Thursday, 30 October 2014

OCD and the Law of Attraction

I thought I'd share with you my thoughts on why I believe the Law of Attraction is really dangerous for people with OCD.

The Law of Attraction (LOA) has been everywhere lately. People tend to have a Marmite-type reaction to it; they either love it or hate it. They either view it as their missing self-help messiah or a money-grabbing crook.

Personally, I think it has great merit. But I think it's dangerous for people with OCD.

There's enormous value in being deliberate about what you put out into the world. Your expectations about people and events do hugely influence your subsequent experience. If you turn up with a smile on your face, people are likely to smile back. If you are the resident grumpy-guts, people are likely to avoid you, pity you or confront you. It's old news really: you get back what you put in.

Behaviour is what affects things. We all know this, right? But the LOA doesn't centre its teaching around behaviour. It should. Those who use it effectively know that the inspired action is the significant thing. Go into whatever you want with a bit of heart and you'll get somewhere.

Unfortunately, The LOA emphasis is too often placed on the thoughts ('thoughts become things'). Think only about what you want and only do the things that make you feel good.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking positive thinking or visualisation. But healthy-minded people know when to stop thinking and start acting. They know to make the vision board of pretty wishful images, and when to put it down and go out cycling, apply for the job and get on with life. And they know that sometimes you have to do something that scares you to get over it and make progress.

I can't speak for other OCD sufferers, but my rumination OCD (over-thinking, over-worrying, over-analysing) is a terrible bed-fellow for the LOA.

The trouble is that, as an OCD sufferer, controlling my thoughts and avoiding negative emotions is a route to hell, plain and simple. I'm just coming back from there and I don't want to go again!

I used to believe that if I thought about something long enough, I could change it; if I plan something well enough, I can control it; if I analyse something enough, I can perfect make sense of it. This is bullshit. I'm discovering this day by day. All my thoughts do is create more thoughts. Those thoughts go round and round and lead me nowhere but mental paralysis.

The LOA tells me that my thoughts create real-life things. As an OCD-sufferer, this says to me that my worrying about hurting myself or someone else will lead me to actually do those things. This leads to avoidance and more worry, stimulating the belief that I may do something harmful and I should control/avoid my thoughts and certain people, places, objects and activities even more strictly.

This goes completely against the psychiatric treatment of OCD. Therapists teach sufferers to face the negative thoughts, encourage them even. This helps us test the theory that these thoughts produce negative outcomes, which of course they don't; they're just thoughts.

Taken a step further, my OCD could lead me to believe that unconnected events are my fault because I thought about them. This is another symptom which could be perpetuated by the LOA.

Now, I understand very well that what good LOA advocates are trying to share is that your emotions will attract things to you. And this is true. But avoiding emotions is also dangerous. Suppressed emotions cause all sorts of problems. Avoiding my anxiety took me from not driving one time all the way to not being able to travel on any mode of transport and being scared even of lifts and escalators for a year!

The LOA seems like it says we should avoid negative emotions. But treatment for anxiety says the opposite. My therapist taught me to feel any anxiety that arises until it subsides. In this way I could test the theory that being scared was something to be scared of - that bad things would happen as a result of my fear. The truth is that anxiety doesn't produce anything; it's just anxiety.

Depression is a little different, we don't want to delve deeper into depression and encourage these feelings per se. This is a state of mind that needs kicking up the ass and sent packing. A deeper discussion for another day. But when it comes to mental health, I think perhaps it's like fevers and colds and we can apply this basic rule: "Feed the anxiety, starve the depression."

As a last thought, I don't think this warning applies only to OCD sufferers or only to those who worry for a living. A happy, wishful thinker given the LOA teaching in the wrong way can spend hours, days or weeks of their life sitting around imagining the future in finite detail. Then if they take no action they can end up getting terribly depressed when nothing actually happens or changes.

It's time to stop thinking and start dancing around like a crazy person to Prodigy... oh, that might just be me!

With love x

Some of this wisdom has come from reading the seminal book on OCD "Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder" by David Veale and Rob Willson. My therapist recommended it to me and it is brilliant - and they explain this stuff much better than I do!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Side effects

I've just finished watching a feature film called 'Side Effects' about mental health and it totally freaked me out.

As a result, I'm now trying to reconstruct a rational, healthy - happy even! - headspace.

The film was obviously quite close to home but watching it also just felt like me at my worst...

The plot was full of lies and confusion and false assumptions. The longer it went on the harder it was to work out who was crazy, who was dangerous and who was lying.

I have felt like this many times... like I couldn't work out what was real and what was me seeing the worst of things and believing it to be pervasive truth. I hate to use the words paranoid or delusion because it sounds really severe and I worry that someone will turn up at my door and put me in a mental hospital. But there have been a couple of specific times when I'm not sure if I can get the facts straight on something that has just happened.

Being severely depressed and anxious, for me, can feel a bit like being permanently semi-conscious. Aside from the lack of energy and focus, it also means I feel I can't be quite sure whether I'm awake or asleep; imagining or remembering; real or made-up. It's quite terrifying.

My therapist Linda once reassured me that anxiety and psychosis (being crazy) are not related in medical terms. She explained that however scared I felt, it wasn't possible to go crazy from this state of mind. But sometimes I feel so lost I feel I must be crazy. When people speak to me and I can't make sense of it; or when I feel so hopeless and I can't find a way out of it; or someone is offering me happiness in the simplest form and I don't even have the energy or inclination to take it... what's not crazy about that?

But sitting here, I feel supremely grateful for my mental health. Yes, I'm unwell at times, but I'm not crazy. I know myself well enough to see that I am unwell. Which means, I don't believe the anxiety to be real. I know it's just chemicals, just faulty imaginings, just grief in a complex form working its way out, just me dealing with stress in my life in a wonky way.

Meditation has really helped with that. I have learnt to become the 'watcher'. I've learnt to see that I am not my thoughts, I am not my feelings. I am something beyond all that which is constant, calm, pure, safe.

It's a daily practice I still struggle to motivate myself to do, despite it's miraculous benefits. It's my salvation; but it often feels like craziness. I think the thoughts, I feel the feelings and often I believe they're me. I get confused and believe I am crazy rather than watching craziness at work. It's hard sometimes to see myself that way... to see the phantoms and the delusions and the pain and just watch it and not get involved. It's hard to not try and solve it. It's hard not to be that person and try and fix her. When I stop and meditate it sometimes feels like I'm descending into madness. I suddenly become acutely aware of my mental illness and it's terrifying, overwhelming.

But more and more I'm remembering to just watch. Then the crazy stuff becomes the background noise and the me becomes foreground - I become real. Meditation brings me back to my non-crazy self and seeing the distinction means I can start - no, continue - to let the healing happen.

The whole film pivoted on the use of medical drugs and their side effects. Something I'm increasingly happy I never took despite being offered many times. Meditation, instead, is my salvation.

Meditation, awareness, mindfulness is not a quick-fix drug, it's better than that. It means 'simply' letting craziness be and then watching it fall away and health resume its natural position. And what's more, there's no profit in it for the pharmaceutical giants and there are no ill side effects.

Lately, the best meditation tool I have found is an app called Headspace. It's pretty much the antar mouna practice I've discussed in my blog before. I can't recommend this highly enough - it's changing my life a little at a time every single day.

With love x

Monday, 25 August 2014


People often ask me if there was one thing that made the difference with me.

Was there one thing, one decision, one turning point, that pulled me out of my descending anxiety spiral and spun me the other way and back into health?

Yes. Honesty.

I thought about this long and hard and there have been many catalytic situations or influential people, but the root of all of the positive change was honesty.

It was being honest with my friend T that made him refer me to his incredible therapist.

Being honest with work in London meant we found a simple solution and I didn't have to stop working on bad days - I went in after rush hour or worked from home.

Opening up about my anxiety to friends on a performance course meant they were more than happy to do all the motorway driving every week until I felt up to it.

Telling the station manager at Edgware Road tube station that I was having a panic attack led him to sit me in the office with a glass of water, a fan and some mindlessy amusing - and much needed - chatter with the staff.

Being honest with my friend P when I was sobbing outside a train station in central London made her change her dinner plans to come and get me home.

Full honesty with the same friend made her want to come and tackle tubes with me and we rode around underground a few weeks in a row before our usual girly pizza night.

My decision to write this blog and share it with my closest friends and family gave them a better understanding of what I was going through and it's brought us even closer. I don't have to lie to them any more and they are more open with me in return.

Telling people what I was going through has made me realise that there are so many other people suffering with the same issues.

Being honest with my boyfriend opened me up a little more every single day and has given us the most special relationship I could ask for.

The list goes on...

I just wanted to share a few little and big things that happened when I decided to be honest with people about my illness.

I always thought if I was strong and capable and emotionally-stable people would respect me more and even like me more.

The amazing thing is that the more weakness I show and the more open I am about how messy my head and my life is, the more people have gravitated towards me. People respect me more. They don't walk all over me the way they used to.

More than that: the more vulnerable I am with people, the more they take care of me. So I've grown stronger in a totally different way.

My mission now is to use the strength you've helped me build to support other people. Please tell me if I can help.

With love x

I've omitted full names to protect my lovely friends. You know who you are and I can't thank you enough. :)

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Better than cured

A friend said to me earlier today that, since she recovered from her 'rock bottom' and back to 'normal', her 'normal' was different from before. It rang so true with me.

I've spent many days wishing to feel the way I used to feel before all this mental craziness. But at the same time, in my clearer moments, I feel immensely grateful for the journey I've been on and the places it's taken me to. I'm not the same person I used to be and I don't think that's a bad thing.

We talk about illness (physical or mental) as something we should fight and overcome. We see it as two opposites: black and white - right and wrong. When we're ill there is something wrong with us and we must do what we can until we're alright again. 

However, I'm not sure I'm healthiest when I'm happy happy happy all the time. I feel most right when I'm able to feel and express every colour on the spectrum openly. Serene is lovely for sure but I can't, and don't want to, only feel one thing. I want to experience far more of life than that!

Perhaps, rather than having good days and bad days, I can have 'sky blue' days, 'sicky green' moments, 'cheeky purple' mornings, a 'grey' hour, or 'ravishing orange' afternoon.

That way I won't swing from ups to lows. I won't spend all my time trying to be all-white (sorry!) and then crash impossibly into the dark depths again. 

The people in my life I gravitate towards are those who let me be as down or grumpy or desperate as I feel. Because, it's around those people, I find myself being upbeat more often than not. And when I'm down, it doesn't last long and I tend to bounce back quickly.

My 'normal' used to be Miss Cool, Calm and Collected. I was the girl nothing phased - outwardly at least. I had it totally together, and I was much easier to be around in some ways too. But inside I was clinging on for dear life; trying to stay in control of everything and fit in with pleasing everyone else but me.

Since my struggles I've become much more honest, much more expressive, much less apologetic. I've had to be. I had to reach out and get honest and open in order to get help. Illness aside, it's done me the world of good.

It's done my relationships the world of good too. I'm happier, getting more of what I want and doing more of what I want. And the people around me are happier too. Some have left my life (I'll talk more about that in another post) and new ones have arrived but, these days, I'm grateful and proud to say that I now have only good, honest, gutsy people in my life. All the weak, narrow-minded people and those who took advantage of me have gone. :D

So, perhaps before we judge our current struggles as a failing or a curse or even an illness, we might look for ways that it's really serving us. The more I think about mine, the more good things I come up with. As much sister once put it, I'm 'better than cured'.

I'm off to bed now to have 'splendidly silver' dreams.

With love x

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

O Captain! My Captain!

"Whatever you do, don't die. Everything else we can sort out."

That's what my Dad said to me many years ago. I forget the context or occasion but the words struck me and stayed with me.

In the years of severe anxiety and depression that followed sometime later, his words have carried me through and (mostly) out of the other side.

My mental illness is like a complex maze with high walls and dense fog and monsters at every turn. Remember the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter?! I've been scared shitless and eaten alive by my own demons but more and more I seem to have sketched the map to find my way out. 

I spent a lot of money on an incredible and specialised therapist and she helped me regain my life. I will impart as much of that here as I can. The rest of my healing has been from a rich variety of sources and I'll share that too. 

I'm no leader. I don't want to be anyone's guru. I just hope that me being here reminds you that it's possible to get better. No, not possible; doable. By that I mean: mental health is something you do. 

If you're new to my blog, I've been writing since February 2012. If you want to look back through the posts please do. I wrote each one by dragging my heart and guts across the keyboard through my fingers... so be kind when you read them - both to me, and to yourself. 

Moving forward I want to talk about many things including: professional therapy; CBT; food for healthy brain chemistry; exercise; meditation (and yoga); GPs and hospitals; physical illness as a catalyst; how to tell people including employers/colleagues; what to do when people don't respond well; how to be a good friend to others; books that helped me... and more. If you have questions, please ask me.

If you're not sure you're ready for any of that... maybe the fog is so dense you couldn't even read a map if you had one... Then I hope my words will help you feel there is someone next to you in the shadows.

Let us find a way out together. And if we don't find a way out, just know we won't leave you there. Never ever. I'd rather we sat in the shadows together than left anyone there alone.

For you Robin Williams 'O Captain! My Captain!'

With love to you all x

Please do respond with your own ideas, questions, experiences as this will really help.

One day I want to turn this into a 'book', perhaps a selection of talks, maybe a support group... but for now I hope just my honesty will help someone, somewhere. 

Monday, 2 June 2014

Baby pose

Yesterday I spent an hour lying on the floor in the foetal position.

I didn't want to live any more.

It wasn't that I wanted to die. I just wanted to stop.

I didn't want to breathe. I didn't want to move. I didn't want to feel. And I certainly didn't want to think.

I came home to my gorgeous 2-year-old nephew playing and this didn't stir me. 

I was so depressed, nothing meant anything, nothing permeated. I just wanted to not exist, to stop.

I felt so guilty for wanting to avoid family. For not wanting to play, laugh, join in. Not wanting to enjoy the sunshine or a meal or any kind of connection. I just wanted out.

In the end I sat on a chair at the end of my bed and just stared. At nothing. Face set. Body slumped. No amount of anything was going to make me move or try to feel better. I wanted to cry but that felt too real, too much effort. I didn't want to feel better. I didn't want anything. I just wanted it all to stop.

I fought it and fought it, trying to work out what to do, what I wanted or should be doing, or what I needed. But thoughts raced as always and came to nothing. Like speeding cars round a track but not in line, not in direction… just moving randomly, skidding and sliding and weaving around. The only inevitable conclusion - a pile up.

The pile up was catatonia. Complete shut down.

And without realising it or choosing it I found myself lying on the floor.

First on my knees, then my head found the floor, and my arms alongside my legs. 

Some residue of kindness made me reach for a cardigan to place under my forehead to soften the weight onto the floor.

And there I lay.

I want to say I gave up. But it sounds like a choice. It wasn't. I didn't have the energy or the brain power or the inclination to do anything as sophisticated or enlightened as give up. I simply ceased to be.

For an hour, that's exactly where I lay.

Feeling hot and stifled, and so full of contradictions in my head that it was like an oven. Hot, dry eyes, sore neck, stiff body, heavy limbs. I felt like a corpse but without the oneness of being with the earth and without the release of spirit.

Somewhere in the middle of it all I fell asleep. For maybe 10 mins. 

And after an hour, still lying on the floor, I started to find consciousness. 

My body started to feel a little more form, a little less blob-like. 

My mind felt less foggy, a little more calm a  little more cool.

And slowly, slowly, I started to come to my senses. 

Thoughts stayed away for a while. Not completely, but at least turned down in volume.

The rest of the evening involved tears, research about OCD, a difficult conversation with my other half, anger, frustration, guilt, fear, sadness, hopelessness… but some sort of peace.

Some sort of feeling of being able to carry on long enough to seek another step in the road to recovery. To at least glimpse healing on the horizon, even if the steps are too hard to step.

It's got to be possible. 

And that's not going to be the last time I lie on the floor in the foetal position (baby pose). It's the best thing I've done in weeks.

With love x

Thursday, 6 March 2014

I'll meet you at Junction 12

"I'll meet you at Junction 12 of the M3"

Those were my famous last words.

Motoways have been my final frontier… they're the last thing I haven't conquered in the list of travelling issues I started suffering with in 2010. Wow, that's 4 years ago.

I have managed a few journeys (you can count them on one hand) on the motorway in that time.

However, the last time I tried, I failed. I got somewhere near the motorway - well, a mile away from the junction perhaps - and I froze. I had to pull over at the side of a single country track and I just sat and sobbed.

It took me an hour and a half then to drive to my friend's house through town, a journey that should have taken 30 minutes down the motorway.

I hadn't dared try since.

But this day I was determined.

A friend was driving me and suggested we meet in the lay-by off junction 12. I know the place. Lots of us meet there regularly to share lifts. But I'm not usually driving.

To be honest I'd drive myself all the way to the destination (Basingstoke) but that's 6 more junctions and an extra half an hour. Far too much of a step for now.

But from my house it's still a 40 minute drive and six junctions on two different motorways.

But I did it!!

Well, I did 5 junctions. I chickened out for the last one. But I made it to junction 13. Result.

How did I do it?

Well, I'd love to report that it was dead easy. I got on the motorway and got there without any fuss.

But I won't lie. I was scared shitless. How I sat in my driver's seat and focused on the road and drove at 70MPH all that way I will never know.

I can offer some clues.

I made the decision the night before. Decision is key. Commitment is key.

And I 'paced' out my day before I went to sleep. This is an expert life coaching tool. You set out the main elements of your day before you do it. You decided what you want to get done, and how you want it to go, how you want to feel. And then you let it go.

I knew from experience that the hardest bit is getting onto the motorway. The hardest bit is getting round that roundabout and up the slip road to the point of no return. I knew, just like getting onto a train, that the moment you do it, it gets easier: you're committed.

I promised myself I only needed to do one junction. That I'd do it one at a time. And I could come off at any point and find an A road route.

Once I was on the motorway itself I had to talk to myself every inch of the way. Endless rounds of "You're ok, just keep driving. Just follow the car in front. You're ok. It's just driving. You're ok. Nothing is going to happen to you. You're ok." When it got really tough, around the time two motorways join, it was full on emotional overwhelm and I had to step up the self-talk: "You're amazing. I can't even tell you how amazing you are. I'm so proud of you. I know you're scared. But you're doing it. I know you're scared. I know you're scared. Just keep driving. I'm so proud of you."

Tears came. Fortunately not enough to blur my vision at all. But they came. And still I kept driving.

And by junction 13 I was ready to come off. It was rush hour and getting busier by the minute.

But huge success.

On the way home, after midnight that night, I drove all the way home from junction 12 without any issues. It was almost deserted on the dark motorway and I knew the route. I was a little scared at times but I made it home without any of the terror I felt in the outward journey.

I'm going to build it into my routine now. Next week I will get to junction 12. And the week after. I know I can do it now.

It's not about not being scared. I was TERRIFIED. It's about knowing that you can live through the fear and still carry on.

Next week the fear will be less, and eventually it will be normal again and I'll just be driving on the motorway without even noticing it.

But once step at a time. One junction at a time.

With love  x