O.C.D. is the name for an anxiety disorder which results in the sufferers being afflicted with obsessive thought patterns which are usually accompanied by compulsive urges to carry out certain rituals/compulsions or tasks. The obsessive thoughts go round and round in the sufferer’s head continually and only by carrying out specific physical rituals or tasks can these worrying thoughts be alleviated.
However, it should be stressed that the two components of O.C.D. can exist in their own right. Some sufferers have the obsessive thoughts only, e.g. of harming someone. Others have physical compulsions only, e.g. carrying out specific tasks or rituals without knowing why. The main reason for this is because they feel this brings their anxiety down and relieves the feelings of discomfort and uncertainty.
O.C.D., like all anxiety disorders, can be overcome. You do not have to suffer the illness for the rest of your life.
Firstly we would stress that O.C.D. is, like all anxiety disorders, an illness of the nervous system and not the brain. People suffering from O.C.D. are not mad, insane, peculiar or anything else nor will their illness ever develop into any form of brain disorder. Their brain reacts perfectly normally but is given the wrong information, by the nervous system, on which to act. O.C.D. sufferers are, almost without exception, very caring people and their O.C.D. is an extension of this caring nature, e.g. some sufferers will wash things hundreds of times to make sure they are safe, thus protecting, as they see it, themselves and their loved ones.
Some rituals/compulsions are overt which means they can be seen, for example checking and cleaning. But some rituals/compulsions are covert which means they cannot be seen such as counting or saying certain phrases. Mental rituals are used by sufferers for example they believe it will stop harm to themselves or family members.
Examples of obsessions are: Examples of compulsions are:
* Fear of shameful behavior * Cleaning
* Death & Disaster * Washing
* Contamination * Checking
* Perverted sexual thoughts * Counting
* Symmetrical arrangements * Measuring
* Intrusive thoughts & images * Repeating actions or tasks
* Lucky or unlucky thoughts * Hoarding things
* Unsatisfactory body image * Confessing imaginary “sins”
‘No Panic’ is here to give you information on how to tackle your O.C.D. and to provide the long term support needed in your battle back to “normal” life, whatever that is. Recovery is not easy but, with your determination and our help, you can most certainly do it. ‘No Panic’ is a charity based on the concept of cognitive, behavior therapy but this does not mean we profess to have the only solution. We accept that different things work for different people. We know that some of the newer anti-depressants seem to help some sufferers however; they are an aid to recovery and not a cure in themselves.
The “Fear” Factor
O.C.D, in most cases, is centered on our natural reaction to fear, though many sufferers have had their illness for so long that they have forgotten the original cause. They do not realize that this is still the basis of their O.C.D. This continuous fear keeps their anxiety at a level where, unless something is done to their satisfaction, they feel very afraid. They may be frightened also of actually causing someone, usually a loved one, harm or injury. However, they can rest assured that because O.C.D. is a nervous illness, their thoughts cannot be translated into actions. Their brain will not permit them to harm anyone, they care too much.
Consequently they become frightened of something that will never happen and start to live by the “What if” factor causing themselves immense distress by producing very real and terrifying symptoms which are triggered by their thoughts and transmitted to their nervous system, which then goes into operation automatically.
Fear is a natural response in all of us. It keeps us safe by making sure that, most of the time; we are not in dangerous situations. However, sometimes, when we are not thinking about what we are doing, we do things which are dangerous, e.g. stepping off the pavement without looking and consequently nearly getting run over. Perhaps a vehicle is approaching and it sounds its horn. Our “Fear” response makes us jump back on to the pavement as quickly as we can. The shock to our system, when something like this happens, is enormous and very unpleasant. We sweat, shake, tremble, feel, sick and our heart pounds. Without the “Fear” response we would have just stood in the road with obvious consequences. Thus, our “Fear” response which is so necessary in the right circumstances has got us out of danger.
Fear is a skill which we learn as we grow up. How many times do we see children run on to a busy road? Their “Fear” response is still immature, not, as yet, fully learned. No matter how careful parents are, children will forget their “Fear” training – their focus is on their ball rolling onto the road and so, they rush out oblivious to the oncoming dangers. It can be clearly seen then that “Fear”, in the right place, is essential to our well-being. Without it I doubt if most of us would survive for very long. You may say that it is just common-sense and rightly so because it is common-sense to be frightened in the right places.
Thus, having established that we need fear to survive what has this got to do with O.C.D.? The answer is quite simply, that over a long period of time, sufferers have LEARNED too much “fear” and so they become afraid when there is nothing to be afraid of. They might be “afraid” that they haven’t washed their clothes, hands or work surfaces enough, that they haven’t checked the gas taps or light switches properly or that the front door is not locked securely. We are sure everyone can think of times when this has happened to them in some minor way. Is it any wonder that O.C.D. is known as the “doubting” illness. Sufferers are never 100% sure that things have been done correctly. So, what to you and me is a simple task, e.g. checking a door is locked, is a mammoth job to an O.C.D. sufferer. They can’t quite convince themselves that the door is fastened securely and consequently go back time and time again to check. Sometimes this can take several hours. This demonstrates clearly that the small feeling of alarm that we might experience, if it occurs to us that we may have left a door unlocked, is nothing by comparison with the continual, nagging worry that blights the life of an O.C.D. sufferer.
The feelings which O.C.D. sufferers get are very real and distressing and have to be dealt with, usually by doing, saying or thinking something which reduces the amount of doubt they experience.
Sufferers will often get other people, usually family members, to continually reassure them that everything will be ok. This is part of the illness and relieves their anxiety for the moment. In this way there is a continual pressure on other members of the family to become part of the imagined solution to the problem. Thus, instead of learning to overcome the anxiety and fear, the sufferer has learned that certain “happenings” will reduce the distressing feelings. They are then on the downward, slippery slope of thinking and doing more and more things so as to make life bearable until, they reach a point where their whole life is taken up with actions or thoughts which make “normal” life totally impossible.
It is only by slowly reducing the amount of things that you do, say or think, and/or by reducing the amount of reassurance that you need, for example by slowly facing the “fears” that you will eventually overcome the illness!!
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There isn’t really a beginning to my story. All I know is from a very early age I suffered from ‘bad thoughts’
The ‘bad thoughts were just the beginning though. They were thoughts about death and anything to do with dying. They would come out of the blue without any warning at all, they would just be there in my head. I had no control over them and they tended to appear mainly at night. Maybe because I was tired or perhaps because I was alone or simply that I had nothing else to occupy my mind. I don’t know why they came, they just did and they terrified me to say the least.
As I grew older, the ‘bad thoughts’ and the panic that came with them became more and more intense. They started to interfere with my everyday life more and more. The more I fought them, the stronger they would come back and more involved they got.
At first I would think about my Mum dying and life without her, then it was my Dad and my brothers and my Sister. I just could not comprehend the finality of death. The ‘bad thoughts’ then progressed on to bigger and scarier ideas like, the creation of the world, why? How? The universe and eventually infinity!
So how did all this affect me? I had no control over my mind. The ‘bad thoughts’ would just be there without warning, bang, inside my head along with all the sensations of panic and utmost fear aside. The physical symptoms would be a faster heartbeat, unable to breathe, trembling, sweating, nausea etc. I would quite often feel unreal and detached from the outside world.
The only thing that gave me any relief was running. Running from the horrible fear that took over my mind and body. So that is what I did. I would run, physically run. Jump from my bed and escape. Quite often I would end up in my Mum’s bedroom or sometimes the bathroom, anywhere to get away from the terrorizing panic that filled my whole being.
Luckily I have a very supportive Mother. Probably due to the fact that she had suffered anxiety herself in her twenties. Now I have my own children, I realize what an awful time she must have had watching me go through all I did. The sleepless nights I gave her were endless but she was solid and stood by me all the way and was always there when I needed her. She must have been exhausted, poor woman, being woken night after night by the same old story. Eventually she would calm me down and take me back to bed. Sometimes I would then fall asleep through sheer fatigue and other times the ‘bad thoughts’ would come back with a vengeance and like a vicious circle the panic process would start all over again.
So the doctors’ visits started. First was the local GP, then a herbalist, I even had acupuncture and hypnotism. Nothing worked. My Mum, bless her, even got the local vicar to visit, thinking that if I turned to God, maybe he would answer my questions on death etc. Doctor after doctor came up with different diagnoses from glandular fever to an over-active imagination! Time off school was a regular occurrence, after all, some nights I was ‘running’ so much, I hardly got any sleep.
It all came to a peak one Sunday evening when I was thirteen years old. I collapsed unconscious on the floor and was rushed to A & E. I don’t remember much about that night apart from seeing my Mum sob her heart out. The other thing that sticks so clearly out in my mind was being told that I was physically and mentally exhausted. I was referred to a counsellor and I guess this was the first step on a long and drawn out road to recovery.
Kath was my psychologist all through my teenage years. We talked about everything, though voicing my fears about the ‘bad thoughts’ was just too difficult. I managed to block them away occasionally which got me through life on a day to day basis. There were still times when the anxiety would flare up and return with revenge. There were weeks when I survived on just a couple of hours of sleep a night. There was no particular pattern which made my life very unpredictable most of the time. The ‘bad thoughts’ were always there somewhere. They were part of my life. Sometimes shut to the back of my mind and at other times right at the front attacking me and consuming everything about me.
It was during my teenage years that I met my husband to be and what an incredibly lucky catch that was. Talk about opposites attracting!! He didn’t have an anxious bone in his body and is the kindest and most patient man I know. I guess he took over from my Mum in a way. Supporting me through the bad days and holding me when I was hyperventilating my way through another panic attack. Why couldn’t someone make me better? Why wouldn’t the thoughts leave me alone?
Life went on. There were good times as well as bad. Times when I was more or less panic free and times when I don’t know how I continued. But I did, hiding my secret from the outside world. Pretending I was ‘normal’.
I got married, had two children and in 1990 moved to France. Another two children came along over the next few years. Our lives had changed hugely since leaving the UK but the ‘bad thoughts’ hadn’t. So I took the plunge and saw doctors in France, explaining my ‘condition’ but all they wanted to do was send me away with a few jars of pills.
After living abroad for a couple of years, I was reading a women’s magazine when something caught my eye. It was a piece about a UK charity. The article spoke of panic attacks and OCD, their symptoms and therapies. The bottom line read “Don’t suffer alone, pick up the phone.” So that is exactly what I did. What a relief it was to talk to someone who understood how I was feeling. I joined No Panic immediately and was put on to a six week telephone, mentoring course. What an eye opener that was. The first week seemed to be just general chit-chat, in fact I remember putting the phone down at the end of the hour and feeling disappointed and thinking this wasn’t going to make me better. In the weeks that followed I learnt things that would change my life forever. I learnt to breathe properly to prevent panic. I learnt how to look at life in a completely different way. But most importantly I learnt that no one else could make me better. Recovery had to come from within me. I and I alone had the power deep down somewhere inside to take control and turn things around.
When the six weeks of one-to-one mentoring where up I joined a 14 week recovery program. Again all done over the telephone. The learning continued. I was taught many life changing tools that I would need in my recovery process. Proper relaxation was top of the list. Next came how to change negative thoughts into positive ones as well as how diet and exercise can affect anxiety. It was also good to hear other people’s stories.
No Panic continued to be part of my life. I went on to train as a help liner then a mentor and a group leader. I, eventually became one of the charities committee members then took on the role of social media coordinator.
So where am I know? Well I guess the ‘bad thoughts’ are still in there somewhere, they can still pop up on the odd occasion, usually if I am over tired. The difference is now, I understand that they are only obsessive thoughts and they can’t harm me. I also have all the tools I need to live my life without panic attacks.
One of my favorite sayings is: “It’ not the problem that is the problem, it’s the way you react to the problem that is the problem”. Another one I love is: “The difference between a good day and a bad day is: the way you look at it”.
Many years ago, I used to wake up, look out of the window and say, ‘what a grey day’. I now look out saying ‘A brand new day to do with as I please’.
In my opinion, OCD, phobias and panic attacks all stem from anxiety and anxiety can be controlled even cured. Not with a secret potion or a magic wand but with a set of helpful tools and a bit of hard work, dedication and courage from the sufferer.
I have been to some very dark, scary and lonely places with my anxiety in my life but in a funny kind of way I’m glad. It has made me who I am today. A person who understands anxiety and a person who wants to help others recover.
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