Let’s Talk About OCD

Image source: International OCD Foundation

With OCD Awareness Week running from the 13th-19th October I wanted to share with you guys my own battle with the disorder and use this post to educate people on a condition that’s massively misunderstood and, in my opinion, not taken seriously enough. 

I think I’m going to make this into a series of posts, starting with my story of living with the disorder, some thoughts on the term ‘OCD’, and maybe try to get a couple of people I know who also have it share their story, because the way it manifests itself is never the same between two people. So as a disclaimer, the experience you read about in this post will be completely different if you speak to someone else, they’ll have different thought patterns, behaviours, anxieties, and it’s not something that can be generalised.

If you’ve never heard Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) before, it’s a mental health condition that makes a person have obsessive, intrusive thoughts and fears, and compulsive behaviours. These thoughts are neutralised through repetitive behaviours or thoughts, which have a significant impact on the person’s day to day life. It should be noted as well that, although a “normal” person might also have these thoughts, the difference is that they can just ignore them, brush them off in passing. But someone with OCD can’t accept them as just thoughts, and they can spiral by attaching validity to them, thinking they will actually come true because they’ve thought them, thinking that our internal thoughts will manifest in the external world.

I could ramble on and on about what OCD is, but that’s not the purpose of this post. I’m here to talk about my story in the hopes that

a) It will help raise awareness of the disorder

b) It might make someone recognise abnormal thought patterns in themselves and seek help

c) Get people to stop uSING OCD AS AN ADJECTIVE …because that is the BIGGEST pet peeve I have.

 

Red Flag
At the age of 11 I was diagnosed with OCD as a byproduct of boderline depression, because I was being bullied at school. A bit much for an 11 year old to handle if I’m honest. As gross as it sounds I had started picking up bits of rubbish off the floor at school, and only at school, because if I didn’t I would be overcome with crippling anxiety that something awful would happen either to myself or my family. These thoughts would range from them getting seriously injured or dying, to just me upsetting them.

It would also take me stupid amounts of time to get from one room to the next in my house due to checking and ritualistic behaviours. Again, if I didn’t do these behaviours I thought terrible things would happen, and they would be entirely my fault. My Mum would get mad because I’d come home with my blazer pockets full of discarded sweet wrappers and papers, and I didn’t know why I was doing it, nor could I stop it.

 

Diagnosis
It wasn’t until my neighbour, who was a nurse at the time, suggested that I see a doctor because it seemed characteristic of a disorder I had never even heard of before. So we booked an appointment with my GP, who referred me onto a psychologist, who, you guessed it, diagnosed me with OCD. Granted I don’t remember the whole session because it was 14 years ago now, but I remember being given a booklet about it and a self-help guide to read over until a space became available on for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which took almost nine months to get.

By the time I got to the top of the waiting list I thought I didn’t need it because I had moved schools and, although the compulsive behaviours and negative thoughts still existed, they were manageable and didn’t impact my day-to-day living as much as before.

 

Back at it again
So let’s fast forward to five years later, where it went from manageable to flaring up again due to GCSE stress. The rubbish picking never surfaced again, thank God, but the ritualistic behaviours did and they were starting to get worse than before. It started with little tapping behaviours, like having to touch objects a certain way a number of times (four lots of four) or with a certain hand (left, because I’m left handed) but then it had to be partnered with thinking positive thoughts and certain words.

Words were labelled as good or bad, not because they had positive or negative meanings, but because even the most abstract word could be associated somewhere down the line with something bad happening. I find it really difficult to explain this bit to people who haven’t gone through it themselves, because how could a word like “pop” or “tick” be seen as bad? I would have a set list of ‘good’ words to recite in my head whilst doing each behaviour, but if one ‘bad’ word came along I’d have to start the whole process again. It got to the point where it would take me at least a half hour to get from my bathroom to my bedroom, from the door to my bed, and settled. It’s exhausting.

An example of my most anxiety-provoking situation, as my future therapist would call it, was touching an object with my feet. So if I were walking across my room and touched, say, a bag on the floor with my feet, I would have to go and do all of these counting behaviours and think positive thoughts. If I thought one ‘bad’ word I would have to start again.

But why? Because touching something with your feet is related to kicking something, and kicking something means you intend to do harm or that you’re angry, and I didn’t want to hurt or upset someone in this way. I wasn’t a bad person, I don’t like upsetting people, and I thought I would do this to my family or people I care about.

That’s just an example of the sort of network of thoughts that I would spiral into, caused by behaviours that a “normal” person wouldn’t even think twice about. And it also got to the point where I couldn’t have other people touching my stuff with their feet either because that induced the same spiral of anxiety, and I would have to neutralise it with the compulsive behaviours.

Checking behaviours started to creep back in too, like checking the front-door handle 16 times (four lots of four) and keeping positive thoughts in mind, or checking and re-checking that the gas stove was off.

People with OCD tend to report that they blackout, where they try to remember something but start to doubt what they actually did or saw, or unknowingly create false memories. I felt this was the same for my checking behaviours, where I knew I had done them but couldn’t be sure if the gas was actually off, or if the door was actually locked, and I’ll go on later to say how I deal with this in the present day.

Even numbers have always been a bit of a bad habit for me, but it got to the point where friends would say things like “no because I’d have to give you two” and then laugh whenever I’d ask for one of their fries at lunch. I used to just brush it off and laugh along with them, but now that I look back it was kind of an asshole-move on their part. It goes hand-in-hand with people laughing when I say I have OCD, and them saying “what so do you clean a lot?” or “I’m so OCD too, my room has to always be tidy”. Again, don’t use it as an adjective or attribute your general cleanliness to a mental health condition. It invalidates the struggle of those who actually have to live with it.

I was in a relationship at the time and, despite there being many toxic aspects, one thing I could never fault him on was his understanding and support with all of this. He would wait patiently whilst I turned the light switches on and off, checked doors, or did my tapping rituals over and over again until they felt right. I didn’t need someone to tell me stop or that everything was fine, I just needed to work through it in my own head and not feel judged or watched.

 

CBT
Finally, I was put back on the CBT waiting list, and again it took nine months to finally see a psychologist. Now I don’t want to sit here and bitch about the NHS because I know it’s struggling and it’s disgusting how little funding mental health services receive (so I guess if anything I’m bitching about the government, sorry not sorry), but to this day my view is that CBT just wasn’t the right therapy for me. I already knew that my thoughts couldn’t cause harm and that these patterns and behaviours were irrational, even when I was in anxiety provoking situations I knew it, but I couldn’t stop doing them. I just think there were much better suited therapies on the NHS that could have been more effective in my situation. 

After my first therapist left the clinic 10 or so sessions in, I waited a couple of months to be reassigned to another, and it took a further 8 months to finally identify a coping strategy and reach a stage where my condition could be managed. It ended up being a strategy where I would delay neutralising a thought with a behaviour for 10 seconds, walk away, count to 10, and then if I still felt the need to do it then go back and do it.

It sounds so easy when you write it down but when your heart is racing and you’re thinking of all the bad things that will happen that will be your fault, it’s exhausting and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to get myself to do, and I praise anyone who’s ever been through it too.

 

Where there’s one, there’s many
I finished CBT at the end of my first year of college, and although my intrusive thoughts and behaviours flared up from time to time, I could live with them and they didn’t interfere with my day-to-day living as much as before. 

Cue my unwelcome roommate, Mr Snuffles. In the November of my third year of university I started to wake up in the middle of the night to rustling sounds. At first I just thought it was the bag in my bin settling or bits of slate falling down the roof. Ha, I wish.

One morning I woke up to a Mars Bar wrapper half-way across my bedroom floor, even though I know I had put it in the bin the day before. That’s when I realised I had an unwanted guest of the mouse-variety living rent-free in my room. Turns out its pals were also living elsewhere in the kitchen, who our cat Jinx (read: neighbours cat who always came to chill with us) so kindly caught for us.

Looking back, I realised that since I was little I always had the fear of going blind by touching something dirty and getting it in my eyes, but it had never manifested itself into my OCD and become a problem. Until the mice arrived, because mice carry diseases and are unclean, and that will cause an infection, which will cause me to go blind.

See? Thought spirals. They get you every time.

I started to wash my hands more and more every day and couldn’t even touch my floor without having to smother them with hand-sanitiser straight after. It got to the point where it was painful to run my hands under water and they would start to bleed, but I couldn’t just stop doing it. I would exfoliate my hands every few days to get the cracked skin off and run them under freezing cold water because it was so soothing, and then coat them in moisturiser to help with the dryness.

I started to do it outside the house too, where anything that could be seen as ‘dirty’ or carrying germs might get onto my hands, then I’d rub my eyes before washing my hands, then I’d go blind.

This went on for two months or so and my mental health was once again quickly deteriorating. When I came back to uni after Christmas they had all seemed to disappear and my cleaning behaviours died down a little, but now that I’ve had had a problem with contamination once it’s never truly gone away, and I still find myself excessively washing my hands if I touch something I even think could infect me.

 

Australia
During my gap year in Australia my OCD never really flared up that much, probably because I was living that stress-free beach-everyday life…

 

Postgraduate
Throughout my Masters degree in -takes a breath- Neuroimaging for Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience I was also working a part-time job at uni. The course I was on technical-heavy and known to be intense, so for the year I was in a constant state of stress and had next-to-no social life until halfway through semester 2.

You see where this is going, right?

It took a month or so but my ritualistic checking behaviours started to come back in full force. These were the same as before: checking doors, the oven, etc.

I managed these throughout the year because what more can you do, I was used to it.

 

Present day
At the moment I’ve found checking behaviours to be more prominent in my day-to-day life. I’m that fed up with it now that I go around and take pictures of everything just to reduce the time it takes for checks, and so if I start to doubt myself later that I did them I can just refer back to the photos and neutralise the anxiety. This is called avoidance. I take pictures of them so I can avoid dealing with the anxious state that checking puts me in.

I shouldn’t do it, the same with how I shouldn’t try to neutralise bad thoughts with behaviours and positive thoughts because I’m just feeding in to the disorder, but I do it anyway.

Probably because I’ve lived with this thing for 14 years, that’s over half my damn life.

 

Sometimes I imagine being able to not feeling anxious in anticipation of leaving the house, knowing I’ve got to do my checks, or not constantly living in fear of getting contaminated and going blind.

But then I think, who would I be today if I hadn’t have been through all of this? How much has living with OCD shaped me as a person?

It sparked my initial interest in studying Psychology, and whilst OCD isn’t my research interest, it was still the driving factor to my now-passion.

I’m much more empathic to people with mental health conditions, knowing that everyone is fighting a battle regardless of whether you can see it. 

I’m conscious about the language I use. I don’t say “I’m depressed” I say “I feel low”. I don’t say “that gives me anxiety” (unless I’m actually talking about my OCD), I say “that makes me feel anxious”. And for God’s sake, I have the condition and I still don’t say “that’s so OCD” or “I’m a little OCD” because:

It’s not an adjective.

Mental health conditions are not an adjective.

I’ll go further into that in a future post, but it’s the main reason I never say ‘OCD’ the first time in a conversation, I’ll always say Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

 

And finally, it’s made me the hella strong person that I am today. Because I’ve had some really low moments not only trying to fight a battle within my own head, but also trying to fight a battle trying to justify the condition against people who don’t take it seriously, laugh about it when you tell them you’ve got it, or (have I already mentioned?) use it and other mental health conditions as an adjective.

 

Okay aaand breathe.

If you’ve made it through this whole post then congrats! I really hope this has been helpful in any way to anyone reading it. I could write a whole thesis on my experience but had to really miss out some details for reading purposes.

Some people don’t like talking about their mental health condition, and that’s okay, but if you ask me anything about mine I will talk for England because I want people to understand what it’s like, and to break any misinformation associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

If you’ve learned anything from this post, or have found it interesting, please share it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.

And if you have any questions, leave a comment or drop me a message. I’ll either reply directly or do another post answering them.

 

Until next time,
Liv
xox

Goals for my 25th year

25.

Twenty. Five.

Half way to fifty…

If you haven’t already guessed, I recently turned 25. Despite trying so hard to stay closer to 20 than 30 it was inevitable, and just like the New Year’s resolutions that I fail to uphold every year, I think of birthdays as a chance for self-improvement over the coming year.

For this year’s goals I’ve tried to look on the broader spectrum that could encompass a number of things, rather than super specific goals like “lose weight” or “eat healthy” (I do need start to do more of the latter of but let’s ignore that for now…)


1. Feel the fear and do it anyway
I first heard this piece of advice listening to a podcast with Jera Foster-Fell, one of my favourite Instagram influencers at the moment. Too often I find myself saying no because I’m scared of either failing, getting hurt, or avoiding the anxious feeling the situation creates. But I also think that if it makes you uncomfortable, do it. If it scares you, do it. So that’s how I’m approaching life this year, otherwise I’ll never grasp new opportunities to grow. And besides, being courageous isn’t about not feeling fear at all, it’s about -coming full circle here- feeling the fear and doing it anyway.


2. Happiness first

As someone who’s battled with an anxiety disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, for almost 14 years now (time flies), I’ve been finding myself spiralling and getting into low states more often recently. To me, prioritising happiness means that I’ll do things and surround myself with people who contribute positively to my mental health, not holding on to toxic friendships, or continuously doing things that I know are making me feel pretty shitty about myself.


3. Feed the soul

I’ve always had a bad relationship with food. I binge, I feel guilty, I feel motivated to change, I get into a low state or stress, and I binge again. Instead of sitting here and saying “I’m going to eat so healthy this year!” knowing full well that’ll last a couple of weeks at most, I’m choosing to say that I’m going to try to fuel my body and soul with what feels right at the time and not hold myself to unrealistic expectations and restricting food I love. I think this could be the way that I build a good relationship with food, along with having my personal trainer hold me accountable and keeping me motivated (she’s a star).


4. Build better habits

This is kind of an umbrella for a range of things. From limiting phone screen time and avoiding getting stuck into blackholes of social media scrolling, to taking up meditation a few times a week and dedicating more time to my hobbies and interests, I need to start doing these things more often so they become a habit within my daily routine. I hope that in doing so I’ll be working towards goals 2 and 3 as well, contributing to my overall happiness and feeding the soul with these better, healthier habits.


5. Be comfortable with doing things alone

We’re all guilty of not going to watch a film we want to see or not eating out just because none of our friends want to do it. Getting over the anxious feeling of going out alone and not feeling judged or embarrassed is something I definitely need to work on seen as I’m –dare I say it– a grown adult.

…okay maybe I’m not ready to be a full adult yet but still! I’m sick of missing out on life (a bit dramatic) because I’m too afraid to be content with my own company in public.


6. Stop ruminating about the future

Uni lost my exam paper? No worries they’ll find it.

Car broke down in the middle of the Peaks? Eh it’s a story to tell.

I’m a pretty chill person when it comes to the little stressors in life, you know, the ones that aren’t life threatening or about money. But when it comes to uncertainties, that’s when I start to worry. Recently I’ve found myself ruminating more and more about the future, over aspects that I either can’t control or shouldn’t even be thinking about just yet. Constant worrying can affect your mental health and prevent you from enjoying the chapter of your life that you’re in right now. It happens so easily and it’s hard to stop once you start to spiral, but I think meditating and practicing gratitude for the present will help massively.

So there’s a couple of things I want to work on in my 25th year on earth. Notice how for once I didn’t say I was going to start blogging again and more often? Because we all know how that will go…

As you were
LG x

REFLECTING ON 2017: MY TOP 10 HIGHLIGHTS

Well hello there! Remember me? I did say I was going to be very bad at blogging this semester, but I’ve come out of my Masters-hibernation to write this reflection because I absolutely love reading other bloggers’ posts about their yearly highlights, and I really enjoyed writing one last year for 2016, which you can read here.

2017 has been one hell of a year, starting out living in the southern hemisphere all the way in Australia, and ending it back home in Manchester. It was hard to narrow down the list to just 10 favourite moments and I could have rambled on forever about each and every one, but somehow I managed it, so sit back and enjoy my brief highlights from 2017 before we welcome in the New Year.

Getting onto/Starting my Masters degree
Both of these go hand in hand really, as getting onto the course in the first place was such a big achievement for me. I’m one of 18 who got accepted onto it and couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of people to be suffering doing it with. It’s a really intense and difficult course and everyone is so supportive of each other and we’ve all become super close (I guess mutual stress and pain brings people together???). I don’t think I’ve ever said on the blog what my course actually is, just that I’m doing one and that it’s the most stressful thing I’ve ever experienced… Either way my MSc is in (take a breath) Neuroimaging for Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience.

Au pairing
I wrote a post a few months ago about au pairing, and it is definitely one of my top highlights of 2017. I grew a lot as a person over those seven months, and it taught me that I can actually be a responsible adult when needed, and I’m capable of much more than I thought. Not only that, but I became so attached to Poppy and can’t imagine my Australian adventure without her.

Road trip through the outback
14 hours… 14 hours we drove from Orange to Adelaide, and was it worth it? Hell to the yeah it was worth it! I saw my first wild kangaroo, took pit stops in some proper rural towns, and got to visit my friend Toby in Mildura while he was completing his farm work. I also got photos at the NSW-Victoria, Victoria-South Australia, and South Australia-NSW borders which were such tourist moments but hey, it’s what I was there for.

Adelaide Fringe Festival
The Garden of Unearthly Delights was undoubtedly one of the most, dare I say it, instagrammable places I’ve ever been to. It was an incredible display of weird and wonderful lights and decorations, and pop-up bars and stalls had been derived from all sorts of things such as buses (yes, buses) and big-top tents.

Melbourne trip
Ah, Melbourne. Although Sydney was the place I called home, Melbourne is the city that holds my heart. Back in April I took a week-long holiday there and stayed with my Aussie friend, Issy. She took me to an AFL game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which I enjoyed a lot more than I expected, introduced me to a cafe dedicated entirely to bagels, and we road tripped along the Great Ocean Road. Her family were nothing but kind to me throughout my stay, and I’m so grateful for their hospitality that week. My friend Josh also took me on a tour of the city that included Hosier Lane, which was so cool, and I reunited with some friends I met in Sydney that I hadn’t seen in a while. At a time where I had been quite homesick this trip really cheered me up because, where Sydney is more like London, Melbourne is basically Manchester but with better food and better weather.

Boomtown
In August I experienced my first proper festival, and what an insane 5 days it was. Everyone I spoke to whilst there mentioned that I had picked an intense festival to start with, and, well, they weren’t wrong. Boomtown Fair is basically another city in itself, with different sectors and districts divided into Uptown and Downtown. Each year provides another chapter of its ongoing story, and there are actors all around the site playing out theatrical roles that make you feel like you’re actually living in this spectacular, made-up world. Another highlight from it was that I got to see Skindred live, who I’ve been a fan of since I was 15, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.

Glasgow Pride
During our annual visit to see the fam, Mum and I went to Glasgow Pride in the city centre, and it was nothing short of fabulous. Whether you were in the parade itself or just a spectator like we were, the whole day had a great atmosphere to it and I know we’ll be doing it all again next year.

Getting a job
After getting onto my MSc, my biggest worry was how I was going to fund my living expenses for the year, as my tuition fees take up my whole postgraduate loan. At the end of August though I got offered a part time job working for my University and I absolutely love it. Although working 20 hours a week alongside a full-time Masters is bloody stressful, I’ve never had a day where I’ve woken up dreading going to work, and I know that if I survive the next two semesters doing both then I’ll be a stronger person with a crackin’ CV.

Getting a car
I’m so in love with my Mini and extremely grateful for it. It’s improved my social life so much because I can just drive round to friends’ house without having to worry about walking around Fallowfield alone at night, and because I don’t drink I can drive to our local pub to hang out with my fave surf pals when they make last minute plans.

Tenerife and falling in love with surfing again
Although I vowed that I would never spend another Christmas in the sun, this year I spent it in Tenerife with my Mum. I’m so glad I went, not only because it was a nice break from the freezing cold English weather, but also because as part of my Christmas my Mum paid for me to do a surf school while we were there. I started surfing two years now but since the UMSC 2016 trip to Fuerteventura I’ve only been doing it every so often. Even in Australia I only surfed a couple of times, so I’ve not really improved much since I started. I also get quite anxious before getting in the water because my upper-body strength is basically non-existent and I always fall behind the group when trying to paddle out. Cue Tenerife and Kontraola Surf School! I spent the majority of my holiday in the water with the most amazing and supportive instructors who will always hold a special place in my heart. Surprisingly I was fine with paddling out back and over those two weeks I improved so much, with Miguel and Victoria teaching me how to turn properly and almost cutback (read: try to cutback but wipe out on rocks). I injured myself a lot over the week but hey, no pain no gain, right? I feel like I really needed that trip to make me fall in love with surfing again and get my confidence back up in the water, and now I’m sure as hell ready for Portugal in April with UMSC.

 

So there you have it, my top 10 highlights of 2017! I understand it’s quite a lengthy list, especially the last highlight, but amongst all the negative things that might have happened throughout the year it’s important to focus more attention on the good, and to continue doing so in 2018.

 

Until next year!

Liv

xo

BIRTHDAY DINNER @ HOME SWEET HOME, MANCHESTER

For the past four years, with the exception of last year because I was on the other side of the world, I’ve spent my birthday with my friend Taylor. Although a group of us were already going to Junkyard Golf on the Saturday to celebrate my birthday properly (because working life restricts mid-week drinking), I wanted to at least go out for food on the actual day. So this year when Tay asked where I wanted to go for dinner, my word-for-word response was “somewhere instagrammable”. I know, I’m ashamed of me too…

So with that in mind we chose Home Sweet Home in Manchester’s Great Northern area. I had walked past this place before and remembered stopping to drool over the cake display, whilst making a mental note to eat there asap.

The dinner menu had just started when we arrived, so I ordered the ‘Chicken in the Basket’ and Tay opted for the ‘Pulled Pork Pile Up’. It was definitely a filling dish and so tasty (I looove me some good chicken), but from the moment we walked in my eyes were on the dessert menu.

These cakes make you gain weight just by looking at them, but it was my birthday so yolo, and you certainly get your money’s worth when you buy a slice (read: 10lb chunk). I knew I wanted to try ‘Honey I Robbed the Kids’ as soon as I laid eyes on it, covered in bright blue icing and topped like a Woolworths’ pick n’ mix section, my out-of-control sweet tooth was more than satisfied. I had to take half of it home in a box because I couldn’t finish the whole slice in one go, so imagine my happiness when I opened the fridge the next morning and ate it for breakfast!

I’m so glad Taylor suggested we go out for the afternoon, and I know my relationship with Home Sweet Home will be like a revolving door (I give it a week until I’m back in there ploughing my way through the breakfast and lunch menus). So if you’re looking for a diner-like place to eat in Manchester and can’t resist eating a dessert that’s bigger than your actual meal, then visiting this restaurant should be at the top of your list.

 

Until next time,
Liv
xo

LIVLIVINGLIFE HAS A NEW LOOK!

Before I created this blog I had debated for months (yes, months) whether to jump straight into the deep end and self-host it from the start, or to just stick with WordPress-hosted instead. It wasn’t for any of the fancy behind the scenes work, but rather so I would have the freedom to design my page however I wanted.

In the end I opted for WordPress hosted, just incase I spent money on hosting fees and a theme and then end up not blogging at all. I’ll admit I’ve not been the most consistent at writing and posting, apart from Blogmas which I’m actually really proud of myself for keeping up with. In my drafts I currently have 7 posts about my time in Australia and 2 posts from being home, yet I just haven’t been able to publish any of them until I was happy with how my blog looked.

I know aesthetics aren’t the most important aspect, if anything it’s the content, but everyone has their own tastes and wants to at least like how their little corner of the internet looks, right? I was also self-conscious about whether other people would judge my blog if it didn’t look nice at first glance, which is a ridiculous thought because the blogger community has been nothing but welcoming to me.

However, this leads me to my current point that I’m sure everyone has already figured out; LivLivingLife has had a makeover! I’m super pleased with my theme from Pipdig, and now I definitely don’t have an excuse not to post at least once a week until the exams/deadline period of my Masters degree hits me like a bullet train. I’m thinking every Sunday? Let me know what you think. This layout makes my posts and pages easier to navigate, and you can find my other social media channels on the header and side bar.

If you run a blog, have you ever had these thoughts/doubts? What do you think of the new look?

 

Liv
xo