Trauma Therapy Session 23: OCD. Happy to be taking back the power.

So yes at times I have or in fact do demonstrate behaviours which go a little beyond the standard. I had mentioned briefly at the last session a consideration to Chris that I might be demonstrating behaviours which are considered, obsessive or compulsive. We briefly touched on it and here are all the highlights of the ongoing conversation around all things OCD.

Lots of people think of washing, cleaning, repeating patterns or checking things when they think of OCD.

What is OCD?

As always Chris did an amazing job illuminating me with some of the concepts behind OCD. It is something associated with Trauma and PTSD, interesting that these diagnosis appear to come with friends. I did find myself wondering how helpful a label is. But for me at least I think there is more benefit than downside. I find it empowering to be able to learn about and demystify some of the things I experience. I will say this though. When someone mentions there might be an elephant in the corner of the room it is bloody hard not to think about it. And it is never in my view a good thing to allow these things to consume all your days. Gratefully I am mastered in the art of distraction so I can avoid things playing on my mind (at least most of the time).

One of the brilliant analogies Chris used was this concept of a flower and the petals of OCD being reinforcing behaviours. They feed the beast!

Check out this link for lots of other helpful info on OCD…

At the end of prior session Chris had asked if I had experienced any of these behaviours within the last day or so. My immediate answer was no, I don’t think these behaviours bother me that often. As we discussed it a little further though I recognised my anxiety growing. Many of the things Chris mentioned were a challenge and they probably occurred more than I realised. We agreed I would take away an action to just observe or be aware of those occasions I might be going a little above and beyond in my actions and where these might be causing an issue. After our brief chat I went away and did a lot of research. And I discovered there were lots more examples of these behaviours than I realised.

So what were the things I noticed…

I was well aware and had easily noticed some of them. My constant nagging for Stephen to make sure food is popping hot or that he has washed his hands. Having a real issue handling meat. I have long just avoided meat (If I am cooking tea and it involves meat Stephen will prep it for me. And even then after touching the plate and cling film it was wrapped in I will always wash my hands multiple times). I noticed it not just after meat I was my hands a lot. Others would comment on me washing me hands and on some occasions after an activity I would need to wash my hands when not a single other person around me did. Then I noticed things which had always been there but I just accepted were a way my mind reduced risk and or removed some aniexty. Other things I never knew could be related to OCD.

  • I won’t mix dates of food or drink. I would never pour the last of the milk into a cup then top it off with another bottle.
  • When I am under a lot of pressure I worry about swearing in emails. Sounds odd I know but for years I would ask Stephen to check what I have written and that I have not included any swearing.
  • I have to check multiple times if Stephen has done his rounds to lock up the house. If Stephen is out I will do the rounds myself multiple times.
  • I have occasionally had what I would call “flash forwards”. These are hard to explain but having researched OCD I think are part of the behaviour set. I will sometimes see myself doing something crazy and stupid to hurt myself. Like when you are stood on top of a tall building or castle and you worry about falling, that sort of thing happens more frequently than I would like and it is not usually an accidental injury but me doing something stupid like stepping off the edge. My wonderful mind will fast forward the events in visual glory before I let the thought drift away and focus back on what ever it is I am doing at the time.

These are just some of the things I have realised may be linked with OCD. There are some things I am already getting better at. When discussing OCD with Stephen this week he recalled one of my behaviours when we meet which always made him smile. I wouldn’t drink “Old water”. I would always want a fresh glass and often discard a drink if it was more than a few minutes old. The flat would be scattered with glasses of half drunk water and he would say it was living on the set of signs. (If you have never heard of that movie aliens come to earth and what saves one family is the child’s behaviour to leave glasses of water all over the house. Water is harmful to the aliens. Not the best movie of the naughties and in hindsight that child may have needed some help). Still I don’t do that as much anymore. (Or perhaps I have just got better tidying up the glasses 😂).

While I was taking the time to notice these behaviours I realised I was simply downplaying the frequency and impact. There were lots of examples every day which I found. And once I noticed that it was very likely OCD had some grip on my life, I did not want to wait and speak with Chris again I wanted to start tackling it. Chris has described OCD as a bully. And well I hate bullies. That and I like control, I wanted to take it back.

How did I start tackling it…

I naturally started to think about those behaviours which would be easiest to tackle. Could I share a drink with Stephen or stop checking the doors were locked. Chris had used the same type of concept in therapy lots of times. Work out that hierarchy easiest to hardest, start at the bottom work your way up.

It worked really well. When I told Stephen that I was trying to tackle it of course I had his full support. It was funny though the first couple of nights he started volunteering information “I have done my rounds.” It was so engrained in him that I would ask, he started telling me without me even asking. I also noticed I had taught him other OCD behaviours, he was writing names on cans of pop when his friend came around. ‘Dam if this is impacting those around me I have to tackle this hard.’ It was surprising how oblivious I was to these things. I had just come to accept them. No more.

How did I get on tackling OCD?

I have smashed that one now, no more checking. It was hard to crack and weirdly a couple of nights after stopping my helpful brain appeared to be crafting a new checking behaviour that my phone was not accidentally calling someone. I could feel the pull to start looking at it over and over but managed to stop myself doing it. So challenge one complete.

I was all fired up and took lots of other opportunities in the week to tackle these behaviours head on. I mixed two cartons of orange juice and drank them, then managed it with two tubs of soup (that one felt big for me and required a running verbal monologue at the time, how the soups looked different colours or I was not sure they looked right. I had to Google is it safe to mix soups. Apparently some people mix different flavours to make new ones. That slightly blew my mind. In a good way.)

I carried on identifying and tackling behaviours. Making loads of progress and all going well but then came a set of behaviours I could not break…

The tricky bit…

After putting away the archery equipment at the club I decided I was not going to wash my hands. No one else ever did but I always felt that unclean urge to wash them. I stood on the stage everything tidied away and tried. Tried to distract myself. Tried to tell myself it was just a thought. Tried to not clean. I failed. I couldn’t stand the idea of picking up my bow or driving home in the car…Of spreading that yucky feeling to everything else.

So this week Chris and I focused the conversation again on OCD. We talked about a hierarchy and I tried to explain that the difficulty was there felt like a void. I had a set of behaviours which were manageable to overcome all near the bottom of the list and then a set of behaviours which jumped to the top of the list and nothing in-between.

We dived into the example around archery and Chris reluctantly agreed an approach as I negotiated foot holds, escape routes and clauses. I don’t wash my hands then I drive home. Then I can wash my hands and clean the steering wheel if I need too. Chris worked hard to pull back my recovery tactics. We agreed I had to wait 30mins when I got home before I washed my hands. Then another 30mins before I clean the steering wheel. And I should only do those things if I really must.

One part of the conversation I am hoping will really help. Chris asked what the fear was and then asked me to assess the probability “40%” and then he asked what Stephen might asses it as “ummm 10%”. Then he debated that it was probably closer to less than 1%. That he could drive around to a hundred archery clubs and not wash is hands before he got ill. I had to acknowledge he was probably right. I love a bit of logic to undermine my flawed thinking. I will be saving 1% as a thought for tonight.

Chris also tentatively enquired where this fear of getting ill might have come from.

“When were you last really poorly?”

“I don’t remember exactly years ago after a wedding buffet.”

“Have you suffered with lots of stomach bugs before?”

“Nope, not really.”

I knew exactly where that fear came from. Chris ask me to share. I recalled a night when me and Mel were living back at dads and one night unusually he decided he was cooking. He was drunk as he was every night by this point and had made a casserole, but it was not cooked. He made us all sit at the table and when I gently tried to suggest it might not be entirely ready he got extremely angry, slamming his hand on the table and leaning over us.

“You will stay at this table and eat this food I have made this for you. There is nothing wrong with it.”

I could see the situation escalating quickly so I did what I felt was the best option at the time and ate. And well let’s just say I have never been so ill in my life. Vomiting, shaking, sweating. I could barely move for two days.

(In hindsight I wonder if this event pre-dated dads only dry spell of a few months when he went to AA and life was vaguely liveable. I wish I had written more down and had more confidence in the order of things. If this was one of the nights which spurred dad to try and stop drinking it almost feels odd that it would be an under cooked casserole which was the thing he couldn’t live with. But then it was unusual and lots of the other behaviours he delivered had sadly become the norm.)

“Now I recognise I am out of those horrific circumstances and will never go back. And I know logically that will never happen again. But I just can’t break the link.”

“Not can’t. Just have not yet. You can.” Chris always knows those exact right words to say… how does he do it? He reminded me of a neighbour we had when I was young before going into care. Mr Cole. He was a wonderful human being. I am pretty sure the neighbours all knew some of what was going on with mum and dad, the ambulances in the night and police on the door step would have all made good material for the rumour mill. And to be fair our neighbours were mostly good people who would step in and help.

Mr Cole would always marvel at how I managed to remain such a happy positive little girl. I can fondly recall him now looking me straight in the eyes and saying “If anyone can do it, you can.” I don’t recall what he was referring too at the time but I recall in those moments I didn’t just hear it I believed it, because he believed it so absolutely.

And so here I am morning of archery and tonight I won’t wash my hands… because I can.


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