Potty mouth – aka public toilets

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Trigger warning: blood, toilets, HIV, contamination

It’s been a long time since I have written about OCD. A lot has happened since then. I have joined an OCD support group, I have been to see the best OCD specialist in the land, I have been put on a transition to new meds. In OCD land, I have been exploring new territories, beyond those confined to Middle OCD Earth. There are a few posts in the pipeline, posts I have been wanting to write for some time, but have just had too much in my mind to even bring myself to put pen to paper. Or fingertips to keyboard. Anyway, today something happened that I have thought of little else all afternoon but getting myself back to my trusted blog.

Half way through a car journey that involved a long motorway and some coffee, I found myself at a motorway service stop, heading for the toilet. Now, anyone who knows what contamination OCD is even remotely like, can understand that the prospect of using a public toilet can be daunting at best, fucking terrifying at worst. I once consciously dehydrated myself for some nine hours at a music event, because I could not bring myself to go and use the toilet facilities (in my defence, they were porta-loos). There is a plethora of things that can go wrong in the OCD mind when faced with a public toilet. There are the many door handles, the floors, the bins, the sanitary towel disposal units, the toilet seats, the toilet roll holders (yuk!), the toilet roll itself (did they store any spare toilet rolls on the floor, or perhaps on the sanitary disposal bin?), the toilet brush, the inside of the toilet bowl, the underside of the toilet bowl, the sink, the taps, the soap. EVERYTHING. Contamination potential is off the scale for me these days (although being able to go into a public toilet is an achievement in itself, it was only several years ago that I just could not use them). As you can imagine, there is some Poirot-esque inspection of all facilities before I can even bring myself to use any toilet.

Initial inspection over, and then comes the indignity of the act itself – to be blunt, I am the queen of the Public Toilet Hover. For as far as I have come, I am yet to be able to bring myself to come into contact with the toilet itself, I don’t care how many times an hour that chart says the toilet is inspected. Unless you are bleaching the shit out of this place after every single user, it’s not clean enough. Who am I kidding? Even if you sprayed the whole thing down with industrial strength bleach, it’s still not going to be clean enough. So off I go. Feeling pretty pleased with myself (no contact with the seat/bowl, no splashing on my skin of any kind from the toilet bowl – apologies, graphic I know, but pee does have a tendency to splash!), off I go to pumice my hands clean with soap and hot water.

I notice a small speck of what looks like tissue and, sure enough, it’s got blood on it. At least I think it’s got blood on it – I don’t know, but I can’t be sure that it’s 100% definitely not blood, so I am going to go ahead and assume that it’s blood. And contaminated blood to boot – of course it is. Live, dangerous, contaminated, powerful, biology-defying blood. Did I stand on it? No idea. Which means that I did. Which means there is blood creeping all over my shoes. I head back to the sink and begin the soul-crushing process washing the soles of my shoes in the sink – trying my hardest to ensure that the water flows DOWNWARDS, and does not go back onto the shoe and through to my feet – blood all over my shoes, blood on my feet. I clean my shoes, clean my hands, clean the tap (in case the water used to clean the shoes somehow splashed the tap). I head towards the door in a haze of WHAT THE FUCK DO I DO NOW WITH THESE FUCKING SHOES AND MY FUCKING JEANS THAT PROBABLY TOUCHED THE FUCKING FLOOR.

At this point I should probably mention that, whenever I use a public toilet, I will always use the disabled toilet if there is one; if, however, the disabled toilet requires a key and the guard of said key is nowhere to be found, then I will go to the next best thing – the family changing room. There are two reasons for opting for the disabled toilet over the regular cubicle in the regular public toilet. First of all, in my head, I figure that the disabled toilet is likely to see far less traffic than your standard row of cubicles. As such, it is – statistically speaking – less likely to be as dirty/contaminated. Secondly, a toilet that has a sink in situ is a dream come true (okay, slight exaggeration, let’s just say that it is an advantage) for those of us that are prone to washing our hands/body/shoes to excess. I recognise that it is not ideal that I – someone who does not live with a physical disability, or have a child – should use a toilet designated for those who really do need it but, I can honestly say, hand on my heart, that in these moments, being able to use a toilet that is not only less contaminated (or at least seems to be, to me), but also more set up for an OCDer, can be a huge respite for my anxiety levels. I am sorry that it must come to that sometimes, but honestly it is all I can think to do. Sometimes, in life, we go for what is easier, for what will bring less distress, for what will make us feel a little less isolated. The disabled toilet, for me, is one of those things. Sounds silly perhaps, but, unfortunately, it’s a truth of my particular OCD, for however much I wish it weren’t the case.

I walk out and, to my embarrassment, there are two women standing there with their small children. I feel guilty and so ashamed that I have used a facility that is reserved solely for them. I apologise to one of the women and proceed to hold the door open for her. She glares at me, frowns and spits, “OH!! You don’t have a child? You just felt like using the changing room?”. Humiliated, upset, sad and angry (mainly at myself), I snapped back, “Actually, I am not able to use regular public toilets” before turning away and storming off, indignant and crushed. I went back to where my partner was waiting for me and burst into tears. I cried because I was scared to death about what could potentially be on my shoes. I cried because yet another day had been ruined by this fucking disease. I cried because I was so ashamed, and so embarrassed that my abnormal behaviour had been called out in the most public of ways. The woman had a point – the toilet is designated for families, for those with children; and of course she has no idea that I was using that particular toilet to avoid contaminating myself (ironic really, given what happened). But I maintain that she did not have to call me out quite so viciously, and with such smug condescension. I don’t regret using the toilet, but I regret that I am at a place on my OCD journey where I feel that I have to use it. I don’t regret snapping back at her, but I do regret not finishing my sentence. Perhaps, next time, I’ll be brave enough to say:

“Actually, I am not able to use regular public toilets, because I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Goodbye.”

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The Butterfly Effect: The Thyroid and Mental Health

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It’s been a while since I have written. And that’s mainly because I just haven’t had the energy; which, it turns out, happens to be the point of this post!

I’ve mentioned before (see previous post “OCD, medicated and fat”) that I have, for some time, been struggling with my weight. The truth is, I have always struggled with accepting my body, but over the past couple of years it has become increasingly difficult to look at myself in the mirror without wanting to cry. The main reason for this is because I have gained so much weight – I am talking a serious amount of weight, I’m talking being the biggest I have ever been in my life, shopping in plus size clothes shops and still not finding stuff that fits properly. I’m huge. When I take a shower I avoid looking down, I don’t want to see what it all looks like. I wear clothes that are as baggy as possible and try my best to avoid taking pictures that show anything below my neck. It’s out of control. Aside from the weight itself, the thing that has upset me the most is the feeling of not being in control of my own body because, no matter what I do, the weight just won’t budge. I have even started working with a personal trainer to try and get this mess under control.

Over the past year or so, there have been a number of other symptoms that have started to surface; symptoms which, on their own, don’t mean a great deal but, when pieced together, paint a picture of someone who is far from healthy:

Steady and consistent weight gain

Depression

Irregular and heavy periods

Extreme fatigue

Oversleeping

Dermatitis

Pains in my ankles and in my legs (so much so that, sometimes, I struggle to walk)

An extremely slow digestive system

Dry/brittle hair

Difficulty concentrating/remembering simple things

Swollen hands/feet (I recently had to cut a ring off my finger)

The list goes on.

It is because of this combination of symptoms that my partner has, for some time now, been trying to convince me to go and get my blood tested, to check that there wasn’t an underlying cause for all of this. It took me 6 months or so to pluck up the courage to go because, shockingly enough, as someone whose OCD centres around a blood-borne illness, I wasn’t exactly skipping to get my blood tested. Generally, I try my hardest to avoid those situations that might prompt an OCD freakout – which means that a doctors’ surgery (and, specifically, the room of a phlebotomist) is never going to be up there on my list of Places I’d Most Like to Visit. Also, after being on medication for 5 and a half years now, I certainly wasn’t relishing the prospect of potentially being put on yet more medication. My medicine cocktail seems to get bigger every time I pay a visit to the GP these days…

It all came to a head in recent weeks, when I have generally just been feeling very down and have found myself getting more and more frustrated with the way my body is behaving. It would be fair to say that, sometimes, it has felt like my body has been betraying me; and not just because of the weight, but because of all of it – the constantly wanting to sleep; the horrendous periods that just leave me exhausted, drained and in so much pain; the depression; the digestive system that seemed to not be working. All of it. I think I just got fed up of feeling so shit.

So I went to the doctor and he arranged for a full blood screening, which really wasn’t fun. Watching the nurse just casually handle the vials of blood; wondering how sterile that arm strap is (the one that they use to get at veins, at least I think that’s what it’s for); feeling embarrassed as I asked her why she wasn’t wearing gloves. My body was rigid as an ironing board when she stuck that thing in my vein, so much so that I ended up with a nice juicy bruise where the needle had been. One vial, two vials, three vials, four vials, five vials of my own blood. I wanted to be sick. The results came back a week or so later and it turned out that I was showing signs of hypothyroidism, a form of thyroid disease. So I would have to go back for more blood tests. Hurrah.

Off I went for more blood tests. Again, so much fun. Particularly as this nurse had left the vials of SOMEONE ELSE’S FUCKING BLOOD on the desk. Again, another bruised arm. I really hate blood tests. This time the tests confirmed what the doctor had suspected – I have a form of thyroid disease. The doctor was very nice (I have recently switched GPs) and explained the whole thing to me, he even drew me a diagram to illustrate exactly what my mischievous little thyroid has been up to. So, as far as I understand it, my thyroid has become oh so confused by its own existence and has resorted to basically attacking itself. Now, as a result of this chemical self abuse, it is failing to make enough of some special hormone that is the key to eternal health (okay, slight exaggeration, but it turns out that your thyroid is pretty fricking important, and kind of acts like a mini brain that controls the goings on of the body’s hormones. Pretty big stuff for a little butterfly-sized piece of tissue that sits in your throat). So my thyroid is broken, which means I will be on a replacement treatment for the rest of my life, literally for the rest of my life. Gutted. I am beyond gutted. And really sad. First, my brain is broken because I’m crazy and I have to take pills for that, and now my thyroid is packing up which means yet more pills (on top of that I have also learned that I have insufficient levels of both vitamin D and iron, which means supplements for the foreseeable future – but at least that is only temporary).

When I initially learned that it was suspected hypothyroidism I sent a text to my friend (who herself has been to hell and back as a result of a hyperactive thyroid, which is a different form of thyroid disease) who promptly reminded me of the positive of the situation – i.e. at least I now know what has been the cause of all of these things and I can move forward with the treatment. I won’t lie, there was a part of me that almost felt vindicated; all this time I have been feeling so ashamed of my weight, so embarrassed by my lack of energy to do anything, so baffled by the permanent brain fog that has just been suffocating my mind. Not being able to concentrate on the easiest of tasks, not being able to remember the simplest of things, hobbling like an old lady down the stairs whenever I got the pains in my legs; all of it had just made me feel so worthless and so pathetic. Now, all of a sudden, it made some sense. And it was kind of liberating to know that I wasn’t doing this to myself, that it was something beyond my control. My partner, who is a doctor, also said that there was a possibility that the thyroid disease had contributed to my falling into depression in the summer of last year. Apparently, the issue with the thyroid could have been building up to this point for years, which would certainly explain the weight gain at least. Either way, I hope that the treatment with help.

I am currently on day 3 of my new meds (thyroxine). My GP said that I should start to notice a slight difference in my tiredness levels after a week or so which is definitely good news and I am looking forward to that! The other day I felt so exhausted after I had taken a shower that I had to lie down; I ended up falling asleep for five hours. So, as far as I’m concerned, the prospect of having more energy is definitely one I can get on board with. As my Dad put it, hopefully I will start moving again soon – I really hope so. In a couple of months I will have to go back for more blood tests to see how my thyroid is reacting to the treatment so far; if necessary, the docs will adjust the dose. So it looks like blood tests are going to be a feature in my life from now on. But I’m trying to hold on to the positive – my friend is now referring to us as the ‘T Birds’, owing to our shared thyroid related issues. Well, I always did love Grease.

So, what’s the point of this post? Basically, I wanted to post this to encourage anyone with any of the symptoms that I have mentioned above, to go and get your thyroid checked. It’s so important to be aware of what your thyroid is up to, especially for those of us that live with one of the many forms of mental illness, of depression, of anxiety. To think that this little piece of tissue has the power to do so much to our bodies and to our minds; to think that it has the power to plunge a person into a deep depression – this is a powerful little butterfly-machine, and if it’s not working properly, the effects can be horrible and they can be debilitating. I am not saying that the thyroid has caused my own depression, I can never know that, but I am so glad that I am now aware of the connection between thyroid health and mental health.

So, if you do one thing this week, book an appointment with your GP and go and get your thyroid checked!

You can find more info about thyroid disease here: http://www.thyroiduk.org.uk/tuk/index.html

It’s in the jeans

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At the moment I am sitting in a pair of jeans that I am pretty convinced could give me HIV. It’s a long and boring story but its main protagonists are: me, OCD, jeans, blood.

A few days ago, on my way to work, I happened to walk past some blood on the floor – now, I’m not sure if I actually stepped on it, but I walked pretty damn close anyway. So followed a day of feeling sick and contaminated all over. I kept myself to myself all day, and barely spoke to anyone. When I got home, I took off my jeans and put them by the washing machine (I decided that I didn’t have to throw them away because the jeans did not come into contact with aforementioned floor, of that I am certain as my jeans are not long enough. I did, however, throw away my trainers, trainers that are relatively new, because there is a chance they walked on some blood). I didn’t have to wash the jeans straight away because I have another pair of jeans that I could wear instead the next day – and they say that putting off the compulsion is a good idea or whatever.

I own, in total, two pairs of jeans that can be worn outside. Why only two? Well I just can’t be arsed to buy new clothes when the risk that I will have to throw them away runs so high. So, given that 50% of my denim property was waiting to be washed, yesterday I was left with no option but to wear pair no. 2., teaming with my current favourite jumper (a jumper that also happens to be fairly new). This jumper is nothing special but it is so unbelievably snug, it’s like a hug from myself to myself. I have even taken to wearing it around the house, it’s that cosy. So I was pretty happy yesterday when I left for work, clean jeans, nice jumper. No contamination, win!

After using a public toilet yesterday I went to wash my hands. I was feeling fairly okay, okay enough to not go down the extensive time consuming hand-washing route, but rather the normal, regular-person type of hand-washing. Just as I was rinsing away the soap from my hands, I felt a few droplets of water splash back from the sink basin. No problem, I will just wash them again. Then I spotted a tiny bit of what looked like blood on the side of the sink. It was the tinniest of amounts but it looked very much like blood to me. I tried hard to convince myself that it was make-up, or food or some speck of something else. But I am pretty sure that it was blood. So then starts the tidal wave. Along comes the old friend, hot lead, surging up the body like a sadistic cat, it alerts all of the senses, makes my skin feel like it’s burning. I try to assess where the specks of water actually fell, but the truth is I don’t know, so they might as well be all over my jumper. My jumper is effectively drenched in someone else’s blood. Someone who may, or may not have HIV. But for the sake of risk assessment, let’s just assume that they do. I am covered.

Long story short, I got home, had a shower, put the jumper in a plastic carrier bag to go in the bin. Jeans in the wash, just in case.

This morning, when I got up, I realised that I have no trousers to wear whatsoever. I am screwed. I have to choose between the pair no. 1 which are contaminated in my eyes because I was wearing them on the day that I may or may not have walked on a speck of blood in the street. Or I can wear pair no. 2 which are contaminated in my eyes because I was wearing them on the day that I may or may not have splashed myself with water that may or may not have come into contact with blood on the side of the sink. I decide that the risk is greater if I go with pair 2, so I decide to go with pair 1. In the panic and general self-loathing that ensues, I console myself with the knowledge that, at one point, I would have phoned in sick and not gone to work at all, rather than face the hell of wearing either pair of blood jeans. So at least that’s something. Er, yay….?

So, here I am, several hours into my day, I am wearing blood soaked jeans and everything is itching. Most of all my mind. I have popped one of the pills that I am to take when I am experiencing particularly high levels of anxiety (it’s one of the holy trinity of drugs that I am taking these days, it’s so much fun to be a walking pharmacy, pumping yourself full of drugs in the hope that one will fucking work). It won’t be long before I start to feel dopey and drowsy, before everything starts to feel a bit slow, and I start to edge towards feeling a little bit like a zombie. Which I guess is better than a hyena who can’t stop itching.

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.

Insanity – aka Shaun T is my kick!

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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

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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.

Beauty and disease in autumn

autumn

When I woke up this morning, I felt happy. Happy because I could see straight out of the window and the world outside was just spectacular. The sun, like a gloating puppeteer, was in her place at the sky’s throne, watching over the scene below, flooding the earth with light. The sky was the kind of blue that you will only ever see in autumn – deep, electric and laced with gold. The few clouds I could see were cheerfully bobbing across the sky; fluffy, bouncy and creamy white. The trees outside my window were ablaze with light, heavy branches bouncing majestically on a hearty October breeze. It was one of those perfect, crisp and heavenly autumn days that make you glad to be here to see it.

I spent yesterday evening with one of my closest friends, watching a film (very good – The Pentagon Papers), eating Chinese takeaway and sipping fizz. We chatted, we giggled, we had fun. When I got up this morning we drank tea, chatted some more and had a good chuckle about her eccentric new German teacher. It was brilliant. Normal. When I left at lunchtime, I strolled into town to catch the bus back to my house. I walked through her neighbourhood (incidentally, one of the most beautiful in the city) and felt so happy, so lifted and so grateful to be able to stroll into town of a Sunday, passing all of this wonderful autumn-ness that surrounds me. Yellow, orange, copper, brown, terracotta, red, bronze, maroon, green – all of the colours that make up the most perfect of autumnal palettes. I was so happy that I even stopped to take pictures on my phone. I contemplate a Facebook post in celebration of this most wonderful autumn (proposed status: ‘I may be biased, but an English autumn day is surely among the most perfect and most beautiful things imaginable….’).

In the midst of my happy autumn haze, I decide to take a coffee-shop pit-stop before catching the bus home – just me, my coffee and my new book. But then, of course, the universe shat on the dream. As I stroll across the main square, scanning the floor for HIV, I notice a few small patches of a brownish-red substance that screams at me from the pavement. I try to manoeuvre my way around the mess but am stopped in my tracks by a huge explosion of RED that is about 3 feet wide. It’s blood, I am sure of it. It looks to me like someone has split their face open on this pavement. I take a few steps back to have another look at the patches. I take a photo on my phone. That’s right, a photo. The reason I do this is because, in the midst of an OCD freakout, I cannot trust my own eyes. A photo is as objective as I can get in this situation so, perhaps, when I review the photo from a safe distance, I will see that it is not blood. But no, when I look at the photo again, I am fairly sure, this is blood. I would post a picture of it, but I don’t want to prompt feelings of anxiety in anyone that has similar blood contamination fears*. That it has ruined my day is enough, let it not ruin someone else’s. (*I decided to post one of my Perfect Autumn pictures instead….)

As I walk away, I check the hem of my trousers – is it touching the floor? Yes. Fuck. I can’t stay in town any more; I go and get the bus back to my end of the city. I know in my mind that I am going to have to throw my shoes and trousers away when I get home so, when I get off the bus, I dive into a coffee shop to sit for a while, just to put it off a bit longer. I order a croissant and coffee but, by the time it arrives, I am crying and I can’t even taste the croissant as I wolf it down. I find myself resenting the woman in the corner who is in the process of analysing her relationship to her companion. Everything about her is pissing me off – and that’s not because she’s done anything wrong. It’s because she’s enjoying the normality of going to a coffee shop and just hanging out. She’s got her feet casually resting on a chair, then she’s got them tucked under her – she is not in the least bit concerned that she has HIV on her shoes (or, maybe she is? After all, there are no better masters of disguise than those who live with anxiety….). I hate that I can’t be her. I wonder if the photo I took could somehow contaminate my phone. This fucking disease. My mind disease.

I cannot stop crying and it’s embarrassing. I walk home. I plan ahead to go in via the back door: if I have to take off my shoes and trousers before I get in the house, it’s better that I do it at the back door, and not in full view of the street. As it turns out, it’s not much better going in via the back door as my garden faces a row of houses on the adjacent street. It’s pretty humiliating to think that some unfortunate observer may look out of their bedroom window just in time to see a 31 year old woman undressing herself on the doorstep. I take off my shoes, my trousers and my pop-socks, leaving them in a pile outside my backdoor, I’ll deal with them later. I walk into the house, grateful for the sanctity of a relatively clean floor.

I lock the cat-flap behind me – I can’t risk the cats coming in at this point. The reason for this is the Trail of Contamination: the cats would have walked on the same pavement that I have just walked on with my blood shoes, which means that they will have blood on their paws, which they will tread all over the carpet and all over the furniture. Blood everywhere. They are such sweet cats, and have been my little companions these past few months while I have been signed off work. They sometimes like to climb on my lap and sit, their little paws just draped over my knees – it’s a welcome comfort. But there will be no sitting on my lap, no blood paws today. I have to keep this space as clean as possible for as long as possible. I will let the cats in soon – I have to – because it’s not their fault I’m crazy. But, for now, I just need a few moments in a clean space, before it all becomes contaminated.