I was a prisoner of my mind: Julia’s story

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Terrible thoughts of violence tormented Julia all her life – until a diagnosis of OCD and her husband’s love enabled her to dispel her fears for good

When I think back as far back as possible, I can count the number of really happy, fear-free days in my life on the fingers of one hand.

I was a scared kid, a worried teenager, and a screwed-up adult. It seemed to me that I was responsible for everything that went wrong around me. I was a perfectionist and an over-thinker. But it was more than that. I was different and I didn’t want to be.

Like so many people, I had a difficult childhood. I grew up knowing who I really was and felt like I didn’t really fit in with it. I now know that these were the ideal conditions for my illness to take root and grow.

My thoughts were my downfall. From the age of 14 I began to have thoughts of harm towards those I loved most. I would watch a message about murder or abuse and be gripped by a very real and obnoxious fear. “What if I could? Would i do something like that? “

I was so afraid that my thoughts were me. I carried this false belief for over 40 years, and it threatened to compromise and contaminate any loving or kind instincts I had.

I married in 1983 and followed my calling to teach. I know that I was and am a natural and gifted teacher. I was popular with my students and really wanted to help them reach their potential. I thought maybe I had finally arrived in my own life!

Then the accusing thoughts would begin. “Could I be trusted in a position of this responsibility?” This destroyed the joy I had in my job. My dysfunctional brain told me I was a bad person – sometimes my wrong guilt was overwhelming.

Julia and her husband at their wedding

For Julia, the key to her salvation was to tell her husband about her illness and to be unconditionally accepted and loved

This is fairly typical of the experience of people with intrusive thoughts about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, sometimes referred to as “Pure O”.

OCD contaminates and breaks down the lives of ordinary, decent people. There are many areas of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – contamination obsessive-compulsive disorder, religious obsessive-compulsive disorder, relational obsessive-compulsive disorder – and all of them, without exception, are cruel and destructive.

Unfortunately, I had never heard of this mental illness, and 30 years ago doctors probably weren’t aware of it either. Then, in my late 40s, I did some research on the computer and came across the term “intrusive thoughts”. I started reading. On the screen I saw a description of myself and my life. I felt tremendous relief and an outpouring of emotions. I had a disease. It had a name. I wasn’t the evil person I feared.

You would think that after such a revelation everything would be sorted. I would seek help, seek treatment and be “healed”. I would finally get rid of that big, ugly monkey that I had carried on my back for so long.

Think again

My intrusive thoughts continued and intensified. I was too scared, maybe just too tired to seek help. My son had his own anxiety and depression issues, I had a painful divorce in 2006, had little money and was busy coping with daily survival. In retrospect, I was at the bottom of my priority list.

When my close friend Pamela died of cancer in August 2014, I realized that this was the time to take action. I had a breakdown. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t stop crying. I had reached my limit. It was sadness, but it was also the fear that I would waste my life. Pamela loved her life and had lost it. I had to find mine. I owed it to her.

The therapy was tough – but I was determined to give all I had. It gradually helped me to see the real me

I was still tormented by obsessive-compulsive disorder when I met my second husband. If I could ever be happy it would be now I had a loving, equal relationship with a man who valued me. But I didn’t tell him about my illness until after we got married. I think I was too scared to risk another rejection.

We visited Paris shortly after our wedding in 2013 – something I’ve always wanted to do. This vacation was full of new experiences, sights and sounds. These are powerful triggers for my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and it wasn’t long before the fear and doubt began.

I was on the subway and started thinking, “What if I pushed someone onto the tracks in front of the train?” Of course, this thought is followed by the compulsory phase – to check mentally whether this can never happen. What’s worse is the follow-up question: “What if I had done this and couldn’t remember / didn’t notice that I did it?” This is a nerve wracking feeling. It never gets easier.

I think telling my husband about my illness and being unconditionally accepted and loved was the key to my salvation. I started to appreciate myself and believe that I deserved the chance for a good life.

I went to my GP’s office in May 2015 and said, “I have obsessive-compulsive disorder. I need help. I want a diagnosis. “

The last barrier was broken and three months later I was diagnosed with OCD Intrusive Thoughts. The feeling of relief was enormous. I was given the right medication for my illness and agreed to therapy.

My therapist was great. Over the weeks I felt more and more comfortable in the sessions. I opened up more to find that he had heard it all before, wasn’t shocked or appalled by the things I was describing, and could reassure myself that I was a good person and not a threat to anyone.

Julia smiles

The therapy was tough – but I was determined to give all I had. It was exhausting, it was intoxicating, it gradually helped me to see the real me. I liked what I saw.

I faced my worst fears and realized that my fear would subside, that it was possible to walk away from OCD without coercion, without continually thinking about what had happened or what might have happened.

My life has been so different since then. I still have intrusive thoughts (like we all do from time to time). I still have bad days. I still wish I didn’t have this disease. I was able to talk to my family, friends, co-workers about it and the reactions were positive and supportive.

I will never be OCD free. But I am a free person now. I am no longer trapped in my own mind by my own thoughts. I turned 60 a few months ago and I’m looking forward to the best days – which I think are yet to come.

A few weeks after my therapy, I decided to write a book about my life with OCD, my therapy, and my new life after therapy. I published this myself in January 2017 under the pseudonym Martha Jane Middow. Aside from the birth of my amazing son, this is the greatest achievement of my life to date. It helped me a lot to write it, but my main motivation was helping others with OCD. Point out the possibility of help, health and hope for the future.

“Stuck in the Loop: My Showdown with OCD” (£ 4.60 from Amazon or free via Kindle Unlimited)

Rav Sekhon | BA MA MBACP (accredited) says:

Julia’s inspiring story really overcomes adversity. Her strength drives her through the process, striving to master her personal challenges and accepting her as part of herself, with the support and love of those around her. Through her experience, Julia is able to bring her authentic self into the world and she seems clear.

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