Jo’s story

Case study - Jo

“My main issue was contamination – with blood in particular.”

I felt like it could be anywhere and everywhere… in the street, on door handles. I guess it was a little more complicated. With my OCD, I’d check things quite a lot and count when I washed my hands; and I was also a mild-level hoarder. But the main thing was blood and being convinced I’d get infected with HIV.

It probably started at the age of 15. So, as you can imagine, I’ve seen quite a few professionals over the years.

“I thought you had to be rich to go somewhere like SLaM.”

The psychologist who referred me was brilliant. She really understood OCD… she seemed to know everything you needed to know. When she asked if I wanted to go to SLaM, I just said ‘yes, of course!’ I had a mixture of feelings though. I was nervous – would they just throw blood on me when I got there? – but I was also excited and hopeful.

I moved into the Anxiety Disorders Residential Unit at the Bethlem Royal Hospital. The other people living there had a range of problems, but there was always someone with something similar going on. It was a really positive place and we all really supported each other.

“They devise a programme that’s personal to you.”

I had one-to-one therapy four times a week, going down to three times a week, then two. My therapist tried to find out how my OCD had developed and how it had kept going over the years. We even drew up a big chart – it’s easier once you can see it all in front of you.

There were educational sessions, group meetings and occupational therapy. I did pottery, art, swimming, cooking, cycling, meditation, computers… a whole host of different things. They asked what my interests were and we agreed on sessions that might be helpful as part of my treatment. I did art using red paint, for instance. I also joined the gym so I could get used to touching equipment and using changing rooms and public toilets.

“I had homework too, challenges that I agreed with my therapist.”

The experiments were things like not washing my hands after doing something specific and then writing down what I thought would happen afterwards and to what extent I believed I was going to be infected by what I’d done. Like using a public toilet or getting out and about to touch things. I even slept with a vile of blood next to my bed for two weeks.

It’s not like you get there and they tell you to do these things straight away. There’s a lot of work first, and you always agree challenges in advance. Some of the things aren’t enjoyable, but something happens and you get through it.

“You’re supported at every step. I never felt I was in danger.”

On one occasion, I put my hand in the toilet water and ate a biscuit without washing my hands. It’s not the kind of thing you’d usually do, of course, but it is about taking it to the extreme, testing things out and seeing that nothing will happen to you.

I didn’t think I’d do that ever, even for a million pounds. But my therapist would always do the challenges before me and she had a way of talking me through them. The fact that she never got me to do anything she wouldn’t do herself  gave me strength. It was tough, and there were tears, but I never felt like I was in danger.

“I’ve also recently given blood.”

My therapist came with me the first time, and I’m due to give blood again soon. I’ve also recently applied to work as a volunteer on reception at a local donor centre. I won’t be in touch with blood directly, but I’ll be in that environment. I mean, I couldn’t walk past the clinic on the same side of the road before. Even seeing the word ‘blood’ was difficult.

I’ve done a lot of things because of the work I did at SLaM. I have to keep reminding myself.

The therapists support you at every step, and the friendships you make with people in the house are also really important. They think how you think. And there’s always someone you can talk to, whether you’ve had a bad day… or you want to tell someone about a good day actually.

“I was part of a family there.”

Things are still difficult, but it’s early days. I live in the north of England, so it’s been tough to adjust. But I have support here too; a nurse that comes around to see me regularly, and I start with a support worker this week. I also have some appointments with a psychologist coming up.

I’m more motivated now than I was before. I’ve also made some good connections, so I’m in touch with people who understand. That, for me, has been one of the most positive things. I never felt I fitted in places before, but I was part of a family at the Bethlem.

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