Is Isolation a Productivity Competition?

“When we were children, we used to think that when we grew up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability, to be alive is to be vulnerable.”

Madeleine L’Engle

 

I seem to have inherited an attitude specifically regarding productivity. I seem to live by the phrase “never waste a day” and, although this has its benefits, certain downfalls are present. Now a lot of my knowledge of mental health is specifically related to obsessive compulsive disorder and perfectionism and this certainly would explain the reasoning behind my attitude (either that or I watched too much Eric Thomas as a kid!). However, this seems to be magnified by the recent events of isolation and has caused me to step up training, reading and university work.

For me I have continued my everyday reading of academic papers (even though lent ended 20+ days ago), reading more books for ‘pleasure’ and stepping up my training to try and keep my power and strength while also trying to expand my gymnastics skills with handstands and backbends. I have been surprised that I have taken to training without a barbell with such fervour as I see it as a great way to improve all other physical skills – in order to get better at Olympic Weightlifting (don’t think I’m becoming a gymnast) – and have actually enjoyed going back to some of triple jump training. That was the first love even before Olympic Weightlifting.

However, I have never felt ‘burnt out’ as much as I have in the past 5 weeks. I have tried a few times to take a day just to lay down and recover and maybe watch some criminal minds but after about an hour I feel guilty and end up training anyway. I always feel worse after anyway.

What I would say, after looking into burnout research, is this attitude is not sustainable in the long-term and will lead to some higher level emotional breakdown. From experience, any time my busy schedule (busy because I have meticulously planned it) is disrupted, it causes immense feelings of guilt, shame and leaves me depressed. In looking for productivity and personal improvement I have caused other issues that, in my opinion and the opinion of many researchers, are significantly worse.

A couple of days ago I was watching a video for my studies (see below) and came across a quote that went something like this: “If I am living every day to my personal values then I am successful every day”. This really struck a chord with me. Why does each day have to be lived without ‘wasting’ an hour for it to be deemed successful in anyone’s books? I thought about my values many times and many common themes come up – persistence, overcoming struggle, helping to inspire. Do these necessarily mean I can’t lay in bed all day and still consider myself successful? I would love to hear some other peoples views on this (those who have been messaging me already about these blogs I thank you).

I don’t think I will ever be the kind of person to lay in bed all day just doing nothing but I am starting to realise that doing that is absolutely fine and you should never feel that way for taking the time to relax. Taking the day is nothing to be ashamed of and don’t let anyone say otherwise. Social media outlets are the worst for feeling guilty about yourself and I have started viewing my Instagram as a personal training diary (the reason I got it) as oppose to an outlet for documenting my productivity.

I think the effects of the recent isolation have really heightened my self-evaluation and I am sure I am not the only one. My personal goals remain the same – get masters, become a better athlete to improve weightlifting (I really want that 300kg total) and become a better person. The last point is my biggest goal and I think it can be achieved by me taking a step back occasionally and seeing how far I have come in life and the progress I have already made. It may be that noticing these and being aware of them will allow me to feel like I can relax without feeling guilty.

My lessons on this would be:

  1. Take the day to chill and do nothing if you feel you need a break
  2.  Have a think about what values you want to live your life by and try and live by them everyday and you will be successful (understand that living by your values doesn’t mean you have to train multiple times a day everyday, read a million papers or write an essay).
  3.  Take the time to notice your achievements and be proud of them.
  4.  Try not to compare yourself to others especially not on social media (if everyone is anything like me they probably only post the good stuff anyway)
  5. Always ask for help if you need it.

 

 

 

Mental health and coronavirus (from the perspective of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) – Part 2

I received a lot of nice feedback on my first blog about mental health (from the perspective of obsessive compulsive disorder) so here is the second part!

First of all, I would just like to mention again that I can only comment on my own experiences with slightly less common mental health conditions and I cannot comment on all mental health conditions from a phenomenological (in the sense of me not having that experience) standpoint. I understand a lot of people will be reading this who do not have a specific diagnosable mental health condition or not the exact same set of symptoms, however, hopefully everyone can take from this. Secondly, this blog is way more specific to obsessive compulsive disorder in general and is less focussed on the general public and their response to the coronavirus.

In the first blog I talked a lot about the characteristics of obsessive compulsive disorder and why the common hand washing compulsion related to the obsessive fear/paranoia of contamination and how that had implications for the current coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. For this blog I would like to hone in on the handwashing/avoiding touch compulsion a little bit more but from a different perspective. This will be less ‘preach to the choir’ and more specifically talks about why some people with obsessive compulsive disorder perform their compulsion (be it checking, counting or touching) using hand washing as a specific example.

Below is the reference for a great paper (free on google scholar):

Coles, M. E., Frost, R. O., Heimberg, R. G., & Rhéaume, J. (2003). “Not just right experiences”: perfectionism, obsessive–compulsive features and general psychopathology. Behaviour research and therapy, 41(6), 681-700.

 

In this paper they discuss the ‘not just right experience’ (NJRE) and how many people with obsessive compulsive disorder perform their compulsions in order to avoid NJRE and feel ‘just right’. The main takeaway was that oftentimes someone with obsessive compulsive disorder will want to wash their hands, not because they know it will aid in combatting contamination concerns, but to make their hands feel just right. The example they give is this ‘washing may be motivated by an attempt to reduce the likelihood of a feared outcome (e.g., washing to remove germs and thereby prevent illness) or motivated by an attempt to achieve a sensation of one’s skin feeling just right (e.g., to remove a tacky or sticky feeling from the hands).’ NJREs prove that many peoples are much more specific than some surface level observation. Dig a little deeper into someones behaviour and try to uncover the root cause.  

Purely from experience I would suggest that this feeling of NJRE is actually more commonplace than the real fear of contamination in obsessive compulsive disorder patients. I believe that very often patients with obsessive compulsive disorder know their fear of (in this example) contamination is irrational but the obsessive thoughts, images and scenarios are so intense and frequent they simply MUST perform the compulsion. I believe many will actually wash their hands in an effort to reduce the obsession and the anxiety and to make their hands feel ‘just right’ rather than washing their hands to specifically kill a specific germ etc.

In the context of the recent coronavirus pandemic many more people are washing their hands (finally) and levels of paranoia in the general population are through the roof. All I ask is to consider the underlying reasons why someone may be compulsively hand washing and why simply labelling them as a ‘paranoid member of the public who watches the news too much’ may be counterintuitive to the bigger picture. Obviously, not everyone has obsessive compulsive disorder but, like I said many peoples levels of paranoia, and thus anxiety, are elevated in this current state of affairs. However, if we can get to the bottom of why a lot of the unnoticed people who are currently washing their hands (not because of coronavirus but because of an underlying paranoia / obsessive compulsive disorder) then we can better help them deal with their specific set of symptoms.

Of course there will be people out there (with or without obsessive compulsive disorder) who are washing their hands purely because it follows government guidelines and they are purely happy to do so. It is not these people who I am worried about in terms of mental health.

Those people who are washing their hands to fulfil an obsessive need are frequently putting themselves in an upsetting situation but have no real perceived control of it. They are getting no enjoyment from the act and are likely becoming distressed because of it. For example, I very often have the NJRE and feel the need to wash my hands (after touching someone usually) and therefore wash my hands to relieve my anxiety. However, the act of washing my hands is equally distressing as it is physically painful to me. Those who are close to me will notice the dry skin on my right hand (the focus of intense, vigorous scrubbing) and people often mistake it for bad eczema with multiple large and small cuts appearing as a result of too frequent, intense washing. To say washing my hands hurts me would actually be an understatement – usually it cause real agony. On the other hand it alleviates my NJRE and allows me to move on with my day…

Those who are only recently starting to wash their hands, lets call it ‘washing for a purpose’ are washing their hands for an adaptive reason (to reduce the spread of coronavirus) and will probably cause them some sense of achievement and a boost to their self-esteem, especially those who didn’t wash their hands before the pandemic. I wash my hands to fulfil an obsession, lets call it ‘washing for an obsession’. For me, to be honest, its a mixture of trying to not become contaminated and trying to satisfy a NJRE. This usually takes the form of repetitive scrubbing with water that is probably way too hot and results in skin damage and psychological torment (as no matter how much skin you tear away the NJRE still lingers or at best reoccurs – like a cyclical event). Washing your hands to fulfil an obsession I would argue is maladaptive.

So how should we react to the coronavirus?

The general public should follow governmental guidelines but try not to get too paranoid (thats all I will say).

Those with obsessive compulsive disorder who specifically wash their hands as a symptom of their condition should try to understand why they are washing their hands. If they are genuinely scared about contamination then I can only pray that the recent events dont exacerbate your anxiety and make your daily living situation more difficult than it already must be. On the contrary, those who wash their hands to fulfil the feeling of a NJRE I hope you can understand the difference between washing your hands to avoid contamination and ‘washing for an obsession’

Mental health and coronavirus (from the perspective of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) – Part 1

For readers – The first 5 or 6 paragraphs provide context and are not specifically about coronavirus, I refuse to write the acronym of obsessive compulsive disorder because it has become bastardised in the media and I refuse to follow that, I apologise if the writing style is too academic its all I currently know!

Last of all this is written from a lived experience of obsessive compulsive disorder. I cannot comment on how recent events would affect the non-clinical sample because I am in the psychopathological and clinical sample and, equally, I cannot comment on how recent events could affect people with other diagnosed conditions.

 

Obsessive compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder characterised by obsessions and compulsions. Briefly, obsessions involve recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses or images which cause marked distress to the individual. Such obsessions are heterogeneous in their diversity but idiosyncratic in that each individuals specific obsessions will differ. The most common obsessions are thoughts about contamination (imagine that), doubts, aggressive/horrific impulses or images and sexual imagery.

Compulsions are neutralising agents employed by the individual in an attempt to rid their brain of the aforementioned obsessions. These compulsions often form a relaxing effect on the individual and can cause them to eventually feel at ease. Common compulsions include hand washing (imagine that), keeping a strict routine, ordering items, tapping and obsessing about other activities e.g. exercise. Oftentimes, sufferers of obsessive compulsive disorder will have magical thoughts that their obsessions, regardless of their likelihood, are true and therefore feel the need to perform their specific compulsions to bring order to their life, regardless of how debilitating these compulsions may be.

Before I get into the specifics of the current situation I would like to briefly outline how bad certain obsessions can be just to deter the likely crowd of people who say things like ‘why don’t you just stop turning the light switch off’ or ‘just stop washing your hands’. Obsessions are debilitating and potentially life changing and controlling. It quickly becomes clear why obsessive compulsive disorder is, more often than not, a comorbid condition with common comorbidities such as depression, paranoia and in some cases psychosis. The feelings of despair and anguish are so extreme for many people they feel they NEED to perform their compulsions or they will suffer from panic attacks, losing sleep and in some cases (again) psychosis.

Ok, now the formal stuff is over I will briefly discuss some symptoms I have to put into context the severity of the situation in certain cases. When my troubles with obsessive compulsive disorder first began, aged 12, my main obsessions were images of my lovely mum being brutally tortured entering my mind and intense paranoia about contracting sexually transmitted infections by touching anything. Obviously, this was incredibly distressing and in relation to the thoughts about my mum, highly disturbing, terrifying and debilitating in that they would come at random times, and stop me from doing whatever activity I was doing at the time. Also, just to briefly point out I absolutely adore my mum and love her to pieces so this was really tough for me as I was also confused about why I had images in my head of her dying as I wouldn’t wish harm on anyone – let alone super Vicky (mum).

Moving through childhood into adulthood my obsessions, thankfully, have changed and have become more contamination based as well as underlying sexual obsessive thoughts that are equally distressing to me in particular but this is a topic for future discussion. My compulsions have ranged from obsessive exercise, perfectionism, switching on/off light switches 7 times, handwashing and cleanliness and routine.

A lot of the time people with obsessive compulsive disorder are aware that the obsessions are false and the reason they perform the compulsions is to stop the thoughts from entering their minds. However, occasionally certain individuals can have underlying symptoms of paranoia that render them slaves to their obsessions. For example, the first case of obsessive compulsive disorder I encountered in the literature was of a young child who believed that because he did not step on a crack in the pavement, the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred. His treatment involved his psychiatrist explaining to this young child that because of the time difference in America in relation to his home in England, the attacks happened about 20 minutes before he actually stepped on the crack. This level of paranoia can become life-consuming…. and this is where the recent coronavirus pandemic comes into play.

We already know that one the most common symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder revolves around obsessional thoughts regarding contamination. Now imagine if this lifelong fear and this constant paranoia actually came true! Understandably, coranovirus is nobody’s fault and has dire physical consequences and I truly feel for anyone who has to be quarantined and even more for someone who loses someone close to them. However, the purpose of this blog is to highlight some of the mental health issues that can arise in regard to events like this and not on the physical issues (not to discourage action in that regard as that is obviously a massive issue).

Personally, this has brought back a lot of my issues and I already feel like not touching things (more than normal). I have also become much more aware of other peoples mental health issues in times like this. Supporting the people you love and care for is paramount at the moment and being responsive to their needs also warrants time and effort. There is a lot of scaremongering going on at the moment and certain individuals do have a right to be scared but certain people are having their mental illnesses triggered further by the recent events.

Added to this is the paranoia that my friends and family will become disillusioned with me for not showing affection. This second-order paranoia is the key issue of this blog. This is the paranoia we can all stop! By supporting your loved ones and actively listening to them (if they need it) you may be making a positive change in someone’s life. Unfortunately, I do not feel we can do much to quell the onslaught of media paranoia but we can do our level best to help those who need it most.

I guess the aim of this blog is to make people aware of some of the less discussed issues that have arisen in response to coronavirus. Personally, I am scared for myself as I do not know how I will react to be honest but I know I have the support of trusted people to help me throughout. More so, I hope they know that I will be there for them. So if you notice someones behaviour start to change there’s a large chance they may be struggling – and its probably not your fault so don’t compound the issue. That’s a big one for me as I always think its me that’s caused the behaviour change but it rarely is and I understand that me making someone else’s problem all about me will only make the issue worse. Ask if they want a chat and a cup of tea that’s never hurt anyone!

Recognise that some people are suffering and they will be scared. Recognise that making jokes doesnt help everybody and can add to the fear of some people. However, recognise that your own mental health should come first. If you need to chat please ask a loved one or someone you trust wholeheartedly.

Global pandemic is bad enough, don’t make it worse for people.

 

 

 

Ideas

What ideas swirling around the conscience. A vortex of the mind, educating the masses at mass. In essence, the soul of the question revolves around what beliefs you may have. I feel the everlasting questions seeping through my mind. A tunneling dig into the darkness.

The effervescent man continues down the ‘old beaten track’ of his life. Along the way another broken personality wanders past. They share a stare. A stare of resentment. Why would he walk so close to me? The first man remembers his music. What got him through then, will undoubtedly achieve the same result now.

He has an idea! A swift remembering of the previous past.

Rockets

Am I not good enough. HA!

I know I am. Is it fear. The fear of ‘what’. The fear you may not be who they think you are. I wish I knew.

What is this nagging in my head, why can’t I turn it off, why can’t it stop? 10 years are plenty. A decade of questions ring around the cyclone in my brain. A long long time. The world is rocked and will not stop. I wish I knew the combination to my brain. The combination triumphed my innermost feelings.

The skin around my hands is cracked and disheveled. Are they clean? What is clean? Emotions are not clean and will not end. Why will I not settle, why will it not cease.

The impending hammer of life hits hard, the hammer farms its seed into my mind. The seed of life will not be ceased and its unstoppable power will yearn for speed. What is crawling under my skin? What itches? My ticking time bomb of a body needs rest, resting will not be rested.