Guest Post by Faisal Ali – My Mind Marathon

I’ve decided recently to feature some guests here on my blog to showcase some other people’s troubles with mental health. Here we have Faisal Ali who talks about his journey with OCD diagnosis & treatment. Unfortunately, since writing this introductory post in 2013, Faisal hasn’t continued with his blog, but you can follow him on twitter by clicking here

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C.D.O (2014) – By Lauren Hayley

My life has been a little bit like a seesaw fluctuating though happy times and sad times. The seesaw keeps going from one side to the other but doesn’t seem to have a good balance in between, which I guess is something that we all want and yearn for.

One of my saddest life events began 4 years ago at the tender age of 18. I had just finished college and had my birthday in France with some amazing friends of mine and I was really looking forward to going to university. To others I looked happy and seemed happy. However deep down I knew I was suffering but I was really confused because I had never felt anything as painful as this before. I was struggling with intrusive thoughts about harming myself and harming others and I was really frightened and worried.

Taking the first step and admitting to yourself you have a problem is hard. Anyone who has had a mental health issue will be able to vouch for this. One thing I did realise though was that in order to get better and possibly find a way past this was to take the first step and admit to myself I had a problem however hard it may be. I found it really difficult to accept this, as many people with OCD (what I have) will tell you the nature of the thoughts are against their personality and the person they truly are deep down.

I knew I had to make an appointment with my GP to try to find a breakthrough and to find a diagnosis. Plucking up the courage to do so can be very difficult due to the stigma that constantly seems to surround those who have any form of mental health issue. The stigma made me weary and I was aware that people can be very judgemental so for me sitting in the doctors preparing to talk about it for the first time made me feel very anxious, like I knew I didn’t want to be there but it was something that I had to do. Talking about it takes lots of courage and inner strength and that is something which I really felt I had.

The first time at the GP I don’t really feel like I got the point across as clearly and effectively as I wanted to mainly due to anxiety and the naivety of an 18-year-old boy. One of my life morals though is that if at first you don’t succeed, try again and keep trying. I went again and by this time the intrusive thoughts had been with me for about  3 weeks now and I still didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere or any closer to finding out why they were there. This time I really felt the doctor who I spoke to (different to previous one) listened and I felt comforted by the fact she was trying her best to help me. OCD can make a person feel like they are in a constant bubble, but they want that bubble to burst and be set free. By now this is how I was feeling.

The doctor referred me to my local CMHT (Community Mental Health Team) so I could see for myself what services I could use once an official diagnosis was put in place. It was here that I was analysed by another doctor and it was confirmed that I had OCD. I kind of felt a bit relieved to get a diagnosis as it was the first time since I started getting intrusive thoughts that I felt I wasn’t going insane.

It was at this point where I began to realise the seriousness of OCD and what it entails. Like most other people, I always thought OCD was something only associated with hand washing and germs. How wrong was I! The reality is that OCD just isn’t about germs or hand washing. There is so much more to it than that. There are many types of OCD including Pure O (Intrusive thoughts) Religious OCD, Hoarding and checking. The reality is that OCD is an anxiety disorder that can have an effect on a person’s daily life and make them think they are something they are not (own definition).

Once the diagnosis came through I was referred for CBT.

Those of you that have been through it before know that CBT can be one of the most emotionally draining processes that a person could ever wish to go through. I always see talking about your emotions as a good thing though because it shows a true representation of who the person really is and how they really feel.

The therapist I saw was called Denise and from that first session she made me feel very comfortable. I felt like I could talk to her freely about the depressing, despairing and agonising thoughts that were engulfing my mind on a daily basis knowing she wouldn’t judge. From the first sessions I told her about my thoughts and the nature of them because I knew in order for myself to receive the best help and treatment I had to be honest about how I felt at the time.

In total I was allowed 18 sessions and I really felt these sessions taught me a lot in terms of how to control my OCD and let it have as little control over me as possible. CBT for me was about finding ways and methods of me controlling my OCD rather than the other way round, and to a certain extent I think I managed to achieve that.

One of the most important techniques that Denise taught me was that I could lessen my anxiety whilst having a thought itself. I was told to trigger an intrusive thought. I was worried and anxious about that at the time as I had to think about it full on for 2-3 mins. Those 2 -3 mins seemed like a lifetime and at first I wanted to break the cycle and not think about the thought. However the more I thought about the thoughts in those 2-3 mins the more I realised they were not actually happening, and thoughts were all they were.

For me, this is how it is.

There are so many times that people with anxiety hear:

there’s nothing to be scared of

or

can’t you just keep doing it and eventually you won’t feel scared anymore?

And of course the ones saying these things are completely right: there is nothing to be scared of, and the more times I face my fears, the less I will fear them.

But unless you have an anxiety disorder yourself you have absolutely no idea how difficult it can be, and how little your rational thinking comes into play when panic strikes.

A panic attack is not the feeling of being nervous.

It’s not butterflies in your stomach and feeling a little bit sick – much like the average person before making a speech or going on a first date.

It’s so much more terrifying and crippling than that.

For me, this is how it is.

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At first I feel like the world is spinning, like you know those nights where you’ve had way too much to drink and you can’t focus; your head hits the pillow but everything keeps going round and round, making you feel unbelievably sick.

And then my heart starts beating like it’s trying to escape my chest. Over and over again, each beat harder and faster than the one before. And somehow my heart ends up in my head, beating its way through my skull as well.

It keeps going and going and going and everything is still spinning and spinning and spinning.

My mouth then goes dry to the point in which I can’t swallow. This is where I always lose it and feel an excruciating need to escape. My natural reflexes stop functioning and it feels as though I can’t breathe.

Feeling as though you can’t breathe isn’t one of those feelings you get used to. I know it’s a trick. I know I can breathe. But when you feel as though you can’t, it’s so difficult to ignore it and think rationally.

I know it can’t hurt me. I honestly do know that. But no matter how many times you have a panic attack, they all feel just as bad as the last, and they never become less scary.

The level of fear overcomes me so much that I feel like I’m floating. You know like in one of those films where someone dies and floats across the room to heaven – or wherever else they’re going.

My legs have just about as much feeling as a person with paralysis in that moment; I’m moving – or running – but I have no idea how. I can’t feel it.

All I can feel is the strongest urge I’ve ever felt, pulling me away from wherever I am. Wanting me to leave and not feel like I’m dying anymore.

Little steps are still steps

So today, I took some steps towards ridding myself of my anxiety (quite literally!).

I had a phone appointment with the doctor this morning, to which he told me I needed to go in and see him – useful, so I’m going to do that on Monday when my mum’s here to visit.

Yes, I still need my mum.

I’m really not looking forward to it. In fact I would rather do anything else. I don’t feel particually comfortable talking to doctors about my mental health anyway because there have been so many times that I’ve been pushed out of the door with no understanding whatsoever, and with another useless medication that does nothing.

My personal favourite quote from a doctor to this day still has to be ‘ everyone your age feels ups and downs sometimes so I wouldn’t worry‘… Just the type of reassuring statement one needs to hear whilst crying and shaking.

But hey, it needs to be done! Hopefully this time they’ll be able to come up with at least a slightly practical and beneficial plan of action.

As well as this, I also downloaded Google Fit to my phone. I keep saying I need to get out of the house and walk about to try and stop this agoraphobia from entirely taking away my freedom, but it’s hard to keep a track of it and monitor how far I’ve gone.

Anyway, Google Fit automatically sets itself to an initial goal of 6,000 steps per day so that is my new aim. I’ve just now got back from my 5,790 step walk so I’m happy with that for today. It’s nice to have something to work towards (and you have permission to give me a virtual slap if I don’t keep it up).

That’s about all for my update – as my posts about ‘me’ recently haven’t been all that positive I thought I should just let you guys know how I’m getting on!

Quote 3

Annie from Gentle Kindness has challenged me to share with you my three favourite quotes. This is super easy for me as I LOVE quotes. So here’s my final one:

Look to the future and be happy in the knowledge that you will make a success of your life – my mumma

OK so yes, my final quote is a bit of a cheat; it’s neither written by someone famous nor is it well-known in the world. But it was written by the most important person to me back in 2007 when I was going through a tough time – and it’s my favourite.

My mum is my biggest supporter and the one person that genuinely thinks I can do or be anything – you’ll see her comment on my posts regularly as ‘proudmummabear’ – she’s the best.

Quote 2

Annie from Gentle Kindness has challenged me to share with you my three favourite quotes. This is super easy for me as I LOVE quotes. Here is number two:

Be the change you want to see in the world – Gandhi

Whilst yesterday’s quote was tattooed on my ribs, this quote is pinned on my wall in the biggest letters you have ever seen. We can constantly sit and discuss the things that are wrong with the world, or we can stand up and do something about them.

Quote 1

Annie from Gentle Kindness has challenged me to share with you my three favourite quotes. This is super easy for me as I LOVE quotes. So here’s my first one:

It’s not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves – William Shakespeare

This is actually tattooed on my ribs so I had to use it really haha! But I still love this quote because I’m a great believer that we can change our paths whenever we want; it’s not all left up to fate.

Creating Positive Triggers

Creating positive triggers is a new concept to me, but it’s something I’m definitely willing to try.

Those of us with anxiety have negative triggers all around us. We associate bad things with ordinary objects or locations, because in the past, being around their object or in that location has made us panic.

I have many of these negative triggers: trains, buses, elevators, multi-storey buildings, pedestrian crossings, automatic doors – shall we go on? And usually, they prevent me from doing the things I want to do. I’m restricted to certain places, and I take random detours to avoid my triggers.

But what if we can turn a bad trigger into a good one?

What if we can condition ourselves to not think of something bad when we look at what scares us, but instead think of something good?

Wouldn’t that be fantastic?

I recently met a woman who puts this theory into practice, both with things that scare her and just for random points throughout the day to make life more enjoyable.

To name just a couple, she associates hooded sweatshirts with happiness and pedestrian crossings with laughter.

Pedestrian crossings used to scare her, so this positive trigger in replacement of the previous negative one allows her to use them without being afraid. Instead, she now thinks of something in her life that really made her laugh.

Hooded sweatshirts may not have made her scared, but now whenever she sees them in the street she remembers her positive trigger and smiles; just as a little uplift during the day.

I’m sure it’s one of those things that you have to do over and over again to get any sort of effect from it, so that your brain has time to re-condition itself to your new beliefs about the object or place.

But if it works, it’s so worth it. I’m a little sceptical – it does sound a little bit out there – but surely it’s worth a shot!

#YorkshireDay #MentalHealth

Today it is #YorkshireDay! The one day a year where Yorkshire folk celebrate all the amazingness that Yorkshire has to offer. (I swear someone just walked past my window as I wrote that wearing a tweed flat cap – brilliant!)

I may not be originally from Yorkshire, but I’ve lived here for the last three years, and prior to that I spent many a childhood summer on a family farm up in this county. I love this place, and it’s definitely my home now and will continue to be after I graduate university.

Of course when we discuss all things great in Yorkshire, some things automatically come to mind – The Yorkshire pudding, great tea and the best ales. Undoubtedly now, I will also think of the gentleman that just walked past my window who couldn’t have been anymore Yorkshire if he tried; he could have quite easily been a cast member in Emmerdale.

But today, I am going to put aside the celebrations of these things for just a moment, and celebrate what I’ve come to respect in Yorkshire recently – some fantastic people and organisations trying to make the mental health services better in this beautiful county.

Now I can’t name them all; I practically come across a new organisation every week, and my list may be slightly Leeds biased (being that’s where I live and know), but here are four organisations that deserve to be celebrated this #YorkshireDay, whilst I drink my Yorkshire tea of course.

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1. Together We Can, Leeds

Firstly, we have Together We Can. This is a fantastic organisation of people who are currently campaigning to redesign some of the mental health services in Leeds that aren’t as good as they could be! The people who make up this fantastic group all have experience with seeking mental health support in the city, and therefore collectively are able to put forward new plans, which hopefully will make a big difference really soon. 

Right now is big and exciting time for Together We Can as there are currently people with power listening and willing to put some of their ideas in place. I for one am excited to be apart of this movement and eager to see the services change for the better.

You can follow Together We Can on twitter, and if you have any ideas please do tweet them as they welcome any new suggestions.

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2. Feardom Fighters, Leeds

Feardom Fighters is another great movement which I am somewhat involved with (exciting!). Founded by a lovely woman named Kathryn who has suffered with anxiety in the past, the Feardom Fighters are currently in the planning stage of the #FeardomFestival which will take place this World Mental Health Day (October 10th). 

The purpose of the #FeardomFestival is fantastic, and if you’re an anxiety sufferer and are in the area I would highly encourage you to check it out. There will be workshops and guest speakers, all aimed at helping people manage their anxiety and also giving anxiety sufferers new ways to express themselves. The event is also fantastic as a way to meet other people who know what you’re going through; I can’t wait to check it out myself!

I have previously done a full post on the Feardom Fighters which you can find by clicking here, and I also encourage you to check out the Feardom Fighters twitter page and website.

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3. Free Hand, Sheffield

And we’re out of Leeds!!!! Are you proud of me?

Yep, my third celebration of all great things in Yorkshire is Free Hand in Sheffield.

Again, I have already done a full post on this organisation, and you can find that by clicking here.

Free Hand is set up by the fantastic Charly, and they offer great workshops where they just allow people with depression and anxiety to come in and be creative in any way they like so that they can blow off some steam; which is completely up my street as I’m constantly using art as a means of recovery.

It’s fantastic, brilliant and really seems to be helping a lot of people, so again, please check out the Free Hand twitter page, and also the Free Hand blog.

7xYDCILO_400x4004. Wild Goose, Otley

Last, but definitely not least, we have Wild Goose in Otley.

Now I do have to admit, whilst very close to me in location, I haven’t yet checked out Wild Goose, but it was recently recommended to me by Kathryn from Feardom Fighters and it looks amazing; so I just had to include them on my list! 

Founded by an ecotherapist named Hayley, Wild Goose offers the environment and nature as a way to de-stress and promote better mental health. They offer campfire cookouts, meditation, Bear Grylls-style basic survival techniques, and specialist sessions including yoga and pottery making. 

I will definitely be making a special effort to go down and check them out soon because I want to be Bear Grylls for the day quite frankly, and nature sounds like a perfect way to de-stress.

Again, as always, Wild Goose has a twitter account which you can check out, as well as a website which you can find by clicking here

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Whilst I am partial to a cuppa and a Yorkshire pudding, these are the things that make Yorkshire truly great. People that are doing things to make the mental health services more accessible, better, and finding new ways to help people.

Happy #YorkshireDay everyone!

And now a bunch of Leeds United fans are walking past my window chanting, how very Yorkshire. 

Eugh I did it!

After my bad day a couple of days ago, I thought I’d managed to get my anxiety back in order and was back to being confident to leave the house.

However, somehow it managed to show up again yesterday, and again today.

Anxiety is striking me every time I go further than the end of my street and last night I was unable to go into work to grab the keys for today’s shift.

But today, after much stress (and lots of doubt!), I am at work and have managed to open the shop up on my own. It’s a massive relief, not only for myself as a personal achievement, but also because my boss and colleague are currently in Barcelona so if I didn’t open the shop, the shop wouldn’t have opened!

So today I am happy, and my anxiety better be expecting more strength to come for tomorrow’s shift!