Living with OCD

I’m insecure about my hands.

It seems a strange thing to be insecure about, but it’s the only visible sign of my OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), a condition I’ve struggled with since middle school.

I’ve never spoken about it before, mainly because I was in denial for a long time. I was ashamed to admit I was struggling with it. But seeing as it’s #WorldMentalHealthDay, it makes sense to share.

Part of the reason I’ve never spoken about this is because I never thought my OCD was ‘that bad’. I would often shrug off comments from family or friends about how sore my hands looked.

At one point, I thought it was completely normal to wash your hands over 40 times a day. I was functioning, so therefore it was all fine. 

OCD is a highly misunderstood condition. It is estimated 12 out of every 1,000 people in the U.K. will be diagnosed with it. And it’s often incorrectly used to describe someone who likes to organise or keep their house extra tidy.

Comments like “I need things to be organised so I guess I’m a bit OCD” probably haven’t helped when it comes to those misconceptions, especially when it’s said online for everyone to see. 

If you have OCD, you’ll usually experience frequent obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. The obsession is the thought, and the compulsion is the behaviour which often follows. 

The singer George Ezra recently spoke on a BBC podcast about being diagnosed with ‘Pure O’ which helped to raise awareness. It’s a type of OCD in which you struggle with the intrusive thoughts, but not the compulsive behaviours.

I remember first struggling with the obsessive thoughts when I was twelve-years-old.

My brain was like white noise on a broken television, constantly buzzing with irrational thoughts and theories. That’s one of the worst parts about OCD. You can’t really escape it.

Most of the time you know you’re being completely irrational, yet you still need to act on the compulsion, just in case it becomes a reality. 

I checked doors a certain amount of times to make sure they were definitely locked, or placed towels between clothes in the washing basket so they wouldn’t become contaminated.

I appeared to ‘grow out of it’ after a few years, but it’s come back under a different disguise during times of stress or uncertainty, sometimes noticeable and sometimes more covert.

However, over the last seven years it’s become all encompassing, tainting many memories or moments with a irrational thought or fear.

It showed up like a long lost relative at an awkward birthday party after I lost my younger brother Elliot in May 2013.

Looking back, it probably made sense. It was a way to maintain control during a point in my life I felt I didn’t have any control at all.

I felt like everything was no longer within my power. I couldn’t change what had just happened to my family, and the world seemed so fragile and unpredictable because of this. Metaphorically, I had lost control of the wheel and didn’t have a clue where I was going.

The compulsions have morphed over the years, but it’s main focus is the fear of contamination.

At first it was the thought of catching a disease from surfaces or public places, especially on public transport to and from work.

Then it became an obsession with touching chemicals or cleaning products. Could chemicals have contaminated my skin? Could they be sitting on my clothes? When I eat, could that chemical have got into my food poisoned me?

If I saw a stain on the street, I’d have to walk around it and get to the nearest toilet to wash my hands. This stain could have been left by a chemical, so I needed to disinfect myself immediately.

Despite the fact my hands were red raw, I’d still continue to scrub them like I was surgeon about to go into surgery. My hands were embarrassingly sore and cracked, but it was worth it to know I hadn’t harmed myself or anyone else I cared about.

I’ve wasted a lot of money over the years. I’d buy something in the shop but if I felt it had been contaminated, I’d have to replace it.

Clothes, bags and shoes were sent to the charity shop. Or worse, thrown away for no reason other than the fact they might have been touched by some unknown chemical or liquid. 

In 2018, I decided to get some counselling and asked for a referral with my GP. I was put on a dose of anti-depressants to help with my symptoms, and took these for a year before I started to feel better and less anxious.

The OCD, although not cured, was manageable. I didn’t feel the same level of panic at the idea someone might have touched bleach or cleaning fluid before shaking my hand or hugging me.

But then, COVID-19 hit.

Part of the treatment for OCD is accepting your thoughts are irrational, and therefore, don’t need to be acted on. Yet during the pandemic, those irrational fears were suddenly reality for many.

People with the condition went from being told washing your hands 50 times a day was unhealthy, to the Government encouraging us to regularly wash our hands to prevent the spread of a deadly and unknown virus.

The fear of bringing an unknown disease into your house and contaminating your family became a real prospect, and one you couldn’t just rationalise with a round of CBT and mindfulness.

The first few months of lockdown included daily de-contamination. The cupboards, kitchen surfaces, door handles, and TV remotes were regular dosed in Dettol spray (other anti-bacterial sprays are available), and my phone was so clean you could have literally eaten from it.

But after a while, the fear and worry began to fade. I won’t say it’s gone completely, I’m still a bit nervous on public transport and if someone gets too close to me in a queue I get a bit agitated like one of those grumpy chihuahuas when you put your hand in their face, but it doesn’t occupy my every thought like it did at the start of the year.

However, COVID did make me realise I couldn’t continue to allow OCD control over my life. It had become a toxic friend, feeding me lies and making me believe my compulsions were protecting me.

The fact is, a life with OCD isn’t really a life. 

It’s a prison in your own mind. It makes your life smaller and smaller until you feel you’re living in a sealed Tupperware box. You can see the outside world, but you’re not living in it, consumed by your own fear and irrational thoughts.

Slowly and surely, I’m now getting the help I need to tackle it. And feeling a lot better for it.

For a long time I’ve been ashamed of my OCD. I’d much rather tell someone I was feeling tired or just in a bad mood then admit I was battling with a constant stream of obsessive thoughts.

I’d rather cover my hands with gloves then let anyone see how sore they were by the constant hand washing I was putting them through.

It made sense to keep it to myself for as long as possible, but if talking about it helps one person who might be struggling, it’s worth it.

Thankfully, OCD has become a lot less of a taboo subject in the last few years.

I’ve seen lots of people sharing Tik Tok videos about their compulsive thoughts and how they’ve dealt with them. When you know you aren’t alone in how you feel, it makes it a lot easier to reach out and ask for professional support and help.

So if you’re struggling with OCD symptoms, please don’t wait so long to get help like I did. It can be debilitating if you aren’t getting help.

And don’t be ashamed to talk about it. You don’t know who else might be going through the same struggle right now 

Resources:

The UK’s Largest OCD Charity | OCD Action

OCD-UK | A national OCD charity, run by, and for people with lived experience of OCD

Self-care for OCD | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems

‘How do I become a journalist without a degree?’

I was fifteen when I decided I wanted to be a journalist. I bloody loved the news. I would wake up at 5:30 most mornings to watch it with my dad before school. I also had a fascination for documentaries. Louis Theroux was my icon and I longed to tell stories the way he did it, with empathy and curiosity for everyone he spoke to. It was my mum who taught me that everyone has a story. Since becoming a journalist, no truer word has been said. My passion is for story-telling and for people. 

I didn’t know if I was ever going to get here. I wasn’t traditionally academic in school and I don’t think many of my teachers thought I’d make anything of myself. I was the quiet and slightly strange girl at the back of the classroom who’d rather daydream whilst looking out of the window than read another chapter of ‘An Inspector Calls’.

The truth is, I didn’t really ‘fit in’. I wasn’t even one of those teenagers who’d say they were ‘misfits’ but were actually really cool and mysterious with their box-dyed hair and facial piercings. I was actually painfully uncool.

I wasn’t smart enough to hang out with the nerds and I wasn’t bad enough to hang out with the rebellious kids. I was a wallflower, and not of my own choosing. I’d learned it was better to keep quiet and be ‘undetectable’ as not to draw too much attention. Children can be cruel sometimes and I learned the hard way in middle school. 

I didn’t do well in my GCSEs. Unfortunately, my high school would often nurture highly gifted children. You know, the ones who were going to sail through their exams regardless of how many extra hours of tuition they received in after school club.

Children like me were encouraged less and so, we spent much of our school years wondering if we were actually any good at anything or if we had talents at all.

I scraped just enough passes to go to the sixth form, and although it was a bit more independent in comparison to school, it still felt like I was in the same system, my knowledge, and understanding of the world questioned in an exam hall, compared against hundreds of other young people who didn’t learn the same way I did. 

I was quite disruptive and argumentative during my first year of A levels. My teachers would often write home with words of warning, informing my parents that I had a bad attitude to learning or was too opinionated during classes. I was actually just finding my voice after years of feeling unconfident and awkward, blending into the background.

And surprise, I failed my A Levels. At that point, I’d written myself off as being awful at exams. Nobody has encouraged me to be better. I didn’t consider myself to be academic or ‘smart’. I just couldn’t do it, or so I thought.

Looking back, it was actually a blessing in disguise. I started searching for journalism courses in local colleges, still determined to get to where I wanted to be. I found a creative media course which offered journalism as a unit. For the first time in a long time, I was excited about education. This was probably the first time I remember a teacher seeing real potential in me (apart from my Maths teacher Mr. Coleman from middle school and my form tutor Mrs.Ewing who were both proper Gs). I felt like I’d finally found something I was really good at. I felt like I had a purpose. 

In those two years, I was inspired to learn about the industry and encouraged to achieve more than I’d thought myself capable of. I still remember the day my tutor turned to me and said; “Georgia, if anyone can do it, you can” (Big up Jonathan). I still think about that moment when I’m full of doubt and imposter syndrome creeps in like some shadowy menace hanging over my shoulder. I learned a lot from that place. I learned to film productions and take professional photos. I learned to write and script articles. I even became one of the editors for the college magazine. It wasn’t long before I was being encouraged to apply for universities and take the next step, an option I thought I’d never have when I looked at those A-Level exam results the previous year. 

Sadly, in my last few months of college, the worst thing happened. My younger brother Elliot died suddenly and unexpectedly. It tore my life apart in an instant. Everything took a back seat and I didn’t know if I’d survive the year, let alone go to university.

Although I’d passed my college course with the grades I needed to get into Salford, my chosen university, I wasn’t in the right mindset to live away from home. I could barely get on a bus without having a panic attack at this point.

In hindsight, I should have taken a year out but I felt a pressure to go, thinking it was what people expected of me. I had it in my head it was the only way I could become a journalist.

I pushed myself on to a course at a local university so I could still live at home and be near my family. The course hours were sporadic and the entire experience was lonely as most of the people on my course had met during freshers week or lived on campus, so had seen each other around. It felt like school all over again. I needed routine, support, and stability. I also needed to be around people, to talk to other human beings on a regular basis.

I dropped out of the course a few months later and I felt like such a failure. I’d been placing all my hopes for the future on this one opportunity, and it had come crashing down on my head like a tonne of bricks. I felt my vision for the future slip from my grasp and felt I had to let it go. I was never going to become a journalist without a degree.

The next year or so, I got some odd jobs doing social media marketing for small, local businesses, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do in the long term. It was all about the money and the creativity was limited. During that time I decided I didn’t want to give up on becoming a journalist. I set up this small blog, writing a few articles on a weekly basis which focused on mental health, grief, and wellbeing. 

It wasn’t long before I was writing articles for Huffington Post and my blog posts were picked up by local newspapers and eventually, the local BBC radio station Three Counties. The lunchtime presenter, Nick Coffer, invited me for an interview on his show to talk about my writing as well as my experience with grief. Whilst I was there, he encouraged me to sign up for work experience. Nick could see I was knowledgable and passionate about the local community, so he put me in touch with the news editor who told me how to apply online. 

I spent two weeks at the radio station in 2016, getting to know the newsroom and the different teams on the shows and I loved it from the moment I stepped in the door. I knew this was where I belonged.

After my two weeks had come to an end, I was told I should sign up to the freelance pool as a Broadcast Assistant as it was nearing the summer holidays and lots of the staff needed cover. I freelanced for a few months, working as a BA on the afternoon and mid-morning shows.

Whilst I was there, the BBC’s Digital Journalist Apprenticeship was advertised. It meant I could get my journalism qualification and train with the BBC. I submitted my application knowing hundreds of people would be applying for the same opportunity, but I wanted it so badly I was willing to work my ass off to get there. I became a dog with a bone I wasn’t going to let go. I was going to do it all off my own back, no matter what.

I remember the day I got one of the seven places available. After the phone call, I asked myself ‘is this really happening? Am I really going to get a job working for the BBC?’. It was a real ‘pinch me’ moment and it seemed a long way from the memory of thinking I’d have to say goodbye to the career I’d always hoped for. I’d somehow overcome the obstacles.

I trained up for 22 months in local radio, studying for my NCTJ exams (the ones I thought I could never do) and got a gold standard certificate at the end of my course. During that time I made hours of digital and radio content, learning from some of the best journalists in the industry who taught me so much and supported me through my studies. My confidence grew. I went from someone who couldn’t leave the house to traveling around the country and interviewing strangers on the street about their lucky pants.

Since then, I’ve worked for Radio 4’s Today programme, getting a daily podcast commissioned as well as reporting and producing episodes for the award-nominated Beyond Today. I’m currently a producer on a BBC News podcast for youth audiences, and I work in London, a statement I never thought I’d say a few years ago.

I’m from a working-class background. I went to a mainstream comprehensive school. I wasn’t privately educated and none of my family were either. I didn’t know if journalism was for people like me, but it is. The industry needs people like us, people who can speak for working-class communities and shine a light on issues which are sometimes overlooked. It needs people who come from deprived areas or places with a bad press because we have the ability to change perceptions, to gain people’s trust and tell their stories. We grew up in those communities. 

So, if you’re reading this and you want to become a journalist, don’t give up because you think it ‘isn’t for you’. Don’t ever think you don’t deserve to be here or it’s too late to try. As long as you’re passionate and determined to get there, you’ll succeed. 

Don’t get me wrong, some days I still doubt myself and wonder if I’m good enough, but doesn’t everyone? I just have to remind myself how far I’ve come.

Just remember, you’ve got this!

Losing my brother: Five years on

Time feels like a strange concept when you’re grieving.

It feels fleeting, brief and sudden, like you’re racing against an hourglass, watching each grain of sand as it trickles away. And yet in some moments, it feels like an eternity.

I was only ever aware of this after my brother died.

In the early days of my grief, it was about surviving. It was about getting through a single day without collapsing from the weight of sheer panic and despair. It was all about trying to see that little glimmer of light at the end of a very dark and distant tunnel. You wonder how you’ll ever get through it.

Then time starts to feel like a large predator, grabbing at your ankles as you feel yourself slipping behind. You become more aware of the value of life when you lose someone you love. You realise the fragility of life and how every moment counts. There’s a pressure behind those thoughts that nobody seems to recognise until grief touches their family.

You feel like you owe it to your sibling to live your life to the fullest, to do all the things they wouldn’t do, to live in the moment and seize every opportunity that comes your way.

Last May marked five years since my brother died. It was the first anniversary where I had realised just how quickly the past few years had gone.

Most of those early years I don’t remember. Every once in a while, whilst I’m laying on bed struggling to go to sleep, a moment will flash by like a passing train. Inevitably it’s a haunting memory, the look on my brother’s face before he collapsed or the moment he was stretchered out from the back of an ambulance. But sometimes it’s a comforting memory. A simple, yet happy time when we were blissfully unaware of the pain that would consume our safe haven.

In December I turned 25. In the grand scheme of things, it rather an insignificant age. It’s not a milestone. Nobody gets a big birthday party or a special tacky glass or teddy bear to commemorate it, and yet for some reason I felt sheer panic in the pit of my stomach. It was like I’d woken up and noticed I’d slept in for too long. Five years had passed without my brother being alive.

You can’t blame people for moving on with their lives. I understand. But it doesn’t stop you from resenting it. The earth continues to spin on it’s axis, even when your world is falling apart.

I’m five years away from the moments I last spoke to my brother. Five years on since I last held him in my arms and told him I loved him, even though he was a pain, like most little brother’s should be.

The truth is that time doesn’t make it easier to deal with. If anything, sometimes it’s more difficult. When you first lose someone you love, you’re inundated with support. Cards and flowers cover every inch of surface within your home. Your notifications are constantly popping up, Facebook messages from school friends who are thinking of you or emails from family members with poems about love and loss. But what happens when the flowers wilt and die? What happens when the messages dry up and people move on?

We are left with an emptiness that will never quite be filled. Over time the pain is no longer as overpowering or unbearable. It’s more of a heavy weight that sits on your shoulders and seeps in to your being, becoming part of your DNA, your identity. Grief changes you. The pain reminds us of what we have lost, what we will never again find and how fragile life is. We wouldn’t change it. Although at times it’s more painful than words could ever express, it is who we are now. We carry it with us for the rest of our life, hoping we will find other human beings who are compassionate enough to notice our loss, respect our story and allow us to frame it on our wall, etch it into the tapestry of our life.

Five years without my brother may seem like a long time for those who haven’t lost a loved one. But for our family, we carry this grief with us for the rest of our lives. We are navigating a treacherous terrain and no matter how far we might get on this journey, there is still a chance we could slip or fall.

I have learnt time changes when you are grieving. It takes a new form.

I panic sometimes that another five years will go by in a flash, another five years without my brother’s voice or his smile will pass me so fast I can’t comprehend it. But one thing I do know for certain is that he will always be a part of my life and who I am. No matter what happens, he is always there, shaping who I am and who I want to be.

If you haven’t already listened, I did an episode about sibling grief for Beyond Today, a podcast by Radio 4. I shared my story alongside other bereaved siblings, including correspondent Matthew Price. I hope it’s helpful to those who need to talk about their grief:

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06w5z3m

Thank you,
Georgia

Featured on BBC Three Counties Radio

For anybody who doesn’t currently follow my Twitter or like my Facebook page (I’ll leave the details below if you’d like to follow me on social media), on Friday 28th August, I appeared on the brilliant Nick Coffer‘s radio show on BBC Three Counties Radio!

I was asked to go on the show to talk about my blog as well as the subject matters I talk about on Georgia Next Door (Anxiety and mental health). Nick and I had been speaking on Twitter a few days previously and realised we had a lot in common when it came to dealing with anxiety!

It was such an amazing opportunity to feature on my local radio and talk about issues that mean a lot to me.

For anyone who missed me on the show Friday, here is a link:

http://bbc.in/1Fjs8jW

Let me know what you thought of the show!

Thank you all for the continued support and hello to all the new followers!

Georgia

xo

Follow me for the latest news and updates about my blog:

Twitter: @thatgeorgiacoan

Facebook: Georgia Next Door

Misconceptions of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Anxiety is kind of like that friend who you know has your best interests but is actually REALLY clingy and slightly obsessive

Anxiety is a natural emotional response to anything that our brain deems as being dangerous. Referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response, it was most useful back in the stone ages to prevent yourself from becoming lunch for a hungry creature double your size.

Hormones, such as adrenaline, would prepare you physically to fight the creature or do a runner! In turn, this would make you feel more alert and ready your muscles for a WWE style smackdown or a Mo Farah run, which would hopefully stop you from becoming a human kebab!

Thankfully, we don’t have to worry as much about creatures trying to feast upon us these days.

But these reactions to potentially dangerous situations are still prevalent and sometimes for good reasons. Without anxiety, we would literally all live our lives like members of the Jack Ass team. As an emotion, it allows us to approach situations with a levelheaded outlook.

‘Hey, Bob, should I dangle my legs off this really tall cliff for the lol’s?’  

‘Hmm, not too sure about that Jim…Sounds dangerous to me’  

‘What’s the worst that could happen?’  

‘Well, you could slip and fall down the cliff to your death Jim’  

‘Yeah, that’s true Bob, better not try that then’

(In this situation, Bob is anxiety)

Anxiety will cause feelings of unease and fearfulness in many life situations from school exams and job interviews to illnesses or breakups. But for many people, these feelings will only be present during a small and reasonable length of time. These are normal emotional reactions that every person will and should feel.

An anxiety disorder refers to an exaggerated and prolonged response that affects an individual’s everyday life. It’s often hard for people to differentiate between suffering from an anxiety disorder or just undergoing a normal anxiety response because anxiety is such a common emotion.

But the two are very different.

There are many misconceptions about anxiety disorders and I’m going to talk about a few of the most common.

Only weak people get anxiety disorders.

You can be the strongest person in the world and still be struck down with an anxiety disorder. In all fairness, it’s usually the strongest and most confident people who suffer from anxiety disorders because they hide their emotions away. It’s a bit like kids films where someone would keep putting stuff under their bed and pretending it wasn’t there until the bed touched the bedroom ceiling.

People who suffer from mental health problems are often ashamed. Society has to lead us to believe we have to put a smile on our faces all the time and pretend to be something we are not. This leads to high levels of stress, which will eventually lead to anxiety disorders.

At this point, people are often left confused. ‘Oh, I never knew so and so was having such a hard time! I thought they were really strong’.

People deal with situations in very different ways. We don’t always know people’s stories or what their lives are truly like. Try not to judge.

Only people with anxiety disorders have panic attacks  

Panic attacks are a common symptom of high anxiety but are not always prominent with anxiety disorders. Specifically, anxiety disorders like Generalised Anxiety Disorder are more commonly diagnosed due to other less obvious symptoms such as insomnia, loss of appetite, and obsessive thoughts.

Panic attacks are a physical reaction to anxiety and regular panic attacks will usually lead to a diagnosis of Panic Disorder (an anxiety disorder which consists of excessive panic attacks). But as stated, they are not always a symptom of an anxiety disorder and a panic attack can happen with or without mental health problems being present (such as the first time someone performs on a stage).

Anxiety Disorders can only be treated with medication

Medication should always be a last resort when it comes to anxiety but you should always decide what works best for you. In the short term, anti-anxiety medication can help you to obtain a better mindset in order to use other techniques.

However, there are lots of alternative techniques that can be used to get on top of an anxiety disorder and medication will often have it’s own side effects which should always be discussed in length with your GP.

Medication free treatments include:

CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)

Mindfulness Meditation  

Counseling  

Breathing Techniques  

and Hypnosis (and others)

You should always fight anxiety!

Anxiety isn’t something you should fight against, but rather work alongside to control. When you fight anxiety, it often gets worse. Anxiety thinks it’s doing you a favour because, after all, it’s protecting you from ‘harm’. Specific treatments such as exposure therapy will allow you to face your fears a little every day and stay on top of your anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are not easy to deal with. They often make you feel like you’re a prisoner to your own mind but getting the right help and support can allow you to do all the things you love and not feel as though your anxiety disorder defines you. You should never feel alone as 1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer from an anxiety disorder at some stage in their lives.

Keep strong!

Georgia OX

Mind http://www.mind.org.uk

Mood Juice http://www.moodjuice.scot.nhs.uk/anxiety.asp