So for those of you who don’t know – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a sort of therapy which is more, uh, ‘hands on’ than your generic counselling, and they basically try to make you face your phobias in order to eliminate the obsessive rituals that you feel compel you to be afraid of these things. CBT was my only choice as I’ve tried everything else and it hasn’t seemed to work. I went to mom in a very low point of how I was feeling a while ago, and so mom scoured the internet for the best CBT-er (not sure what you call them) in the area – and came up with the woman who I am now currently seeing for my OCD. To be honest, I’m not sure how great the CBT is working on me either. I went to her for the first time with my Anxiety Disorder, only to leave with an OCD diagnosis as well – which I had never even considered. The problem with the CBT is that, at the very beginning of my sessions, she asked me to write down all of the things, in order of distress and interference with my life, that I thought were ‘obsessions’, things that I could not stop doing. I would really rather not specify what each of those things are – but there were about ten on the list. We’ve been slowly working through each of them – and many people would say how can you think it’s not working when you haven’t even finished the course? Well, I know because we are supposed to address each obsession over a period of time, and we ‘supposedly’ have addressed about four of them. However they are still just as obsessive as ever! So before you say that I’m not giving her the benefit of the doubt – hear me out.
So yesterday we addressed a new one, significantly higher up the list – but still not in the top three. I would take a guess at it being about number four (I haven’t seen the list again since I wrote it months ago). So this particular obsession consists of superstition. My defence for this one is that superstitions are like, really common. It’s not just me who has a phobia of walking under scaffolding, ladders or over triple-drains (you know the drains you see in the streets that cover pot holes – the ones with three drains in a row). However. Most people would endure scaffolding or a triple-drain or two if they had to – and that would be the end of that. But for me, that isn’t the way it goes. At my school, there are a lot of triple-drains around, and it’s just one of those ‘school things’ that everyone says ‘toast’ if they walk over one to stop it from being bad luck. I know that is the most utterly ridiculous word choice – but what can I say? It’s just like a school tradition that’s been passed down. So everyone says it. But mine is like, a proper obsession. I have a huge, gigantic phobia that bad things will happen if I now don’t say ‘toast’ when I walk underneath any kind of thing anywhere in the world that could be seen as ‘bad luck’. I know it’s like, totally irrational, but in my head, I have plenty of excuses as to why I do it.
My fear that something bad will happen can range from literally anything: doing badly in school, to getting cancer, to death. But before you think how ridiculous that is – let me explain. I feel like it’s sort of karma. I can’t really figure out how to explain this best. Um. So my brain tells me that, if you’re ignorant enough to think that you’re invincible to these ‘superstitions’, then karma will get you back and you’ll have something awful happen to you. I, seeing it written down in front of me, know its ridiculousness. But at the time for me it’s just like, why take the risk? There are plenty of day-to-day activities that can hurt you so why risk it with something that you can stop and that you can control by simply saying ‘toast’?
Next: the fear of death (prepare for a long story now – sorry!) My grandpa (Pamps) doesn’t talk to my immediate family, including me, anymore. We never fell out. We didn’t ‘agree to part ways’. But my Nan died when I was about twelve. Nan, Pamps and I were incredibly close. They literally were like my best friends. I was always super shy so struggled in that sense at school, and they would take me in every Friday morning and pick me up every Saturday after class (yeah, my school made us attend on Saturdays). So we were incredibly close and I loved them to bits.
When my Nan died, Pamps sort of, retreated into a shell. Which of course, is understandable. We continued to see each other for a while. By that time I was just starting my new school – boarding, living away from home. Pamps bought a sat-nav and insisted that it was so that he could come visit me. Okay, my Nanny wasn’t around anymore, and whilst I did NOT handle it well (throwing things around, emptying drawers on the floor etc), at least I had my Pamps. But needless to say, the longer I was at boarding school, the less I saw of Pamps. Never a visit, never a text, never a call. For a while mom used to take Anna and I over to visit him in our school holidays. But he was never that happy to see us, you know? We would call and he wouldn’t pick up, or if he did he would make up excuses not to see us.
It sounds like I’m being really insensitive to what he was feeling – but trust me, I’m not. I was still young I didn’t understand much – I just knew I wanted my grandpa back, but eventually we stopped calling because we thought well, if he wants to see us he’ll call, because we obviously didn’t want to smother or pressurise him. He always maintained after Nan died that he never wanted to lose contact with us because of her death, so that was what we were trying to facilitate for him because we appreciated that he wouldn’t be up to doing much himself – but he didn’t seem to want any of it. Before you judge and say we should have given him space – of course we respected this. But mom lost her husband (my dad), too. So she knew what he was going through. And she also knew what helped her when he died – her friends would come and take her out, distract her – so that’s what we were trying to give to Pamps – we could be in it together.
By this time it was around two years after her death. I was probably about fourteen, and I was still distraught at being ignored by my grandpa. So eventually I called him when I was home-alone, because I knew mom wouldn’t let me do it if she was there. I wrote down everything I wanted to say because I didn’t want to mess up the voicemail (as I called him when I knew he wouldn’t be home). I called him up, left my voicemail, and I was sort of sobbing throughout. I look back on it now and regret it – but you can’t stop the ADHD impulses – especially because at the time I didn’t realise I was even being impulsive. I said that we all really missed him and wanted our grandpa back. All that soppy, wet stuff. But at the end I gave him an ultimatum: my twelve-year-old self sobbed down the receiver that if he didn’t call back in a week, then we would know that he didn’t want to be part of our lives. I didn’t want to live in the middle anymore. I wanted to know either way, so I could stop waiting and hoping he would come back if he was never going to. He never called back, basically.
Now, the reason why I’ve gone on that massive ramble merely to tell a story about OCD, is that I have a theory. 1: Maybe Pamps feels we’re bad luck. 2: He doesn’t want to put bad luck on us. 3: We remind him of Nan. So I’ll explain. Poor Pamps. Everyone around him has slowly, well, disappeared. He fell out with his sister. He had a daughter, who died young. And then his son (my real dad) died at twenty-seven of an unknown cause. And now my Nan, from a heart problem. So I don’t know, he seems to have been very unlucky with regard to deaths within close family. He’s the last blood relative I have to my dad really, so it upsets me a lot that we don’t have contact. Nan and Pamps used to tell me stories about him when he was a kid, and I dunno it sounds stupid but it made me feel connected to my dad, like I knew him. I think maybe the reason Pamps keeps his distance is because I remind him of my dad, and subsequently his death and everyone else’s. Or maybe, like me, he’s a little scared that I’ll be next, since I’m his only blood left who he hasn’t technically fallen out with. But when you do as much trying as we did, you instinctively know when you need to stop, because it wasn’t fair on him if we bombarded him with calls all the time when he really just didn’t want to hear from us.
Now you may be wondering when this huge (and unfortunately for you, probably a little boring) story will link back to my CBT yesterday. Well, the counsellor kept asking me why I’m so afraid of walking on a triple drain again and again and again, and I kept saying things like: ‘I don’t want to mess up my exams because they’re bad luck’, and ‘I don’t want to die’. And she kept replying with things such as; ‘But everyone will die eventually. Why does that scare you so much?’ BECAUSE THAT’S NOT THE BLOODY POINT, WOMAN! The point is that I don’t want to die early like my dad! I mean I just feel like maybe the reason Pamps won’t talk to me is because, well, everyone he’s ever loved seems to have died around him. What if he’s just scared something might happen to me next, being the only one left? That’s what I’m worried about. I told her I’ve been undergoing loads of ongoing heart tests to make sure I don’t have any hereditary heart conditions, since there’s been a history of random death in my family. It’s incredibly scary! So I don’t like walking under anything that could possibly give me any bad luck – there are lots of illnesses etc that can’t necessarily be avoided. So it just seems silly to risk death over something that you can so easily avoid by either steering clear of them completely, or simply saying ‘toast’. See, I know how insane it sounds. But it’s just an obsession, a compulsion. I know that people don’t generally die from walking over a triple-drain…but at the same time saying ‘toast’ is a small price to pay to keep your life, in my eyes. And so what? Maybe it’s not true. But if it is, why not just avoid the risk altogether.
So yesterday was a difficult day for me. It reduced me to tears for pretty much the rest of the day because the woman made me do something I didn’t want to do, something i was scared of. The thing with OCD is that there’s a genuine belief that something bad could happen. When she asked me how I was feeling, I replied ‘angry and pissed off’. She was just like ‘oh…’ We went into town and she made me walk continuously over triple-drains and under scaffolding without saying ‘toast’. I know it’s her job, but I was MAD. What if I die and it’s her fault? I was embarrassed too because everyone was staring – we looked like a couple of nutters (well, more nutty that I already am haha), pouncing on every single triple-drain in the street like lion to prey!
But yeah. Basically it hasn’t eliminated my fear of death. How could it? It just made me more worried because I walked over at least twenty and didn’t protect myself from the possibility of bad luck. Who knows what might happen to me now, or in years-to-come, all because of the CBT I had yesterday?
I understand that those of you without OCD may struggle to understand this post. What you must understand is that however ridiculous it happens to sound to you, these are genuine thoughts, feelings and worries of mine and no matter how hard I try, they don’t seem to go away. My obsessive personality is too strong.
Anyway. I hope those of you who stayed with me this long found the post insightful – and I’m alright now don’t worry (not that you were haha). I was just a little shaken yesterday and it’s kind of all just a blur of confusion and worry now.
Bu eh. Happy Friday afternoon! 🙂
– Ellie xo
Oh and ps – I thought I had a hard time but I watched a documentary on telly the other day where a girl had a phobia of public loos. So the CBT-er made her lick a toilet seat in a public loo. Yeah, that extreme!
© agirlwithadhd 2015.