Overcoming OCD – after 50 years
In this moving case history, Michelle describes her highly disabling experience of mental ill health, including extreme OCD, which persisted for decades despite many attempts to seek help. Then a charity referred her to a human givens practitioner – with life-changing results.
I am six years old. My dad has just walked through the front door, home after a 12-hour shift, and I am overjoyed to see him. The feeling of joy is short lived, as he sees that, as usual, no housework has been done and no dinner has been made, and he lets rip. The ensuing argument with my mother escalates to a full-blown screaming match, with plates smashed and objects thrown.
I am frozen, rooted to the spot, feeling as if I am in a horror film, helpless with emotions that confuse me. I don’t know what to do! That night I cry myself to sleep and the next day I have the thought that, if I do the housework and help with my brother before and after school, then dad won’t get so angry.
That was the day that OCD came into my life. At first it felt like my safety net, something that put me in control. Obviously it didn’t, as life at home remained terrifying, so the OCD grew in strength. Whereas, at the beginning, it felt like a friend, it soon became a bully that lied to me and took over my life. But at the time I didn’t see it that way. It was only when I started my life-changing work with HG practitioner Juliette Young five decades later that I finally saw it for what it was.
Over the intervening years, through life’s many cruel twists and turns, heartbreak and devastation, the OCD’s power grew and grew. I thought that it was the truth when it ‘told’ me I must wash my hands till they bled. Nothing was clean enough, despite bleaching and scrubbing. I made a poor marriage and felt so useless and downtrodden that agoraphobia engulfed me for the first time. I thought, if I stayed indoors cleaning, I would be safe.
I have been deeply depressed and on many occasions wanted to end my life, despite having had a loving second husband and wonderful daughters. I tried hard over the years to get help but everything led to a dead end. A professional who specialised in OCD told me, after six weeks of my filling in a tick-sheet form saying how I was feeling, that she couldn’t help me as I needed to sort out emotions from my past before I could sort out the OCD. I went to 12 counselling sessions at the doctor’s surgery and, just as I felt safe to start opening up, I was told that the sessions were over. I tried talking to others that had gone through the same sorts of experiences, and all different types of antidepressants, but nothing helped.
So my life carried on in the same depressive state, with OCD by my side, exhausting me and preventing me from being ‘present’ to enjoy all those special times that should turn into lovely, lasting memories.
Three days after Christmas, in 2012, I received a call to say that my dad had just died. I was hysterical with grief but, as usual, switched off my feelings to be strong for my family. Over the years, with one heartache and challenge after another – I watched my mother-in-law die in hospital, my own mother struggle with cancer, experienced a bad car accident – I leaned more and more on OCD to get me through. I danced to its tune, bleaching everything till the stench burned my eyes. Another cruel twist of fate saw me land up in a wheelchair. Housebound for a year, I was finally offered an appointment to see a psychiatrist, but she couldn’t help me with the OCD and the sessions ended.
During this period, my loving second husband was diagnosed with cancer and tragically died. My world came to an end with his loss and the OCD grew so strong that I wouldn’t let anybody into my home and, and wouldn’t go out either. I was even eating biscuits out of a bowl with a spoon, as OCD was telling me that I would contaminate my food if I touched it, even though I’d washed my hands a thousand times. If flyers were pushed halfway through the letterbox, I put on rubber gloves and pushed them back out with a stick, so I didn’t have to touch them, and even then would scrub my hands afterwards. I remember crying on the phone to my daughter that I couldn’t go on, and she said, in a stern voice, “If you take your life, Mum, I will never forgive you! Never!” To this day, that resonates with me. It made me decide to try one last time to get help.
It was all so different from the 'support' I'd received before... I felt as if a huge weight had lifted off me
I reached out to a charity for patients or family affected by cancer (The Mulberry Centre) and they assigned me to Juliette, who used a therapy called human givens. I had never heard of this therapy before but was willing to give it a go.
The sessions were conducted via Zoom, which was perfect, as I still couldn’t go out at the time. It was all so different from the ‘support’ I had received before and, over time, I was able to unload all that was in my mind, opening long-locked boxes, using the tools that Juliette taught me. Juliette was able to shed light on my past, help me see the full picture and make sense of all those feelings of not being good enough: they had been put there by other people because of their own issues. Juliette showed me that, through trauma, I was reacting to past painful experiences as if they were still current, and used a technique called rewind to help me make me them into ordinary memories, unpleasant but without the emotional arousal attached. I felt as if a huge weight had lifted off me. Finally I had someone with me, shining a light into my dark hole, with the tools to help me see my way out of it and start living again.
On that day something enormous shifted in me... I shall be eternally grateful to Juliette and human givens
I was able to be thankful that it came to try to help me when I was six but to see that it wasn’t helping me any more, was stopping me from living my life and it had to go. During guided visualisation with Juliette, I told it so. It changed in my imagination from a big scary shadow of a man into a little boy, looked at me and walked away.
On that day something enormous shifted in me. I’m still working to undo all the OCD learned patterns, as the OCD has been there nearly all my life, but I am living one day at a time. I had three of my grandchildren for a sleepover, and I had both of my daughters and their families over for Christmas day, which would have been inconceivable in the past. I know that I have still a way to go to become fully free, and that normal life will always involve battles that may be unbalancing, but with the tools and techniques I now know, I’m finally on the right path. I shall be eternally grateful to Juliette and human givens.
Juliette Young comments
When I first saw Michelle (in August 2020), originally for bereavement counselling, her OCD around cleanliness had become so severe that she had not left her home nor let anyone into it since the death of her husband one year previously – including her daughters and grandchildren. The pandemic had escalated the problem – she would not even open her windows or go into the garden.
In addition, her grieving was complicated by the trauma that had surrounded her beloved (second) husband’s death from cancer, which came on top of a huge amount of trauma from her childhood and her emotionally abusive first marriage. The first step was to build strong rapport to help her feel safe with me. It was also important, after all she had been through, that I gave her hope that she could, and would, get better, and I was able to teach her calming techniques, as well as techniques for challenging the OCD. Later, when she felt safe enough, we were able to use guided imagery and neutralise traumatic memories.
With so much to unpack and the OCD so entrenched (a visit from the gasman could send her back to square one), recovery was never going to be quick. But she was so willing to learn, and to try out the techniques that I taught her, that we were always able to achieve improvement in every session, and between sessions too. I praised the courage she had shown in the face of adversity. One example of this was the way she had eventually stood up to her first husband and made him move out, despite years of bullying behaviour towards her. This was a useful analogy for the OCD too, as, having stood up to a real-life bully, she could use that strength to stand up to the OCD. Her final breakthrough in seeing the OCD shrink and walk away from her came after a long and multi-faceted approach to treating it. Michelle was an extremely rewarding client to work with and I am so glad she now has a different future ahead of her.
Thanks to Denise Winn for her help in writing up this case history.
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