Choose Your Battles

13 01 2015

This week is exam week – that joyous moment of trying to prove that you have taken something in over the last semester and that your vague, day dreamy look was actually your special concentrating face.

In the last year or so I have started having a problem around exams. It’s not the actual questions that stress me out, or even answering them, it’s all the silly admin bits that come with it. Did I hand my paper in? I have been known to spend hours going through my bag again and again to check. Did I sign the piece of paper? Did I write my name on it? Did I stick the special stickers in the right place? Did I write my student number legibly?

It’s got worse recently and has been commented upon by my lecturers. To be fair, it’s probably not everyday that they get a student chasing them up the corridoor to beg them to check if I handed my paper in, or making them go through the pile to check that I signed it. So when it was brought up by a lecturer (who was probably at the end of his tether with me), I was honest – I have OCD, and it’s making me doubt. A week later and the same thing happened, and again, I was honest. Both times they understood (although one followed it up with a lecture about standing up to it, as if I hadn’t thought of that before).

Yesterday I was called in to see my head of year to talk about something completely different, but at the end of the meeting she told me that she had heard I was having problems handing in exams. To be honest my first reaction was one of mortification – I hate the idea that it’s got back to her. But she didn’t throw me out, or tell me that I shouldn’t be studying Psychology. She didn’t look at me as if I were totally insane or give me a puppy dog stare of pity. She just asked if there was anything that she could do to help. It felt as though a weight had been lifted from me.

I have hidden my OCD at university and never been open about it to more than a select few individuals. So yesterday I was. I told her that what I hated was that I spent more time worrying about all the admin bits than I do the exam. It can take ten minutes to fill in my name because I’m so determined to get it neat enough. I get so worried about the end of the exam that I can’t even concentrate on what I’m writing.

Together we worked out a plan. A plan that involves her personally checking that I have handed in everything I need to. A plan that involves giving into the OCD.

And that’s what this post is about – picking your battles. I know that I should stand up to OCD all the time, that there is no time like the present, that if I give an inch it’ll take a mile. I know that these fears are illogical and that by giving in I am handing it power. I know that involving someone else in the whole vicious circle is a no no, that asking for reassurance isn’t the way forward.

But I need to do my exams, so this time I’m giving in. Sometimes we have to remember that we’re human, that we can’t fight the whole time. Sometimes this dragon slaying can get tiring. It’s okay to give in from time to time – fighting OCD cannot be the full time job that it needs to be. We have to carry on with our lives, even if that sometimes means making arrangements with the OCD to get five minutes peace.

Maybe I’m just making excuses. Maybe standing up to the OCD is more important than my grades right now, but I don’t think so. I’m just picking my battles.

Obesessively compulsively yours,


The Great #OCDproblems Take Over

2 01 2015

A few weeks ago something pretty cool happened. The wonderful OCD community on Twitter took a stand, and it had a fantastic impact. The hashtag #OCDproblems is often misused to moan about habits and quirks of daily life, and thus the decision was made to claim it back.

I believe that awareness comes not from attacking those who misuse the term OCD, but through educating them as to what OCD really is, and this was a great example of this.

The wonderful @secretillness made a video that I invite you all to watch – it’s pretty powerful.

I was so proud to be a part of the OCD community that day (and everyday) – a wonderful example of people coming together on social media to create good things.

Obsessively compulsively yours,


The Year that Was – 2014

2 01 2015

Bonne année!

I know that I should probably do the obligatory 2014 recap, but to be honest it’s been a funny old year. In June I graduated with a good degree and in September I started my Masters. In November I went to the OCD-UK conference (which I am still yet to blog about) and in this Summer I went Over the Wall.

But life isn’t about all those big things. It’s the small things in between – the normal, routine days, the times that we won’t remember. It’s been up and down and all around in the last twelve months, and I don’t know how to talk about it. I’ve had times of huge despair and times of utter joy, and I guess that’s what life is all about.

Here’s to 2015 – exciting projects, silly evenings with old friends, challenges and opportunities and too many cups of tea.

Obsessively compulsively yours,


Reason #28 that I Love my Supervisor

5 12 2014

I have a whole series of posts to write about the fantastic OCD Conference that we held a month or so ago – and I will get around to writing them! However, something happened today that I think merits a short blog of its own –

I have a great supervisor for my Masters. She’s lovely, has a functioning kettle (incredibly important), funny, and (best of all) as interested in statistics as I am. Once a week we meet for a morning of tea, gossip and statistics. It’s a wonderful way to finish the week and I know how lucky I am to have her support and time. She doesn’t go pale when I start talking in equations and she enjoys having a student who doesn’t recoil when she gets excited about different rotations in factor analysis. All in all, we’re having a pretty good time together and getting some good work done.

So that brings us to today. We’re sitting there and chatting about life, the universe and everything when (for reasons I won’t go into) we got onto the topic of suicide. And out of the blue, she asked me if I was okay, and if I had any suicidal thoughts. I’m fine and I don’t, but I cannot tell you how bizarre and refreshing it was for someone to ask. I replied honestly and we carried on talking about something else.

I complain a lot about how mental health awareness is in its nascent stages at French universities. There is still a huge stigma aassociated and (yes, even in Psychology) it is not something that is talked about. I learned this the hard way – I finally opened up about my OCD when asked directly by a lecturer only to have it thrown back in my face. He wasn’t supportive and in fact questioned what I was doing in Psychology. Apart from that guy (who is, on reflection, a dick), my superviser is the only person who knows about my mental health history. She doesn’t bring it up often but it means that I feel a support is there if ever things do get tricky.

So being asked outright today about suicidal feeling was pretty great. I can only hope that the fact that I reacted positively means that she will ask others. It isn’t about how I’m feeling, it’s about fostering a culture where it’s okay to talk about these things. It’s about accepting that life can be hard work and that sometimes people struggle, but that it’s okay to ask for help. Most of all, it’s about normalising the desperation that we can feel and letting us know that the lines of communication are open if needed.

I know that it probably sounds strange to some of you – it was quite strange for me at the time – and you may disagree with me… I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Obsessively compulsively yours,



#OCDweek – My Funny Friend

17 10 2014

A while ago I asked my friend S to write a blog for me about what a pain it is to have a friend with OCD (the hours wshe has spent on the other end of the phone whilst I moaned and fretted mean that she definitely deserves a medal). Anyway, I had completely forgotten about it until she emailed me this yesterday. So here it is – unedited and in all its glory. I think you’ll agree how massively lucky I am to have a friend like S – without her support over the years I would have been lost. Aside from immediate family, nobody has offered so much help and love – congratulations and encouragement at my best times and endless patience and love during the bad times. Thank you S.

My Funny Friend – Bellsie Boo otherwise known as “Big Loon”

Bellsie asked me (quite a long time ago now) if I would write something for her blog from the point of view of a friend. So as it is OCD awareness week I thought it was about time I did it!

I’m no where near as good a writer as Bellsie, so bear with me……………

I first met Bellsie when we went on a family holiday to France. If my memory serves me correctly she was only 16 at the time. She didn’t really speak to us and kept herself to herself but my 2 boys (1 and 4 at the time) fell in love with her and her sister. We have gone back to France every year since then and we love the family very much, in fact I would go as far to say they are family. I’ve often said that Bellsie is the little sister I never had.

Over the subsequent years we got to know Bellsie, I had noticed her little “quirks”, things like cracking fingers, the way she ate etc. but thought no more of it. One year whilst on holiday Bellsie’s mum told me that she was coming home from uni and having a year at home. She explained about OCD and how it had taken over Bellsie’s life, how she couldn’t get out of the door to lectures because of it etc. My husband wasn’t in on the conversation and I can’t remember how it came about, but he made a joke with Bellsie about OCD, and in a roundabout way she explained that was her. From that moment on Bellsie has been far more open with me/us and OCD and how it affects her every day life.

So here is my take on it all.

There has been many a time when I would laugh and joke with my friends and husband about “being OCD” or “that’s a bit OCD” just because I may have turned all the cups round the same way in the cupboard, or written hundreds of lists, or sorted cd’s into alphabetical order. Through spending time with Bellsie and listening to what she has dealt with on a daily basis I now know you cant be “a bit OCD”!!

I understand OCD to be very debilitating. It can take over your life and stop you doing the things you really want to. It is NOT a joke or about lining up the cups in the cupboard. I have spent lots of time on the end of i-message “talking” and “listening” to Bellsie and the difficulties she was having that day.

One particular incident I remember is when she needed to delete some photos off her ipod because her memory was full. It took her hours to summon up the courage to delete any photos, you see Bellsie thought that if she deleted your picture she would “delete” you as a person. We talked and talked about it and eventually she deleted the photos. However the next day she thought she was updating her ipod when in fact she had restored it, so all of those photos she had managed to delete were back again!! This resulted in me getting a phone call from Bellsie where we talked through deleting them again. She made me stay on the phone whilst she deleted my picture so she knew I was ok.

She also told me that when she had come to stay at ours before camp she was struggling with the OCD and at that time she couldn’t look at the photos of my boys on the wall, because if she did, something would happen to them.

She has told me about the times when she felt that if she held a sharp knife in the kitchen she may stab someone with it. It was a huge moment when Bellsie was given a kitchen knife for Christmas one year to go back to university with.

She has talked about having to walk past a shop in Munich that sold pipes/bongs etc. and how she thought if she walked past that shop she would be “contaminated”.

These are just a couple of examples. I have learnt an awful lot about OCD through Bellsie. She has talked about people she has met on conference or heard about and how OCD affects their lives too. I’m still learning! I don’t always use the correct terminology – but Bellsie soon puts that right ;-)

There are times when Bellsie is having a “bad day” and messages me. Sometimes I find it difficult to give her an answer and reassure her other than to let her know I’m here for her. If that doesn’t work I just say “get a grip you big loon” which usually makes her laugh…….well it’s worked up to now!

We all tease her endlessly, telling her “it’s good for her” I know her brothers move things round to wind her up and when I went to see her in Munich for a weekend I jumbled all her shoes up and nail varnishes – telling her it was “good for her”! However, that came back to bite me when Bellsie sent me a picture of a huge spider as therapy, as it was, and I quote, “good for me”. J

My sons are now 14 and 11. William, (aka mini fish) the 11 year old, adores Bellsie, and the feeling is mutual. Bellsie can just be herself with him, they are silly together and scientific and mad all at the same time. In fact both of my boys adore her, they accept her for who she is and I’m hoping they will have good understanding of OCD as they grow and get older.

I now find myself correcting my friends when they talk about OCD, and how they think they are a “bit” OCD.  I find myself challenging them by saying “does your “OCD” stop you going out the door to work? “ “if you pick up a sharp knife do you have the urge to stab someone?” “Do you think something will happen to your friends or family if you don’t follow your routine”……. No?? They soon realise!

Bellsie is a very, very intelligent, eloquent, kind, caring, brave lady and whatever she decides to do with her life I know she will be successful. She argues that she is none of those things, but we all know she is and I am immensely proud of her and what she has achieved these last few years. I know I couldn’t have done it.

We have laughed many times that one day she will be a famous doctor of some sorts and be writing leading journals. And then in the same conversation we can be talking about when she gets married to my son she wants a dress covered in fish and I have to be a mermaid! That or constant requests for brain cupcakes – yes, BRAIN cupcakes!!!

So if any of you reading this are going to the conference in Nottingham you will hear Bellsie speak. Give my Big Loony friend a hug and tell her to “get a grip” and that I love her very much.

Xxxx  (4, I remembered Bellsie!)

#OCDweek – Downward Arrows or the Consequences of Losing your Pen

16 10 2014

I wanted to write a post about the downward arrow exercice that is sometimes used in CBT, so when googling for an image to use, I found the following, which sums the whole thing up really –


Oh how true…

The downward arrow is a way of working through our automatic thoughts to find the irrational beliefs or schemas at the base. A lot of the time, these core beliefs are not obvious to us – so it’s a case of asking the same question again and again until you get to the bottom of it : “what does that mean about me?” or “what does that imply?”.

You see, this is how my brain works – I’m going to give you an example from this morning. On my daily walk to university, I came across a microwave that had been thrown out of a window (ah, the joys of student living). There was broken glass everywhere, and I could feel it crunching under foot. Whereas someone else may shake their head and carry on, to me that wasn’t the end of it. Instead, the following downward arrow occured –

What if I have broken glass stuck in my shoes? I’ll spread it throughout the city, and someone could get cut by it, and this cut will become infected, and the infection will kill them, and I will be responsible for their death and their families will be all alone and I won’t be able to forgive myself and I will be crushed by the guilt and die alone having ruined the lives of all around me.

So what do we do when we get that far? Well that’s when it comes down to tackling these core fears and beliefs. What evidence do you have that they are correct? What evidence do you have that they aren’t?

It’s not as easy as that – of course it isn’t – but it is an interesting exercice to have a go at.

Go on – give it a chance,



#OCDweek – OCD Conference

15 10 2014

On October 31st and November 1st, OCD-UK is taking over Nottingham for an amazing two day OCD Conference.

On Friday 31st October, we’re holding an event for health professionals and all involved in the treatment or care of those affected by OCD – a fantastic opportunity for professionals to hear about recent advances in understanding and the treatment of OCD and related problems.

On Saturday 1st November, we’re holding a conference for those affected by OCD and anyone interested in learning more. Not only will it offer an opportunity to learn more about OCD, it’ll offer guidance, hope and inspiration for those suffering and their families.

So here we have my Top Ten Reasons to Come to the OCD Conference

  1. It is a unique (and I’m not exaggerating!) opportunity to hear from world experts in OCD as well as a chance to ask them questions.
  2. It’s a chance to meet new people (I’ve made some good friends at previous conferences) and to make professional contacts.
  3. The conference delegate packs include pretty amazing pens.
  4. How often do you find conferences that combine lived experience and professional expertise? The conference is being organised by a team of people affected by OCD and clinical psychologists.
  5. There will be an infinite supply of coffee. Or tea. Or a really nice hot chocolate (I felt it only right that I tried it).
  6. The day has been organised following feedback from health professionals and shaped around their training needs and questions.
  7. We’re a pretty nice bunch. I promise big smiles, good conversations and maybe even some interpretive dance (although I’ll leave that to Ashley).
  8. There’s a choice of workshops. Can’t decide? Don’t worry, you can choose two!
  9. There will be presentations on the cutting edge of OCD research from those at the frontline as well as practical clinical advice.
  10. And best of all, you get to hear me talk… what else could you want?!

To book your tickets or to learn more – visit the OCD Conference website.

See you there!



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