News story would be enough to set me off into dreadful doubt and reflection. Of course all of this reassurance, coping and avoidance made things much worse. I had got to the point of planning how to ‘hand myself in’ (for crimes against the thinking world I suppose) and researching online to see if I had the same brain as the Moors Murderers. All was not well.
Then, whilst training for a new healthcare role at the age of 24, a little miracle happened. The woman taking the group mentioned “some people with OCD have repeated unwanted thoughts about hurting people”. I sat bolt upright. Straight after I raced home and jumped on Wikipedia and started reading about OCD, intrusive thoughts and compulsions. The relief I felt that day is still something I marvel at fondly. That there could be a reason for all this confusion and fear felt something close to being reborn.
A lot can happen in an hour, so I focus on minutes and good moments.
I woke up one morning after getting my wisdom teeth pulled, bombarded by an inordinate amount of UNWANTED OBSESSIVE INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS that I found myself incapable of ridding. We all have thoughts, but these thoughts were like none other I had ever had before. Racing through my mind feeling as though someone had lit the tip of my brainstem on fire….I was debilitated. Suddenly I was checking if the stove was off, flicking light switches up down up down up down, blinking a certain number of times until “it felt right,” tapping my fingers into numbers into counting….repeating sentences…..what happened to my mind? I didn’t know why nothing filtered out. I didn’t know why I could not let these thoughts go. I didn’t know how I was going to successfully enter my first year of college at UCSB with such bizarre obsessive worries. I was concerned about absurd topics like whether or not urine was sterile. I wanted to know that semen was not air-borne. I wanted to make sure my zipper was properly up or else something bad might happen to a family member.
August 2002, my sense of homeostasis was taken from me.
After 7 months of living in clandestine and being tormented by my own mind, I finally saw a psychiatrist who explained to me that I had a very severe on-set of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. How could my brain drastically change over night I thought? Also, from the stigma that I heard regarding OCD, it was a disorder of hand washing and cleaning. I didn’t do either, so how could OCD be my diagnosis I thought?
As an OCD sufferer myself, it’s only really gotten to this point of overly obsessive and compulsive behaviour in the past two years. I realised it was OCD last year, after constantly beating myself up about being obsessed with embarrassing things. I experienced very mild OCD when young, with “do this or that would happen”, but it faded and I never really took notice. It’s only when it took the form of disturbing and distressing thoughts did I realise something wasn’t right. Even though the thoughts didn’t instigate any compulsions at first, the compulsions eventually became a way of relieving the distress brought on by these thoughts. And as you know I’m sure, as soon as I thought I was over something, the OCD has already jumped to another part of my life. For one period I didn’t want to sit on the tube, the next period I couldn’t get out of bed because I couldn’t rid a thought. Often the thoughts are hard to shake because they make me doubt my beliefs. Which is the hardest part to overcome.
Over the past 2 weeks I discovered The OCD stories on the podcast app, and it’s changed my life. I can’t even list the positive messages here as there are so many. The guests who share their experiences – from onset to recovery – really have brought this way of life into perspective. For some time now, to get my mind away from thoughts and compulsions I have written poems at times that my mind would usually wander (the underground, buses, a queue etc). They’re really true to what I go through, and now I know what many OCD sufferers go through as well. Sometimes there’s a light, and then there’s a slump. But it’s all about focusing on long term recovery. While small steps to start with are hard, the most powerful thing is to know that beneath all the OCD malarkey I know who I am and what I believe in. It’s then up to me to use that power and stop the compulsions.