The Dread

Sands of Time

The Dread is a feeling that sits, like a piping hot pool of thick tar, just above your belly button, smack bang between your ribs. It sits there all day, pulsing, contracting, expanding, brewing. It makes me afraid to move, afraid to think, it makes me fear the day ahead. Something, or everything, or nothing at all.

It will begin from the moment I wake up, The Dread. And it will stay with me all day, just lounging around at the base of my ribcage, not really doing much except making me feel afraid. It transforms my belly into an engine-room of panic. Everything feels like an effort, everything feels like a threat. I find it almost impossible to concentrate on anything, on anything but The Dread. Each breath is limp and shallow, I feel lightheaded and slightly drunk, drugged. Tea doesn’t taste the same, it tastes of Dread. Food doesn’t taste the same, my mouth has gone numb, and the sensation of semi-chewed sludge as it lands on my stomach makes me feel sick. I wish my body would tell me what my mind does not seem to know.

The Dread is like radiation. You can feel its undulation sweeping aggressively through your torso, rhythmical waves of fizzy alarm. The air that surrounds me begins to condense, shrinks and compresses against my chest, soft but firm, gentle but unrelenting, a pressure pad, with flesh of steel. My lungs shrivel up, like dried fruit, they are evaporating in the heat, for they too are afraid of the feeling.  Breathing is strained, my chest is so tight that, with each inhalation, air only goes so far before stops at the base of my neck, there in the little pool that marks the cross-roads of the collar bones, that suprasternal notch. There is a thick and dense plug there and, despite my efforts, I can’t seem to swallow it away. And when I do swallow, it is a short-lived relief, because my mouth soon turns back to sand, drying out almost instantly. My lips are cracking and are sore to the touch.

I begin to wonder if the blood has stopped pumping around my body altogether, because every single extremity feels disconnected, so much so that my hands tingle. I wonder if the blood is just floating, aimlessly, not really on its way anywhere, just hanging around in a lull, waiting for The Dread to go. Like children, taking care to tip-toe around the house so as not to wake their sleeping parents upstairs, softly softly it goes. It daren’t disturb the sleeping beast. My eyes are heavy and they want to shut down for a while. But, even if I could lie down, I wouldn’t sleep. The Dread throbs like it is its own heart, its own life, existing in its space, independent of me.

Sometimes, I feel like my body and my mind hate each other. They don’t seem to work together, they seem to work against one another, constantly keeping little secrets from one another. Each one seems to work so hard to make the other feel afraid. My mind tricks my body, my body tricks my mind. It’s one big game of terror chess. I convince myself that my body can sense something that my mind cannot, although I know this is not the case. There is no sixth sense. And yet, my body knows something. Death or disease, or some almighty fall that is waiting. I will fail today, my body already knows.

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Constantly Being Told “You Don’t Want to Get Better”

This is a great post.

Fight Against OCD

I’ve lost count as to how many times I’ve heard this over the past two years. So far, I’ve learned to just not respond.

Constantly being told that you don’t want to get better is exhausting and surely does not better the situation. If anything, saying this to someone with OCD, or any mental illness for that matter, is the opposite of what you should be doing. When someone is suffering from a mental illness, the last thing they need is someone badgering them day and night. Before you accuse someone of not wanting to get better, ask yourself if someone would want to be ill, if someone would purposively be doing things to make their life more miserable. That makes no sense. I can almost guarantee you that the one thing these people want is to be better and to feel happy and free. It’s like telling someone to “just stop…

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Hold Amy’s Hand Appeal

Amy-Watts-Photo
Amy Watts was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer in August last year at just 37. She is currently trying to raise the funds to have two life saving operations at the Spire Hospital in Leeds. If you can, please consider donating money – no matter how small, every single penny counts! – to help Amy continue with her treatment.
Read the full story here – http://www.holdamyshand.com/

Grief is one of the hardest things.

Even when it’s over a decade old. Even when you no longer resemble the person you were when they left. Even when you have to fight sometimes; fight to remember her voice, fight to recall the intonation of her accent: would she have said it like this? Or like that? I never heard her say that word, so how would she say it? Exactly how would she have said ‘Barack Obama’? When I hear people with her accent, it shakes my heart. Bizarrely, it makes me feel lost and home at the same time.

It hurts to know that I won’t see her again. It hurts to know that I saw her for such a short time to begin with. I wasn’t even a proper person when she went, I was barely getting started. When she left, I knew nothing, had lived nothing. The last time she saw me I looked and sounded so different, my voice was shriller and my eyes were manic with everything that I did not yet know. I had never had my heart broken by a death. I had never sat and cried so much, the kind of cry that is so utterly helpless and broken. The kind of cry that has no resolution, because it just aches. There is a truth to the term heartache. It aches the whole body to know that you can’t see her face, how it would be now, if she were still here. I can see all of the colours that are fused together in her eyes, all the shades of blue. Where her eyes are bright, mine are murky and dull. She was an electric woman, and I found safety behind her. I was a poor consolation prize for the ones who loved her.

I hate myself for not realising at the time, that I had so little time, that we all have such little time. I should have spent every one of those remaining days telling her everything she needed to know – that she was the most loved of mothers, and I loved her so completely, and that, for all of the times I had been mad at her, I would never stop loving her. She was the first voice I had ever heard, her heart was the first sound my body had registered outside of itself. I had a space in her belly, and that belly is gone. I will never get to use the word ‘Mum’ in the same way ever again. And to know that is something that can take my breath away, every single time. I hear people say ‘Mum’ and I wish I could do that too.

Grief catches you in your days, and in your nights. In the days, it catches you when you find yourself wanting to share something with her, however small or insignificant it might seem. In the nights, you dream that she is still alive so that, when you wake, you have those few seconds of wonder: “Is she really alive? She didn’t die?” But she always dies again. I couldn’t save her in real life, with my prayers and my begging to the Almighty. She went anyway. She goes anyway.

The other day I sat with her for a while, and there was a part of me that wanted to lie there in that spot and fall asleep forever. Hug a headstone, it’s all that’s left. Cut back the branches that are creeping around her name, they are blocking her light, she can’t see. I feel grateful that I can’t hear a peep out of civilisation here. We are alone.

The love you feel for your parents, it never changes, you will always love them without thinking, without contemplation. You love your parents before you know yourself. So when one leaves, you feel like a part of you has gone. Like there is a part of you that has shut down, no one else has the access code to it, so it will die from lack of use. There is a you that they knew and you forget.

I will never see her again, and that hurts my heart. My parents, by raising me, made my heart together – half is gone, but the other half is here, is my friend, and loves me even when I don’t love myself.  I hope he knows how much he is loved by me.

It’s about eggs.

eggs

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post and, the truth is, I haven’t been in the right frame of mind to write. As 2014 drew to a close and the prospect of 2015 loomed ever closer, I felt less inclined to write, and more inclined to try and forget. To be frank, I haven’t been in the mood to contemplate this illness, haven’t been remotely interested in sitting at my laptop and trying to explain how I feel. It has sapped so much of my energy in recent months and years that I think I was in need of a break, a break from consciously contemplating it. A break from thinking and reflecting on it. Living with it can be tiring enough. Then, yesterday, when I was making dinner, something happened that made me want to write.

Often, when people think about OCD, they think about cleaning. They imagine people obsessively cleaning their hands, scrubbing their bodies, disinfecting their homes. And there is some truth in that. But that is not everything, not at all.

It’s also about eggs.

Eggs? Yes, eggs. On my way home from work yesterday evening, I made a plan to have a (fairly) square meal, a meal that I would prepare myself (something that I have not been doing much of lately) and enjoy, warm in front of the TV. I had a particular craving for eggs. I really love eggs: little protein bombs, versatile and delicious. I opted for scrambled eggs on toast; quick, easy and nutritious. Having purchased a pack of ten fresh eggs on the way home, I loaded up the toaster and got to work. I cracked the first egg, and into the pan it went. I cracked the second, into the pan it plopped. Before firing up the hob, I nervously scanned the contents of the pan, hoping that I wouldn’t find anything disturbing swilling around with all of the protein and goo. Unfortunately, my eye was caught by a small brownish-red speck floating in the cold, clear, egg-white. I am not sure what the brownish-red substance was, but to me, in that moment, it was blood. Animal blood. And even animals can contract HIV, I’m sure of it. I throw the eggs in the bin, and get a clean pan. I repeat this entire process and, once again, I spy a tiny fleck of something sinister, lurking around the perfect dome of raw yolk. In a depressing moment of déjà vu, it results in my throwing away the eggs. I get another clean pan from the drawer (if this carries on, I’m going to run out of pans) and try again. Fortunately, this third time round I cannot see any brownish-red flecks anywhere in the pan; relieved, I get on with cooking my set of lovely clean eggs. I clear away the offending shells and disinfect the kitchen worktop, washing my hands countless times, just in case. I’m sad, because this entire fiasco has all but ruined a meal that I was so looking forward to, the first meal I have cooked from scratch in ages. I’m irritated because it has tainted what was otherwise going to be a quiet evening in front of the TV, but now I’m tired and on edge. I’m pissed off because I’ve thrown away four perfectly good eggs, because I thought they might give me HIV.

Food can be a minefield if you have contamination OCD. Pre-packaged food brings with it images of strangers in factories handling your food with hands covered in cuts, grazes and loose plasters. Images of blood getting into the food, plasters coming into contact with what I am about to eat. Fresh fruit and vegetables leads you to imagine fruit-pickers with dirty hands, perhaps cutting their hands on shrubbery, branches and fruit-picking tools (whatever they are!) as they work themselves to the bone. And who’s to say that there isn’t blood on my fruit? If I didn’t pick it, how do I know? It’s at times like these, when my mind wanders to blood, that I wish I had the patience to grow my own fruit; at least then I would know for certain – well, almost – that no one else had been able to bleed into my food. For me, the truly ‘safe’ fruits are the ones that have skins on – at least that way you can reduce the risk of contamination by cleaning, and then removing, the contaminated cover.

If I go into Starbucks for a coffee, or even into the local deli for a quick sandwich, I have to fight with myself not to examine the hands of the person behind the counter, scanning her skin for any signs of cuts or splits in the surface. I will also, if I am feeling particularly anxious, search her neck and face for any signs of scratches or particularly sore spots. If I can see any sign of blood or trauma to the skin, I will instantly want to leave. I won’t want them to touch anything that I am about to eat or drink. I will pray that I am served by the employee who has no signs of any wounds or dry blood whatsoever – her skin is so intact she could be made of plastic, yes she will do. I will feel particularly relieved if those employees charged with preparing all of the food are sporting disposable gloves. It might look clinical and – let’s face it – more than a little bit odd to see that the person loading up your sandwich is wearing latex gloves, but it really does take some of the underlying anxiety away, if just for a moment. It’s like the moment when you realise that the public toilets have a no-touch flushing sensor, or that most wonderful of bathroom devices – the hands-free tap system. One less thing to get myself into a state about, thank you universe!

A lot of my days can end up like my eggs – seemingly okay at first, on the surface everything is just fine. But then something so small will happen – a speck of something on the pavement; someone at work will get a tiny microscopic paper-cut and then later offer to make me a cup of tea; they’ll go and touch all of the doors and surfaces near me, rendering everything a danger zone; my shoelaces will scrape the floor which means I am making a conscious effort all day not so sit with my leg tucked under (as I normally do), which means I am uncomfortable at work all day; someone will send a well-intentioned e mail to the office talking about how, at this time of year, we need to be more hygienic as an office, and be wary of coughing, sneezing and spreading our bodily fluids (!) everywhere; she’ll then promptly distribute anti-bacterial wipes/sprays/gels – which is just an invitation for me to obsess. So, you see, the egg is tainted; there is always something that can ruin my eggs. I can be working my way through on a run of perfectly good eggs, but somewhere, in that batch, there’ll be a bad one. And it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to know that, to anticipate a fall. I think that’s why sometimes, when I am having a really good day, I can get so excited and hyper – because I just know that I’m on a clock and, before long, I will be ruminating and obsessing about some fleck of nothing in the corner on the carpet. And it’s so draining, and so sad, to spend days hiding in my own mind like that.

I hope that will change soon.

Insanity – aka Shaun T is my kick!

shaun t

So, I have decided, after months of being fat, and being the biggest that I have been in my entire life, I need to start moving. One thing that has been an absolute constant this year has been the feeling of helplessness, of not being in control of anything. I have spent so long waiting for referrals, for appointments, for change to happen with the OCD that I have come to the conclusion that I am no longer in charge of my own existence. It’s really scary, and I feel like my ever increasing weight symbolises this more than anything. The less in control I have felt, the more I have locked myself away; the fatter I have become, the less I have moved; the more isolated I have become, the less I have felt able to face the gym. I tried attending a kickboxing class for a few weeks, but I felt so huge and self conscious that, after a while, I couldn’t face going. I tried going to the gym, and I was beginning to remember how much I used to love it, but – again – I just feel like such a fat fraud, I couldn’t lift my own body weight, I was just a mess. I am a mess. I miss being physically strong, fit and just okay with my body. It’s not solely about the weight, I miss being able to push my body to limits, to push my fitness and my strength; I miss the tightness of my body holding itself up with confidence, I miss being able to walk a little taller.

A few years ago I started Shaun T’s Insanity programme. I kept on it for about six or seven weeks but then, owing to recurring back problems at the time, I had to stop doing it. Whilst I never completed the full 9 week schedule, I have to say that the Insanity programme is by far the best thing I have ever done for my body. Before I started, even though I was quite fit, I had never been able to do a full push up – by the end of week 7 I was doing full push ups whilst travelling across the floor. Such is the power of Insanity – it pushes you to the absolute max and, hand on heart, I don’t think that there could possibly be, on this entire planet, a personal trainer as fantastic as Mr Shaun T. I remember when I first saw the infomercial, I was excited and afraid at the same time – Shaun T reminded me of an army drill sergeant that you see in the movies, he expected nothing short of hard work and litres of sweat. Inspired by the fact that the people in the video were actually sweating, I ordered my programme and waited with fear/excitement.

Once I started, I realised that Shaun T is actually incredibly motivating and inspiring. He really makes you believe you can do everything that he and his fitness friends are doing – “YOU CAN DO THE SAME THING WITH YOUR BODY!!” – it’s amazing stuff. Besides, he also seems to be just an all round awesome guy who ends up being your on screen training partner throughout the whole process. Even when I’m yelling at the TV screen, “YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR MIND, SHAUN T!!”, I am still pushing myself to do it. Plus, I never tire of the many Shaun T –isms that I know are coming: “THAT SHIT IS BANANAS!”, “I’M NOT TRYING TO HURT YOU, I’M TRYING TO MAKE YOU BETTER!”

 So, that was then, and this is now. And now I am fat. Very fat. And unfit. And about as flexible as a plank of wood. I am out of shape and in need of a kick up the butt. So Shaun T is going to be my kick. I am starting today, and I am going to be updating week by week as I go along. The main purpose of my doing this is to feel better about myself, to not feel so ashamed of my body, and to not feel quite so helpless about the way things are right now. I may not have any control over the OCD, or the Depression, but I can do something small to help my body, even when I can’t help my mind. I know from experience that fitness and health certainly helps when it comes to seeing things more clearly, so I am working towards that too. I don’t doubt this is going to be so hard, but I also know that there is a reward at the end of it. If I can stand tall, look at myself and think, “hey, I may not be perfect, but I’m doing my best” then that will be enough. The programme is nine weeks long, and this is my first week.

 I’m off to do workout number one – Plyometric Cardio Circuit – wish me luck!

 Ps. If you want to join me, you can get Insanity here:

Amazon – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Insanity-Ultimate-Workout-Fitness-Programme/dp/B002QZ1RS6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1416317281&sr=8-1&keywords=insanity

Beachbody (with an option to pay in instalments) – http://www.beachbody.co.uk/product/fitness-training/insanity-workout.do

The First Psych Consult

art-of-psychiatry-head-for-web

So I had my first psych consult.

My appointment was scheduled at 9am with a Dr Smith* (*not his real name). At 9.10am I was called by a Dr Jones* (*also, not his real name), a young doctor who looked fresh out of whichever medical training he had recently completed – he didn’t look much older than me. I wondered if he was perhaps a nurse who would be giving me a preliminary consultation, before seeing the Doctor himself. No, Dr Jones would be seeing me; he explained that he was part of Dr Smith’s team and so it was essentially all the same thing. Funny, I thought I had an appointment with Dr Smith. Perhaps he has a more important case to attend to. I have to be honest, I wasn’t convinced by the swap and, as much as I am ashamed to think that I pre-judged him based on his age alone, it’s true. It is very unfair I know but, when it’s your health at stake, you want to be reassured by an experienced pro who has seen so many cases that s/he is absolutely certain that s/he will be able to cure me, because, by now, it’s just part of the day job. But, at this point, I am grateful for anyone and, as my Dad pointed out to me later, I could have had an older doctor that knew nothing. Plus, Dr Jones is very nice, and listens intently to everything I am saying, repeating what he is picking up as I go along. It’s reassuring that what he is reflecting back to me is pretty accurate, I am grateful for his attention to detail.

So begins a rather humiliating questionnaire that goes into every possible detail of my existence, right down to the fact that I was delivered by caesarean section, that I was jaundiced as a baby and had a squint correction at two years old. Struggling to see what any of this is going to do to help them understand my OCD, but they are the pros, wearing the metaphorical white coat. Dr Jones asks me to go into the details of the OCD manifestations that I had during childhood, and they all come flooding back, like the most unwanted guest at the shittest house party. And so I remember the hours spent tapping, counting, switching lights on and off, retracing steps, saying prayers in my head over and over again, all so that my parents wouldn’t die. I was convinced that, if they did not do any of these things, they would die. The religion that was so often my comfort could also be my enemy – I was scared of God, of what God would do if I was in any way a bad person. Surely, the first thing would be to kill my parents. I feared for their lives. I remember once when I was very small, my Mum had a bad throat and coughed up a small amount of blood, I thought she would die. One of the most vivid nightmares I have ever had was one where my Dad died. He was away for work at the time and I had to go and sleep with my Mum in her bed. I was obsessed with doing everything I could – via magical thinking and ridiculous rituals – to keep my family safe. Of course, none of this does keep them safe, but it’s a risk I was never able to take. When you are that small, and genuinely afraid that your actions will kill your parents, there is a terror that you cannot shake. And it’s not something I could tell my parents, because then they would know I was a bad person. See how it gets you, with its vicious little claws. It’s a knife to your throat and a gun to your head, choose. Looking back now, if I could say anything to my nine year old self it would be to tell them. Tell them everything. You won’t be told off. They won’t be angry. You are not a bad person, and they will not love you any less. But I’m 31 – it’s easy to say that now. Back then, most people didn’t know what OCD was, not really.

Once the in-depth questionnaire was over, Dr Jones called in the aforementioned Dr Smith, who I learn is the consultant psychiatrist. I must admit it felt like the sole focus of the session became about trying to convince me to take yet more medicine. I have been on the same medicine – at the highest dose – for four and a half years. In general I have found that the medicine helps to take the ‘sting’ out of OCD freakouts. They are still there, but the physical ache that often accompanies them occurs less frequently, and the mind fever is ever so slightly less intense. They have helped me a great deal and have kept me afloat. I would still like to be free of them one day. When I went to the doctor a few months ago she attempted to refer me to the psychiatric care straight away. She was told to prescribe me with an additional drug (which I won’t name) to the one I was already taking and, if that did not work, the psychiatric team would consider consulting with me. My doctor admitted that she had never come across this particular drug being used for OCD, but she advised that I try it anyway because, after all, she is not an OCD specialist. I, however, objected to the idea of taking another medicine: having spent the best part of four years wanting to come off the medication (and its accompanying side effects) that I am on, I certainly didn’t relish the idea of swapping my daily shot of my medicine straight up into a medicine cocktail du jour. I took the prescription that my doctor printed anyway and bought the medicine. It is still sitting on top of my bookshelf.

I could not bring myself to take the medicine. I had read the papersheet of doom and, of course, it made for shit reading, they always do. I researched the drug and its use for the treatment of OCD: I was surprised to learn that there was very little out there to suggest that it was regularly prescribed to treat the mind demon at all. It didn’t appear on a single list that I found of drugs used for standard and specialised OCD treatment. I wrote to an OCD specialist in London, he expressed surprise at my being prescribed the drug, explaining that it was usually used for generalised anxiety disorder, as opposed to OCD specifically. With all of this in mind, and not wanting to take a drug recommended to me by a complete stranger who had never met me – besides which, how do they know that prolonged use of all of these chemicals is not going to kill me anyway – I decided to hold out on the drug front. And I felt like a naughty schoolgirl for doing so. So I did not relish being, once again, in a situation where I felt the need to fight to not have to rely on pills to fix me. All I want is a professional to talk to, someone who knows this illness and who really understands it.

When Dr Jones asked me what I wanted from the psychiatry sessions, I gave the simplest – and I would have thought, most obvious – answer that I could: I want you to cure this OCD. I do not want this demon in my head anymore. He seemed surprised by my answer.

They told me they would consult with my CBT therapist (who has been treating me for depression) before switching my medication, that they would let my GP know when to switch over the medicines and that they would give me a call to confirm all of these conversations that would be had about me, but not involving me. Maybe I would be referred for specialist psychotherapy, but it was all a bit hazy and ill-defined. They said they would have a follow up meeting with me in two months. I must confess that, at that point, you do start to wonder if you are the only person in this room who is crazy, because to ask someone who spends most days climbing the walls of her own mind to wait yet another two months for help, seems a bit cruel and more than a little bit like a fist in the face. I questioned the two month waiting period (which would bring the grand total since initial referral to seven months) and Dr Jones tried to reassure me that hopefully it wouldn’t be that long and that he would try to get the ball moving. I thanked him and, despite my disappointment, was grateful to him for understanding. Looking back, I recognise that, as much as I am at the mercy of this system, so are they. They are doing the best that they can with the limited resources that have been permitted to them by the palace of Westminster, one hundred and thirty miles away. That’s because the government, in all of its infinite and boundless wisdom, has decided that mental health just doesn’t really matter.

All in all, I left my first consult wondering what the hell had just happened. I cried all the way to work, wondering what on earth was the point in anything.