A therapy used to help Olympic athletes has been successfully used to help a Yorkshire mother of three beat OCD.
For nearly 20 years mother of three Sally Knight suffered from OCD in silence.
Sally, now 41, from Leeds, a registered nurse thought she was suffering from ‘anxiety’ for almost two decades before she was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
It’s a devastating condition that has had a massive impact on her personal life.
Sally became obsessed that whenever her husband or daughters were out of her sight they would be injured in an accident or in danger and felt compelled to phone and check on them repeatedly.
She also felt an urgent need to check her finances repeatedly fearing that her bank account had been emptied even though she knew the feelings were irrational.
The compulsions began when she was in her early 20s and had recently married.
“It started with intrusive thoughts when my husband went on a night out with his friends,” recalls Sally. “I would become convinced that he was unfaithful or that he had been attacked.
“The anxiety was so great that I would feel compelled to ring him for reassurance. As soon as I’d spoken to him and knew everything was fine I would feel immense relief. However, that did not last long and within minutes I would start the whole cycle again. I knew the thoughts were irrational but I couldn’t control them.”
As the years went on the worrying and checking consumed her and she lived every day of her life feeling deeply anxious.
“I didn’t know what was wrong with me only that I felt deeply unwell. I felt anxious from the moment I woke and it was exhausting. I found it difficult to eat due to the stomach-churning anxiety and I lost a lot of weight”
She reached her lowest point last year with the end of her marriage as a result of her OCD.
“I felt so alone and was too embarrassed and ashamed of my thoughts and consequent actions to talk about it with my family. I knew I had to get some professional help. I just wanted it to stop – to silence the thoughts in my head,” said Sally, who has three daughters aged 15, 14 and 12 years.
First steps to recovery
Then in March 2018 Sally took the first step towards recovery and called Healthy Minds, a private service provided to employees of the company Sally works for to people suffering with depression, anxiety or stress. She was referred to Dr Allan Johnston, a consultant psychiatrist specialising in sports psychiatry at Spire Leeds Hospital who has treated some of the UK’s sporting elite. Dr Johnston has been appointed by the English Institute of Sport to work across the Great Britain Olympic and Paralympic teams. He diagnosed Sally with OCD and secondary recurrent depression.
“Calling that number was the best thing that I have ever done. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. That call was the beginning of the end. It was the start of the journey to the greatest relief of all.
“When he diagnosed me with OCD I was shocked. I always thought the condition was to do with obsessively cleaning or checking the front door is locked. I didn’t know it could manifest itself in many ways. To hear his diagnosis was also such a relief that there was a name for what I was experiencing and it was something that could be fixed.
“I cried as I drove home. Dr Johnston had given me hope – something I had not felt for a long time. When I finally told friends and family about it they were surprised. I’d hidden it well. They said, ‘why didn’t you tell us?’ My daughters have been great about it. I’ve talked to them a lot about it since my diagnosis and they have been very supportive.’”
Treatment used on elite athletes
Sally’s treatment was based on a sports psychiatry model which has been successfully used to treat Olympic gold medallists as well as non-athletes. Treatment included Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) with a focus on Exposure and Response Prevention. This was combined with an SSRI anti-depressant medication used in the treatment of OCD.
“The therapy treatment involves exposing yourself to your fears but not allowing yourself to do what you feel compelled to do – such as making a phone call to check that everything is OK. Making yourself wait for a set time and then for increasing periods of time.
“It takes months of hard work but eventually you reach a point where you don’t feel the need to make that phone call. It’s difficult, but really effective. I was proud of myself when I made progress and it made me push myself to achieve more,” says Sally who says the treatment has changed her life completely. She has also been able to stop taking the medication.
“The treatment enabled me to gain control of my thoughts and feelings. They don’t rule or ruin my life any more. Dr Johnston has set me up with the tools and self-knowledge that I can use to keep on track in case I have bad days. I’ve also found, thanks to Dr Johnston that sport and exercise can be used to improve wellbeing. I’ve joined a gym and started running. I’m in a new relationship, I’ve had a promotion at work and I feel I’m completely cured. I am the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Sally now wants to raise awareness so others do not have to go through the same experience as she has and instead to seek help. I can’t describe what it is like to live with OCD.”
She has started a blog about her journey to recovery at www.thisgirlgotgrit.simplesite.com in a bid to help others and she is planning to participate in the Leeds 10k run along with her psychiatrist Dr Johnston on July 7 in which she will raise funds for the charity OCD Action.
WHAT IS OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a severe anxiety related condition where a person experiences intrusive and unwelcome obsessive thoughts and feels compelled to act upon them.
It presents itself in many ways, it is not merely a little handwashing or checking light switches, those suffering from OCD will be affected in some or all aspects of their daily life.
Around 1.2 per cent of the population in the UK – around three-quarters-of-a-million people are currently affected by OCD, and there could be many more who are not diagnosed and suffer in silence
Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 13-19 May