Limbo

Apologies… This blog has been a bit neglected for the last few weeks. The truth is, I’ve been struggling with my Depression and it takes me so much effort right now to do the simplest of tasks. I almost didn’t write this…

In this blog entry, I want to talk about my experience recently with being depressed amid the Coronavirus ordeal. When things kicked off around the beginning of March, my OCD became exacerbated and my stress levels went sky-high. I was already dealing with some personal things which were causing some stress, but the Coronavirus pandemic really kicked things up a notch. I’m a Support Worker and so I’m counted as frontline staff. I was getting to the point where I couldn’t handle going into work. Luckily, my managers worked with me and are allowing me to work from home until the pandemic calms down a bit. This has helped a little, but over time, the stress has turned into Depression, and I find it difficult to do anything.

I take medication at night, which sedates me, so getting up in the morning is hard for me. Add-in the sleepiness Depression causes, and I’m barely functioning right now. I’m just about managing to do my job each day, but I’m constantly worried I’m going to get in trouble for not being up to par, for not doing good enough. I’m getting to the point where I currently don’t enjoy my job anymore, which makes things even harder. I’ve titled this entry “Limbo” because that’s very much where I feel I’m at right now. I’m stuck in a job where I’m not happy (although, don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to have a job right now, especially under the circumstances), I’m stuck in a flat on my own (my partner lives 5 hours away), I’m stuck in a body I don’t like (I’ve gained weight due to emotional eating), and I’m stuck in this constant state of sadness and indifference. There is no current end in sight for the Coronavirus situation and it makes me feel all the more stuck, never knowing when I’ll break free of all this.

To be honest, I’m supposed to be moving at some point to live down with my partner, and as such, I will need a new job, but I think it gets me down because right now, I have no new job to be excited about, no moving date as to when I can be with my partner again, nothing to really look forward to. I’m sure there are many people in similar positions right now, which is why I wanted to share how I’m feeling.

However, despite feeling “meh” and “blah” and “blegh”, I still manage to find the positives in each day. For example, the emotional eating I mentioned? I’m working on cutting that down and only eating when I’m genuinely hungry. I’m also using my elliptical for 30 minutes every day to try to lose some of the weight I’ve put on, and also just to get a bit fitter. Most weeks I do 5 out of 7 days, a couple weeks I’ve done all 7 days, and some weeks I really slack. It’s a work in progress. So, I may be sleeping a lot, but I’m still managing to get some exercise in, which I should be proud of myself for, as it’s not easy.

I’m also doing simple things, such as showering regularly, getting up every day, and doing my work from home. These are all small accomplishments which I need to remember to recognise. If it were my friend in this situation, I’d be telling them they’re doing great! I’d be reminding them to not be so hard on themselves, because considering the current situation, they’re actually being quite productive and they’re doing well. So why shouldn’t I tell myself the same thing? I might not do much in a day, but I’m doing SOMETHING, and that’s what matters right now. I’m trying and doing my best and not giving up, and that’s all you can really ask of yourself, isn’t it? So, I’m going to keep on trying and keep on doing my best, and I’m going to remember to point out the positives of each day to myself. Focus on the things I HAVE achieved. I’m also going to take one day at a time, and I know this won’t last forever.

 

What about you? How has your mental health been during this pandemic? What things do you do for self-care? What things could you do to be kinder to yourself right now?

 

 

A few things I do:

  1. As I mentioned earlier, I try to focus on the positives and not be too hard on myself. I ask myself, “What would I say to a friend in this situation?” and it’s usually something much kinder than what I would tell myself, so I try to tell myself the same thing.
  2. I read books that I enjoy. It’s great getting lost in a good story.
  3. I watch shows I enjoy on Netflix. It’s also fun to get lost in a good show sometimes.
  4. I exercise because I know how much better I feel after I’ve done it. Not only for the endorphins being released, but because I feel a sense of accomplishment.
  5. I maintain my hygiene, because I know how low I feel when I don’t keep on top of it. It only makes things worse. Plus, self-care is important!
  6. I talk to my friends and family on the phone. I’m already quite isolated by living alone, so keeping in contact with loved ones is key to combating some of my loneliness.
  7. I don’t watch too much news. I keep up-to-date enough to know what’s going on, but I don’t over-do it as it can be upsetting and anxiety-provoking.
  8. I pamper myself with something, such as a pedicure. Again, self-care and self-love is important!
  9. I get up every day and do my best. If I have an off day, I forgive myself and try again tomorrow.
  10. I remember this won’t last forever. I’ve been depressed before and made it through, and I’ll do it again.

Coronavirus & OCD

CORONAVIRUS! It’s all anyone can talk about these days. Understandably so, as it’s a very serious and very scary pandemic. From what I understand, if you do catch it, it is not as similar to catching the Flu, but more similar to a severe Pneumonia. This genuinely frightens me. I am doing my best to self-isolate as much as possible. My managers have allowed me to work from home, and I only have to come into work 2 days a week. On those days, I can also get a taxi, which they will reimburse, rather than me taking the metro for 45 minutes. I definitely find this to be a bit of a relief. Right now, I want to stay at home as much as possible!

Now, I know a lot of people are scared right now. There has been lots of panic buying, mask-wearing, social distancing… What I’d like to chat to you about is living during this current pandemic while suffering from OCD.

I already wash my hands more than the average person. And although some people with OCD do this due to the worry of germs and contamination, mine is slightly different. I do worry about germs, as I tend to get sick very easily and catch everything, but I also wash my hands a lot as they just physically feel dirty. The way I usually describe it is: You know when you’ve been petting a dog for awhile, and then your hands feel like they have a film or layer on them…? You feel like you need to wash your hands, right? Well, I feel that layer quite often throughout the day. At any point in the day, my hands will suddenly feel grimy and “dirty” and I will need to go wash them. I won’t feel comfortable until I do. I also don’t like using bars of soap, as I see them as a breeding ground for dirt and germs. I much prefer liquid soap from a pump dispenser. I also don’t like using hand towels, as other people have used them, so they are “dirty”. I prefer kitchen roll or something of the sort. One-time use and disposable. Much cleaner.

Now, you may have been experiencing this over the past few days, but imagine being constantly and acutely aware of everything you touch. Feeling the constant need to wash your hands after touching certain things. The fear of rubbing your eye or itching your nose in-between touching a doorknob and washing your hands again. Noticing every single cough or sneeze from another person, and worrying you were too close to them when they did it. Having someone get close to you, and panicking that they’re breathing on you and you’re inhaling their germs as we speak. Going on a metro or in an enclosed space, and wondering if you’re currently breathing in germs while just being there. You may be able to relate to some of these things from over the past few days, due to the Coronavirus. But for some people with OCD, we’ve been feeling these feelings and thinking these thoughts and constantly worrying for years now. This is our life on a daily basis. Have you noticed how exhausting it is? All the constant worrying and constant alertness? Or how sore your hands get from all the washing? Although this Coronavirus is horrible, maybe it has given some of you who don’t suffer, a glimpse into what a typical day with OCD is like. And if you think the constant worry of being clean and not spreading germs is exhausting, try having that, plus 30 other things in your head which are just as acute and just as concerning, all at once. People don’t often realise how tiring it is having OCD. Our thoughts are never-ending and go a million miles an hour. We fear things that we know are completely irrational. We are constantly switched-on and can’t find the off-switch.

I could go on and on about what it feels like to have OCD, but it would be too much for one post. With everything that is currently going on, I just thought it might be useful to share what it’s like from an OCD sufferer’s perspective. This may be one of the only rare times people get a chance to try walking in our shoes. To be honest, you’ll never fully understand OCD unless you have it, but maybe this current situation can give you a small idea of how we live and feel day-to-day.

Whether you suffer from OCD or not, I hope you are all staying safe, and please be considerate of one another! We are all in this together, and we will all get through this together!

 

Those of you with OCD… How is Coronavirus affecting you right now? What are your struggles? How are you coping? Any tips for other sufferers? Let me know!

 

 

Here are a few tips I have for fellow sufferers during this difficult time…

 

  1. If your hands are getting sore from the constant washing, every evening when you go to bed, put hand lotion on and then some thin cotton gloves (if you have some). It will help rejuvenate your hands and combat some of the damage you’ve done during the day. I personally recommend Neutrogena Hand Cream Concentrated. You only need a dab and your hands practically transform overnight!

 

  1. Stay indoors as much as possible. We’re supposed to be staying inside right now anyways, and it can trigger you less if you’re not exposing yourself to the mayhem outside. (However, once this has all died down, don’t continue to isolate. Get some CBT Therapy or help from loved ones and don’t let OCD house-bound you. Staying in is a temporary solution in an already very stressful time).

 

  1. See if you can set-up a Skype or phone session with your therapist. If you have contamination fears, you’re going to need your therapist now more than ever. Don’t fight this alone!

 

  1. Use your support system! Your stress level is probably through the roof right now, but try to talk with friends, family, whoever your support system consists of. Tell them how you’re feeling. Talk through things. Bottling up how you’re feeling is only going to add to the stress and exacerbate your OCD even more. Again, don’t fight this alone!

 

 

Hang in there! We’ll get through this!

An Introduction

For my first blog post, I figured it would make sense to tell you my story and give you some insight into who I am and what I’ve experienced.

I was born in Massachusetts, USA in 1990. I was adopted when I was 9 days old by a lovely English couple. I have never met my birth-parents and don’t know a lot about them. I have spoken with my birth-mother once via telephone, but have heard nothing since. I plan on attempting to establish contact with her again at some point. As far as health goes, my birth-parents just said that they were healthy, they didn’t give any details. However, I believe one, or both, of them suffered from some sort of mental health disorder, as what I have is quite severe, and it’s most commonly passed on genetically.

When I was about 2-years-old, my mum and dad started noticing me doing some odd behaviours. For example, I would have to bend down and touch the curb before crossing the street, or when walking through a car park, I would have to touch the bumper of every car. Living in Massachusetts, it gets very cold in the winter, and another thing my parents noticed about my behaviour was my refusal to dress accordingly. I hated layering up clothes and hated wearing socks with my shoes. I would curl my toes up, then put my sock on, and then my shoe, and I would walk around the nursery/pre-school all day with my toes curled up. By the time I got home, my feet were aching and I couldn’t straighten my toes out. To this day, my toes are still a little bent. My parents suspected something was wrong, and took me to various doctors, however, this was the very early 90’s, so getting a diagnosis wasn’t as easy as it is now. When I was five-years-old, I was officially diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). About two years later, I was also diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome.

When I was about four-years-old, we moved from Massachusetts to Northern California. We lived there for a year, and then moved down to Southern California, and that is where I resided for the next 15 years. Growing up was extremely difficult at times, due to my OCD and Tourette’s. Also, because of my struggles with OCD and Tourette’s, I suffered from Depression too. From a very young age, about 7 or so, I remember having suicidal thoughts. Most 7-year-olds are out playing and having fun and are carefree, and there I was, getting knives out of the kitchen trying to end it all because I thought it was the only way to escape the daily torture my mental health issues put me through. I should mention that throughout my life, no matter how hard things have gotten, the one positive has been my parents. They have always supported me and gone above and beyond to try to help me any way they could.

I started therapy when I was about 5 or 6, and I started taking medication when I was 7. I was quite a slim kid, but when I started taking Risperdal (which is well-known for its weight-gain side-effects) I piled the weight on quick. I remember being only 10-years-old and putting myself on diets. Being proud of myself for only eating 5 chicken nuggets instead of 10. When I was on Risperdal, it was like the full-switch in my brain had been flicked off. I was never ever satisfied. I was constantly hungry. I would sneak food from the kitchen when my mum wasn’t looking, I was always eating, and when I wasn’t eating, I was daydreaming about eating. Eventually, I stopped the Risperdal and went onto something else. I have been on a few other meds with weight-gain side-effects over the years, but this is what started my body issues and constant struggle with weight.

In school, I was very misunderstood. Whenever I made friends, I would always end up the third wheel, even if there was an even number of people in the group. There are a couple of occasions where I made friends with a couple people, only to find out weeks later that they weren’t really my friends and that they had been playing a joke on me. I never understood why this stuff happened. Did I have a sign on my head that said: “Weirdo. Avoid at all costs!” ? I was a very shy child, so that didn’t help things either. My biggest, deepest, darkest secret growing up was that I had OCD, Tourette’s, and Depression. Only my parents, my best friend, and maybe my teacher knew my secret. I always thought I did a really good job of hiding my secret and supressing my mental health issues when in public, but maybe it still left a mark. Maybe I still seemed odd or different to others and maybe that’s why I got picked on and treated differently. I guess I’ll never know for sure.

On the academic side of school, I also struggled. I was in the GATE Program (Gifted And Talented Education) and was an intelligent child. However, due to my OCD, I also needed certain adjustments made, such as more time to complete assignments and tests, reduced homework load, a note-taker, etc. To have these adjustments, you were counted as being in Resource. At my school, you had all the standard students, you had the very intelligent, above-average students (GATE), and then you had the students with learning difficulties, Down-Syndrome, etc. (Resource). Keep in mind, this was the 90’s and there wasn’t as much mental health awareness back then. Teachers never understood how I could be both a GATE student and a Resource student. To them, that wasn’t possible, it was one or the other. Because of that, they often refused to accommodate me. My parents even had to hire a Child Advocacy Lawyer to fight the school so that I could receive reasonable adjustments. My fourth grade teacher (I was about 8 or 9 then) was one of the worst. We had a massive class of 40 students, and I kid you not, she was nice to all 39, but picked on me. She was aware of my mental health difficulties, but didn’t understand, and was convinced that I was just a strange and naughty child. She sent me to the Principle’s office all the time when I hadn’t actually done anything, she would just make something up. The Principle was awful as well and would stand a couple inches away from my face and scream at me. I should note, I’ve never been to the Principle’s office before 4th Grade, and never since. I was actually a very well-behaved student, probably, in-part, due to my shyness. I remember the 4th Grade was putting on a school play, and somehow, I got the nerve to say I’d like to audition for the lead role. This was a huge deal considering how shy I was. However, all 80 4th Graders were sat in the cafeteria and I put my hand up for the lead role position. My teacher, in front of all my peers, told me I had to verbally say out loud “yes” to wanting the part. She knew full-well my OCD prevented me from saying certain words, one of the worst being the word “yes”. I couldn’t say any version of it, “yes, yeah, uh-huh”, nothing. She demanded I say “yes” in front of everyone and I quietly said I couldn’t. I somehow managed to mumble “yeah”, which was extremely difficult for me, but she said that didn’t count. It had to be “yes”. I remember my friends sitting next to me saying, “Just say it!” because, of course, they didn’t know my secret. I couldn’t say it, and in the end, the teacher said I couldn’t audition for the lead role, and I was stuck in the back as part of the choir section. What a blow to my already barely existing self-esteem. I’ve hated the 4th Grade and anything to do with it ever since.

There were variations of this all through my schooling. Always having to fight a never-ending battle just to have my needs met and appropriate accommodations made. In high school, I really struggled again. In Freshman year (so I was about 14), I got sent to Vista Del-Mar, which was a mental health facility for suicidal individuals. The people in there all had various issues, and we were locked in the ward, our meals brought to us, mandatory group therapy (I hate group therapy), and you had to stay a minimum of one week. I was allowed the occasional telephone call, and my parents were sometimes allowed to visit during visiting hours. They took all of your jewellery, shoelaces, anything you could use to harm yourself. Luckily, being shy, I was on very good behaviour and was released after a week. I managed to get through Freshman and Sophomore year, but my Junior year, everything was just too much, and my attendance was really slipping. I think adolescence is difficult for anyone, but when you have mental health difficulties on top, it just makes everything THAT much harder. They were trying a new program for people with attendance issues, and they asked me to be a part of it. I finished my last 2 years of high school through that program, away from my peers and normal high school. I then started at Community College when I was 17, almost 18, and I graduated with my Associate’s Degree when I was 20. I have always loved England, as my parents are English and I grew up visiting family who lived there. So, when it came time to apply for University, I applied for Newcastle University (as my dad is a native Geordie and I had family members there). I got accepted and was ecstatic! At the time, it was May, 2010, and I was in a really good place mentally. I felt on top of the world, better than I had in ages. And now I was moving to England! My favourite place in the world! Things seemed like they couldn’t get any better. But before long, everything came rapidly crashing down.

It was June, 2010, and I was chatting with an acquaintance on Facebook. I’d met him once or twice before through a mutual friend. I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, as I was moving to the UK soon, but agreed to go to the cinema with him one night. Unfortunately, that night, after the film, he raped me in the back of his car. After that, my whole world spiralled out of control. It took me two weeks to tell my mum, although she suspected something was wrong and had spotted the bruises on my chest. I reported it to the police, but they said it was a he-said/she-said, as I never went to the hospital for a kit and there was no evidence. I was so messed-up mentally, I didn’t pursue it any further. My OCD, Tourette’s, and Depression were massively exacerbated, and I had another diagnosis added to the list: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This assault was in June, and I moved to the UK in September. I started University, but deferred by December as I couldn’t manage. I would have to leave class due to panic attacks, I couldn’t manage the work because of my various OCD rituals, which had completely taken over, and I was so unwell and depressed, my attendance started slipping. I deferred for one year while I tried to sort myself out. I visited my mum and dad in the States and started seeing a therapist. I also worked with my Psychiatrist to adjust my meds. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my whole life. I mean, my OCD, Tourette’s, and Depression were really hard, but I was used to dealing with them, I’d been doing it all my life. This PTSD and everything was a-whole-other ball park though. It got to the point where I never left my bed. I lost loads of weight (my mum visited one Christmas, and when she hugged me she could feel my ribs through my padded body-warmer), I got a massive sty on my eye, a Staph infection on my face, Peri-oral Dermatitis on my face (underneath the Staph infection), and a fungal ringworm infection on my body. I looked DREADFUL. I looked so ill. I look back at pictures and can’t believe how sick I looked. My OCD was out of control, my Tourette’s was out of control, my Depression was deep and intense, and due to the PTSD, I was very hypervigilant (couldn’t keep still, constantly looking over my shoulder), I was having nightmares, I had loads of panic attacks, I was angry, I was sad, I was scared.

During this time, there’s two things I should note which didn’t help my situation. First, the guy who assaulted me kept messaging me on Facebook, taunting me. He would sort of suggest something happened, but never officially confessed. In 2012, he messaged me saying he was coming to England for the Olympics. I was terrified. I thought, “Oh my God, he’s going to get me!” Obviously, even if he did come to England, he would’ve been 6 hours away, down south, in London, where I was up North in Newcastle. He’d never find me. But when you’re in a state like that, you don’t think logically about things. He finally stopped messaging, but I couldn’t believe the nerve!

The second thing, was regarding my support system. Specifically, my best friend (since we were 7) and my other very close friend (friends since middle/high school). I told them, before I moved, what had happened, and they essentially dropped me. I know it must be a shock when your friend tells you something like that, and it must be hard knowing what to say or do, but you make an effort, you don’t disappear and do nothing. They never called, they never came over, they never checked on me, nothing. They didn’t even contact my mum to ask how I was or if there was anything they could do. I felt so unbelievably hurt and betrayed and angry. Eventually, about a year later, I visited the States and had a talk with my close friend. I really let rip about how angry and hurt I was. How could she betray me like that? How could she just leave me? Why didn’t she care? I expected her to walk out the door after I finished my rant, but instead, she surprised me. She sat there for a few moments, tears in her eyes, deep in thought, and then, she apologised. And it was better than any apology I could have ever expected. She acknowledged and accepted what she had done and I could tell her apology was sincere. She was really disappointed in herself for her behaviour and for not being a very good friend. After this, we worked on our relationship, and now, she is my best friend and our relationship has never been better.

However, my other friend, my former best friend, well, that’s another story. Arranging with her a time to come over so I could talk to her the way I did with my other friend was like pulling teeth. She always had an excuse and was always too busy. Not too busy to post on Facebook that she was hanging out with other friends though. I really tried to give her a chance. In about 2012, we had a chat, but it left me with no closure. I wasn’t able to express to her how I really felt, as I’m too nice sometimes, and I was too busy considering her feelings, rather than my own. In about 2015, I tried again with another chat. I was crying and expressing my feelings, and then she started crying. However, she wasn’t crying at seeing her best friend of over 14 years being so devastatingly hurt. No, she started crying and going on about herself and how hard her life was right now. I couldn’t believe someone could be so selfish and insensitive. I had loved this girl like my sister. Safe to say, I cut her off after that, and we no longer speak. The ironic thing is, I don’t think she thinks she’s really done anything wrong. I have tried to forgive her, but I just can’t get over how she treated me during the worst time in my whole life.

Well, all these things considered, I was dealing with a lot, and ended up deferring from Uni. for a second time. However, with a good support system, and lots of time, I started to heal, and although it was a 3-year course, after 6 years, I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree. This was in 2016. By this time, I had met my current partner (we met in 2013 and started dating in 2014) and it was the first time I’d ever been in a healthy, loving relationship. I’d been in an abusive relationship, an emotionally unavailable relationship, used by lots of guys in between, and of course, assaulted, but now I had someone who loved me and treated me the way I deserved. And guess what? He has his own mental health difficulties, and he doesn’t care that I have OCD, Tourette’s, and the rest! He still thinks I’m great, despite all of my annoying, frustrating OCD rituals and everything else!

This brings me to the present. It’s 2020, I’ve just turned 30, I still have my OCD, Tourette’s, Depression, and PTSD (they’re for life), and I have my good days and bad days. But I also have a full-time job as a Support Worker (trying to gain experience to become a therapist to help others like myself), a loving partner of 6 years, supportive, loving parents, lovely, true friends, and the rest of my life ahead of me, waiting to be lived. I’ve been through so much more than what is mentioned in this post, this is just an overview, and I might go into detail of some of my experiences in future posts, but despite everything I’ve been through, I’m happy, I’m positive, and I’m proud of who I am. It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve learned to accept myself for who I am, and to surround myself with others who feel the same. I will always struggle with my mental health, that’s the nature of it, there is no cure. But I also know that I can, and will, get through any bad time I’m having. If I’ve made it this far, surely it’s for a reason, and I can’t stop now!

I hope this helps give a bit of an insight and introduction into me and my background. Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you’ve possibly connected with some part of it, or it’s helped you to realise you’re not alone in your struggling. More of us need to share our stories to raise awareness and understanding, and this was mine.

My story isn’t over… to be continued!