In my previous blog post https://afracturedfaithblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/the-demon/ I wrote about my lifelong struggle with mental health issues and, primarily. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It has been a harrowing journey at times. A daily war of attrition between my logical, rational thought processes and the inner voice, which I described as a demon, urging me to fully embrace the madness that is OCD. A deadly, seductive voice that every fibre of my being resisted. And yet so many times I have succumbed to its lies.
I hope that this follow-up post is more positive. I am a survivor, a pretty beat up survivor, but one nonetheless. I have a loving family and a secure income. 99% of the time I function perfectly well and keep the demon chained up in a corner in the deepest recesses of my psyche. But I can never grow complacent. For he is always watching, lurking; waiting for the tiniest mental scrap that he can pounce upon and manipulate until it spawns into an uncontrollable wrecking ball of poisonous negativity.
Listed below are some coping mechanisms that I deploy to combat my ever present enemy. As a Christian they work for me. They might not work you. OCD is forever shifting, changing and evolving. It varies from one victim to the next and is as slippery as an eel and as elusive as smoke on a windy day. All I can do is talk about my experiences and pray that they emit a beacon of hope to at least one person out there who is adrift and unable to cope.
1. Get properly diagnosed.
For years I thought I was a freak, an oddball, a deviant. Who else would have the horrific, obscene thoughts that plagued my every waking hour? Perform ridiculous, convoluted routines countless times until I dropped to my knees in abject surrender? I was quite simply insane and a lost cause, doomed to endure this inner torment for the rest of my days.
That was until my wife, Fionnuala, conducted some online research and suggested I might have OCD. I was initially sceptical, as to me OCD revolved around cleaning routines and people who constantly washed their hands. I displayed neither of these obsessive behaviours. It was only when I began to delve deeper into the illness that I realised I ticked so many of the relevant boxes that this is what it had to be.
The relief was immense. Just the knowledge that I was not a raving lunatic but instead had a recognised illness that could be treated. As important was knowing that I was not alone but could now tap into the experiences of thousands of others who were walking the same road as me. Before I was miserable and isolated. Now I was part of a community where I could learn and share.
2. Talk to someone
For many years I hid the illness. I was ashamed of it, convinced that nobody would understand and I would be ostracised because of it. Added to that was how to put into words the maelstrom of disgusting thinking that polluted my mind every day. How do you explain to your wife that there is a voice in your head telling you that you are a threat to your kids?
Fionnuala knew something was badly wrong. But little by little I began to confide in her, opening the lid on the thoughts that circled my conciousness like a bird of prey. To my amazement she didn’t turn her back but listened and stood by me. She has been a rock ever since. She might not understand it all but her love and empathy have dragged me through many a dark day. Talking helps. It lances the boil. It release the pressure. Talk to a loved one.
3. Seek help
When I was diagnosed I was prescribed 20mg of an anti-depressant which stimulates the release of serotonin, a chemical which acts as a neurotransmitter within the body. Persons with OCD are known to have reduced levels of serotonin in their systems. Regulating levels via prescribed medication can prove an effective tool in tbe battle that is raging within. It has worked for me. The screaming voice of OCD is now a faint whisper which I can normally contain and control.
Many other people diagnosed with the disorder have benefited from counselling. Cognitive Behavioural Theraphy (CBT) has proven to be especially effective; here the patient is gradually exposed to the thought or situation that is making them anxious. This gradual exposure to your unwanted thoughts teaches you other methods of overcoming them as opposed to falling back into repetitive rituals. Registered charities such as OCD Action and OCD-UK also offer incredible support networks.
4. My faith
Not everyone who is reading this will be a Christian but my faith and belief that there is a supernatural higher power has been a great comfort to me these last four years. Sometimes when the obsessive thinking has become overwhelming I have prayed and handed it over to God. Nothing overwhelms him. On many occasions praying quietly or studying the Bible has given me the strength to carry on and face another day.
This belief reassures me that there is a life beyond OCD. And that hope keeps me going through the dark times. The Bible is littered with stories of ordinary people who were used by God to achieve superhuman feats despite histories of depression and anxiety. Moses the original worry wart; David wallowing in despair when he wrote the Psalms; and Peter driven to the edge of madness when he denied Jesus three times.
God used them. He pulled them out of their respective mental mires and infused them with a spiritual belief that allowed them to overcome their inner demons. And he can use me and you in exactly the same way today. All we have to do is admit our weaknesses, accept that we are powerless to conquer them and hand them over to him. And he will. For him, nothing is impossible.
Please let me know your thoughts about this post. I pray that it has been of some help to somebody.
Psalm 40:2 – ‘He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on rock and gave me a firm place to stand.’