Today we have Sherwyn Jellico writing a very deep guest post discussing depression and OCD. I have had the pleasure of mailing back and forth with Sherwyn for a while and we seem to have some similar issues with our mental health. I feel that this post and book are very important to share as there is more help out there than there was 20 years ago, when I was first diagnosed, yet the stigma is still out there. I hope that if you are going through a time of feeling down or depressed that you can take comfort that you aren’t alone. If you know someone in this situation maybe you could share Sherwyn’s post with them as well as showing them how much you care – asking ‘How are you?’ could save a life!
Lowering the bar
When I was a kid I was fairly convinced I would be an astronaut when I grew up, just like my hero Neil Armstrong. I went around telling everyone. I was into all things sci-fi and space. I had a t-shirt that looked like an astronaut’s suit, I had an Action Man Space Ranger, I was always playing with Space Lego, I had a Space 1999 Eagle spaceship, I watched Star Trek, I read books about NASA and the Apollo program, I had a big poster of the moon on my wall.
It’s a terrible thing in life when your idea of who you think you are crashes up against the harsh reality of your limitations. My youth was characterised by such unexpected collisions; in academia, work and social life. I never felt like those limitations were meant to be there. They always felt foreign to me. I resented them. I fought hard to break them down and get beyond them to the real me.
Eventually though, the damage incurred in trying to defy my limitations started to delineate a no man’s land around my life. I became increasingly reluctant to venture across it because I already knew what lay beyond it – pain, humiliation, failure, regret. Avoidance became a way of life, and my world started to get smaller and smaller.
I would deliberately hold myself back from things I used to love; things I would still have loved if I could’ve done them without tripping up and making a complete jackass of myself in public. Relationships, outings, shopping trips, clubs, holidays, visiting friends, chats with neighbours or people at work … I ended up living like Boo Radley, ensconced in a hidey-hole I rarely ventured out of, watching helplessly as life passed me by. And the real bitch of it was that people misinterpreted this as some kind of miserable lifestyle choice. Lose, lose.
My own particular set of limitations were like a dirty little secret I had to keep to myself. I went to great lengths to deftly disguise them and build them into my day. I was determined to come across as a “normal” person, while I covertly tried to catch these unwelcome stowaways and make them walk the plank. It felt like I could beat them if I just summoned the right courage and intention. Then I could get on with my life unhindered. But I could never quite get a handle on them somehow. They always got away from me and came back stronger. It was such a frustrating time.
“Face your fears” they said. “You can be whatever you want to be!” they said. Yet somehow it was different for me. I was forbidden from facing my fears, and when I tried, I got badly burned.
15 years after they first reared their ugly head, it dawned on me that I was getting older and these limitations were stopping me living the kind of life I wanted to live. So I plucked up the courage to go and share my dirty little secret with someone who could surely help. First I visited a doctor and later a psychologist. They both lazily misdiagnosed my problem as depression and rained pills down on me for years. But nothing fundamental changed. I kept telling them and they kept changing the pills. I gave up in the end. Another 15 years later, quite by chance, I stumbled on the revelation that my limitations were not unique to me after all. They had a name: Pure O OCD.
Unfortunately by this stage, my academic performance and career had suffered irreparably. I’d missed the feasible window for getting married and having a family. My demons had beaten me back onto a pathetic little patch of scorched earth that I was fighting desperately to cling onto. Suffice to say, I never became an astronaut.
OCD(Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is an anxiety disorder affecting the human mind. It centers around doubts and fears. Of course, everyone has doubts and fears. Most people even have occasional weird or inappropriate “what if?” kind of scenarios flash through their heads. But while non-sufferers can process these and let them go relatively easily, people with OCD tend to get snagged on them. It’s not completely understood why yet, but we seem to have some kind of brain defect regarding certainty. It’s not always firing on all cylinders for some reason. Sometimes it’s just not there at all, and when that overlaps with things we love or hate, it tends to get our attention. Everything else goes out of the window and we feel utterly obliged to revisit the thing in question and restore the missing certainty at all costs. But it never seems to stick for long, and we end up having to go back again … and again … and again … ad nauseam. The revisiting makes the associated doubt and fear stronger and a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop is set up. This process of doubt and restoration becomes irrevocably burned into our psyches, increasing in frequency and intensity. An obsession is born.
The resulting anxiety is simply too much to bear. Bereft of an off-switch, we are moved to take supernatural evasive action. We indulge in the art of magical thinking, devising a proxy ritual to trick the mind into deactivating the unbearable panic alarms. A compulsion is born to complete the pairing.
Hence Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Sufferers will likely have multiple obsession/compulsion pairs active at any given time. They’re constantly in flux. Sometimes new ones will join the fray, and sometimes old ones will fade out of circulation. But some are likely to stay with us for the duration.
For most OCD sufferers, compulsions manifest physically, like cleaning, checking, arranging, or repeating. But for some of us, the rituals take place in our minds. We devise mantras which we recite over in our minds like magic spells to neutralise doubts when they occur. We have Pure O OCD.
You will hear about other types of OCD too – like COCD(contamination), or ROCD(relationships). In reality though, all these different sub-types of OCD are a fallacy. OCD is OCD regardless what the theme is or how the compulsions play out. Yet we sufferers tend to gravitate towards using these sub-types as a kind of shorthand for quickly communicating the nature of our obsessions and compulsions. It saves a lot of time and duplication along the way.
Once you find out you have OCD, the help available is usually in the form of CBT therapy and SSRI pills. Some claim that these are a cure for OCD, but some of us with OCD disagree with that assertion, since it doesn’t tally with our experience of it. But that’s a whole other debate, and one which you can read more about in my new book – Begging the Question!
(I’m so sorry that was an unforgivably naff segue but it demanded to be done!)
It’s a collection of 152 poems I wrote about OCD and depression. In addition there are 4 supplementary sections at the back of the book about OCD, depression, my journey with OCD, and a critical look at certain assumptions made about OCD in society.
It’s available on Amazon for just £3. Think about it – that’s less than 2p per poem, and I’d wager that my poems are worth at least 5p, so that’s an amazing deal!
Here’s a poem from the book which covers the withdrawal from life that I alluded to earlier on in the post:
Trying to remember how it felt …
when the starch would melt away,
looking forward to a day,
drifting off without a care,
to really want to go somewhere,
to lose myself away from blame,
not feeling like I must explain,
not always caring for the others,
the times your heart sang with another’s,
when people properly connect,
just to be treated with respect,
to do activities for fun,
to feel like it was me who won.
But I’ll be damned if I will borrow,
what’s just snatched away tomorrow.
So I fight the urge to cling,
to random flotsam fortune brings.
Watching loaded logs float by,
letting sleeping cogs lie,
as time grows shorter,
Strings so long unstroked,
no longer ache,
for sounds they forgot how to make,
since the violin broke.
Step into the mind of a man battling doubt, anxiety and despair.
A collection of over 150 poems about OCD and depression. I wrote these over the last 4 years, after making the shocking discovery that I’d been living with undiagnosed “Pure O” OCD all of my adult life.
Through supplementary sections at the back of the book, I’ll teach you a little bit about OCD & depression; I’ll walk you through my lifelong journey with OCD; I will take a look at certain assumptions that get made about OCD regarding CBT therapy and SSRI medication; and finally I’ll tie it all together with a controversial critique on how governments, big pharma and private healthcare companies exploit those assumptions for profit.
Maybe you have OCD or depression?
Maybe you just want to learn more about these disorders and what it’s like to have them?
Maybe, just like me 4 years ago, you have undiagnosed Pure O OCD and don’t even realise it yet?
Whichever the case, I hope that my book will resonate, educate, and illuminate.
I hope you learn something new along the way.
But most of all, I hope you get a kick out of my poems.
Sherwyn Jellico point blank refuses to talk about himself in the third person!
Allow me to introduce myself. I am Sherwyn Jellico, a writer of a certain age, hailing from a sun-kissed meadow tucked away deep in the sleepy heart of fair olde England(pfffft – if only!).
George Burns once said that sex at 90 was like trying to shoot pool with a piece of rope. I can’t confirm that yet, but I do avoid mirrors, and my right knee hurts something fierce if I’m foolish enough to try and use a trampoline. That should be enough information to infer my age, if not my mental disposition. I could just tell you my age of course, but honestly, where’s the fun in that? And besides, the fact that I won’t tell you should be a further clue to my age!
I found out 4 years ago that I have been suffering with Pure O OCD all of my adult life; a sobering revelation which explained a hell of a lot … yet not enough somehow. For the rest I turned to poetry. As such, my first book, Begging the Question, is a collection of all the poems I wrote about OCD and depression, with some supporting information to go with it.
I used to work in IT as a software developer. My old colleagues used to say that I was to IT, what Liberace was to the art of bare knuckle boxing. They didn’t say that really, but they definitely should’ve said that. I was made redundant when the company closed its doors. I felt obliged to take some time out since the old undiagnosed OCD had gone into thermonuclear meltdown and I was losing the plot. After a year long hiatus, no one would touch my CV with a barge pole; well, apart from barge captains of course, but they never needed any software developing. Then I found out that I had Pure O OCD. I had therapy twice and started writing poems about it, and the rest is history.
Now I hope to continue writing a mélange of poetry and novels until I drop, or until people pay me enough money to stop. No, wait, that came out wrong …
Please check out my website and join my mailing list to get advance news about forthcoming books.
Lastly I’d like to say a big thank you to Lisa for allowing me to write this guest post on her splendid book blog.