The Joy of Calm
I am a qualified teacher of law and psychology and tutor A' level students. I am also a writer and I have written articles for magazines such as The Psychologist, Prediction, Natural Health and Kindred Spirit to name a few as well as fiction to People's Friend and Ireland's Own. I also write educational resources for colleges. I am hoping to undertake a PhD this year on exercise addiction and the impact on an individual's life.
I have much empathy and understanding for all things related to psychological illness as I was housebound for many years, have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks, OCD and emetophobia. I appreciate the vulnerability and isolation that exists for such suffers and my goal is to be there in any way I can. One person can make a difference even if it is just a small one
The Early Years
When I was 10 years old, Christmas time was magical. I had received so many gifts I just didn’t know what to do with them all.
“Put your toys and books away then,” said my mother smiling at my excited expression and this is what I did. Books went onto my bookcase, board games went into my desk drawer and soft toys on my bed. As I went to leave my bedroom, to join in with the family festive celebrations, I was struck by a feeling of uncertainty. Where had I put that crossword puzzle book? I glanced around anxiously and realised I had placed it on my bedside table. That was a relief; for a moment I thought I’d lost it. Then I felt compelled to count my soft toys; just to check they were all there. I had received 2 wildlife books, hadn’t I? Before I knew it, I couldn’t leave the room until I had checked all my Christmas presents and every time I wasn’t sure where something was, this strange, unpleasant feeling rose inside me. The only way I could feel better was to check again.
Little did I know that this was the very beginning of obsessive compulsive disorder...
OCD and anxiety taking control
Anxiety plagued me when I reached 18 years old, though I had known about fear long before then. My childhood had been dotted with episodes of night terrors and frightening thoughts and feelings but that was nothing compared to the horror of panic attacks that I experienced when I got older. The fear seemed to come from nowhere and left me gasping for breath and longing for relief. Then obsessions began to take over my life and through trying in vain to control what was happening, they left me without any power whatsoever as they ruled me.
I would hoover the carpet vigorously, and the pile had to go in one direction. I’d clean the sink until it shone and the stairs were absolutely spotless. The curtains had to hang straight, pictures could never be askew and books and magazines, if they weren’t on a bookcase, were in perfect piles. The toilet became a problem as I lived in a shared house and every time a friend used it, I would clean it straight afterwards. If they had a bath, I whipped in there with my cloth and cleaning products and got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed until my hands were sore. When I washed the kitchen floor, my house mates had to clamour over the work surfaces to get to their cupboards and I was behind them with a dustpan and brush if they brought any mud into the house.
I felt terribly guilty for making their lives so uncomfortable and cried with frustration when I knew that yet again I would have to clean the loo or the bath. My life was becoming unbearable and yet worse was still to come...
Checking, checking and checking again...
I started to develop a checking compulsion that knew no bounds. I had to repeat, in my head, all the money I had spent that day. But that just wasn’t enough. Before I knew it my need to know what money I had spent in the past extended to many years before and I started to spend three hours a day devoted to this irrational mental working out.
My boyfriend was shocked when he realised what I was doing; “This has to stop,” he said, aghast at my gaunt appearance and constant anxiety. “You will end up in hospital.”
This frightened me even more but I didn’t know what to do. I realised that what I was doing was harming me, but whenever I tried to resist the compulsions, anxiety would rise to such a level that I had to carry out my activities, often with even more vigour.
I received cognitive behaviour therapy and I tried very hard to alter my negative thoughts and change my life but it just didn’t seem to work. I felt like a hopeless case and assumed my therapist considered me that way too. After all, how many people in the world spent their whole day carrying out crazy compulsions like me?
Quite a few, I was soon to learn. Researching obsessive compulsive disorder I found I wasn’t alone and reading other people’s stories gave me the courage to try and beat the disorder again. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life crying because I couldn’t clean the bath before I went out and not buying a loaf of bread because it would affect my money working out ritual and there would be even more to remember.
So, the day arrived when I decided to myself that it was all going to change...I didn’t want to live this way anymore.
“This is the first day of my new life,” I declared triumphantly to my boyfriend.
“It is?” he gazed at me dubiously.
“It is the day that I stop all my compulsions, every single one, and it is the day the sun shines!”
I was filled with a new found energy because I was determined to change the way I thought and hope gave me courage.
“I can do it, I can do it.” I repeated to myself when the anxiety rose and I longed desperately to clean the house or remember all the money I had spent.
Each time a negative thought invaded my mind, I turned it on its head and thought of all the fun things I could do instead and the people I could help with similar problems. I wanted to use my knowledge and understanding so that others didn’t suffer the same.
When I cried with despair because the thoughts became too much, I concentrated on my new counselling course and when I desperately longed to ease my checking compulsion I considered the freedom of life without obsessive thoughts and all that I’d learnt.
One day I realised I hadn’t thought about my OCD at all...I had beaten it. I had successfully filled my life with helping others, gaining new qualifications and having fun that there simply wasn’t enough hours in the day to make sure the pile of the carpet went in a certain direction! And there certainly wasn’t time to wash the kitchen floor every day!
“Now you can really live life,” encouraged my boyfriend. “All because you changed the way you thought.”
And I just smiled. It was much more complicated and harder than that.
I knew as well, though, that no matter what happens and how hard obstacles might be to climb over; when you smile, the world smiles with you.
And it was certainly smiling on me at long last..