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!!
I have to back up briefly in my story if I may to share an achievement I have reached along this crazy journey we call Life/ OCD… Back to when I was living in London.. Remember when I mentioned when I was actually hit by a bus? Well this is when it happened. I had been living in this crazy busy metropolis for about 9 months, I had just finished work for the day & was heading out to the big old famous Portabello Rd street Market in Notting Hill. I recall the day vividly, the people around me, the sounds, the smells..We had just about made it to the markets when I felt this hard slap on the back of my shoulder, it was like someone had punched me really hard in the back, before I even realized what had happened I was on the ground with my foot stuck under the bus wheel.. screaming in shock, I was hit by a bus while I was still on the side walk! After 2 months in Hospital in London I flew home to Australia. After some tough decisions it was best for me to have my left leg below the knee amputated, my whole world was flipped upside down, shaken, not stirred & poured out in front of me… Now what?? After another month in Hospital I began the 1 year journey of learning how to walk again with a Prosthetic Leg. Through this 1 year of recovery I didn’t have any OCD symptoms what so ever, funny how a REAL life event can do this to you…. You don’t think twice, you just do what you have to, because you are responding from your true self! I look back on that life experience now & think… What got me through the first year of recovery…? Sport! I was always involved in sport from a young age & wanted to get back at it as soon as I was able. I was also lucky enough to have amazing support from my Family & Friends that helped me along the way whenever I needed it. At the time of my accident I was really into Downhill Skiing… So there it was, I now had a goal in mind! To get back to skiing! It really drove me in a positive way. After months of hard work I eventually got back on Snow and learning how to ski again, it was a great day! One thing lead to another and that same year I was flying to Canada to learn how to become a Downhill Ski Racer!!! After a couple of years racing I was now off to the Winter Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City U.S 2002, I continued on racing in Downhill until I competed at the Winter Paralympic Games Torino Italy 2006 for Australia. Did I have OCD in this period of my life? Yes, yes indeed…. Looking back now on my Racing & Coaching days I managed my OCD through Daily Compulsions of checking, coping & controlling. At the time I didn’t realize it but that’s what I was doing for sure. That old saying, “If I knew what I know now” my racing days would of been a lot more fulfilling & rewarding. What I did get out of my Journey though from the time I was injured that day in London to the day I finished my racing career was the Journey, is far more important than the destination… By a long shot! This very lesson I learned has taken me a lot of years to grasp when it came to OCD.. I have spent years trying to Cope, Check, & Control everything related to not only OCD but everything in my day to day life which I have now realized had kept the “OCD Beast” alive and well!! How did I come to this realization? Meditation, Daily! Through Meditation I am gaining a better relationship with my Brain/Mind & how he functions… I am learning that I CAN have thoughts I CAN have emotions… Everyday I can have all sorts of thoughts & emotions that travel through me.. I am not the “owner” of them they are just happening, all my job is, Is to be the observer, SEE the thoughts, FEEL the emotions.. From a Neutral position, Like watching a movie, YOU are just sitting there watching the show. Next time you watch a movie or a program on TV try and be mindful of how many THOUGHTS are running through your brain, How many EMOTIONS you feel, but you just let them happen, You RECOGNIZE there presence and ACCEPT it, Once the movie or TV program is over you might be left with a lingering feeling or thought but that’s about it, eventually it just passes through you & you move onto the next activity! This is an example of what I am gaining through Meditation.
What else has helped me? Working with Mark Freeman! (markfreeman.ca) He isn’t a therapist but has been the biggest help by a long shot. He’s “been there done that” when it comes to OCD! Making me recognize this;
#1 The hard work needed to be done to manage my OCD, not only my Contamination OCD but taking a Holistic approach in day to day life has really helped.
#2 Becoming Mindful of non OCD compulsions in day to day life that may seem “normal”. Since I have been on the Mindfulness journey I am learning to recognize how much of my daily routine was feeding the OCD Beast & keeping him “Healthy & Happy”! Things like making a cup of tea, has to be “just right”, my job (Furniture restorer) becoming obsessed about whatever I am working on until I get it “just right”, going shopping with my Wife, I had to know where we were going & for how long. These types of patterns were continually feeding the OCD Beast without me even recognizing it, now with my Mindfulness Meditation practice I am more mindful of these patterns.. They can still happen but I am in a better position now to see them from a distance and not let them influence my behaviour. Practice here is KEY…Believe me, I have had the OCD Beast kick the shit out me over the years, But when it comes down to it you have 2 choices here… You can continue on the compulsive path of never ending pain, or you can choose to gain your life back in spite of the OCD, you can live together in harmony! I think one of my biggest mistakes when it has come to OCD is this… I always thought that RECOVERY meant that I would be free of OCD, done, finished and life is back to “Normal”… I had this attitude for years & I think that I wanted it so bad that I thought I was doing the hard work by reading & reading & reading self help books about OCD that what I was really doing was coping, checking, controlling, seeking reassurance over & over & over & over that it was just keeping me in the cycle of compulsive actions! So now when i think RECOVERY I think MAINTENANCE instead, For me maintaining my Mental Health is no different to maintaining my Physical Health, if I want to stay in shape I have to do the work! (Thanks Mark!!!)
#3 ACT Therapy. I am still working on this book to date, almost there but it has helped me a lot. Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, basically put, it is helping me to learn how to accept my thoughts & feelings as just that.. Committing to my Values as best I can, NO MATTER how I feel or what thoughts are running around in my head, some days it’s not easy, but the the alternative (Drinking the OCD Cool aide) is much much worse! If for whatever reason I am off for a few days I know I have to take an holistic approach to the big picture of my life. What Compulsive actions have I been performing in my day to day life leading up to my few “off days”? Have I been getting enough sleep, how is my diet, have I been exercising enough? How much stress is in my life at the moment? I am learning that by being mindful of my life outside of my “contamination OCD” I can see that I have been keeping the Compulsive beast alive and well by feeding him all kinds of “tasty Compulsive treats”, he just sits back like a couch potato eating away on his “tasty Compulsions” wanting more an more, never satisfied, before you recognize he is hungry ALL the time…! So saying all this, what do I do next?? NO MATTER WHAT my brain throws at me, Thoughts & Emotions… I recognize them as Thoughts, I feel them as Emotions & let them be there, DO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to change them & get back to what I truly value, whatever that may be in the moment….This is where Meditation has truly helped me, learning that all the “stuff” that happens in the brain/mind I have NO say in what happens in my skull, but if I for 1 millisecond try to change it or run from it or get rid of it, paint it a different colour, that’s where we open to the door for OCD to creep back in!
The last word goes to my Wife, Sherry…Without her love & support through this crazy OCD Journey who knows where I would be! She kicked me in the Butt when I needed it, held me when the pain was too unbearable, most of all she was ALWAYS there for me, I can’t thank you enough Wife’y!