Twitter @AshleyFulwood ashley@ocduk.org

Recognising your struggles can be life-saving

Earlier this week I read a report finding summary that men aged 40-54 have the highest suicide rates in the UK, and whilst I knew the statistic about men, I had not realised the age bracket and suddenly I had a realisation, one I am not sure I welcomed.

This is not just another mental health awareness week post, this is something of a personal reflection… for me, more than anybody reading.

In recent weeks I have had more and more thoughts about wishing I could end it all, and wanting to close myself off from the world or run away.  Before any of my friends start worrying, this is not a cry for help or an indication I am about to attempt to take my own life.  But I am struggling, and beyond writing this blog I am not sure I even want to talk about it yet.

In my case, there is no one trigger for me feeling like this, it’s a myriad of things all coming together at one time I guess.  I have not really had a break in over two years (Easter 2019 my last time off work), the charity growth in the last year as meant I am working all hours just to stay afloat and that’s not good for anyone.  It’s made me lethargic most of the time,  I am tired, I am snappy and the more I feel or act that way the worse it makes me feel, so it becomes something of a vicious cycle.

Other contributing factors include recent acknowledgment that my life’s not what I wanted, and my age is making it harder to achieve that, that’s playing on my mind too.

When I add the fact my OCD as got worse in recent weeks (well last 12 months) I am beating myself up every time I fall, needing to be this beacon of hope and recovery for everyone.  Now don’t get me wrong, the gains I made previously are still gains, they’ve not slipped.  But the one area of OCD that I failed to address as got significantly worse in recent months to the point when I am triggered I am stuck doing rituals for 2-3 hours, using 2-3 bottles of bleach and Dettol surface cleaner. Thankfully those blips are rare once a month, sometimes every couple of months, but in the last week the triggers happened twice.

All of that as led me to feeling tired, just so, so tired of life.

This week I have woken up after a good nights sleep, but despite that I have still felt on the edge for no real reason, I have felt on the urge of crying both days (and geez, for my generation this is not an easy thing to admit). I didn’t, but I felt that way all day both days this week.

So, the research statistic was bit of a wake-up call for me, and I spent last night with the realisation that I am so lucky to have realised what’s happening and managed (or I will) get myself off the path that may have led to darker days. I need to take care of my mental health. Acknowledging the problem being the first step I guess.  All of these factors combined could well be what’s making me feel this way, and it’s not something I have experienced before.

I can not deny I have and are having an increasing number of wishing I could end it all thoughts, but that’s all they are thoughts, no desire or intent to act on those thoughts. But the research as made me realise that I need to look after myself better, and address some of the problems.

I do have my first holiday for some time booked for July. A few days in Cornwall (I couldn’t afford a full week at this years prices, or find anywhere affordable with a full weeks availability). I was thinking of cancelling because a) it’s not my beloved Majorca and b) I am saving for a mortgage. But I realise I need to go, and I will go.

I guess what I want to summarise is that sometimes no one trigger could lead someone down a dark path, it could be a combination of life factors and a sense of hopelessness for a brighter future.  Sometimes, even the strongest of people can be suffering inside and as we have seen with the sad passing of well known sportsmen or celebs, we don’t know how someone is truly feeling beyond their public persona.

I will survive, I always do. A random act of kindness from a friend last night reminded me that if I need to reach out for a guiding helping hand, that I have good friends ready to give me both of their hands if I need them.

Wishing us all, good mental health.

Ashley 🙂

Note: * The report is due to be published tomorrow by the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health (NCISH). I will post edit this part to add the paper link once published.

Post Edit: A final thought on Mental Health Awareness Weeks. During the last couple of years I have seen increased social media criticism of such weeks. Some of that criticism is valid, but much of it fails to acknowledge the point that anything that gets people talking about their mental health problems on a large scale like MHAW, either online or to a friend or on blogs like this that nobody will read, well that can be enough of a cathartic experience that helps keep some people, like me, afloat.

Ashley - Promotional Pic 2005

In the blink of an eye I am 47, what happened?!

The other day I stumbled on this photo which I had not seen for a while and I started to reminisce about all the good our charity team have achieved in the 15 years since that photograph was taken. But it was also tinged with regret, of sorts, I later told a friend.

“15 years ago, I was a 32-year-old young professional, I still had my life ahead of me and I was more than happy to prioritise my work for the charity. But in the blink of an eye I am 47, still single and childless… what happened?!”

My friend asked me if I felt sad about that? To which I had no reply.

But the fact I still tell everyone I am 39 perhaps goes someway to answer that. At 39 I felt I still have a little time on my side to get those things, at 47 the chances of being a father at my age are now pretty unlikely.

My friend reminded me that my job is an important one, and more than a job, which is right and I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world, but as I told her…

“Along the way I’ve forgot to enjoy life or I’ve used work to avoid living life.”

At which point, like any good friend, she didn’t let me off the hook she asked me which was it? The honest answer is I am not entirely sure, although my colleague firmly believes it’s the latter. I think that’s right, but we need to go back to the beginning to understand why.

When I was younger OCD was the dominant feature of my late teens and all of my 20s, even some of my 30s. The truth is OCD prevented me enjoying life like I wanted because of the never-ending washing to ‘feel’ clean, I avoided life. Each day was strictly the ‘three W’s’, Wake > Work > Wash!

Because of this I rarely went out to socialise. As the years went on socialising, making small talk, being in social situations became more and more uncomfortable and so I avoided situations even more. I would throw myself into work to avoid having to be in those social situations, and of course my opportunity to meet anyone or date became limited.

When training therapists, Professor Salkovskis uses the term ‘collateral damage’ to remind them not to ignore the impact OCD can have on a person’s life. Because when OCD is successfully treated, it can leave a huge gaping hole for some.

I guess the collateral damage of my OCD was I remained isolated and lonely. Although, I tried to kid myself for decades that I wasn’t lonely, the truth was I have always been lonely. Perhaps this is why I enjoy cycling, it’s something I can do on my own without having to cycle with anybody else.

Back to the earlier question, I guess the truth is I used work to plug the big gaping hole caused by OCD. The socialising, dating and relationships that most people learn to do in their teens and 20s was an alien concept for me, despite some failed dabbling over the years. At my age people expect you to know how to do all of that with relative ease, but for me it still feels uncomfortable and embarrasing, even now at the age of 47.

So, in the blink of an eye I’m 47… what happened?!

OCD happened, but worse still I have let it happen (the collateral damage part).

I know admitting this this leaves me open and vulnerable to ridicule, but at my age 47 I have stopped caring if people judge me for my failings. (Did you hear that Zoë, I said I was 47!).

I hope by writing this, it may help others, perhaps whose life didn’t pan out how they had hoped to feel a little less isolated. I also hope this might remind others that once OCD is no longer stopping you living life, to make sure you actually do live your life! Go and have fun, make mistakes, but jolly well make sure you live your life.

Life may be different to our we envisioned it, but we owe it to ourselves after years of misery from OCD to make sure whatever life holds in the future, we make sure the future starts now.

One of us has to go by Katja Schulz

My colleague at OCD-UK has written a full review of this book over at on the OCD-UK website but I wanted to add my thoughts.

These days there are numerous books sharing first-hand accounts about OCD and several novels featuring characters with OCD, all of which are well written.  But rarely have I come across a book that takes you deep into the depths of the life impacting devastation that the illness can cause, a book that truly takes you on a journey of suffering for both of the main character’s, Sonja suffering directly with OCD, and Finja suffering in-directly with OCD.

Despite the subject matter, this is not without warm moments, and somewhat surprisingly considering the dark subject, Finja and Sonja’s journey becomes a page turner. 

Just when you think you know where the book is taking you during those final few pages, there is a shocking twist that will rock you to the core when you remember the novel is based on the authors own experiences.

Understanding OCD

Part of my job involves helping people understand OCD better, and a matter of frustration for me is that all too frequently I find myself having to do this with people who have experience of OCD.

These days the online OCD community seems to focus far too much on the manifestation of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and sometimes fails to recongise the impact that OCD causes on the individual, regardless of manifestation.  As a result of this, over recent years the more people unhelpfully promote sub-types of OCD it’s not uncommon to hear some say “I wish I ‘just’ had basic contamination OCD”. It’s got to the point where people have, probably unwittingly, minimalised and trivialised the impact that obsessive fears around contamination can have on an individual. This book will change that perception forever, as the human cost of OCD is laid bare for the reader to see.

Would I recommend Katja’s book?

Absolutely,  for those with OCD and for any health professional too who want to get an understanding of just how far untreated Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can take someone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waterproof Saddle Bags

Update: See below…

Today I am talking bike saddle bags…  waterproof saddle bags to be precise.

I have been a long time user and fan of the Topeak bags.  For years I have used the Topeak Wedge Saddle bag, loving the simplicity of their QR clip and strap for secure fitting and easy to use zip opening.  A nice lightweight bag, I used the medium which was more than spacious for everything I carry.

  • Mini Pump
  • 21 piece multitool
  • 2 x Inner Tubes
  • 2 x Tyre Levers
  • Mini lock
  • Energy sachet/gel
  • CO2

For those that enjoyed the long, long glorious summer the bag was the perfect accessory… for those that rode last summers Ride100 London-Surrey sportive will testify, that was the one day all summer when it rained, and rained and rained for 100 miles!      The end result was my saddle bag was half full of water by the end of the day!

So I started looking at waterproof saddle bags, even for the summer bike.

Bag 1

Topeak Drybag

I immediately switched to the Topeak Drybag Wedge Bag. Generally I think it would do the job of keeping the water out, and like it’s summer version it comes with either a QR or strap fitting.  But I found two significant problems with the bag.  Firstly the sizing, because of the inner frame the bag uses the medium size gives a little less storage space compared to the summer version. I had the medium size which runs at the following specs:

  • 1 L / 61 ci (Medium)
  • 18.5 x 11.5 x 11 cm / 6.9” x 4.5” x 4.3” (Medium)

But the main issue and the reason this saddle bag ended up on eBay was the side clips to get into the bag. On a cold winters day, with cold fingers trying to get those clips open really is not fun!

For weight weenies, it also comes in heavy at 220g without the fixing clip, despite Topeak’s claims of 170g.

Bag 2

Ortlieb Waterproof Saddle Bag

Ortlieb have a fantastic reputation for bike touring bags, and I have a few Ortlieb products which I generally like.  So I decided to give their waterproof saddle bag a go, again medium sized which did feel more spacious than the Topeak.

  • Cargo Capacity – 1.3 Litres
  • Dimensions  – 9cm (H) x 14cm (W) x 7/12cm (D)

Unlike the Topeak version, it fixes from the bag and is much easier to unclick, even on cold days but the problem I found was the shape of the bag.  It just closed too loose and lost it’s shape and more often than not the bag was catching my leg when peddling. If I am honest I lost some confidence in the bags ability to keep everything secure mid-ride and indeed dry.   I never had a problem with it, but I had lost confidence so decided to switch back to Topeak… that was until I discovered this beauty purely by accident…

Bag 3

Giant Seat Bag WP  (WP for waterproof of course).  Again I went for medium and compared to the Topeak I can get everything in which tad more space, and because of the shape I don’t struggle to get the mini pump fully in.

Giant Seat Bag WP
  • Volume: 1.0L
  • Dimensions: 17x10x10 cm

The specs claim this bag comes in at 165g but mine is tad more at 170g.   Like the Topeak this uses side fixings, but unlike the Topeak it’s a strappy fixing which certainly feels secure. Time will tell if they continue to be secure, but so far it feels far easier to get in and out of the bag compared to the Topeak.

It comes with a QR clip to the saddle like the Topeak, but again the actual QR fixing initially feels far more secure than the Topeak.

All three bags come in S/M/L sizes.

But for now, my lovely Giant bike is wearing a Giant waterproof saddle bag.

Update: 22nd April:

So second ride with the Giant WP Seat bag and snap….

As I hit the bump at approx 32mph (according to Garmin) on a huge downhill I suddenly felt something dragging on my rear wheel. The bracket had snapped and the strap on the seatpost was all that was keeping the bag from falling away.

The fixing bracket that loops over the seat rails snapped through, as you can see in the image the bolt is still there, so it was a failure of the actual plastic.

A quick Google suggest I am not the first to experience this failure. In my case I am lucky that the bag didn’t fall into the rear wheel, and with no way to fix it to the seat rails I had to ride with it stuffed down my shirt top for 17 miles (which actually wasn’t that noticeable after a mile or so).

It’s such a shame because the saddle bag itself is perfect, the quick release clip is easy to slide on and off, but such a failure could cause accidents so Giant should take a look and recall this IMO. That said, if they strengthen the clip then this could be the perfect saddle bag, but it looks like I am back to the Topeak for now.

Dirty Filthy Love

First published on Sunday 14th October 2018.

Last night I had the privilege to watch the 2004 comedy drama film, ‘Dirty Filthy Love’ on the big screen in Halifax, organised by the lovely Sofia at the Square Chapel Arts Centre in Halifax (thank you for the invite Sofia).

It was the first time I have watched it in a few years, and I had forgotten just how ridiculously laugh out loud funny the film remains, but still all these years later maintains compassion for the characters during some poignantly moving scenes. As I sat there and watched I found myself laughing at the OCD situations the characters found themselves, whilst feeling emotional at the desperation their OCD situations took them, because you see at one time many of those scenarios and situations were me, my situations and those of my friends, some of whom I was with last night.

What made last night’s screening even more special for me was because I watched it, sitting next to the man whose story was being played out on screen. It was truly wonderful to hear him roar with laughter at scenes which at one time would also have been tinged with sadness because of the impact of his OCD, so to hear laughing at his own OCD was actually something to behold. But it wasn’t all laughter, at one point I gave him a knowing glance when I recognised a highly personal part of the film for the man sitting next to me, Ian Puleston Davies.

Is there a place for comedy in OCD? Absolutely, provided the true suffering of OCD is not left too far from the viewers thoughts and to that end Ian and Jeff Pope (co-writer) achieved that admirably, alongside some wonderful acting performances. Slightly off topic, I have a very funny friend who follows me on Facebook, and I recall a decade or so back talked about wanting to write a sitcom about her OCD, but was nervous to do so at that time because of the reaction. If she can equally find that fine line between comedy and ensuring the viewer knows the pain of OCD then I hope she goes on to complete it (if she’s not already).

Interestingly, after the screening in Halifax last night I hosted a Q+A with Ian, well tried, he kept asking me questions, but at one point I did ask Ian if he felt the film would stand the test of time in today’s highly critical social media world we live in. Ian felt it would, I don’t know if I am honest but I do believe this, I believe we needed Dirty Filthy Love on screen in 2004 and I think we need it on screen in 2018. I would go further to say that the brief scenes that talked about treating OCD were far more educational than some of the OCD documentaries we have seen on ch4 and ch5 in the last couple of years.

Ian pondered if his OCD helped his acting and writing and if it did, would he swap those talents to get rid of OCD. I won’t spoil it by revealing his answer, you will have to wait to hear it from the man himself one day. But the film did pose a fascinating question, if OCD is part of us, or if we should detest and despise OCD with all our passion to try and get rid of it, which was the overriding belief of the support group facilitator in the film

Back in 2004 Dirty Filthy Love was rightly nominated for various TV awards, including a BAFTA, so I remain incredulous as to why the very next public screen of this film took 14 years.

Finally, as for the characters, be they on screen, in our heads or part of us, I hope they/we all find our recovery place and life becomes just a little bit more peaceful and boring from being OCD free!

Wishing you good mental health.

Ashley.