OCD Flare-up

by Sarah Myles

I am struggling to control my OCD this week.

My rational mind immediately seeks to discover the cause of this flare-up, knowing that in doing so, the spiral can be slowed and switched back with the application of cognitive and dialectical behaviour strategies.

I know what the cause is - I went to London and threw a surprise family reunion. I may as well have just steeped myself in a bath-full of triggers. Breaking it down: London, wider family, pressured schedule, change of routine, additional responsibilities, self-doubt. Little wonder that, two days after returning to my comfort zone (away from London), I am still experiencing the fall-out. I am still, however, surprised by the ferocity of it.

I've blogged before about finding it hard to cope with pavements, and how this causes me problems with the school run. Well, returning to my old stomping ground for the first time in a couple of years, the pavements of North Yorkshire seem practically spotless. London is utterly filthy. After staying for two days, I could not get back up the motorway fast enough.

On arriving home, I scrubbed myself raw, cleaned the children, and everything that had touched London. I cleaned our shoes with bleach, washed all our clothes twice and even disinfected the wheels of my suitcase. My son's Lego had to soak in Milton Fluid, because it had been in the car. Then I had to clean everything that all those things had touched, and everything that those things had touched, and so on and so on (washing hands in between each). That night, I checked, re-checked and checked again (8 times each) all the doors, windows and gas appliances, then the children - all in a specific order and rhythm, before being able to rest. This, after driving 750 miles in two days and organising a party, meant I was simply exhausted, making it even harder to stop, think and apply a 'wise mind'.

This is, by far the worst OCD flare-up I have had in a while. It's always there, as a low-level problem, generally manifesting itself as excessive hand-washing (often over 100 times per day), general discomfort around pavements and shoes, and the checking of security. That is 'manageable' for me, in that I can continue to function on a normal level. When it flares up, however, I can't, because the intrusive thoughts drive me into an almost manic state of hyperactivity - carrying out an unmanageable range and frequency of compulsive behaviours.

As is my way, in order to deal with crisis effectively, I must look for the positve - no matter how small. Here, I found two important points. Firstly, I have made progress. I used to live my entire life in this out-of-control state. As an example, my son's shoe once touched a bottom corner of our double duvet, so I had to wipe the entire thing with Dettol wipes before I could sleep in it. I couldn't change it, because that would contaminate the washing machine, which would in turn contaminate everything else. Now, however, I am able to put a suitcase on the end of my bed (only the end!), and generally be able to sleep with no problem.

Secondly, I have been able to clarify exactly how I feel about my OCD. I hate it, make no mistake, but it's much more complex than that. The compulsive behaviours irritate me because it indicates that I am not in control of myself - my illness is. That makes me angry, which causes problems with the emotional dysregulation aspects of my BPD. I don't want others to see that I'm not in control, which causes problems with my paranoia. But why the intense self-loathing? At face value, you would expect me to experience self-loathing just because I hate being like this. But the truth is that I loathe myself because I feel like I have let my compulsions win.

The fact is that, in daily life, my two minds are locked in battle. Rational against irrational, wise against hysterical, light against dark. That's the case in every aspect of my mental health: BPD, OCD, paranoia, anxiety, dissociation. When I'm managing my illness effectively, I am winning. When I'm not, I lose. That's the real reason I hate it - it's a symptom of my failure.

But clearly, I can't get through the day like that. So having dug deep and discovered the ugly truth, what counter-attack does my 'wise mind' have up her sleeve? Simple. Radical acceptance.

You know what? I have OCD, and I fully understand it. Occasionally it gets bad because it is a coping mechanism, and some days are harder to cope with than others. It can get deeply unpleasant, but as always and with everything, this too shall pass.

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