I will never forget the words “Mama, you missed this one”, that sent a chill down my spine. These words were spoken by my son, who at the time was three years old (he’s now eight), as I had walked across a drain on the pavement without rocking back and forth over the cracks of the floor. This was unheard of for me at that time.
My OCD began during my first pregnancy and continued throughout my postpartum journey and onwards into my second pregnancy also.
Stepping over cracks was an exhausting regular occurrence for me. Any time we went anywhere I had to allow double the time for the journey so that I could avoid being late, due to completing all of the compulsions I had. Usually, I was late anyway.
On this day, I’d had a sudden moment of bravery, where I tried to cross a drain cover without stepping backwards and towards over the crack. Rio, my son, noticed.
That was a wake-up call for me. All this time I’d viewed my OCD as something that was keeping myself and my family safe but in that moment, I realised just how damaging it could be.
I’d love to say that was the turning point, but there was still a long way to go in my recovery. Sitting here now, five years later, I am so happy to say I have no compulsions at all anymore. That’s not to say I don’t still experience triggers or anxiety, I honestly think mental health is something we need to manage daily, but I now have positive coping strategies that allow me to manage my anxiety, without needing to complete any compulsions.
“At my deepest point I remember having to walk a seven-minute journey from Brick Lane to Liverpool Street station, and that seven-minute journey took me over three hours, because of all the tapping and counting I felt I needed to do.”
I can remember having OCD compulsions from as young as four years old. My best friend and I used to play a game ‘witch curses’ where we said we felt the urge to go and touch a light switch a second time and we’d encourage each other to complete it because it just felt better once we did. But my anxiety really ramped up when I reached my mid-twenties and became pregnant with my son.
My compulsions were always centred around keeping him safe and if I adhered to whatever the feeling was, everything would be ok. It gave me a sense of control.
The strange thing is that although I felt it gave me control, I can see now that it was in fact taking control of me.
At my deepest point, I remember having to walk a seven-minute journey from Brick Lane to Liverpool Street station, and that seven-minute journey took me over three hours, because of all the taping and counting I felt I needed to do.
“I tried about five different therapists until I finally found someone who could help and even then, it wasn’t just one person or one method of recovery that helped.”
The turning point
That day, when my son noticed me not stepping over the crack was a wake-up call, and it was the beginning of my recovery. I knew then, I didn’t want to pass this on, and I felt a protective urge over my son to keep him safe from my OCD.
The first piece of advice I’d share, when beginning to recover is to stay patient when finding the right therapist. I tried about five different therapists until I finally found someone who could help and even then, it wasn’t just one person or one method of recovery that helped.
During my journey, the biggest challenge with overcoming anxiety and OCD was slowing the rate of thoughts that were going through my mind. From the moment I opened my eyes, it would start, different intrusive thoughts, compulsions, and strategies I tried to use to figure out how many taps I needed to do, it was overwhelming.
I noticed that what I struggled to do was differentiate between thoughts that were driven by anxiety and that were instinct. As a mother you’re often told to ‘trust your instincts’ but often my thoughts were based on worry and the instinct got lost. If my child had a temperature and felt unwell, was my instinct telling me to take them to hospital or my anxiety?
I initially did some hypnotherapy which was the catalyst for the rest of my recovery. I know lots of people can be sceptical about hypnotherapy, however, I found that this gave me a sense of calm where I was able to process my thoughts.
With anxiety the thoughts can come rushing into your mind at such a rate that it might feel overwhelmed, and it can be tricky to think straight, let alone separate anxious thoughts from other ones.
Hypnotherapy slowed down the thoughts in my brain enough so that I was finally able to recognise when I was feeling nervous and being less rational. Eventually, this allowed me to begin stopping my compulsions.
“Eventually I felt empowered and stronger with each step. Every time I moved on, I felt stronger and stronger!”
I then began some talk therapy. We focused on finding a root cause for my anxiety and discussed how the human brain worked and what anxiety really is. It helped me so much to understand why humans worry. I remember a therapist teaching me that worry is actually a natural human instinct. And that over-worrying, or having high anxiety, can often be because the animal instinct part of our brain is struggling to manage the ‘new brain’ which developed later. This therapist taught me how smells and images can make us feel nervous or trigger the ancient fight or flight response, even when danger isn’t really present. This realisation made me feel less ‘broken’ for having such extreme OCD and I realised that this was a human instinct, which just needed evolving to catch up with newer emotions which I wasn’t able to process yet.
I also used CBD oil for a time and even now, when I’m entering a high-pressured situation, I will use CBD oil under my tongue or bath oils, tea, or other drinks to help me level out and reset my anxiety.
Stopping my first compulsion was one of the greatest challenges. I stood on the spot, staring at the place where I needed to tap, Breathing. Three deep breaths and move on… I felt horrendous, scared, and worried… for about a minute, and then the next compulsion came…. I stood there, three deep breaths… move on…. fear, worry, stress, and then the next compulsion…. but I began to realise, that every time I moved on, a new compulsion came which ‘promised’ me the same result. I began to see how fickle it was. It wasn’t reliable, it was just draining and constantly asking me for more without giving me any security back. I began to see how doing all of my compulsions would settle my nerves only for a few moments because soon there was another request from my OCD.
Eventually, I began to need fewer breaths, I just stopped doing the tapping. And rather than worry creeping up, I noticed that I felt empowered and stronger with each step. Every time I moved on, I felt stronger and stronger!
Breathing has remained a big part of my continued rehabilitation. It is so underrated. I remember during pregnancy being told to breathe during labour and almost laughing at this recommendation. “How could a breath help”, I wondered, but I now know the true power of a proper breath. And it’s not just on a surface level. Breathing creates a real physiological process in the body that triggers our parasympathetic nervous system, which is our body’s ability to return to balance and homeostasis.
Another huge part of my recovery was exercise. As a pre and postnatal exercise specialist, I enjoy being active, but not only do we benefit physically, but mentally and emotionally exercise and movement can alleviate stress in the body too. There are so many studies showing that physically alleviating stress can impact and release emotional stresses.
Most importantly, I’ve begun to value the ‘little’ things in life, which aren’t little at all. I now recognise how important they are. Fresh air, Walking, even the colour green. There are so many elements of this natural planet that are designed to soothe us and help us stay calm.
We live in such a fast-paced world and although I enjoy and appreciate the many amazing benefits we have with modern life, sometimes we can give our bodies and minds all they need with simple, natural remedies.
Once we can learn to slow down, listen to our true inner voice, and be content and comfortable in our own skin, we can unleash our power and strength. It’s amazing how much this can set us free!
What is OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition in which someone experiences obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours, making it challenging to go about daily life.
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