Sunday, January 29, 2012

Washing my hands

Sometimes still I examine my hands and wrists and imagine I see a discoloration, almost like a tight glove pulled up over the area that is slightly darker than the rest of my skin.
My husband doesn’t see it, so I think it must be my imagination, a mental image leftover from when my hands were discolored.
I wash my hands a lot, but not with the ferocity that I once did and not for so long a time. My skin is dry, but that’s probably due more to the fact that I don’t dry them properly and put lotion on them afterwards.
When I was a child, the first manifestation of OCD that my parents seemed to notice was my use of water. When I was around eleven, I began washing my hands with a diligence that I had never had before.
The water had to be hot and running fast, and I had to rub and rub my hands under the water with soap until I got the feeling that my hands were clean enough.
I was afraid that if I didn’t get my hands clean, I would pass my germs on to someone else, or to something else, like a bowl or plate, that someone else might touch and be contaminated with.
The running of the water is what caught the attention of my parents. We lived on a farm and depended on well water. It was a good well, and there was probably little danger of it going dry, but my parents were conservative with water.
So they told me to stop running so much water.
That should have been enough. I was an obedient child ordinarily.
But the pull of OCD was stronger than my parents’ voices, and I continued to run water behind the closed door of the bathroom, washing and washing until I felt clean.
My parents fussed at me and ordered me to stop wasting water.
I had no real sense of the amount of water I was using or the time I was spending cleaning. I was focused on getting my hands clean. Time was not a factor.
Finally my mother had had enough. She brought a gallon plastic jug to me one morning and said that the water in the jug was all that I could use that day for washing my hands. I could flush the toilet and take a bath, but the gallon of water was all I could use for washing my hands.
This devastated me. For one thing, the water was cold, and I knew that cold water was not as effective at killing germs as warm or hot water.
And it was very difficult to first wet my hands, put the jug down, soap up, then pour enough water out to get all the soap residue from my hands. I also had to think about leaving enough water for what I would need for the rest of the day.
I cried and raged against the plastic jug, and after a few days, I abandoned it and went back to the faucet. I was more careful, though, and tried to run the faucet at a slower speed, thus more quietly, so that my parents might not notice it as much.
The compulsion to wash my hands waxed and waned as I grew older and after the first episode in my early adolescence, I didn’t have a noticeable problem with it until I went away to graduate school.
I lived alone in a series of apartments, and I could run as much water as I wanted with no one to fuss at me.
I discovered liquid soap, which I loved. I didn’t have to worry about a wet soap bar dripping from the soap holder, and then becoming sticky with thick residue.
After washing my hands, I didn’t dry them very well. I couldn’t be sure of the cleanliness of the towel I was using, so I preferred to kind of shake them and rub the back of my hands on my clothes.
My hands and wrists became red and raw. Sometimes they would bleed.
I don’t remember any of my friends saying much, if anything about my hands. If they did, I didn’t tell them what I was doing. I didn’t tell anyone that.
Here’s a photo of me from around 1986 or 1987. I was a student at the time and was taking a break in a park with a friend of mine. She took the photo.

I found the photo the other day, and I could see how dark the skin on my hands and wrists was.
The only time I remember someone really seeing my hands as a problem during this period of my life was during a visit to the university health center. I think I was having some problems with my ears.
After the nurse led me to the exam room, she quickly turned and walked down the hallway with the doctor. I turned to watch before I entered the room. The nurse was telling the doctor something while pointing to her hands and shaking her head.
Oh, I thought. She noticed my hands. What was I going to say?
I held my breath when the doctor came in. He didn’t say anything at first, but later on he asked me about my hands in an offhand manner. I told him my skin was really dry and got really chapped in the cold. He didn’t say anything else about it.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Sleep lingers all our lifetime about our eyes, as night hovers all day in the boughs of the fir-tree. Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have a love-hate relationship with sleep.
I love to sleep. Taking naps is a favorite activity. Some days, I come home from work in the early evening, take a nap for two or three hours, get up for a few hours, and go right back to bed for more sleep.
On Saturdays, I like to sleep late and then take a long afternoon-into-evening nap. On Sundays, I look forward to another afternoon nap.
I love the chance to sleep.
But I hate that I want to sleep so much. I would be accomplishing more in my life if I didn’t sleep so much.

Sleep, that deplorable curtailment of the joy of life. Virginia Woolf

I hate that I can even think that napping is a favorite activity.
My husband doesn’t like me to sleep so much. He says he’d like for us to do more together, but I nap away every weekend, every day off from work.
I wasn’t always like this. I didn’t take naps even when I was in graduate school and was exhausted all the time. I didn’t have time for them.
But sometime in my early 30s, I started to love sleep.
It’s frustrating. I make plans to do so many things, but I find myself tired and sleepy, and I give in to it.
I don’t know how much of my craving for sleep comes from the medication I take and how much from habit.
My psychiatrist and I have tried to find a balance with two medications. It’s difficult to take an amount that enables me to have the motivation to not sleep and an amount that wires me.
Am I just lazy?

A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things. There will be sleeping enough in the grave. Benjamin Franklin

I don’t feel lazy. I have either been in school full time or worked full time my entire adult life, except for periods when I was unemployed and looking for work. I’m a hard worker on the job.
It’s when I’m off the job that I want to sleep. And I want to stop it.
I believe that it’s a combination of things that is causing my problem. Antidepressants are probably contributing, as are the medications for anxiety.
There are lifestyle changes that I need to make. I need to exercise regularly, get up at the same time every morning and have more of a routine of sleep.
But I think my problem is also connected to the OCD-related procrastination I have. If I am sleeping, I don’t have to deal with issues regarding cleaning, reading, writing, checking, etc. I don’t have to face things that I know will cause me anxiety.
I am not saying that I’m not responsible for my behavior. I am. I am just considering contributing factors.
I am hoping that I will be adding more tools to my toolbox to fight the OCD. I’ll be starting cognitive behavioral therapy a week from today. I have to get serious about making lifestyle changes. And I have to push myself more than I am now to break through the procrastination.
I’m the only one that can do it. I need to make this change in my life.
Do you have problems with too much sleep? How do you combat it?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Paying attention

“Mindfulness has to do above all with attention and awareness, which are universal human qualities. But in our society, we tend to take these capabilities for granted and don’t think to develop them systematically in the service of self-understanding and wisdom. Meditation is the process by which we go about deepening our attention and awareness, refining them, and putting them to greater practical use in our lives.”
-From “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” page 10 in e-edition, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Recently, while in the shower, I’ve been thinking about being aware and what it could do for me.
It’s not that I do all of my deep thinking in the shower. The problem is, I often get lost in thought. The time gets away from me, and I take a long shower and end up running late for work, for church, for everything.
I think that’s part of the cause of my tendency towards procrastination. I don’t stay in the moment enough, but lose myself in thoughts of what I’ve done, what I might have done, what I want to do, what I should do, etc.
I think I’m doing this at least partly to keep at bay anxiety in the present moment, or things I want to avoid in the present moment.
And I have some issues about the shower. I worry that I won’t rinse the soap out of the bottom of the shower and leave it slick, and then my husband might slip and fall. I fill my hands with water and splash it around until it looks OK. And I compulsively push the shut-off handle to make sure it really is off. (I have gotten that down to pushing it two times.)
What I’ve read so far about what Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz advocates is that it can help with OCD if you pay close attention to doing what you know will bring about obsessions and compulsions.
Say I have a problem with making sure lamps are turned off (I do). If I am aware that I am turning off the lamp, I create a mental picture I can later pull up to help me deal with anxiety about it.
In other words, I can tell myself, yes, that’s OCD, because I remember turning off that particular lamp. I don’t want to check the lamp again. I have a compulsive urge to check it.
So back to the shower. I found I got through the process faster if I kept telling myself things like, “I’m in the shower. I’m taking a shower. Now I’m going to wash my hair.”
Sounds kind of crazy, but I think it may be helpful to me, not just in hurrying myself through the shower process, but in learning to pay more attention.
Does anyone else have this problem with keeping the mind in the present? Do you see it as a problem? What do you do about it?

Monday, January 23, 2012

It's not easy being mindful

Remembering to be mindful, or aware, is not easy.
It’s one thing to read about something. It’s another thing to actually do it, or even to remember to do it.
Relabel. Reattribute. Refocus. Revalue.
Those are the four steps created by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz to use in cognitive behavioral therapy for OCD.
Now I haven’t read his entire book, “Brain Lock,” yet. I’ve read a good overview of the steps I found online. I have a lot more to learn, and I have a therapist who will lead me through this.
But I want to do something while I wait for my next appointment, so I thought I’d start trying to catch myself in the midst of the obsessions and compulsions and practice the four steps.
I have found that some of my OCD habits are so ingrained in my routine that I don’t always realize I’m in the midst of a ritual until I’ve done it. I’m sure I didn’t even recognize a lot of them today.
I cut down a little on some of the checking, but I still did the compulsions.
I did have what I would call a small success. When I left work this evening, I didn’t go through my maddening ritual of checking my office lamps to make sure they were off. I turned each off, careful to be fully aware of what I was doing, and then I walked away. As I did, I reminded myself that I didn’t really believe the lamps were still on. Rather, I had a compulsive urge to check them. That was OCD, not me. And I haven’t thought much about it since.
I’ve got bigger issues to deal with, but I guess that’s a start.
I’m also reading the book “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I’ll write a review when I’ve finished. So far, it’s very good, and I think it’s going to help me.
If I can remember to be mindful.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Please don't use my bathroom

One of the manifestations of my OCD that has endured since I was a child is fear about bathrooms.
At my worst, when I was a young woman, I spent hours at a time cleaning my small bathroom. I used at least one bottle of cleaner a week, sometimes more. And I went to great lengths to keep anyone else from using my bathroom.
My symptoms have greatly improved, but I still practice avoidance in this area. My husband and I have separate bathrooms, and I still don’t want anyone else to use my bathroom.
I had a revelation about my bathroom fears when I was talking with my new therapist this week. He led me through a series of “what ifs” to get at the heart of my fears.
It’s not really a contamination issue. I’m not afraid of catching some disease or illness from a dirty bathroom. Rather, I’m trying to avoid being disgusted at the sight of a bathroom mess.
My bathroom issues have also played a part in socially isolating me to a degree. If I don’t have really close friends, I don’t have to invite them to my house. If they’re not in my house, they won’t want to use my bathroom.
That’s awful. I don’t want to do that to myself or to my husband anymore.
To give you an idea of how my bathroom fears work, I’ll tell you about when I was in my 20s and living alone for the first time.
Cleaning my bathroom was a weekly ritual that I dreaded. But it would have bothered me more to not do the cleaning.
I slowly wiped down the sink, toilet, tub and floor with a cloth soaked in a solution of water and cleaner. I had to make sure I didn’t miss a spot, not even an inch of space. That meant looking at the surfaces from different angles, making sure each part was wet from my cleaning cloth.
There was never any obvious dirtiness to wipe away, because I was vigilant about cleanliness every time I used the bathroom. I sprayed the seat with disinfectant spray and wiped it with toilet paper after every use.
But I believed that I might have missed something, and I knew that many germs were invisible to the naked eye. So I scrubbed and wiped for hours every week.
After I finished the cleaning part, I doused all the surfaces in the room with disinfectant spray, using it as a blanket way to get any germs I had missed.
Even though I was particular about my own use of the bathroom, I couldn’t be sure that other people would be as careful as I was, and I would have to clean the bathroom once they were through and gone.
It was easier for me and for my peace of mind if I could just keep people from using my bathroom.
One day when I was still in my 20s, a friend stopped by my apartment to pick me up. We planned to go shopping together.
She asked to use the bathroom. I didn’t want her to use it, even though I had no rational reason to believe that she wouldn’t be clean in her use.
I lied to her and told her that I’d just cleaned the bathroom and that it was damp and couldn’t be used.
She suggested that she could wipe the toilet seat with toilet paper to dry it for use, but I still resisted, telling her no.
My friend had to use a public bathroom at the store we went to rather than use my bathroom. I was embarrassed but too ashamed to tell her the truth.
In later years, sometimes I had to share a bathroom, and it was a nightmare. I tried to shut down my senses when I used the bathroom and not notice any possible stains or dirt.
I want to work on my cleaning issues, especially with bathrooms, with my new therapy. I’d like to be able to better handle these fears that I’ve carried for so long and stop them from isolating me.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Start of a worthwhile journey

I had my first session with the psychologist today who will be leading me in cognitive behavioral therapy.
I won’t be doing exposure response and prevention therapy after all. Rather, the doctor will be providing what he referred to as the “third wave” of CBT. It’s the therapy Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz outlines in his book “Brain Lock.”
Let me say first of all that I felt comfortable with the doctor and believe we can work well together. He is a clinical psychologist who is very familiar with OCD. He has written about religiosity in OCD in particular.
He asked me a lot of questions, and we talked about what areas of OCD were affecting my life the most.
Just talking out loud about what I obsess about, what I worry about, and how I live my life was revealing to me.
I talked about the “what ifs” that I fear with writing, with cleaning, with checking. I talked about the avoidance and procrastination that I practice in order to avoid the anxiety that writing and cleaning stimulates in me. I also told him about my religious doubting.
He explained how we would work on a focused area that was causing me, on a scale of one to 10, about a six or seven anxiety level. (Based on one being no anxiety and 10 being the worst ever.)
Bringing that the level of anxiety down for that area would in turn help the other areas too.
He said it sounded like I had some social anxiety in addition to the OCD and generalized anxiety. That and the OCD have isolated me in a lot of ways.
At our next visit, in two weeks, we’ll prioritize what I aspects of OCD I want to work on the most. I already know it will be the writing and the cleaning.
The treatment usually runs from eight to 16 sessions. I like having an end in sight.
Meanwhile, my doctor suggested I read the first couple of chapters of Schwartz’s book. He said that when Schwartz came out with his book, it was rather radical because it wasn’t thought that the brain could be changed. That’s why he made his case in such a “long winded” manner, my doctor said. Now, his ideas don’t seem so radical.
I’m still getting my head around today’s session. I will write more specifically about things as time goes on.
I feel like I’m starting a worthwhile journey.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I start ERP on Thursday

I will start exposure therapy for my OCD on Thursday.
I wrote a post when I decided to make the plunge, but I didn’t think I would start so soon.
I had an appointment with my doctor, a psychiatrist, on Monday and told him I wanted to start. Another doctor in the practice does the therapy, so we thought I’d have to wait a month or so to get an appointment.
Turns out he had an opening this Thursday, so I’m all set up.
My psychiatrist will continue to monitor my medication. He said medication could take me a certain distance, and therapy like the ERP could take me further. That made me feel better. I like the idea of the medication and the therapy complementing each other.
I’m nervous about the challenges, but I’m excited about the possibilities. I like the idea of setting priorities and goals as part of the therapy.
Do you have any suggestions on preparing for my first appointment?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Do you like your job?

It’s Sunday night, and I always feel low on Sunday night. I have to go back to work tomorrow.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’m not big on Facebook, but I check it out enough to see plenty of comments from friends who dread going to work. One friend made the comment that 90 percent of the people she knows hate their jobs.
That is sad. That is depressing. We spend so much of our time at jobs. To be unhappy with the job affects a large chunk of life.
I don’t quite understand my own feelings, because the job I have is probably my favorite of any I’ve ever had.
I write, take photographs, ask people questions. I learn new things and meet interesting people. I get to do a variety of things, because I also help with layout and editing, and I update the website.
What gives?
Sometimes I do feel bored. After working for a weekly community newspaper for a while, I sometimes feel like I’ve already done this story, I’ve already taken these pictures. Just different names, different faces.
And the writing that I do is not what I would choose on my own. It’s what I have to do.
I wonder if some of my waning interest in my job has to do with the anxiety I’ve been feeling about writing. It has gotten worse over the last six months or so.
I dread starting a piece, and I procrastinate. I feel uptight as I write, worried about every word.
Being accurate and fair are the most important things in writing for the newspaper. I worry a lot about getting something wrong, even though I know I’m making every effort to get it right. And I’ve been complimented by people that I’ve written about (e.g. government officials, law enforcement) that I do a good job.
It reminds me of my agonizing times writing school papers, so afraid that I’d plagiarize, even when I did everything I could to cite everything correctly.
Certainly, dread and anxiety are not fun feelings. Procrastinating and waiting until the last minute only prolongs the agony and pumps up the anxiety.
What I have found recently is that when I just focus on getting it done and doing my best, I seem to feel a little better.
Note: I am still very focused on being accurate and fair, but I’m trying to relax more about the quality of the writing itself.
I still don’t want to go to work, though. I would love to stay home and do my own writing full time. I would also do a lot of volunteer work and do more at home. See, I have it planned out. But that doesn’t seem to be a possibility right now.
Have you ever felt like you should love your job but don’t? What do you do about not wanting to go to work? What effects have OCD or depression had on your working life?

Friday, January 13, 2012

My body on anxiety

Right now I’ve got a headache hanging around the edges, every now and then letting me know it’s still there. I just ate a late supper, but it didn’t help the nausea. I feel scatterbrained and a bit hyped, but I’m very tired.
This is my body on anxiety.
Today was a classic example of how anxiety changes my body and how I feel. I have had many days like this, but now I am particularly aware that it’s the anxiety that’s making me feel like this.
I was simultaneously looking forward to and dreading today. I knew a big story that I had been covering for over two years was going to reach a conclusion of some kind.
I was curious to see what was going to happen, and I was looking forward to seeing the story wrap up. But I was nervous, too, because I knew I had to write an article for the website about what happened and worried if I was up to it.
I doubt myself about a variety of things. Most stories I cover don’t engender the anxiety that this one was did. I knew it would be complicated, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to, first of all, interpret what happened, and second, write clearly about it.
I know I sound very mysterious right now. I cannot go into details about the story because I have to keep that separate from anything else I write. So suffice it to say, it was a big story for me to write.
What I’m thinking about now, and writing to you about, is how my body responded throughout the day to the ebb and flow of anxiety.
I started the day feeling hyped. The caffeine I had probably didn’t help.
I felt like “something’s going to happen.”
When I finally got the news of what the conclusion was going to be, I almost leaped out of my chair. I ran into my editor’s office and told him the news, then told anyone in the office that would listen what the news was. I called my husband and told him.
The adrenaline carried me through the first article I posted on the newspaper website.
Doing further follow-up, I made some phone calls and waited for return calls. I was so anxious not to miss one call in particular, I asked the office assistant to come get me if the person called while I was in the bathroom.
Wouldn’t you know it? I put off going to the bathroom, and when I finally did walk down the hall, this person called. My co-worker came to get me, and I hurried back.
I was feeling OK about the story I had written, but I still had the “something’s going to happen” feeling. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough.
This sense of urgency I felt made me move fast. It kept me from being able to settle down. I remember thinking that I should sit in my chair and do some deep breathing. But I couldn’t stop my racing thoughts, and my body was shaking inside.
It kept me from eating right. Today, prior to supper, I had a protein shake, some crackers, a small box of raisins, a Snickers Bar, an apple and more crackers with cream cheese.
Yeah. Yuck. What a combination.
By around 2 this afternoon, the adrenaline was gone. Apparently, my body had had enough. I felt exhausted and so sleepy. I still had work to do, so I grabbed more caffeine.
That made me jittery enough to get through the rest of the day. I came home. I was so tired, but I couldn’t relax.
I got into comfortable clothes and lay down to try to nap. I still couldn’t relax, so I finally took one of my anti-anxiety pills, turned off the lamp and turned on one of my battery-powered pillar candles. (Have I told you I love those things?)
Then I kept saying to myself, calm down. I must have because I was able to sleep a little while, though fitfully.
When I got up, I felt nauseated. My stomach started to make some weird noises, like all that I’d eaten that day was going to go right through me. I had a headache. My jaw muscles were tight.
And so I sit here, not feeling too well.
I could have done some things to make my day easier on my body. I could have held back on so much caffeine. I could have taken just a few minutes to sit and gather my thoughts and breathe. I could have prepared healthy snacks to eat. I could have exercised before or after work.
Oh, if only.
I’m not beating up on myself as much as reminding myself that I don’t have to feel this way. There are things I can do to counteract at least some of the anxiety.
I just have to do it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How do I appear to others?

In my mission to more fully address how OCD, depression and anxiety affect my life, I’ve been considering how others might perceive me.
In other words, do I seem like a person with OCD or depression?
I’m not trying to focus on what others’ opinions of me are. Rather, if my ailments have affected my life in ways even I haven’t yet recognized (I think they have), do others recognize in me signs of mental health disorders?
I did not knowingly meet another person with OCD until I was in my early 30s. This was years before the “I am so OCD” trend started.
At the time, I was part of a women writers group. I don’t remember the details about how the subject came up, but a few of us started talking about odd habits that we had.
What I said and what this woman (I’ll call her G) said sounded eerily similar.
We looked at each other.
I said, “I have OCD.”
She said, “I do, too.”
It turned out I was the first person that she had knowingly met with OCD.
I was completely surprised that G had OCD and had suffered from it since she was a child, as I had.
G didn’t look like someone who had such problem. She was very hip and cool and seemed totally together. I admired her. In fact, I was a little surprised that she seemed to like me and had invited me to join the group. I was decidedly not hip and cool.
But in so many ways, she was just like me.
I learned from that experience. Outside appearances don’t always give a clue to what is going on in a person’s life. Just because someone isn’t acting out compulsions in front of us doesn’t mean they aren’t being done. Just because a person doesn’t talk about obsessions doesn’t mean they aren’t running through his or her mind.
Apparently I do give out some aura of OCD, especially in work environments. I think it’s because I tend to focus on details and am extremely conscientious.
And there has been a lot of information in the media over the last 10 years or so about OCD, so the general public is more aware of it and the stereotypical symptoms.
For example, I worked as a health educator at one point, and I was very careful with the wording of information when I wrote health-related handouts to give to patients.
A nurse asked me one day, “Are you anal retentive?”
I simply replied no. I didn’t tell her that in fact I had OCD. I could be wrong, but I didn’t sense that she cared that I might be having a problem, but was judging me.
She knew something was going on.
What experiences have you had with recognizing or being recognized as having OCD or depression? What have you learned from it? If you think an acquaintance or co-worker may be suffering from one or both, how do you respond?

Monday, January 9, 2012

A refuge indeed

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

“There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.”
-Albert Schweitzer
(Note: I have seen this quote worded in these two ways and have been unable to verify which is the correct one. The meaning is the same for me though.)

I love music, but I love cats more.
I was in my mid-30s before I lived with an indoor cat. That first cat was Waddles. I’ve written about her and how she helped with my OCD and led me to live a better and fuller life.
Cats are a refuge indeed from my miseries, small and large.
My husband and I have two cats, Samantha (Sam), a tuxedo cat, and a gray tabby, Chase Bird.
Our cats who have gone over the Rainbow Bridge are Waddles, a black and white half-Persian and Thunder Cat, a fluffy gray boy.
These are just a few ways cats have made me smile, laugh and just feel better:

*One evening several years ago, I returned home from a church meeting to find my husband, Thunder Cat, Waddles and Sam in the den. The four of them were arranged in a semicircle on the sofas and chair. They were all facing the television, staring intently, ignoring me.
And what were they watching? The Westminster dog show.

*Sam doesn’t really meow. She makes a kind of rough chirpy sound, and she lets us have it if she’s hungry and we’re too slow in getting the food into the bowl. Her cry turns into one long sound, until it’s suddenly buried in a pile of Fancy Feast.

*If I’m lucky, when I sit down in a room with Chase, he climbs in my lap, kneads my stomach, then curls up, warm as toast. I scratch his ear and chin and his eyes half-close and (I swear) he seems to smile.

*Sometimes Chase doesn’t like to sit on my lap, but he loves to chew on my sweat pants.

 Chase Bird

*Not all cats are the same—at all. When it comes to toys, none of our cats have liked balls, except for Sam. She will bat a little ball or a piece of ice like a true soccer or hockey player. Sam also likes tissue paper and boxes.


*Cats move with grace and stealth, a beautiful mix. They can walk so quietly if they want to; you almost have to be trained to hear them. On carpet, Waddles’ paws made a “puff-puff” sound. I loved hearing that in the night, knowing she was on her way to the bed.

*Thunder Cat loved my shoes, especially some old Earth Shoes I had. At night, he would usually stay in the den, which is at the opposite end of the house from the bedroom. Sometimes, in there by himself, he cried his lonely cry. I would get up and take him one of my shoes. He would curl around it and bury his nose in it, content.

 Thunder Cat

*Watching cats bathe is relaxing. They totally focus on what they are doing. They move their paws across their faces so efficiently but so gently.


Just writing this made me feel better!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fearing depression

I haven’t written a lot about depression so far except to mention it as an accompaniment to the obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety I have.
Those of you with OCD know the pain and suffering that go along with the disorder. I have had my share of that suffering.
But for all the pain OCD has caused me and still causes me, I am more afraid of depression.
Medication helped me tremendously with the most horrible aspects of my OCD. That, along with the self-help efforts I’ve made through the years, plus the prospect of starting exposure therapy, give me more hope about living with OCD than with depression.
I’ve read and doctors have told me that people who have OCD also usually have depression.
My depression seems separate from my OCD. In other words, if I didn’t have OCD, I think I would still have depression.
I first thought of the word “depressed” to describe myself when I was a freshman in college. But I remember feeling sad and hopeless as a child, and looking back, I realize I was depressed.
When I’m very depressed, I feel despair. I feel like nothing can make me feel better. I am slow, plodding, and I don’t want to make the effort to do anything. I feel detached from others. I feel dead inside.
I have been on numerous medications for depression and OCD. It’s usually the depression that begins to come back, and medications get changed. I have always been more concerned that the medication helps the depression.
I’m having some problems with depression now. Some of it is situational, I think. I am grieving my Waddles. Some of it, I can’t say what is causing it, except my faulty brain chemicals.
And why does depression scare me?
I am afraid that I will have another episode of major depression. I’m afraid that I’ll feel again like I’m in a dark hole and there’s no hope of getting out. I am afraid of feeling like a dead weight. I am afraid of despair. I am afraid of just existing.
I am afraid that I’ll keep having depressive episodes as long as I live. I’m afraid that depression will always hang over me, no matter how in control of OCD I get.
Yes, I am more afraid of depression than I am of OCD.
How do you deal with depression? If you have OCD and depression, which is harder for you to deal with? Are you ever afraid of your illnesses?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Mary Oliver: a gift

One of my favorite writers of any genre, and my favorite poet, is Mary Oliver.
She is an American poet who writes about animals, trees, flowers, ponds, God, death, meaning and so many other things.
I have reread her poems many times—not in the OCD way of rereading, but for new insights and inspirations.
Her poetry—any great poetry—is like that. I can return again and again and find another layer, another meaning.
I don’t remember how I first came to read Oliver’s work. I have degrees in English and taught writing and literature many years ago, but I don’t remember my first exposure to her.
I do remember going to a reading that she gave when she was a writer-in –residence at Sweet Briar College.
It was such a wonderful experience. The room was packed, and she looked so small and frail at the front, but her reading was powerful. That’s where I first heard her poem, “Wild Geese.”
I have memorized the poem over the years, and when I’m anxious and my thoughts are racing and there seems no hope in slowing them down, I recite the poem to myself and it helps to calm me.
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”
-from “Wild Geese,” by Mary Oliver
I’m still trying to figure out the full meaning of that last line, even after all these years.
The words that end that poem are some of the most comforting I know:
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
-from “Wild Geese,” by Mary Oliver
I’ve memorized some of her other poems, too. One of my goals is to memorize more of her work so her inspiration is literally just a thought away.
I think what calms me are her ideas, her questions, her deep connections to nature and her beautiful word choices. And I feel like she speaks to me and for me in so many ways.
I finally came to realize that when I read or recite her poetry from memory, I am really praying.
I have found her poetry to be an integral part of my attempts to pray and to meditate, and I expect it always will be.
I do have to be careful not to recite the lines by rote and forget about the meaning. Memorizing a new poem usually helps me with that.
One of the poems I want to memorize is the first one found in her volume of poetry “Thirst.”
“Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
-from “Messenger,” by Mary Oliver
   I’ll end this post by writing about “When Death Comes,” an Oliver poem I memorized a long time ago and still recite some nights.
   In the poem, she writes about the inevitability of death and how she wants to face it “full of curiosity.”
“And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular. . . ”
-from “When Death Comes,” by Mary Oliver

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Conviction of sin

My spiritual life is very important to me, but I do not consider myself to be very religious. I was raised in a Christian home and am a Christian. I belong to and attend a Methodist church.
I don’t believe being a Christian puts me on a higher plane than those of other religions and beliefs. I believe in a God that lives within all of us.
I am at peace with that understanding. That sense of peace is a far cry from what I felt for many years.
Religion, especially fundamentalist Christianity, mixed with obsessive-compulsive disorder was a quicksand that sucked me in and mired me in guilt and doubt. I was an easy mark for the accompanying obsessions and compulsions.
When I was about eleven years old, I began my compulsive prayers for forgiveness and for the safety and health of my family.
This compulsion was based on my belief that how I prayed, what I prayed, and whether or not I was a good person affected not just my life, but the lives of those I loved. I was obsessed with the belief that I had to be “right” with God or something terrible would happen to my family.
I also prayed for my own salvation, especially after I started attending Christian schools at age 12. The need to be saved was drilled into us at school, and salvation came from following a certain formula of prayer.
My fellow students seemed to be sure of their salvation. But I didn’t have that reassurance.
I wanted to be sure that I was saved. I don’t think I was so much afraid of going to hell when I died, as I was afraid of the depression of knowing I wasn’t saved, and therefore, never having peace of mind about it.
I was also concerned because I was taught that God couldn’t hear our prayers until we were saved. So prayers for protection of my family wouldn’t go through if I wasn’t saved.
When I prayed, whether for forgiveness, for my family or for salvation, I said the same words over and over, out loud or to myself, until the words became meaningless chants, not said to God, but to myself.
These chants, especially the ones in my thoughts, created within me a constant rhythmic beat that I tried to stop but never could. The beat played in the background even as I talked with others and went about my daily activities. It reminded me that I wasn’t saved yet, that I still needed to deal with God, that peace was elusive as long as I failed at my prayers.
I never knew what made a prayer “right” or “not right.” There was a magical way to say the words, silently or out loud, but I found that magical way only by repetition and by accident. At some unpredictable moment, I would have the sense that I had gotten it right, and I could stop for a while. I had protection. My family had protection, at least until I sinned again.
I questioned my prayers and my state of mind during those prayers. Was I concentrating on the right things? Did I have to use certain words? What feeling was I supposed to have in my heart? Was the feeling a physical one? The lifting of that heavy feeling I felt so often? With these questions, the doubt of my state of salvation returned.
Eventually, when I was in college, I think I just became exhausted with it all. My prayers and my attempted beliefs in a fundamentalist system had brought me no peace and no satisfaction, just exhaustion and anxiety and endless prayers.
And I began to question what I had been told by my teachers and fellow students. Who said they were right?
I had also gotten seriously depressed, and for a long time that overshadowed my OCD.
For many years, I stayed away from God and from anything to do with religion.
Today, I pray, but not in the same way. It’s more of a meditation, a sometimes wordless expression of my needs and helplessness. And there’s more gratitude included. I also recite poetry and prayers such as the St. Francis of Assisi prayer.
I still crave peace, and I think what I’m doing now is moving me closer to it than the old prayers.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Does OCD have a purpose?

I remember a time when I didn’t obsess about sin, dirt, and danger, when I didn’t wash my hands until they were raw and pray constantly in attempts to rid myself of that sin, dirt, and danger.
According to current theories of the causes of this anxiety disorder, I was probably born with the tendency towards having it. So I in essence never lived a pre-OCD life. But memories from my early childhood remind me that I did live a short time without obsessions and compulsions.
Have you ever read articles about people who suffer from a particular disease, who seem to think they were meant to have the disease so they could help others with it?
I am fascinated with that idea.
Behind the idea that a person is meant to have a disease is the notion that there is a higher purpose, a higher power and a plan at work.
I’ve been obsessed with finding out my own purpose for years. I’ve written dozens of “mission statements” for myself. None satisfy me for long. None adequately address the part of me that identifies with OCD.
Though I have experienced many good things and many successes, OCD still plays a big role in my life, though sometimes it’s subtle.
I don’t know if I believe God or a higher power created me to have OCD. I believe in God, but I don’t understand Him to be a person-like figure who had me in mind when He gave out the OCD.
I’m comfortable with the mystery of not knowing for sure who God is, because I know I’ll never know for sure during my time on earth. It’s one of the few mysteries I’m comfortable with.
That comfort did not come easily, but that’s for another post.
Even if a higher power did not “give” me OCD, I have it and it has affected my life to the point I cannot easily imagine life without it.
So what am I supposed to do with it, and the depression and general anxiety that have been along for the ride for most of my life?
One of the quotes I included in my last post, the passage from the Gospel of Matthew, speaks to my belief about what I’m supposed to do with my life: serve others.
How I’m supposed to serve and help others is not always clear to me. And I definitely need to improve in how much and how I serve others.
But the meaning of my life will be in how I use what I have—OCD and all the rest—to help others and realize who I truly am, a creation of the Divine.
I treasure the memories of my pre-OCD life. For much of my life, I have washed and counted and checked and sought reassurance. I have wasted time and water and soap and talents. I have forgotten who I am and have identified with OCD strongly enough to push me to the brink of suicide.
But as a friend recently posted about herself, I am what I am.
Do you ever wonder about your purpose in life, and how your OCD, anxiety, depression or whatever your challenges may be fit in?