Sunday, April 29, 2012

OCD: Struggling to live with uncertainty

A few weeks ago, during a cognitive behavior therapy session, my therapist and I talked about the consequences of following through with an exposure, the one where I would get rid of my pile of unopened mail and other papers.
I could see only a positive outcome from making the paper pile disappear into files and trash bags: I wouldn’t have that task hanging over my head, causing me to feel anxious.
So when my therapist asked me what the consequences would be, I replied, “The anxiety about it will be gone.”
He then brought up a point that I had failed to fully consider: “But won’t you keep on getting mail?”
His point was that as long as I received mail, I would face potential anxiety. I would continue to worry that I had somehow missed something, an unpaid bill, the discovery of something legally important that I had failed to do, etc.
“You’ll never be able to be certain that everything is taken care of,” he said.
He was right. Getting rid of one pile of paper would not take care of any uncertainty I would ever have in my lifetime about my efforts to take care of all my business.
What I had to do, he said, was to learn to live with the anxiety, to feel the anxiety but then refocus my attention and actions and move on.
* * *
This week, a couple of my fellow bloggers wrote about uncertainty and living in the “gray” area. Sunny, of 71 degrees & Sunny, wrote about uncertainty surrounding the health of her cat and her husband’s battle with IBD. Janet at ocdtalk wrote about getting out of the black and white thinking into the gray.
Their posts prompted me to think more about uncertainty and how to handle it.
Those of us with OCD often struggle with uncertainty. One of the reasons we perform compulsive rituals like cleaning and checking is to try to be certain that, for example, there are no germs lingering on the surfaces, that nothing has been left undone that could cause a fire or some other danger.
Compulsive rituals cannot bring certainty, though. OCD thoughts are not rational. They are not rooted in reality. They cannot be tamed with some short-term assurance of certainty. Giving into the rituals doesn’t keep the doubts from returning.
Everyone, not just people with OCD, has uncertainty. There’s just no way for any of us to be certain about many things.
* * *
I made up a list of things that I am uncertain about for myself and for my loved ones:
Will we develop cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s or some other serious disease?
Will we have a wreck during any of the many times we travel by car from one place to another?
Where will the next terrorist attack occur?
Will fire, a tornado, a flood or some other natural disaster destroy our home?
Are the decisions we make about our finances the right ones?
Will we always have the benefits of health insurance and access to care?
Will I have a job tomorrow?
* * *
If uncertainty is a given, then how can I live with it in a healthy way?
The only way I know is to embrace the here and now and remind myself that I will handle whatever comes the best I can.
If the only thing I have for certain is the present moment, then I need to fully live in the present moment.
I need to make sure that what I’m doing in the present moment is something good and meaningful and helpful to the world.
I need to say what I need to say now, and do what I need to do now.
I need to be grateful for what I have right now.
Living in the now doesn’t preclude planning for and preparing for the future. What it precludes is worrying about the future.
Of course, all this is easier said than done. But I have hope and faith. They are key for me.
The easiest area of my life to live with uncertainty is my spiritual life. But that is for another blog post, which I will write soon.
* * *
What is your relationship with uncertainty? How have you made peace with uncertainty?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jeff Goins' new eBook now available

Jeff Goins’ eBook “You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One), which I reviewed here, is now available on Amazon. He is officially releasing the book on Monday.
You can follow this link to the book’s page on Amazon.
The book’s website is also now live.
And Goins’ blog is available here.
Happy reading!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sunshine Award

I have had the pleasure of being nominated for the Sunshine Award by Nikky, of the blog “Nikky’s Strength and Weakness.”
In her beautiful blog, Nikky writes about her life with incredible compassion and courageous honesty. She shares her love through her stories and insight. I thank her for nominating me for this award.

Here are the rules for this blog award if you are nominated:
  • Include the award logo in a post or on your blog (see the flower photo above).
  • Answer 10 questions about yourself.
  • Nominate 10-12 other fabulous bloggers.
  • Link your nominees to the post and comment on their blogs, letting them know that they have been nominated.
  • Share the love and link the person who nominated you.
So here are 10 things about me:
What are your favorite things to do? Spending time with my husband, playing with and taking care of my cats, writing and reading.
Where would you most like to travel? Alaska.
Who would you most like to meet who is still living? Joan Didion.
Who would you most like to meet who has passed away? Joseph Campbell.
What do you think is the hardest thing to do? Living with uncertainty.
What is your favorite non-alcoholic drink? Diet Pepsi.
What is your favorite charity? Best Friends Society.
What are you proud of? I’ve never stopped learning.
What ambition do you still have? To have at least one book published.
What is your favorite flower? The iris.

My nominations (in no particular order):
  Peace and Penguins

Please visit these blogs to see for yourself why I enjoy them so much!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Review: "You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)," by Jeff Goins

“You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One).” By Jeff Goins. eBook. 2012. 101 pages.

Jeff Goins, the writer of a very popular writing blog, has just published a new eBook that will rejuvenate even the most jaded, cynical writer.
Even if you’re not a writer, this book invites you to consider the choices you’re making and whether those choices are leading to the life you want.
The central theme of “You Are a Writer” is summed up in a seemingly simple statement a friend told Goins one day when they were talking about their dreams: “You are a writer. You just need to write.”
Thus began a journey of growth as a writer and an understanding of how he wanted to live his life.
Goins makes a strong point that you don’t need anyone’s permission to think of yourself as a writer, to call yourself a writer, to be a writer.
If you want to be a writer, then write.
And that’s what Goins did. He began getting up at 5 a.m. and wrote before going to work. In the evening after work, he wrote some more. He wrote on lunch breaks and during spare moments. He stayed up late writing and wrote on the weekend too.
He started doing what he referred to as showing up as a writer, and his life changed: “I found my dream not by searching for it, but by submitting to what I had always hoped was true: I was, in fact, a writer. All I had to do was write.”
Goins began having more success with his writing, and he uses a good portion of his book to lead writers through the steps of building a platform—which is more about relationships than marketing, in his view—and creating channels for his writing.
He also gives advice on submitting work for publication and building a writing career.
Goins places his writing in the context of the good his ideas and words—the ideas and words of all writers—can do for the world: “Until you acknowledge this—that you are a writer—you are depriving the world of a gift it longs for. One that stands the test of time. One that could leave a legacy.”
Goins doesn’t give technical writing advice. His interest, and what he succeeds in doing, is in helping writers realize that they don’t have to wait for the writing life to come to them. They can do things to build their own success.
It occurred to me as I read this book that Goins’ philosophy extends to more than writing. Wanting to leave a legacy and wanting to do meaningful work are not desires limited to writers.
Anyone who wants to take a step beyond just wanting to make a difference and actually acting to make a difference will gain insight from this book.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to all writers and to anyone who wants to be inspired to live a better life.
Prepare to not only be inspired when you read this book. Prepare to get to work. Because you will want to.
This book should be available soon. I will post a link to it as soon as I have it.

Note: I received a free advance copy of this eBook for agreeing to review it on my blog. The opinions expressed in this review are mine.

  What books have you read that were particularly inspiring to you?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Guest blogging on "Lights All Around" today

Today I’m the guest blogger on “Lights All Around,” a great blog written by Jackie Sommers.
Jackie asked me to write about checking OCD. You can read that guest post, “Checking OCD: Never quite sure,” here.
While you’re there, be sure and read Jackie’s posts, too. She is a writer who recently completed her first novel.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Do you know where your Internet health information comes from?

The Internet is full of health information, including information about obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and other mental illnesses.
That’s a good thing. People can find out valuable information about a disorder that he or she or a loved one has been diagnosed with, and that information can augment the information their physicians and therapists are providing.
But as with all searches on the Internet, caution must be taken when relying on the Internet for health information.
For almost eight years, I worked as a public health educator. As a health educator, I conducted research and created materials to promote wellness in the community. I wrote educational materials, gave talks in the community and talked one-on-one with patients in clinics.
Many times, I had ready-made materials at hand, sometimes not.
I worked with a lot of people to make sure I had the right information to give out, including physicians, dentists, nurses and environmental health specialists.
I also learned how to use the Internet as a research tool.
When I was in graduate school, I learned how to conduct research. That goes along with any program that includes a thesis.
But back then, the Internet was in the very early stages of being used by librarians.
While I was a health educator, I learned what to consider when visiting different sites. I found a compilation of much of that advice on the website of the Medical Library Association:

Consider the source. MLA uses the following example to illustrate this: “There is a big difference between a site that says, ‘I developed this site after my heart attack’ and one that says, ‘This page on heart attack was developed by health professionals at the American Heart Association.’”
Focus on quality. Consider whether or not the site has an editorial board. Look for information on the editorial policy or review policy.
Be a cyberskeptic. Consider if the site makes claims that sound too good to be true. Consider if the site is the only source for the information.
Look for the evidence. Rely on medical research, not opinion.
Check for currency. Make sure the latest information is being provided. Look for the last time it was updated. Check for broken links.
Beware of bias. Find out who is funding the site. Make sure advertisements are labeled.
Protect your privacy. Look for the privacy policy of the site. Your health information should be confidential.
Consult with your health professional. Partnerships between the health professional and the patient lead to the best medical decisions.

A go-to source for me is MedlinePlus, a site provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
This site leads me to information about a wide variety of health information, and it’s a place where I start many of my searches.
Today, I looked up obsessive-compulsive disorder on the site. The site provided me with links to organizations and agencies such as the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), one of the institutes within NIH; the American Academy of Family Physicians; the American Medical Association; Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; International OCD Foundation and Anxiety Disorders Association of American.
It also had links to journal articles, organizations, directories and statistics.
There are many reliable, up-to-date resources on the Internet for health information, including mental health information. I hope these tips will help lead you in the right direction.

How much of your health information do you get from the Internet? What are your go-to websites, and why are they helpful to you?

Friday, April 20, 2012

What's your destination?

Earlier this week, I wrote about being on a new path. I told you about a new focus on treating my chronic depression that would include a new kind of therapy.
I didn’t write about where that new path would take me, though. I didn’t really think about my destination, except for my hope for remission.
Some of you who left comments to that post included references to healing, and my therapist used that word also.
So what would healing look like for me? How would I recognize healing when I saw it?
First of all, I decided that I would view healing as a process and a journey. I know it won’t happen all at once. I won’t wake up one morning and find myself in remission from depression or from obsessive-compulsive disorder. I know healing will never actually end.
I know that depression and OCD will always be with me, but I can work to make them have as little negative impact as possible.
I also decided to keep some words in mind as I journey along. In Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, three synonyms for heal are repair, restore and make whole.
I have ways of being and acting that need to be repaired. I need to be restored to a place where I recognize my very essence and its value. I need my life to be made whole so that all my “parts” are integrated and in harmony.
I am going to use those words to instruct and inspire me.
But what will my life look like as I move towards healing? What markers will tell me I’m moving forward?


During the therapy session when my therapist told me he thought we needed to focus on depression, he grew a diagram for me to give me an idea of where I was headed.

I’m not going into the detail that he did, but here are the basics that he told me.
This diagram looks at power. On the vertical continuum, there’s dominant and passive. Dominance tends to draw out passivity, and passivity tends to draw out dominance.
The intersecting horizontal line represents hostility and friendliness.
Broadly, there are four quadrants: dominant hostility, dominant friendly, passive hostility and passive friendly.
People who are chronically depressed usually spend a lot of time in the passive hostility quadrant.
The quadrants can be divided up. Where my therapist said I would be headed is to a friendly assertive state.
Specifically how would my life look different with depression in remission? Here’s what I came up with:
  • I would have interpersonal interactions that were honest and didn’t hurt the other person or myself (by stuffing anger and hurt, by feeling helpless).
  • I would be confident that I could handle what life brought to me. People with chronic depression tend to think, “No matter what I do, it won’t help.” I would no longer attend to that kind of thinking.
  • I would participate fully in life and do the things that reflect my priorities.
  • I would see each day as a gift, not as something I just need to get through.
  • I would have the energy to accomplish what I wanted and needed to accomplish.


  Sometimes my doctors ask me about my OCD symptoms. What percentage of OCD has been relieved, they ask.
That’s hard to answer. It’s difficult to see my time and my effort in terms of percentages.
So here’s a picture of OCD repaired to the degree that it would no longer control what I do:
  • Most days, after doing my best, I wouldn’t check to make sure I’d completed such tasks as turning off the lights, turning off the water faucets, closing the closet door, locking the front door, etc.
  • Most days, I would read a book without rereading needlessly.
  • Most days, after doing my best, I would let go of my writing without fear of having written something wrong or untrue.
  • Most days, I would have no clutter around me because I would have filed away and put away what I needed to.
  • Most days, I would be able to cook a meal and clean the kitchen without safety, checking and contamination worries making it nearly unbearable.
  • Most days, I would be able to turn my attention away from obsessive thoughts.
  • Most days, I would resist compulsive urges to relieve anxiety.


I have generalized anxiety disorder that makes me tense much of the time. My life without the rule of anxiety would look something like this:
  • Most days, my jaw would be relaxed.
  • Most days, I would face daily stresses and changes with humor and calmness.
  • Most days, I would be energetic and not feel drained.
  • Most days, I would pay little or no attention to fearful thoughts.
  • Most days, I would be able to keep worry at bay.
  That’s where I’m headed. I have a lot to do, and I’ll never reach perfection. But that’s OK. I’m not supposed to.
  I’m grateful for what I’ve accomplished so far on the journey, andI’m glad to be continuing on the path.
What is your destination? How do think of the journey?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

OCD and depression: starting on a new path

Is this one step forward and two steps back?
That’s what I was thinking as I left my therapist’s office yesterday evening.
Today I considered the possibility that it was a leap to a new path.
I will be starting a new course of therapy tomorrow, one that will focus not on obsessive-compulsive disorder, but on another problem that has accompanied me for most of my life: depression.
I have written about my battle with depression before, but in my therapy and my own work with exposures, I’ve been focusing on improving my OCD symptoms. The OCD is getting in the way of my living a full life.
But depression is getting in the way of the OCD therapy.
My therapist is very perceptive. I wrote about how he called me out on my avoidance of the paper pile.
Yesterday, he cut to the heart of things again.
He always begins a session by asking me an open question like, “So, how are things going?”
I talked about what I had done and hadn’t done and how overwhelmed I felt. The words kept coming. And then I started crying.
He reminded me of our discussion in the past where he said other things like anxiety and “stuffed” anger and emotions can feed OCD.
He believes it’s chronic depression that is feeding the OCD, and as long as I don’t deal with that, I won’t get very far with the OCD therapy.
I knew he was right. I knew intuitively, right away, that he was right.
Chronic depression, especially when it’s early-onset, which mine was, is particularly hard to treat. Medication has helped me tremendously, but some people have drug-resistant depression. I am, my therapist said, one of those people.
Though I was never diagnosed as a child, I probably suffered from dysthymia, which Medline Plus defines as “a chronic type of depression in which a person’s moods are regularly low.”
My therapist said in those with chronic depression, the more severe depression episodes improve only so much—to that same low level.
He said the best therapy for chronic depression is called Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System of Psychotherapy, or CBASP.
He wrote it out for me, and I focused on one word: psychotherapy.
I’ve been through talk therapy before, and it was helpful, but it was also a meandering, nebulous experience with no end in sight.
But my therapist said CBASP is a very active and practical type of therapy. The treatment usually lasts approximately 26 weeks, but it could go faster for me, he said.
CBASP can put people into remission from their depression.
I’ll always be on medication, but the medicine provides a floor for me, he said, that enables me to do other therapy more effectively.
I’ll still work on the OCD, but we won’t spend time in our therapy sessions on it while I’m doing the CBASP.
I feel like I’m starting over. I’m almost 49 years old, and I still have to work on depression. But I could also experience remission for the first time in my life.
Those are the thoughts I’ve been having today and the hope I’m clinging to. Remission. An ebbing away of the depression that causes me to feel hopeless, helpless, fatigued and irritable. Hopeless and helpless.
I imagine the depression as a dark knot down inside me, surrounded by the more visible OCD and anxiety. Getting that knot to come loose and work itself through the OCD and anxiety is my goal.
Here I go: another therapy, another path, a new hope.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My paper battle

I started to throw down the old bill and run away from the table, literally run away from it.
I could feel the anxiety build to probably an eight, and I told myself that I had to stay until it went down.
That was last Monday as I worked on my pile of mail and paperwork on our dining room table.
I have written about my problem with the stack of paperwork and the way my therapist is leading me to confront it as a part of my cognitive behavioral therapy.
So I stayed and forged ahead. I didn’t clear the table, but I made some headway. I also learned a lot about my reasons for keeping some of the paperwork.
 Bills: I had to have minor surgery last August, and bills come with surgery. You don’t just pay one person. You pay the hospital, the doctor who performed the surgery, the anesthesiologist and the lab.
The bills are all paid. They’ve been paid. But I haven’t filed the bills and my notes of when I mailed the payments because I like to check afterwards and make sure the payments were received.
I haven’t called. And those papers have been lying on the table. I’ve used the excuse that they’re serving as a reminder that I need to call.
On Monday I thought about that: I wanted to check to see if the payments had been received. I wanted to check. Was that OCD checking?
I think maybe it is in my case. I have not received any notices of nonpayment or phone calls asking for money. My checks have gone through at the bank. That most likely means the payments were received.
So I decided I would not check. I would file all the paperwork in a file folder relating to the August 2011 surgery.
 Requests: I’ve been periodically receiving notices from a national animal welfare organization that I’ve sent donations to in the past, asking me to renew my membership.
This is a wonderful organization, and I don’t fault them for asking me to renew. They depend on donations.
However, I have made a decision, for the time being, to support organizations in my local area. I’ve held onto those renewal notices, though, thinking, I’ll read this and think about it later.
Monday night I considered this: if I’ve decided not to renew the membership right now, there’s no need to keep the notices. When I decide to pick back up, I can find them easily online and send in the money.
So the notices went into the trash.
 It's called avoidance
To aid in the cleanup, I bought some extra file folders and a pack of banker boxes for storage.
I know that waiting to buy what I think are necessary accessories before tackling more of the paperwork is clearly avoidance on my part.
I will do more this week. I need to report back to my therapist. Most importantly, I need to face this.
I don’t officially have my next CBT session until May because my therapist is so booked up, but I’m on the cancellation list, and my therapist told me to call every week to ask about canceled appointments.
Have you ever realized, in the middle of an exposure, some of the OCD thinking that has led you to that place? What did you discover?
Even if you don’t have OCD, have you had to face down tasks that seemed insurmountable? How did you do it?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

OCD is hard

I’ve been thinking about what it’s like to have obsessive-compulsive disorder.
How I experience OCD now is different from how I experienced it when I was child, teenager and young adult.
If I compare my life now to how it was when I was in my 20s, I can say with no doubt that things are better now. I cope better. I am able to turn away from the compulsive urges much more easily. I have tools in my toolbox to fight it.
On this blog, I write mostly about what it’s like for me now to have OCD. I continue to have problems with obsessions and compulsions. I am still discovering ways that OCD works itself into my life. My general anxiety and depression can still throw me to the floor and make me think I’ve never moved forward.
But I have moved forward. With medication, cognitive behavioral therapy and personal lifestyle changes, all ongoing, I am moving forward. I am grateful for that.
I know many others are suffering in the depths of OCD, where they are exhausted and in despair. I wish I could wave a wand and take away all their pain.
Because I know how hard it is. That is something I will never forget, no matter how much my own OCD and depression improve.
I’ve had the chapped and discolored hands and wrists from having them in water and strong cleaners much of the day.
  I have stood in front of my stove for hours, looking at the knobs from every angle, touching the top over and over, checking for heat, while I tried to reassure myself that the stove was off.
  I have cleaned the bathroom using bottles of disinfect at a time, then made up excuses—lied—to try to keep others from using it.
  I have driven in circles, back and forth on the street, looking for bodies that I may have run over.
  I have picked up sticks and rocks and anything that looked dangerous as I tried to walk from one place to another, backtracking and bending over to examine something that looked like a weed but might be a wire that could stick someone in the foot.
  I have written research papers that said nothing because I was so afraid of plagiarizing.
  I have failed to finish so many books because I couldn’t turn a page until I’d read it multiple times, making sure I’d really read it.
  I have prayed and chanted continuously, thinking I was somehow responsible for keeping everyone safe by doing so.
  I have confessed my sins, or what might possibly be sins, to anyone who would listen.
I’ve prayed for God to just let me die because I didn’t think I could take one more minute of the pain.
Somewhere inside me was a little hope. It must have been there, even though I couldn’t feel it, because somehow I didn’t give up.
It has taken years for me to reach a point where obsessions and compulsions don’t occupy every waking moment. I am getting better faster now, I believe, because I am doing cognitive behavioral therapy, something I didn’t think I needed before.
OCD will always be with me. It will always be with you, too, if you have it.
Hope will get us through, though. No matter how tiny that hope is, even if it’s just a small thought that there must be something better than this. Even if all the hope you have is the knowledge that someone else got better.
I got better. I’m getting better. And you can too.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

OCD: An exposure I didn't plan

In my last post, I said I was going to do some exposures that I would write about.
In that same post, I also wrote about some physical health issues I’ve been having.
This post is about an exposure, but not one I was planning when I wrote that post on Sunday.
And it involves those health issues.
I wasn’t going to write about this. It was too personal, I thought, and my readers might not like it.
But this blog is about my life with OCD and the accompanying issues. I decided to share this exposure because it was about real life issues.
When I saw my family doctor last Friday, she ordered blood tests, a urinalysis, and a stool sample.
That last one got me. I could feel my mouth draw up a bit. I thought, doesn’t she remember that I have OCD? I just told her I was having anxiety from starting cognitive behavioral therapy. And she asks for a stool sample?
The doctor, of course, was interested in finding out what was causing my stomach pain and problems that have been ongoing for a while. So she went on talking to me, continuing to tell me what the course of action would be. She said that the nurse would give me what I needed to take a stool sample to the lab.
After my appointment, I walked out to my car and sat there while I talked with my husband on the phone. Then I realized that the nurse hadn’t given me the stool sample kit.
I admit, I wanted to just forget it. I wanted to take that as a sign that I really didn’t need to do it. Obviously, it wasn’t that important if the nurse forgot to give it to me, right?
But my husband said I needed to go back and get it. He was right. And I did.
Back inside, as the nurse told me what to do, I again could feel my mouth turning up.
“I think I’ll just wait until after all the blood work results come in,” I said.
The doctor had told me it would take about two weeks, so I thought that was a safe reprieve. And—this was my really, really good reason for waiting—the blood work results might reveal something that could be taken care of and I wouldn’t even have to do the stool sample.
The nurse gave me a look. She was probably thinking that I was a very weird woman.
“OK,” she said. “But you need to call me and let me know when you’re going to do it so I can fax the orders to the lab.”
All weekend, I ate very carefully, wanting to get better quickly so, again, maybe the stool sample wouldn’t be needed.
The nurse called me yesterday and said my white cell count was elevated.
“When are you going to do the stool sample?” she asked.
I guess she had forgotten my “wait until all the blood work comes back” excuse. I decided that I would try to make myself look a little more compliant.
“I’ll wait until after the urinalysis comes back,” I said.
It was going to be another couple of days, so I could continue to avoid the problem. Avoidance can be so sweet.
The nurse called me today. The urinalysis was negative.
“Then what’s wrong with me?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “That’s why we want to test your stool.”
I asked her to fax the orders to the lab.
Then I agonized about what to do. With my bathroom and contamination issues, I knew it would be a nightmare.
And there was the logistics matter. I had to get the sample to the lab within the hour of producing it. The lab was a good 45 minutes away.
I just wanted to forget all about it.
But I went to the doctor in the first place to get help. If I wanted help, I needed to follow through. Was I going to let OCD stop me?
I decided very quickly that I had to do it. I wouldn’t think about it anymore. I finished up some work and then went home.
It was not easy. I pretty much freaked out at one point. I wanted to clean the bathroom from top to bottom. I wanted to take a shower.
I didn’t have time, though. I had to get the sample to the lab, or—horrors—I’d have to do it again.
I made it out of the house after washing my hands only twice. I was feeling anxiety at a scale of about 9 all the way to the lab.
I kept glancing at my car clock, calculating how much time I had left. I worried about possible detours, or doing something that would cause a state trooper to pull me over. That would delay me. Then I figured I would just wave the biohazard bag at him, and he’d let me go.
I finally arrived at the lab, in time, and hurried inside, eager to get rid of that bag.
Ah, but there was a problem.
The woman at the front desk looked through the paperwork and said they hadn’t received the orders. Then she didn’t say anything.
I internally freaked out again, thinking I’d have to do all of this again and come back.
“Can I still leave it?”
“Yes,” she said. “But make sure your name and date of birth are on the cup.”
“It is,” I said, pointing to the label on top.
“It has to be on the side of the cup,” she said, and handed me a marker.
So I had to take the cup out of the biohazard bag and write the required information on the side of the cup.
I doubt if the outside of the cup was contaminated, but I did not want to touch it again.
I followed her instructions and then used the hand sanitizer at the door to the lab. I hoped that since it was in a lab, it would be extra sanitizing.
I thought later that I should have just asked where the bathroom was so I could wash my hands there. Anxiety makes you forget vital things.
Back in my car, I could feel my anxiety going down. I had done it. The worst was over. I didn’t have to do anything else but wait for the results.
I’m very tired, but I’m glad I did it.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter on the farm

Ducks feeding on cracked corn by the pond. The photos are not my best because I took them with my phone.
    My husband and I had Easter dinner at his cousin and her husband’s farm today.
They live about 30 minutes from our house on a big piece of land with lots of trees, flowers, a garden, blueberry vines and a large pond fed by a creek.
They both love animals, and they have quite a collection: three cats, three dogs, one cockatiel, two parrots and a large tank of goldfish.
At the pond, they have six ducks. Two geese make regular visits.

Ducks in the water.

Added to the menagerie are three baby rabbits. A friend of theirs in a nearby town found the babies in his yard and sent them to the farm, where the cousins have bottle-fed and otherwise tended them. They plant to gradually introduce the rabbits to the outdoors until they are ready to be released.
Right now, they lay close together in a cage, with a light blanket around them to keep them warm.
Before dinner, as some of us sat on the screened-in back porch talking, enjoying the sunshine and breeze, the geese flew in, announcing their arrival with loud voices. We watched them angle down to the pond and skim the water before settling in.
After dinner, my husband and I walked down to the pond and watched the ducks and fed them cracked corn. We laughed at their antics in the water, and I told my husband I could sit there all day and watch and listen to them.

Can you see the goose?

Tulips filled a flowerbed, and dozens of iris plants are set to bloom. A few already have.
What wonderful sights and sounds for a day that celebrates renewed life.
I needed this day. It’s been a hard weekend. I’m having some issues with my physical health, specifically with my digestive process, so I saw my doctor Friday.
It seems like everything I eat makes me feel awful, so my doctor is having me make some big changes: less caffeine, little or no dairy, more fiber, less simple carbohydrates. I am also eating less sugar.
My doctor is running some tests. I hope there’s nothing physically wrong, but I’m not too concerned. I’ve had similar problems before. If it’s something more, I’ll deal with what I have to when I have to.
But I know that anxiety can affect the digestive system, and I know I haven’t been treating my body very well. I don’t eat right and my sleep patterns are all over the place.
I am all for the changes, because I’m tired of feeling like I’ve been feeling. But any changes can have at least temporary disadvantages. I don’t know whether it’s the decrease in caffeine and sugar or just being physically worn out, but I’ve been feeling down too.
The trip to the farm helped. Being amidst so much life, being so close to the natural world, being with family—they are all valuable and important components of a well-lived life, don’t you think?
On another note, I’ll be tackling some exposures this week and writing about them. Wish me luck!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday thoughts

Tonight I attended the Good Friday service at my church. It was a quiet and meditative time, and I carried away some thoughts I’d like to share with you.
I respect people of all faiths and religions, as well as those who have no religion at all. I believe we are all connected by the same Power.
I can only speak from the belief system that I have chosen to follow, and then, even more specifically, from my understanding of that belief system.
My faith is far from perfect. Sometimes it’s feeble. My commitment to my belief system has been spotty and unreliable.
I have many issues with organized religion stemming from my religious scrupulosity, one of the manifestations of my obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I am a doubter, a wanderer. I sometimes look at others who seem to have an unwavering faith and wish I could be like them.
I am in no position to teach anyone else about how to live a good and faithful life.
I still come before the cross.
I come before the cross, sometimes in despair, sometimes with my unending desires to know how to live a good and meaningful life, and sometimes because there is nowhere else to go.
At tonight’s service, we had a time of meditation on the cross, and anyone who wished to do so could go and kneel before the cross to pray and meditate.
Before the cross tonight, I didn’t pray much. I just tried to absorb the moment and think about what the minister had said in prayer: that we learn from Jesus’ carrying the cross how to carry our crosses.
To each of you, wherever you are in life, God’s grace and peace and blessings.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Learning: The power of poetry

April is National Poetry Month, a celebration started by the American Academy of Poets in 1996.
A friend of mine suggested sharing bits of poetry on Facebook during the month, and that got me thinking about other ways I could celebrate poetry and what it means to me.
Why poetry?
I’ve written before on this blog about my love of Mary Oliver’s poetry and the peace and calmness it brings me.
I have always enjoyed reading poetry, and even wrote a lot of it years ago.
I love words, and each word is important in a poem. The entire meaning of the poem can turn on one word and its definition and connotations.
Beyond that, great poets reach into their souls for their words and in turn have the possibility of touching others.
Reading poetry centers me. It’s harder for me to pay attention to the racing thoughts of anxiety when I’m caught up in the cadence of a poem.
Certainly reading poetry is a viable choice for me when I’m trying to redirect my attention away from compulsive urges that go along with obsessive-compulsion disorder.
And many a poem has offered me hope when I’ve been sunk in depression.
Poetry adds beauty and insight to my life, and that’s a good thing for anyone, not just those who suffer from OCD, depression and other anxiety disorders.
Let’s celebrate!
The website for National Poetry Month provides 30 suggestions on ways for individuals and the community to celebrate poetry. Here are some of my favorites:
Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day. This day is April 26. You are invited to carry a favorite poem in your pocket and share it with others.
I didn’t want to wait until April 26. I carried a poem in my pocket today. I liked reaching into my pocket and remembering the poem and reciting it to myself. It was an Emily Dickinson poem that reflects the power of words:

“A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.

I say it just
Begins to live
That day.”

Read a book of poetry. I plan to revisit some poets I haven’t read for a while, and look for new ones.
Memorize a poem. I love memorizing poems. They are available to me whenever I need solace, encouragement or a bit of beauty.
Start a commonplace book. According to the website, commonplace books are personal anthologies. You copy favorite poems and quotations into the notebook. These notebooks “can be a source of enjoyment and solace, reminding the keeper of favorite books and poems, and can even become family heirlooms.”
I’ve done some of this in my journals, but I plan to begin devoting one journal to my favorite poems.
Integrate poetry and technology. This involves including poetry as part of your email signature, on your voice mail message and on social media like Facebook and Twitter.
I plan to share a bit of poetry every day on my Facebook page. It will keep me reading, and, I hope, share some beauty with others.
Write a letter to a poet. I’ve never done this. But I’d like to show some appreciation to poets who have touched my life in a positive way.
What is your relationship with poetry? How does reading poetry affect you? Who are your favorite poets? What poem would you carry in your pocket? Do you write poetry?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Book Review: Oxford Messed Up, by Andrea Kayne Kaufman

Oxford Messed Up. By Andrea Kayne Kaufman. Grant Place Press, 2011. 324 pages.

The Cadence Group recently asked me to read and review a novel, Oxford Messed Up, by Andrea Kayne Kaufman.
I was happy to read the book, because one of the main characters, Gloria Zimmerman, suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I was curious to see how that would be portrayed.
The novel is about two people who consider themselves messed up. Though very different from each other in background and personality, each shares a love of Van Morrison’s music.
His music serves as a background and almost as a character, as the two help each other to transcend their demons.
Gloria Zimmerman is a Yale graduate and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where she is studying feminist poetry and serving as a research assistant with an expert in the genre.
Gloria has suffered from OCD since she was in seventh grade. Although she has been prescribed Luvox, she doesn’t take the medicine on a regular basis.
Gloria’s OCD, which she calls Oliver, revolves around contamination. She is terrified of germs and goes to great lengths to avoid them or to rid herself and environment of them.
She cleans the bathroom every day, scrubbing already clean surfaces again and again. She avoids people as much as possible, and finds herself happiest when she’s in the sealed environment of a rare book room in the library.
Gloria keeps a huge supply of cleaning products, antibacterial wipes and, her favorite, hand sanitizer.
As a result of all her cleaning, Gloria’s hands are red and raw, immediately noticeable to others, a visible sign of her inner suffering.
One of the only ways she can comfort herself is by listening to the poetry of Morrison’s music.
Henry is also an Oxford student. He is studying music, but not the music he loves, Morrison’s. He is an academic mess, avoiding the library, research and writing. He has no confidence in himself as a scholar.
Henry is a recovering drug addict, and has the track marks on his arms as a reminder. He has other secrets, too, which keep him from having motivation to do much more than listen to his Morrison records.
When Gloria arrives at Oxford, she discovers that she will be sharing a bathroom, or a loo, with Henry. Oliver is disgusted by this and by Henry’s messiness and “his dirty, feces, germ-infested hands.”
But Gloria and Henry become friends, on Gloria’s terms. She allows herself to interact with Henry but keeps herself distant and doesn’t confide her troubles to him.
They spend hours together talking and sharing their love of the music and poetry of Morrison and others.
In anger after Gloria rebuffs his offer to take her to a Morrison concert, Henry urinates in their shared bathtub. Gloria responds by flying into a rage and then having a meltdown.
This is a turning point in the story, because it brings Gloria and Henry together in a more honest way. They agree that he will be her coach in cognitive behavioral therapy, specifically exposure and response prevention, and she will be his dissertation coach, helping him pull together a new topic based on Morrison’s fatalistic optimism.
Though they have many setbacks and face new issues as they reveal more of themselves to each other, Gloria and Henry are able to transcend the problems that they have and begin to enjoy and find happiness in life.
The novel moves along quickly, with short chapters and lots of different scenes. The viewpoint switches from character to character, each chapter told from the point of view of Gloria or Henry or, in a few chapters, other characters.
The writing is concise and evocative.
Kaufman does a fine job in describing what it’s like to suffer from OCD. For example, her description of the process by which Gloria cleans the bathroom, and the way she rubs her hands together with hand sanitizer while chanting to herself, will resonate with people who have OCD.
Henry is a tortured but loveable character. It’s a little hard to believe that Gloria, steeped in years of OCD, would so immediately be drawn to someone like Henry, but their relationship develops believably.
The book takes place over about five months, and that’s the only real quibble I have with it. Gloria takes Luvox regularly and works on her cognitive behavioral therapy for just two months. Yet, she has almost a complete recovery from OCD. In fact, I think most readers of the novel would say she was cured.
During the two months, Gloria also gets professional help at Oxford, but her quick recovery is still unbelievable.
This may give readers who suffer from OCD and those who don’t the impression that OCD can be easily overcome in just two months, while in reality, it can take longer to reach a place where OCD does not control a sufferer’s life.
I love how the story intertwines with Morrison’s music and women’s poetry. There are many metaphorical layers in the story that enrich it.
Study questions are included at the end of the novel, and these could be helpful for a book club or a class.
Anyone who likes a good love story and who delights in seeing characters overcome great obstacles will enjoy this novel. The book could inspire readers who happen to have OCD and inform others about the disorder.
For more information about Kaufman and about how to purchase the book, go to her website at The book is available as a hardcover, paperback and as an e-book.