Emma Hinds is a writer from Manchester with OCD. For OCD Awareness week, Emma has provided us with a diary of what it is like for her to live each day with an OCD diagnosis.
If you are anyone you love is struggling with or would like more information about OCD, try visiting www.ocduk.org.
My OCD Diary
Day 1 – yoga and obsession
Wake up to bad news. Our holiday next month has been cancelled due to COVID! On my way to my yoga class, I can’t help the obsessive thoughts about how to fix it swirling through my mind. Luckily, I’ve always found that physical exercise helps calm my brain. My yoga studio has done an incredible job of creating a COVID safe space so I’m never worried about going there and find it a very relaxing space to be in. After my aerial yoga class (I LOVE flying upside down and pretending I’m in Cirque du Soleil!) I’m in a good mental space again and can get some writing done for my deadline tonight. I’ve accepted that our holiday has been cancelled and we can book a cheap airbnb for a writers retreat nearby instead. However, by the end of the day, I’ve gone on a bit of an airbnb binge and am now completely unable to make any decisions.
A big part of living with OCD for me is simply noticing my OCD behaviours and softly challenging them, without condemning myself. Usually this noticing and challenging is enough to set me on the right path, but sometimes I do a bad job of noticing until it’s too late. My brain now resembles a giant, endless pro con list on a merry go round that I can’t get off. My poor husband and I end up talking late into the night about the various merits of different holiday lets, just so I can get to sleep. Whoops!
Day 2 – Meetings and making progress
Such a great day! I had a production meeting with my team for a play I have written about trauma. It feels incredible to be back “at work” with other people and puts me on a high all day. I’d forgotten how much comfort I get out of working with people and how much I have missed it during lockdown.
I have a very helpful chat with my friend, K, who gives me some perspective on some problems I’ve had trying to manage a professional situation. People often think that people who have OCD must be really organised and “on it” all the time, but actually my OCD often gets in the way of me doing daily administrative and organisational tasks, like sending necessary emails! This is because my OCD brain can’t stand when I feel like I can’t do something perfectly so it would rather I didn’t do it at all. It’s generally irritating and means I am a terrible procrastinator, but K sets me right and I can finally send my emails.
Day 3 – Therapy and Sound Relaxation
Therapy day. I’ve been in therapy on and off for the last six years since I had my OCD diagnosis to help me properly manage it. At the moment, I am having EMDR therapy which is supposed to help me deal with a significant past trauma that is probably partly behind my OCD and other mental health problems. Whilst OCD is a disorder, it is also a symptom.
Therapy is really intense but I make it through and try to get on with my day, despite my OCD flaring up. When I’m under pressure, it bubbles up in different ways. For me, one of the biggest areas is food. I have a long and complicated history with eating disorders, and when I am stressed (like after therapy) I struggle to eat anything that I don’t consider “safe” foods. Today, the menu is coffee with oat milk, gluten free toast with vegan spread, and gluten free crackers.
In the evening I try a new class that’s supposed to help with mental wellness called Sound therapy/relaxation. My friend, K, booked on and I thought it sounded so weird that I had to try! It’s relaxing, but I struggle a little bit with intrusive thoughts. I calm myself down with some breathing exercises and some light stretching. K thinks it’s healed her shoulder. I remain a sceptic, but it was cool to try!
Day 4 – Therapy hangover
I’m having a therapy hangover. Processing trauma is hard work, and when I’m stressed like this my OCD can have a bit of a paralysing effect. A big part of my OCD is the belief that everything must be done ‘right’ or ‘in order,’ even if that order makes no sense to anyone but me. On days like today I am so overwhelmed with the pressure that it only takes one little thing to throw me completely off balance. Today, that seemingly innocuous thing is that we’ve run out of hot water and I need to put more on the gas card. OCD brain takes over, cancels my life and I spend the next few hours unable to get out of bed, crying and listening to Taylor Swift. One of the benefits of therapy is at least now I know that I’m not crying over the hot water. What’s going on inside is deeper than that, and everything to do with my hard therapy session yesterday.
With thanks to my husband and his life-giving hugs, I pull myself up and out into the world to do some writing at a coffee shop in the afternoon.I have a deadline today, so I need to be kind to myself and let go of the fact my morning got swallowed up by mental health. At times like this, I practise something I learned in therapy (RODBT therapy) to help me loosen my iron-like OCD grip on reality called “flexible control.” This means I feel the frustration of my OCD but I allow myself to adapt to my surroundings. Even though my instinct is to write off the whole day because I’ve “messed it up,” or “ruined it,” I make myself get up and go out because I know I’ll be better for it. And I am!
Day 5 – Refill your prescriptions properly
Accidental lie-in today. I was up late because my therapy hangover returned with a vengeance as soon as I climbed into bed and I couldn’t switch my brain off at all. I kept obsessively thinking about our house (we are in the middle of moving) and worrying that our sofa won’t fit in the living room! I have medication I take at night to help with this, but I also have medication I take in the morning which are mood stabilizers, and I realised that I didn’t take my meds yesterday morning because I ran out and forgot to go and pick up my prescription. Rookie mistake! It won’t have been the reason for the therapy hangover but it won’t have helped! Luckily, my husband popped out to the late night pharmacy and fetched my pills so I’m back on track and head to the library to do some writing.
My OCD is less intense today than yesterday, but I do find myself relying on familiar calming tactics like hair pulling or controlling food to manage my anxiety about the house move. Luckily, my husband and I are a great team and divide up the mammoth to-do list so that it’s more manageable for both of us. One of the good things about having mental health issues is that I am really good at talking about mental health! Husband and I take a walk around the park in the autumn leaves and plan for the move. By the time we’ve finished, we’re both less overwhelmed and back to being excited about the prospect of a residence with unlimited access to hot water day or night!
Thoughts on keeping the OCD diary – What I’ve learnt about myself.
Something I really appreciated in keeping my OCD diary was that it showed me just how much I have learned and how many different therapeutic techniques I employ on a daily basis to manage my OCD. I’ve been struggling with my mental health since I was a child, and sometimes it can seem like a never-ending chore just to achieve a level of “normality” that other people take for granted, but doing this diary showed me that there’s real progress in my life. Yeah, I have really bad days sometimes, but I know how to deal with them. Despite having a tough couple of days, I’ve been working hard on my upcoming play, written over 15K words for a client and written this blog! So even though I sometimes feel useless, I am capable.I have a good understanding of myself, I have healthy habits and a strong support system.I know I’m lucky and I’m very grateful.
It has also reminded me that we often have these cliched ideas of what a certain mental health condition is, (like that OCD sufferers are clean freaks or people with depression are like Eeyore) when in reality, OCD is part of a much larger picture of my mental health. I find my diagnosis very helpful, but it’s also important for me to remember sometimes that I am so much more than my diagnosis.
About the Author: Emma Hinds
Emma is a writer living and working in Manchester. She is a mental health advocate and has been blogging about mental health for the last ten years. Emma has a history of eating disorders and is currently living with a diagnosis of OCD and chronic depression. She has been working specifically with young people struggling with their mental health for the last four years and is now supporting the Lily Jo Project’s On Track follow up schools programs. You can see Emma’s work and follow her mental health blog here. You can also follow her on socials here: twitter@EmmaLouisePH and instagram@elphreads.