I remember the first time I had my obsessive thought. I was sitting in class with my friend when I was 12, and she had a boyfriend. I felt this pang of jealousy.
I started having this feeling of panic, because I felt it was wrong to be jealous. I wanted to run away but I was stuck in class and having heart palpitations, and I just swallowed. And then I noticed that I was swallowing and couldn’t stop.
I attached that feeling of panic with swallowing. Every time I went to that class, I would have a panic attack and couldn’t stop swallowing.
At first it was sporadic. I would be playing with friends, and all of a sudden I would stop and think, ‘What if they find out I have this horrible panicking swallowing problem?’ Then that would make me start swallowing, and I would think, ‘I’m making them feel uncomfortable’. So I would pull away, and I lost a lot of my friends.
I went from being very open and friendly, to pulling away from people and becoming more and more depressed. There was a lot of shame behind it, and a lot of self-rejection, so I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone.
" ... if I was talking to someone, all I could think about was how uncomfortable I was making them feel because of my swallowing ... "
Eventually I did tell my mum and dad, and my dad said to me, ‘Don’t tell anyone’. So that really confirmed my worst fears.
Honestly, I don’t know how I made it through school and university – if I was talking to someone, all I could think about was how uncomfortable I was making them feel because of my swallowing. I ostracized myself and couldn’t look people in the eye. I would describe as like being underwater and not being able to breathe.
But at university, I met my husband. I told him right at the beginning that I suffer from depression, and told him about my swallowing. I was very vulnerable, but he allowed me to just be, and he stuck with me.
When we had our second child, I looked at my baby and I thought, ‘I can’t keep living like this’. That’s when I started to see a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) therapist. I learnt that I have Somatic OCD, which is when your obsession is around an automatic body system - like breathing, blinking or digestion. My theme just happens to be swallowing.
With the therapist, I did exposure therapy. She would talk me though an incident where I felt really anxious. Then I would imagine myself putting my hand on the shoulder of my younger self, and telling myself that I was going to be fine. That would bring a calmness to my memory.
I did that repeatedly, bringing calm to those memories and training my brain not to get stuck in that loop of panic and swallowing.
I still struggle with feelings of shame and like I’m making others feel uncomfortable – but I now know that those thoughts aren’t true. To be able to talk about it is a huge thing for me – and I want others to know that there is help there for them, and that they are safe and understood.
If you would like support from others also living with OCD, connect with the Facebook group Fixate.
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