OCD

It’s tough watching someone you love struggle. Especially when their struggle becomes yours too.

My Dad has OCD. He’s been to therapy for it and I can thankfully say that it has worked wonders.

It started out as something small; little changes in his life which made him uncomfortable. As those small changes were followed by larger changes, the need to control everything kicked in.

It was little things that started to irritate him; a movement of a pan from one area to another. Leaving a charger plugged in. He would bring these things up and snap a little.

Flash forward a couple of months and the movement of the pan made him so angry. It shouldn’t go there, why can’t I remember? What is wrong with me? I never pay attention. How do I manage to cope at work? I’m useless.

Little by little, he started to chip away at my self esteem to the point where I was so afraid to go home because I wasn’t sure what I’d done wrong today. What is he going to yell at me for this time? I started turning up late for work because I would start off down the road and then turn back, panicking that I hadn’t pulled my straighteners or phone charger from the plug socket. It was hell.

I slowly realised that my father wasn’t doing it maliciously. Everything that I forgot, every mistake I made gave him such anxiety to the point that he couldn’t function.

I was told by my therapist that most people are obsessive or compulsive but there are a few who are obsessive compulsive and this is so much worse. They, like my Dad, think that if they don’t do something, then essentially their world crumbles. It’s a catastrophic way of thinking. My Dad consistently thought that if any plug was left in, he had to check it 5 times otherwise the house would burn down. When I was trying to battle through depression and my own anxiety too, everything became immensely overwhelming.

It was an amazing relief when he decided to go to therapy for it. Admitting to mental health issues is a massive step and such a hard one to take. It’s hard to know whether you are actually dealing with a mental health issue because there is always that voice in the back of your mind telling you that it’s not so bad or you’re making it all up and can stop anytime.

I can definitely say that my Dad is far from the man he used to be. His anxiety and stress levels have fallen, and he has learnt invaluable techniques to combat the negative thoughts in his head, preventing him from catastrophising.

OCD is tough to deal with directly but there are also people on the outside who must deal with the reactions and the feelings and are essentially taken along for the ride with you. It’s hard when every day you wake up and wonder what will happen that will give you anxiety today? What struggles will today bring?

We should stop thinking of therapy as a bad thing and a negative thing. I know I don’t even want to think about where I would be without it.

Living with an invisible disease

I don’t even know where to start with describing this one so I’m just going to get straight to it. On the face of it when people look at me; no real skin problems, no scars, no chesty coughs, slim build and no real obvious signs of illness. Internally, I feel the complete opposite.

I have had intestinal/stomach related problems for years but I was still a very sporty and athletic individual throughout my educational life (to my final university year). However, it has unfortunately become worse and is now significantly affecting my standard of living and mental wellbeing.

For roughly 2 years I have had severe stomach pain which probably developed through living away from home in a different city while working for a year. As I was living by myself and being the irresponsible young adult I was, I was unable to cook, and as I was always a slim, people would constantly tell me that I was so lucky that I’m skinny; I can eat anything. Being young and naive, I did just that being totally unaware of my food intolerances/sensitivities; the very things that were harming me. I started developing skin problems, brain fog and frequent migraines. My eyesight deteriorated, experienced severe abdominal pain and I lost considerable weight to the point that I was a mere 6 and a half stone. I lost all confidence in myself to the extent it had an impact on my ability to verbally communicate which I feel is still prevalent to this current day.

I knew I had to do something because every part of my body was shutting down. I couldn’t do the things I previously enjoyed like playing football and going out with friends which left me severely depressed and isolated.

My first point of call was to go to the doctors. After explaining my symptoms and showing the doctors the physical proof of my skin problems, I was extremely surprised to be shrugged off. I was already at breaking point, so I went the next day to see another doctor. After arguing continuously and convincing them to take me seriously, (they just thought I was just extremely anxious and stressed) I notified them I’d like to take serious tests like X-rays etc. The doctors decided to do an overall blood test which will flag up antibodies if there is anything wrong with my body. To my disbelief my results came back all clear. I was told I’m perfectly fine and it’s all in my head, I’m just highly anxious and stressed and thus there was no need for an X-ray so instead they simply recommended anti-depressants!

At this point I walked out the surgery and had a major breakdown, my heart broke as I lost all hope of getting better and lost my will to live. I felt like it was all over; I’ve effectively been given a life sentence that no one will understand. To be honest at that point I wished I had cancer instead. At least it was something tangible. A confirmation that something is not quite right.

Thankfully God blessed me with the courage to open up to a colleague who seemed to genuinely care and tried their best to help as they noticed my mental health was deteriorating. Having someone to confide in made me feel better. It felt like letting off a huge load off my back even though they couldn’t stop the problem itself. Anyone going through any physical or mental related problems alone, I would recommend that you do give people you trust a chance. You will likely be surprised how compassionate people can be and on the plus side, talking about your issues can be a godsend for your mental state. I for one can testify to this. As someone who tries to ensure they live without pride or ego, I can admittedly confess that being open is a real challenge for me. However, its ability to help put your problems, and sometimes irrational thoughts into perspective, is priceless.

I did manage to get better thank god, although not in a recommended manner. I firmly believe praying, drinking lots of water and pot luck helped me get better. I returned to University for my final year with a new lease of energy, sense of excitement in life and getting back to doing things I enjoyed but as I had lost significant weight, (particularly with me being quite skinny already wasn’t necessarily a good thing) my housemates and friends were quite worried.

I fell into the same trap and the cycle repeated itself. The same “you need to put on weight”, “eat this and that” persisted and although I fought it for a while, the repetitive comments about my weight dragged me down to the point where I finally caved. The symptoms returned and this time I still haven’t managed to shake it off.

My mental health has again deteriorated. I have lost confidence, I isolate myself and have stopped going to socials. I find myself pulling away from people I build good bonds with but the thing that hurts the most is that I’m afraid people may think I just don’t like them, not knowing it’s me and the high social anxiety levels I face. I feel like I’m losing out on the so called ‘best years of my life’ and I’m scared I will not be able to fulfil my potential. I’m scared I’m going to let my family down, I’m frightened I won’t be able to build close relationships with people and I’m afraid I won’t ever get better this time. I’m stressed about a lot of things but honestly, I can deal with it. What I can’t deal with is my fears becoming a reality and living like this for the rest of my life.

I’ve learned the importance of being resilient enough to ignore people’s comments over your own inner voice because at the end of the day it is my life and my body and I’m not comprising my life for anyone else. It doesn’t matter if this disease is invisible to other people or not as serious to them. To me it’s very real and it’s harming my life and my mental state. I have inevitably given up on doctors and am looking at alternative medicine. I’m extremely determined to get myself better (regardless of going through a healing crisis) and I firmly believe I will get my life back. I’m just trying my best to make it sooner rather than later.

At times I still hate being me. I do still get depressed and I still break down sometimes, but I try and remember some of the good things I still have in my life; a family, amazing friends and achievements I’ve managed despite struggling with these issues and other events. I’m still alive and I can’t change the past and years I missed out on, but the future is still here and who knows what that holds. Maybe the pain and frustration of the past will pave the way for a future filled with health and happiness and that’s what I’m focusing my energies on capturing!

Sexual assault

What is sexual assault, some of you may ask? Well, if someone purposefully grabs or touches you in a sexual way that you don’t like, or you’re forced to do something sexual against your will, that’s sexual assault. Basically, anything sexual without consent is sexual assault.

It has been four years since I was sexually assaulted by a stranger, during a night out at university.

Since the night of the incident, nothing has been quite the same.

I was inebriated, as most people are on a Friday night. Leaving the club alone to get some fresh air led to being taken by a stranger, sexually assaulted and left on a random bench to eventually find my way back to safety.

Making my statement with the police and going through a long process of health checks, I was finally let free at midday the next day. Exhausted and emotionally drained, I went home and straight to sleep. After this, I just wanted everything to go back to normal and forget about the whole thing. However, things just aren’t that simple.

I became more and more paranoid, ‘Why is everyone looking at me?’, ‘Do they know what happened?’, ‘Are people talking about it?’. I felt uncomfortable with the way I dressed and looked, judging myself; ‘Do I look slutty?’, ‘Is this dress too revealing?’, ‘Am I wearing too much makeup?’, the list goes on and on. All of these thoughts whizzing through my brain constantly giving me stress and anxiety. Feeling as though it wasn’t safe to leave the house, or show my face because I felt disgusted in myself and worthless. Feeling terrified of being outside at night or going on nights out. I became a social recluse and a completely different person to who I was prior to the event. Self-blame is also true to most victims because if I hadn’t drunk so much, or if I hadn’t gone out that night etc. maybe it wouldn’t have happened.

Common issues that arise in Sexual Assault victims:

  •        Depression
  •        Anxiety
  •        Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  •        Personality disruptions
  •        Triggers

I can assume that like myself, most victims go through all of them.

Fast-forward four years and I still go through many of the same things that I did just days after it happened. I have gotten a lot stronger and overcome many of battles with myself too, but the feeling of depression and anxiety hasn’t completely gone away.

Fortunately, I have great deal of support from the people closest to me and would not be here today if it wasn’t for them. Surrounding yourself with positivity and support is essential to the whole healing process. I cannot stress the importance of talking to people about how you’re feeling, whether it is randomly on online support groups or with friends or family, it can bring you out of that vortex of negativity spiralling in your mind.

There are many experiences that people go through in life. Sexual assault should not be one of them.

We need to talk

So how exactly do you talk about mental health? It’s a tough one – an elephant in the room, if you’ll pardon the pun. But it’s a conversation we need to have.

 

If you ask me how I’m doing, the chances are you’ll get one of three answers:

  1. The “meh”: this means that I’m not feeling great but don’t really want to talk about it. It’ll pass and I’m probably in a mood for no reason.
  2. The “great thanks, how are you?”: this means that I’m in a pretty good mood – the day is going well, I’ve done something interesting and I’ve had the right amount of caffeine so that I can function like a person.
  3. The “I’m not feeling so good”: if you hear this, you know I’m having a bad day and could do with a break, a cup of coffee and a chat.

So that’s great – I’m easy to read. There’s a 3 step guide to evaluating how I’m feeling and how to talk to me. This might not be the case for everyone. In fact, it almost definitely isn’t.

It’s a sad fact that more people would rather avoid talking about mental health than sit down and have an honest and frank discussion about how they’re feeling. But they’ll happily talk about their physical health and fitness – so much so that I’m sick of hearing about the gym. There’s something about this that just doesn’t feel right to me – our mental health and wellbeing is just as important, if not more so, as our physical health.

So if you’re feeling down, talk about it. Air your feelings with a friend. Sit down and have a chat over a coffee. But don’t bottle it up.

And what if you see someone else who doesn’t seem to be doing well? Sit down and have a chat. Ask them how they’re doing, offer a friendly conversation. Buy them a cake if they’re the kind of person that isn’t obsessed with the gym.

Sometimes a little attention is all it takes to get someone on the road to feeling better. Sometimes it takes more than that – and that’s okay too. The chances are you’re not going to be able to take someone from feeling like 0% to 100% with some coffee and a cake or a hug. But maybe you’ll take them from 0 to 20%, and that’s always an improvement. And sometimes that’s all you need – for things to get just a little bit better.

My own battle: Recovering from an attack

On a cold and bitter November morning, I was casually going about my normal routine walk, when I was stopped and asked what the time was. I naturally looked down at my watch and answered…until part way through my answer the sudden shock and realisation of being a victim of attack became apparent.

In that precise time it’s difficult to consciously do anything. You do what you can to make the whole process end as soon as possible and get away from the mess. When it’s over and you’re left alone, you regain your surroundings coming to the senses of the shock and reality of what has just happened. But this isn’t even the worst part; what comes in the aftermath really hits you.

Why did they choose me? All for pride? To gain satisfaction? To boost their ego? These were the questions I raised to myself every day for the next couple of years. It took me even longer to get over the paranoia and fear of walking alone. Even when a car use to stop by the driveway I would question who it was, why they have stopped outside my house, how long they would stop for – this was the clear mistrust of other people in the months after the attack. All this upset just for a cheap phone?

Being attacked, feeling defeated at the time, worrying excessively afterwards, and difficulties sleeping meant paranoid fears remained a part of my life comprehensively after the attack. The long term mental trauma outweighed the physical discomfort, that’s for sure.

It takes time – to accept what has happened and to learn to live with it. You are not expected to just accept and move on from what has happened, because ‘life goes on’ – no. Research shows that four out of five victims became more fearful of other people after being mugged? Traditionally, it was thought paranoid thinking was rare in the aftermath of an attack. But that is simply not true.

The bottom line is an incident like this can trigger a range of strong emotions that may be hard to handle and can change over time. The end result is that whatever you’re going through is normal, from shock, loneliness and unhappiness, but in every sense of these elements it helps to open up about them. Confiding in someone you trust, can help the situation, and allow you to move on. All of this needs time.

Post-University Anxiety

Being a first generation immigrant I never had my parents share their stories with me or give me that pep talk about what to expect when I arrive at university. So a lot of what I expected to happen was based off of what I saw in American movies.

What I expected to happen was that I sit in a big lecture theatre and have a lecturer talk at me. On the face of it, this was true, because the first actual thing I did at university after I had done all of my induction was sit in a lecture theatre and have a lecturer talk me. I later realised that there was a lot more to university than just a lecture theatre filled with 200 not so eager students. Before I began university I had it all planned out, everything was so structured, I get As in my GCSEs get As in A-levels, get all my offers on UCAS then go to university. This was all perfect. This was all structured.

The plan was after I finish university I would get a job. In my first year of university I really didn’t pay this ‘job’ much thought. I didn’t think I needed to. It would just be there waiting for me. I have a degree, I have good grades that automatically equated to a good job, a stable job, a job that gave me a regular income.

In my final year at university, I spoke to previous graduates, majority were unemployed because they left their application too late. So, I decided to be organised. I put together a list of all the firms I wanted to apply to, their application open date and close date. I even fell back on my readings and assignments because I understood that applying to jobs was a priority.

I went on all the graduate recruitment pages, signed up my details, sent out my CV and waited… And I waited.

I did all of my Situational Judgment Tests, I passed a few, didn’t pass others, and then I waited.

When it became time to graduate, there was lots of joy and happiness in the air, lots of optimism. We posed for photos, uploaded them to Instagram and had the likes and comments rolling in, but it ignored the reality of what was to come.

Come September, after months of applying I had nothing, nothing to wake up early in the mornings for, nothing to challenge me, nothing to excite me, no regular income. My biggest embarrassment is having to ask my parents for my bus fare. I am left asking myself, what is wrong with me, what have I done wrong, what is this secret to getting a job that I am not in on.

 

Pressure and Expectations

Often success appears as a fleeting, momentary occurrence, present only briefly before my mind moves onto the next thing I have yet to achieve or something else that I’m not doing so well on. It’s never been about pausing and taking the time to enjoy my own victories, however small or large they may be. To me, success is expected, and rather than focussing on where things are going right, often my focus will be on where I’m falling short. There’s always room for improvement.

It’s not the case that this is the result of any external pressure from friends or family, just my own method of driving me towards success.

And it’s utterly incompatible with a concept of self-worth and confidence tied to your own successes.

If you can’t stop to appreciate when you’ve done well, then it goes without saying that there won’t be much increase in your self-confidence even when you succeed. Despite recognising this over the course of many years, I’ve never been able to fully break free of this way of thinking.

Rather than focussing on internal validation, instead my confidence and self-worth has tended focus on external validation and the praise of others. External validation is fantastic for motivation and affirmation in your efforts if its forthcoming, but this isn’t always the case (irrespective of whether or not you deserve it).

If anything, reliance on such a volatile source of motivation is sometimes even worse than the constant self-deprecation I’m used to applying, but it’s so much less mentally tiring than feeling like I’m always falling short because of my own high expectations.

Equally, measuring yourself against others on a constant basis is a sure-fire way to demoralise yourself. I can’t count the number of times I’ve looked at something I’ve achieved whether it be academic, sporting or career-based, achievements which were things to be truly proud of, and gone in my head “but it wasn’t as good as what others have done”.

It’s easy enough justify this as a motivation mechanism, a way to push myself onwards and upwards, and it’s so easy to slip into this line of thinking, constantly comparing yourself to your peers.

But sometimes the time needs to be taken to appreciate success in absolute rather than relative terms. Otherwise it can feel like you’re no longer in control of your own self-confidence and over time, the result is a fear of the judgement of others simply because I’ve made it such an important part of how I view myself.

While I’ve never been able to fully put this thought process to rest, I’ve had moments of reprieve by considering a very simple fact: you’re not doing these things for others, you’re doing them for yourself. Yes in some cases success relative to others is the end goal, but equally other times success will be measured against your own benchmarks and objectives.

Similarly external validation and praise should be a supplement to your own confidence in yourself: all the praise in the world from others won’t mean a thing if you don’t believe it.

What others think will always be important to me, but it should never be as important as what I think of myself. With that realisation comes responsibility: it’s my job to define my successes and celebrate them where I think it’s appropriate. Sometimes I’ll probably be too harsh, and sometimes over-zealous, but as long as I take the time to appreciate my own successes, at least I’m in the driver’s seat with a great view of where to aim for next.