Mother’s Day

29 05 2016

Today it is Mother’s Day in France.

I love my mum. She and I are incredibly close and always have been (I was a mummy’s girl) and I want to take a couple of minutes to thank her.

You see, being the parent of someone with mental health problems isn’t easy. In fact sometimes I think it’s harder for her than me.

Last December we had a traumatic time – she signed the papers to have me sectioned. I was so angry with her and I felt betrayed and abandoned. I honestly thought I would never trust her again. The truth is that six months later I can see that it was an act of love. She did everything she could to keep me safe. If I am here today, it’s because she took that terrifying decision.

No, she doesn’t always get it right because a) she’s human and b) these things don’t come with a manual. But I can promise you that she does her best. She is my best friend, my confidante, the person I run to when I need a shoulder to cry on and the person I laugh with the most. She’s the person who makes me milky drinks when my head won’t shut down and sleep, massage my hands to ground me when I want to cut myself and cuddle me when I just need to know I’m not alone.

Merci maman et bonne fête des mères,

Your Bellsie

Who Owns my Mental Health?

16 05 2016

As I have previously mentioned, in December my mum signed a piece of paper that had me sectioned. It was not an easy undertaking – there was a lot of screaming (from me), tears (from both of us) and feelings of anger and betrayal (me again). I was furious and couldn’t believe that she would have me locked away.

Just to reassure you… I now know that she did the right thing. If I had not been sectioned that day then I would be dead. Simple as.

However, now that I am slowly emerging into the real world, a new question has come up… who does my mental health story belong to? A few weeks ago the security guard at the local supermarket asked my dad how I was doing… someone I have never had a conversation with. It turns out that I know his wife well (she attends our church) and she had looked after my mum when she broke down during a service when things were at their worst.

Today I took my brother to scout camp and a friend of my mum’s (and a neighbour of ours, although where I live a neighbour generally lives about 5km away) rushed over to ask how I was doing. Again, I was slightly taken aback, but it turns out that my mum had asked her for advice (she is a nurse) and support (her own daughter has had mental health problems) back when things were difficult.

You see, mental illness doesn’t occur in a vacuum. I’m not the only one who is affected when I’m unwell. It has a monumental effect on the whole family, and surely they have a right to ask for help. I know that my brothers have told their friends that I have been unwell and I can’t stop them from getting support when they need it.

But… I feel caught on the back foot. I haven’t gone public on Facebook about the last year’s events and many of my friends don’t know the details. I can’t help but feel that I should have some sort of control over who does and doesn’t know. And yet I know that is selfish and unrealistic. I should be pleased that they aren’t afraid to share my story without fearing stigma.

It’s a tough one and something that I know I have to be understanding about. It isn’t my mental illness. It’s ours.

Obsessively compulsively yours,


After the Storm

14 05 2016

Two years ago this month, I had my first experience of paranoia and delusional thinking. I was revising in the library when I realised that people were reading my thoughts and that I was being followed for a crime that I had not committed. A couple of weeks after that, I cut myself for the first time.

Over the last two years I have swung from crisis to crisis, from frightening highs to desperate lows and everything in between. I have had psychotic episodes where I believed I was being held hostage by the devil, too many trips to Accident and Emergency and a really tough time.

A year ago things got to a real crisis point and I was admitted to hospital the day after I defended my Masters thesis. I had only made it that far thanks to a very patient psychiatrist and daily appointments with the nurses at the university health centre who would dress my wounds, take out stiches, keep me calm and give me somewhere to go when I was literally lost.

I have spent five of the last twelve months as an inpatient and another four as a day patient. I have been living in crisis, but that is starting to change. I have not self harmed in four months, I haven’t felt actively suicidal for a while and although I still hear voices, I can cope with them and the devil is no longer omnipresent.

I feel lost. I feel angry about the time that I have wasted, the time that I could have spent getting on with life. I feel a failure for everything that has happened, but most of all, I feel in limbo. I am not recovered. I still have times (like this very week) where the urge to self harm is strong and thoughts of giving in are more present. I am not independent – just this week I cancelled a visit to a friend as I didn’t feel I could trust myself not to do something stupid on the journey there or back. I still lean heavily on my family and need their reassurance and support.

I’m not in crisis anymore, but when that is all that I have known for the last two years, it’s evident that it will take a while to adapt to it. I need to learn to trust myself, to live with the fear of what happens next (I live in terror of relapse and of being hospitalised in the same unit that nearly broke me earlier this year). I need to find breathing space, get to the point where things get on an even keel and accept that it will stay that way.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I can’t live in fear that it will return. I have a routine with the day hospital and feel that I have a safety net in place. Next week I meet my new psychiatrist (the sixth in the space of a year) following the retirement of the last one who I didn’t get on with. I am hoping that I will be able to be honest with her in a way that I couldn’t before through fear of ending up back in hospital.

So that’s it really – adapting to the new normal. A normal where I take far too much medication but can wake up in the morning without wanting to die, a normal where I attend a day hospital but am not being told to kill myself by the devil. The plan is to return to my PhD in September albeit from home, still attending the hospital at least once a week and having my parents around to support me as I try to reconcile this new normal with the real world.

I’m not there yet. Baby steps, and not beating myself up for the slip ups that will evidently happen along the way. Time will tell…

Obsessively compulsively yours,


The Real Deal or Where I’ve Been

26 01 2016

Some of you may have noticed that my blogging (which has always been irregular at the best of times) has been even less often than usual. This is for a number of reasons but mainly one, one that I have debated blogging about for a while now.

You see, this blog was originally about OCD. I was diagnosed, I had excellent treatment and I made a good recovery. It was a fairy story, albeit with ups and downs, highs and lows. Occasionally I would stray off onto more general posts about OCD or my life in general but it has mainly stayed on the topic of obsessive compulsive disorder.

The thing is, I have other demons. In the last couple of years I have slowly developed other symptoms, fallen into moments of utter crisis  and experienced things that I can’t put down to OCD.

I don’t know where to start the story because like most stories it doesn’t have a clear beginning. Over the last two years I have had periods where I felt so low and full of self-loathing that I have cut myself and needed stitches, stayed in bed all day and been invaded by suicidal thoughts. I have also had periods where I have felt so high and wonderful that I have churned out pages of work whilst getting no sleep, like I can follow every conversation in a crowded room full of hundreds of brilliant ideas. Unfortunately these periods tend to end badly, the euphoria making way for paranoid thoughts and invasive voices.

In April of this year, my mental health started to deteriorate significantly. My psychiatrist was concerned and started talking about hospitalisation but I was determined to finish my Masters degree. Somehow I did and once my exams were over I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I stayed there until September, moving from the young persons’ unit to a general ward after it became apparent that there were significant problems hiding behind the depression that I was admitted for.

In September, four days after being discharged, not on stable medication and against the advice of my medical team and my family, I moved to the UK to start my PhD. Two months later I had once again slipped into a deep depression and my parents took the decision for me – I returned to France and was admitted to the unit I had been in during the summer. Whilst I was there things deteriorated further and the decision was made to section me. It was traumatic, involved being physically manhandled onto a closed unit when I refused to go myself and was incredibly hard both for myself and my family.

The unit I was on was closed for good just before Christmas and I was moved to a hospital closer to home. I have since been discharged and am attending as a day patient. I have taken a temporary withdrawal from my PhD (until at least April) and to be honest, things are so much better than they have been for a long time. I feel that the medication that I am currently on is working well and my head feels clearer than it has done for a very long time. This week I also start CBT with the same psychiatrist who treated me for my OCD. I don’t know if it will help or not but I figure it is worth a try.

Different diagnoses have been given over the last year but whilst having a label can be reassuring, it is just that, a label. It is a description of my symptoms, nothing more and nothing less. I don’t feel the need to share it at the moment, it is still fresh and I think it will take me a little longer to comfortably wear it as I did with OCD.

My friends and family have been brilliant. My mum has been especially fantastic, handling hysterical phone calls to release me whilst I was under section and generally calming me down, my dad has been Mr Rational throughout and my brothers have been stars, driving me to appointments and coming to see me in hospital. My friends have been remarkably patient with me as I have progressively withdrawn over the last few months. I still find it hard to be sociable, to reply to messages or make that phone call but they have remained stoic and consistently offered support and love. The university has also been fantastic and hopefully will help to coordinate a gentle and adapted return to my studies in a couple of months time. My supervisor has been more than helpful and has regularly emailed to ask for news and updates. I am a very lucky girl.

So that is it really. Not the whole story (I am not ready to tell that yet and may never be) but enough. I share it in the hope that it will help others and as an apology for my lack of presence on social media recently.

Obsessively compulsively yours,



The OCD-UK #OCDconference

16 11 2015

Last Saturday in York I had the pleasure of attending the OCD UK annual conference. I was lucky enough to be involved in the planning of the event and it was the cumulation of a lot of hard work. I was pretty nervous as to how it would turn out but based on previous conferences I knew it would be a special day.

The conference organising team were there early, setting up the shop, preparing the name badges and delegate packs and generally getting excited. People started to arrive at around a quarter to nine and we were off…

The first talk was from Sandy (@Snadwai) who gave a moving and funny account of his recovery from OCD. Sandy considers himself completely recovered and was an inspiring way to start the day.

Next up came Dr Claire Lomax who gave us a run down on the NICE guidelines – what treatment we should expect and how to know whether we were getting it. It was a helpful talk and will hopefully ensure that everyone in the audience left with the knowledge and conviction of what they should be receiving.

Before lunch we had the results of the OCTET trial which looked at whether computerised CBT or guided self help could be useful in the treatment of OCD. I will blog more about this later so we can skip over this bit for now.

Next up we had Preeti (@mymindoutlined) who spoke about growing older with OCD. I think that it hit home for a lot of people there, including those of us who were younger. All of us have lost periods of our life to OCD and may not be where we imagined we would end up due to the illness. Preeti spoke honestly about coming to terms with this and how at the age of 40 she is maybe not where she thought she would be but is nevertheless happy and content.

After lunch the amazing Ellen (@Ellen_White_) and I did a Q and A about her OCD. She was, as ever, articulate and eloquent and her bravery and openness was appreciated by all.

Ben (@NCLPsych) followed on telling us about his research about OCD and religion. He is hopefully going to write us a guest blog about his results so I will just say that there were some surprising findings!

Up next was the awesome and hilarious Ian Puleston-Davies (who you may know from Coronation Street or Dirty Filthy Love) who shared his brilliant insights into life as an actor with OCD. He spoke from the heart and made the audience laugh and cry. He was in conversation with Ashley Fulwood, CEO of OCD-UK and it was wonderful to hear from Ash and he was pretty brave to share some of his own story.

Finally we had our Q and A sessions. I was on the panel for the family, friends and carers Q and A and was honoured and humbled to hear some amazing stories of parents who won’t give up on their children, partners who are desperate to get help for their spouse and professional carers looking to learn how best to care for their sevice users. A lot of questions about reassurance and enabling came up, so hopefully I will write a blog about this soon.

All in all it was an interesting, hopeful and inspiring day as ever. Thank you to all of those who helped with the preparation (including Ellen who made up 150 name badges!) and to all of those who came.

Obsessively compulsively yours


Good News!

3 05 2015

A couple of weeks ago I flew over to England to have an interview for a PhD studentship that I really wanted. Anyway, to cut a long story (and a long 48h) short, I got it.

As of October 2015 I will be studying for a PhD in a field that really means a lot to me – mental health and learning disabilities. I can’t wait – they say that a PhD takes over your life for three years and I can’t think of a better way to spend them.

The honest truth is that had I never had OCD, I wouldn’t have ended up here – I probably wouldn’t have become interested in mental health and wouldn’t have met the people that make me passionate about autism and learning disabilities. I’m a big believer in seeing the positives, and finally there’s one to mark up against all the negatives…

So there you have it – good news – excellent news – and a very excited Bellsie.

Obsessively compulsively yours


Impossible Task #1 – Asking for Help

13 04 2015

I have been going through something of a crisis. It hasn’t manifested itself in OCD but just a permanent and overwhelming sensation of panic and anxiety. About two weeks in, I ran out of coping strategies and made a stupid mistake that had consequences that I had not anticipated at the time.

One thing that my psych pulls me up on time and time again is my inability to ask for help. To be honest, I’m a stubborn idiot sometimes, and when not at my most logical (anxiety does that to me), I feel this need to get through things alone.

I ended up in the university health centre who were amazing – from arranging extra time for my exams and getting me an emergency appointment with the psychiatrist to letting me call in once a day (or twice sometimes) to check that I was okay and that I felt less alone.

And then there were the friends – the wonderful S who held my hand throughout, albeit a few hundred miles away, and the excellent A, who had me to stay, phoned me in the middle of the night to check that I was okay and drank copious amounts of tea in companionable silence with me.

For some stupid reason, I didn’t tell my parents. They knew that something was wrong and yet it sat there like the elephant in the room, each of us occasionally prodding it nervously. Eventually it all came out and they have been brilliant, understanding and, best of all, not judgemental at all.

So what have I learnt from all of this? That it’s okay to ask for help. That people generally step up to the plate when needed. That instead of judging me and calling me stupid, they held my hand and guided me through.

And that is a pretty good lesson to have learnt.

Obsessively compulsively yours,



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