It was the day my anti-anxiety medication, fluoxetine, went up to the maximum dose, 60mg a day, that my recovery from OCD started. I immediately felt a reduction in the desire to check. I’d been on 40mg but it just wasn’t having enough effect. As all such medications can cause seizures I was nervous about upping the dose and only did it as a last resort after everything else had failed. Convinced that the OCD was a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as it started when I thought I was going to be murdered in my mother’s house, I had tried EMDR, trauma therapy, to combat the OCD. But the session had been a disaster leaving me totally paranoid, with no trauma processed, and immediately increasing the OCD. After spending two days praying to calm me down I decided I could not do EMDR, with that therapist at least, and I would have to take the medication route.
I had had a nervous breakdown although I didn’t quite realise it at the time. I just knew that I couldn’t get up till 2pm and struggled to get out of bed. All I could do was go to therapy and meetings in the evening, I had locked my rental property. I had no income as I couldn’t complete the building project on my rental property as the OCD was so bad. I was haemorrhaging money, paying for two properties and risked losing both my home and my rental property.
I was doing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy at my local mental health unit, with a male therapist who was incredibly supportive. After all the noise nuisance complaints caused by my banging the doors at nights he’d written to my local authority saying the more they threatened me, the more anxious I would become and the more noise I would make. This held them off for a while. Every week we would set “goals” for reduction in the OCD. I would write these goals down on my laptop, in documents that were 20 pages long. Every few days I would update the goals with what successes or failures I’d had and set new targets for reducing the checking.
I have always been goal orientated and an achiever. I decided I was going to Oxford University at the age of 8. And though my life was in chaos and the 10 hour checking was making me suicidal these OCD goals lists gave me a sense of achievement. Thus, at the beginning, the goals were modest such as reducing checking the car doors from 1000 to 980 times. But then I got more ambitious like reducing the front door from 400 to 250 times. I would share my checking goals for the day with my friend Susanna, who I was on the phone to two hours a day, as well as with Diane, my neighbour, a therapist. Just before doing the checking every night, I would ring my friend Ivor, a comedian, and the psychiatric crisis line. It was crucial that every time I tried to achieve a breakthrough I had loads of support from my friends. This gradual reduction in the OCD was the key to my recovery as, if I tried to cut down too rapidly, my anxiety would spike and I would not sleep that night. Not sleeping was disastrous as being tired doubled the length of time it took to do the OCD.
After being in bed for over two months, with steady improvements in the OCD, my therapist, Mei Fung Chung, helped get me ready to resume the building project. So we would carefully plan every week so that I would do a day or two on the project. I couldn’t do very much as I was recovering from the breakdown and the checking still took many hours. With support from Mei, I gradually worked through the list of things I needed to do to finish the building project which included 50 pages of electrical checking to make the house safe again.
As I was now back to checking both my home and my rental property, the checking was still taking up to 7 hours a day. But I’d had some crucial breakthroughs, stopping the repetitive photographing of the boiler at home, to prove it was switched off, and the half hour ritual of cleaning the stove every night. The medication was reducing my fear of fire. I had also gradually stopped texting myself about the checking at home, which had made the repetitions go up. But I still had to take dozens of photographs at my rental property as well as now emailing myself about the checking.
By the end of June 2014, I had completed the building project, as well as weeks of electrical testing, so I was ready to put the house on the lettings market. This was a major breakthrough as I’d had no income for almost a year. The day the photographer came round to take the shots of the house was a low point in the OCD taking over 7 and a half hours. I was worried that the photographer, who unfortunately escaped from the lead I had put him on, would interfere with the windows and door locks. But I was in terrible fear that, when the viewings started and I had to do the checking on my home and rental property every day, I might have another breakdown.
As it was taking me three and a half hours to check my rental property every day they had viewings, I was extremely fortunate that the second person who saw the house took it after only 2 viewings. Thankfully I could lock the house again and go back home, although it looked so beautiful after the building project I really wanted to move in. The Notting Hill house didn’t have all the tortuous memories of my ex-boyfriend Fred of the house in Kensal Green.
As I found a wonderful tenant who did not want to move into the house for another month, I decided I would exploit my desire to move into the house to break a major barrier with the OCD. I hadn’t spent a single night out of my home for 5 years because I feared that, if I did, the house would be burgled or burn down. But now I decided that I would break this restriction on my life and spend some time at my rental property.
The preparations for this trip were extensive, I had to scan all 20,000 documents in my house, in case an armed robber partial to eating paper broke in and, when I didn’t have time to do them all, packed a suitcase of 5,000 papers to take with me. I brought in a large team of electricians to check all the wiring and got all the plugged in items safety tested 15 times. Then I got 20 extra smoke detectors put in, linked to the fire station. And was ecstatic that, when I tested them, a fire engine turned up 30 seconds later. This cost a fortune but there was no way I was leaving my house overnight if there was any risk of a fire.
I had a hundred locks put on the bedroom door of my rental property and on both the shutters. Then, after a wobble where my sponsor in “Vodka for Breakfast Anonymous” said she didn’t think I was ready to make the trip, I got ready to go. My neighbour Diane was on hand to answer the phone 24/7 if I had any worries about the house.
Before I left, I had to unplug everything in my home (for fear of fire) and check they were unplugged multiple times as well as repetitively checking the lights were off and all the locks were closed. It therefore took me four hours to check my home before the trip. I decided that I’d better stay away a bit longer than I’d intended.
At my rental property, it was still taking me three and a half hours to check the house at night. And I had a major problem when I had to check the car. Because I couldn’t park it in front of the house, I had to leave it on a busy street. And when I was checking the locks hundreds of times with a torch, everyone thought I was trying to steal the car and threatened to call the police. “It’s my car!” I wailed as the mountain of suspicion overwhelmed me. “Well if it’s your car can you open it so we know you’ve got the key?” “No” I said as if I opened the car I would have to start the 45 minute process of checking again. I realised that the checking was taking much longer as I had to park the car so much further away than at home, increasing my fear it would be stolen. I decided I would investigate getting a disabled parking permit, because of the OCD, so I could always park in front of my house.
I was still very ill with the OCD but I had achieved a significant breakthrough with the trip. My CBT therapist was ecstatic – this had been a major goal of our work – and said we could start winding down the therapy.
We had the inventory of my rental property and I had my final major check of the house which took almost 4 hours. But now I was free of the checking, or so I thought. In fact in the early stages of the tenancy, I still had to do a lot of checking every time I went round to the house shouting “off off off” at the lights multiple times. Luckily my tenant wasn’t around.
Because of the breakdown, I had abandoned my writing career. But now I had a tenant, my income restored, I plunged back into the novel again. I was doing a re-write so I could send it back to the Literary Consultancy to see what was wrong with the book why I hadn’t been able to get an agent.
I was still in the midst of a news blackout because of my paranoia. But I decided I would turn on the news on 19 September 2014 to see whether Scotland had voted to become an independent country. I was pleased with the No vote as a lot of my father’s family was still in Scotland. It meant that my country, the United Kingdom, still actually existed. Although I recognised that Scotland with its left wing nationalist government and Tory England were politically incompatible.
Now my life was more settled, I decided I would renew my search for EMDR treatment for the OCD. I had not got on with my Aryan looking first EMDR therapist, who was very critical and reminded me of my step mother. I therefore decided I wanted a foreign therapist, like my main counsellor Mei Fung Chung, and found one called Raquel Corriea, a Portuguese clinical psychologist, on the EMDR website. She looked perfect, tall, very dark, almost Jamaican looking, with long ebony hair. Although she was slightly too perfect as I realised early on that I fancied the pants off her. As she was waving her fingers from side to side doing the EMDR I was imagining all kinds of kinky uses she could be putting her fingers too. I told her and she was phlegmatic, she was absolutely beautiful, and must have this problem all the time.
The EMDR had a dramatic impact on the OCD, reducing it massively. I was now able to leave lights on in my house overnight and the car had been reduced to 5 minutes. By Christmas 2014 I had a major breakthrough. I went round to fix some window locks at my rental property before my tenant went away on holiday. I stayed on the ground floor, not going upstairs to check if he had locked all the windows and doors. And when I left the property, shortly followed by him, I didn’t even turn back to check he had turned off the lights. As I’d been checking the property for half an hour every time I went round there this was a big achievement. I feared that I would break into my rental property over the Christmas period desperate to check the lights. But I didn’t go anywhere near it.
I had a magical birthday in 2014, for the first time in many years, inviting a large group of people into my house. I’d been unable to have anyone, apart from my cleaner, in the house for ages because of the OCD.
The party was a celebration of my emergence from the nervous breakdown and everyone I invited turned up. We had a Caribbean evening with jerk chicken and rice and peas and I felt surrounded with love. Of course my father didn’t phone me on my birthday but I was looked after by my substitute family, my friends.
Just before Christmas in 2014, I’d received a hand written letter from Sarah, my estranged friend from “Divorced from My Drug Dealer Anonymous,” at my house. Worried about the potential roller coaster of resuming the friendship with her, I still hadn’t responded to her email. She said again in the letter that she wanted to make amends and that she was sorry that she had hurt me. I was touched by the letter and, as I was now emerging from from the nervous breakdown, I decided I would make contact with her sending her an email saying “Happy Christmas.” We arranged to meet in the New Year and, full of trepidation, I turned up to meet her at a café in Kensal Green. She said she had not been able to handle the influx of money that I’d received in 2012 coming on top of her own financial crisis. She said she had needed some time away from the friendship to rebuild her life and that she’d been fed up with mothering me. She said she had done a lot of work on herself and that she thought the issues she’d had before could be resolved. It was incredibly painful to see her, she’d almost broken my heart when she’d ended the friendship in 2012. But she was very receptive to listening to my pain and, after a couple of meetings, we started to re-build the friendship and meet more regularly. She had changed and the competitive dynamic that had existed between us no longer seemed to be there.
I celebrated 10 years clean at the beginning of 2015. This was pretty amazing as I’d only gone into rehab at the beginning of 2005 to have a couple of months off my using. Doing the first three Steps in treatment had changed my life.
I’d received the novel back from the Literary Consultancy in January recommending a further re-write. I edited the book showing it to my neighbour Diane and her daughter in law who used to work for publisher Random House. Both of them finished the 520 page book in a couple of days saying that it was “riveting” “so funny” and “completely unputdownable.” I started the quest for an agent again. William my friend from Shagger and Lurve Addicts Anonymous, said I should be on Twitter promoting the book. I thought, I’ve got nothing to promote on Twitter so I’ll start to write a blog. The first four posts flowed swiftly off my pen and were pronounced to be “hilarious” “sad funny and shocking” and “like Lord Byron” by William and others who read them. Bloginhotpants had begun.