It has been a long time since I’ve written anything, and a recent email from a visitor to my blog made me reflect on how far I’ve come, and what it’s taken to get here.
Firstly, I am probably still mad, but I sure as hell am not as mad as I was. This can only be a good thing. This really hit home to me the other day when I put the bins out and didn’t even think about it: at my worst that would have resulted in tears, and a shower and full change of clothes. Which is nuts. But at the time it really, really felt like that’s what I needed to do to gain a tiny bit of respite from the shouting “what-ifs” of my OCD. And that if my partner forgot to empty them and left me with the chore he was an unfeeling evil bastard. He really isn’t. He’s just shit at remembering to empty the bins sometimes.
My eating has gone a seriously long way too. I cook again, and I enjoy it. I’ve put weight back on. I’m eating a far larger variety of foods, although I have reverted to vegetarianism which is how I was brought up, but those reasons are ethical and not connected with any fears about “safety”. I manage to bake cookies with my kids and not want to run away; on occasion I’ve even eaten what they’ve made! I still wash my hands a lot, probably too much, but I don’t tend to obsess over it, it’s almost automatic, and I don’t get overly distressed if I’m not able to.
I have learnt that if I give in to the first OCD thought of the day (usually something like “don’t use that cup, pick another cup”) it will just snowball and I’ll have to struggle against it shouting at me all day, whereas if I just plow through and ignore the first little whisper it usually remains quieter in my head.
I got this far mainly thanks to the recognition by the therapist I was seeing that CBT alone was NOT working. When you are literally beside yourself with fear for the majority of your day you just cannot use the techniques it requires of you. I am so lucky that she was also trained in EMDR and trauma, and so was able to look at me and see someone not with ‘depression and anxiety’ but who probably had complex PTSD with a comorbidity of OCD, and put together a course that tackled those traumas that I experienced that just had not been processed correctly yet. Most importantly, she was brave enough to fight her managers to make sure I was given as much extra time as possible. I should have been discharged after twelve sessions. She saw me for a year.
I was in a state of hyper vigilance as if past traumas were still happening to me. We combed through my life story and isolated a number of traumas, both physical and psychological, that we thought might be at play. We were able to group a bunch of them together and try to tackle them en masse, and gave particular focus to ones we thought might be ingrained the deepest. We tackled my experiences of sexual assault. Childbirth. Illness. My parents separation. All fairly major stuff. At first I felt I was just going along with it: I was so desperate for something to “cure” me I tried to ignore the “this is nonsense” thoughts in my head. But after a few weeks my body felt different. My head felt clearer. We’d work through events and I would full blown break down and sob, being right back there but simultaneously where I was, feeling pity or rage or sadness or a mix of everything. In one particularly memorable session I literally felt my body travel through time. I moved from being an angry, thoughtful, frightened, ashamed, defiant fifteen year old girl and shifted all the way through space and time until I was an exhausted but proud and hopeful thirty one year old mother of two. I physically felt myself sitting on my chair as a woman. This probably sounds nuts but I think that was the first time I had felt really, actually there. Where I was. Who I was.
I will do a longer post about trauma and my experience of EMDR soon but suffice to say, pretty rapidly I felt, and other people saw, a big change. I was still anxious, but in a far less crazy way. I was able to challenge my OCD and it didn’t seem insurmountable. I might have been agoraphobic but I could will myself through a trip to the supermarket or a friend’s house and come out feeling better about myself, not worse.
After years in the darkness, this summer really did feel like coming into the light. Sadly, therapy was abruptly ended in June (my scores were too high for the NHS to continue my therapy, which sucked, because you need help learning to be well, consolidating, convalescing, not just to stop being ill). I managed to get a job and challenge myself in ways I could not have imagined just a few short weeks before. I attended family events, visited my eldest’s new teachers and took her to her first day of school. I quit my job and got a better one. I started enjoying just being.
Now this is not a fairy tale. I am not cured. I still have a long way to go until I’m living the kind of life I really want to. I’m happy to take baby steps there. Most importantly, I’m learning to take care of myself, to know my triggers, but also to cut myself a break. Right now I’m on the middle of what you might call a relapse. I started a new job, so has my partner. My kids and I have had horrible colds and now they have chicken pox. I’m sleep deprived. I had been coping with the anxiety of my new job by not eating while I was at work, which meant I was malnourished. I felt like I’m failing at everything. All my old doubts and self criticism and negativity and frustration was seeping back in. And I thought to myself; “I’m pretty sure most parents would feel like this in this situation: this isn’t about you being a shit, mad, mother. This is about the reality of sleep deprivation and vitamin deficiency.”. And take responsibility for making sure I make an effort to get early nights, eat meals with as many vegetables as I can cram in and be honest with the people around me that I feel like a want to cry or punch something and not to take it personally.
This is the best I can do right now. And I think that’s ok.