Today on The Tattooed Book Geek I am pleased to be bringing to you all a guest post courtesy of the debut author Sherwyn Jellico. Author of Begging the Question: poems on OCD and Depression.
Hey there Tattooed Book Geek followers!
My name is Sherwyn Jellico and I’m a new author. I’m told that, as a new author, I’m not supposed to say that I’m a “new author” – bad for PR and marketing apparently. But I just can’t stomach the thought of making out that I’m an established author, only for people to go and find that I have NO BOOKS! Arrrgggghhhhhh! The horror! So I will say I’m a new author and to hell with the etiquette.
That said, I did just release my first book, but I’ll get to that a little bit later. In the meantime, don’t let this playful introduction fool you. I’m about to school you on a subject close to my heart … or should I say my mind (whooo-oooooo! – naff segue alert!).
It’s a heavy dose so make sure you’ve eaten your Ready Brek and buckle up ….
Do you ever get a spanner in your works?
Do you ever get stuck on things you can’t get past?
Maybe a door you’re not sure whether you just locked?
Maybe a dirty fork a friend gave you to eat with at dinner?
Maybe a sudden repugnant thought you didn’t mean to have?
Maybe a doubt about a fundamental aspect of your character?
Maybe a difficult conflict situation you find yourself trapped in?
Do you find yourself going over it all until you feel more certain?
I imagine many people will answer yes to some of these questions. But there’s a secret tribe of people out there who will resonate so profoundly with these questions that they’re probably reading this right now with a bittersweet half-smile on their faces.
They have had to become intimately acquainted with these kinds of scenarios. Not so much by choice but by necessity. These people have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder(OCD) – an anxiety disorder driven by magical thinking. Sufferers seem to have a fundamental problem with certainty. Sometimes it’s just missing. No one really knows why – maybe it’s a defect in the brain, maybe it’s an inherited flaw, maybe it’s the result of a virus, or maybe it’s even learned behaviour.
Whenever this lack of certainty happens to coincide with things they fear, it throws them into a state of deep turmoil, and they become gripped by the urgent need to revisit the problem and restore the missing certainty. This gradually lures sufferers into developing unbidden fixations around these fears(or obsessions).
Unbeknownst to the sufferer, an invisible positive feedback loop is being set up. These fixations, in turn, give rise to frequently recurring attacks of extreme uncertainty(or triggers). These triggers leave sufferers in such an intolerable state of heightened anxiety, that they eventually feel obliged to come up with countermeasures to make them stop(or compulsions). Hence Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
The fears can be about practically anything, but some common themes are harm, sexuality, morality, contamination, and health.
If left to its own devices, it’s likely that OCD will gradually worsen until it dominates the sufferer’s life; until they exist primarily to service their obsessions with compulsions. If they’re lucky, and they go to the doctor with obvious signs of OCD, then they may be able to get some help with it. If not, then like me, they might end up suffering with undiagnosed OCD all their adult life.
It’s hard to say with any real accuracy when my OCD started, but the first sustained episode of OCD that I can remember happened when I was 12 years old. It was rooted in my dread of reading out loud in English classes. I developed a pathological fear of this to the point where I unwittingly devised an internal dialogue which I would run through in my head to try and rationalise through the problem and put my mind at ease. It seemed to help at first. It allowed me to get a handle on my fears and gave me the confidence I needed to confront the reading problem head on. But later on, it started to backfire. The routine no longer seemed to reduce the anxiety much or provide me with the confidence I needed. If anything it made me more nervous. I had to keep reworking it – making it different or making it longer. I had to keep reciting it with renewed intensity and purpose. No matter what I did though, the anxiety got worse and worse, and the routine got more and more unpleasant to perform.
OCD sufferers will often tell you how their compulsions started off as a welcome ally which helped them deal with otherwise unassailable fears and doubts. But they will likely also tell you how that ally later turned on them, and instead of helping, it actually made the situation worse.
OCD evolved over the years; first in occasional episodes like the one I just mentioned, with seemingly normal periods in between. Then later the episodes got longer and more intense, and the spaces in between were no longer devoid of OCD either. Eventually I was dealing with OCD 24/7 for the longest and hardest time.
I only discovered I had OCD 4 years ago. It wasn’t for want of trying though. In 1997 I finally coaxed myself into going to the doctor, with a detailed list of my weird symptoms in hand. Things were subtly different back then. There was still a fair bit of stigma attached to mental health and you didn’t want to volunteer that you had a problem if you could possibly help it. So I’d put this off for a long time. But when it got bad enough I had to suck it all up and take the risk. I was at the end of my tether and I wanted my life back, so it was worth a bit of humiliation to get the help I needed.
However the doctor didn’t spot that it was OCD, and quickly gave a diagnosis of clinical depression. Now he wasn’t wrong as such – I did have depression as well. But the symptoms I went to him with were not those of depression; they characterised an unusual form of OCD called pure O(or purely obsessional OCD). Pure O is the same as normal OCD except the compulsions are carried out mentally as opposed to physically. Pure O sufferers tend to devise mental mantras which we recite in our minds to neutralise triggers when they strike.
In fairness to the doctor, back then you were lucky if a doctor had even heard of OCD, let alone pure O. Besides, it was during a time when doctors were actively being encouraged to make quick drive-thru diagnoses and casually dole out pills like they were candy. I was immediately put on Prozac and sent on my merry way. I would occasionally go back to the doctor and explain how the pills weren’t helping. He would just up the dosage or put me on a different SSRI pill. Later I asked to be referred to a psychologist. He also failed to make a diagnosis of OCD, and continued the blind pharmaceutical experimentation instead. After taking various SSRI drugs over a period of several years, my problem still remained. I was tired of all the side effects and I felt badly let down. So I turned my back on the medical establishment and decided to redouble my efforts and take on my mystery problem with the power of my mind alone.
What followed over the next 10 years or so was a gradual descent into full-time major league OCD. A conspiracy of compound bad luck acted as a catalyst, but I think the downslide would’ve happened eventually anyway. I had to put my life in lockdown and bring everything I had to bear on the OCD and on my job, in that order. Relationships, social activities, aspirations, spontaneity all went out of the window. Work became a real struggle. I was multi-tasking pretty much every waking moment of every day; dealing with a constant production line of OCD, and fitting everything else around it the best I could. In retrospect I’m amazed I held onto my job. In the circumstances, I think I did a really good job of juggling everything for so long. But it wasn’t pretty and of course it took a heavy toll on my mental and physical health.
I used smoking and drinking as crutches and they mostly seemed to help. But of course that help comes at a short-term and long-term price, and I could never in good conscience recommend self-medicating in that way. On paper, sleep should’ve been a welcome escape. In reality though, I couldn’t go to bed when I really needed to, because I was still wide awake, trying to get the day’s OCD squared away. When I was finally ready for bed, I had to successfully execute a series of complex mental mantras or else I couldn’t sleep. I started to dread bed time because of all this. Whenever I woke up during the night, there was always a chance I’d be broadsided by triggers which I’d then have to wake my brain up to deal with before I could go back to sleep again – a catch 22 nightmare. After all these chunks were chiselled out, it wasn’t uncommon for me to get as little as 3-4 hours of sleep on a work night.
I would also have to perform mental mantras first thing in the morning, and before I went out anywhere. Work was the worst. On the rare good days, I’d perform the mantras once and set off for work without a hitch. On the more common bad days, I’d end up having to re-perform the mantras several times before leaving the house. Either it just didn’t stick the first time, or further doubts were spawned whilst performing the mantras. This is very common with pure O and a lot of repetition is therefore required. If you don’t manage to finish it successfully, the odds are you’ll have to start all over again from scratch. Even on the days it did stick first time, the doubts would still come back eventually of course, probably in the car on the way to work. Once again I’d find myself multi-tasking, in a potentially dangerous situation. I would often find myself performing compulsions all the way to work. It’s exhausting and worrying trying to control a car while simultaneously dealing with that. As such, I learned to minimise my exposure to driving. My world was getting smaller and smaller all the time.
Invariably I would make it into work, already shattered and feeling like death warmed up. This is where smoking really paid dividends. Just 5 clear minutes to try and get it together before showing my face to the world. And yes, sometimes those cigarette breaks were obliterated by OCD too. It really is a sick unwinnable game you can’t escape from or switch off. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone(that I liked).
Not surprisingly, it impacts heavily on your social life too. Things that used to be fun became obligations which I dreaded. It came down to how well I could get OCD squared away beforehand, and how long I could keep it under wraps thereafter. When it inevitably reared its head again, I would have to switch back into multi-tasking mode and just do my best with it until it passed. Results varied dramatically. Sometimes I got lucky. More often though, I ended up wishing I’d never left the house. I remember being at weddings and parties and being trapped in a state of “brain lock” for hours. Stuck out in the open, in a state of heightened anxiety, with triggers that badly needed exorcising, left ricocheting around my head endlessly. Amongst all the distraction, I just couldn’t quite perform the compulsions necessary to switch off the alarms and draw a line under the OCD. At the same time, I would desperately be straining to appear like a normal person; all the while scrounging whatever space and time I could get to try and satisfactorily process all of the OCD that was accruing. Some days you just cannot get a handle on it though, and the feelings you’re left with are intolerable. I wince now when I consider how I must have come across to people in such situations back then.
You learn to avoid situations you can no longer deal with – either because there are too many triggers involved, or because of the humiliation of having to perform your compulsions in that setting. No one wants to be around someone who just randomly flips personality mid-conversation and gets all heavy and weird for no apparent reason. So friends start to evaporate. As a result of all this, you inevitably end up becoming more and more withdrawn, and if you’re not careful, you can end up living like a hermit(looks around nervously whistling to himself).
I also had to give up reading books, watching TV, and listening to music with words in, since these things were too laden with triggers to be remotely enjoyable any more. I refused to sacrifice films though, and that came at a heavy price. I would happily stretch a 2 hour film to last a pained 5 hours. It wasn’t really worth the misery but it felt like a necessary escape somehow.
Now and then, I would do internet searches to try and match up my symptoms to known mental health disorders, but always to no avail. Annoyingly, OCD came under my radar more than once, but the definitions available at the time only dealt with physical compulsions like checking and cleaning. There was no mention of what I was going through. I felt alone and quite hopeless.I assumed it wouldn’t end well.
I ended up struggling to hold onto my job. Eventually I was made redundant anyway when the company closed its doors. I decided I needed to take some time out. I knew it wasn’t a good idea careerwise, but I didn’t know what else to do. I felt unfit to start a new job anywhere in the state I was in. Besides, I figured a break might sort me out, and then I could get back to work in a better state of mind. It didn’t though and things started getting a little bit dark. As a last ditch desperate measure, I ended up going to Peru to try ayahuasca, a shamanic plant medicine which I’d heard many good things about. Alas, it didn’t improve things though, and I blew a ton of money on the worst holiday ever invented.
It was only a year after redundancy that I stumbled quite by chance on a video that some kindly person had posted on Youtube about pure O. I very quickly realised that this was what I’d been experiencing all of my adult life. Ironically, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind about it. After 30 years of tortured ignorance, it was eerily surreal to come across that out of the blue. Honestly, I didn’t know quite what to do with it.
Long story short, I ended up doing CBT therapy twice which helped to a degree. But various pressures conspired with my financial circumstances to undermine my progress and it just became unworkable in the end. So I decided to knock it on the head and come back to it once I’d managed to get things on a more even keel.
I made some solid progress with my OCD using what I learned in CBT. I really amazed myself how well I did under the circumstances. Alas, I’ve had to watch that progress gradually eroded away by the stress and worry that I’ve been subjected to since. Don’t get me wrong though – my OCD is still much better than it was at its peak. I try to resist it wherever and however I can. Knowing you’ve got it and how it works is a huge plus. I also hope that I can try CBT again once I’m out of the mess I’m in. But for now, all I can do is try to keep a lid on the OCD while I address the cold hard realities I’m faced with in life.
I’ve just published my first book – Begging the Question. It’s a collection of over 150 poems about OCD and depression. Towards the back of the book, there are sections discussing OCD, depression, and my journey with OCD. Finally I take a rather controversial look at how disorders like OCD can end up being manipulated by governments and private companies for profit.
I’ll leave you with one of the poems from my book which echoes what I was saying earlier about OCD feeling like an ally at first, but then turning on you later:
Just One More Fix
So powerful, like mind control,
this gift I have to fix it all.
I launch my thoughts like cannon balls,
to pulverise the fortress walls.
It clicks but it won’t stick at all,
the bubble pops and back I fall,
it all resets just like before,
but now it’s harder to recall
the mantra through the fog of war.
Around and round the depths I trawl,
around and round elliptical.
false feeling I can fix it all.
I guess it’s what the doctors call
delusional or magical.
I’d just like to thank Drew for giving me the opportunity to write this guest post on his prestigious blog. Thank you very much Drew!
Begging the Question: poems on OCD and Depression.
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.
Purchase Begging the Question:
About Sherwyn Jellico.
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:
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