By: James Poultney from Derby, England
Although I didn't know it until age 25, I have lived with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) since I was around 10 years old. I used to perform compulsions such as opening and closing windows, repeating "good thoughts" and repeating behaviors "until things felt right".
It was mainly night time when my rituals would really present themselves. I didn't really understand why I felt compelled to perform these behaviors, but I knew that I had to do them or else something awful was going to happen. It felt like a really lonely place to be because I was convinced that I was the only person in the world to have this strange behavior.
My teenage and University years came and I still had problems with outward compulsions. However, these reduced drastically and my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) focused more on internal ruminations, mainly related to health problems that I didn't have but felt that I may have had. These included HIV and various forms of cancer. I judged these thoughts as evidence that there must be something physically wrong with me. I didn't understand that the rumination was a symptom of an anxious mind that was dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
During the latter part of 2012, I started to ruminate on thoughts that really distressed me. I felt like I was going insane. I tended to get low in the winter months and this seemed to trigger my obsessions. However, thoughts about suicide and hurting others were relatively new to me. I had no idea what was going on. I catastrophized thoughts of slitting my wrists or jumping off overpasses. The thoughts brought on a deep sense of dread, panic and despair. What was happening to me?
Eventually, after months of dealing with these thoughts bombarding me, I broke down and told my family what was happening. I became convinced that I was a danger to myself and my family members. I was so frightened. My mum took me to the doctor and I was reassured that I was not insane but needed to see a therapist in order to get to the bottom of what was going on. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and underwent CBT for this. However, over various different sessions therapists informed me that I had symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and encouraged me to read up on the illness.
I couldn't believe it. When I read up on the plethora of symptoms Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can display, I felt such relief. I felt I had an answer to all these years of variations of symptoms of OCD…the proceeding years I spent where OCD ebbed and flowed. I was put on medication and things generally did improve.
After another relapse in the winter time I decided that I needed to get more consistent help. So now I regularly see my GP if I need to and keep on top of my physical and mental health. Things are good. I understand that the brain is always on the lookout for danger, especially when you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and anxiety. I take part in awareness campaigns, help others in the community and try to use compassion to help others and myself.
Understanding that thoughts are just thoughts and not part of you is key to recovery. Being mindful of cognitive function and the "monkey mind" is a cornerstone of recovery. Venturing down obsessive "rabbit holes" and trying to find an answer through obsessive rumination is a futile and pointless task. It will only bring misery. It never brings relief.
If you need help, ask for it. If you want to talk about your brain, feel free to do so! Empowering yourself and having that self-compassion is key to living a healthier and happier life.
Photo Credit: James Poultney
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