One of the things about living with OCD is that you never know when it is going to strike. I know that it hits most when I am stressed, tired or feeling low. I expected it when I lost my dog Coco in October, and moved through it. I was NOT expecting a new OCD theme to hit three and a bit weeks ago. I almost forget the pain of OCD until it returns and am reminded again how torturous being stuck in an OCD spiral feels.

The thing with OCD is that the meaning we place on our intrusive thoughts is what causes the distress and anxiety, leading to compulsions. I know the importance of accepting the theme and the thoughts, but when they are so misaligned with who you are, when you’re already exhausted, when your self-esteem is a bit rubbish, and when you have a fixed black and white thinking style (thanks autistic brain!), it feels like you can’t possibly just accept them. But, until you do, you can’t move through the distress. The compulsions can relieve anxiety and distress for a short while, but all they do is reinforce OCD. I know that once I am sucked in to performing compulsions, it is HARD work to pull myself back out.

Each compulsion strengthens the OCD. Each act of resistance takes power back from OCD.

Moving through the OCD blip:

Step one: recognising that it is OCD. Every time there is that thought ‘but what if it’s not OCD’, intentionally recognising the OCD cycle and saying out loud that it is OCD.

Acknowledging the anger and distress. Releasing this in creative ways – I made a ‘F*ck OCD’ bead bracelet which I have been wearing every day.

Telling someone, because OCD thrives on shame. But being aware of when you are telling them to take power back from OCD which thrives on shame (a good thing), and being aware of when you are seeking reassurance (not great as reinforces OCD!).

Understanding why OCD has latched on to this theme, and also knowing it is not about the theme.(OCD will latch on to any theme it can get you with!)

Distractions to sit with the distress. I covered my arms in Henna, filled up colouring books, made bead bracelets, asked a friend I trusted to come over, and got creative.

Daily journaling to identify triggers and challenge thought cycles. I have started using Lovendu’s Anxiety Journal every evening and I am loving it. I can track intensity of anxiety, triggers, how I coped, my thought processes, daily positives, what I’ve learned each day, gratitude, sleep, water intake and mood.

Getting outside even when it feels hard. Trying to step outside and breathe in fresh air each day, even if only for a short while.

Professional help. I attended my counselling and coaching appointments. My ADHD coach Leanne Maskell (from ADHD Works) was brilliant in reminding me that my ADHD brain needs to be busy, so worrying about something is a great way of curing boredom and seeking dopamine (dopamine loves an unsolvable problem!). She told me to repeat ‘my brain is seeking dopamine’ when intrusive thoughts pop up, and I love reframing OCD this way.

Resting. Because an increase in OCD means my brain is showing that it is tired and needs looking after. Sensory lights (I love my northern lights projector!), weighted blanket and oodies were perfect.

Facing exposures. Because I have already spent too many years consumed by OCD. And knowing that avoidance will only strengthen OCD.

Not isolating myself. Attending the events I had planned. Allowing people who love me to be around me.

Doing something new to change focus (and for the dopamine!). I have started a writing course called Writing While Neurodivergent with KR Moorhead on Wednesday evenings, and I am really enjoying this.

Focusing on self-care. I got my nails and my lashes done today!

Externalising OCD as separate from me and knowing my thoughts are not who I am. We cannot control our thoughts. OCD is OCD because the thoughts are ego-dystonic and do not align with our morals and who we are, hence the distress.

Remembering the reasons to keep trying.

I regularly remind myself of why I fight OCD, and I wrote this list a few weeks ago when I needed a visual reminder to look at each day.

I fight OCD because…

I have already given up too much of my life to anxiety and OCD.

Each OCD theme I’ve experienced before has lessened in intensity with time and work, so this will too.

I enjoy life now, and I will not let OCD ruin that.

There is no evidence from people who love me to say there is any truth in OCD.

There are things I want to do and relationships I want to deepen away from the grip of OCD.

Letting OCD consume me is more painful than putting in the work to stop it.

I have overcome so many things I thought I couldn’t.

I am looking forward to things I do not want OCD to ruin.

There is no space for OCD in the future I would like for myself.

Thankfully, I’m now through the worst. The intrusive thoughts are less intense, and the distress and compulsions are not taking over. Three weeks might not sound like long, but I cannot begin to describe the Hell of each minute entrapped in the mental prison of OCD.

If you are struggling with OCD, please remember that your thoughts do not define you. OCD is all about doubt and uncertainty, not the theme itself. You are distressed because OCD targets your values. You will be okay.

Love, Emily.

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