Hi my name is Wendy…….
I hope that what I share with you will give you a glimpse into the real life impact of anxiety disorders on sufferers and their families, and a greater understanding and insight into the severity and complexity of Anxiety Disorders, Depression and OCD. I would like to start by talking about my experiences with anxiety and depression and in particular to talk to you about my journey with OCD. From the age of nine I had an enormous pre-occupation with religious issues, fears and feelings that I had sinned and must go to confession. I was tormented by fears, thoughts and memories. I would remember all those “Bad things” that I thought I had done and needed to go to confession for forgiveness several times a week. It was terrifying. I was scrupulous about the rules of the church and would be horrified about intrusive thoughts that would come into my head, all my thoughts and actions felt like sins. The pain, anguish, fear of God, the fear of hell did not allow my mind any time for rest. Amongst other reasons, I feel my OCD behaviours developed in responding to anxious and stressful life events. I felt out of control, having thoughts and feelings that totally consumed me and I had difficulty thinking of anything else. It was distressing, exhausting and time-consuming. When battling OCD one is never at peace for any length of time, if peace steals into the heart unobserved, the scrupulous OCD sufferer feels guilty over feeling peaceful. I had other co-morbid conditions, these included anorexia, social anxiety, and depression. I moved to Wodonga 16 years ago having lived in Melbourne all my life where I was treated for anorexia. The move to Wodonga changed my life! A local psychiatrist immediately diagnosed my condition as OCD. I had been misdiagnosed for over 30 years. This was the first step on my road to recovery. I had never heard of OCD until then, but I now know that many people suffer with OCD, in fact about 600,000 people in Australia, and still climbing. Many of these people suffer in silence because people with OCD are very aware that their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours are excessive and irrational. When you know this, but feel you can’t do anything about it, it makes you feel ashamed and embarrassed. So you don’t tell anyone and find ways to hide it. It is often called the hidden disorder.
Living with OCD……..
OCD takes many different paths and I have suffered from many of them. From the debilitating, tormenting, obsessional thoughts, a super sense of responsibility towards others, cleanliness, fear of cancer, contamination fears, absolute super detail, to the rituals of checking, washing, cleaning, hoarding and mental compulsions too. The amount of time I spent thinking, worrying and ruminating was unbelievable. I even had fear of thinking about things, worrying that I would think thoughts before I had even thought them. (Thinking that you are going to think something bad, wrong, defective, whatever it may be). I see this as ridiculous now, but at the time it was very, very real. I had an obsessive fear of knives and sharp objects for fear of hurting my children or others. I’d shake and shake my head to get rid of these thoughts and at the same time try to interrupt the thoughts by making a noise or noises say “No, No, No,” but they just wouldn’t go! Eventually I’d have to shout “No, No, No,” until I was so distressed, I would collapse in a heap. The harder I tried to get rid of the thoughts the more they stayed. I know better now. I was terrified of hurting others. If I drove over a bump in the road I would believe I had run over someone. I had to drive back and check the road over again, then drive back again, and again several times. Logic told me ‘Wendy you couldn’t have run anyone over’ but you know, the illogic mind always won. Then having to look in the next day’s newspaper to check for fatal accidents in that area. Thoughts and actions were illogical and irrational, but I was trapped by its powerful control, like being stuck in a spider’s web. The harder I tried to climb out, the further I was pulled in. Some other OCD symptoms that affected my life were – Mind you, there were many, many more! I’d imagine I hadn’t washed my hands and I’d infect others or contaminate foodstuffs! Then something bad would happen! An illness or death would happen because of my thoughts or actions!!
Shopping – The potatoes – I’d stare and stare at each potato imagining harmful green patches. What will I do, if I make people sick! They might die!! Tomatoes, carrots, everything stared at, scrutinized and checked!No slashed butter packages. No bumps or dints on my packets or tinned products. Trying to wait for people to leave the aisles then painfully re-aligning tins on the supermarket shelves in case they fell on someone and it was my fault.
Perfect bananas were a necessity with a lot of staring, feeling, touching, weighing and rejecting. Sometimes I’d have to leave. It was too traumatic. Whenever I did buy some, I would take them home, hide them, place them in a line of ‘bestness’, the perfect banana would be mine. You know what, by the time I ate them, they had brown spots or patches on them anyway. Grapes too, the biggest, best, golden coloured grapes.
Hoarding – Lots and lots of stuff, especially food. In the freezer tiny pieces of food pedantically wrapped up in endless pieces of cling wrap, for future eating. Once we had 18 packets of cornflakes which were soft before they could be eaten. When we moved house we had enough toilet rolls and cleaning products for a year. I had a fear of running out of anything, even time.
Fear of authority figures – God, priests, doctors, police, even the bloomin’ red light cameras. There was so much relief when we moved to Wodonga – no red light cameras!
Checking the car over and over – doors locked, handbrake on and off until it felt right, lights flicking on and off till I was sure they were off, checking over and over, then feeling if windows closed tight. Afraid to drive 1kph over the speed limit. Paranoid of speed cameras here in the streets of Wodonga, driving back to check over and over.
Dripping taps – Staring and staring for ages wiping up each little drip until the tap stopped dripping. What if the house floods, it’s my fault. Logic and my husband would say, ‘Wendy, the water will go down the plughole’, but no, the illogical always won. Taps in public toilets or places had to be checked and turned off over and over again. Waiting for people to leave, so I could turn them off perfectly to my way of thinking.
Bread!!! I had to have the perfect loaf of bread – the biggest, and straightest, with no dints. Checking each loaf on the shelf. Feeling embarrassed by people looking at me, then having to put the better loaves in my trolley, walk to an emptier aisle, to recheck each over and over before making my selection and feeling mentally exhausted.
I used to say “IF ONLY I COULD BE FREE” – “FEEL FREE,” I just want to be Free”.
I wish I had a broken leg instead, you can see that. It’s something tangible and it will mend!! You can’t see a broken mind. A broken mind seems unmendable when one is feeling helpless and powerless. I felt no one understood. I desperately needed to be understood and accepted, have someone to talk to, to have support and not feel alone. I was lonely in a private hell. Things I found useful……
Self esteem – Learning about me, how I think, awareness of self and the way in which I respond and learn about the issues that affected my life.
Variety of approaches / therapy groups….
For example I benefited from being in a group – the bonding in the group was extremely helpful. There was trust, support, understanding, and acceptance of each other, much laughter too and lasting friendships forged. Yes, inspiring and empowering each other…
Mindfulness workshops learning to live in the now and not to be pre-occupied with the past or the future.
The good part of therapy is being able to take control of myself and make some of my own decisions, so I’m not being forced at a pace that isn’t right for me – the therapist and the person living with OCD are a team.
People find it hard and feel safe to articulate their feelings and thoughts. A good therapist recognises to listen to the first hand life experiences of the person living with OCD. Me, I know what’s best for me, it’s important for me that a therapist value and respects what I am saying me and truly understand how OCD directly impacts on my life and the people around me in order to help me . …… and not tell me what to do – that just defeats the purpose of me being empowered.
Being understood and being accepted for who you are and where you’re at not when you are better
Albury Wodonga Support Group.-
In a group you soon learn you are not alone or isolated. There are other people with familiar experiences and it’s not just me. You feel safe in a non judgemental environment.
Humour – lots of laughs
Time – working through this at my own pace
Being honest with yourself and others
The turning point….
I feel blessed that things started to fall into place . They didn’t happen straight away it has been life long journey days, months, years and years ……of discovering me…..
Along my journey I found me, and continue to find me!! I saw my future travelling alongside others and helping, and at the same time being inspired. For me I have learnt a lot of things about myself. I have more self belief and I know there is hope.
You know I feel this journey was chosen for me, so that I could try to help others too, like I had been helped!!
Felt like a tree!!! Wanting to be firmly connected to the ground but forever reaching upwards and outwards, sheltering others under my branches. We all lose leaves and dead wood, we grow new shoots, and we blossom and grow! I feel it’s important for everyone to have faith and trust in oneself, to be kind and gentle to oneself, along with giving oneself rewards, and being our own best friend.
I have made many special friends who are a special part of my life.
People who are recovering say that the people who believed in them when they did not believe in themselves, who encouraged their recovery but did not force it, who tried to listen and understand when nothing seemed to be making sense, were critical in their recovery. They needed to have someone that could be trusted to be there in times of need. It is strange, but in some ways I feel my suffering from OCD has eventually led to great gains in my life experiencing what it is like to suffer to truly feel fear, to have more understanding, compassion, and tolerance for others that I may not have had before. I have been able to find new meaning from my life with OCD by turning it into an experience that enables me now to help others.