top of page
Search

OCD and Me | Fear, Healing and Yoga


OCD Awareness logo and hashtag

Today is World Mental Mental Health Day, an opportunity to bring attention to an issue that affects so many of us and remains stigmatised even in modern times. It is also OCD Awareness Week. I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a complex condition that crept into my life and slowly took over, until I became isolated, disconnected and in a permanent state of fight or flight.


In this blog, I share some of my experience, what has helped me heal, and how yoga has become invaluable to my recovery. Just a year ago, I could not have pictured myself where I am now - working as a yoga teacher and feeling positive about the future once again. I still have bad days and even weeks, but the tools I have cultivated through therapy, yoga and much more, have given me back my identity, dreams and personality that I had all but lost.


For a more detailed definition of OCD and the wide variety of treatment options, the NHS website is really helpful.


Lizzie in a seated position on a mat in the yoga studio, folding forward over bent knees.

Fear

When I think of really bad spells of OCD, the resounding emotion is all-encompassing fear. When an intrusive thought takes hold, the fear that that can strike within me and other sufferers is extremely powerful, and it can lead to compulsive behaviours that to the outside eye may seem irrational.


My intrusive thoughts, or obsessions, often surround harm to others. Horrific images of explosions, fires, crashes and more have haunted me, leaving me in a state of paralysis and eventually to engaging with compulsions that go round and round in circles and ultimately feed the hungry fire of OCD. These behaviours can look very different. For me, I got to a point where I was checking hobs, doors, electrical sockets and more literally hundreds of times before leaving the house. Eventually, I stopped leaving the house. This is where avoidance comes in, another OCD behaviour, wherein the fear eventually becomes so agonising that it felt safer to not do anything at all. As you can imagine, my world became very small.


Tears, panic attacks, shortness of breath, lack of sleep, distance from loved ones who can't possibly understand, seeking constant reassurance, unending rumination - the implications of OCD are wide-reaching. I spent hours on compulsions in an attempt to battle the intrusive thoughts, I ruined holidays where I couldn't shake the idea of my flat exploding in my absence, I became completely out of touch with my true self as I sheltered from all experiences that could possibly trigger an OCD spiral - which as it turned out, was basically everything.


Healing

I have since learnt that by engaging with OCD in this way, bending to its will with compulsive behaviours, rumination and seeking reassurance, I was giving OCD exactly what it wanted and the environment for it to thrive.


This is when the truly hard work began. Everyone's recovery journey looks different, and indeed mine is still ongoing, but getting access to a therapist was a fundamental step for me. I started CBT, after a long few months on a waiting list, and began to really learn and understand what I was suffering with and how complicated of a condition it actually is. The diagnosis was a huge relief - now I knew why I felt so locked into my own head. I went to the GP and was put on medication to help with the crushing anxiety OCD caused, and I jumped into yoga, which as I will explain later, became crucial to my life.


In therapy, I was shocked by the huge challenges and hard work ahead of me. I have been incredibly fortunate to work with an incredible highly specialised OCD therapist, who pushed me to live a life not dictated by OCD, but instead to challenge it at every opportunity. This meant exposing myself to things I had avoided - getting on trains and tubes, leaving the house empty for hours at a time, walking around in crowded areas without looking over my shoulder to check on every single person I'd passed and more. These may sound like day-to-day activities for many, but in the depths of my OCD crisis, these were huge and incredibly scary challenges for me. With the careful structure and tools my therapist equipped me with though, I was able to slowly chip away at these challenges. Resisting compulsions was (and sometimes still is) exhausting, emotionally intensive work.


OCD is widely misunderstood across society. Stereotypes and trivialisation of this extremely debilitating and serious condition are widespread. This mental health condition manifests in many different ways. It is not a cute proclivity for tidiness or colour coordination, or a way to describe someone who simply likes to be clean and tidy. Saying someone is 'so OCD' because they like to have matching stationary trivialises the real experiences of sufferers whose lives have been stolen by this condition. With this blog, I hope to bring some light to this deep misunderstanding.


On a positive note, I have come an incredibly long way. With the help of therapy, medicine, yoga, a network of supportive family and friends and my own fierce determination and commitment, I have implemented healthy behaviours to continue on the road to recovery. This road is not linear - I still have moments of succumbing to compulsions and can find myself in a spiral of unhelpful rumination on intrusive thoughts, but to have got to a point of travelling, socialising, starting my own business venture and even getting a pet are steps that at one point I couldn't have seen in my future. The knowledge to help you live a full life with OCD is out there. Have hope.


Lizzie on the mat in a studio, sitting cross legged and smiling at the camera.

Yoga

Yoga was one of the first things I turned to when I was at my lowest. At a time where I was not working, travelling, socialising or really leaving my house, I decided to commit to one hour of yoga a week at a local studio. The first few weeks I was terrified - intrusive thoughts plagued every moment of stillness and I couldn't wait for the time to pass so I could return to my comfort bubble of the four walls of my bedroom, where I felt I could control all hazards.


Eventually though, I found myself able to stay more present in the moment, and minutes would pass by where I realised my mind hadn't lingered much beyond the mat, the movement and the breath. The studio became a safe haven, the teacher a welcome guardian, and the other yogis a potent reminder that there was a whole world and community out there living their lives and facing their own challenges outside of my small, highly sanitised life. The fact that I now teach my own class in this studio is a true full circle moment, and reminds me to have gratitude for all that yoga has served me, and all that my own commitment to the practice has afforded my wellbeing.


Finding stillness, going inside and meditation can be huge challenges for those of us with OCD. I spent a long time doing everything I could to run away from my thoughts, as if I engaged with them for too long, I would find myself in a loop of exhausting compulsions, going blurry-eyed from checking the same hob so many times and cancelling plans because I couldn't leave the house. The combination of therapy and yoga practice though, has helped me to reframe this. I am now much better equipped to acknowledge my thoughts, identify them as stemming from OCD and simply let them be. Resisting engaging further, or doing compulsions to ease the stress, remains a challenge, but one I no longer run away from. Yoga has a beautiful way of taking us into ourselves whilst also reminding us we are part of an interconnected world - grappling with this internal and external connection has refocussed my mind, and I hope that one day my teaching can help others on this journey too.


What now?

For me, the journey continues. I might have OCD for the rest of my life, and I accept that now. What I no longer accept is that OCD will ruin my life, and keep me from the experiences, joy and love I so badly want to cherish. The hard work of continuing to challenge OCD will go on, and I will face it with all the tools I have been lucky enough to access.


I would encourage anybody to read a bit more on OCD, to help us to combat the trivialising stereotypes that pervade our society and can stop people seeking the resources they need. As mentioned, the NHS site is a good place to start, along with OCD UK and this recent article from The Independent. I follow many brilliant accounts on Instagram, which you can find on my profile.


If you are suffering - you're not alone, there's resources and help out there, and I am sending you all the love and light I can. I can only speak from my own experience, but suffering in silence did nothing to help me, and reaching out was the first step to my recovery journey.


223 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page