Redefining Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD

It is a single thought, triggering feelings of anxiety in my stomach that gravitate upwards towards my brain, and down towards my feet.​

It sweeps in, its dark cloak hiding the light of reality, shrouding my mind in confusion that will circle until I distract it, or until it becomes exhausted from repetition. In any case, it will eventually fly away, waiting for the next opportunity to come and consume my mind and body.​

My obsessive-compulsive tendencies do not appear like they say in the books. In them, they show pictures of people washing hands and meticulously lining up objects in order of colour and size. I have been known to do these things, but they are not the compulsions that threaten to break me.

​It is the thoughts.

It is the constant cycle as they spin round and round and round and round—like a death march pulling me closer towards an abyss that doesn’t even exist. They create a maze, which, if I am not careful, I begin to believe I am trapped in.

A maze of never-ending thoughts, feelings and uncontrollable behaviours.

I hate my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I do not even like to call it mine; after all, it does not define me. It is but a collection of chemicals and synapses. But in those moments, when I can’t see or think of anything but that which I fear, I start to believe that we are one and the same.​

In the seconds the thought begins, it traces its way through my body towards a reaction. I have learnt to recognize it almost immediately. Once it would keep me up—minutes and hours and days spent obsessing over the same incident. Through time, however, I have become accustomed to OCD’s plans and schemes. How it latches onto words and names, faces and memories. How it likes to catch me off guard when I am tired and burnt out, delivering unfounded threats, saying it will topple my years in recovery and the many times I have conquered it.

The moments it strikes are hard to overcome, because it is difficult to prevent your body from reacting to something it is programmed to respond to. It’s like having something wrestle you to the ground, but when you try to fight back, it increases its grip. Only by waiting out the moment does the thought and sensation lose its power.

And ever so slowly, it leaves you alone and the chemicals in your brain make a new, healthier path, allowing you to see that the attacker wasn’t even really there. It was all just thoughts and chemicals, pulling you into a parallel reality. Sending you into panic mode.​

I know that I am stronger than these thoughts and compulsions.​

As a teenager I would visualize my fears, and they kept me shut inside my bedroom, afraid of myself and the world around me.

I found freedom when I told my parents about these thoughts—about how I was scared they were real, and that I was living a lie.

I found freedom when, with the support of my psychiatric nurse, I took short walks in the daylight, slowly decreasing my irrational fear of being attacked outside of the home.

I found freedom when I realized that I didn’t want to die, even when the thoughts and compulsions told me I did.

The truth is, OCD has robbed me of a lot. Sometimes it still tries to steal precious minutes of my days. But I have realized that who I am today—the strong, resilient woman I have become—would not exist without it.

By facing OCD and anxiety, I have learned that small steps lead to grand adventures, and short walks outside bolster courage within me to explore new lands.

By struggling with OCD and anxiety, I have learned to have empathy and compassion towards people who are different to me, because I have questioned my own identity too.​

By questioning OCD and anxiety, I have redefined and re-evaluated what I believe, and why I want to be alive.​

And by overcoming OCD and anxiety, I have learnt that this all-encompassing illness does not define me. I am not the thoughts it places in my head, or the panic that sets in about something I am in control of. I am not the insomnia, or the chemicals and hormones racing around my body, triggered by a lingering doubt in my mind. ​

I am so much more than this.

I am brave and bold, fearless and courageous. Yet I would not possess these in such great quantities if I did not battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

I have hope that one day the OCD will pass forever. That the triggers of this season will cease, as did those of past years. That the fears they bring will be overcome with love and patience and trust. That I will become so confident and certain of my own worth and identity that the moment a thought attempts to trigger a compulsion it will be blocked by my own self-love.

Until then, I ride it out. I take the moments OCD strikes as an indicator that I need rest, and I revel in the victory awaiting me on the other side of it.

I redefine OCD as an illness, not an identity—a moment, rather than a lifetime. I am not my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but because of it I have become me. And that is why I will overcome it, every single time.​

This excerpt comes from Jessica’s memoir, When Hope Speaks: Thoughts on faith, hope, love (and depression). Pre-order the Expanded Edition on Kindle HERE before March 5 and $1 will be donated to To Write Love On Her Arms. 

Do you struggle with obsessive compulsive behaviours or thoughts? Are you concerned about the mental health of a loved one? Here’s what you need to do: contact Colleen on 0434 337 245 or Duncan on 0434 331 243 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how we can best help you, or press book now to book on our online diary.

Movie review: What If It Works?

what if it works

What If It Works? (MA15+)
Rating: 4 / 5

Depictions of mental illness can be hit or miss on screen, but when it comes to the Australian dramedy What If It Works? we reach a delightful new tier of excellence—one where the complexities of the issue are met with superb characterisation.

This results in not only excellent storytelling, but also a greater understanding of mental illness as well.

Based on the family experience of producer and director Romi Trower, What If It Works? immediately creates rapport by introducing us to Adrian (Luke Ford), a 20-something tech nerd living in metropolitan Melbourne. We learn that he is on a three-month ordered-leave from work to get his obsessive compulsive tendencies under control, and we soon see why.

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Stuck in a cycle of incessant clean­liness, order and ritual, he is unable to truly connect with anyone or anything in the outside world—until he meets Grace (Anna Samson), a young artist with dissociative identity disorder. She has 10 different personalities, stemming from childhood trauma and sexual abuse.

After Grace walks in on Adrian’s psychiatrist appointment as G—her hyper-sexual, unrepressed self, the pair become unlikely friends. This is not without drama, as each learns to understand and navigate life with the other’s symptoms and consider the possibility that maybe healing—and love—is possible for them.

Also starring Brooke Satchwell as Adrian’s ex Melinda, and Wade Briggs as Grace’s manipulative boyfriend Sledgehammer (the name speaks volumes), this is a solid Australian film, complete with a savvy score, a compelling script and witty characterisation.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the film is the portrayal of the lead characters. If anyone else portrayed Adrian and Grace it would be a mess, such is the multi-faceted nature of their characters and illnesses.

Yet Ford’s ability to embody anxiety with an endearing charm is extraordinary, and Samson balances numerous characters with intuition and integrity. You can’t help but barrack for their recovery, and the storyline gracefully leaves room for growth long after the credits finish rolling.

At times this is a confronting film, especially when Grace ‘switches’ to different personalities. Flashbacks to her trauma and the physical way she copes with this may also be triggers for some people.

However, if you’re looking for an inspiring and truthful Aussie film with enough charm to rival The Silver Linings Playbook, you won’t want to miss this—especially considering it’s picked up nods at film festivals in Australia, the US and Canada.

Highlight: Brilliant characterisation
Red flags: Language, sexual references, sex scenes, trauma, racial profiling and references to drugs and alcohol.

This review was originally published in Warcry magazine.

Do you relate to the characters of Adrian or Grace? Do you experience Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Dissociative Identity Disorder? Are you in a relationship with someone who experiences a mental illness? Call Colleen on 0434 337 245 or Duncan on 0434 331 243 for a FREE 10 minute consultation. To make an appointment, go to BOOK NOW.

The five types of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

The-five-types-of-Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder

When we think of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) we tend to imagine what we have seen on TV: a Niles Crane-esque character who cleans every table he sits at with a wet wipe, or a suburban mum who can’t get out of the house because her door is blocked with miscellaneous items she’s hoarding.

The truth is that these all show extreme facets of OCD, but over time we’ve distorted it to cliché caricatures of the actual illness. So while we may say to someone who likes a tidy home, ‘You’re OCD’, that’s not necessarily true (they might just like a clean house), and the same goes for a person who loves to write lists. They’re not necessarily experiencing OCD, but are naturally organised.

So if the TV is misrepresenting OCD, what does it actually look like?

OCD is an anxiety disorder will affect 3 in every 100 people during their lifetime.  It shows up in numerous ways, but can be identified by re-occurring and unwanted intrusive thoughts, images or impulses (obsessions) and repetitive behaviour and mental rituals (compulsions). * It’s important you know that OCD isn’t rationale. Often a person struggling with the illness won’t want to participate in the activity or thought they are consistently having, they just feel incapable of stopping it.

While television shows us extreme caricatures of what OCD looks like (often centred around an extreme fear of germs or hoarding), it can also appear more subtly: you may feel the incessant need to check every door in the house before you go to bed. A thought may pop up and no matter how many times you try to resolve it, it keeps coming back, or you may keep a few too many keepsakes in the house and the idea of binning any of them overwhelms you.

The infographic below by Therapy Tribe lists the five types of OCD people can experience. While each can occur individually, some people will show symptoms of a few if not all of these in different ways. Each can lead to exhaustion and distress, and when untreated may intrude on day-to-day activities and relationships. *

When treated, someone who experiences OCD can live a healthy and balanced life. Therapy, medication and support groups are all options, and for less severe cases it might simply be a case of talking the compulsion out with a friend until it passes.

Ultimately, the severity of symptoms will change for each individual, and even these can alter depending on their circumstances, stress levels and over all health. So if you or a loved one are experiencing OCD, it’s ok to ask for help and find a strategy that best benefits you.

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If you are struggling with OCD, or have concerns for a friend displaying obsessive compulsive symptoms, call Colleen on 0434 337 245 or Duncan on 0434 331 243 for a FREE 10 minute consultation. To make an appointment, go to BOOK NOW and you will be able to access Watersedgecounselling’s online appointment diary.

*Information gathered from Sane Australia, 2017.