I’m Scared I Killed Victoria Wood – The Problem With Having OCD And An Inflated Sense Of Responsibility

In the past few months, an unusually high number of well known celebrities (well known in the UK at least), have died. It feels like every other day that I go onto Facebook and find new pictures of the recently deceased posted by friends in mourning. I understand that people die all the time, people who go unreported, people nobody mourns on Facebook because they weren’t “well known”, were just a nameless number in some horrendous incident in a different country that people care far less about because they don’t relate to it as much. I understand that all these celebrity deaths are not in fact a rise in the number of people dying overall, but still I can’t help but feel something has changed, something to cause it, and that that something is me.

When people have OCD there are various things that drive them in their rituals. Some simply carry them out until they “feel right”, whatever that “right” feeling is, but many, myself included, carry them out because they are fearful of what will happen if they don’t, that not carrying the tasks out is not just distressing but dangerous to either themselves or the people around them. Whenever I talk to professionals about this (professional people in the world of psychiatry I mean, not general professionals like professional penguin keepers who I feel would be less interested in my mental health problems), they call it having “an inflated sense of responsibility” a common symptom of OCD.
This symptom is pretty self explanatory from the name of it, but basically it makes sufferers feel as if their simple actions, like opening a door, are far more significant than they are, can control the world in irrational ways, that individually they have some great power which can cause events and impact the world. It can feel like tiny daily tasks have a ripple effect out onto the universe, like sitting down in a chair incorrectly will cause a totally unrelated event to happen elsewhere, such as an earthquake or tsunami. Of course when something “bad” happens that the sufferer wrongly blames themselves for, they are just connecting two totally separate things that coincidentally happened around the same time, but still it can be and is really frightening.

This sense of inflated responsibility is one of the reasons why OCD tends to get a lot worse for people when they are in stressful situations, things with a debatable outcome that they desperately want to have some control over or impact in favour of a positive result. In a way it is a comforting thought to think that you can influence things as if by “magical thinking”, even “sane” people without OCD do it all the time, like when musicians might wear their “lucky pants” with the aim of ensuring a good performance. The problem is that with OCD, this responsibility never seems to correspond to good events or making positive things happen, you can’t tap a door knob and “cause” yourself to win the lottery or anything, even to the irrational OCD, that idea is just silly. Instead, this power people feel they have can only do evil and not good, which when you think about it is quite possibly the worst superpower to feel you have of all time. I think I would rather feel I had powers like spiderman with the ability to spout webs all over the place, and I don’t even like spiders. Or close fitting lycra suits.

I remember sitting in the exam hall at school during my maths GCSE 8 years ago and being in a massive dilemma, a dilemma caused by this inflated sense of responsibility and not just a dilemma everyone faces when they are sitting before a maths paper.
In my world of OCD I had, and continue to have, both lucky and unlucky numbers, and for one of the questions early on, the answer was one of the unluckiest numbers to exist in my eyes. I can’t even write it here because it scares me, so I am just going to pretend the answer was “X” for the purpose of this post because that is what you are supposed to do in maths when you can’t write the number (cheers for that algebra). I knew 100% that the answer was X, I had checked it and rechecked it multiple times but still I could not write it down. I feared that if I wrote “X”, that my parents would die. I knew that in terms of maths, to write anything else would be wrong and I wouldn’t get the mark, but that seemed like a far preferable outcome to losing my loved ones. You might be wondering why I had this sense of a dilemma when obviously if the choice was ever “lose a mark or kill your parents” everyone would lose the mark, but whilst fearing this, I knew it was “just” my OCD freaking me out. My psychologist at the time was always telling me to challenge the OCD, to go against it because only then could you prove that all it spouted was lies. I wanted to do as she said, ignore the OCD and write “X” anyway because writing numbers doesn’t really have the ability to kill your parents, but I was too terrified, so in the end I had to write the wrong answer on purpose. This dilemma came up several times during the course of the exam (a surprising amount of my “unlucky numbers” came up in the 2008 GCSE maths paper), and every time I purposefully wrote the wrong answer. It was infuriating and I wanted to scream, but annoyingly that is something you are not allowed to do in a GCSE exam, as “no screaming” is in fact the rule just after “no mobile phones”, so I just sat there being controlled by this inflated sense of responsibility and importance I felt my maths answers had.

This influx of celebrity deaths has triggered me so much that I genuinely feel the need to apologise to everyone reading this for murdering these famous people of whom so many people are fans and are upset about. Nevertheless, I wanted to try and find some kind of positive or useful outcome from this trigger which is why I am writing about it to hopefully explain a bit more about this aspect of OCD. Now I guess the task is to just try and not let this impact my rituals more than it already has…I am just scared as to who my actions could hurt next.

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(Just incase you don’t get it, the picture above is literally an inflated “sense of responsibility”…this probably doesn’t need any explaining and is nowhere near as clever as I think it is but just wanted to point it out because I was pretty proud of that little pun…It’s hilarious…no?…Ok never mind I will leave now so you can get back on with your day)

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An Attempt At Explaining Self-Harm:

Before anyone reads this I just want to put out a brief trigger warning that this post discusses the purposes and reasons as to why people may self harm so if that would trigger you in anyway please click away and read Harry Potter instead.

As I am typing this I am honestly surprised at how uncomfortable I feel discussing this topic. I am fairly open when it comes to my mental health, partly because I am currently unable to hide it, and partly because I want to reach out to other people to either help or offer a bit of company in what can be a very lonely battle of the mind. Writing a post that acknowledges that I self harm however is somehow harder than waffling on about having anorexia, OCD or depression as I find it really embarrassing. I feel when it comes to self harm there is a particularly high level of stigma and misunderstanding, it being a common belief that people do it for attention. For this reason I feel a lot of shame admitting that it is something I struggle with, which is silly because it isn’t something to be ashamed of at all. Equally it isn’t something to be proud of, it is just something that exists as a problem for a lot of people, and so I am going to try and explain it here as best I can to anyone out there who can’t get their head round it. Maybe if more people talk about it and understand, we can all be open and able to deal with it rather than keeping it as a shameful secret that will never get better unless it is talked about.

As always I cannot speak for everyone with this issue but I am going to at least provide a list of three reasons as to why personally I struggle with self harm and perhaps other people will be able to relate. I also just want to preface these points by saying that in explaining the rationale behind self harm I am not justifying it as a good thing to do whatsoever, it is an unhealthy coping strategy that needs to be talked about and treated to find alternative ways of managing difficult feelings that are not so damaging. Still, you can’t find an alternative until you know what purpose self harm serves in general or for you personally, so here goes:

1. It provides a release: When I am feeling particularly anxious/stressed/upset, it can feel like I am physically bursting with the emotions coursing around my body. It is like that buzz of adrenaline you get when you are scared of something, your skin prickles, you can feel your heart beating and the extra energy pulsing through your veins. You are full of so much extra emotion that you are going to burst like the lid off a pan of frantically popping popcorn. Without the heat on, the popcorn kernels fit in the pan, but with the heat/distress they expand and burst all over the place because they, like the emotions and upset, take up too much room. When I feel like a bursting pan of popcorn (and we all know what a common feeling that is), self harm is a way that helps release some of the pressure, it is lifting the lid a little so that some of the popcorn banging around inside can get out.

2. It makes the pain you feel visible, understandable and treatable:  A lot of the time, feeling extremely depressed or upset for no logical reason can be frightening as you know it doesn’t make sense for you to feel so distressed over nothing. When I self harm I make the pain that is frightening me understandable. I feel the same pain I was feeling but I can see where the pain is coming from, no longer is it an unknown mental pain, I know the source. I hurt because I have a wound, the pain makes sense and I know that physical wounds can heal, I can do something about it, I know what to do to treat it, and I can be proactive in it getting better. It is still unpleasant, but it is a distraction from the mental pain that was previously occupying all of my brain space, a pain that I couldn’t treat, nor did I know for certain if it was ever going to go away.

3. It serves as a punishment to relieve guilt: Like many people in this world, with or without mental health problems, it could be argued that I have low self esteem. I find this hard to believe, as rather than low self esteem I feel I have an accurate understanding of my inadequacies as a human, a self awareness that I am a terrible person, but I have been told this is all lies and the whole low self esteem thing by many people over the years so I try my best to believe them. Anyway, because of the way I feel about myself, I feel guilty for taking up a place on this planet. I feel guilty for wandering around this planet and forcing others to deal with my presence when they would be a lot better off without me, I feel bad for using up oxygen that would better be spent passing through the lungs of someone else. Self harm is a sort of punishment to lessen the guilt of living, it is to make up for my crimes committed just by existing. I am also not asking for people to tell me that I am not a terrible person because I have never been able to believe anyone else’s opinion (which is hilarious really…I think I am the worst person in the world yet simultaneously think I am right about everything…), but if I had to give a comparison to try and help people make sense of all of this, I would basically sum this point up as “I am Dobby the house elf”. I am sure everyone has read the Harry Potter books (and if you haven’t you really should), so I won’t explain this likeness in too much detail, but basically, like Dobby, when I do something wrong I feel I have to do something to punish myself for it.

Sitting here and reading all of that back, I feel as naked as the day I arrived on this planet (remain calm, I am technically wearing clothes right now, I just feel a bit exposed considering I am letting people into a piece of my brain). Still, this is important stuff, and like I said before if nobody talks about it then self harm becomes this big taboo that will never be understood. Again, this explanation of self harm is not condoning it in any way and if you are struggling please seek help right away as there are certainly other ways to fulfil the purpose self harm has in your life. I myself am currently working to battle this issue and find alternative coping mechanisms. When I find some good ones I will certainly be making a post about them to try and help people if possible.
Until then, please stay safe everyone, take care, and know that I am sending a lot of love and support to you all.
P.S Just going to end this post with a quick clarification to clear up any confusion resulting from my comparison of myself to Dobby the house elf. Though I admit I have a self harm punishment style likeness to Dobby, that this is the ONLY similarity I have to Dobby. I want it known that, contrary to popular opinion, I am not in fact a house elf, and that my job last December was as a CHRISTMAS elf. We Christmas elves are indeed a very different species, so to make that plain, below I have provided a brief diagram to demonstrate some of the key differences between House elves and Christmas elves. I hope this helps. Thank you.

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P.P.S If you read all of this then as a reward here is a photo of me as a Christmas elf. Feel free to make it your screensaver.

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6 Ways To Explain Depression To People Who Don’t Really Understand It:

Living with depression is incredibly hard, but to people who don’t live with it, so is comprehending what it actually feels like to suffer with an illness that is often brushed off as “just being a bit down in the dumps”. For this reason, to try and help more people understand the condition, I have come up with 6 examples of the way depression feels for me in ways I hope are easily understood or related to by anyone.

1. The “night before dread”: You know when it is the day before something you really do not want to do/are frightened of? Like the first day back at school after the summer holidays or a rectal exam? That feeling of absolute dread when you look forward to the next day’s unpleasant events that you cannot get out of? That dread of the next day is what depression feels like, only you feel it every day, all day for no reason whatsoever. You look to the future and realise that there is no impending rectal exam or reason for you to feel this way at all, which in theory should make you feel better but it doesn’t. It actually feels more frustrating, because unlike when you know what you are dreading and know you will feel better when the looming event is over, when you are dreading nothing in particular, you don’t know how to get that “nothing” out of the way so that you can feel better and move on with your life.

2. The “head in a bucket”: For me, depression often feels like having your head in a very heavy immovable bucket. It is pitch black all around and darkness is all you can see. At the same time people are standing beside you without a bucket on their head, telling you to look at trees, pretty flowers and positive things in life, which would be all well and good if your head wasn’t stuck in a bucket. They tell you to look on the bright side, to look at the sunshine/how lucky you are and you really try. You squint and turn your head for hours desperately trying to see what they see but no matter how hard you try all you see is darkness, not because you aren’t wanting to see the light, but because that damn bucket on your head is blocking it all out.

3. The “Robot driver”: Many days I wake up once in the morning, and then again sometime in the afternoon, having lived part of my day without really realising what was going on. It feels as if my body has gone on autopilot and turned me into a robot carrying out all the daily tasks required of me without really being present or noticing what is going on at all. It is like when you drive yourself home sometimes (not that I can drive but I hear this is a common experience), and then when you get to your front door you don’t remember the drive because you were too distracted thinking about how fantastic penguins are. The difference is that with the depression robot automaton example, you don’t know what you were distracted by, what you were thinking about or whether you were actually conscious or present at all. Your body has just been moving around with no-one inside.

 
4. The “frozen mute weird coma active mind thing that I cannot think of a good name for”: Imagine someone has super glued your tongue to the roof of your mouth. They have also injected you with some weird substance that means you physically cannot move your limbs or your face and you cant really feel them either. If someone touches your arm you can see it happening but you can’t feel the other person on your skin. Mentally your brain is active and you are thinking things like “I really should get up do something productive right now” or “I have so much to do and I have to get on for goodness sake move”, but still your body is too numb to respond and you can’t even open your mouth or speak to tell anyone what is going on.

5. The classic “Wading through treacle” but with weights tied to your ankles: This example pretty much says it all in the title, but basically just imagine trying to walk across a football pitch which is filled up to your chin with treacle (an unfortunate consequence of an explosion and resulting flood at the local treacle factory. Thankfully I can assure you all that nobody was harmed in the explosion but a hell of a lot of treacle has been wasted by spreading itself across this football pitch). You also have heavy weights strapped to every limb so every step is a huge effort, yet still you try as hard as you can and use all your strength to get to the other side of the pitch. In reality though, that struggle merely corresponds to the task of cleaning your teeth, so to get through the entire day there are still hundreds more pitches of treacle in front of you that you must pass through before you can just give up and go back to sleep again.

6. The “Deserted Wasteland”: Sometimes depression feels like you are standing out in the middle of a deserted wasteland (you wouldn’t have guessed this from the title of this one but just go with me and don’t feel too surprised), where all around you there is just barren empty land. There is no grass, no trees, no sign of life anywhere around as far as your eyes can see. You can have a hundred members of your family and friends in the real world trying to look after you and supporting you through it, so you shouldn’t feel so isolated but no matter what is going on in the “real world”, mentally, in the desert, you are always completely alone.

Now I will admit that this is not the jolliest list of examples ever to exist, but to be fair depression isn’t the jolliest thing in the world, so I guess you could say I have done a pretty good job…Anyway, I hope this list helps someone supporting a friend or family member with depression to understand what they may be feeling. Also if you are a fellow sufferer/bucket wearer, I hope you find some solace in the fact that you are not the only person that feels like this and that there are people out there who understand, even if they only exist on the internet.

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What are they doing about the fact that you are insane?

Every time my parents pick me up from a psychiatric appointment, they ask me the same questions:

  1. “So what did they do to you today?”
  2. “What are they doing about the anorexia/OCD/depression?”

They are only trying to be nice and just want to understand more about what is going on with the crazy person living in their house, but I often wonder what exactly my parents expect me to answer when they ask me these kind of questions.
What did they do to me? Well first I was strapped to a table and then they hit me on the head with a mallet to smash the crazy out. What are they doing about the anorexia/OCD/depression? They are cornering it with a sleuth of angry bears (that is actually what a group of bears is called, “a sleuth”, trust me I looked it up on google), so that it runs off of a cliff into a flange of angry baboons (I may or may not have just discovered a website that tells you what the collective names for various kinds of animals hence the uses of ‘sleuth’ and ‘flange” in this post).

The truth is, the psychologists and psychiatrists and support workers I see don’t “do” anything, but at the same time that does not mean they don’t do anything. Sometimes I may do pieces of “work” or try courses of various therapies, discuss changing my medication or upping the dose, but on the whole the majority of my appointments are taken up by simply talking about things. If I say that to my parents, they worry that because nothing is being “done”, I am not receiving any treatment, but what many people don’t realise is that simply talking as a treatment, is seriously underrated.

By telling someone how you feel, you can release some of the emotions you are bottling up; by explaining a problem you are having to someone who doesn’t understand, you may understand things that even you didn’t know you were feeling; and by sharing a secret or a burden/pain, you share the weight of it and are allowed a little brain space to breathe. Like they say, “a problem shared is a problem halved”, not that I know who they are but they seem pretty smart to me. I know it all sounds very wishy washy, which is probably why the idea of “just talking” is sometimes not viewed as “treatment”, but mental health issues are far more complex and confusing than people can really comprehend, and you only learn about them through exploring. I have been in treatment for over a decade yet still I often realise things about my illnesses and my relationship to them that I didn’t know before, just by talking things through.

I suppose the message I want to get across in this post is that when it comes to recovery from mental health problems, it isn’t straight forward, there isn’t a set thing to “do” or fixed course you follow. As cheesy as it sounds, recovery really is a journey of self exploration, and everyone/everyone’s journey is different. People are individual and unique, so their experiences of their illnesses are individual and unique, different and relative to them alone, so “just” talking about things is really important. Only when you really understand what is going on with you and how your life is affected personally, can you really tackle the problem. If you are just starting to receive therapy or are supporting a loved one in therapy and are worried that nothing is really “happening”, please do not feel despair. It may not feel like it, but things really are being “done” and you are working towards recovery even if you don’t realise it right now. Words are power. Use them.

Just going to end this post here by letting you know that a group of is caterpillars is called an army. How hilarious is that? The answer is very. Caterpillars are literally the most non-threatening looking animals in the history of the world, yet still if a lot of them came into your house you would have to say that you had been invaded by an army. Now if you don’t mind, I am off to gather my own caterpillar army to help in my quest to destroy mental health stigma. Cheers.

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