Tag Archives: ocd

Reflecting that sh*t happens…

Life in recent years has at times felt as if large piles of manure have landed at my door.

My dad’s decline and death through vascular dementia, my long struggles with “depression” leading to me being diagnosed as having OCD and PTSD from childhood fears, my husband John’s stroke and his deteriorating health with diagnosis of early signs of dementia, and then the biggest pile of poo of all, the sudden, unexpected death of my mum.

These events, especially the traumatic way mum died, are things I can’t mentally let go of, seep away – they fill the recesses of my mind, never far below the surface, always festering, bubbling, suppurating.

I’ve been aware for some while, that the effect on my mental state is a sense of being overloaded, unable to cram more in. I’ve become more anxious, panicky, forgetful, absent-minded. Effectively there’s restricted room for more cr*p.

I thought about this, having earlier today stared down into a pile of poo in our garden.

The toilets had been backing up when flushed, water filling the shower tray and not draining properly, odd glugging noises coming from the basin.

A very nice man called Brad from Drainsolve came out to have a look and explained the problem: “It’s your septic tank love. It’s not draining away, not percolating like it should be.

“Come and have a look,” he said pointing at a thick brown sludge uncovered after digging into the inspection pit. “There’s a build up of too much solid waste for the water to soak through. If nothing’s done about it, you’ll have sewage flowing down the lane and backing up right into the house.”

Nice! I got the picture.

“What do you want to do?” I asked.

“I don’t want to be here,” he answered without pause.

Brutally honest, but fully understandable.

And it’s a sentiment I know well – carrying around a head that’s a full septic tank, where nothing flows through clearly, where my ability to resolve life’s issues sometimes feels backed up to the point of overflow – yes, sometimes I don’t want to be “here” either.

Brad left, assuring me this wasn’t the worst job he was dealing with, though possibly the second-worst, and promising to return soon with a digger.

I walked the dogs to the playing field and sat on a bench, feeling panicky and short of breath, the overflow valve on overtime.

Brad had a digger for the suppurating septic tank.

What kind of tool do you use for festering myriad mind?

I was pondering this question feeling lost in gloom and darkness as I walked on up the river.

The sky turned an amazing deep shade of blue as if to reflect my mood. And suddenly, a beautiful rainbow appeared, for a fleeting, but magical moment.

Rainbows remind me of dad and always make me happy.

They’re a reflection of how we’re feeling, in this case, that sh*t happens, but somewhere the sun’s rays are shining through the rain.



Life Awareness Week

I feel caught in a perfect storm of life’s difficult-to-deal-with-moments.

Every seven days it seems there’s a new awareness week for something.

This weekend marks the end of Dying Matters Week and Mental Health Awareness Week and begins the start of Dementia Awareness Week – three topics on which I have a current speciality.

Get me on Mastermind this instant and I’d answer every question. That’s how “aware” I am!

Having lost my wonderful mum less than four weeks ago in sudden, unexpected and traumatic circumstances – yes I’m going through the numbness, the “it can’t be true” questioning, the guilt of feeling in some way to blame, responsible, at fault for not doing more to prevent it, mum having died at my home, in my care.

The knowledge that professional help was sought on several occasions and that paramedics were there when mum died, because I called them, does little to stop me going over the course of events and trying to change them.

I feel physically ill, my body is doing strange things – even down to drastic bleeding from my gums a few days later. I go into physical spasms of grief, screaming aloud in my sleep, sobbing in a supermarket car park. This is not about wiping the tears away with a tissue.

I’ve been totally lost for words, unable to string a coherent reply to a question. Bad dreams, nightmares, getting up in the middle of the night, forgetfulness, I can tick those boxes, that’s if I remember and focus hard enough.

And the flashbacks and intrusive thinking, that’s all part of it.

That side of it, I was pretty accomplished at already. For 25 years I’ve suffered from bouts of depression, including at times self-harming because of the mental agony I’ve felt. My recurring anxiety, spiralling, hamster-wheeling doubt was diagnosed as OCD four years ago, with childhood traumas recognised as being part of the root cause, leading to 20 weeks of intensive therapy.

It helped me a lot, in learning how to deal with it, but it never totally goes away, so yes, I’d say I have a pretty solid awareness of mental health issues.

Dementia, is one of my identified trigger points – the scary demon in my basement. It’s something I’ve been terrified of since a child, when my lovely grandmother’s increasingly eccentric behaviour was put down to being “senile” with very few people at that time bothering to try to understand.

Thankfully, dementia awareness has increased massively since those dark days and there’s been a shift in public consciousness, research and care.

I learnt lots more first hand about this cruel disease, when my dad was diagnosed in 2011 at the age of 70 with vascular dementia, dying just over three years later. It was a journey of mixed emotions, challenges, despair, anger, grief, but also laughter, compassion, enlightenment, and love.

This Dementia Awareness Week remains hugely relevant and important to me – my dear husband John having recently been referred by his GP to the local memory clinic. The appointment is in a few weeks’ time, 20 years to the day that we got married. Happy Anniversary Darling!

It will also be a few days after the biggest event of my life, a women only marathon, which I’ve taken a lead role in organising and aim to take part in.

It’s called Women Can.

I love the positive affirmation of that simple straightforward statement.

The medals arrived yesterday, 450 of them glistening in a box. They made me think about all those women out there, going through their own journey of awareness, issues affecting their lives, but still signing up to our event and taking part, because through running, endurance running in particular, pitting yourself against that challenge, you learn that women can, men can, we all can.

It’s about getting through the tough times yourself and helping others through them also.

About being life aware.

Thanks to all the special people who are life aware, who have been, and are continuing, to be there for me.

*Special thanks to Sue, a counsellor with the bereavement charity Cruse, for her recent clarity and insight and her recommendation to visit the website of the charity Sudden Death – awareness definitely helps! For information about mental health issues go to Mind. For information about dementia research go to BRACE.

The New Year

rn0sm1sIt’s last year since I wrote a blog. September. Very last year.

January 2nd seems as good as any to stop in time. To look back. And to look ahead.

I started this as a weekly posting in June 2013 to highlight my 50 marathon challenge for the dementia research charity BRACE. And raise awareness about mental health issues, having suffered from depression for many years and just then been diagnosed with OCD.

It’s still a source of massive daily relief that my OCD was finally identified, followed up with 16 weeks of individual therapy and a group course on mindfulness, all thanks to the Devon Depression and Anxiety Service.

Some people think such things are hooey, get-over-it nonsense – I know that’s the case, because it’s been said to me many times.

When you live with constant anxiety, when you think you’re weird, when you suffer agonising guilt, critical voices and self-judgement, when you want to destroy yourself because you loathe who you are – that’s not hooey, that’s fighting a battle for survival.

Whether it happens for minutes, months or years, when you’re in that dark place, it feels like nothing in your world will ever be light again, that the black tunnel is endless.

I’ve been very lucky, to mostly get on OK with my life despite my underlying crippling fears, to find things I enjoy, things that help me and to want to share and promote the benefits to others. Running and writing, strongly coupled with being outdoors and nature, are two of my strongest torchlights, shining a beam in my darkest despair.

When I saw that the mental health charity Mind had a Run Every Day in January challenge I thought what a great idea to start the new year.

So it seemed a good time today to post that I’ve signed up for that challenge – Freddie my lurcher dog is delighted.

As for other projects, lots to do and write about, which I’ve been saying or mentally thinking for weeks, I’ll do in the new year.

Now it’s here. Better add, weekly blog to the list then.



The April edition of Runner’s World has an article about my OCD, and how running helps.

It’s not always easy to be open about having a mental health condition, but anyone who reads my blog, or knows me personally will already know that about me, so I figured the extra exposure in RW wasn’t something to be scared of, and it may help someone else.

I haven’t had a chance to read the whole magazine properly yet, but picking up my copy today, to write this post, it fell open on page 55 – “Outrunning the Demons”, written by Greg O’Brien. from America. His personal account of what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s.

Much of what Greg writes about resonates with me. My own family – grandparents and my dad – and their struggle with dementia, my fears about how my own mind works, and how both running and writing help to combat some of the anxiety.

Greg’s story is inspiring – he pushes himself mentally and physically, in a determined refusal to give in to the gradual erosion of his mental capability, which he describes as: “Like a death in slow motion, like having a sliver of your brain shaved every day”.

Running, he says, restores mental as well as physical stamina: “It flicks the lights back on. It reboots my mind, provides a reprieve, so I can do what I love most – write, think and focus.”

As I said, inspiring stuff.

The whole article is well worth a read, being informative and beautifully and intelligently written.

I felt chuffed that things I’ve done have been called inspiring recently – a former colleague having read the RW article said I was their inspiration to become a runner. And at a school presentation, where I was reading my children’s story “Tuamor the Turtle”, one of the 10-year-olds said it was inspirational.

What a thrill to make such a strong connection, gain positive endorsement.

I’ve been into several schools in recent weeks and had great feedback from the children and teachers alike. It’s been incredibly rewarding and sparked wonderful creativity and imagination. This is some artwork done by children at Cranbrook Primary School, near Exeter.

And exciting news today, I had confirmation from a national marine conservation organisation that they will become a main charity partner for the book

For a while after I gave up work, I felt rather uninspired and as if I had nothing much to give.

Greg was worried when his Alzheimer’s was diagnosed that it would rob him of his creativity, but he now devotes his time to speaking and writing about it and has won numerous awards.

I’ve used my OCD as the basis to write this blog for nearly three years now, and it’s helped give me the confidence to publish my first book, which is already leading to other things.

Creativity comes from within – and it’s in all of us – all you need is to find your inspiration.


Happy New Life

I had a moment just now when I brushed past a parallel me from a previous life.

Our village primary school grounds had been badly flooded, and the local media had turned out to report the story.

As I walked past in my woolly hat and muddy boots, with two even muddier dogs, I said a cheery hello to former colleagues, thinking in times gone by I would have been with them, the other side of the fence, interviewing the local councillor and rushing back to the office to edit the piece for the lunchtime news.

As I walked on up the hill, a reporter from the local BBC radio station I used to work for drove past. At the same time one of my neighbours was walking down the hill to help with the clean up. He called out: “Thanks for the book Jo,” my turtle story, I’d given his two boys for Christmas.

My past and present writing worlds meeting on the same page, within the same paragraph.

And I walked on without a trace of regret for what I have given up, to become who I am.

Logging in to my computer there was a message from a school asking if I would read my turtle story with them later this month, photos of me dressed as a Christmas parcel running in the recent Portsmouth Marathon, and queries to sort about community events I organise and the charity work I support.

In emails I sign myself as: Writer, runner, fundraiser.

It’s taken a while to feel that description fully fits, but yep, that’s who I am, that is my happy new life.

Happy New Year in whatever life you are living.

A final piece of news, Runner’s World are going to do a piece about my running and how it helps me cope with my OCD. Here’s that picture from Portsmouth, because, yes I am a bit mad as well…

362 538


I’m an Author!

Jo Earlam with Tuamor booksThis feels a momentous day – one of those you want to run through the street, whooping and hollering.

So excited that my first book is officially published today, a children’s story “Tuamor the Turtle”.

I’ve had my words and by-line in print many times as a journalist.

But it doesn’t match the thrill of creating something from nothing and seeing it through to publication, a bookshop shelf, and the best bit of all, children reading and enjoying it.

Coincidentally, this is my 100th blog post and it happens to be six months to the day that I completed my 50th marathon, which was three days after my 50th birthday.

Having had a paid career for 25 years before deciding, in my mid 40s, to choose my own pathway in life, it’s rewarding to have achieved these things through self-belief and perseverance.

It’s been tough at times, and with my OCD – which is still a big issue for me – sometimes the doubts are overwhelming.

But this is where I am here and now – and it feels pretty good.

I wish my little turtle the best of luck. He’s been in my head for two years, now he’s out there in the ocean – I’m hoping he’s a good swimmer.

You can find out more about him on his website http://www.tuamortheturtle.com and also follow him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/tuamortheturtle

Thanks for reading my blog and to everyone who’s helped me to believe in myself.



Mindfulness – a wheelchair for your head

“You don’t wake up one morning ‘depressed’. Fed up, frustrated, tired, worried or just downright bored with life maybe, but not depressed – it’s far more sneaky than that.

“Depression is something that creeps up unseen behind you, clings on to you, takes over and becomes part of you, often without you ever realising.

“It is a cancer with a voracious appetite that devours your thoughts, your subconscious, your inner self.

“And unlike most illnesses, for it is a recognised ‘illness’, it does not always reveal itself to others, or even to you through physical pain or disability.

“So no-one ever offers you a wheelchair for your crippled mind.”

I copied the above paragraphs directly from a newspaper cutting dated October 1993, and which I’ve had in a drawer these last nearly 22 years.

I’m recounting them here because this week is Mental Health Awareness Week – a time to think about the quarter of the population who’ll experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year.

Over the last 15 years the theme has covered a number of topics surrounding mental health: stigma, being at work, fear, sleep patterns, exercise and anxiety among them.

This year it’s focussing on Mindfulness, a way of paying attention to the present moment that helps break the cycle of negative thought patterns that can dominate the lives of people with mental illness.

I’m acutely aware of the impact of mental health problems, the stigma that surrounds them still, and the positive effects of Mindfulness in helping to combat both.

The 1,000 word article, the newspaper cutting from 1993, has no name to it. It simply says it was written by a 28-year-old who had had depression.

The stigma then of being identified directly as someone with a mental health problem was too great to expose in a work place, especially the adrenalin-driven, cutting-edge world of the media.

I know, because it was me who wrote that article. Me who wanted to speak up for people who experience mental health problems. Me who was too scared to let everyone in my own wider life know I’d been affected.

I’d like to say it was my experience of mental health problems was a one-off. A severe episode of the blues that went away. Unfortunately it wasn’t and it didn’t. I’ve lived with anxiety, fear, recurring depression – which was two years ago diagnosed in my case as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) – for 25 years now.

It’s an insidious illness, that has dominated my adult life, affecting my work, my social interactions, adding extra pressure to everything I do. Like many people who suffer I try to be positive and upbeat in company, even if I’m breaking up inside.

I’ve been able to get through mostly, thankfully, without recourse to prescription drugs, instead turning to other complementary therapies and releases including homeopathy and counselling, plus of course running and exercise generally.

Being properly diagnosed with OCD and a course of CBT have also helped immensely in me understanding more and coming to terms with how my mind works.

What’s been the icing on the cake, the thing that’s really made a daily difference is completing a Mindfulness course offered on the NHS.

It was the best referral ever. It was OK just to be ‘me’. No one there judged me, and I learnt how to silence my own inner critics more often – it was at last that wheelchair where for a moment I could rest my crippled mind.

I’ve practised Mindfulness on a regular basis for the last 18 months, and it’s really helped me find a better balance in my life.

I’m sure it can benefit many more people, and if my experience helps even one other person I’d be delighted.

That’s why I’m backing the Mental Health Awareness Week campaign this year.

And that’s why 22 years on I’m not too ashamed or embarrassed to say: “Yes, I suffer from mental health problems”.