The Mind Monster by Rachel
The Mind Monster
The first memory I have of OCD is as a five year old sitting in school assembly finding an inner urge to suddenly shout out; exactly what my brain was telling me to shout out I do not recall, but what I do remember is that I had to fight hard to resist the urge and felt that my words may just suddenly spill over out of my mouth and enter the room. I was a shy child in public situations so to shout anything out would have at that time been tantamount to committing a crime. My OCD has manifested itself in many ways over the years and my obsessions and compulsions wax and wane, but in one way or another some form of swallowing obsession or compulsion has always featured. Swallowing rituals, such as swallowing a set number of times has been a biggie, this always presented a problem if I got it ‘wrong’ and had to repeat my swallowing ritual over and over, you soon run out of saliva! I am currently suffering in the form of an obsession relating to swallowing food, it is not borne out of a fear of choking but literally an obsession with the bodily function of swallowing, but I fight against it.
I thought I was a paedophile or turning into one and that if I spoke of the atrocious thoughts that tormented me, then Mia would be put into care and I would be duly arrested.
The most severe manifestation of my OCD however came after I had my daughter Mia who was 5 months old at the time, nearly 7 years ago, in the form of intrusive sexual thoughts and a fear that my mind would taunt me long and hard enough that I could end up abusing her. I had experienced a disturbing dream and this lead me to intrusive and unwanted sexual thoughts, the problem with OCD is once you think something once and you don’t like it, you can bet you’ll be made to think it over and over again until you’re thinking about trying not to think it.
The intrusive sexual thoughts I experienced alone (I dared not tell anyone at first) over the next 4 weeks affected me so severely I thought I was a paedophile or turning into one and that if I spoke of the atrocious thoughts that tormented me, then Mia would be put into care and I would be duly arrested. The intrusive thoughts became so graphic and horrific in nature that I felt sick constantly, I barely ate anything at all during this time as I languished in a secret world of pain. I found sleep near impossible as my OCD mind told me that I may inadvertently touch myself down below whilst having an intrusive thought and I would wake to find myself in a situation that I did not want to even comprehend. It became so awful I struggled to wipe myself after using the toilet for fear of my hand being in contact with my private parts whilst having an unwanted thought. I also didn’t want Mia to have physical contact with me, as the horrific thoughts seemed to go into overdrive when she was close to me, so I avoided holding her if I could, at one point I could not face bathing her for several days and I dreaded every time I had to change her nappy; I would wince and try to avoid looking at the task in hand as the image of my hand near her private parts would be imprinted in my mind and would be used to torment me further.
I was not living but merely existing.
I had literally gone from kissing and cuddling my little girl constantly to a place where I felt I couldn’t even hold her and properly care for her, and it broke my very being. I was not living but merely existing. After much thought I decided Mia would be much safer and happier away from me, my mind taunted me relentlessly with the possibility that I may suddenly lose control of my actions and sexually abuse her. During this time I seriously considered suicide a viable option; it would after all offer me peace from my living agony, I didn’t know my thoughts were OCD in nature I just thought I was pure evil. My other option was to drink to stop the constant voice in my head, I debated with myself that Mia would be better with an alcoholic mother than one that could barely have physical contact with her. I drank some wine one evening and as the voices in my mind quieted I was able to hold my baby for the first time in weeks; I held her close and sobbed. I decided after this evening of drinking to visit the doctor. The rational part of my brain that could still be heard from time to time over the aggressive tones of my OCD thinking thought alcohol dependency with a young child was far from ideal. When I visited the doctor he immediately thought I had Post Natal Depression, maybe he thought it was a no brainer as Mia was only 5 months old and I was a young single mother. I expressed to him that I had been having disturbing thoughts (I did not divulge their sexual content, for fear of having Mia removed from me there and then) and that I felt suicidal. The doctor prescribed me with anti depressants and I left his office, feeling relieved that I hadn’t been arrested nor had Mia taken from me.
My other option during this time to keep Mia safe was for my mum and dad to have her, they doted on Mia so I knew she would be happy and well looked after with them. My parents were also 3 hours away and I felt Mia would be safer being a fair distance away from me. I finally decided after my visit to the doctor’s surgery that I should opt for Mia to live with my parents, I imagined the heart wrenching sadness I would feel as I handed her over but I believed she would be safe from me and that meant more to me than anything I would feel as a result. I phoned my mum after a particularly hard night. My nighttime routine at that time consisted of me putting Mia to bed then climbing into my own bed hoping for the night to pass quickly. I would watch the night elapse from my window, from darkness descending and the hum of crickets outside, to the dawn chorus and light slowly emerging; the world would be waking to a fresh new day while I was like a zombie who had had little or no sleep. So that night at around 4 in the morning I broke and I phoned my mum begging for her to take Mia away from me.
My mum was fantastic and assured me things would be ok and that she would come and see me the next day rather than her taking Mia. I remember awaiting her arrival the next day; I couldn’t wait for her to come in and save me from myself, I was vulnerable and child like and I craved affection from her after being alone with my debilitating thoughts for so long. Paradoxically I also felt guilty and that I didn’t deserve her love after all the awful thoughts I had been having about her beloved granddaughter. Awaiting her arrival I felt a certain dread, I wondered how best to tell her about the intrusive sexual thoughts, worried that she would think I was a paedophile and have the authorities arrest me. For a few days after she came to stay I did not divulge the sexual content of the thoughts just that the thoughts I was experiencing were disturbing to me. I was eventually able to slowly ‘come clean’ about their content and my fear that I was or was becoming a paedophile. This was met surprisingly to me with ‘of course you’re not’ but my OCD mind had at that point convinced me otherwise.
I had knowledge that I suffered with OCD prior to this episode, a few years before I had been watching an American chat show one afternoon when a guest on the programme was talking about her experience of having to touch certain items a set number of times, and I recognised my own bizarre compulsions in her description of her OCD symptoms. So during this awful time I had an awareness that my OCD compulsions, the swallowing ones, had not got worse and I was feeling glad that they hadn’t; this prompted me to search online about OCD just in case the compulsions did start to become a problem. I searched online and read a passage about ruminations involving sexual content and at that moment realised what I was suffering with was part of my OCD. I can still remember the huge relief that washed over me, there was some part of me that could acknowledge I was not evil and that I was actually suffering with an illness and was worthy of compassion.
With my mum’s support I went back to the doctors with this new found knowledge, I had OCD and needed some more help. I was referred for CBT. I started my therapy relatively quickly because of being a single parent. My therapist was absolutely incredible; he taught me the realities of my situation that I had not considered. He worked with me for over a year to address my various different obsessions and compulsions and I had homework each week whereby I would carry out an activity that challenged my OCD mind. My therapist’s mantra was ‘it’s just a thought’ and this eventually sunk in. Worrying about a thought and worrying that I would act upon it affected me so much because I would never actually act out on thoughts that repulsed me. The premise of unwanted thoughts is that their content is not welcome and this is why they create such distress, once I realised this and fully embraced it, my OCD lost its power and integrity, it was meaningless, like a remorseful bully who had been caught out and made to sit in a corner its head held in shame.
I still battle against my OCD pretty much daily but I win, the OCD doesn’t.
Nearly 7 years on from my most severe episode I still battle against my OCD pretty much daily but I win, the OCD doesn’t. I am able to dismiss distressing thoughts and not attach meaning to everything that flies through my mind. The worst thing about OCD for me is the crushing guilt it can bring and so quickly. A word, a picture, a memory can just set that OCD spark alive and it has to be quickly extinguished so that I do not become a prisoner of my own mind. In another sense my experience of OCD has brought meaning to my life, from my own positive and enlightening journey of receiving therapy I have decided to train as a CBT therapist and I am currently in my first year of a foundation degree in counselling, I hope to work with those suffering with OCD one day. My obsessive nature also means that I am driven and when I set my heart on something I obsess about it and I therefore put my all into it.
OCD is so varied from one intrusive thought or compulsion to the next and also from sufferer to sufferer. Many people think it involves obsessive cleaning and hand washing, they don’t realise these are just some of the potential compulsions that have been driven by anxious thoughts; they forget it is a mental illness which very often creates great anguish and pain to sufferers and their families alike. I survived OCD and with the help of charities like OCD-UK people can become educated and aware of the mind monster that can affect sufferers so greatly and diversely, and that there is hope that OCD can be overcome.