Friday, August 31, 2012


There’s nothing left of me
depression, OCD, GAD,
labels that sound like excuses.

There’s nothing left of me,
nothing to make me want
to reach out, to reach beyond
the labels that sound like excuses.

I’ve forgotten what I wanted
to ask for,
forgotten the words that made sense.
I’m left with labels
that sound like excuses.

I will write about what I’m doing to fight a general sense of hopelessness in a later post.

Have you ever felt hopeless?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Top 5 things that hurt my OCD

  On Monday I wrote about the top things that help my obsessive-compulsive disorder, so I thought I’d look at the opposite and discuss things that hurt my OCD.

Not getting treatment

I wasn’t diagnosed and treated for my OCD and depression until I was 26, after suffering from both for much of my life up until then. That was a lot of needless suffering because help was available.
Even after I became an adult and was responsible for my own health, I didn’t speak up and tell my doctors what was going on with me. I didn’t tell them about the strange thoughts and even stranger compulsions that were wreaking havoc with my life.
I was in talk therapy for about a year before I even mentioned my obsessions and compulsions to my therapist.
I was ashamed of my bizarre habits and thought I was the only person in the world who did such things.

Depending on medication alone

For more than 20 years, the only treatment I had for OCD was medication.
I am not discounting the tremendous help I have received from medication. It lifted me out of the worst of my OCD and depression and allowed me to live a better life.
But I ignored doctor’s suggestions that I get therapy specifically for OCD, like cognitive behavioral therapy. I didn’t want to take the time or spend the money, and I really didn’t think I needed it.
Now I recognize that medication can do only part of what I need to rid myself of the subtle ways OCD intrudes on my life. I need practical therapy, and I’ll be back to it soon.

Not taking GAD seriously

In addition to OCD and depression, I have generalized anxiety disorder. I tend to forget that and focus all my energies on fighting the “top two” disorders in my life.
But GAD has a very real effect on my OCD. The more anxious I am generally, the more I have to deal with the OCD. The generalized anxiety feeds the obsessions and makes it harder for me to fight the compulsions.
That tells me that I need to consciously take steps to lower my anxiety overall.

Giving in to compulsions

I know by now that giving in to compulsions just makes the cycle of OCD worse. The more I check, for example, the more I want to check, and the more I check.
I can’t let up. I can’t give myself a break from tolerating the anxiety until it goes away instead of performing the compulsion.

Not taking care of my health

If I get really tired, I find that I am more prone to anxious feelings and depressive thinking. Those just feed my OCD. So I have to get plenty of rest.
That’s not always easy, especially on days when I have to work late. On such days, I also tend to eat erratically and too much. Then I don’t feel like going to bed and stay up too late. Then I don’t sleep well. And the cycle continues.
I feel so much better when I get enough but not too much sleep, when I eat several small meals of healthy food, when I exercise. When I don’t take care of my health, it shows in my level of anxiety and thus, my OCD.

  What things make your OCD and/or other anxiety worse?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Top 5 things that have helped my OCD

I have put together a list of things that have helped me most with my obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Other things have been of help to me, including meditation. But the following list includes what has been most important.
Not all of these things are for everyone. For example, I realize that medication is not the right choice for everyone. But these are the things that worked for me.
Once I made the list, I couldn’t rank them. I couldn’t say for sure that one was more important than another in helping me control and live with the obsessions and compulsions. So here’s my list, in no particular order.


Medication changed my OCD from being debilitating. With medication, I was able to consider that there might be ways to live with this disorder.
I have had to try different medications through the years, mostly because of my co-morbid diagnosis of depression. It’s not an easy thing, to change medications, to wait for them to work, or not work.
But it has been worth it to be able to gain some distance from an all-consuming OCD to an OCD that I can work with.
I’ve written more about my medication journey here.


I’ve had talk therapy through the years, but the therapy that has helped me the most has been the practical cognitive behavioral therapy that I’ve had this year.
While it’s not been the formal exposure and response prevention therapy, it included exposures and the whole philosophy of learning to tolerate the anxiety and moving beyond it. The exposures my therapist led me in were helpful and instructive.
While the CBT got waylaid because of other therapy needed for my depression, I look forward to getting back to it. In the meantime, I’ve been doing some of my own exposures.

Brain Lock

I first read Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior-A Four-Step Self-Treatment Method to Change Your Brain Chemistry, by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz with Beverly Beyette, in the 1990s, and I worked on its principles on my own with some success.
The book taught me to walk away from compulsions even though I was feeling intense anxiety, and I learned that the anxiety eventually died down.
I wrote in detail about how I use “Brain Lock” in this post.

Adopting a cat

Adopting Waddles in 2000 changed my life in many ways. One of the ways was to give me almost constant exposures for my contamination OCD and my hyper-responsibility OCD, though I would not have known to call them exposures.
I learned to live with an animal and clean up messes without freaking out. I learned the joy of responsibility, which began to outweigh my fears of responsibility.

Learning that I wasn’t alone

From finding out a person I really respected and liked had OCD to starting a blog and connecting online with others who have OCD, finding out I wasn’t alone in my suffering has been a big component of my OCD improvement.

What has helped you the most in your battles with OCD and other anxiety?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Poem: When I was afraid of dogs

When I was little, I was afraid of dogs. I would run from them, afraid that they would jump up on me and scratch my legs.
It’s funny for two reasons to think of running from them.
I love animals now. I don’t have any dogs of my own, but I enjoy being around them and don’t fear them.
It’s also funny because of what I eventually taught myself as a child: don’t run from animals. This came from my father’s lesson to not run from the cows, which I wrote about in a previous post.
So for a while, I ran from our pet dogs, which were outside dogs. My parents didn’t allow us to have animals inside.
Ironically, as soon as I was “safe” inside, I started feeling sorry for the dogs because I thought they looked sad at having to stay outside, with no one to play with.
I would talk to them through the back screen door, tell them they were pretty and good. And yet when I was outside with them, all I would do is run from them.
Poor critters.
The poem below grew out of my memories of one dog in particular, Prince.

By Tina Fariss Barbour

I was afraid of my dog
when I was seven.
Climbed atop porch chairs,
mimosa branches,
ran shortcut across the grass.
Then inside I stood
at the back screen door,
watched Prince
hang his Collie head,
fall sideways.
Good boy.
Sweetie boy.
Supper’s soon.
I sang hymns.
Standing on the Promises.

  Did you have dogs or other pets as a child? What was your relationship with your pets like?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Breaking through fog: therapy lessons

It worked out this week that I saw both my psychiatrist and my psychologist, and I had helpful sessions with both. But I still feel like I'm trying to break through fog.

The psychiatrist

I discussed my increased anxiety with the psychiatrist Wednesday, and he was concerned because of the sense of dread I was experiencing and because I had reached the point of starting to fear driving, like I did a few years ago when I was in the midst of the worst anxiety I’ve ever had.
So he decided to take me off of one of the medications, Wellbutrin. It could be having unintended consequences, especially in combination with another medication.
It’s a balancing act to not tinker with the medication enough to allow the depression to get worse, and yet help the anxiety. It’s trial and error sometimes, and that’s not always easy to deal with, especially for an impatient person like me. I just have to wait and see.
At least it won’t be long. He said I should notice a difference by this weekend if it was going to have an effect. Here’s hoping it will help.

On an added note about the anxiety, I’ve been listening to a mindfulness CD by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and it has helped me to be able to fall asleep fairly quickly each night. I’ll write more about the CD and what I’m learning in a future post.

The psychologist

My psychologist and I, as usual, did a situational analysis yesterday, and this led to a discussion about anger, fear and anxiety.
I don’t express anger very well. A lot of the time, I don’t express it at all.
In the particular situation we discussed, I was feeling anger but interpreted my feelings as fear. I never expressed my anger in words.
My therapist said the bodily reaction to anger and anxiety is the same. What I’m not always recognizing is that I’m feeling anger. I recognize it as fear. I then fail to verbally express my anger in healthy ways.
I also tend to think of anger as something bad, something I should feel guilty for feeling.
Something that my therapist told me that was helpful was to think of the motivation for anger and the method of anger.
A motivation for anger might be the fact that you care about someone. A method for showing that anger might be yelling. No one likes to be yelled at. That’s not an appropriate way to express anger.
But the fact that you yelled doesn’t negate your motivation for the anger. You can apologize for yelling, but you don’t have to feel guilty for being angry.

I certainly don’t want to hold on to anger. I just want to stop feeling like I’m a bad person because I sometimes get angry.
It’s all in the balance.

  So that was my week in therapy. To say that I’m frustrated at having to work on these issues at my age is an understatement. I know such issues have no age limit. But I’d have thought I was past them.
  I’ll just keep plugging along, going forward.

Do you ever get frustrated at your progress to become a better person, improve in a skill, or make a positive change? How do you handle it?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Waiting and delaying: Procrastination

I make a daily practice of procrastination.
I put off tasks I don’t want to do. I lie in bed and sleep until the last minute before I have to get up.
Recently, I was reading through old journals and discovered that I had some of the same goals five and six years ago that I still have today. Unmet goals. Goals I haven’t made much, if any, headway on.
There are things that I should do and want to do that would help my depression and my obsessive-compulsive disorder, things like exercising, getting on a regular sleep schedule, eating a healthier diet, doing more exposures, working more on my writing, getting more involved in my community.
I nap a lot. I usually take a long nap on Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes I come home from work during the week and take a nap before dinner. I tell myself I’m tired.
But in reality, most of the time I am avoiding doing things, including moving towards goals that would not only help my depression and my OCD but also give me confidence and satisfaction.
I am so frustrated with myself.

What is procrastination?

There is a chapter called “Break a Procrastination-Depression Connection” in The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression: A Step by Step Program, second edition, by William J. Knaus, Ed.D. He says the following about procrastination:

“Procrastination can be a simple default reaction. You feel uncomfortable about an activity, so you avoid it. More often, procrastination is a complex process that coexists with distress conditions, such as anxiety and depression. You put off dealing with what you fear. You believe you are disabled by your mood. Uncertainty can trigger the discomfort-dodging feature of procrastination. If you view yourself as overwhelmed and unable to perform, you are likely to delay taking corrective actions. As a reaction to anxieties, a negative mood, uncertainty, and other unpleasant conditions, you do something different or nothing at all” (p. 58).

So what is a person to do?

Knaus gives lots of good advice. Cognitive changes are one way to address procrastination. You can change your perspective, he says: “To break this procrastination-depression connection, look for weak points in the connection. For example, if you have the energy to think depressing thoughts, you have the energy to think proactive thoughts, such as ‘I can slowly work my way up from under this malaise’” (p. 60).
He advocates taking actions that are “definable, purposeful, measurable, and achievable” (p. 60).
One way to do this is to use the procrastination flip technique, which is the process of doing the opposite of what procrastination thinking wants you to do.
For example, if you are putting off exercising, something you know could help your depression, you push yourself to go for a walk.
Emotive changes can be used to combat procrastination, too. “A combination of normal discomfort-dodging and depression can be like a double whammy. It will help if you accept that this combination goes with the territory. You are then more likely to feel tolerant of discomfort and more willing to allow yourself to start” (p. 61).
That connects with what my therapist told me about accepting my anxiety and the feelings it causes.
Thirdly, behavioral changes can be used against procrastination. Recognizing the diversions you take to avoid doing what is more important can help in coming up with an action plan. For example, an action plan to help you move beyond mindless diversions may be to do one small productive activity every day for five minutes at a set time.
Taking action is a key component of Knaus’ techniques. Taking action, even small actions, whether or not you feel like it, can help to fight procrastination.

So there are things I can do about my procrastination besides just complain about it and feel bad about it.
I can work to recognize the thoughts that lead to procrastination and talk back to the thoughts. I can accept that my depression and anxiety may make my procrastinating ways worse. I can take small actions every day to combat the problem.
I’m working on it.

Do you procrastinate? How do you get past it? Please share your ideas!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Words of Anxiety

I’ve been feeling a lot of anxiety lately. I can pinpoint the causes in some cases. Some of it comes from my habitual procrastination, which I’m going to post about on Wednesday.
Some of it comes from things going on in my life.
However, I can’t always name the cause. I just feel it and experience it.
Some days I have anxiety in the 7 and 8 range. I’ve noticed that I feel it especially at night when I’m trying to go to sleep.
I’ve had trouble falling asleep. I’ve tried my usual tricks of reciting poetry and prayers and thinking positive thoughts, to no avail.
I toss and turn and watch the minutes, and then hours go by on the clock. My anxiety rises even higher.
I finally fall asleep, but wake up again and again throughout the night.
Then I wake up in the morning with anxiety, sometimes with my hands actually shaking.
Since my usual tricks haven’t been working, I’ve been trying to “sit” with my anxiety, as some of you fellow bloggers have written about, including Krystal Lynn.

Metaphorically speaking, much of my anxiety seems to settle in my chest and move outward to my arms and hands.
My heart doesn’t always beat fast, but I feel bursts of adrenaline. I feel hyper. I feel like something bad is going to happen. My arms and hands feel tingly and agitated, or sometimes numb. I can’t relax.
And, of course, my thoughts are racing, moving from subject to subject.

I’ve started concentrating on how my body feels. I focus on my chest and at first try to just experience the feeling without describing it to myself.
Then I talk silently to myself, describing how I feel, using words like afraid, antsy, adrenaline, dread, excited, wired.
I even used a thesaurus to come up with other words to use to describe how I feel: apprehensive, disquieted, distressed, jittery, taut, troubled and watchful.
And, in a surprise to me, it seems to work. I have awakened during the night, realizing that I fell asleep a lot faster than I thought I would. I use my self-examination tools again, and fall asleep again.
And I haven’t been waking up in the morning with as much anxiety either.

I don’t really understand how this is working. Accepting the anxiety and just concentrating on experiencing it is somehow easing it.

  What are some ways you deal with anxiety with no apparent cause? What words describe your anxiety?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A poem: A surprising encounter with nature

This poem is based on a real incident that occurred as I traveled to Richmond on a back road one morning years ago.
I’m glad my hit-and-run obsessive-compulsive disorder was not active at the time, or I would probably still be at the scene, driving back and forth, checking for bodies.
The incident still raised my anxiety level and affected me enough to make me write about it.

On the Road to Richmond

By Tina Fariss Barbour

I thought it would get out of the way in time.
Buzzard, black and gray crypt
around the squirrel/rabbit in the road.
I thought it would sense my car,
would know when to rise,
to crook over the hood and roof.
I’d look behind to see it attack again.
But it miscalculated,
greedy for another bite.
I pulled on the steering wheel as if it were reins,
as if the car could rear back, swing hoofs,
but the bird knocked into the windshield,
flogged the glass.
A swerve, a brake.
It flew off into the woods,
Not ready for the call.

  Have you ever had a surprising encounter with nature?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Snippet of a memoir: OCD and religion, getting saved, or not

  Note: I’ve written before about my relationship with religion, especially as a young girl trying to make sense of God while obsessive-compulsive disorder was running my life. In this vignette, I write about an early religious experience.

  I found out about rededicating one’s life to Christ on May 2, 1975. I was almost 12 years old. It was a Friday, and revival had been going on all week.
  My church had mustard yellow, walk-in carpet, the thin kind that wears well. The floors were dark hardwood, remnants of the church’s past. I sat in the youth choir section, which was directly across from the adult choir section.
  The altar was on my right between the two choirs. A railing encircled the altar and the chairs for the ministers. On the outside of the railing was a section for kneeling sinners, for those coming to get saved or to rededicate their lives to Jesus.
  Every night, as we sang the last hymn, the visiting minister, the revival speaker, put out the call to the altar. As we sang, people would put down their hymnals and walk up to the altar. Some would be crying, some looked scared, some looked relieved, some looked determined. But afterwards, they all looked relieved.

  I hadn’t gone up to the altar all week. I had been baptized when I was about nine, and I wasn’t sure how that played into salvation.
  From what I was hearing from the revival speaker, it didn’t mean anything. I was still a sinner and still far from God and still not saved.
  And there was a specific way to be saved. One had to accept Jesus into their hearts to be saved. Believing that he existed wasn’t enough either.
  During the final hymn all through the week, I had felt intensely anxious. I would feel a growing dread as we sang a hymn such as “Just As I Am.” My arms felt numb, I couldn’t concentrate on the words of the hymn and I felt afraid.
  I wondered if the fear was God’s way of telling me that I needed to be saved. I wondered if I needed to go to the altar.
  I wished I knew what the people going forward had prayed. The preacher usually talked to them, too, at the altar.

  This Friday night, we sang the final hymn, and I felt that now-familiar fear and dread and anxiety. I was afraid to go up to the altar. I was shy. But I was afraid not to go up, too. And some of my friends had gone up earlier in the week and seemed happy for doing it.
  In a daze, I put down the hymnal and walked the short walk to the altar and knelt down. I didn’t know what to do. I closed my head and bowed my head, but I didn’t really know what to pray.
  The prayer that came out without thinking, out loud, in a whisper, was something like, “Oh, God, please forgive me.”
  I remember opening my eyes and seeing the minister smile at me. I looked behind me and saw my parents, who had come up to stand behind me. They were smiling, too. I heard the minister talking to my parents, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying.
  Then I heard my parents tell the minister that I had been baptized. The minister looked at me and told me I had rededicated my life to Christ that night.

  When I got home, I opened up my Bible, the white one with my name embossed on the front that I had received for Christmas one year, and in the front wrote the date and that I had rededicated my life to Christ on that date.

  This was the beginning of my obsession about being saved. I couldn’t resolve within me how getting baptized was something that had saved me when I heard ministers and then, when I started going to Christian schools, school officials and teachers say that you had to accept Christ in your heart to be saved. I knew I hadn’t done that when I was baptized. But I hadn’t prayed that on May 2, 1975. All I’d prayed was for God to forgive me. Was that being saved?
  But what I was learning at church at revivals and at school especially was telling me that one had to pray a certain prayer and ask specifically for forgiveness from sins and for Jesus to come into your heart. That was the only way to be saved.
  I don’t know how many times I prayed for forgiveness and for Christ to come into my heart. I was looking for the feeling that I was saved, for a reassurance that I didn’t need to worry about it any more.
  That was a reassurance that I knew others my age had who were saved. They didn’t seem to doubt their salvation at all. They could point to a date or an age and say with certainty that they had been saved then.

  How did religion affect you when you were a child?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On the job: OCD in the workplace

My desk at work.

Monday was my third anniversary at my current job, and it prompted me to think about ways my obsessive-compulsive disorder affects me on the job.
We spend a significant portion of our time in the workplace if we work outside the home. And if we have OCD, we bring it to work with us.
Some of us may be able to adjust enough to perform our jobs well despite having OCD. For others of us, the anxiety disorder affects our ability to do our job.
How can we cope? What does the law say about OCD in the workplace?

My story

I recently wrote a post about a hectic day I had trying to gather news on a homicide case.
On that day, my compulsive checking of my phone came to light. But there are other ways OCD affects my work.
In some ways, my obsessions and compulsions make me a good employee. I am very careful with the details, with the facts. I am conscientious about doing a good job.
But the OCD pushes my conscientiousness into the negative.

Here’s an overview of what I do in my job. I’m a staff writer for a weekly newspaper called the Altavista Journal.
I’m the county reporter. That means I cover Campbell County government, the sheriff’s office and the courts.
I also do general assignment reporting as needed. I may go to a chamber of commerce ribbon cutting for a photo; I may interview a local author; I may write about a new business in town.
At larger papers, I would probably have just one of those beats, but at a small weekly, a single reporter does a lot of different things.
In addition to covering and writing the news, I help with layout, editing and proofing on Tuesdays, the day we prepare the paper for the printers.
I also upload the stories to our website and prepare the e-edition.

When I write, I am full of anxiety because of all the checking and rechecking of my notes and attributions.
The result is that it takes me longer than it should to write a story.
I’ve never missed a deadline—and sometimes, a tight deadline actually helps me get the job done. But time is wasted.
Accuracy and honesty are keys to good journalism, and I’ll never stop striving for the best I can do. My problem is knowing where “doing my best” ends and “this is OCD” begins.
If I don’t check my notes one more time, am I risking getting a fact wrong? Am I being careless?
Checking also comes into play when I update the newspaper website. I worry about putting the wrong headline or byline on a story or making some other mistake.
How do I cope? I use the same tools that I use with OCD at home and in other parts of my life. I tell myself that it’s OCD and not a real concern. I write a story and stop myself from rereading it for the umpteenth time. I refuse to check behind myself when I update the website. I practice sitting with the anxiety.
Am I always successful? No. But I keep on trying.


Michael Tompkins, Ph.D., discusses OCD in the workplace in his book OCD: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed.
He said when the OCD gets so bad that it interferes with our ability to do our job, it could be time to consider whether or not to tell our employer about our OCD.

“The Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) protects you from discrimination by an employer due to mental illness, such as OCD. In addition, a prospective employer cannot deny you employment simply because you have OCD, if you are otherwise qualified for the position. Although this is the law, many people with OCD have had quite different experiences when they told their employers that they have OCD. For this reason, it is important that you carefully consider the potential costs and benefits of telling or not telling your current or potential employer about your OCD and that you discuss this with your therapist, if you are currently in treatment.” (p. 126)

Tompkins goes on to say that those with disabilities must be able “to perform the essential functions or duties of the job, with reasonable accommodations” (126).
A reasonable accommodation may mean an adjustment in schedule or task: “For example, if getting to work on time is a problem because of your OCD or appointments with your therapist, or if your medication causes drowsiness in the morning, you might ask for a flexible schedule that permits you to come in later in the morning and work later in the day” (p. 129).

I told my boss that I had OCD. When I began having nearly weekly appointments with my therapist, I felt like I needed to explain why I needed to be away from work for them.
Thankfully, he is familiar with OCD and my telling him has worked out well.
I don’t believe I need any other accommodations other than the flexibility to go to my appointments because I am able to perform my job despite the OCD. I’m in treatment, and I believe the OCD will only get better with more work on my part.
I’m grateful for that.

Does OCD affect you in the workplace? Have you told your employer or would you tell your employer about your OCD?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Update: my 50th year

About two and a half months ago, I started my 50th year with some plans. I thought I’d update you on how I’m doing.

My therapy is continuing. My therapist wants me to make weekly appointments through at least October for the CBASP for chronic depression.
I hope then we will have done enough work that I can focus more on cognitive behavior therapy for the obsessive-compulsive disorder.
My therapist and I are already seeing results from the CBASP therapy, so I feel like my time with him is well spent.
And my own efforts with the OCD, with encouragement from my therapist, are helping me.

One of my 50th year goals is to get in better physical shape. I am using the plan to participate in the Giblet Jog 5K, on Thanksgiving Day to inspire me. I’m scared to death to participate in a race—I never have.
And I’ve started my “training”—if you can call it that—very slowly, without consistency.
So I’ve got some work to do within the next three months.

Another one of my goals for my 50th year is to finish a draft of my first book. I’m not aiming for a perfect draft or the last draft, but a first draft.
I have finally written down details of how I’m going to accomplish this.
I will be continuing the writing that I’m doing now—scenes, vignettes and stories—until Nov. 30. I’ll use December to go through everything and find a structure. Then I’ll start the actual draft in January and have it finished by May 30, my 50th birthday.
Keeping to this schedule will mean early mornings and late nights, but I am quite determined to get it done.

To accomplish these goals, I’ll have to fight the procrastination that seeps into my activities. I’ll be writing more about procrastination in a future post.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that a few weeks ago I decided go from posting every weekday to posting three times a week.
That didn’t work out. I just seemed to have more to say than three posts a week could take care of.
I’ve decided to compromise with myself. I will post Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. That will give me some breathing room while also giving me the time for doing something I love so much, blogging.

Are you working on some projects that you’ve set goals for? What would you like to share about them? Do you have any advice on how to stick to goals?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The occasional Saturday photo: The tree

“Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?” Walt Whitman

“There are rich counsels in the trees.” Herbert P. Horne

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.” Mahatma Gandhi

I love trees. What is your favorite part of the natural world?

Friday, August 10, 2012

A respite: Trip to the Peaks of Otter

   I wrote Monday about the hectic nature of last Saturday, when I had to work a difficult story at the same time as I was enjoying an outing with Larry.
We went up on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Peaks of Otter.
We didn’t climb any of the mountains, but we did walk around at the Lodge and took photos, then enjoyed a good meal in the dining room while we looked out over the lake and Sharp Top and watched rain pour down.
It was a quiet, peaceful and enjoyable trip.

This is a view of Sharp Top.

Along the path that winds around the lake, I found some wildlife enjoying the flowers.

Part of the path is covered with wooden boards.

The path curved around for another view of Sharp Top.

The path turned to gravel.

The path winds between the lake and trees.

We really liked Sharp Top.

What places do you go to for beauty and peace?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

How mental illness has limited me, but not stopped me

Would I be a college professor? Would I live in Virginia? Would I be a published author by now?

Yesterday, I wrote about how my father’s dreams may have changed during the course of his life. Today, I’m writing about something similar.
In July I wrote a post in which I asked for suggestions on topics for this blog. One suggestion was to write about whether or not mental illness caused a limitation in my life.
The easy answer to that question is yes; obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression most definitely have limited my life.
There are many things I haven’t done because of my mental illnesses.
Because I was in a deep depression, I transferred from one college to another. That had a profound effect on my life, changing what I did after graduation and what my opportunities and influences may be been.
Chiefly because of my OCD and the ways it affected my reading and writing, I never finished my doctorate degree in English. I made it through the classes, the written and oral exams and the dissertation presentation. But I never wrote the dissertation.
And how many missed opportunities were there because I was too scared to try? How many people did I never meet because of my anxiety?

What job would I have? What friends would I have? Where would I have traveled?

Sometimes these missed opportunities, these “if only” statements grieve me. I wonder what my life would be like if I didn’t have OCD and depression.

What kind of person would I be? Who would be in my life?

But, of course, without OCD and depression, I may not have had a better life, just a different one.
Do I want to be a college professor now? No. Am I happy in the job I’m in now? Yes. Do I like living in Virginia? Yes. Do I enjoy the writing I do now? Yes.
And most importantly, am I happy with the people in my life? Yes.
The path my life took may not be what I planned when I was a teenager and in my 20s, but it led me to my husband, Larry. It led to our life together.
And the path led me to become the person I am today. Who is to say it’s not the person I’m meant to be?

The questions, the “what ifs,” float around me sometimes, but I have hope that I am where I am for a reason.
That doesn’t mean I don’t work to lift some of the limitations I’ve allowed OCD and depression to place on me. Usually, those are situations where I feel fear, and I’m learning ways to push through the fear.
But focusing on my past will not make my life today better. I’ve grieved enough for what might have been. It’s time to truly focus on life today, on what I have to do today.

Can asking “what if” ever help us? When does it become more harmful than helpful?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A poem: What happens to our dreams?

I’m posting something different today: a poem that I wrote many years ago about my father.
He died in 1997 at age 76. A few years prior to that, I began to talk with him about his childhood and his life and encouraged him to write down his stories. He wrote down many of the stories of his life in ruled notebooks.
This poem was a yearning to understand the dreams that my father had and how they were changed by his life circumstances.
Tomorrow, I will post about how my own dreams were changed by obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression.

On my father being 72

I watched my father walk through the cows.
Black Angus cows. They snorted, shifted, chewed.
He didn’t run when they knocked against him.
He never ran from them.

He climbed atop the dull red tractor,
settled into the old pillow tied to the metal seat.
He pulled away from the herd, headed to the stable,
the wagon following, me on the wagon. I was 8.
I dragged a tobacco stick in the dust below.

Last week I saw a man at the park
moving slower than the power walkers pumping by.
He wore brown slacks, was bent over like he needed a cane,
like he had left it on the bleachers to try just one lap.
I glanced up as I jogged by:
white hair, not gray,
the white of my father’s hair, his father’s.

If I listened to your quiet talk, would I hear your dreams?

The war, I used to think, did something to my father’s dreams,
Something that marred the surface
of his war stories of New Guinea, Peleliu, Japan.
As a child, I’d ask, did it hurt when you were shot?
Now, I’d ask, where did it hurt?
Was it deep inside to the little boy
who never missed church choir practice,
who whirled round and round in a wooden toy car,
who worked the fields instead of going to school?
The young soldier who dreamed his medic’s bag
was a doctor’s bag full of the right medicine,
enough suture for the ripped battlefields?
I wonder what dreams he had that night underneath the Jeep,
huddled with his friend, his lifelong friend
who wrapped his arm again and again with narrow bandages.

He could have gone to college, to medical school,
walked the halls of the hospitals.

But he came back to the tobacco fields,
to the sticks and twine and stained hands,
to pastures with cows.
He walked down the meadow strip into the corn,
into shady tunnels.

  Have you ever wondered what happened to the dreams of a parent or someone else in your life?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Snippet of a memoir: Anxiety at the football game

Me in sixth grade.

  In the fall of 1974, I was 11 years old and in the sixth grade. I was very shy and timid. I could talk with my friends, but being around people older than me—teenagers—or anyone I didn’t know made me silent and unable to carry on a conversation.
  It was hard for me to know what to do with myself when I was part of a group. I stood awkwardly or looked for somewhere to sit that seemed safe. I felt like everyone was staring at me. I felt like everyone thought I was ugly and stupid and certainly not cool.
  I didn’t know it then, but I was probably suffering from generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety even then.
And obsessive-compulsive disorder was beginning to make stronger claims on my life.
One Friday night, my second older brother and I went to the local high school football game with a neighborhood group of kids, siblings that lived nearby. I wanted to go because I liked to hang out with these other kids, and it was fun to go on outings despite my shyness.
When we arrived at the gate to the football stadium, my brother and friends went up to the ticket counter and bought their $1 tickets.
I hesitated. I was too scared to go up to buy the ticket, not sure how to act. I had the money in my pocket, but I was too afraid to get it out and offer it to the people at the ticket counter.
Then my brother and friends started walking away, into the stadium. I didn’t want to be left behind—the idea of being alone there was frightening—so I followed them in. Without buying a ticket. Without paying my way.
I can still feel how guilty I felt, the heaviness that hung over my chest, the adrenaline that shot through me.
My brother said, “You didn’t pay. You need to go back and pay.”
“I did pay,” I said. I was too embarrassed to admit what I’d done, but I was also too afraid to go back and pay for a ticket.
So now I had a lie to add to my crime.
I didn’t watch the game. Even if I had understood football, I wouldn’t have been able to get the guilt out of my mind and my heart. Every now and then my brother would remind me that I hadn’t paid, and I would lie again.
I was near the breaking point by the time we got home. I went into my room, took out the dollar that I should have spent going into the football game, and tore it up. My reasoning was that I wouldn’t benefit from having an extra dollar.
Of course, that was just one more crime I committed that night.
I don’t know how much time elapsed before I told my mother, but I do know the sense of guilt hung on me and didn’t let go. I knew what I had done was wrong, and I was sure I was in trouble with God because of it.
One day I started crying and couldn’t stop. When my mother asked me what was wrong, I told her the whole story.
My mother did not tolerate stealing or lying. But she was gentle with me on this one, probably because I was so upset and so obviously sorry.
“Well, ask God to forgive you,” she said,” and put an extra dollar in the church collection plate.”
And I did.
I was wrong to go into the football game without paying. But this incident illustrates to me my burgeoning case of OCD.
That was the first confession that I remember giving to my mother. It would soon become the norm for me to ruminate over my sins, or what I thought were my sins, and confess them, known sins and all, to my mother.
I would desperately search for forgiveness from her and from God, praying the same words over and over, trying to get them right.
“Oh, Lord, please forgive me. Please forgive, please. Oh, Lord, please forgive me. Please forgive me, please.”

  Have you experienced anything like my football game experience because of anxiety?

Monday, August 6, 2012

A long day with OCD

I couldn’t get enough bars on my phone. How could I do my job? How would I make it through the weekend if I couldn’t get the information I needed now?

Those were the thoughts that I brought along with me as I went through the day on Saturday.
It started early in the morning when my husband told me about a story he saw on the website of the local TV news station: there had been a suspicious death in the county that the sheriff’s office was investigating.
At my newspaper job, I cover the county: the government, courts and the sheriff’s office. I needed to find out what was going on.
So I took a quick shower (quick for me) and jumped in my car to try to find the site of the investigation, hoping there would be officials available to give me a statement.

Some background: One of the things that bothers my obsessive-compulsive disorder the most with my job as a reporter for a weekly newspaper is depending on others to get in touch with me.
I write my stories based in large part on talking with others. Some of that is done by phone. I leave a lot of voice mail messages; I wait for a lot of people to call me back.
I have a hard time waiting for them to call back.
I obsess over whether or not I punched in the correct phone number to call the person. What if I left my voice mail message on the wrong phone for the wrong person? If I’m using my cell phone, I compulsively check the call history to make sure I called the correct number.
When I don’t get a call back right away, I worry that the person never got the message. So I call again, compulsively checking the number again.

Saturday morning, I drove up and down the road where the person who died had lived. I searched for the house, looked for yellow police tape, for sheriff’s office vehicles, for signs of a crime scene. I found none.
I worried that I wasn’t doing due diligence, so I put more miles on my car than was necessary to try to find the scene.
I finally saw a couple of deputies on the side of the road, and they told me to contact the major about the case.
I have regular contact with the major. I tried his office phone first: voice mail. Then I tried his cell phone number, which I had programmed into my phone and written down in my little phone book I carry with me.
It was a wrong number. Now I worried about the accuracy with which I had written down the number in the first place. Maybe he had just changed his number. Maybe I hadn’t been careful enough.
I finally left two messages: one on his office voice mail and one with dispatch. That covered all the bases I had available.

Back home, my husband asked me if I still wanted to go on the outing we had planned for the day. I didn’t expect a call back any time soon, and I had my cell phone with me, so I said yes.
I didn’t realize that during parts of our trip on back roads, I’d have no cell connection. I received notice that I had a voice mail. I thought it was probably from the major, but I couldn’t even call my voice mail system to hear it. No bars.
We finally reached a small city where I could listen to the message. He hadn’t left any numbers for me to call, so I called his office again, then dispatch again and left another message.
I knew then we’d be driving back into areas with no nearby cell phone towers, so I began to obsess over not getting to talk with this man.
What if he tried to reach me again and just got my voice mail? What if he got mad at me and didn’t try again? What if I couldn’t get any information until Monday? Then I wouldn’t be able to get anything on the website. My whole weekend would be ruined if I couldn’t talk with him that day.
So my thinking went.

But I was with my husband, and we were going to a lovely place (which I’ll write about in a future post), and I decided to try to focus on him and what we were doing and not worry about the major.
The thought that I was going to miss out on the story crept in from time to time, but for the most part, I was able to focus on the moment.

My anxiety returned as we drove back to cell service areas. Long story short, I left another message, and the major left a couple of messages, and we played phone tag. I finally got to talk with him.
I learned that the suspicious death was indeed a homicide.
When we got back to Altavista, I went into the office, wrote a short brief and loaded it up on our website.
Then finally I could go home and relax.

I had an anxious day. But, of course, I suffered nothing like the family of the man who had been murdered. God bless him and God be with his family.

Do you ever have days full of anxiety, with one thing after another happening? How do you respond?