Saturday, December 31, 2011

A hodge-podge at the end of the year

I read an interesting article in the local daily newspaper today that led me to a website that measures people’s implicit attitudes towards mental illness.
Visitors to the Project Implicit Mental Health website can measure their implicit assessments of things like anxiety, depression and people with mental illness.
Project Implicit Mental Health is part of a larger research program, Project Implicit.
Project Implicit's information site shows the study’s website findings after seven years, including the finding that people’s implicit biases can predict behavior.
I’m glad people’s attitudes about mental illness are being studied.

***

Thanks to those of you who commented about my decision to try ERP. I appreciate the support. I’m excited! I won’t see my psychiatrist for two weeks, and then I’ll have to wait for an appointment with the cognitive therapy specialist.
I would like to do some research on the therapy beforehand. Any suggestions on sources that have helped you?

***

  I am setting goals for myself instead of resolutions, as some of you have suggested. Goals can be made anytime and aren’t tied to Jan. 1. I can make them as I go along.
And I don’t have to take on all my goals at once. I can work on one at a time if I want, and really get specific about the objectives and steps I need to make to reach the goal.

***

  I am so glad I started blogging! It has been a beautiful experience for me, and I look forward to writing and posting in 2012.

***

  Here are some quotations that are meaningful to me that I would like to share:

“The only escape from the miseries of life are music and cats . . .”

-Albert Schweitzer

“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”
-Albert Schweitzer

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”
-Mahatma Gandhi

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
-Joan Didion

“Cats are dangerous companions for writers because cat watching is a near-perfect method of writing avoidance.”
-Dan Greenburg

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
-Matthew 25: 35-40 (NIV)

***

I wish you all a safe, productive and beautiful 2012. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I am going to do it

I have decided to ask my psychiatrist to refer me to the doctor in the practice who does cognitive behavioral therapy. I want to try the exposure response prevention therapy.
I have written about my doubts over whether or not I needed such therapy, and I’ve gotten some really helpful comments on this blog.
I have also learned from those of you who write wonderful blogs about your own experiences with OCD. It seems that ERP therapy is helping many of you, and I want to experience some of that success.
I have been mulling over it, and it became clear to me this evening that I need the therapy.
I have been having periods of time lately when I have been a checking fiend.
For example, I stare at the lamps in my office at work to make sure they are “really” off until I think I must surely be going crazy.
And I know it’s the OCD! I have been doing things like this for most of my life. And I still feel like I’m going crazy.
Also, I have a nagging sense that OCD has negatively affected my life and is still affecting it in ways I don’t even realize.
I have reached a point in my life where I don’t want to be held back by OCD, anxiety or depression anymore. I want to better manage these conditions so that I accomplish what I am supposed to accomplish while I’m on this earth.
I may sound overly dramatic, but I am as serious as I’ve ever been about getting better and living life as fully as I can.
So, I see my doctor on Jan. 16, and I will get the ball rolling. In the meantime, I’ll get through the episodes as best I can.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Post-Christmas and Pre-New Year

I hope all of you had a peaceful and joyful Christmas.
Some of you may relate to this: I had a Christmas holiday that included times of peace and joy. I appreciated those times and tried to remind myself that no one ever has the perfect Christmas like TV movies portray.
The peace and joy: time spent with my husband, talking and laughing together; opening gifts together; ringing bells for the Salvation Army together; going to church together; listening to Christmas music together; and just being together.
Peace and joy: going to church on Christmas Day and listening to the Christmas story and singing carols and wishing others Merry Christmas.
Peace and joy: time spent with my mother and mother-in-law and stepdaughter.
Peace and joy: remembering that Christmas is the “dawn of redeeming grace” and a reminder of how important it is to serve others.
And the not-so-joyous parts? Dealing with a mother and mother-in-law who seemed resistant to me being a vegetarian; being with a mother who never understood the word “boundaries”; being in crowded stores and restaurants; knowing there’s so much violence in the world (like the bombings in Nigeria during Christmas Mass); and knowing many people are not as fortunate as I am to have a warm home, plenty to eat and people who care about me.
It all goes together to make up life, doesn’t it? The good and the bad, the joyous and the sad, the hope and despair, what we can control and what we cannot.
I’m grateful that I had joy and peace during Christmas, much more than many people had.
Tomorrow it’s back to work, but only a three-day workweek. I’ll have Friday off for New Year’s. I hope remembering that will help me get out of bed!
As for the time leading up to the New Year, I’ll be thinking about resolutions. I’m not sure how I’ll deal with that. I tend to want to make resolutions, but I know from my own experience how so very hard it is to keep them.
I also tend to make too many resolutions that really represent a complete makeover of my life.
I want to set my focus on serving others. I want to make changes to help me do that. I need to make changes in dealing with my “issues”—OCD, anxiety and depression. I want to lose weight, exercise and get physically stronger. I want to spend my time more wisely, write more, have a better attitude, be more mindful, engage in meditation more, practice yoga more, etc.
Sounds rather obsessive, doesn’t it? One resolution is not enough, because there are so many things I need to change right now.
How do you go about making resolutions . . . and keeping them? Do you make just one? Do you write down your resolutions? Do you build in accountability? If so, how?
I’m looking for ideas and insight, so any you can provide will be appreciated!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas thoughts

I recently finished a book called “Christmas Is Not Your Birthday: Experience the Joy of Living and Giving Like Jesus,” by Mike Slaughter. It gave me a different perspective on the holiday season, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts about it.
I’ve posted and some of you have posted and commented about the disconnect between the expectations that the holiday season is “the best time of the year” and our real feelings about this time of year.
In addition to not having a jolly attitude, I’ve had another problem with the holidays, of my own doing.
I talk about how commercial Christmas is, and how the emphasis for so many people is on spending a lot of money on gifts and expecting lots of gifts in return, and stressing out over trying to make things perfect.
I admit, thought, that I’ve been a part of that consumerism too. I spend way too much money on Christmas gifts, and I look forward too much to the gifts that I will get. And I certainly stress out over everything I supposedly have to do to get ready for the holidays.
“Christmas Is Not Your Birthday” gave me a new way of thinking about the holidays. Perhaps that is what I needed, a new way of thinking to replace my old way of thinking and acting.
Slaughter, too, talks about our focus on self and consuming during the Christmas season. He recognizes that people’s idea of an ideal Christmas is not rooted in reality.
He reminds us that the first Christmas, the night Jesus was born, was not an ideal situation either: “The real Christmas was a snapshot of poverty and anxiety, not feel-good warm fuzzies.” (p. 20)
Slaughter said in his life on earth, Jesus was focused on helping those in poverty, which did not just mean just those with a lack of money:
“Also, understand that when poverty is used in the Bible, its meaning is broader than ‘economic limitation.’ Poverty, in the deepest biblical sense, is any kind of brokenness, whether that be in a personal or cultural context, that restricts people from living in the fullness of humanity that God intends.” (p. 54)
What makes Christmas and the rest of our lives meaningful, according to Slaughter, is serving others as Jesus did.
I thought of those of us who suffer from maladies that many people don’t understand, like OCD, anxiety and depression, when I read this passage in the book:
“Likewise, God shows up and speaks to us through others who have experienced similar struggles and come out on the other side. That means your experiences of pain, and, eventually, hope can also become the seed for God’s miracle in someone else’s life.” (p. 34)
That certainly gives me comfort and hope. I hope I can carry a sense of meaning into the new year.
I hope all of you have a safe, peaceful and joyous holiday, no matter how you spend it. Merry Christmas!

*All quotations from the electronic version of the book.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tricking OCD

Probably all of us with OCD have some tricks that we pull out and perform to deal with the obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions.
I thought I would share one of mine.
I’ve been doing this one for many years. When I can remember to use it in the midst of an OCD episode, and when I fully engage in it, it helps me a great deal.
First, let me tell you about a woman I work with.
Her position in the office requires her to answer the phone a lot. She has been with the paper for years, so I guess she has heard everything.
When she answers a call and she’s really busy, especially if it’s a layout day, she sometimes will tell the caller something along the lines of, everyone is busy today. Can you call back tomorrow?
When she hangs up, she’ll say, I don’t have time for this today.
All of us in the office know this isn’t the best customer service, but apparently she does it in such a way that most callers go along with her.
Her method of turning away a caller with a non-urgent request is similar to how I respond to certain OCD intrusions.
It helps when I’m facing uncertainty like the following:
  • Did I turn off the light in the closet?
  • Is the water faucet properly turned off?
  • Did I pick up every piece of lint I could find on the floor?
  • Did I wipe every bit of stickiness from the kitchen counter?
  • Did I rinse all the soap off the dish I just washed so the next person who eats from it won’t get diarrhea from the soap residue?
  • Variations on the above.
When I know in my non-OCD thoughts that I have done everything I can to make sure I’ve done what I needed to do, I tell myself, OK, I can see the light is off/I’ve rinsed the dish repeatedly/etc. I’ve done my best. I can’t know anything for certain.
Then I force myself to walk out of the room, or out of the house, whatever, to go on with my day.
It’s hard. I feel such anxiety that I believe I won’t be able to forget it, that I won’t be able to focus on anything else.
But I keep moving physically away from the scene of the OCD episode.
Many times I realize later that I’ve gotten busy with other thoughts and actions and moved past the obsession.
It probably helps that I’ve been hearing from OCD for most of my life and can recognize it pretty easily.
Please understand. I do this when I know I have done my absolute best to make sure things are safe. I realize that it is the OCD driving my uncertainty, and I basically tell the OCD, not now. I’ll deal with you later.
Or maybe, I don’t have time for you today, OCD. Can you call back tomorrow?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Where does the lonely hide?

Sometimes I think that because I have OCD, anxiety and depression, I’m extra sensitive and hyper-alert to how I feel. I monitor how stressed I feel, how down I get, how tense.
I try to be aware of any changes because if I need to make an adjustment in medications, I want to jump on it quickly. And lately, I’m analyzing myself more closely to try to decide if I want to take cognitive behavioral therapy.
But sometimes the feelings sneak up on me.
I had a semi-pleasant day today. I conducted an interview and wrote four stories for the paper tomorrow. It was hard for me to concentrate and settle down to write the stories, but I managed to get them done and get home at 7:15.
Once I got home, I thought things were OK. I told my husband about my day, watched part of “Jeopardy” and snuggled with my cat Sam.
But I started thinking about Waddles and, as soon as my husband left to go get some takeout for dinner, I had a deep crying spell over her.
Waddles was my beautiful baby cat who died in October. I wrote about her and the incredibly positive impact she had on my life in a past post.
I just fell down into the grief of losing her. I wanted to have her with me so badly. I didn’t want to go on without her.
When my husband got home, I told him how lonely I felt without Wa. He said he understood because she and I had spent so much time together.
I am still grieving. I understand that. And I understand that I’ll never “get over” her. I don’t want to.
But I have become more able to get things done, to focus on what’s in front of me, of making over the other cats. There are things that I still can’t think about, but the tears haven’t been so close to the surface lately.
I guess what surprised me about the episode this evening was that it seemed to come out of nowhere.
But then I remembered that I got out the Christmas stockings last night, including Waddles’ stocking. Maybe that stocking, which now represents a lost loved one, burrowed down into me and pushed the grief to the surface.
Maybe I’m not as self-aware as I think I am.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Stare. On. Off. Stare.

My mother was a beautiful cook.
She no longer cooks. She lives in an assisted living facility and has her meals prepared for her now.
But she was a true artist in the kitchen for most of my life.
She loved to try different dishes, and she read cookbooks like other people read novels. She understood how ingredients worked together and mixed them creatively.
During the holidays, she made beautifully decorated cookies, fruit cakes, hermit cakes, coconut cakes and all kinds of pies, all from scratch.
She learned to cook in home economics classes in high school. During at least one of those years, her teacher required her to cook one meal at home each week. Her family, which included nine siblings, looked forward to her night to cook.
Both of my brothers do some cooking, but I, her only daughter, do very little. I have never developed the love for cooking that my mother had, and I never seemed to have a knack for it.
But I think I have avoided cooking mostly for OCD reasons. Cooking can be messy, and making sure I’ve cleaned everything well enough can be very difficult.
Cooking also usually involves the use of a stove, and I don’t like stoves.
In one of my early posts, I wrote about the different ways obsessive-compulsive disorder showed itself in my life.
One group of symptoms that made my list was checking. One of the things I have checked countless times is the stove.
The compulsion has been to check and recheck the stove to make sure I turned it off after cooking.
The underlying anxiety is the fear that if I leave the stove on, a fire will start and burn the house down and my loved ones will die. The fire could spread, and then others would be harmed.
My favorite recipes call for microwave cooking or no cooking at all.
The “checking the stove ritual” used to be a tremendous source of anxiety and fear. I don’t suffer as much from it now, but I still have that anxious feeling when I cook, and I still start my checking ritual almost without thinking.
I am able to cut off the ritual more easily now, but I have to admit I give myself a blanket reassurance by asking my husband to check behind me.
Even though I don’t go into a frenzy over the stove like I used to, I know that my life continues to be affected by this aspect of my OCD. I still don’t cook a lot. I still almost panic when I’m asked to bring a dish to a potluck.
I wonder if I would be a “top cook” (what my father called my mother) if I didn’t have OCD?
Here’s a picture of what my stove-checking ritual looked like at its worst. I had experiences like this one mostly in my late-20s, when I was in graduate school.

It’s 9 p.m. I need to study, but first I need to clean up my supper dishes, which are stacked next to the sink in my small kitchen in my small apartment. I don’t look at the stove yet.
I wash the dishes and wipe the counter first.
To cook my frozen dinner, I used the microwave, not the conventional oven. No cooking on the stove. I seldom used it.
But the stove is still at the end of the counter. I haven’t used it in weeks, but every night I check it. I may have left one or more of the stovetop eyes on the last time I used it. Or in checking it, I might have left it on.
I turn each knob on, then off, trying to be sure that it’s off. There’s no convenient “click” to tell me when the knob is back in the off position, so I have to press the knob back in a counter clock direction and apply just the right pressure so that it doesn’t bounce back into an “on” position. I’ll do each knob one time, I tell God. I promise Him.
The problem with these knobs is that the line over the word off doesn’t measure perfectly against the word off. Or they don’t seem to measure perfectly. I stoop and stare from different directions. I close my left eye and look with my right eye, then switch eyes. In some positions the knobs look okay. In others, they don’t.
Maybe I didn’t do it right. Maybe they’re not all off. I tell God that I just need to do each knob one more time. I ask Him to forgive me for lying to Him, and I promise Him, this is it.
I start from scratch. Twist the knob to the on position, twist it off, feeling for the right pressure, squinting to measure the line against the word. I pray out loud: “I’m sorry, God. I’ve got this awful feeling inside. I need to do this one more time. Please forgive me for lying to you. I know I’m an awful person. I lied to You, God! But I am promising You, this is it.”
I feel a rhythm. It’s not a song, just a beat that’s going on inside of my head. I turn the knobs on and off to the beat. If I get out-of-step with the beat, I have to start over again. On, off, on, off. Feel the burners. Analyze the heat. On, off, on, off. Forgive me God. One more time. On, off, on, off. Analyze the heat. On, off.
I am going to explode. I jump up and down, then slam my hands against the wall and cry. I wish I had the courage to bang my head against the wall and die.
Back to the stove. The rhythm. The prayers. The tears. The waiting. I’m waiting for that feeling inside me that tells me the stove’s okay. I don’t know where the feeling comes from, but I know I need it before I can walk away.
When I finally feel it, I try not to think about it. It’s not a strong feeling of reassurance. But I am so tired. I am so tired. My legs hurt from standing in front of the stove. My hands hurt from the banging and from the careful examination of the burners.
I pull one of my back-up actions. I walk around to the closet where the breaker box is. I turn off the switch that controls the flow of electricity to the stove.
I’m done. I did what I needed to do before I could start studying. But I can no longer focus my eyes enough to read. I fall on top of my bed. The clock says 3:30 a.m.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I'm still here

I am sorry that I have not kept up my regular blogging schedule this week. I had a really long workday yesterday, and when I don’t get enough sleep for a couple of days, I tend to crash.
I plan on writing a regular post tomorrow evening, so bear with me!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

'Twas two weeks before Christmas . . .

Today felt like the beginning of Christmas. A quiet beginning, but a happy one for my husband and me.
This afternoon I sang in my church choir’s cantata. Afterwards, my husband and I went to the church reception, where we enjoyed delicious food and wonderful company.
This evening, I decorated a little more, and I thought I’d share some photos.
Here’s our tree. It’s been up a week, but I don’t tire of seeing its brightness.


A grouping of candles . . . battery-powered! I love them. Some things were just made for those of us with OCD, don’t you think?


A small nativity, with another battery-powered candle behind it.


Mr. Snowman sits on a red chair that belonged to my grandfather. My husband loves snowmen.


Sam on a holiday blanket, like a lovely present.


Chase just being Chase. . . another gift.


May you enjoy every day of this Christmas season!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Decisions, decisions

I saw my psychiatrist today, and I left his office knowing I still have some decisions to make.
I wrote in my last post that I planned to ask him about possibly seeing a therapist for cognitive behavioral therapy, specifically exposure response and prevention therapy.
I did ask him, and he said there was a therapist in the practice who did the exposure therapy if I wanted to see him.
He said medication could take a person only so far, and such therapy could be very useful.
My hesitations stem from my concerns about the time it would take to do the therapy and whether or not I really need it. I had learned little tricks over the years for dealing with some of the OCD symptoms, I told him, and I recognized my OCD when I experienced it.
By that, I meant that I realize when it’s OCD that makes me obsess over possible dangers and compulsively try to mitigate the feelings of anxiety.
I wondered if I could do exposures on my own.
He said I would need the guidance of a therapist to benefit from it, and then he asked me to what extent my symptoms were under control.
That is always a difficult question to answer. I always think to myself, “In comparison to what?”
Compared to the extreme nature of my symptoms in my teens and later in my 20s, my current symptoms are negligible. Compared to my experiences in my 30s, my current symptoms are better. Compared to what they were five years ago, they are worse.
I was not seeing my current psychiatrist when I experienced the OCD at its worst, but I gave him an overview and said I thought about 75 percent of my symptoms were controlled now.
He thought that was pretty good.
We left the discussion with the understanding that I will let him know if I want to start other therapy.
I had also been experiencing higher levels of anxiety of late. In fact, I had a small but noticeable anxiety attack on the way to the doctor’s office. My arms felt numb, I felt lightheaded, and I felt like I was going to come out of my skin. What seemed like a million different worries consumed me.
He made an adjustment in one of my medications, which I was happy to do. It’s a change that won’t affect the OCD, he said, because it doesn’t affect serotonin, but it will hopefully lessen the hyper feelings I’ve been having.
He wants to see me again in four weeks, which is a good thing, because I can think more about therapy and consider further how controlled my OCD symptoms really are.
Because I’m worried about that 75 percent figure I gave the doctor. It’s really just a guess. I can’t truly quantify the percentage of symptoms I experience versus what I would be experiencing without medication.
I’m confused. How bad does it have to be to need ERP? How much “struggling on my own” is too much? Why is it so difficult for me to agree to just try the therapy?
It would probably be helpful if I took some notes or kept some type of log of my symptoms. That might help me identify how much my life is being adversely affected by OCD specifically.
Have any of you been in this kind of quandary? What do you think?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Time to rethink this

I have an appointment with my psychiatrist on Friday, just a regular appointment. But I have a lot to discuss with him.
Some of you have shared your experiences with OCD on this blog, and we have found how many connections we have in the way the disorder affects us and manifests itself.
You have talked about cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure and response prevention therapy, and the successes that you have shared have me rethinking my own treatment plan.
I have been seeing my current psychiatrist for nearly two and a half years. Prior to that, it had been many years since I saw a psychiatrist. I relied on my family doctor to treat my depression and OCD.
Depression was my biggest concern. I feared it. I was haunted by the reality that even with medication, it could return.
My OCD was, I thought, less of an issue. If the antidepressant I was on happened to help the OCD, then that was fine. Otherwise, I thought I could handle the symptoms of OCD on my own. I thought getting older and wiser about the disorder had made it less of a threat and more of a nuisance.
About four years ago, I seemed to slide into a period of depression that was the worst I’d had for a while. I was on medication at the time and had been since I was 27. I sought help from my family doctor.
My doctor said he thought I might be bipolar, and started me on different medications. I really can’t remember if the new symptoms started before or during the time my doctor tried different drug combinations with me. I can’t say for sure if some of the medications I was on exacerbated certain tendencies towards anxiety.
I do know that I thought I was going to lose my mind.
I had taken a new job in a city an hour’s drive away. I started dreading the drive more and more. I felt like I didn’t have complete control over my driving and feared having a wreck.
I felt afraid. I didn’t know what I was afraid of. I remember lying in bed at night whispering to myself, I’m so afraid.
I was extremely tense and anxious. It was hard to focus and settle down on anything—hard to read, to work on the computer, hard to write out a sentence by hand, to keep my mind on any one thing.
I felt like I was watching what was going on around me, not participating in it.
I reached the point where I was too afraid to keep driving to and from work and quit my job to try to find something closer to my home. My husband did all the driving.
My doctor worked with me closely, and gradually the anxiety lessened enough to begin to feel comfortable driving again and go about daily activities. But I still didn’t feel on track.
A close friend urged me to see a psychiatrist. She even recommended one that she had met socially. I appreciated her concerns, but I didn’t think I needed a specialist, and I thought she was probably understandably biased towards psychiatrists because her father was one.
My family doctor had suggested it too. He said I might need to be on lithium, and he would want a specialist to do that. I resisted.
Finally, though, I realized that I needed help that maybe a specialist would know how to give me. My family doctor recommended a psychiatrist, and it was the same one my friend had urged me to see.
It was the best choice I could have made.
When I first met with the psychiatrist, he asked me a lot of questions, of course, including what medications I had been on. I couldn’t even remember all the ones I’d been on through the years. He had to name different ones, which jogged my memory.
As he took notes, he shook his head every now and then and said I should have never been on some of the meds.
He said he saw no signs at all that I was bipolar.
I was relieved, but also upset because I had been treated for nearly 18 months for a disease that I did not have.
He diagnosed me with depression and OCD—no surprise there. But he also diagnosed me with general anxiety disorder.
He made changes in my medications and, most importantly, gave me hope. He said I would start feeling better in a few weeks and a lot better in about 12 weeks.
And he was right.
It took a while to get the medications well balanced. In addition to the medication therapy, he offered insight and advice on dealing with my disorders in other ways.
My OCD started becoming an issue again, and he suggested setting me up with a therapist for cognitive behavioral therapy.
I told him no. I felt like I had had enough therapy over the years, and I just didn’t want to take the time or spend the money to do it.
However, I’m going to reevaluate my response and discuss my options with him Friday. I don’t want to be resistant again to change that I might need.
I’ll tell you what he says.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The holiday spirit is not always a happy one

While I was driving home tonight from a meeting I had to cover, I listened to Christmas music.
I was tired after a long day of work, but I felt hyper, which often happens when I’ve spent too much time being an alert reporter full of caffeine. I hoped the music would distract me from words and ideas racing around in my head.
The music was lovely—a Susan Boyle CD—but as I listened to “Away in a Manger,” I began to feel very lonely and sad, and I started to cry.
This was not the first time I had cried while listening to Christmas music. “Silent Night” often made me melancholy. I felt forlorn when listening to “In the Bleak Midwinter.”
I know. If the music makes me sad, don’t listen, right? But I love the truly traditional holiday music and carols.
Tonight I tried to figure out why the music could make me feel desolate.
It’s not because I yearn for happier days as a child. My childhood was not terrible, and I have a lot of good Christmas memories. But I have some not-so-good Christmas memories too, like the Christmas break when I was 12 and I had to read a book for school.
I had been unable to finish it before break. I hadn’t finished it because I reread each page multiple times before feeling “right” enough to move to the next page. If I didn’t know for sure that I had read each word, then I would be lying if I said I read the book. That’s how my thinking went.
My mother didn’t know about my obsessions and compulsions. I didn’t tell her. She thought I was being stubborn and disobedient and lectured me for not just reading the book.
I did get a one-day reprieve. On Christmas Day, I was allowed to read a book I had received as a gift. The next day, it was back to the assigned book. I couldn’t read for pleasure until I finished it.
So no, I didn’t want to bring back the past.
The tears I shed are also not tears of joy. I just don’t get the whole “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” mentality.
For me, it’s a time of the year when I have to spend more time with relatives that I don’t really want to spend time with, waiting for the biting remarks or vague criticism.
I worry about having enough money to buy the gifts I want to give.
I worry that I’ll have to cook a dish to take to a potluck or party, which means I’ll probably have to use the stove, which means I’ll get anxious about that . . . And on and on.
What I do think is going on with me and the old Christmas songs is that they touch something deep and old within me. The songs I sang in church as a child and played on the piano helped to form my earliest memories of the holidays, my first sense of what they should be.
I feel sad about never having the kind of Christmases that make some people say it’s the best time of the year for them.
I cry because I won’t get second chances at all the Christmases past.
But I’m not going to focus on the past. All is not bleak. I am listening to the words of the songs more closely this year. I’m beginning to care more about that essence that the old Christmas songs are about—the dawn of grace. That’s what I’m holding onto.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Back again . . . check out this link

I don't normally post again so quickly. Or immediately. But I found this link on "Lolly's Hope" great blog, and I just had to share. It expresses some frustrations I've felt lately with the perception of OCD.
Thank you to Lolly for putting it on your blog!

Why not tell?

Why is it so hard to reveal to anyone else—medical professionals, family, friends—that we have OCD?
In writing, in very broad strokes, about my own early journey to treatment, I realized how many times I missed the chance to share my struggles with doctors.
Part of the reason I kept my symptoms to myself was the embarrassment I felt. Think about it. How strange does this sound?
“I stood in my kitchen for five hours the other night checking my stove to make sure it was off,” I tell my doctor. “My hands are so red because I used a bottle and a half of Lysol to clean my small bathroom. Oh, and I was late for my appointment today because I had to drive up and down the street outside to make sure I hadn’t hit someone with my car.”
How would the doctor react? I was afraid to find out.
I think another reason I didn’t tell my doctors was because I didn’t want anyone thinking I was crazy, weak, someone to be pitied, not to be trusted.
Knowing what I know now, and with the experience I have, the only kind of doctor I would have is one who would treat me with understanding and respect.
What I have gained in getting help from medical professionals far out ways any embarrassment I felt as I revealed my problems.
I have had the benefit of understanding doctors and therapists who encouraged me and told me I would feel better even when I didn’t believe it.
I have had the benefit of medications that have helped me deal with OCD, depression and anxiety.
I have learned ways to think about myself less negatively and more realistically.
I can live a good life with my various disorders, and knowing that is a gift.
It’s not my fault I have OCD. It’s not my fault that I have depression. It’s not my fault that I have anxiety.
And it’s not your fault either.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Treatment, Part Two

I was almost 27 the first time I saw a psychiatrist. I had been in talk therapy for a year, which I wrote about in my last post, and I had gained a lot of understanding about how my thought patterns and my reactions to the things I had experienced in life were affecting the quality of my life.
But I was still deeply depressed, and my sense of hopelessness and the almost continuous OCD rituals I performed made me decide many times that I didn’t want to live anymore.
Some sense of hope kept me going, some belief that help was available somewhere.
My talk therapist referred me to a psychiatrist and I went to see her with some trepidation.
At our first session, she asked me a lot of questions. Some were hard to answer, because I had never said aloud some of the things that I told her: the obsessions I had that no one else seemed to have and the compulsions I acted out that I figured she must think were ridiculous.
She didn’t seem surprised by anything I said. After I had answered all her questions, she told me I was clinically depressed and had obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I can’t say I was surprised. I knew I was depressed, and I had known for years that I had OCD. But hearing her words, her diagnosis, made it real.
The doctor told me about a drug that had received final approval from the FDA just the month before. It was Anafranil, the first medication that could be prescribed specifically for OCD. It was a tricyclic antidepressant.
She had seen the drug at work during clinical trials, and she believed it would help both of my problems.
But Anafranil wasn’t yet available in pharmacies. So she started me on Prozac, saying it would help with the depression and possibly the OCD.
At home, before I took the first pill, I sat down on my couch with the medicine bottle in my hand and cried. I felt ashamed that I had to rely on a pill to make me feel better. I felt like I now carried a label that no one else I knew carried.
It was a new road to walk on, and I was afraid. But I took the pill.
My next appointment with the psychiatrist was two or three weeks later. I had a vague sense that I was feeling better, but I didn’t feel as much hope about the Prozac as I did about the Anafranil. Since that medication was meant to treat OCD, I thought it would be my better chance at getting better.
My doctor didn’t think it would be in pharmacies yet, but she picked up her phone and called the pharmacy I used. It had Anafranil in stock. She wrote me a prescription.
I was the first person for whom she prescribed Anafranil, she told me.
I stopped the Prozac and started the Anafranil. About three months went by. I continued to see the psychiatrist and my talk therapist. I experienced some relief from my OCD symptoms, but the difference the medication was making became crystal clear one spring day.
I was out on my little patio outside my apartment.
Picture a woman with OCD, with intense issues about germs and dirt, putting her hands in soil and on a plant, putting the plant into a non-sterile flowerpot to then take into the apartment.
And the woman is humming.
That’s what I was doing. When I realized that I was focused on my task, not worrying about anything, feeling content, I knew the medication was helping me.
Please know that I am in no way saying that Anafranil and Prozac are suitable or not suitable for anyone else. I don’t take either drug now.
But at that time, Anafranil helped me more than I could have ever imagined a medication could.
A lot of years with a lot of treatment plans have gone by since then. As time goes on, I will write more about that.
How did you feel the first time you received treatment of any kind for your OCD and/or depression?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Treatment, Part One

I started having symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression when I was a young girl, around 8 or 9, but I didn’t get treatment for the disorders until I was 27.
Why the delay?
One reason was because my parents apparently didn’t recognize that their daughter had some major problems.
My mother in particular thought I was being “contrary” and disobedient because I ran the water too long when I washed my hands, took too long in the bathroom, wouldn’t finish a book for a class assignment, did everything slowly, etc.
I never tried to explain myself to my parents, because I thought I must be crazy, and I couldn’t admit that.
Do I blame my parents? As an adult, I have definitely carried some resentment because they didn’t try (to my knowledge) to find out what was wrong with me, or get me some help. But that discussion is for another day.
When I was a teenager, I read a magazine article about OCD (I don’t remember which magazine—Teen? Good Housekeeping?). I was shocked that there were other people who did many of the same strange things I did.
That new knowledge made me feel less like a crazy person but no less isolated. I was so embarrassed and worried about reactions from others that I never told anyone, not even my doctor.
At the end of my first year of college, I got very down and homesick. After my parents visited me at school one weekend, my mother wrote me and said how sorry she was that I was so depressed. That was the first time I thought of myself as depressed.
No one suggested that I see a doctor or therapist about my depression. There was a great stigma around anything that smacked of mental illness in the community I grew up in.
So I plugged along, believing that I was just a miserable, unlucky person.
My OCD symptoms became almost unbearable when I was in graduate school. I was far from home and lived by myself. I suffered from obsessions and compulsions that made my hands bleed, took me away from my studies, and made me think death must be a relief.
I was also depressed, which I thought was situational. I finally discussed that with a friend, and she suggested that I see a therapist at the counseling center on campus.
Oh, I could never go see a therapist, I remember saying.
Well, I see one, my friend said.
That surprised me, because my friend seemed to be the personification of sane. But her honesty with me provided the impetus for me to make an appointment to see a counselor.
That counselor, who was a PhD in psychology, probably saved my life. I spent a year talking about my childhood, my relationships, my sense of self and my negative and unhelpful thought processes.
My first foray into talk therapy—any kind of therapy—helped me to change my perspective: on my background, my past experiences, and the subsequent negative ways I thought of myself.
I began to think less negatively, and I began to recognize that the way I thought about things had direct, real effects on how I lived my life.
But after a year, but I wasn’t feeling better. And my OCD symptoms marched on.
Because I never once mentioned my OCD to the therapist.
In my next post, I’ll write about my first encounter with a psychiatrist.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Afraid of . . . an Advent wreath?

Let me begin this by saying that it’s not the wreath itself that I was afraid of, but lighting the candle in the wreath.
From the beginning: I go to a United Methodist church, and each year, we light a candle on the Advent wreath each Sunday leading up to Christmas.
Earlier this week, the church secretary called me. It seems that I was on the schedule to light the candle during the 9 a.m. service (we have two services) today, the first Sunday in Advent. The secretary didn’t have an updated email address for me, so I didn’t know I was scheduled for this until she told me.
“Are you going to be able to do this? Are you going to be in town?” she asked.
I told her yes.
We chatted a little more, and then I asked the most important question: “You said I would light a candle?”
“Yes,” the secretary said.
“I just don’t want to burn down the church,” I said.
I guess she thought I was joking, but I wasn’t, and the anxiety set in.
I don’t like fire. I don’t like matches. If you can believe it, I can’t even strike a match. I’m too afraid that I’ll do it wrong and burn myself or drop it and burn down a building.
When I used to burn candles, trying to use them to help me relax, the only way I was able to light them was to use a cigarette lighter or one of those long grill lighters
I finally stopped because of all the anxiety I had about the candles turning over or about me falling asleep and forgetting about them or not putting them out completely before I left the house or went to bed.
All this past week, I thought about it, and tried to remember how the wreath lighting had been done in the past. I hadn’t been at church during the Christmas season for a while. All I could remember was that people walked up and somehow lit the candle and read something aloud.
I really wasn’t nervous about standing up in front of people and speaking. I’m very introverted and shy, but my years of teaching and giving presentations at various jobs had moved me out of my comfort zone enough to be fairly used to it.
I was worried about getting that darn candle lit without looking like an idiot.
What if I fumbled with matches and the minister had to light the candle for me? Could I just ask the minister beforehand to light it for me? Would there be one of those lighter things to use?
Last night, I remembered. I remembered how the candles had been lit in years past. The long acolyte lighters were used to first draw a flame from the candles burning on the altar, and then to light the candle.
Oh, I could handle that, I thought.
When I walked into the sanctuary this morning, I panicked. The candles on the altar were unlit.
The Advent wreath was sitting on a stand up front, waiting for me to come up and burn it up. (OK, I’m being a little overly dramatic, but that’s what my fear does to me!)
The minister came over and reviewed with me what I would say and pray. And then he held up one of those acolyte lighters, which at that moment looked quite beautiful to me.
“I thought this would make the lighting easier,” he said. “I’ll light it from the altar candles and then bring it to you.”
Hooray! I thought.
“And you’ll light the altar candles?” I asked.
He said he would, since we use acolytes only during the 11 a.m. service (the more formal one).
Now all I had to worry about was transferring the flame from the lighter to a candle. I could relax a bit. There was even time to start worrying about tripping when I walked up front, or totally messing up the call to worship.
Everything went fine. There was a little glitch when the minister handed me the lighter. The wreath has a center candle, with four smaller ones around it, three purple and one pink. I knew not to light the middle candle or the pink one, but which of the purple ones?
“Which candle do I light?” I whispered.
“Any of them,” he said. “Do one of the ones in the front.”
I hope no one in the congregation heard our comments, because a live mic was around.
I lit the candle, handed the acolyte lighter to the minister and scooted on down to my seat.
Later today, I was thinking about my OCD fear of doing others harm and how that had been behind my fear of the candle. I had to laugh at myself. Years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to.
And I’m very excited about candles now. I just learned about battery-powered ones.

Friday, November 25, 2011

There's always something to worry about, but . . .

For the past few months, I’ve been working on “staying in the moment” instead of steeping myself in the past or worrying about the future.
The medications I’m on help, but they are not enough. I have to actively work on it, too, I’ve learned.
My efforts have included different forms of meditation, reciting poetry I love, self-talk and making mandalas.
The results have been mixed.
I have made headway in one area. One of the symptoms of OCD I manifest to different degrees is that I don’t think I should relax until everything is right. As I’ve written before, it’s not perfection I’m after, but feeling right.
I now can sometimes focus on my breath or mantra even when I am in the midst of anxious and racing thoughts. I just keep breathing or focusing on the words or sounds after reminding myself, repeatedly, that I can worry later.
It doesn’t always work, and I have to pull myself from my wandering thoughts time and again. It’s a start, though.
But isn’t it so much easier to deal with the everyday or familiar anxieties than it is with a new one?
We learned today that our 15-year-old cat, Samantha (Sam), has the beginnings of chronic renal insufficiency. That’s what eventually killed our two older cats, Waddles and Thunder Cat.
My husband and I stood in the examining room at the vet’s office, hearing the same things we’ve heard before. Try to get her to eat a renal diet. Watch her for certain signs and symptoms. Bring her back for more blood work.
Sam
We carried Sam back home, both of us quiet.
I started wondering how soon the kidney problems would start to noticeably affect Sam’s quality of life.
I pulled out Waddles’ medical records to find out when she was first diagnosed: Aug. 7, 2007. She lived for a little over four years after that. She was older than Sam when diagnosed.
Thunder Cat was diagnosed in December 2008 and died Feb. 12, 2009. He was also older than Sam is now. His disease seemed to progress quickly, though kidney disease can be silently present for a long time.
I started to worry (to myself, not out loud, because I didn’t want to upset my husband more than he was) about how long Sam would live, how long before she would fade away like her siblings. I was tense and depressed, fearing what was to come.
But some of what I learned from Waddles started to come back.
Enjoy the time we have with Sam. Don’t upset her with my anxiety and tears. Focus on her today and appreciate her.
If I waited to do those things until I felt “right” about her illness, I would never be able to do it, because it will never be right. There is no cure for chronic renal insufficiency. You can try to slow it down, but it’s never going to disappear.
It is so difficult to do the things I’m writing about, to focus on the time we have with Sam right now, while doing the things we can do to hopefully slow down the disease’s progress. I can only manage the “in the moment” attitude for short periods.
There’s always something to worry about, but I can try deal with the worry by being in the moment.
How do you best deal with your anxiety?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I am thankful

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and I am going to try to be very consciously thankful for all the blessings I have. So many times I forget about gratitude. The holiday reminds me how many things I have to be grateful for.
My life isn’t perfect, but no one’s life is. We all have our burdens to carry. Mine seem too heavy to bear at times, but I have found that remembering what I am thankful for gives me a better perspective.
I am thankful for my husband. I am thankful for his generosity, companionship and friendship. I am thankful for his forgiving nature. He is a good husband to me.
I am thankful for our cats, Samantha (Sam) and Chase Bird. I am thankful for their companionship, their affection, their funny antics and their presence.
I am thankful for our cats that have crossed the Rainbow Bridge, Waddles and Thunder Cat. I am thankful for all they taught me and for making my life better.
I am for my husband’s daughter and her husband and children. I am thankful for his relatives.
I am thankful for my extended family and relatives, the good, bad and the ugly. I have learned from them even in difficult circumstances.
I am thankful that I have enough to eat. I don’t worry about where my next meal is coming from. I am thankful that I have access to healthful, safe food.
I am thankful that I have a home. I can stay warm in winter and cool in summer, and I sleep in comfort.
I am thankful that I have a job, and that it lets me do what I love to do—find out stuff and write about it.
I am thankful that I have health insurance, which allows me to get the medical treatment and medications that I need.
I am thankful that there are a variety of ways to treat OCD, anxiety and depression. I am thankful for my physician and for all those working to help those of us with these disorders.
I am thankful that Sam just pulled me away from writing this post to play a game of “swat that ball.”
I am thankful for music.
I am thankful that I am able to walk and run and move around. I am thankful for meditation and yoga.
I am thankful for books, beautiful books. I am thankful that I have access to so many.
I am thankful for my love of writing.
I am thankful for animals. I am thankful for trees and flowers and mountains and rivers.
I am thankful that I started blogging and have made connections to people who understand the whole OCD thing.
I am thankful for the spirit that connects all of creation.
To those who celebrate Thanksgiving, have a wonderful holiday. To those who don’t, enjoy your day too. I am thankful for all of you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Counting: one, two, three

I think counting was my first manifestation of OCD. I practiced it mostly as a child. It was only as an adult that I recognized it as OCD. As a child, I thought I was being quite creative at keeping my mind busy while I waited somewhere.
I did a lot of waiting when I was a little girl. One of my brothers was sick a lot, and I spent a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms and doctors’ offices.
I must have been around seven or eight years old when I became obsessed with the number three, especially when it related to counting letters on signs, billboards, breakfast cereal boxes, anything.
Silently, never aloud, I counted every letter of a sign or whatever, hoping to make it turn out right. It was right if the letters ended up on the count of three with the last letter. In other words, the total number of letters was divisible by three.
Without thinking, I began to automatically break down sentences, phrases, or just words into threes, any time, anywhere.
I didn’t tell anyone about this game I played. I didn’t know that I was obsessively thinking of the number three and compulsively counting letters and punctuation marks. I didn’t know that I was compulsively counting to relieve the anxiety and fear I felt.
And it seems to be a practice that I still sometimes fall back on without thinking. Some months ago, I had an upsetting call on my cell phone while my husband and I were having lunch in a restaurant. After I got off the phone, I looked out the window and started counting the windows in a building across the street. It took me a minute to realize what I was doing.
It’s difficult to stop the racing thoughts, whether it’s numbers or something else. Meditation is hard for me, but I’m working on it.
I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing or in between—the way we sometimes develop compulsions to relieve our anxiety. We are trying to comfort ourselves. That seems to be a good thing. But the process goes haywire. What are you thoughts on this?

As an example, my counting ritual went something like this:
I am in the waiting room at the hospital. On the wall beside the swinging doors that lead to the real part of the hospital, there is a sign. It says, “No visitors under age 12 allowed past these doors.”
I am under twelve, so I’m sitting on one of the green leather sofas waiting for Mama and Daddy to come down from my brother’s room..
I look around. I don’t feel like reading my book anymore. I look at the sign by the swinging doors. Wonder if I can make it turn out?
I go through all the letters and numbers: N-o-v, i-s-i, t-o-r, s-u-n, d-e-r, a-g-e, 1-2-a, l-l-o, w-e-d, p-a-s, t-t-h, e-s-e, d-o-o, r-s. It doesn’t work. Two left over.
I include the spaces between the words and numbers: n-o-space, v-i-s, i-t-o, r-s-space, u-n-d, e-r-space, a-g-e, space-1-2, space-a-l, l-o-w, e-d-space, p-a-s, t-space-t, h-e-s, e space-d, o-o-o, r-s. One left over.
But, there’s that period at the end. If I add that to the r and s of “doors,” it works out. But the period is not the only dot on the sign. There are the dots over the letters “i” in visitors. Aren’t they part of it all? Do I have to count them?
If I do, how else can I make it turn out right? There aren’t any pictures on the sign. No lines underneath the words. No exclamation marks. No commas. Even if I change “12” to “twelve,” it doesn’t work.
I go over and over the sign, seeing if I made a mistake counting by three’s. No mistake. It will work out only if I count the period and not the dots over “visitors.”
Okay. That’s what I’ll do. I won’t count the dots over “visitors.” I’ll consider them to be part of the letter i. That makes sense. The letter i wouldn’t really be an i if it didn’t have that dot over it, unless it was a capital i.
Now I go over the sign a couple of more times. It works out perfectly. One-two-three, one-two-three. Kind of like a waltz. Perfect. I’m a little proud of myself. If there’s a way to make it work out, I can usually find it.

Can you imagine this kind of thinking in a child?