At this time of year now when we are noticing a lot less light in the morning and evening, it can be quite typical for people to notice a drop in energy and mood and experience sleep disruption. There did seem to be a sense of this in the group this week so we did something a little different to create a little energy as we investigated some troublesome little thoughts. Our room became a brain and each of us a thought. The difficult thoughts would present themselves whilst the other thoughts sought to neutralise them. This allowed some physical movement and some cognitive acrobatics.
The first thought to present itself was a belief: ‘I can’t do this’ in response to trying something new. This belief had the potential to quit or miss out on things. But the other thoughts reasoned with this belief ‘you don’t know that until you try’. ‘You can practise’, ‘no-one can do the things they haven’t learned to yet’. This quietened down ‘I can’t do this’ and allowed some patience with self and an acceptance that it is ok to not be able to do some things when we start out; but it’s important that we try.
The next thought said ‘I’m so tired I don’t think I’ll manage my day’. Balance was quite quickly on the scene here with a reminder that we could prioritise some things and that we could manage what we needed to. Practicality came in with a few suggestions too that if we we able to have a more gentle day we could do some relaxing things like have a bath and feel better rested for tomorrow. If our day was a bit more demanding we could have a shower to revive us and we would manage. what is required.
Worry showed up on the scene this morning too with beliefs that if we have always been this way we won’t change. Evidence came into the conversation here and asked if worry ever changes the outcome or ever made a situation different? Worry conceded that actually sometimes it got worse and didn’t change anything at all! Worry sometimes caused people to avoid and miss out on things. Bad things still happened whether they worried about it or not. In fact worry seemed to reproduce itself into bigger and bigger worries, and the worry about worry could cause another whole set of problems intruding into not being able to focus on other things or speak to people and causing distressing feelings. Identity spoke up too and said just because worry is something you have always done, it doesn’t mean that is who you are and need always to be that way. You will still be you if you worried less. Everyone has worries, that is quite normal but we made an agreement to spend a bit of time over the next week analysing the evidence for seeing if worry makes us feel better or changes anything. It was also suggested that a specific time could be given for worrying rather than it dominating the diary everyday.
A more stubborn relative then intruded into the conversation. Obsessively believing that ‘I am responsible for everything and everyone and if I think about a possible danger somewhere for someone and don’t do all I can to protect people from this danger and someone gets hurt then it’s all my fault, I’m the only one to blame. OCD then compulsively convinced us that unless we take the time and energy to do all sorts of precautionary and checking activities and carefully going through all sorts of mental check lists then disaster may occur which we could have prevented. Admittedly OCD was harder to quieten down. We concluded that it would be very frightening to tackle as we would just have to try really hard to not do the stuff it was convincing us that we needed to do. We will take it slowly at first and check a little less to start with.
A big thanks to the group who were willing to get involved in this exercise today in a slightly different way. We learned some new things from each other about how we think affects us, some new understanding and some new ways to start trying to change our troublesome thinking.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Mental Health
The life worth living group met today where the discussion
surrounded around intrusive thoughts, OCD and mental health concerns more
widely. As always it was a lively, constructive and considered sharing of our
own lived experiences and/or those of others.
The first question posed was:
What is the
definition of Intrusive thoughts and how might they impact on someone?
It was agreed that whilst intrusive thoughts are almost hard
wired into all of us, they are mostly dismissed or filtered out so we don’t
even notice them. However when someone is affected by a Mental Health condition
these can become a major problem, and are chiefly experienced by people with
OCD, Depression, Anxiety, Post Natal
Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Some examples given on intrusive thoughts were:
Over analysing our responsibilities and
exaggerating the impact were we to fail.
Catastrophizing: always imagining the worst
Unwanted inappropriate sudden thoughts such as
kissing or punching someone when that is entirely against our actual wishes,
but driven by a false anxiety alarm.
Where we recognise how vital our care is such
for a child, we might imagine harmful thoughts when all we are really focused
on is care and protection for them.
Sometimes such thoughts lead to compulsive behaviours which
may initially seem to offer comfort, but end up making things much worse. These
can include excessive checking of locks and appliances to avoid danger or harm
to others, and ideas of magical thinking, where the use or avoidance of certain
numbers or tasks can either prevent or cause damage to loved ones. People who
experience such thoughts know deep down that they are irrational and untrue, but
shame and stigma can make these feel very real.
Depending on the extent of the problems there are a variety
of treatments available such as:
Exposure Therapy: Gradual exposure to
acclimatise to and overcome particular fears, e.g. contamination or social
anxiety in busy public places.
Personal Insight to learn how to diffuse
Shared experiences and humour: There can be much
stigma to any mental health condition but possibly more so with less understood
and frightening conditions like OCD. Whilst sharing these experiences can be
daunting, if able to do so, using humour and openness, it can serve to diffuse
the power of negative thoughts and help affirm how we’re all affected by mental
health and there’s no place for shame or blame.
Today’s group looked at how people deal with receiving thoughts they do not want to have. This is more commonly known as O.C.D. We cannot stop with thoughts come in to our minds but can choose how to deal with them. The obsessive part comes in when people perform compulsions or rituals to try to neutralise the thoughts. Sadly, this only serves to make somebody feel worse. Below are examples of the constant compulsions people may perform;
Checking taps are turned off
Keeping hands in pockets
Checking car mirror while driving to check you’ve not ran anyone over
Constantly asking for reassurance
Checking kitchen stove to check it’s turned off
Avoiding certain places
The use of numbers in an unhelpful way
Cleaning door handles
Trying to battle thoughts
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the many rituals with the intention of keeping the person or others safe. This coping mechanism only briefly soothes the individual and keeps the obsessive checking and perceived threat alive.
Group members then went on to their experiences with O.C.D. Their experiences were, checking the door was locked, the need for numerical sequencing, having the volume at the same level on TV, checking plugs were switched off and same fitness routine. We talked about some really dark thoughts that people incur like the mother who was scared to change her baby’s nappy incase she sexually abused her or the man who had thoughts of stabbing his wife in the kitchen. To neutralise these tormenting thoughts the mother got her husband to always change the baby’s nappy and the man who struggled with the thought of knives put all the knives from the kitchen in the bin. By doing these things to keep others safe what they are actually doing is keeping the OCD prevalent. The worry for people with dark thoughts is that they will act upon them which is totally untrue. In actual fact most people who struggle with intrusive thoughts are extremely kind, caring people who ironically may care too much about others. We then looked at a survey that was completed by students in the USA about the type of intrusive thoughts they received. What was interesting with the findings was how it showed that most people have intrusive thoughts and it is perfectly natural. The problem is that some people give these thoughts far too much credence which can lead to O.C.D
What people have to do to combat this horrible debilitating condition is to train themselves to deal with the fears and face the things that they are avoiding. When you first face your fears it is natural to feel more anxious, but gradually over time with continued exposure your brain will realise that there is no threat which will over time reduce anxiety.