Monday, March 23, 2015

Book review: Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery. By Janet Singer with Seth J. Gillihan.

Today I have the pleasure of reviewing a book written by a woman who I met through blogging and who has inspired me with her advocacy for educating others about OCD.

The book is Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, by Janet Singer with Seth J. Gillihan.
Janet writes a blog called ocdtalk, where she discusses her experiences as a parent of a son with OCD and their journey to find help. She also keeps readers updated on research being done on OCD. And she is an advocate for Exposure and Response Prevention therapy, the leading therapy for OCD.
In her book, Janet writes about Dan’s journey from being unable to eat, from lying on the floor for days at a time, caught in the snares of OCD, to reaching a diagnosis of “mild” OCD and being able to have a fulfilling life.
Dr. Seth J. Gillihan is an expert in treating patients with OCD and other anxiety disorders. In addition to having a clinical practice, he is a clinical assistant professor of psychology in the Psychiatry Department of the University of Pennsylvania and a visiting assistant professor of psychology at Haverford College.
Gillihan gives readers the “facts” about OCD: what it is, what the symptoms are, what treatments are available, what problems people seeking treatment might face, and more.
The abiding theme of Overcoming OCD is hope. But Janet isn’t feeling much hope when her story begins. Her son Dan has struggled during his first year of college, and Janet visits him to try to help.
She is shocked by his haggard appearance and his obvious anxiety. And she is shocked when they reach the motel where she is staying, and he is unable to climb the concrete steps up to the second floor.
Step by step, slowly, she helps him up the steps. Then he says he’s unable to come into the motel room. She pulls him into the room.
“And so our journey began,” she writes (p. 2).
Janet knew her son had OCD, but she had never seen it manifested in such debilitating ways. Dan couldn’t eat, couldn’t use his cell phone, couldn’t drive, and couldn’t go to certain places. His promising future in animation—a dream that he had had for years—seemed in jeopardy.
Janet and her husband Gary and the rest of their family rallied around Dan and supported him on his road to recovery, which was never linear and never easy.
Dan spent about nine weeks in a residential OCD treatment center, and Janet and her husband struggled with staff who seemed to be leading Dan to a life of lower expectations. The treatment center did give Dan a good foundation in ERP therapy, providing him with tools to fight his OCD.
The family moved to Dan’s college town so that they could be there to support him. He saw a number of doctors and was on a number of medications. Side effects of some of those medications put Dan into a medical crisis and delayed his recovery.
Janet learned to speak up and ask questions of Dan’s caregivers. She did her own research. She interviewed perspective doctors to find the right fit for Dan. She supported Dan in the tenuous dance of being independent but getting the help he needed to fight the OCD.
And she and Gary remained Dan’s cheerleaders and advocates, supporting him unconditionally without enabling him in his OCD.
I read Janet’s blog, so I know that Dan is now doing great, with mild OCD. He graduated from college and has a job that he once dreamed of.
But as I read her book, I felt a taste of the anxiety that Janet and her husband felt as they watched their son sink so low that they never thought he’d come back. I felt the anger at the lack of caring and lack of knowledge that some so-called experts displayed in treating Dan.
I also wanted to reach into the book and tell Dan, It’s going to be OK. I guess that comes from my own experiences with having OCD and having to fight my way to better health.
Janet’s story makes it clear that ERP therapy, sometimes with, sometimes without medication and other therapy, can help those with OCD become more than their OCD. They can live fulfilling lives despite having OCD.
But she shows that one must search for and sometimes fight for good mental health care. Her story makes it clear that there’s still so much education needed of even medical professionals about how to best diagnose and treat OCD.
Gillihan’s explanations are very helpful, especially for those not familiar with OCD.
I really didn’t want to put this book down after I started it. It’s inspirational, absorbing, and just a plain good story.
Parents with children who have OCD would particularly benefit and would be reminded that they are not alone in their journey. The beneficial role that family support can play is well illustrated.
I would also highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about OCD and to those with OCD. I found myself relating to so much of what Dan experienced.
Throughout the journey that Janet and her family took with Dan, family friend and clinical psychologist Mark was a godsend, a person who offered information and hope to the family. In her book, Janet writes, “If you are going to have a mental health crisis in your family, I recommend having a close friend who is an amazing clinical psychologist” (p. 25).
I would add that having a family like Dan’s would help those suffering through a mental health crisis see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery is published by Rowman & Littlefield. 2015. For information about ordering the book, go HERE.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Yes, I love cats

Waddles and I in 2004. 

I searched the magazine racks, back and forth, up and down. The only issue I could find was the next month’s issue, already on the stands, not the current month’s issue. Cat Fancy.
I took it up to the check-out at the bookstore.
“Oh, it’s their last publication as Cat Fancy,” the salesperson said.
“Yes, but I was actually hoping to find another issue,” I said. “There was an article in it that I wanted to read.”
“What was the article about?” she asked.
I was a bit embarrassed to answer.
“I’m one of those people who follow cats on Facebook,” I said. “It’s an article about one of those.”
“Which one?”
I thought she meant which issue. “February,” I said.
“No, I mean which cat?” she asked.
I thought, She knows about cats on Facebook?
“Frosty the Frozen Kitten,” I said.
Then the salesperson named a list of cats that she followed on Facebook. It turned out that she, too, was one of those people who followed cats on Facebook.

I admit it. I follow numerous cats: Frosty, Champy Pants the Blind Siamese Kitty, Buhbee the Cat, Tenderness for Tyrone, FlowerPower.
It’s cute, it’s fun, and it’s relaxing. I’ve learned a lot about rescue efforts that are going on around the country and the world. I’ve learned about special-needs animals and the people who love them and take care of them. I’ve connected with other animal people.

But with connection can come feelings of loss. When one of the animals (mostly cats) that I follow get sick, or have a sibling that gets sick, or crosses the Rainbow Bridge, I feel very sad.
“Why do you look at those pages if they make you cry?” Larry has asked.
And I ask myself that sometimes: why do I do this to myself?
Because I enjoy reading about the antics of kitties. Because I can relate to what other pet people are going through with trying to give cats medicine, finding foods that they like, and dealing with sibling rivalry. Because I am part of an exchange of helpful information. Because it’s a group of people who value animals in the same way I do.

I know that Facebook is not the same as real life. If Chase Bird wants to play or sit in my lap, and I’m looking at Facebook, down goes my phone. I’m careful to limit my time online and keep my focus on the life around me. I’m aware that social media can be an escape from the worries and stresses of daily life. And it’s certainly been a stressful couple of months.

But online friends are still friends, even if I’ve never met them in person. I care about the animals and the pet parents I’ve connected with and want to be encouraging when I can. I’ve learned more about animal welfare and what I can do “in real life” to help animals.

So I say without embarrassment: I’m one of those people who follow cats on Facebook.

Have you ever been interested in learning more about a “famous” animal?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The news and the no-news

Slower than molasses in winter. That’s what I’ve spent the last two months thinking.

What’s moving so slow? The job search process. Or rather, the hiring process.

On Monday when I posted, I believed that I would have news to tell you about a new job. I don’t. So here’s the news about my job search and the way I keep getting—no news.

I applied for a job in early January. I can’t give any details about the job yet. But I can say that I believe I would enjoy the work. Compared to my current job, I would work fewer hours but make significantly more in salary.

That sounds too good to be true. But it is a legit job. It would be a way to be a public servant again, something I’ve missed.

It has been a laborious process. I interviewed. Then I interviewed again. Then I met with two more people as a courtesy. Then I waited while an unexpected crisis hit the employer. I was praised for the patience I had shown.

Then, finally, with only one more step—a step that was more courteous in nature for another group than anything else—I was told that I would receive a formal offer Wednesday.

The courteous step turned into a quagmire. Now I’ve got two more weeks to wait.

Why am I willing to go through all this? Believe me, I’ve asked myself that question. I’ve been very frustrated. I’ve made plans, then had to undo plans. As most hiring processes go, it’s ridiculous.

But I am excited about the job. I want a new challenge. I can use more of my skills. I know the people I would be working for and with. I believe it would be a good fit.
I enjoy my job now. But one side effect of writing news articles for a living is that it’s harder for me to have the right kind of energy for doing the writing I love.
And I’ve been told—and I believe—that the slower-than-molasses-in-winter process isn’t about me. It’s about things out of my control.

And there lies my frustration. I can’t do anything about the process. I can’t hurry it up.

Situations like this raise my anxiety level. I’m tired. I have headaches. I’m restless. My thoughts race.

I haven’t done a good job handling the anxiety. I’ve been putting off dealing with it, telling myself that I would relax and do fun things after things are settled.

That’s not the best way to handle anxiety, and I know that. I am now trying to focus on the present. I remind myself that there will never really be a time when, in every area of my life, “things are settled” because each day brings us problems and frustrations. If I don’t practice my anxiety-reducing measures now, I will miss out on life now.

Meditation. Knitting. Pleasure reading. Lounging with Chase Bird. Laughing with Larry. Going for walks. All things I will be fitting back into my schedule.

And when this part of my life settles down, I will tell you all about the new job.

Have you ever had a strange or particularly stressful experience job hunting?

Monday, March 9, 2015

I’m still here

I am ashamed that I haven’t posted in a while and left with no explanation. There are so many things that have kept me from posting. I hope as I write the next several posts, I can explain myself a little better.

This post is about Chase Bird. Chase is a sweet, sweet cat, but he hates going to the vet. Any of you who has an animal who hates going to the vet knows how hard it is on the animal and on you when the visit has to happen.

I intruded on Chase Bird's nap on the pad on top of our bed long enough to get a few pictures.

Our vet has suspected that Chase has some kind of allergy or autoimmune condition that causes his gut problems and swollen paw pads. Back in November, we started him on a hypoallergenic diet—wet food, dry food, and treats. He was on it for two months. He threw up less, but the litter box wasn’t looking any better (I’m trying to be delicate).

After about two months, he stopped eating the wet hypoallergenic food and seemed to be getting thinner. So we started giving him Fancy Feast wet food again. He ate it a lot better, but continued with the gut problems.

I did some research and learned that a hypoallergenic diet is really about giving the animal a novel protein, or a protein that he or she probably hasn’t had before. It’s not full of ingredients that a cat could be allergic to.

Through some reading I did and through some Facebook animal friends’ experiences, I decided to buy some grain-free food. I know it’s kind of a “fad” now, but I decided it was worth a try. I found some Blue Buffalo, some of which are made with fewer ingredients for cats with sensitive stomachs. He loves the dry food. He eats some of the wet flavors. Some he doesn’t.

Meanwhile, Chase was due his rabies and distemper shots, and he needed a dental cleaning. So we decided to combine everything in one trip and also have blood work done while he was sedated for the dental work. All that happened last week.

The vet’s partner saw him this time, and she agrees that something allergic-like—something autoimmune—is going on because of his paw pads (which actually are looking good now) and because with examination she could tell that his gastrointestinal system is inflamed.

She wants us to gradually move him totally over to a grain-free diet first before possibly trying prednisone. But she did start him on Cerenia, a vomiting preventive that has been shown to have some anti-inflammatory effects. After three days in a row, he gets the pill twice a week.

So that’s where we are. He hasn’t thrown up since his vet visit. He still doesn’t like some of the grain-free flavors. And it’s too early to tell if the Cerenia will help. But we are hopeful. He seems to feel better than he did over the last few weeks.

I still think Chase Bird is lonely and needs a sibling. I really do think it would help him. But Larry is not ready.

On Thursday, I will tell you the story of trying to change my job.

So how have you been? And if any of you have experience with animals having autoimmune issues, please share your experiences!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Snow in Central Virginia

Hello, dear readers. I hope you have been warm and safe wherever you are. Central Virginia has had frigid temperatures in the single digits to 0 and even below, and that’s not taking into account the wind chill. That is very unusual for our area, and some records were broken.

We also got snow Monday and Tuesday, a little snow on Wednesday, then more snow and ice on Saturday. We haven’t been out of the house more than necessary. I love winter, but even I’m looking forward to some warm sunshine. More cold is coming, though.

Here are some pictures I managed to get this week. Some were with my phone and some were with my camera through a window.

And I hope I’ll have more to say on Thursday. Sigh.

Snow falling Monday, late afternoon. The road is already covered.

Snow on the lower driveway, Saturday.

Small pine tree branch caught in the snow.

Cat prints in the snow, apparently from a neighborhood kitty. Please bring outside pets indoors when the temperatures drop!

Ice clinging to the tree branches Sunday morning.

The streets were very slick on Sunday morning.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Checking in

Hello, friends. I hope wherever you are, you are safe and warm. This wild winter weather in the U.S. is wreaking a lot of havoc. It has been very cold in my part of Virginia, and it’s supposed to start snowing later today.

Saturday night, Larry and I went out to eat for Valentine’s Day. When we drove to the restaurant, the wind was blowing fiercely. Soon after we sat down in the restaurant, we saw through the window that it had started to snow, and the wind whipped it through the air. The snow soon ended, but the roads were left slick with black ice in some areas. I’m glad Larry was driving!

I’m sorry I haven’t been around much lately to visit you. It has been a nerve-racking few weeks, but I hope things will settle down soon, and I can give you more details.

I have some decisions to make. I told you last month that I was waiting to hear about a job I applied for. I may have an announcement soon about that. Things are moving slowly, and I will be so happy to make a decision and feel more settled.

Take care of yourselves, and I plan to be back here on Thursday!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Thunder Cat

Six years ago, on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009, our Thunder Cat crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
Thunder Cat was Larry’s first cat, and I officially became his mom when Larry and I got married in 2003.
Six years after we lost him, we still miss him so much. We always will. We remind each other of his antics and his personality, and we usually end up teary.

Today I want to share photos of Thunder Cat, our Gray Boy, our Baby Boy, our Flunder, our TC. 
We love you and miss you, sweetheart, and we will see you again someday.