Me and my Phobia
SINCE childhood I have suffered from phobias of both spiders and blood and injuries. I realised that I didn’t want to live a life limited by my fears, and sought help through TOP. Through attending the weekly meetings, which were supported by my amazing group leader, Andy, and fellow group members, I slowly but surely chipped away at combatting my fears.
Some weeks were more challenging than others, and occasionally unexpected circumstances forced me to make more progress than I was planning! I started off by doing small line drawings of spiders, along with writing short stories about someone mildly hurting themselves.
Over time, I was able to achieve my ultimate spider goal: to be able to calmly catch and release large house spiders, as well as reaching two of my ultimate blood goals: going to give blood, and accompanying someone in an ambulance and waiting with them in A&E. It was through regular, gradual exposure therapy that I was able to achieve these goals.
Going to the weekly group meetings really motivated me to do my homework, and coming up with homework goals together was really helpful. Also, being able to talk freely with people who have experienced the exact same feelings as myself was brilliant. It was an opportunity to be totally honest about what we had been through — and everyone was understanding and empathetic. An extra positive impact that TOP has had on my life is that my overall confidence has greatly improved. Additionally, I am able to deal with any form of anxiety much faster and more rationally.
Arach-NO-phobia for me.
My Arachnophobia has restricted my life since I was a little girl. The extent of my fear was severe. If I saw a spider I would be too frightened to even kill it, and usually this is the first reaction people have if they are afraid. The sight of spiders made me squeamish, even listening to people talk about them, or watching programs about them.
In fact the subject of those horrible dark blobs would make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and suddenly every dark shape orm spider-looking-thing near me would be made aware in my mind. All those horrid feelings engulfed me, until I decided to conquer what hindered me most.
In January 2011, I designed a university project around overcoming my fear. I contacted Triumph Over Phobia, purely by coincidence having met someone who put me in touch. This was the greatest coincidence I’ve had. Corresponding with TOP allowed me to have a detailed psychological schedule to follow.
We worked on all the emotional and psychological elements of my fear using basic methods of getting used to the subject of spiders. This, and constantly working on my university project, helped me in understanding my fear and learning how to control it. I documented thousands of words worth of my experiences past and present, and did much research into the fear and the creature. All of it was challenging but I was so determined to overcome this I made certain I had my eye on the goal.
My project deadline was May 31st 2011. An exhibition of every students’ work was displayed at the university for the whole day. It was packed with unique ideas and many visitors. On that day I explained to each visitor what I did and what point my fear was at. That day I realised just how much I’d learnt about myself and just how far I had come. The goal I had reached in May was being able to put a small or medium sized spider in a glass cup and put it outside. This was a proud moment for me! Remember the horrors I faced before? Not any more.
Without TOP I would not have been able to understand the root of my fear and it’s hold on me. I would not have had the encouragement and knowledge that I needed. Triumph Over Phobia really did help me triumph over my phobia.
It is now July 2011 and a few weeks ago I picked up a spider with a body the size of my thumb nail (plus legs) and I put it out the front door. For those who have a fear, you’ll understand what this means. To me it is a great effort and my greatest achievement in my life so far.
Only a week ago I sat down and watched a documentary about Tarantulas. The cinematography was very professional and there were many many close ups. I managed to happily sit and be interested in spiders. I feel like the weight of an invisible enemy has been lifted from my life.
An Inspirational Triumph
Ever since I can remember I was different. I would count my sweets rather than eat them, in fact I counted everything from steps to my bedroom, to lines on my hands. I didn’t see a problem with any of it. I passed my G.C.S.Es and A levels and I thought I was fine.
Of course looking back now I see that for all my exams I would write out what I needed to know in red pen then in blue pen, green pen and black pen. Something which took a long time but I put it down to ‘that’s just my way of coping’. I continued coping that way for years without seeing what it was doing to me. I was trying to control everything in my little world then without warning my world crashed and I wasn’t in control.
My grandma died and I was there. I saw her last breath and held her hand as she passed away. Not only was she an amazing grandmother but she was my kindred spirit. My grandmother and me shared a condition, we both had OCD. When she died I fell apart, my way of living failed, I thought being a good person would keep my family safe. I become very obsessive with my mum, I was terrified that she was going to die. I wanted to be with her always, I would follow her from room to room. At night I would sit outside her room to hear her breathe.
I was 21 and I felt like a 4 year old. I cried when she went out and panicked so much that she began taking me everywhere with her. This went on for a while but it wasn’t until my mum broke down and told me how exhausted she was and how she didn’t think she could cope with me anymore that everything changed. That was a huge wake up call for me, I wanted to look after her, protect her, not hurt and upset her.
That’s when we talked about TOP. We already knew about TOP, my grandma went when her OCD became too much. When I first started to go my mum came with me, she sat downstairs while I went upstairs to the group, even this was upsetting for me and I would phone her to check that she was ok and still waiting for me.
My first piece of homework was to walk from my house to the end of the road with my mum standing at the end of our drive way. I sobbed the whole way, I looked back about 6 times and by the time I got back to her I was having a panic attack. My next homework was the same, and the one after that, and the next one. I kept doing this until my mum no longer needed to be at the drive way, then she no longer needed to be at the door until eventually she didn’t even need to be home.
TOP helped me so much, the group leader and the other members were my lifeline, without dismissing my fears they helped me see the how irrational they were and I began to question myself and my actions, I stopped letting OCD control me, I stopped trying to control everything in my life. I worked so hard to break my patterns and I did. I actually couldn’t believe the difference I felt from before, I wasn’t tense or stressed or putting too much pressure on myself anymore. I was free.
Recently my mum has been ill. This is the thing I feared the most. I thought I would fall apart but instead it’s just proved to me how far I have come. I am not blaming myself, I know the facts and although my OCD has come up I have pushed it away because I know I don’t need it to survive. I am looking after myself and my family without sacrificing my well being. I am strong and free. I have everyone at TOP to thank for their amazing support. My friends for always listening even when they didn’t understand. My family for being them and loving me no matter what.
Having been through the TOP process successfully, I am now Group Leader of the Kentish Town Group
OCD and TOP
I can’t claim that I know exactly why my OCD began. I can vaguely point at a time when it became an annoyance. I can vividly recall the fright when it overwhelmed me. The moment I recovered is something I like to relive over and over again.
With hindsight, I can see elements of my life that were so obviously steeped in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that it staggers me that the truth didn’t dawn on me earlier. I dismissed certain rituals as superstitions and habits as quirky, good luck inducing behaviour. This behaviour intensified over years until my list of symptoms became quite typical – obsessive checking of doors being locked, ovens switched off, taps not running, alarms being set and lights turned off. My checking extended to the car. Seemingly endless inspections of the headlights, the handbrake, the locks until I was satisfied the car was secure. I hid my problems, convinced that being exposed would inevitably lead to a life of misery.
The tipping point came when I was struggling to put a letter in the post without checking the envelope several times for error. I had always prided myself on a strong intellect, but felt that I had lost the ability to think rationally and began doubting my memory.
We moved away, as I reasoned that this behaviour must be stress induced and related to my environment. There was a honeymoon period, and for a few months I thought the obsessive compulsions had been driven away. They returned with a savage intensity, coupled with intrusive thoughts about imminent catastrophe that I could neither understand nor repel. At home one evening I sobbed uncontrollably. Emotionally, I had stopped, living as I did in a constant state of fear and anxiety. At my lowest moment I realised I needed help.
As chance would have it, somebody recommended Triumph Over Phobia to me. Life has a habit of handing you these twists of fate from time to time and although uncertainty was something that terrified me, this unanticipated turn of events is one of the most important things ever to happen to me.
The phone call I received from TOP, explaining its membership, its methods and results was instantly comforting. I attended my first meeting a week or so later, nervously listening to other members as I prepared for what I thought would be inevitable embarrassment when my turn to tell my story came. I was invited by the group leader to say as much or as little about my problems as I wanted. Having suffered so much, I relayed as much as I could, abandoning my fear for a while as I appealed for help. I needn’t have been frightened. The group was wonderful – attentive, sympathetic and most crucially of all, supportive. What I realised on that night was something that all anxiety, phobia and OCD sufferers should be made aware of – you are not alone.
Right from the outset, TOP look to change your perspective, to confront your fears instead of running from them and to turn negativity into positivity. I was offered advice on a couple of coping techniques, tools that I could use to combat the OCD immediately. I returned the following week with a spring in my step, so pleased was I with the start I’d made. Over the weeks and months that followed, I was never once short of support. I was given homework every week, tasks set in order for me to face my anxieties and indeed induce it as a means of confronting it. Crucially, I never felt rushed. It is a gradual process, and the exposure to dealing with ones fears is done slowly, sometimes with small steps, sometimes with great strides. But there is never any pressure, only the most fantastic encouragement. Of course, one has to take the homework seriously, really put the work in and overcome the procrastination. For me, the motivation was always that I didn’t want to look back anymore, I didn’t want to stay stuck in the present and I didn’t want to miss out on what I deserved – a brighter future.
Of course there were stumbles along the way, but in reality one can never develop at a consistently unobstructed pace. As well as conquering the OCD, I feel I have a new positive outlook on life, a new way of relating to people and I have also learnt how to relax. I am more confident and more social than I have ever been in my life.
The tools that I have been equipped with, the support I have received and the way I have changed my life over the last two years is unforgettable. The leader of the group, the supporters and all its members have given me many special memories. So while I may not have a definitive answer to what caused the OCD, I know what helped me confront and defeat it – TOP.
TOP Helped Me
I found TOP via a google search and was amazed that there was a group near me – in Bath. For about 2 years prior to finding TOP, I had been experiencing much higher anxiety at work than normal, particularly in the close confines of a meeting situation. I was even jumping a mile when a colleague came up for a chat at my desk – even if they were only asking if I fancied going for a cup of tea! I had 2 full-on panic attacks at work when I thought the classic ‘this is it…I’m about to die’. To this point I had no idea what I was suffering from – I had always been really healthy, and my GP’s advice of ‘ignore it and it probably won’t happen again’ was no comfort! (I have noticed more recently that he has become much more informed of these types of issues and now has a TOP leaflet in the waiting room).
During my first few TOP group meetings I was encouraged to explain how I felt, and was shown some practical tools for lowering anxiety levels. These REALLY worked for me. I was also told that it will be my own hard work that will lead to my recovery – I wasn’t too impressed with this or the homework! But the advice was right, unfortunately it is down to the individual’s own continued efforts that the recovery can get underway and continue towards success. This means gradually, step by step, facing and conquering the imagined fear that comes from the situation you find difficult. I continued with the group meetings, more tools, more homework, more plotting the progress like a scientist! Sometimes it was 2 steps forward and 1 back, but I learnt a lot about patience, and about myself for that matter!
Oh, and what caused it in the first place? Who knows, maybe it was the time I fainted at work after pulling a muscle in my neck, maybe it was the stressful time after a situation with my mother which meant I haven’t been in contact since? The truth is, for us recovered and recovering sufferers, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that there are tools, supportive people and fellow sufferers which can all combine to bring about the result everyone wants: to get rid of the phobia or situations they find stressful.
TOP and My Journey
I grew up in Hull and did all of my schooling there. I generally enjoyed school and had lots of friends, however from about 11 years onwards I developed a real anxiety about speaking or performing to groups of people.
This anxiety grew as I got older and when it came to applying for a place at University, I kept putting it off. I finally accepted a place at Sheffield Hallam University to read Economic History, but left the course after 2 weeks when, as feared, I learnt that giving presentations would be a large part of my assessment.
Since this time I have been working hard to try and overcome this problem, as it has affected my life in many ways, from academic success to restricted career choices, and sometimes socially. Here is just a brief outline of some of the many things I have tried to overcome my anxiety:
Whilst living in Hull:
Whilst living in Sheffield:
- Hypnotherapy again, along with self hypnosis
- Cognitive therapy for 2 years
- Self help in the form of ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ book
I moved to London 7 years ago and in that time have undertaken:
- More cognitive therapy
- More hypnosis
- Hypnosis again along with kinesiology
- More reading and self help
- Finally, ridiculously expensive Hypnotherapy at Harley Street
Nothing hit the spot, some reduced my anxiety a little, temporarily, but I could never see the day when I would be able to do any form of public speaking.
Then I came across TOP
What is TOP?
TOP stands for Triumph Over Phobia. TOP is a charity and runs a national network of self help groups to help people with phobias or Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, also known as OCD.
So how does TOP work and how does it help you overcome your phobia or OCD?
I will use my public speaking phobia as an example.
As I explained earlier TOP uses gradual self exposure to tackle phobias and OCD.
Gradual self exposure is about the following:
- It is about setting yourself short and long term goals
- it is about taking small manageable steps to meet your goals
- it is about repeating and repeating these small manageable steps
- it is about recording each step and recording your anxiety levels every time
as you can see it is a lot about repetition!
Personally, my first small step was to read a sentence from a book to my TOP group, then to read aloud in front of the mirror every night, I was then able to read a whole paragraph to the group. I progressed slowly, but well, until I was able to write my own piece and read it to the group, first sitting down and then standing! I repeated this every week. Eventually I was able to attend a presentation skills course, something I had begun to think would never happen for me. I have since attended a couple of Spanish courses, which although were quite testing for me, is something I would never have considered before joining TOP.
So is TOP successful?
Most certainly, yes.
As you start working on the TOP programme, as long as you are committed you will soon see your anxieties begin to decrease and within five to six months you may well see a great improvement, although it does of course vary from individual to individual.
My group alone has seen many, many successes, the strategies used by TOP actually work, they are realistic and they are practical, the TOP philosophy makes sense.
From my experience TOP is without question the best way to treat phobias and it isn’t just about stopping you being afraid it also enables you to take control of your life.
The reason I am writing this testimonial is to publicly thank the group for everything it has done for me, it has transformed my life. I cannot thank my group enough, in particular my group leaders.
The selfless dedication and support they have given so many others, and me, over the years is humbling to say the least. Even if only one member can make it one week, they will be there for them, without fail and have been for me for 3 years. It is not a glamorous job, every week, sitting in a rented room helping people battle through their problems.
You too Can Reach the TOP
My disorder started when I was just a few years old. Since I can remember I had those thoughts running through my mind telling me repeatedly to do strange, senseless things like touching an object a certain amount of times or to do it the ‘right’ way. This was confusing for a young child and later as a teenager very unpleasant and often embarrassing, especially if rituals were performed in front of others, or when people asked me why I was doing it.
I did not have good access to information about OCD, so I hid with it, thought it was some sort of mental illness which no one could find out about. It was very hard and upsetting. I often felt like I was the only person in the world who suffered from it and no one could really understand me.
Year after year I was more and more desperate for the unwanted obsessions and compulsions to stop. Over those years I have seen many doctors and have been given antidepressants which helped me with my low mood, and I was advised to try a different kind of treatment like behaviour therapy which is what the TOP group uses. And then, when I heard about the TOP group I decided to give it a go, there was nothing to lose.
After contacting the TOP office, they found the group that was running near me where I lived. When I arrived I didn’t know what to expect, but I was warmly welcomed and things like how the group can help were explained. The group works by self help which goes step by step and the people running it were always friendly and incredibly helpful in every way. They explained many things to me, like that there was nothing odd with me, and together we planned how to beat my OCD.
Step by step, week by week I was making the progress. Now after a few months I can say that my OCD is in control and mostly gone, which is a real relief for me and an amazing feeling, especially thinking that I had suffered from it for more than 18 years.
I nearly gave up hope, I could not beat it by myself but with the TOP group together we have reached the TOP.