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I lived with the pretence of mental well being, with an adamant refusal to overtly acknowledge my secretive fears. From personally experiencing mild to severe obsessive thoughts I mercifully, have since been taught how to deal with my OCD and can now enjoy being a contented mother without the fear of harming my children. I will collect my thoughts and tell my story of complete recovery and give you the re-assurance that there is hope for all who suffer to overcome this illness and to let you know that during the past three years, I have been completely free of OCD.
My intention is purely to inspire all those suffering, that they too, can make a full recovery, as I have done or that they can make their OCD more manageable to live with.
If I only succeed in actively encouraging one sufferer out of thousands to seek help, then I have accomplished what I set out to do. I will endeavour to give you a brief insight of how my day would pan out with those dreaded all too consuming obsessional thoughts and give an explanation for my own healing.
Perpetually tired from recently having had my fourth baby, a typical day would begin with a bang to remind me that I have AIDS. This illogical notion made me feel like a monster with no respect for humanity. It never occurred to me that I was in a virtually no-risk bracket. I’d immediately juggle an infinite number of racing thoughts over a chaotic breakfast, such as “Oh, my God, it must have been me who caused the latest 747 plane crash in Holland”. Meanwhile, my two year old is now sitting on the table posting her honey toast to her dolly on the floor. This is no problem because I am now faced with the terrifying thought of passing the crucial information about the airline disaster to the East Sussex Police. I try to be sensible about this increasingly serious problem and decide to do the school run first before making my confession.
My school run went really well this morning. I can honestly say I didn't knock anybody down. Because of this I feel fantastic and am ready to face the kitchen. I have just finished spraying my oven and I am starting to get rather anxious about the fumes from “Mr Muscle”. There is a hard frost outside and I am now convinced that my two week old baby will definitely become brain-damaged because the entire house is now contaminated by these life threatening fumes, unless I sensibly rectify the problem by simply placing my new born in the garden where the air is fresh. Anyway, pneumonia is preferable to brain-damage.
Lunch time is fast approaching and I have picked up my two-year old child from play group. Her chirpy-ness has gone and I realize she has a temperature. I start pouring out the Calpol onto the medicine spoon. But wait, what if I have already given her a dose, but what if I haven’t? My imperfections as a totally irresponsible mother are now proved. This could mean a drug-overdose and brain damaging two children in one morning. My heart is really pounding now, I am pacing up and down and I encounter another anxiety ridden adrenalin rush from OCD.
Exhausted by these persistent ruminations, I curl up on my bed while my children sleep. I am aware of my days being filled with irrational thoughts of harming others who are so dear to me, but the reality is so overwhelming I am unable to differentiate between real thoughts and obsessional harming thoughts. . It would only be a matter of time before I disclose these terrifying secrets to my GP. I have images of a blonde haired Kiwi girl sitting in the back of a police van traveling at high speed to Wormwood Scrubs. I have since discovered this is a prison for men. The familiar tears keep coming and I eventually doze off accepting my fate.
5.30pm Otherwise known as happy-hour. My four year-old kindly helps me by laying the table. I am so thrilled by her willingness until she brings out the vegetable knife that I had specially hidden at the back of the drawer. This sacred and most deadly weapon was not in its rightful place. This is a cause for immediate action. In order to prevent a catastrophe, the children’s supper would have to be put on hold. My mind is frantically searching for the most sensible and of course, the safest option, “I’ve got it, yes, I’ll hide it in the old paint box in the garage”.
Bath-time is over and the children are brushing their teeth with their favourite, expensive toothbrushes from the Disney shop. I then notice to my horror that they have used my toothpaste and this can only mean one thing – they are almost certainly infected with the AIDS virus. There is pandemonium inside this head of mine and I try in desperation to rationalize and make sense of what’s just happened. I can’t, so I see fit to punish myself by biting my bottom lip to displace my thoughts. It is not enough and I feel compelled to find a suitable place for these highly contaminated instruments – so off I march into the wintry darkness to find the wheelie-bin in the garden.
My day is never complete until I have done a safety check to remove the potentially dangerous children’s dressing gown cords. These lethal items are now concealed in a tightly tied plastic bag. I am still not convinced I have reduced the temptation of harming my children, so instinctively I tie as many knots as possible to make the bag extra secure with wishful thinking that I will have no recollection of their whereabouts after the evening’s ritual has taken place. I then have an extraordinary, but necessary idea. I contemplate staying awake throughout the night to avoid the sole responsibility of causing something so horrific and chilling from happening in my sleep, for the next eight hours I must remain conscious to guarantee my children’s safety.
It is now twenty-six years from when I first started having ruminations. I was a debilitated wreck and OCD had finally taken complete control of my life. This is when I met Dr Jeff McPherson, a consultant psychiatrist, a man with much gentleness, along with his strength and deep understanding of pain and suffering within individuals. Dr McPherson prescribed me with Seroxat and suggested we meet on a regular basis for counselling using cognitive behavioural therapy to overcome the illness. After five or six sessions, over a period of three months, my OCD had disappeared and I now realize that my rapid recovery was quite unique.
I do feel you will benefit by discussing this with family and friends. Sadly, we are so concerned about how others perceive us, it must hinder our ability to overcome the illness more quickly. Surprisingly, most people I speak to, seem intrigued and are very understanding. I believe we all have the resources to conquer these demons, along with making the necessary changes in our lives to achieve a significant result. Keep tiredness at bay, and make this healing process one of the biggest commitments in your life. Fight the thoughts that cannot hurt you and do not use avoidance or divert intrusive thoughts that are equivalent to someone awaiting their execution. The inclination to move towards the natural response of avoidance is huge, but this can only be to your detriment and will only prolong the illness. Endure the challenge of fighting these thoughts and when they go, immediately invite them back. Hold onto them, play with them and let them be in your court because OCD does not desire exposure. Whilst fighting these frightening obsessional thoughts, you will experience an intolerable sensation of a greater openness to danger – a danger that simply does not exist. Eventually, desensitisation will occur for most sufferers, as it did for me.
For those of you who suffer, however disturbing this anxiety is, the subject matter of the obsessional thought is completely irrelevant. Please see it as OCD and deal with it with the guidance of a professional.
It is perfectly normal throughout the duration of your counselling to experience frustration and immense feelings of failure by giving into OCD. Simply see it as a bad day, which all humans are subject to from time to time. Start again the following morning putting into practice the tasks given to you by your therapist.
Not even the homophobic will escape questioning his own sexuality. Nor will the loving parent who is made to feel sickened to the core from ruminations concerning child abuse or the studious adolescents as they restlessly lie on their bed hopelessly trying to defend themselves against violent thoughts that forever seep into their weary heads. For me, tragically the most haunting part of the disorder is the way OCD affects the purity and innocence of the young, how it immobilizes them and has the power to make a child feel demonic as they relentlessly disguise the rigmarole of their daily compulsive rituals in the play ground.
Five percent of the population in England suffer from OCD, so it is imperative that parents, teachers and GP's have a greater understanding of this mental illness. It is essential that there is more awareness, so children have the opportunity for their OCD to be recognized earlier, rather than later, if future generations are going to benefit.
Remember, you are important to those who love you and so worthy of healing but this must begin with you finding the courage to open up to your GP. My sadness and prayers are for those who, through no fault of their own are unable to combat the disabling terror and unless they seek help, little or no improvement will ever be made.