Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Worry and tension: Generalized anxiety disorder

I feel the effects of the adrenaline, a hyper feeling. My heart beats faster. Sometimes my arms feel numb. I can’t settle down to do anything. I walk around the house a lot, watch TV for a couple of minutes, go into the kitchen and eat something, fast, then open up a book and try to read, then walk around some more.
If I’m at work, I get up and walk around, too. When at my desk, I swing around in my chair. I write in spurts before I have to stop again.
My jaw stays tight. Every now and then, I realize I have my lips pursed, held firmly, tightly.
I may have nausea. I may have diarrhea. I may get a headache. My hands may shake.
I feel exhausted much of the time. But my sleep is interrupted—I wake up numerous times during the night and sometimes have trouble going back to sleep.
I feel like something bad is going to happen. I don’t know what, but it will be bad, if I go by how I feel.
Sometimes I lie in bed at night and say over and over to myself, I’m afraid. Sometimes I whisper it aloud if Larry hasn’t come to bed yet.
I’m afraid and I don’t know why.
That is my generalized anxiety disorder. Most of the time, I don’t have all of these symptoms, but I’m a worrier and I’m tense most of the time, finding it hard to relax.

According to “Generalized Anxiety Disorder: When Worry Gets Out of Control,” a publication on the website of the National Institute of Mental Health, generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is an anxiety disorder that causes sufferers to worry about things without a clear reason to:

“All of us worry about things like health, money, or family problems. But people with GAD are extremely worried about these and many other things, even when there is little or no reason to worry about them. They are very anxious about just getting through the day. They think things will always go badly. At times, worrying keeps people with GAD from doing everyday tasks.”

The publication goes on to list the symptoms of GAD:
*Worrying very much about everyday things
*Trouble controlling constant worries
*Knowing they worry much more than they should
*Not being able to relax
*Hard time concentrating
*Easily startled
*Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
*Feeling tired all the time
*Headaches, muscle aches, stomachaches, unexplained pains
*Difficulty swallowing
*Trembling or twitching
*Irritability, sweating a lot, feeling light-headed or out of breath
*Having to go to the bathroom a lot

The booklet goes on to say that treatment for GAD is usually psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavior therapy, medication or both.

I take medication and I’m in therapy, both of which help my GAD. I’m finding that meditation, being mindful as often as possible and deep breathing also help. So does reading or doing some other enjoyable activity.
And I’m working on changing the way I think about things. For example, I try to catch myself when I’m in catastrophe mode and remind myself that I’m making the situation bigger than it is.
Still, I have those times of anxiety. Sometimes I don’t know what causes them. I go through all the things that could be worrying me—personal, work—but sometimes I can’t figure it out.

Do you ever have episodes of generalized anxiety? What are they like? How do you cope?

Monday, July 30, 2012

OCD and the “what ifs”

Last week I was driving from work to meet my husband for lunch in a restaurant in town. I drove down a street parallel to Main Street, the street the restaurant is on.
As I drove, I considered the different intersections I could turn at to get to Main Street.
One has rough patches in the right turning lane. When I make that turn and feel the car go over the rough road, I always have a moment of worry that I’ve hit someone. I drive for a moment afterwards with my eyes in the rearview mirror looking for bodies.
Another way to get to Main Street involves driving in a crowded area beside a convenience store, with people pulling in and out in cars and walking on foot. I worry about running into another car or person.
I thought, What if I take the first way and something happens? I’ll wish I had waited and taken the second way.
Then I thought, What if I take the second way, and something happens. I’ll wish I had taken the first way.
The “what ifs” were valid in that I didn’t know what would happen when I pulled up to either intersection. There was always the chance of an accident. How did I know which way to take to avoid one?
I didn’t. Whichever route I chose, I would have to live with that decision. And wonder if I had made the right one.
Making choices pulls out the old uncertainty quandary. We make choices all the time, some without thinking. With other choices, we ponder which is the best one.
We can’t ever really know which is the best choice. Everything might turn out just fine and safe with one choice. But who’s to say that the other choice wouldn’t have been even better?
So we have to live with our choices. We can do our best in the moment to make the right choices, but we’ll never really know if it was the right one or the best one. Not really.
By the way, I did arrive safely at the restaurant without hurting anyone. As far as I know.
For as Dr. Jonathan Grayson says in his book Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty, “while all of us feel certain about many things, the truth is that the absolute certainty we feel is an illusion. An event may be probable or improbable, but neither is an absolute. The inability to feel or be certain is reasonable” (p. 9).

How do we live with that?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Random facts and interesting questions

I want to thank Sanny at the blog “Unraveling the Mysteries of Life” for nominating me for the Liebster Blog award.

Sanny is a student of Media Management who is very creative in her writing and life. She always makes me think beyond the surface with her blog posts. I hope that if you haven’t already, you will check out her blog.
For this award, I need to post 11 things about me, answer the questions that Sanny gave me and nominate up to 11 people with blogs with less than 200 followers.
So here are 11 random things about me:
1. I play the piano and the organ. I haven’t played the organ in years, but I occasionally sit down at my keyboard and play.
2. My mother had nine siblings and my father had eight, plus my grandparents had large families, so I have a lot of relatives.
3. I used to write poetry a lot.
4. My first pet was a dog named Sissy.
5. I love to read mysteries and thrillers.
6. I am really funny about the kind of pens I write with.
7. I carry big purses because I carry with me everything I might need. My right shoulder has a dip it in from carrying heavy bags for most of my life.
8. I have multiple journals that I’ve written in and never finished. Lots of pretty books with lots of blank pages!
9. I’m allergic to tree nuts but not to peanuts. Good thing, because I love peanut butter.
10. My favorite colors are purple and blue. A purplish blue is the loveliest.
11. I have a lot of animal-themed jewelry, especially cat jewelry and paw-print jewelry.

These are the questions that Sanny gave:
1.  Do you believe in miracles? Yes, I believe there are many things that happen that cannot be explained by the usual means.
2.  What is the reason you started your blog? I started my blog to make connections with others suffering from or wanting to learn more about OCD and depression.
3.  What is your favorite animal and why? Cats! I love their grace, their attitude, their beauty. I love their affection, their intelligence, their loyalty.
4.  What do you appreciate the most about your life? My husband and his love and support.
5.  What’s the last book you read and what’s it about? The last book I read is I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD, by J.J. Keeler. I just wrote a review about it here. It’s about a woman’s struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
6.  If you would go to a lonely island, what three things would you take with you? If I couldn’t take my husband or cats, I would take books, paper and pens, and peanut butter (technically more than three things, but I’ll lump them into three categories).
7.  Do you thing that failure is always a bad thing or can it also encourage you to retry or try it differently? Failure is not always a bad thing. I have learned from failure until I’ve improved at something. And I think it makes us stronger and reminds us that life will not always go our way and isn’t supposed to.
8.  Have you ever had a life changing moment? And if so, what was it about? I’ve had many of these moments. One is when my father died. I realized that my life as I knew it was over forever. Life changes when someone who has been a part of it is gone.
9. What is your favorite TV show? “A Person of Interest.”
10. Besides writing, what do you mostly do on your computer? I read others’ blogs and news articles. I also download and process photos.
11. If you could change something in your life, what would you change? I would work for myself.

Now I’d like to nominate Krystal Lynn, of the blog “Sprinkle Some Sugar on Me: I am More than OCD” for this blog award. She writes down-to-earth, intelligent and heartfelt posts about her own journey with OCD.

What random fact about yourself are you willing to share?

Friday, July 27, 2012

A snippet of memoir: Making butter

Me at age one.
The path that took me from the first signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder and the accompanying depression when I was a child to the official diagnosis sitting in a psychiatrist’s office when I was 26 is not a straight one.
Though the OCD and depression have affected me most of my life, I remember times when I didn’t obsess about sin, dirt and danger, when I didn’t wash my hands and pray constantly to try to rid myself of that sin, dirt and danger.
I was born in 1963 and grew up in South Central Virginia, in the Piedmont area of the state about an hour from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west.
My father was a full time farmer when I was born, and my mother was a homemaker. They brought me home from the hospital to two older brothers, one 11 years older and one two years older.
My mother has told stories about how much I slept as a baby and how the doctor told her to wake me up to feed me because I wasn’t gaining weight as I should have.
I don’t believe my mother was deliberately not feeding me enough or was neglecting me. But I do think it was probably a relief to her that I slept a lot and was a low-maintenance baby. She had a lot of other responsibilities to tend to.
Our farm was a full working farm. We had milk cows, beef cows, pigs and chickens, plus my father raised tobacco. There were animals to care for and crops to tend and things like butter to make and eggs to gather to sell.
One of my earliest memories is watching my mother make butter.
For some reason, I don’t remember her churning the milk from our milk cows, though of course she did. What I remember is what she did with the result of the churning.
I remember her at the kitchen table, holding a golden yellow ball above a glass bowl of water, splashing it and washing it off.
At the same time, she moved her hands quickly, turning the ball and smoothing it.

Butter press.

Then she pushed the ball of butter into the wooden press her father had made. She pushed the butter in tight with a small wooden paddle.
Inside the butter press.
The butter pressed up against a flower design inside, and when she pushed the butter out on wax paper, it was round with petals imprinted on top.
I have that butter press now, and it brings back good memories.

Have you ever lived on a farm? Would you like to? What about living on a farm appeals to you? What old way of doing something, like making butter, would you like to try?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Book review: I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD

I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD. By J.J. Keeler. Paragon House. 2012. 173 pages.

I was asked to read and review I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD, by J.J. Keeler, as part of a TLC Book Tour for the book.
This is a memoir that details Keeler’s experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The title comes from the fact that Keeler’s OCD doesn’t manifest itself in what some may consider stereotypical ways, such as contamination obsessions and compulsive hand washing.
Rather, Keeler suffers from harm obsessions and compulsions.
In the first-person narrative, Keeler writes about the different obsessions that started when she was a child and the checking she does to try to resolve the anxiety.
In a chapter called “The Bomb in My Teddy Bear,” she writes about her obsession that a teddy bear she received as a gift had a bomb inside it. She doesn’t know what to do with the bear because she fears it blowing up and hurting others. And she can’t diffuse the bomb because she doesn’t know how: “I was eight years old and I knew nothing about diffusing bombs. My school system had failed me” (p. 29).
Keeler uses humor to discuss a subject that is obviously very serious to her. Throughout the book, she offers “Random OCD Facts” such as “OCD can interfere with the ability to sleep” (p. 59).
In “A Bump in the Road,” Keeler writes about her hit and run OCD, which leads her to drive miles and hours out of her way to make sure she hasn’t hit someone or to make sure there’s no baby in the abandoned grocery store cart she sees by the roadside.
In “The Belly of a Babe,” she writes about her efforts to keep the world safe for children, removing things from the environment that she thinks might be harmful and keeping a watchful eye even on children she doesn’t know.
Keeler knows that her fears are not rational: “But I couldn’t stop myself from wondering, What if? If we OCDers were all related, that saying would be on our family crest” (p. 143).
Statements like that ring true and had me nodding my head and feeling a kinship with Keeler as I read.
Keeler provides vivid details about what it was like to check for fire, for bombs, and for other harm that might come to not only her family and people she knew, but strangers. She mixes the description with anecdotes about her experiences.
The last chapter of her book suggests that she has gotten professional help for her OCD. Called “Dear Friend,” it offers very helpful advice.
In a section called “Ignore what you need to ignore,” she tells her readers to “listen to science, to doctors, to people who have dedicated their lives to studying mental illness, who have passed tests and received degrees in this field, and to those who have experienced it first hand” (p. 161).
In the section “Find therapy that works for you,” Keeler names cognitive behavior therapy as “one of the most widely used” (p. 163). She urges readers to look for a therapy that works for them if the therapy they’re doing isn’t helping: “It’s your brain and you’re free to fix it any way you want” (p. 163).
This book resonated with me, and I think it would with other sufferers of OCD. It would also be helpful for family members and friends of those with OCD because of the clear picture of obsessions and compulsions it gives.
I enjoyed the humor and the readability of this book. I felt like Keeler was talking to me as I read it.
She did an excellent job in describing what it was like to have the fears of OCD and the increasing anxiety brought on by giving in to compulsions.
I wish she had written more about how her OCD symptoms impacted her relationships, especially with her family as she grew up and her college roommates, friends and husband. I would also like to know when she sought treatment for OCD and what worked for her because I think that information would be helpful to the reader on his or her own journey.
That said, this is still definitely a book I highly recommend.

Note: I received a free copy of this book for this review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Read, reread, again and again: Reading OCD

  Imagine opening up a book to begin reading it. Chapter one. You read a paragraph. Then you reread it. Then you move to the second paragraph, but you realize that you may not have read the first paragraph well enough. So you go back and read paragraph one again. Then you read and reread paragraph two several times. You finally make it to the end of the page, and in turning the page, you think, “I’ve read page one adequately.”
  But you can’t be sure. Did you understand everything you read? Will you remember it?
  So you reread page one, reading and rereading the paragraphs again. After an hour of being on page one, you get tired and decide to put down the book. You’ll get through the book someday. It’s only the third time you’ve tried to read chapter one.

That’s reading OCD. That’s how difficult it is to read when you doubt that you have “really” read the paragraph or page and feel compelled to go back and reread again and again.
When OCD first affected my reading, I was about 12 years old, in seventh grade. At first it affected mostly reading that I had to do for school. But as I got older, the OCD invaded my pleasure reading. And I felt betrayed.
The obsessions and compulsions were affecting the heart of me, what I loved the best: reading a good book.
What was I obsessing about? Why was it so important to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had read every word? Because I believed if I missed a word, or a paragraph, or a page, I would be dishonest if I said I read the book. This was especially true if the book was a classroom assignment.
I also wanted to make sure I understood what I read and would remember it once I got further into the book.
This symptom of OCD has followed me throughout my life. Sometimes, I don’t want to pick up a book because I know what a struggle it will be to read it. Other times, I can fly through books and enjoy the experience with no OCD problem.
Not too long ago, I went through an OCD reading problem time, and it wasn’t fun. I have books lined up in my Nook and on my bookshelves, waiting for me to read them. But I avoided it because of the pain of trying to get through a page.
Very recently, though, the OCD has lifted enough to enjoy reading again, and I’ve been playing catch-up.
My method of getting beyond the reading OCD is to force myself not to go back and reread. This takes a lot of discipline, and I’m not always successful at it.

Jonathan Grayson Ph.D. discusses reading OCD in his book Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Program for Living with Uncertainty. He calls it a reading and understanding problem and refers to it as “one of the most insidious OCD problems you can have” (p. 168). He further explains it:

“The core of the problem is having the feeling that you don’t understand what you read. As a result, you reread a sentence or a word over and over before going on to the next sentence. Unfortunately, this contributes to destroying the flow of what you are reading, so the feeling of understanding becomes even more unattainable. Generally, the more important the material, the greater the anxiety. Schoolwork becomes torture.” (p. 169)

However, sufferers understand more than they think they do, said Grayson. When he has patients read something in his office, they usually understand the main points. “However, when this obsession is left untreated, perception is everything. If you have this reading problem, it feels as if the feared consequence has taken place: Your ability to understand what you read has been compromised” (p. 169).
Some people with reading OCD also have obsessions about good and bad numbers and words, which just complicates the whole process of reading, Grayson said.
In order to move forward from the reading rituals, sufferers “have to be willing not to understand portions of what was read or perhaps miss material that might be important” (p. 169).
Grayson listed some reading exposure aids: read aloud, cover the lines already read with an index card, use a marker to cross out random words so you will miss some material, and tear out pages once they have been read.
If the material to be read is school or work related and is very important to understand, then rereading is allowed, but not until you reach the end of the chapter or the work itself, Grayson said.
I can’t see myself tearing out pages of books as I read them, but I can appreciate that an index card covering up the words I’ve already read may be helpful. And I like the “permission” to reread under certain circumstances.
I suspect I will be dealing with reading OCD off and on for the rest of my life. What I can do is apply what I’ve learned and do the best I can until the full joy of reading returns. And it always does.

  Have you ever experienced reading OCD? How did you deal with it? How important are books to you?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Prayer for those involved in the Colorado tragedy

For those involved in the tragic shooting in Colorado, St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where is there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is dying that we are born to eternal life.
St. Francis of Assisi

Friday, July 20, 2012

Changes and questions

I’m making a change in my blogging schedule, at least for a little while.
Instead of five times a week, beginning next week, I’m going to be blogging three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for a few weeks at least.
I need to read more and write more and think more and bring that back to the blog.
I need rejuvenation.
As I wrote yesterday, I’ve been feeling the push of responsibilities and obligations, and I need some time to get my creative juices flowing again.
I love blogging, and that brings me to my next point.
I would love, dear readers, to hear from you about some things you would like me to write about. Are there any subjects that you’d like me to explore further? Anything I haven’t been clear about? Anything that you think would help you?
Because that’s why I blog—to reach out to you and connect and, hopefully, help you know that you are not alone in your trials with OCD, depression and anxiety.
If you don’t feel comfortable giving me your ideas in the comments, feel free to email me at tbarbour36(at)gmail(dot com). You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.
I hope to hear from you!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A hard week and a harder weekend to come

This has been a hard week, and I don’t have a lot to write about today.
There’s nothing terrible going on. Just too many demands, too many obligations, enough things gone wrong to make me feel like I cannot cope.
I’ve been here before, and I’ll be here again. What is interesting about this time is that I’m actually stopping to think every now and then: how am I handling this time of stress?
I handling it so far by trying to do a little at a time, trying not to worry about things I can’t control, and trying to make the best of what I am going to be doing this weekend even when I don’t want to do it.
I’m not always successful at doing those things.
There’s one bright light at the end of the weekend that I’m looking forward to, a dinner with a friend that I haven’t seen since she moved away over a year ago.
Other than that, it’s put one foot in front of the other and get through it.
I wish I could sail through with no worries and no depression and no anxiety. I wish I was at the place where I could just focus on the now for longer than a few minutes at a time.

How do handle times like this?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How do you define a balanced life?

“Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work some everyday some.” Robert Fulghum

“Life is like riding a bicycle—in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Albert Einstein

How do you define a balanced life? How do you live it?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wash, wash, rinse, rinse: OCD and the dishes

I hate washing dishes.
I can’t believe that when I was a small girl, I actually liked it. That was before obsessive-compulsive symptoms caught on to what I was doing, and I could just enjoy swishing around the water and soap.
As I got older, washing dishes became a painful chore.

Push the plate down in the water. Submerge it completely. Lift one edge up. Use the dishcloth to wipe the eating side. Turn the plate over. Wipe the bottom. Turn the plate over. Wipe the eating side. Turn the plate over. Wipe the bottom. Turn on the water. Rinse the eating side. Rinse the bottom. Turn the plate in circles. Rinse the eating side. Rinse the bottom. Rinse the eating side. Rinse the bottom. Rinse the eating side. Rinse the bottom. Turn the plate in circles. Rinse the eating side. Rinse the bottom.

I was obsessed with not cleaning the dishes enough. So I compulsively washed and rewashed them. I was also obsessed with rinsing all the soap off, because if others ate soap, it would make them sick. And it would be my fault.
So I washed and I rinsed. And I took a lot of time doing it.
My mother criticized me for the time I took and the water I used. It was a waste, she said.
When I was about 12, I was trying frightfully hard to be good, though I came up with plenty of sins to confess in my compulsive prayers and chants.
I decided that I needed to help my mother around the house more. So I offered to wash the dishes for one meal a day without being asked.
What a torture I was putting myself through!
Around the same time, I stayed with one of my aunts while my father was in the hospital and my mother was with him.
I felt like I was in the way, so I offered to help by washing the dishes.
And I set about it in my usual way.
While I was washing, my aunt received a phone call. I heard her say, “She’s washing the dishes.” Pause. “Well, she’s a little slow.”
I remember that I felt like I was being unhelpful after all.
Today, I have a dishwasher that takes care of most of the dishes. But we still wash some by hand, including the cats’ bowls.
Even today, though I don’t have the same problem with the washing, I still rinse the dishes longer than my husband does. I have a holdover fear that I’ll leave soap residue on the dishes and someone will get sick. And it would be my fault.

Have you ever had obsessions and compulsions about washing dishes? What household chores did you have to do as a child?

Monday, July 16, 2012

The things we do because of OCD: Lying

My apartment building in Bowling Green.
Have you ever lied because of your obsessive-compulsive disorder?
Jean at her Writer, Heal Thyself blog recently wrote a post about lying in response to her compulsive overeating disorder.
And I started thinking about the effects mental illnesses can have, especially relating to the fear of others finding out about our problems and judging us harshly because of them.
I have lied out of fear stemming from my OCD, but there’s one particular incident I remember well. It happened in 1989 or around that time, when I was a graduate student living in Bowling Green, Ohio.

I lived in a small one-bedroom apartment and kept it sparklingly clean, especially the bathroom.
I cleaned the bathroom every Friday. I would start at about 7 a.m. and finish about four hours later. What took me so long?
I wiped down all the surfaces—the floor, the sink, the toilet and the tub—with a water and disinfectant solution. And I didn’t wipe once. I wiped over and over, making sure I covered every inch with the solution.
After I finished that, I doused the whole room with disinfectant spray in order to ensure every bit of the surfaces were reached and cleaned.
The bathroom ended up being quite wet, and I wouldn’t use the toilet until it had completely dried.
But the day I lied to one of my best friends was not a Friday, and I had not just finished cleaning the bathroom.

B came over so we could go do some shopping together.
I had known B since I moved to Bowling Green in 1985, but we became really good friends during my last two years in town.
I was at her house almost every day, and she fed me and listened to me and studied with me. B offered her hospitality to anyone who needed it.
On this day that we were to go shopping, B arrived and asked if she could use my bathroom before we left.
Now I was very obsessive about protecting the cleanliness of my bathroom. I put a lot of time and effort into getting it clean to my OCD specifications. When I used the bathroom, I was careful to now mess anything. When I was finished, I would clean the toilet seat with disinfectant spray and toilet paper, to make sure any germs were killed.
I didn’t like other people using my bathroom, and if they did, I cleaned the toilet after they left.
I was inwardly panicking in response to B’s request. I wouldn’t be able to clean the toilet until I got back from shopping. I knew that I would think about it the entire time we were out.
“Oh, B, I just cleaned the bathroom, so it’s too wet to use,” I said.
“Couldn’t I take a piece of toilet paper and wipe it dry and use it?” she asked.
I panicked some more. I didn’t want her to go into my bathroom to use it. I also didn’t want her to go into the bathroom and see that it wasn’t wet, that I had lied.
So I told her no again. She looked hurt and confused.
Then we left my apartment and went to a big box store, where she used the bathroom. I was sorry she had to use a public bathroom, but at the time, I wasn’t sorry that she hadn’t used mine.

I refused to let a friend use my bathroom. I lied to her about it.
B would never have told people they couldn’t use her bathroom unless it was broken. I had been inhospitable to B, and that’s the last thing she would have been.

What about you? Have you ever lied because you were afraid?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Making art to ease the anxiety and depression

Mandala #1
I am not an artist.
I have never been able to draw.
   I have taken one art class in my lifetime, one called “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” which helped me understand that, unlike an artist who draws what he or she sees, I tend to draw what I know.
For example, I know that a dining chair has four legs of equal length, so that’s what I draw—and it doesn’t look like a chair. One who sees like an artist, though, automatically draws the chair with perspective, drawing how the chair appears.
Other than my work with that one class, I have allowed my lack of basic talent keep me from my love of creating, of color and of design.
Then, as I wrote about in a past post, last fall I pulled out my art supplies and started coloring and drawing mandalas. I consider making them part of my therapy.
That making art, being creative, can be therapeutic is not a new idea. According to the International Art Therapy Organization website, art therapy is considered a mental health profession, though it is also used in non-clinical settings.
I have not participated in art therapy with an art therapist. I have simply found that making art, specifically mandalas, helps to calm my anxiety and feel the satisfaction of completing something.
In her blog “The Healing Arts,” Cathy Malchiodi wrote about art therapy using mandalas.

“According to [Carl Gustav] Jung, mandalas symbolize ‘a safe refuge of inner reconciliation and wholeness.’ They have the potential to call forth something universal within, perhaps even the proverbial archetypal Self. And at the same time, they give us an experience of wholeness amid the chaos of every day life, making the ‘sacred circle’ one of the very coolest art therapy interventions for both soothing the soul and meeting oneself.”

An idea for a mandala usually starts with an idea or experience that I want to express. I may not put pencil to paper for days, but I mull over how I want the design to look and what I want to include.

Mandala #2

Sometimes a picture of a mandala is complete in my imagination before I draw it. Other times, I create as I draw.
In mandala #1 pictured with this post, I chose to express my priorities. At the center of the circle, the blue, smaller circle represents for me the center of all life. Around that I have the bond of the wedding rings to represent my marriage, and other symbols to denote my spiritual life, my cats and my writing and reading.
Around that are other symbols representing my love of animals, nature and music and my search for peace.
In mandala #2, I created a picture of chronic depression: the dips into the darkness of depression, the gray of the chronic disorder and the blues and greens of whole life available.
I enjoy creating such pictures to look at later and even meditate on.
The process of sitting and drawing and coloring is relaxing. I focus on the task at hand and practice mindfulness. And creating a mandala teaches me about myself.
I want to venture into other art forms and types. I just need to get over my fear of not being good enough and my notion that if I’m not good at something, I shouldn’t try.

What activities do you engage in to feel soothed, to feel like you’re getting in touch with your real self? Do you make art? If so, what kind? How does it make you feel?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A mission and a vision: Writing out the meaning of life

Do you believe that you have a purpose in life? Do you have a mission?
Have you put that mission into a written statement?

I’ve been searching for my purpose, for my mission in life, for years. It even became an OCD issue for me.
I wrote countless “mission statements,” then decided that they were wrong. Then I wrote some more. And my OCD drove me to doubt them.
I prayed about it, talked with others about it, read books about it.

Why was this so important to me?
I know that you don’t have to identify your mission to live a good, meaningful, giving life. I know you don’t have to have a mission statement to find your place in the world.
But being who I am, I wanted to articulate the ways that I could make a positive difference. I needed a guide. I needed to be able to state, if only to myself, how I would find meaning in my experiences.

Recently, I sat down and asked myself the very basic questions: What is it that I really want to do in life? What is it that I’ve always wanted to do?
And the mission and vision below came out of that.

My mission is to live a life of connection.
My vision—what I want my life to be about—is to communicate our interconnectedness and help others feel less alone through encouragement, education and storytelling.

Those statements reflect the kind of person I want to be, the way I want to treat people and all creatures, what I want my writing to do, how I want to act day to day. When I die, I want to be able to say, That is what I did.

What is your mission?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Words of Thomas Merton

“Only the man who has had to face despair is really convinced that he needs mercy. Those who do not want mercy never seek it. It is better to find God on the threshold of despair than to risk our lives in a complacency that has never felt the need of forgiveness. A life that is without problems may literally be more hopeless than one that always verges on despair.” Thomas Merton

Your thoughts on this?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sick and down: How physical illness can affect mental health

I’ve been sick since last week. Not seriously ill, just a cold with a bad cough, but it makes me feel miserable.
What made it worse was that I took a couple of days of vacation to go along with the 4th of July holiday, so I was off work last Wednesday through Sunday, and felt bad for most of that time.
I woke up Thursday morning with a sore throat and it was down hill from there.
My sinuses were stopped up, then runny, then stopped up, then half and half. I sneezed. I coughed. My throat continued to hurt.
I self-treated the best I could with Tylenol, antihistamines, hot tea, lots of other fluids and as much rest as I could get.
I’m telling you this to illustrate my next point: I also felt down.
Being physically sick usually means my mood goes down.
At least part of the reason lies in what I feel like doing when I’m sick: nothing.
I have been so miserable that I haven’t felt like doing much reading, writing, drawing, exercising, cross-stitch, crocheting—many of the things I depend on to make me feel better.
I don’t feel like doing any of the things I listed as self-care measures in a post last week.
I don’t even feel like watching TV or playing games on my phone.
I did exercise last Thursday, but I haven’t since.
My sleep patterns have been messed up. Friday morning at 4 a.m., I was wide-awake. Saturday afternoon, I was dead to the world. The rest of the nights have been spent battling a cough.
I’ve learned two things. One is that my physical health has a direct impact on my mental health. The better I feel physically, the better able I am to help myself with my mental health.
And how I spend my time and my activity level are very important to my mental health. It’s important for me to read, to write, to think, to write some more. It’s important for me to move around, to use my body as well as my brain.
In his book Depression: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed (which I reviewed here), Lee H. Coleman Ph.D., ABPP writes about the importance of daily self-care in depression recovery: “When you’re recovering from depression, it’s especially important for you to have some routine in you life. This doesn’t mean having a boring, predictable lifestyle, but it does mean taking care of yourself by having a regular bedtime; consistent, healthy meals; and, ideally, a program of exercise” (p. 135).
I would agree.

How about you? When you are physically ill, does it adversely affect how you feel mentally?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Movement rituals: OCD embedded in the normal

I turn on the shower but don’t get in yet. While the water is getting warm, I squeeze face soap on my hand. I get in the shower.
I wet my face with my right hand. I scrub my face with the soap. Round and round on my cheeks. Over and around my nose. Skim the forehead.
I splash water on my face and start rubbing my eyes. With the tip of my fingers of both hands, I rub each eye inward. I don’t count the number of times I rub them, but I know when it feels right.
I pick up the bottle of liquid bath soap. I squeeze soap into my left hand. With my right arm, I hold the bottle against me and wipe the opening with my right hand. Then I hold my right hand under the water to wash off any soap residue.
I close the bottle top with my right hand, making sure I hear the click of it closing. If the click is too soft, I open the top again, wipe the top, rinse my hand and close the top.
Then I hold the bottle under the water and rinse the whole thing before setting it down.
I wash in the same order using the same motions as always.
After rinsing, I wet my hair. Then I rub my eyes again until it feels right.
I pick up the shampoo bottle, squeeze a dollop into my left hand, hold the bottle against me, wipe the opening with my right hand, close the top and listen for the click, then rinse the whole bottle under the water.
I scrub my hair and then rinse it. Then I rub my eyes until it feels right.
When I’m done, I gather water into my hands from the spray and splash it on the shower floor, trying to get rid of any leftover soap.
I squeeze the excess water out of my hair and splash the floor some more.
I turn off the shower. I push the off lever at least once more to make sure it’s off.
I get out of the shower.

  That’s my shower routine. It’s probably apparent why I don’t take quick showers, why my husband sometimes asks me after I get out of the shower, “Did you fall asleep in there?”
It’s only fairly recently that I realized all my little movements and rituals I do when taking a shower were symptoms of my obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about some of my touching compulsions. Apparently, touching and movement compulsions are similar.
In “A Touching Story,” an article on the Beyond OCD website, Fred Penzel Ph.D. writes that touching and movement compulsions can include a variety of behaviors, including two ways that affect me: moving in symmetrical or special ways and moving in special ways while carrying out certain activities.
Penzel writes that there are subgroups of this type of compulsion, including performing the compulsion as a magical or superstitious ritual to keep something bad from happening; performing them to have a sense of completion; and performing them to satisfy an urge.
I fall within the first subgroup. I perform the rituals because not doing so would make me feel like something bad was going to happen.
  I want to take quicker showers, and I don’t want to be driven by OCD, so I’ve been tackling the problem.
Opportunities for exposure come often because I shower every day.
I’ve been trying to stop the movement rituals as soon as I realize I’m doing them. I am refusing to reopen and then re-close bottles of soap and shampoo. I am trying to stop rubbing my eyes beyond getting any water out of them. I am trying to push the off lever of the shower just once. I am trying to refocus my attention and move on.
Some showers are easier than others. I can feel the anxiety when I am not sure if I washed off the shampoo bottle or closed it properly, even though part of me knows I did.
My goal is to not do any of the rituals because I know doing rituals encourages me to do rituals.
I just have to keep working at it.

Do you have movement rituals? If so, how do you manage them?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The occasional Saturday photo: Kitty finds a place to nap

Chase Bird curls up inside his stool for a Saturday afternoon kitty nap.

Where do you like to take naps?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Books, nature, music and meditation: Self-care for anxiety and depression


I’ve learned that though medication and therapy can be cornerstones for treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, other anxiety disorders and depression, what we do to take care of ourselves can make a difference, too.
When we’re feeling anxious or depressed, it can be difficult to take good care of ourselves. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the obsessive thoughts, racing heart, sweating palms or down feelings.
But just as we do things to feel better when we’ve got a cold—drink hot liquids, suck on cough drops, have a box of tissues handy, take a nap—we can apply the same principle to our mental illnesses.
I do have to make a concerted effort to remember to take good care of myself when I’m when I’m not feeling so good.
Here are some of my self-care techniques.

Meditation: You may be tired of reading my exultations about meditation, but it’s hard not to write about how much it has helped me. I don’t know if my body literally slows down inside, but I feel quieter and calmer after just a 10-minute session.
I am by no means an expert at meditation. I approach it without trying to be perfect at it—unusual for me.
Sitting in silence for a specified period of time, focusing on the current moment, also makes me feel like any decisions I make afterwards are made with a clearer mind.

Music: Music affects my mood, as it does most people. I have music that quiets me enough to put me to sleep.
Lately, I’ve been listening to Adele to pick me up, and Van Morrison to make me feel more mellow but not sleepy.
Note: After reading Oxford Messed Up, by Andrea Kayne Kaufman, a book I reviewed on this blog, I was inspired to listen to Morrison again after many years. I’m glad I did.

Reading: Reading a good book or article can make me feel like I’m in a different world. It takes my mind off my problems and worries.
Reading is also a great way for me to learn more ways to deal with my OCD and depression.
Poetry is one of my favorite ways to find inspiration.

Exercise: I went on a walk/jog with my husband today, and I felt great afterwards, even though I’m battling a cold. I felt more energetic, yet calmer, and my mood was lifted.
I find that the hardest thing about exercise for me is to be consistent, but consistency helps. The more I exercise, the more I reap the benefits.

Nutrition: My husband and I ate out tonight at our favorite Mexican restaurant. I had the black bean soup, which not only soothed my sore throat, but also fed my body protein.
I followed that up with a flan, a custard dessert. It was smooth and cool and felt good on my throat, too, but it also had sugar in it, which I didn’t really need.
Too many simple carbohydrates give me a short-term lift, and then I feel tired. That’s not good for my anxiety or depression.
Eating whole grain products and plenty of vegetables always makes me feel better.

Writing: Whether I’m writing for public consumption or in a journal meant for my eyes only, I learn about myself when I write. I can vent, especially in my journal, and make better sense of what’s happening or has happened in my life.
I’m also working on a memoir, and the act of writing down memories is helping me find meaning in a seemingly unconnected array of events.

Other creative activities: Drawing, coloring, doing cross-stitch and crocheting are some of my other creative outlets. All of them calm me. All of them give me a sense of accomplishment.

Talking: I don’t have a lot of people I feel comfortable talking to about my worries. My husband is my number one sounding board. He’s quiet and wise and doesn’t jump to conclusions. He listens to what I have to say and tends to cut right to the heart of the matter. That helps me a lot.

Rest: I don’t always sleep well during the night. If I have the chance to take a nap during the day, I take it.
The biggest thing I need to work on with my rest is to be consistent: go to bed and get up at about the same time every day. That’s a tough one for me, but I feel better when I do it.

Spending time with my loved ones: Being with my husband and cats restores me. I feel more relaxed and more hopeful when I’m with them. I’ve taken a few days off from work this week, and it has been heaven being home with them.

Spending time in nature: Walking and sometimes taking photographs or simply bearing witness to what’s going on in my yard are soothing activities, and they remind me of the interconnectedness of all life.

What are some of your self-care tools?