The “coming out” thing

Fear can hold you prisoner; hope can set you free. – Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption. 

Since being diagnosed with OCD, I have learned a lot about the condition. I have suffered from OCD my whole life, but I was only officially diagnosed nine years ago, aged 37. 

I was pretty sure for a long time before that I was an OCD sufferer, but self stigma and shame had prevented me from seeking help. Even before knowing it was called OCD, I had known from a very young age (two years old) that I was somehow “different”. Damaged goods, impregnated with an evil that I had to keep secret. I had badness in me that was trying to leech out. If anyone found out, I would be locked up. My mother reinforced these cast iron beliefs almost every day, when she beat me and I bled or bruised. “That’s the badness coming out of you. When they find out, they’re going to lock you up in The Home”. 

So it took 37 years for me to summon the courage to seek help. By then, it was simply a case of either die by suicide or risk being sectioned and locked up to protect the World from me. I had feigned an outwardly normal life until then. In many respects I was “normal” and successful. But the whole time, I carried this burden of latent evil around with me. I knew I was essentially a good person, but my mind told me I was capable of doing bad things and of not doing good things properly, which would result in evil, catastrophic consequences, which would be my fault. 

I first began to suspect that my “differentness” was partially something called OCD in my mid teens, when I watched two documentaries about people with OCD, one about people living with it day to day, the other about inpatient treatment of severe, treatment resistant OCD. That was a frightening realisation. I was an undiscovered mental patient, like the mental patients on TV. Mental patients were dangerous and needed to be locked up. Everybody knew that. I needed to work harder on seeming normal, in case I was discovered and locked up too. 

With the benefit of hindsight, I remember that the documentaries both concentrated on the compulsions of the sufferers they featured. I recognised similarities to my own compulsions. Up to that point, my primary compulsions were checking compulsions. I don’t recall much mention in the documentaries of the mechanisms of OCD or the intrusive thoughts which fuelled the OCD cycle. So for me at that time, OCD equated to Obsessively Checking things Disorder. 

I didn’t realise then that the physical tics I had, the hair pulling, the skin picking, the ripping off of my fingernails and toenails, which had all happened throughout childhood, were also all indicative of OCD and the anxiety it created. 

So I quietly knew for about 22 years that at least part of my “differentness” was OCD, yet didn’t seek help. Stupid, eh? So many wasted years. Utterly daft. Yet that whole time it seemed perfectly rational. The OCD parasite is cunning. It convinces its host that it is both friend and protector. That the host will be vulnerable, weaker without its presence. So it seemed logical to allow the OCD to remain in control of me. I needed it there to keep me safe, to keep others safe. I couldn’t live with myself if harm came to anyone if I abdicated my burden of responsibility. And so the OCD parasite continued to feed off my anxiety, propagating it with horrific mental images, fear, guilt and paranoia.  

So eventually, in terminal desperation, I went to my family doctor aged 37 to get help for OCD. In order to realise that we need help and then to seek help, many OCD sufferers necessarily self diagnose. Some people go to their doctor knowing just that something is mentally wrong. Some have an inkling that it might be OCD. I was more organised and thorough. In my typical manner, to confirm my self diagnosis, I had looked up OCD on Wikipedia, as well as looking at the OCD-UK, OCD Action and IOCDF websites. My education had begun in earnest. I listed my “OCD things”, three printed pages of a bullet-point list and showed them to the doctor. He agreed with the self diagnosis. He put me onto medication to help control my anxiety. 

Looking back at that list, there were also a few things like “straightening picture frames” that I now know are misconceptions about OCD. Crooked picture frames annoyed me; I never thought anyone would come to serious harm if I didn’t straighten the picture frames. But I can forgive myself now for the commonly held misconceptions. It was early in my education about OCD. That’s what many think OCD is – being mildly annoyed at crooked picture frames. So very far from the horrible truth. 

Perhaps I should be more forgiving of other people’s misconceptions of OCD. They mostly only have media misrepresentations, online memes and jokes to go on. The fact that we OCD sufferers conceal our suffering so well has also helped to perpetuate misconceptions and misunderstanding of the actual condition. I have beaten myself up mentally for concealing my OCD and perpetuating the myths. I’m learning to cut myself and others some slack about that now. We were and are hostages to the parasite in our minds. You don’t shout for help when there’s a gun muzzle pressed to your forehead. 

So I was diagnosed. What changed? Initially, not a lot. The huge burden of self responsibility lifted slightly from my shoulders. The medication reduced my anxiety slightly, but also made me gain weight and feel drowsy. I didn’t magically get well. I bounced along the bottom of the abyss for several more years. 

But then I began to read more about OCD. I began to interact on an online OCD-UK forum. I read a lot about other people’s experiences of OCD. So much of it was like reading someone else’s description of me, but interestingly, a fair chunk of what I read surprised me. I have a bad habit of assuming that my experience of a thing is absolutely typical and indicative of that thing. I’m not good at golf. Therefore I don’t enjoy playing golf. How can anybody enjoy this stupid pastime that I loathe? Only an idiot could enjoy golf. You see? Just like that. 

I had assumed that everybody’s OCD would be exactly like mine: Always present, at maximum volume, every waking second of every single day. Primarily focussed (in adulthood) on contamination, with consistent minor themes such as checking. I was wrong. I discovered that whilst there is a core mechanism to OCD, there can be big personal variations. 

I discovered that some people’s OCD can be less severe. I envied them. I discovered that a few people’s OCD was more severe. I pitied their suffering. I learned that some people’s OCD could fluctuate in severity, depending on the time of day, week or year. This was a revelation!

I also started to learn about the different main themes of obsessional focus: contamination, checking, fear of harming others – accidentally or deliberately, fear of sexually harming others, sexual identity fears, magical thinking, fear of harm from others, religious obsessions, moral obsessions, relationship obsessions, rumination or hoarding. I recognised that I had experienced more of the themes than I had realised and was surprised that I hadn’t encountered others. Given that I was sexually abused for the first 11 years of my life, I’m still amazed that OCD has never latched onto suggesting the possibility of the phenomenon of abused becoming abuser. I simply know unequivocally that I would never repeat the actions of my mother on anyone and the OCD has never tried to suggest otherwise. A good example of the random, unpredictable nature of what OCD does or doesn’t torment its host with. 

Sometimes, when I read or hear of someone else’s experiences of OCD, I consider myself lucky not to have experienced their variation of the torment. Oddly, several of those people have said the same thing in reverse when I have described some of my experiences. We are typically empathetic people. Other people’s suffering seems worse than our own. We are also stoical and determined. We quietly endure years of suffering alone – typically 12 years from onset to diagnosis. It’s hideous mental torture, yet we consider ourselves lucky in comparison when we hear of the horrors in other people’s minds. We are all victims of the same torturer – OCD, which uses the same torture techniques on us. It merely varies the subject matter of what it tortures us with. 

It is good to have now heard and read the experiences of so many other OCD sufferers. It makes me realise that we have a common enemy, which behaves in consistent, predictable ways. That enemy is weak. We are strong. That is why it parasitises us, because it can feed off and drain our strength, but as soon as we learn to control the anxiety triggered by the intrusive thoughts it latches onto, we begin to deprive it of its source of nourishment. 

The thing which had the biggest positive impact for me was attending an OCD sufferers’ support group. I had spent the years since formal diagnosis continuing to endure the OCD parasite, but in a medicated state. I had previously improved my knowledge of OCD, but I hadn’t done anything else, other than attend a one-to-one talking therapy course, which was only briefly beneficial. The support group increased my knowledge of OCD exponentially. It made me challenge my self stigma and see that my shame as a sufferer was unwarranted. It made me start to feel better about myself as a person. 

The most practical things to come from starting to attend the support group were learning about the benefits of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) in overcoming OCD and gathering the courage and motivation to ask my family doctor to refer me for CBT treatment. 

Other OCD sufferers gave me support at one of the lowest ebbs of my life and indirectly helped to save me from death by suicide. OCD sufferers are more empathetic and supportive than the general population. It’s in our nature. It’s one reason why we fall prey to OCD. It makes us doubt the innate good in ourselves and feeds off the resultant anxiety. I have been very glad of the support of other sufferers and it is a privilege to return that support in kind. 

Coming out as an OCD sufferer is difficult, frightening, daunting. It is a big thing to do. But it is liberating. For me it was like being reborn and learning to be a proper human being for the first time. I’m still learning: about OCD, about what “normal” is, about self care, about how to be free and untortured. But it’s good. It’s a new adventure. It’s good to feel the rain on my face. 

If you believe that you might be suffering from OCD, these blog posts can help you to seek support and treatment:

• How to first get help if you have OCD – click here 

• Going to an OCD support group – click here

You are not alone. You are not a freak. You are not a bad person. You can recover. You too can break free. 

Advertisements

The man who stared at sticks

A weird title for a blog post, I admit. But it was a realisation I made one morning while gardening. I should explain. This is a progress report, of sorts. And amazingly, there is some progress. 

The “sticks” are a mixture of things that I have recently planted, things that were already there, planted previously by my wife, and things which had languished in pots for several years. And yes, many of them did and do look like dead sticks, stuck in the ground by a wishful fool. 

The new sticks are ten silver birch saplings, about 45cm tall, which I planted in February. Nine of them are still exhibiting stubborn stickyness. But one… One has already produced its first leaves. For a total of £12, I shall be happy with one successfully growing silver birch, but I do continue to stare at the other nine in hope. 

I have also planted several neglected twigs and sticks which my wife had bought in the last couple of years, but which had been left at the side of the house, neglected in the pots they were bought in. I’ve had mixed luck with these, but surprisingly more have survived than I expected. The only thing that properly, totally died was a rose bush, but it was a spiky bastard anyway. I did feel sorry that it had died of neglect, not getting to be the great big spiky bastard it deserved to be. 

One rather sorry looking plant which I took a particular interest in was the remnants of a yellow barked dogwood bush. It was little more than the withered stumps of a few twigs, but I gave it a chance, planting it between a new red barked dogwood bush and a new variagated holly bush. For weeks it sat there forlornly. To all intents and purposes dead. Visually devoid of life. Barren of growth. A stark stick sticking stickily from the spot it was stuck. Every morning I stared at the little dark bits on the twigs that I thought might be leaf buds. Nothing. No change. 

Meanwhile, the new dogwood beside it was already starting to open up its first couple of lime green leaves. Hmmmm. Was I being unrealistically optimistic? After all, it was a plant which had received no care or attention for a couple of years. Who could blame it if it had withered and died? I studied each little detail of the dogwood stick, day after day. Was that a tiny, almost imperceptible change I had noticed? Was I just deluding myself? I couldn’t tell either way, so I erred on the side of caution and didn’t get my hopes up. It still looked dead. Most probably was. …I’ll give it one more day. 

Then one day after weeks of discouraging stickyness, near the base of one of the stems, one of the little black pokey out bits (technical gardening jargon) looked a little less black and ever so slightly green. This time it wasn’t misplaced optimism or hopeful delusion. The stick wasn’t a stick. It wasn’t dead; it was still a plant. Not much of a plant, granted, but a plant nonetheless. It had tentatively begun to take the belated opportunity I had given it by replanting it, watering it, feeding it plant food and sending encouraging vibes to it during each morning’s staring session. 

Over the next few weeks, most of the little black bits turned green and gradually opened up as leaves. The dogwood is slowly giving it another go. It is still dwarfed by its neighbours, but it is alive. A small plant which had been a small stick. 

As I have said previously, one reason that I am trying gardening is to teach myself a few new life skills and learn a few things about who I really am. Coaxing sticks back to life seems a typical thing for me to do. Rooting for the plucky underdog. Attempting what seems impossible. Stupidly optimistic in the face of the evidence in front of me. I suppose that I’m drawing a clumsy parallel between my own “back from the dead” recovery and those of the “dead” plants I’ve nurtured. What would I have done or thought if they had all died? How would I have rationalised that?

But clumsy or not, there is a parallel, a lesson to be learned from nature. Nearly dead isn’t dead. It’s alive. Not doing-joyful-cartwheels-in-the-park alive, but alive nonetheless. It is possible to experience adverse conditions, sustained neglect, trauma and things which could kill, but remain alive, deep down, in some tiny way, at one’s core. But don’t just take my word for it. This is the shattered stump of a tree blown down in the recent winter storms. 

Nature has ways of helping organisms to survive adversity. They may look dying, dead or gone, but a tiny spark of life remains. Looks can be deceiving. Evidence can be misleading. Dormancy or self protective retreat are not death. With the right care and persistence, that tiny spark can reignite the chain reaction of growth. 

That growth might be initially slow, ugly even. But it is growth. It is the undeniable resurgence of life. Some sticks take longer than others, but I am patiently, cautiously hopeful for most of them. I continue to stare at sticks. 

Growing as a person

I have been encouraged and inspired by my wife’s gardening, my kids at school gardening club and by the gardening tweets of @OCDTrudy to try a bit of gardening myself. 

I am not a natural gardener. I have in the past struggled to even remember to keep house plants alive. But I have had little glimmers of green fingered tendencies through the years. Aged 10, I once broke a twig off a privet bush. I felt so guilty that I “planted” the twig in my front garden and nurtured it into a small privet bush. 

In adulthood, my attempts at gardening have involved planting nasturtium seeds and the occasional winter pansy plant. Not nothing, but nearly nothing, in gardening terms. In the last few years, I didn’t venture much into the garden at all. My wife has always been the gardener of the household. I stared through the conservatory window, like a prisoner looking over the prison wall at the greenery outside. 

I absolutely love being outdoors and I love seeing the beauty of plants, trees and flowers. But my fear of failure prevented me from trying to garden. I had myself convinced that I am the grim reaper of plants, my toxic presence extinguishing the life from them. Me plus plants equalled dead plants. 

As part of mindfulness practice, I have become more heedful of the changes in nature and the seasons. It has helped me gain a more cyclical view of time, rather than a linear one which sees death and darkness as the endpoint of each year. 

I have seen that nature merely draws breath, waiting for the year to turn. It doesn’t die. It rests. Regroups. Waits patiently for the return of the sun. 

So, rather too late last year, at the end of May, I sowed wild flower seeds and waited. Waited and watched. Watched and waited. Nothing. The grim reaper of plants had struck again. I had failed. This was a big deal. I don’t fail. If I think I might fail at a thing, I either don’t do it at all or I go to extraordinary lengths to succeed to an exceptional degree. Succeed or don’t do the thing at all. There is no try and maybe fail. Failure doesn’t happen to me. But last Summer it did. 

Fuck! FUCKFUCKITYFUCK!

I did a thing that totally failed. I had to face up to failing at something. Failing spectacularly at something that I had in truth expected to fail at and I had been proven right. Why had I done this to myself. I do not permit myself to fail. And yet, I had knowingly failed. Had I deliberately self sabotaged? This didn’t sit well with me. But I had also set myself an objective of learning to fail. Learning to know what failure feels like. Learning to cope with failure, accepting it as a possible outcome and learning something from having failed. I needed to learn that failing sometimes is OK. This might sound like a rudimentary life skill, but it’s one I’m still trying to learn. 

So, what happened next? Did I give up?

No. I took stock of what I hadn’t done correctly. I read some of the lovely gardening books I had bought for my wife over the years. I started to ask my wife lots of annoying questions as she was gardening. I learned and I began to plan. 

What needed to be done when?

In my incredibly task driven mind, I was drawing up a plan of attack on the garden. I started to schedule task alerts into my computer/phone diary. I do this with everything. I could tell you the weekend that I will put up my Christmas tree in 2023. Yes really. 

I was also looking at other people’s gardens, parks and National Trust gardens to see what I liked and didn’t like. Taking photos. Remembering names. Looking things up when I got home again. Working out what was within my very limited skill set and what was too ambitious for a keen beginner. 

I was giving myself a chance to succeed a little more at the second attempt. Some of my forays into pruning and planting last Autumn were supervised by my wife. Other, wider family responsibilities for my wife however, mean that a lot more of my activity has been unsupervised. Oh dear. Yes, I have killed a few plants, but much fewer than anticipated. 

I have enthusiastically continued to plant, sow, trim, prune and fertilise according to the increasingly busy schedule programmed into my phone. These are experimental times for me. As mid March approaches, only a few of the bushes I have planted are showing signs of buds and leaves. But I am also learning patience. Every morning, I pootle round our little back garden and tiny front garden noticing the infinitesimal changes in things. Sometimes I haven’t a clue whether these are good changes or bad – they’re mostly good. There always is some tiny change to look at. Since regrouping my gardening mindset last Autumn, tiny changes have kept me going.

So, as Spring approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, I have to reign in my natural impatience and instead notice a leaf here, a flower there, an occasional shoot emerging. 

Will I succeed this year? Only time will reveal the answer. I am hopeful, but I know that it is a learning process. Not everything will work, but that’s OK. Partial failure is OK, because that means partial success too. I am learning how to fail. I am also learning how to succeed in a meaningful way. Given the number of seeds I have sown and bulbs I have planted, if only 20% of them grow, the garden will still be a riot of colour, mostly orange and blue, in the months to come. 

And next year will be better, not because it has to be at all costs in order to beat my previous best attempt, but because the grim reaper of plants has swapped his scythe for secateurs and success for happiness. Well, I’m trying to. 

The voice of mental illness

This isn’t a blog post about “hearing voices”, in the sense of auditory hallucinations. It is about the tone of voice and phraseology of the thoughts that accompany mental illnesses. For me, each of my mental health conditions has a consistent and recognisable voice. When I have a thought, I can now recognise which condition is doing the talking, or if the thought is of my own creation. Being able to do this is a fundamental part of the toolkit of recovery. 

So how do the conditions sound to me?

OCD: The voice of OCD is insidious, like a snake’s hiss. That should be a massive warning klaxon to the mind, but the mind doesn’t hear the hiss, just the words. 

The OCD whispers that it’s our friend and protector. It puts a reassuring arm round our shoulder, steering us where it wants us to go. And we go. Like someone vulnerable, groomed and coherced by a creepy family friend. 

The voice of OCD is persuasive. Plausible. Believable. No matter how ridiculous the idea is that it whispers to the mind. We know that it’s whispering nonsense. We’re sure that it’s whispering nonsense. But… there’s a sliver of doubt. I’d best do what OCD wants me to do, just in case…

Aaaaaand it’s got us. Hook, line and sinker. Again. No matter how many times we’ve been caught before. 

Then there’s the OCD trigger voice. Like an opera soprano with her hand caught in a car door. Strident. Loud above all else. Screaming the panic into you to take action now. Immediately! If you don’t, the very worst is definitely going to happen. ACT NOW! Carry out the compulsion to avoid certain disaster! Do it before it’s too late! She keeps wailing, drowning everything else out. 

So eventually you do the compulsion. The trapped-handed soprano stops screaming. The panic drops. A tiny moment of calm, maybe even relief. But then the whispering voice starts again. What if you didn’t do the compulsion correctly? What if disaster hasn’t been averted, merely delayed? What if? What if? What if? And before you know it, the careless soprano has her hand trapped in the car door again. 

Doubt is OCD’s weapon. It doesn’t even have to be reasonable doubt, in the legal sense. A single, tiny, poisonous sliver of doubt is enough to pierce the mind and embed the toxin once again. 

OCD is a one trick pony. Sure, it has infinite variations on a theme, but it always plays the same tune. Recognising the lyrics and disbelieving them is the start of putting the hissing serpent back into its basket, with the lid shut tight.

___________________________

OCPD: If Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder was a person, it would be a US marines drill sergeant. An uncompromising bully for which nothing is ever good enough. Ever. A harrying voice which pushes ever forward. 

The voice goads you to do better, always better. The last success was a fleeting thing, to be improved upon. Never worthy of congratulation, only introspection and analysis of how it could have been done better, how the next thing must be done better. 

Each task is a competition with your previous self. The OCPD says that Old Self was weak. Imperfect. Flawed. Unacceptable. Not good enough. New Self must be better. No excuses. No mercy. Everything is a task. Perfection is the goal. Anything less than perfection is failure, no matter how close it came. Do the task, meet the deadline, be perfect, don’t show weakness, don’t hesitate, don’t slow down, don’t draw breath. Keep the juggernaut rolling forwards, ever forwards. Failure is not an option. 

The voice of OCPD is an absolute bastard. Absolute in its true sense. All or nothing, black or white, win or lose. No room for grey. No room for error. No room for weakness. OCPD is an utter asshole. A shouty, demanding asshole. And sadly, that’s what the sufferer can become in turn. A task driven, order obsessed, singleminded, inflexible, perfectionist asshole. The inner bully begets the outer asshole. 

It’s stressful being that protégé asshole. Exhausting. Lonely. It gets results. Success. But what is all the success in the world worth, if it requires being whipped through life by an asshole in your mind?

___________________________

Depression: Of all the mental health conditions I have experienced, depression is by far the most deliberately harmful and destructive. It is just as much a parasite as the other conditions, but seems Hell bent on destroying both its host and itself in turn. 

The voice of depression is mean, evil, remorseless. There is no pretence. It wants to do you down. Its vocabulary is scathing: “Pathetic. Failure. Carcass. Dead man walking. Waste of breath. Waste of a soul. Sad little fat failure. You’re better off dead. You are a liability to this world”. The tone is harsh and sadistic , like a Dickensian villain. 

The voice of depression is internalised death-by-a-thousand-cuts. It eats away at you, like a wasp larva, hollowing its way out of its living host victim. 

I get angry at the voice of depression now. When it spits its bile through its gritted teeth, I shout “FUCK OFF!” back at it, sometimes out loud, if nobody can hear me. Depression is an evil thing, intent on killing. It is my enemy. I will show my enemy no mercy. My family motto is “Cut and burn to victory”. I like to summon a little of that family bloodlust when fighting the voice of depression, cutting it down mid sentence. 
___________________________

PTSD: For me, PTSD is voiceless. That is to say, it has no voice of its own, only echoes of my voice in memories and flashbacks. 

I can hear the voice of my thoughts as I relive or recall events. “You’re trapped. Cornered. There is no escape. You must hide, fight or die. Don’t show weakness. Don’t fall. If you fall, you’re dead. Stay on your feet. No, stop drop and roll! Roll to cover. Head down. Cover vital organs with limbs. Make yourself small. Invisible. Take the pain. Stay quiet. Take it. The pain will stop eventually. Please let me die a clean death God. A bullet to the head. Instantaneous. Don’t let me be blown up. Half dead. Dying. Gargling. Moaning. Screaming. Run! RUNUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUN! Keep running. Don’t look back. Don’t slow down. Don’t stop. Knife out. Ready to be caught. Ready to defend. Be ready. Be ready. Get home.  Get home. Quietly. Calm your breathing. In shadow. Survive.  Hide. Hide. Hide. In darkness. Silent. Curled. Hide”. 

That is all so fresh in my mind. I can hear myself think it all, because those phrases never went away. The phrases from so many different situations. Some I escaped from, some I couldn’t. 

___________________________

The worst thing about these voices is that, as for many people who suffer mental illness, there isn’t just the one voice. There is a cacophony of voices from all sides, all the time. Like being trapped in a crammed full lift (elevator), surrounded by people shouting. Some of them constant, never even drawing breath. Others watching for signs of fatigue, weakness, the guard dropping, before joining in the discordant haranguing chorus. All of them heard. Every single word. 

A few moments on the beach or in the woods, with the mind briefly quiet, are blessed respite. 

Alternative therapies

I had an interesting discussion on Twitter recently with a “Cognitive hypnotherapist” who was very keen to treat people who have OCD. If they had also been a BABCP accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist with good experience of treating people with OCD, I would have said, “fair enough. Please work on unhindered by me”. 

But they weren’t. There wasn’t a single mention on their entire website about OCD treatment and only one mention of treating anxiety, not anxiety disorders. Mostly it was the usual hypnotherapy stuff about weightloss, stopping smoking, business success and confidence boosting. But disturbingly, there was also mention of curing the infertility caused by polycystic ovary syndrome with hypnotism and also past life regression using hypnosis. And this person wants to get into the minds of people with OCD?! She may sincerely believe that she can help, but OH-MY-GOD! There was also reference to NLP (neuro linguistic programming) and life coaching. Whenever I see the unholy trio of hypnotherapy, NLP and life coaching, it sets off the QUACK ALERT alarm bells. Every single one of these life coaching people I have met at small business networking events, I would guess 17 or 18 of them, have been lovely, earnest, keen, deeply damaged individuals who should NEVER be allowed to tinker with another person’s fragile mind. 

I was wary about letting anyone into my head, even a properly trained, accredited, experienced medical professional. It only eventually happened as a last resort, when it was a choice of either that or death by suicide. I’m glad that I chose the former, not the latter. But even then, it was difficult to trust someone else. Now imagine if I had been looking over the edge of the abyss and a friend who had lost some weight by going to a hypnotherapist had recommended them to me because they “did OCD too”. It makes me shudder in fear and disgust. That person would have “had a go” at treating somebody, using hypnosis, who needed immediate crisis care from specialist mental health professionals. 

It’s this kind of example which makes me instinctively wary of all alternative remedies and therapies. There are just so many jolly, well meaning, utter fruitcakes out there, willing to “have a go”. If the laws were less strict, would they “have a go” at being amateur dentists too?

I have seen the following “therapies” and remedies touted online as suitable for curing OCD:

  • Number therapy
  • Hypnotherapy
  • The Linden Method
  • The Lightning Process
  • NLP
  • Life coaching
  • Crystal healing
  • Herb therapy
  • Nutrition therapy
  • Vitamin therapy
  • Dietary supplement therapy
  • Vegan diet therapy
  • EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique
  • Exorcism
  • Faith healing
  • Prayer therapy 
  • Experimental electric current therapy

The U.K. National Health treatment regulator NICE (national institute for health and clinical excellence) recommends none of these for treatment of OCD. The only one to have shown evidence of even a short term benefit is hypnotherapy and there is still no objective scientific evidence of any kind of efficacy. The approved therapy is CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), sometimes used in conjunction with medication. CBT works for many, but not universally. I’m not an unquestioning cheerleader for CBT, but it has worked and does work for me. 

I am not totally closed to the idea of using other things to help improve mental health and resilience, just very difficult to persuade. 

I reluctantly tried mindfulness. With its links to Buddhism, prayer bells and incense sticks, it seemed a bit hippy-drippy and ethereal to me. It also smacked of being the latest fashionable lifestyle fad bandwagon to jump aboard.

But a couple of trusted friends had achieved some success in using mindfulness, so I chose to give it a go. In my usual thorough way, I investigated the possible ways of trying it out. Local practitioners? Surprisingly few. And heavy on the prayer bells and zen. Online then? I looked for mindfulness apps and discovered Headspace. 

After persisting for several weeks, with my OCD conditioned mind wrestling with the completely alien concept of letting thoughts go, it started to work. I’ve found it to be a useful, real life tool and technique to use, alongside CBT techniques, to expedite my own recovery. 

So, you see, my mind isn’t closed to a broader approach to achieving recovery. I just recognise a snakeoil salesman or dangerously wellmeaning amateur when I see one. I believe there should be tighter regulation on what supposed “therapies” can be offered commercially as being effective for overcoming serious mental illness. I can’t set up a business as a mender of broken legs using a hot bread poultice, but I could set up a business tomorrow offering hot bread poultice cures for depression, #OCD, #PTSD and other anxiety disorders. This would be laughable, if it wasn’t so incredibly dangerous and happening RIGHT NOW. 

In the meantime, whenever I encounter an enthusiastic, well meaning idiot, I try to persuade them to leave treating actual mental illnesses to trained, accredited medical professionals and for them to stick to business performance coaching. And I also report the few genuinely cynical charlatons I come across, preying on vulnerable, fragile people who may be at the lowest ebb. 

If you’re going to let anyone inside your mind, it’s reasonable to be cautious, even with trained, experienced professionals. It is a great thing to be helped towards recovery, but the mind is as delicate as the human heart and more intricate than the human cardiovascular system. You wouldn’t place your heart into the hands of anyone but a highly skilled, experienced professional. Why risk the mind with anyone less capable or trustworthy?