When I began this blog some 19 scary weeks ago, it was the start of summer, I’d just been diagnosed with OCD, I felt parts of my life were in a bit of a rut and marathon wise I’d reached number 25, halfway to my 50 at age 50 target.
It’s now well into autumn, I’m reaching the end of my course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I’ve got some structure back into my days, and on the running front I’m up to 32 marathons, with another three lined up before the end of the year.
I kind of feel life is moving on, and I hope I’m finally beginning to move on from some of the demons that have hounded me over the years.
Having shared quite a lot about myself in these past weeks already, I guess I may as well be up front about some of the anxieties that I’ve stored up in my head since childhood.
From age nine to 12, a few things happened to rock my world. The first one, my main demon, was when a man stopped his car and called me over, asking for directions. Eager to help and full of youthful confidence that I knew the location he wanted, I began reeling off instructions. Only he didn’t want directions at all, he just wanted me to lean right inside his open window, and watch him exposing himself.
It was the most horrible, confusing and frightening experience I’d had in my life. His round sweaty moon-shaped face, his beady eyes, greasy white hair and the rest of the repugnant image have haunted me ever since. And every single time since, that some innocent lost driver has stopped to ask me the way, I’ve been frozen to the spot, nine-years-old again, feeling sick and terrified.
The fall-out wasn’t much better, the police being called and me having to try and find the right words for it all. A naïve, Catholic-educated schoolgirl, I remember being paralysed with embarrassment and fear, and the idea that it was somehow my fault.
Those feelings were increased when soon after an older boy held me up at knife point as I was walking to the library. I’d taken a meandering route through alleyways, rather than directly down the road as instructed. I felt it was my own wrong-doing that had again landed the police at our door and brought terror upon myself.
My Catholic up-bringing instilled a strong sense of guilt and the requirement to confess all your “badness”. I remember sitting in the pews with other children from my primary school class, wondering was I more bad than they were?
My grandmother’s dementia, which began around the same time, also had a big effect on me. Seeing this central strong force in my life slowly lose her mind was scary and very difficult to understand. Around the same time we moved house, increasing my sense of insecurity.
I’ve been aware of these things all my life of course, but it wasn’t until the CBT and EMDR memory therapy, that I realised their collective significance and how they’ve contributed to the underlying anxiety, hamster wheel analysis and specific OCD symptoms I now have.
It’s been – as my therapist forecast it would – like doing a dot to dot puzzle. At the beginning all you can see is separate spots covering the page, but as you gradually work through and join them up, a picture emerges that begins to make sense, bringing clarity and telling you something about yourself.
Some of the sessions, where I had to go back in my head to revisit my demons, have been very challenging and difficult – ghosts from the past that I’d tried to forget without success, and now had to conjure up in detail.
There were times when I didn’t want to carry on, when I had to use all my mental energy to try and combat my fears. Running helps me escape my demons and in therapy I took strength from and used images from past races to help me – the idea that if I could face and conquer the marathon wall, I could clamber over my rocky past unscathed. To not be scared, not feel like a bad person, move on and leave it behind.
I know that compared to the trauma some people experience in their lives, these things that happened to me are trivial, but no-one should feel afraid to speak up about what’s scary to them. When I was nine I was lost for words. I’m 48 now and I’m not any more.
October is OCD Awareness Month. I hope that by facing up to my fears in writing about them here, others might also feel better able to wave goodbye to their own demons.
After nearly 40 years, I think for me, it really is time to say “cheerio” and move on.