You have OCD? Your flat must be so clean!

Someone said the above to me the other day. It isn’t the first time I’ve heard this and I doubt it will be the last either. I’ve stopped responding now and just pull the Willy Wonka face.

OCD doesn’t always take the form of cleaning. Programmes like Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners don’t help with this misconception. There are lots of ways it can manifest itself. There are far too many to list as it is generally a different experience for everyone. It is categorised by two ‘parts’:

  • Obsessions – these are unwanted and intrusive thoughts, images or urges that are persistent and difficult to control. They may make the person feel ashamed or anxious. Examples of obsessions could include violent, sexual, or blasphemous thoughts, fear of causing harm to others, or fear of contamination. I think it’s important to highlight that the person is very unlikely to act on these thoughts or urges as they are often disgusted and frightened by them.
  • Compulsions – the undeniable need to carry out a repetitive action to ease the anxiety caused by the obsession. That can include mental rituals (such as counting, repeating words, or replacing thoughts with other thoughts), checking (commonly doors, cookers, plug sockets), or repeatedly asking others for reassurance.

Avoidance is common in OCD, which can impact hugely on an individuals mental health. Other effects may lead to disruption to general day to day life and damage to relationships.

Mind have some great info on OCD, the treatments, causes and symptoms. Take a look.

For me, I have times when I am relatively symptom free. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been great for reducing symptoms. When I am particularly anxious or stressed, however, OCD can reek havoc on my day to day functioning as it is harder to rationalise obsessions. I don’t cry because someone has moved the remote control a 1/4 of a cm to the left and I don’t get distressed because there’s a speck of dust on my skirting board. OCD is a shapeshifter and does as it pleases.

Using OCD as an adjective makes me so cross. ‘Omg I’m so OCD’ only adds to the stigma. Buzzfeed quizzes ‘diagnosing’ people and pictures of perfectly aligned pencils don’t help. “If this makes you angry then you definitely have OCD”. The way OCD is portrayed in TV shows and the media stops people seeking help when they are actually suffering from an anxiety disorder. OCD Action UK state that 1-2% of the UK population suffer from OCD, yet we continue to throw around terms that do awareness no favours. On average, people with OCD wait 12 years before seeking help, often because they’re told it’s their personality or a ‘quirk’, but what people don’t understand is that work days are lost, social events are sabotaged, and leaving the house becomes near on impossible.

Stop using OCD as an adjective. Stop saying ‘oh it’s my OCD’ cos you straightened a wonky picture on the wall, or because you spent an hour cleaning your bathroom. We are still caught up in misconceptions and stereotypes and quite frankly, this needs to end. We need to talk and we need to be open.

The more we know, the less we, as a society, feel the need to make assumptions and judge. Knowledge is power.

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A year on

Yesterday it was a year since I was discharged from Acorn. 365 days free of hospitals and restrictive environments and being away from home. I can’t say it’s been easy because it absolutely hasn’t. Sometimes I’ve been picking up peanuts and others I’ve been picking up shattered glass.

But of course, there continues to be things that are going well:

  • I joined a new gym as the other one I was attending did OCD and anxiety no favours. I go religiously 3 times a week and can now run 5km (which I never thought would be possible!);
  • I still see my family regularly, including the special boy Sparky;
  • My niece is turning into this absolutely adorable creature who is intelligent, articulate, creative, caring, and just plain awesome;
  • My little sister and I continue to bond over the shared love of various things, more recently Pokemon Go (please don’t judge 😝). We’ve been to pride, out for meals together, and on long walks with Sparky, and even going on an alpaca trek! The fact that we can tolerate each other’s existence for longer than an hour is far more than I’d even imagined it could be;
  • I have an awesome care coordinator who bends over backwards to help me. She is equally as sarcastic as I am which is a definite positive even if she does have a fluffy pink phone case 🤢;
  • I see my aunties (from my mothers side of the family) once a fort nite and I value the time I get to spend with them;
  • I am starting volunteering next week and also linked up with a lady yesterday who needs lots of help with various community projects, so now the ball is rolling with that, I’m hoping something exciting will come from it;
  • I attend an OCD group one a month which has been invaluable in feeling less alone in my obsessions and compulsions, particularly the ones around people’s possible perceptions of me;
  • I am generally poor at managing money but have maintained a tenancy for a year and paid all of my bills on time;
  • I have managed to lose weight without the aid of slimming clubs and the like. It was one of my goals after leaving Acorn to shift the weight I had gained in hospital and I am half way there now;
  • I have made a couple more friends in Doncaster so I am out and about doing things most days, which kicks social anxiety in the arse.

Of course I have struggled at times, it hasn’t been an easy ride. But I am doing it, and I am doing it quite well to be fair. I have had a couple of admissions to the crisis house over the year and have had 3 surgeries for self harm over that year too – but that is far better than 3 sections in 4 months and 3 surgeries a week. I have faced my challenges but I have overcome them too.

The Retreat gave me many things, from learning to manage compulsions to harm myself slightly better, mindfulness which I practice regularly, and more recently a baby sunflower that the psychologist had grown from my taller ones in the Acorn courtyard! I think the passage of time of being on Acorn also helped and have those restrictions and boundaries in place, which meant I couldn’t just go all out and fall back to the place I was in before I was detained in April 2016.

So, there you go 🙂 things are going relatively well and I am certainly in a totally different space to what I was 2 years ago.

There is hope. There’s hope for all of us. We all have the potential to get better and break destructive cycles. It’s hard – it’s so so hard and I don’t doubt that for one moment. But there is an end in sight.

9 months later

It has now been 9 months since I left the Retreat. It feels like it should be much longer. I am still sort of linked in with Acorn as I’m invited to attend graduate group every month. I haven’t been for a couple of months but July will be the last one and I intend to attend that.

What has happened in these 9 months? I wish it was all positive but it isn’t. The way I look at it is that everyone has their ups and downs. Sometimes mine are a little more intense than those rof other people, but I am alive and breathing and I’m continuing to get on with stuff.

  • I’ve linked in with the OT from the CMHT and gone to an animal sanctuary to walk dogs a couple of times;
  • I’ve been able to build a stronger relationship with my little sister, who also recently moved back to Doncaster after a period away. It has been invaluable;
  • I’ve been able to spent ALOT of time with Sparky, my dads dog. I absolutely adore the socks off him and him me. He loves to be cuddled and I am more than happy to provide them!
  • I have a care coordinator who I have a good relationship with;
  • I still see some of my Acorn friends. A couple of us even went to Poland after making a pact on Acorn that we would visit Auschwitz:
  • I’ve been able to spend some time with my niece and big sister. They live in London so I don’t see them often enough but we Facetime a lot. My niece is now 2.5y old and is adorable;
  • I’ve been in touch with an old college friend and we spend one morning a week in Starbucks, working on our bullet journals;
  • Unfortunately, my little guinea pig Pixie passed over rainbow bridge in March. Not long after, Oliver landed on my doorstep and he is a v groovy guinea pig!

The not so good stuff doesn’t feel like it deserve its own list, but I have struggled at times. I’ve had 2 surgeries and have recently become rather anaemic which has been incredibly unpleasant and hasn’t had the best effect on my mental health. It has meant I haven’t been able to go to the gym, despite going 3 times a week pre-anaemia. I don’t do enough occupationally which obviously also effects my mental health. I’m in a cycle with it; no motivation to do stuff, so I don’t do it, but not doing it leads to no motivation. And that’s how it goes – round and round and round in circles.

I’m not sure there’s much else to update on! I’m still picking up the peanuts and I will probably always be picking them up, but other people have peanuts to pick up too. Just gotta keep swimming

Life After Hospital

511 days ago I was sat on a hospital bed being told I was being detained under a Section 3 of the Mental Health Act. I had been admitted to the general hospital several times for surgical repair of self-harm wounds and had reached an all time low in terms of OCD behaviour and suicidal thoughts. I had, in the previous 6 months, been detained under a Section 2 for the similar reasons. I knew the psychiatrist from previous general admissions, but also from a CMHT placement I did when I was a student nurse. We had a long discussion about the pros and cons of  a Section 3 and the things I might get out of it (such as funding to specialist placements), and it was decided (not totally without my agreement) that a section 3 would be the way forward.

I spent 5 months on acute wards. I switched between units like nobody’s business, until I was finally shipped back to Birmingham. My CPN had been talking about funding for specialist placements and told me she would need to go to a panel. I wasn’t all that fussed and made it very clear that I would absolutely NOT be going to ANY unit and would be returning home when I was discharged.

Imagine my surprise when she rocked up one day to tell me, with a smile on her face, that I had been given funding for the Retreat hospital in York. Much research ensued. Her determination for me to go to the Retreat was met with cries of, ‘But I don’t have a personality disorder!’, ‘It’s a cult! I am not going there!’ and ‘DBT!? Sod that for a sack of potatoes!’ I reluctantly attended for an assessment, where I was told I didn’t need a diagnosis of a PD to be referred, as the focus of the programme is to reduce ‘self-defeating behaviours’ through the use of DBT. I was accepted and four weeks later was on my way to York to join the Acorn community.

It was frigging awful at first. I stormed out with all the stuff packed after 5 week and was determined I wasn’t going back. I spent my days laying about in bed or on the sofa at my dad’s house, becoming a pro at being able to watch a full series of something on Netflix in a day. I cried over pleasingly iced cakes on instagram, whilst stuffing my face with crisps and takeaways and turning 5l of diet coke into 5l of piss. I reluctantly returned 2.5 weeks later, a bit fatter and a bit paler but determined to complete the programme.

365 days later, I walked out of the doors of the Retreat and made my way back to my new flat in Doncaster (where I am originally from). I learnt a lot of stuff at the Retreat, and not just DBT (even though I do have a certificate – muhahaha!)

The people I met at the Retreat are people I will remember forever. Both the staff and the clients are very special people indeed. You don’t find gems often, but I found several of them in the same place. A quirky psychiatrist who could do diablo; a fellow client who spent the majority of her time upside down; another that was THE pokémon master; a nurse who felt passionately about the word ‘plain’ (“it’s NOT plain! It’s vanilla! It’s a flavour in its own right!”), a lady who was incredibly talented at sports and loved ‘banana fingers’ and a psychologist who never revealed whether he actually had a wooden leg or not…

The Retreat did strange things to me… I developed a liking for gardening (my sunflowers were about 7ft tall when I left!), I found great pleasure in baking, I started learning to play the piano, I found joy in attending the gym (WHAT!?), I became less socially awkward and less compulsive and obsessive. Was it the Retreat that made these changes, or just the passing of a year? I guess I’ll never know.

I’m in a better space than I was before hospital. That section that was imposed on me… the one that I thought was going to put in place pointless restrictions and stop me on my intended path to self-destruction… It kept me alive and taught me a lot. I made friends for life and now have transferable skills. I don’t walk around quoting DBT and spewing out Marsha Linehan, as much as I’m sure Acorn staff would like me to do(!) but I am able to manage anxiety and low mood differently.

I live happily in my flat with my guinea pig, Pixie. It has only been 4 days since I left the Retreat, and I’ve filled my time playing my keyboard, experimenting with new cooking ideas, joining Slimming World, and attending the gym. My future plans involve volunteering at an animal sanctuary, to maintain my current level of physical activity that I gained at the Retreat, to find important occupation and to take the steps necessary to look after myself, both mentally & physically.

It was a shit time, but people do say, and i’m sorry for the cheese, that difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. My life isn’t perfect, no one’s is, but as long as I’m not sat shredding my legs to bits, I’m pretty sure I’ve got a handle on this now 🙂

Being Normal

I had a 1:1 with my named nurse yesterday and she raised the issue of me speaking about wanting to be “normal” on a regular basis. She asked what it would mean to be normal and suggested that I write something about being normal. I did write something, but it turned into more of a rant about being abnormal. Here it is…

What is normal?

NORMAL
/nɔːm(ə)l/
Adjective
A word made up by this corrupt society so they could single out and attack those who are different

I have never been “normal”. I have always been told I am the opposite. I was mute as a child, leading to teachers and teaching assistants to label me as difficult – and therefore abnormal. Educational psychologists wrote in their reports in fancy, psychological vocabulary that I was the opposite of normal. I was abnormal in one way from the age of 3 up til the age of 10, til we moved to the UK. Then I became abnormal in a very different way.

My hair was too curly & frizzy & I was lovingly named “Fuzz Buzz” by my dad and by the bullies at school. My mum regularly got me and my big sister, Laura, together to tell us we should wear make-up like the other girls, or not take a pencil case to school because the other girls didn’t do that, or that we should get rid of our massive Nike backpacks that we used to cart our school books around and use a dainty, £100 handbag instead. My mum bought me one of those vile looking gold, tacky clown necklaces. I refused to wear it and she professed that she had spent £75 on it and couldn’t take it back. I didn’t want this necklace. I thought it was ugly. It got passed onto my other sister, who was the perfect ideation of normal. My mums idea of normal would have equated to popular. Smoking at 13, sleeping around, beating people up in the school field, skiving lessons and being showered with detentions.

I was told self-harm wasn’t normal. I didn’t even know it was a thing til I’d been doing it for 2 years and my mum read my diary and found out. I was shipped off to CAMHS who did fuck all, aside from make me feel less normal.

When my grandad died when I was 13, I was conflicted in how I should have been feeling. I definitely should have been sad – that would have been a very normal reaction. He died in front of me; I was eating my Sunday (on a Saturday) dinner and we were catching up on Coronation Street. He stood up and tried to leave the room but collapsed in the doorway and died after having a heart attack.

At his funeral my mum commented that my reaction was abnormal because I spent much of the funeral seething silently to myself, my fists clenched and my forehead creased. She told me not to get angry because it wasn’t going to bring him back.

My grandma died when I was 14 and my self-harm became frequent and I became even further away from normal. I became an obsessive, anxious mess. I sewed my curtains shut cos I couldn’t stand for them to be open and my mum kept invading my space to open them whilst I was at school. I had a stream of everyone that visited coming into my room to laugh at my attempt of getting my mum to leave my curtains alone. It took me hours to get them shut “properly” and how I wanted them. IF I did it wrong I would have to start all over again. I was diagnosed with OCD at 15 and again at 26. My grandma was the only person I would talk to when I was younger (bar my mum, occasionally). She was my idol, my inspiration, my role model, my everything. She validated my feelings and hugged me whilst I cried after particularly torturous days of bullying at school (even though she didn’t know why I was crying). She sat with me whilst I vomited glasses of water when I became so hysterical that I could no longer breathe. She sat at my bedside for hours reading Little Red Riding Hood over and over and over again until I was finally no longer too scared to sleep, and whilst my mum sat and drank herself into oblivion every night. Everything I did was normal to my grandma. I couldn’t have been closer to normal. She really got it, even if sometimes she didn’t understand.

As the years have passed I have done things that are so far away from normal I have begun to shock myself. Normal is not dissecting your legs on such a scale that you need surgery. It is not obsessing over the fact you have to cut off your own breasts because you can’t bear them being there, and not being able to go to fucking yoga anymore because you can’t stand them swinging about in your face whilst you’re trying to concentrate on the instructor’s monotonous tones. Normal is not appearing at an A&E 100 miles away from home with a self-inflicted injury, and refusing to give the hospital any details about yourself, the prime reason being you don’t want to be sectioned again, nor is it sitting on your bedroom floor surrounded by scalpels and puppy training pads that are drenched in blood and emptying a vein into a coke bottle. Normal would mean being able to pass a degree, instead of being kicked out of university twice. Normal is not trying to rid your body completely of blood because you firmly believe you will somehow contaminate your new born niece. Normal is not being too scared to leave your flat in case people look at you and think you’re a paedophile.

People say normal is boring but I would do anything to be considered normal.

Mental health CV

There comes a time in everyone’s life, where they have to write a CV. A Trip Advisor review of your own hotel, give yourself five stars – for everything. How are you going to make people want you? You have to sell yourself. Pimp yourself out. Your entire life must fit on to no more than a page and a half. Everything you’ve ever achieved might simply be tossed aside because they don’t like the font you’ve chosen. You’re in a race, but you can’t even weigh up the opposition, an anonymous time trail, yet falling short could make you miss out on the job you are most perfect for because someone else has a 200m Frosties swimming badge from 1996.

I don’t have a 200m Frosties swimming badge. But, I can swim. In fact, i’m an excellent swimmer. I can swim in ice cold grade 5 rivers in the middle of December. And that, is kind of how CV’s work.

I did okay in my GCSEs. Sort of. I was predicted a load of A*s and As but left school with 11 Bs and 2 As. I dropped out of my A-levels dos exams sent me into a panicking-fainting ball of anxiety. I left college with a level 3 BTEC in health and social care. I dropped out of a prestigious university to wipe arses for £6.36 an hour. I got kicked out of the second university and began education in an entirely different establishment – that of mental health hospitals. Instead of a degree, I held in my hand a section 3 and an admission pack. It is a university in its own right.

“I’m a very patient person” I used to play scrabble with 3 people experiencing psychosis. They didn’t understand the game, but they wanted to join in. They couldn’t spell and they added up their scores incorrectly. They made up words, and then backed each other up, whilst my absolute blinder of a seven letter word ‘was clearly made up’. We once played for about 14 minutes, before one of them flipped the board (and the table) sending a hundred tiny letters into each and every crevice of the ward. It took about three days to find them all. And then I played again.

“I am able to empathise” I once returned to the ward from a meeting with an arse hole of a doctor. It didn’t go well. A patient was lying on the floor, sobbing. Her grandma had passed away the night before. Many staff were trying to drag her to her feet. I walked over, moved their hands off her and got down onto the floor with her. We laid there for 3 hours. We didn’t say much. We cried together.

“I am good at moving on, and don’t hold grudges” A patient once walked up to me and punched me in the face. She then proceeded to eat the painting that I had sat working on all morning. I wiped the blood from my nose, washed my brushes, and went for a nap.

”I have a good sense of humor” It is one thing to be able to laugh at funny things. It is another to find things funny. In the depths of despair, we laughed, every day. In the darkest hours, we howled. We mixed tears of sadness, with tears of disbelief and joy. Minutes after the most horrific of suicide attempts, in restraint, in seclusion, during meds, during meal times, whilst being assaulted by other patients, with blood soaking through your jeans – we laughed. Things that I’m sure other people would simply raise an eyebrow at, we laughed, we laughed until we fell from our chairs and our bellies hurt.

”I am a strong individual” At 27 I have seen things that many people will not see in their entire lifetimes. Things that are engraved onto my brain. Things you could never imagine or believe. I broke into my friends bedroom, right through the locked door. I knew something was wrong and nobody was moving quick enough. She was purple and convulsing. I used every ounce of physical strength I had, and I ripped the ligature off with my bare hands, just as the staff arrived with a ligature cutter.

”I am very compassionate” I have met people who have no one. People that don’t get visitors, that don’t get cards, people don’t bring them chocolate or grapes. People who are so alone, in the loneliest place on earth; their own mind. I have hugged these people. I have sat and listened to their stories. I have bought them chocolate, I have wiped tears from their faces. I have let them shout at me and I have accepted their apologies. I have been someone for people who have no one.

”I am able to maintain a professional standard” I have dragged myself out from under blankets, under tables and answered my bedroom door. I have played cards at 4am because it was better than watch a patient put screws into her neck. I have gone 6 days on 3 hours sleep, and still played (and won) Monopoly. I have hosted visitors from behind glass and I never shed a tear.

”I am very perceptive and I’m a quick learner” I learn about other people quickly. It’s important. It stops you getting thumped. I learnt their trigger words, their tells, when they were about to launched chicken curry and rice at my face. I learnt when to give space, and when to squeeze tight. I recognised people’s bad days. I learnt to celebrate the smallest of victories, I learnt about pride, about the definitions of struggle and achievement. I learnt not to judge, ever. I learnt when to encourage, and when its ok to say that’s enough.

”I am very determined” I battle everyday with my own mind, and I am still breathing.

That is my CV. I’ve been educated in the rawest of formats. My experience is lengthy and yet it can’t be summarised in 1.5 pieces of paper. It seems an A* in religious education is more valuable than dodging flying medicare. Who you are on paper disregards who you are in your heart. My curriculum isn’t as mainstream as yours. You learnt about sepsis and schizophrenia and I learnt about secreting medication. You dissected pigs hearts, I dissected my legs. You read Of Mice And Men and I read my rights. You had detention, I was detained.

My education section looks dire, my experience can’t be written down and I don’t have a Frosties swimming badge.

But I promise you, I can swim.

Pure Chaos

IT has been a chaotic few days. The ward is loud and there is no escaping the sounds that are constantly offending my ears. Even my bedroom isn’t safe; people shout up and down the corridors. Some new patients have arrived and they really do need to be in a secure unit. I don’t know why I was transferred here, it isn’t an appropriate ward.

Facebook has also now been banned on the ward, so it has cut off my last bit of contact with the outside world. I ordered a phone without a camera off ebay yesterday so that should hopefully connect me some how.

As it turns out, my section paperwork was filled in wrong when I was initially sectioned, so I was detained illegally for 4 weeks. This means my section 17 leave was invalid, I could have come and go as I pleased but was kept on the ward, and I was transferred to the Bad Place against my will. The solicitor is coming today, so hopefully he should have some insight on what I can do about it.

I am tired. Always tired. There is no rest for the wicked. I think I could sleep 24 hours a day and still be tired – but i wouldn’t be able to do that because of the noise.

So I will continue to pick up peanuts, and continue to strive to get out of here. Everything is dark; so, so dark.

Picking up Peanuts

I have no idea why I chose the title ‘Picking up Peanuts’.

Maybe because its a job and a half to pick up a spilled bag of peanuts if you donanimal-allergies-clipart-1‘t have a hoover (believe me – been there, done that) and I feel I am picking up bloody peanuts all day long. My fingers and salty, my knees are grazed and my back is aching.

My name is Sarah. I am 26 years old and live in Birmingham. I am currently detained in a secure hospital under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act.

What is section 3 and why12993618_10154228389838900_6377858327838008623_n is it used?

Well, according to Mind, a section 3 means you are detained in hospital because 2 doctors and an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) agree that you have a mental disorder that requires treatment in hospital.

A section 3 is for 6 months although you can be discharged before this, or the section can be renewed for a further 6 months.