Jeff woke up with a gasp, clutching his chest, fighting for his breath, as wave after wave of what felt like electric charge hit his body. This had happened every morning for the last three weeks. Every morning he thought he was going to die. The first time it happened his wife rushed him to hospital, convinced he was having a heart attack. It was there he was told that he was having an anxiety attack, not a heart attack, as all the tests showed his heart was healthy. Jeff was convinced that the doctors were wrong. He didn’t ‘do’ stress. He often said that, as the MD of his own company, he was the one who created stress not the one who suffered with it! How could he have anxiety? Sure, he’d had to remortgage the house to fund a precarious business expansion and his daughter had been hospitalised with anorexia, but he never considered for a moment that he wasn’t coping.
Sonia watched with horror as one of the mothers at the toddler group pulled out a sesame seed snack from her handbag. ‘I’m starving’ the mother said…I haven’t had a minute all morning…I’m so glad I remembered to bring my snack today’. As the mother opened the packet and started to eat the health treat Sonia’s body filled with fear and her mind started firing off one terrifying thought after another, ‘Oh no…those seeds and going to fall on the children and one of them will choke’ ‘What if my little girl is allergic to sesame seeds and stops breathing’ ‘I have to get us away from here’. Sonia smiled weakly, said she wasn’t feeling too well and excused herself. Barely noticing the sympathetic smiles of the other mothers and trying to look as normal as possible, she gathered up her little girl and rushed to her car. Once home, she stripped them both of their clothes and put them straight into the dustbin. Then she carefully and thoroughly bathed the baby and herself, until her fear started to ease. Sonia knew she wasn’t being rational but she simply couldn’t stop herself from behaving like this. She knows from her own childhood that the world is not a safe place for her or her daughter.
Although fictional characters, Jeff and Sonia’s stories are familiar and all too common.
Mental Health Foundation statistics show that anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health problems in the UK. Whilst 2.6% of the population experience depression and 4.7% have anxiety problems, as many as 9.7% suffer mixed depression and anxiety, making it the most prevalent mental health problem in our population as a whole.
Research shows us that there is a causal and dynamic relationship between OCD and trauma with up to 22% of people with PTSD also having a diagnosis of OCD and 54% of people with a diagnosis of OCD reporting at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. This relationship has a profound effect on progress in therapy, one that is often missed or misunderstood by well-intentioned and well-trained therapists.