Saturday, September 29, 2012


About three or four years before he died, my father started writing down his life story at my request.
He wrote in pencil and filled one wire-bound notebook completely and another partially.
He also talked more about his life during that time, and I asked more questions, about his childhood and his life in general.
I treasure the stories he left behind.
This is a poem based in part on stories he told me. It’s not completely biographical. But I have a little chair that was used similarly to the way it’s depicted in the poem.
I wrote it years ago, but I recently rewrote part of it.

By Tina Fariss Barbour

His great-grandmother held him all one winter
by the woodstove fire.
She held him all winter,
pressing his face against her chest
dressed in soft, black cotton,
clasping him gently as if he were
a newborn with a pliant head.

He was three, sick with rheumatic fever,
too fretful for his trundle bed.

She didn’t sit in a rocking chair,
but a straight, low, handmade chair.
She crossed her thin ankles,
rising only for dinner
or water from a wooden bucket.

The hours made an imprint,
Oval sink in the pine,
Smooth as if sanded for splinters.

When the fever left him,
she turned over the chair,
seat’s edge against the floor,
and he crawled, shaking
then walked again,
pushing the chair
until its edges were rounded.

  Do you have a piece of furniture or other item that’s been passed down to you that holds a special meaning?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Public bathrooms and contamination OCD

There are things I don’t want to touch. There are places I don’t want to go. There are things I don’t want to see.
I have contamination OCD.
Over the years, it has morphed from an obsession with germs on my hands that led me to compulsively wash them to an obsession with bathrooms.
Over the years, the length of time it takes me to clean the bathroom has become a lot shorter.
But one obsession has remained, and that is one about public bathrooms.
I hate to use them. I hate to even go into them because of what I might see.
I used to wonder what it was that I was so afraid of about public bathrooms. I didn’t have the same fear I used to have about hand washing, that I’d pass along germs to others and make them sick. I wasn’t afraid of getting sick myself. So what was it?
Months ago my therapist mentioned that I could be afraid of feeling disgust. But I didn’t really relate that to OCD.
Then I read what Jonathan Grayson wrote about contamination OCD in his book Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty.
Grayson wrote, “Most obsessions have consequences that you are afraid of” (p. 29). Considering contamination OCD involving bodily fluids like saliva sweat and blood, he named “four different feared consequences that can appear singly or in combination: (1) harm to oneself; (2) harm to others; (3) finding the idea of contact with bodily fluids overwhelmingly disgusting; and/or (4) feeling that having thoughts of contamination is too awful to contemplate” (p. 29).
Numbers three and four fit my contamination OCD. I don’t want to touch or see anything disgusting. I don’t want to even think of anything disgusting.
And there can be plenty of disgusting things to see in a public bathroom.
I’m not talking about things that I imagine are contaminated. I’m talking about stains and smears that I can see.
I’m having a problem with the public bathroom in the building where I work. It’s on the first floor of a building that houses several businesses and gets a lot of traffic. The bathroom is not cleaned often enough.
That’s not just my opinion. Other women in my office also find the bathroom unclean.
But sometimes I have to use it. I have to spend hours at work without leaving sometimes.
When I do go into the bathroom, I try not to look directly at anything. I glance around and try to quickly measure which is the cleanest stall. I cover everything in toilet paper and don’t touch anything barehanded except the water faucet to wash my hands.
I dread going to the bathroom. I get anxious about it. I avoid it when I can.
And I sometimes make plans about going somewhere based on whether or not I’ll have to use a public bathroom.
I know I should do some kind of exposure.
At this point, I am not willing to go into a public bathroom and touch a stain or smear that someone else has left behind. It makes me want to throw up just writing it. I’m not going down that exposure road.
But since I’m trying to avoid feeling disgusted, would it help to put myself deliberately in positions of seeing something I find disgusting? To not turn away, but to stare at it?
I’m frustrated with myself and wonder if I’m not willing to do enough to overcome this obsession.

How can I deal with this aspect of contamination OCD? Any suggestions?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

OCD and the injury

The doctor warned me that I’d have a scar.
That was the least of my worries.
What worried me the most was how I was going to deal with both obsessive-compulsive disorder and the injury.

What happened

It happened on a Friday five years ago. I was working for the health department as a health educator. That morning, I was creating a database to use in organizing some information, and I decided I wanted something hot to drink.
I picked up a coffee mug and a pack of hot chocolate and headed to another office in the building where hot water was kept on a warmer all day.
I was wearing new shoes that were slip on and sandal-like. The floors had also recently been buffed. Whether it was the shoes, the slightly slippery floors, my own clumsiness, or a combination, I fell down on the floor.
My hand holding the mug struck the floor hard, and the mug broke. A sharp edge scooped out part of my middle finger on my right hand.
My first response was shock, then embarrassment. I stood up, looked down at my hand, and saw the blood starting to pour. I used my left hand to try to catch it, to try to keep it from landing on the floor.
Several co-workers, including some of the nurses, soon surrounded me. They wrapped my hand in paper towels and held it over my head.
They decided that I needed to go across our parking lot to the hospital, to the urgent care center beside the emergency room, to get stitches.

The light bulb

It turned out to be impossible to get stitches. There was nothing to stitch together, the doctor told me. All she could do was cauterize the wound to stop most of the bleeding and wrap it securely enough so that it would be protected while it healed.
A technician came in to wrap it. She took white gauze and wrapped and wrapped and wrapped.
I ended up with a bandage that resembled a big, white light bulb.


I immediately began thinking of all the things I did and the ways I did them and how not having full use of my right hand for a good six weeks was going to affect things.
How would I take a shower and get clean enough? How could I clean the bathroom?
And how would I keep the bandage clean?
I was supposed to keep the same bandage on until the following Monday, when I was scheduled for a recheck of the wound.
But I kept it on for one day only. I thought I could see dirt on it. Whether or not any dirt was there was not the point. I thought it was there and couldn’t stand having a dirty bandage on.
So I took it off and created my own. It still looked like a light bulb, except it had corners.

Six weeks

For the six weeks I wore the bandage, I learned to adapt. I discovered that I could clean the bathroom with one hand. I could do many things with one hand.
I learned to take a shower with a freezer bag over my bandaged hand. I held it in the air out of the stream of water as much as possible during my shower routine. Afterwards, I changed the bandage.
And I learned ways to raised my middle finger out of the way of food and other things that would get it dirty.

OCD again

What I ended up doing was just figuring out new ways to do my OCD compulsions.
If I had known about exposure and response prevention (ERP) then, I could have used the time to deal head-on with some of those compulsions.
The doctor was right. I do have a scar. I’m still not worried about that.

  Have you ever been in a situation where your routine was drastically changed and you had to find ways to adapt? Did it make you anxious? Or was it a welcome change?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Medication and addiction

I don’t remember a lot of the details of this story.
I remember that the doctor prescribed the medication in the fall of 1986, when I was in graduate school in Ohio.
I first saw the doctor who took me off the medication during the winter of 1989. I know this only because I dated a book that he recommended to me Feb. 20, 1989.
In between, the details aren’t so clear.

I started having bouts of diarrhea in 1986. I could not predict when they would hit me. It seemed not to matter what I ate or didn’t eat. The bouts hit hard and suddenly.
When I decided to take a trip with classmates to New England that would involve about a 14-hour drive, I panicked. What if I got diarrhea on the van and couldn’t make it to a bathroom? I would have to use public bathrooms. What if they weren’t clean?
My obsessive-compulsive disorder had me obsessing over the possibilities.
Finally, I went to student health on campus and a doctor prescribed a drug for me. It worked.
During the trip, I wanted to insure that I wouldn’t have any diarrhea. So I took extra pills. I figured if one would help, more would help more. And I didn’t have any stomach problems on the trip.

I continued to take the medication, and if I was facing a situation where I wanted to be sure not to have to worry about having diarrhea, I took extras.
The pills made me sleepy and dopey, but the side effects were worth it to me not to have to face a potentially embarrassing episode and not to have to worry about it.

At some point, I discovered when I tried to get the medication refilled at student health that I was making the request too soon. In other words, I finished up a prescription before I should have.
The pharmacist expressed concern, I remember, but I revealed nothing to her.
I didn’t reveal that I took more of the medication than I needed. I didn’t reveal to her that I panicked inside when she told me I couldn’t get the medication refilled.
I didn’t want to be without the drug.

I don’t remember how I ended up in the office of the medical director. Isn’t that something, that I don’t remember those details?
I suspect I can’t remember because the medication was blurring my thinking. And I wanted to put the whole episode out of my mind when it was over.
I was in talk therapy at the time with a psychologist on campus. It would be another year before she referred me to a psychiatrist, but perhaps she referred me to the medical doctor for my depression.

Regardless of how I ended up there, I found myself telling the medical director about my depression without sharing any details about it.
I also didn’t share with him my dependence on the medication.

I didn’t even admit to myself that I was addicted to the medication. I told myself I needed it to keep from having diarrhea, and that if I stopped taking it, all my problems would start again.

The medical director told me that he didn’t want to prescribe anything for depression until he knew whether or not I was depressed. The medication could be depressing me, he said. And there was another medication that would help my stomach problems without presenting the same dangers.
He worked out a plan for me to wean myself off the medication and start the new one.
He also talked to me about the importance of exercise and introduced the idea of meditation to me.
And he told me to come back in six weeks.

I didn’t wean myself off the medication. I took it in extra doses until it was all gone. I had no refills left, just the new medication for my stomach.

I didn’t sleep well or much at all in the weeks leading up to my next appointment with the medical director. When I remember that time, I picture myself figuratively “walking on the ceiling.” I couldn’t relax. I never felt sleepy. I felt like I was on high alert all the time.
My body was reacting to the removal of a depressive medication that I had taken for over two years.
My depression didn’t lift. The doping of my physical system and my mind lifted, but the clinical depression remained.

When I went back to see the medical director, we didn’t talk about addiction, and he didn’t prescribe anything for my depression.
But with his encouragement, I did begin to think about starting a running routine, which I eventually did later that year. And I tried meditation for the first time, based on the book The Relaxation Response, by Herbert Benson, MD, with Miriam Z. Clipper.

  I have a different relationship with and a respect for medication today. I don’t want to have another story in my life missing so many details.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

First day of autumn

Photos from fall 2010.

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”
-George Eliot

Thanks to Elizabeth of In My Own for sharing this quote.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Answers to your questions

Wow. You guys know how to ask questions!

I’m usually the one asking questions, whether it’s on the job as a reporter or in my personal life. I have been reminded that it’s not always easy to be the one answering the questions.

This exercise was fun, though. And your questions really made me ponder some things.

Thank you to those who participated in this!

Shannon at She’s Mental
How in the world do you think you were chosen to get the blessing of these illnesses?
  I wish I knew. I don’t know whether or not I was “meant” to have OCD and depression. But I do believe that because I have them, I have had experiences that help me relate to others with mental illnesses.

Amanda at Therapy Addict
Is there anything that folks do not know or understand about OCD, that you wish they did? Has blogging helped you in some way, in terms of dealing with your diagnoses?
  I don’t think everyone without OCD understands how exhausting it is. The anxiety is draining, and the compulsions can take up a lot of time and effort.
  Blogging has been tremendously helpful to me. I have met some incredibly supportive and caring people online who understand what I go through. And blogging provides me with an opportunity to connect with others.

I know you’re not supposed to . . . but do you have a favorite cat? (shhh, I won’t tell!)
Do you want to get me in trouble with my kitties?
Seriously, I love all my kitties, including those who are no longer with us.
I did have a special relationship with Waddles. She was my first baby, and we spent a lot of time together.

What is one thing you would love to have or achieve in your life, but you know you won't be able to do it, and how can you compensate?
  I couldn’t think of one thing I want to have or achieve that I know I won’t be able to in some way, but I do have a sense of lost opportunities. I know I’ll never be 21 again with all the possibilities that I once had. I try to compensate for that feeling by remembering that all I really have is now, and I can still accomplish a lot.

Why do you love cats?
  I love dogs and other animals, too, but cats are special to me for many reasons. They are graceful but strong, independent but loving, and funny. So funny. I love to watch them move and eat and bathe and play and sleep. Everything they do is done with great elegance.

Do you think that it’s ever possible to totally overcome an OCD obsession, or is it always there?
I have to answer I don’t know, but I lean towards thinking no, you can’t ever completely get over an OCD obsession. It fades to the background and can seem forgotten, but then it can reappear for seemingly no reason.
What changes more is my ability to resist the obsession and not give in to the compulsion. For me, that’s what I have more control over.

How does OCD influence your writing life (if it does)? What are you writing right now (for yourself, not for work)?
OCD affects my writing in a couple of ways. Time given to obsessions and compulsions is time that I could be writing. And sometimes an obsession about plagiarism eats away at my creativity.
Right now, I’m working on a memoir about my life with OCD and depression. I’ve also started writing poetry again after many years.

What makes you angry? And if I can ask a second one, it would be: If you could be granted a wish and be ride of one obsession/compulsion forever, what would it be?
Many things can make me angry, but what is sure to make me angry is when I witness someone taking advantage of a person or animal. Injustice makes me angry.
If I could be rid of one obsession/compulsion forever, it would be my writing OCD. I hate the anxiety that keeps me from being willing to sit down and write sometimes. I hate worrying about plagiarism and being perfect. Writing OCD affects what I love to do.

Janet at ocdtalk
If you weren’t blogging about mental illness, or cats, what topics would you like to blog about?
  I think I would have a writing/storytelling blog. I would write about my writing life, share pieces for feedback, and tell stories.

What is the piece of writing that you are most proud of?
 What came to mind is an essay that I wrote about Waddles. It is about how much she helped to change my life for the better. I wrote it a few years ago, but I still tweak it from time to time. I may publish it on my blog eventually.

Do you write every day or do you keep a particular schedule (apart from the blogging schedule, that is)?
  I write mostly in the evening. I also try to write during the day on the weekends. I am trying to transition to a schedule where I write early in the morning, but that’s not going very well.

Added later: one more question--
Lolly of Lolly's Hope
Can I steal this idea and use it in the future on my blog? Also, what is your favorite food?
  Of course you can use this idea. I got the idea from another blog myself.
  My favorite food is peanut butter. And bread. And caramel.

  And now, dear readers, please leave me a comment and tell me why you started blogging, or, if you don’t blog, why you read blogs.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ask me a question

Ask me anything.
Ask me a question, and I’ll answer it.

I got this idea from a great blogger, Kim of My Inner Chick, who recently opened her blog to readers’ questions.

I thought this would be fun, plus helpful because it would allow for questions about things that I might not have addressed on my blog but need to.

So ask me anything.

Do you have a question that you’d like to ask about my obsessive-compulsive disorder? Depression? Generalized anxiety disorder?

Would you like to know about my cats? About the place animals have in my life?

Do you have a question about my writing?

Ask me anything.
I will answer the questions in Friday’s post, with a link to your blog, if you have one.

Please ask away!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Spiritual this and that

My church, Lane Memorial United Methodist.

I talked with my minister last week about my spiritual beliefs and the effects of obsessive-compulsive disorder on them, and I wanted to share some of our conversation.
We had discussed my OCD a bit in emails but had never talked about it. I was fortunate in that I didn’t have to explain everything. He’s read some of this blog, so he knew going in what OCD is and some of how it affects my spiritual life.
I told him about my doubts that I carry with me about God and asked whether or not I was a hypocrite for coming to church and sitting with people who seem to be such faithful believers.
Some of my doubts are, I believe, results of my OCD. My struggles with prayer and with being “right” with God are directly tied to it.
  But I’ve also always had a lot of questions about God, and it seems like it’s sometimes hard to get good answers from the usual sources.
He assured me that I wasn’t a hypocrite and that I needn’t worry about having doubts and fears about who God is and what place He plays in my life and in the life of others.
We also talked about mental illness in general. I was pleased that he understands that mental illness is not a rarity nor is it something to be ashamed of.
It was reassuring to me and I believe to all people with mental illness who attend our church that he has this healthy and open attitude towards those of us who struggle with these disorders.

Class update

Yesterday I attended my second session of the open discussion class at church, where we are studying Brian McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christianity.
When I talked with my minister last week, he told me that he and the class facilitator had envisioned a class where all who had questions could come and feel free to express themselves. It would be a “safe place” for people like me who had questions about God but might not feel comfortable expressing those questions in a general group setting.
We’ve just started the book, but it seemed like all the participants are already engaged, as I am.
The book asks 10 questions to start a conversation about Christianity. It’s a book that will have us doing a lot of exploring: “We need not a new set of beliefs, but a new way of believing, not simply new answers to the same old questions, but a new set of questions” (p. 18).
Some of the questions are the following: How should the Bible be understood? Who is Jesus and why is he important? What is the Gospel?
This class is going to push me and challenge me, and I believe it will help me on my spiritual journey.
Last Monday, I had my first class on Holy Communion and I’ll have my second class tonight. I am learning more about why we do what we do during Communion.
The minister is also asking for our input on how to make the worship service a better experience for all.

A spiritual quest

So I’m on a spiritual quest and feeling a lot better about it than I have in the past. I am less encumbered by OCD, partly because I’ve given up (for the most part) the chants and prayers that used to color my spiritual life.
And I’ve given them up only after a lot of effort and sitting with the anxiety. I’ve ended up not praying a lot, but I am meditating more, and I talked with my minister about saying prayers that have already been written. I am not worrying about praying, though.
I’ve also stopped obsessing over being right with God. As with the praying, that’s taken a lot of effort.
The OCD still waits in the wings of my spiritual life, but I know it’s there and plan on keeping it there as best I can.
I am a seeker, and I’m confident that I will be on a spiritual journey for the rest of my life.
And I’m confident that that’s OK.

Are you a seeker? What kind of journey are you on when it comes to the spiritual (not necessarily religious)?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My OCD is like this

  I recently wrote this poem to describe what obsessive-compulsive disorder can sometimes be like for me.
  The poem is based in part on an experience I wrote about in a previous post.

By Tina Fariss Barbour

I stare until there’s nothing to see.
The stove hasn’t moved.
The stove hasn’t changed.
The stove hasn’t given me the answer.

I stare once more for fifty times.

I beat my hands against the wall.
Help me, God, no more.

Why not my head?
Why not my head
against the wall?

It explodes me,
leaves nothing but
promises not to do it again.
It is a prayer to God.
I won’t do it again.
I’ll do it just once.

I beat my hands against the wall.
No more, please God.

Why not my head?
Why not my head
against the wall?

Friday, September 14, 2012

OCD and a trip to New England

A view of Walden Pond in 1986.

It was October 1986, and I was taking a class at Bowling Green State University that included the works of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Our professor set up a trip for the class to visit sites around Salem and Concord, Massachusetts, including Walden Pond.
About a dozen of us, making up a variety of ages and backgrounds, piled into a van and drove for hours from Ohio to New England. We were greeted by the cold but also by beautiful autumn leaves.

Another view of Walden Pond in 1986.
We visited a replica of the cabin that Thoreau stayed in during his time at Walden Pond, we visited the homes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott; visited other historical sites; and spent an evening in Boston.

A replica of the cabin Henry David Thoreau stayed in on Walden Pond.
But what I remember most about our trip was how uncomfortable I felt.
I was in the midst of the really bad OCD years, when I was consumed with contamination fears.
We stayed in a student hostel, and it was cold and damp. I worried about using quilts that others probably had used.
I had to use a shared bathroom. While the bathrooms were divided for men and women, there were four other women on the trip.
I tried to follow all my usual rituals in grooming, including brushing my teeth, showering, drying my hair, and putting in my contacts. The rituals took a long time when I was home.
Putting in my contacts was an ordeal, because they had to go in without any scratchiness in my eye or I had to take them out and redo them. I also had a set way of brushing my teeth and showering.
At the hostel, I had all the rituals I usually had in getting ready for anything plus the added rituals of trying to keep myself clean and avoid contamination in a strange environment.
I probably took at least an hour in the bathroom every morning.
I remember the irritation if not anger of one woman in particular because I took up so much of the available time for getting ready in the morning. I can’t blame her.
But I also couldn’t tell her or the others why I was taking so long. My OCD was my secret.
Another reason I felt uncomfortable was because I had started having bouts of diarrhea, what I euphemistically called “stomach problems.”
I was terrified about going on a long road trip and being unable to get to a bathroom, and having to use public bathrooms.
So before the trip, I visited student health and was given a prescription for medication to help me.
Despite my worry that the medication wouldn’t work and I would end up in an embarrassing bathroom situation, it did work.
But the medication made me incredibly sleepy and dopey. I fell asleep during one lecture at a museum we went to.
It was the first trip with others that I took when the OCD was so bad, and I felt isolated. Maybe that’s why the worries and rituals are what I remember the most about my New England trip.

Have you ever felt like your OCD or anxiety caused you to do things that inconvenienced and/or irritated others? Has your OCD or other mental illness caused you to feel isolated?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Anxiety in the world of 9/11

May peace and grace be with all those who died, those who were injured and those still suffering in any way from the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

I’m writing this in the waning hours of Sept. 11, 2012, and today I, as I’m sure millions of others did, remembered that day 11 years ago with sadness.
I remembered where I was on that day, as I’m sure many of you did.
And I thought of the world after 9/11 and how it’s changed.

On that day 11 years ago, I was at work at the health department and watched the Twin Towers fall on television. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I had to hear the late anchor Peter Jennings say it before I knew that what my eyes saw was really happening.
In the days that followed, and the months, too, I stayed glued to the news, on the radio, TV and online.
I knew that the world and the way I thought about it would never be the same.

My anxieties and my fears are so small when compared to the anxieties and fears of people around the world. I live in comfort and safety compared to many in the world.

But this is a blog about obsessive-compulsive disorder and the accompanying depression and anxiety. How do I, with these mental disorders, make sense of a world where things like what happened on 9/11 can happen?

The short answer to that is, I don’t make sense of it. I will never make sense of what happened on 9/11, of other terrorist activities, of violence and hate. I will never make sense of any of that.

But there are some things I can make sense of.

The stories of family members having their last conversations on cell phones with chaos in the background. The stories of men and women who stepped into the chaos to help save others. The people who still work to make sure we don’t forget. The people who work to help prevent other attacks, other violence.

And I make sense on a personal level of how I can navigate in the world of 9/11.

In the months immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, my anxiety was sky high. I worried about things I’d never worried about. I was scared for the safety of my loved ones. I didn’t know what might happen next.

I dreamed about a well-known American man, well respected, nonpolitical, a good person. I dreamed that he committed an awful act of violence.

I asked a friend, how could I dream something like that? It’s evidence that things are not like they used to be, she said. Things that you used to believe in aren’t there any more, she said.

I agreed with her then, and I still agree with her. I was reacting to a changing reality, even a changing personal reality.

Gradually, my global anxiety subsided as I grew used to the way things were. I had learned anew of the many things I couldn’t control. I had learned for good that time is precious and our loved ones even more precious.

Now my anxiety tends towards the personal again, what I’m doing or not doing, what others around me are doing or aren’t doing.

But I will never forget what happened on that day 11 years ago. And it is especially on days like today that I remember the lessons: time is precious and our loved ones even more so.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Going to class: a way to work out social fears

I’ve never been a social butterfly. Not even close.
As a child, I was very shy and timid, and a lot of that shyness and timidity stuck with me as I got older.
I developed the ability to operate in a social setting out of necessity—I had to work with people, for one thing.
But I still feel uncomfortable in groups of people, especially if I don’t know anyone in the group very well.
My therapist thinks I have some social anxiety, and I agree that I at least have the tendency to feel anxious in social situations.
One place I do feel relatively comfortable with groups of people is when I take a class of some sort, usually through my church.
I love to read, I love to learn, and I love listening to other people’s ideas. And a classroom is one place where it’s easier for me to express my ideas.
I haven’t taken a class in a about a year, but I recently signed up to take not one, but two classes. I am taking them for the learning, but also for the social aspect of it. I need to “get out” more and be around people and not stick so close to home. While Larry won’t be taking the classes with me, he’s supportive of me taking them.
One class is held during the normal Sunday school class time on Sunday morning. I haven’t found a regular class I felt very comfortable in, so when I learned that a new discussion group was forming, I was interested.
We met for the first time this morning. All the members are interested in learning and growing spiritually, and I look forward to open and honest discussions.
I was also glad to hear one participant say that one of the goals for the class for her was to get to know the other group members better.
The first book we’ll be studying is A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith, by Brian D. McLaren.
I went to the store today and bought a new notebook especially for the class. Did I mention that I love school and office supplies? Or that I’m a nerd?
The second class I signed up for is on Holy Communion and its meaning in the United Methodist Church and personally. A member of the church who took a similar class last year said it changed the way he viewed Communion from something he just did as part of the service to something more meaningful.
Ever the student, I did my reading for class ahead of time and can’t wait to get started with the discussions and learning.
That class meets Monday evenings, and I’ll attend my first one tonight.
Taking two classes at church still doesn’t qualify me as a social butterfly (something I’ll never be or desire to be), but it’s my way of being around people and socializing while also learning.

Do you have to force yourself sometimes to be social, to be around people? What ways of socializing work best for you?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

An offering of a poem

Years ago I attended a Roberta Flack concert in Roanoke, where she sang with the Roanoke Symphony. I wrote a poem about the experience.
I was an adult when I went to the concert, but I remembered hearing some of her music for the first time as a teenager, especially the song “Killing Me Softly.”


At a Roberta Flack Concert

By Tina Fariss Barbour

Let me set the scene:
You come around the edge of the symphony
and lift up your arms,
lift and wave the black and white
billows of your sleeves
moving them like ruffled wings
before you sit at the baby grand,
raise your face to the lavender lights.
You sing “Killing Me Softly.”

There’s this thing about me and music.
I occupy the song. It’s mine.
I wrote it. It’s the story of my life.
I’m singing it now just as surely as you are down on stage
while I’m listening far above in the bleachers

near the top, high above almost everyone,
ready for my flight, my leap out
over their heads, dipping down like
a mockingbird dips to listen.
Then I soar again out of reach
of hands that would grab me and

pull me to my seat,
my program rolled in my hand
tapping slowly in time,
keep me in the seat so I won’t leap

again to the young girl who wonders how words can hurt,
how the words of a song can reveal like a lavender spotlight,
reveal this young girl of fifteen
crooning softly with the radio
turned down so low so

no one can hear.

  Have you ever felt like a song was written for you? Are there any songs that take you back to another time?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Signs of autumn

I’ve been noticing sometimes-subtle signs of approaching autumn where I live, and I thought I’d share them with you.

*Leaves are beginning to change color.

*An abundance of acorns are falling from the oak trees.

*There are more deer in our yard eating the acorns.

*I spotted a squirrel running along this morning with an acorn in his mouth. Was he on his way to bury it for winter?

*It’s been humid here the last several days, but we’re having more days with less humidity and clarity to the air.

*School buses are a regular sight on the roads again.

*Political signs are popping up in people’s lawns.

*Fall decorations are up in a couple of businesses I’ve visited lately.

Autumn is my favorite season, and I’m looking forward to more full-fledged signs of it, including the beautiful changing of the leaves with the golds, yellows and reds. I love “sweater weather” when it’s cool in the morning and evening and a sweater feels good.

What is autumn like where you live? Are you seeing signs of it yet?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What am I thinking now? Becoming more aware of my thoughts

It’s becoming increasingly important to me to be aware of my thought patterns because I’m recognizing the ways they can affect how I feel.
I may not be able to stop or control my thoughts, but I can add new ones and guide myself to dwell on the helpful ones, like I did in the “prove it” exercise I wrote about in my last post.
I still have a lot of confusion about the importance of/lack of importance of thoughts. But I’ve been doing some interesting reading that I thought I would share with you.

According to Jonathan Grayson, Ph.D., in his Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty, one common OCD cognitive distortion is the over-importance of thoughts, also known as thought-action fusion (TAF): “If this disorder is part of your OCD, then you tend to consider thoughts equivalent to action. You spend your time trying to figure out why you are having such an awful thought and whether or not it means something terrible about you” (p. 99).
If you have TAF, you may have been “thinking that the goal of treatment is either to stop the thoughts or to know that they mean nothing of importance” (p. 99). But that’s not the goal of treatment. Rather, that “goal of treatment is to learn to accept the possibility of all these meanings—even the possibilities of the worst ones” (p. 99).

Another common OCD cognitive distortion is excessive concern about the importance of controlling your thoughts. The focus is “on the belief that you should be able to control your thoughts or avoid having certain thoughts” (p. 99). This belief doesn’t have any support, though: “Such thought control is not possible for anyone to achieve. Any and all thoughts that come into your mind, no matter how evil, twisted, or perverse they may seem, are normal” (p. 99).
Therefore, “the goal of treatment is not to stop these thoughts, but to learn to allow them to be on your mind without being upset about them” (p. 100).

For me, that’s where mindfulness comes in. In his book Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment—and Your Life, Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness in the following way: “Mindfulness is awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (p. 1).
Awareness of your thoughts is one aspect of mindfulness. Kabat-Zinn says, “We see that thoughts, when brought into and held in awareness in this way, readily lose their power to dominate and dictate our responses to life, no matter what their content and emotional charge. They then become workable rather than imprisoning” (p. 38).

When I become aware of my thoughts, whether it’s through mindfulness meditation, a writing exercise, a discussion with a therapist or friend, or some other way, I needn’t be alarmed or afraid. They are just thoughts.
How I respond to them is still my choice.

What are some things you’ve discovered when you started paying attention to your thoughts?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Fighting hopelessness

Thank you for all your wonderful comments that you left on my last post. Words cannot adequately express how touched I was by all the good thoughts that you sent my way.
I am slowly coming out of the hopelessness I have been feeling, and I feel blessed for that.
My down period, I believe, came from a series of circumstances and my responses to them.
And I think it came in part from a change in medication. I think the change is ultimately good, but my body had to adjust to no longer receiving a medication it had been getting for at least two years.

One of the things I’ve done to try to help myself is to learn a little more about hopelessness.
I turned to The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression: A Step by Step Program, 2nd Edition, by William J. Knaus, Ed.D.
He writes that in some instances, hopelessness is the reality. An example he gives is the fact that we all age. “But you don’t have to feel miserable about this reality. Even when one situation is hopeless, you can find other opportunities” (p. 144).
Hopelessness thinking is different from the real hopeless situations: “Hopelessness thinking includes overly generalized beliefs such as these: ‘My future looks dismal’; “Nothing will ever work out’; ‘Whatever I do will be futile’; ‘I will never get better’; ‘This is the way I am. I always feel miserable’” (p. 144).
As Knaus says, “unfortunate events happen, but the fatalistic resignation of hopelessness thinking is optional” (p. 145).
An example he gives is that someone may have lost his or her job, but that doesn’t mean he or she will never work again.
I appreciated being reminded that there are some hopeless situations in life. But how we react to them is so important. Giving in to hopelessness thinking is a choice. It’s a choice that’s difficult to pull out of, but it can be done.

One of the techniques Knaus gives for fighting hopelessness is what he calls the “prove it” technique. You write down your hopeless thoughts, give examples of such thoughts, and then write down alternatives.
I tried this exercise. Here’s one of my outcomes:
Hopeless thought: I’m never going to feel better; I’ll never be happy.
Example of this thought: I’ve felt bad for many years.
Alternative: I’ve felt good, too, and I can’t predict for sure that I’ll always feel bad.
And here’s another outcome:
Hopeless thought: I’ll never be able to do what I want.
Example of this thought: I’m 49 and still not doing what I want.
Alternative: That’s not true. I am doing many things that I want to do and that can grow.
This exercise helped me. Writing down my thoughts gave me something to look at and work with. And writing out my reasons for believing the hopeless thought made me see the problems with it. With the alternatives, I could argue with myself, show myself that the hopeless thought wasn’t true.

It’s more work to sit and write down my thoughts than to wallow in the hopeless thoughts, but it was worth it in my case. I began to feel like I had more control over how I felt and how I responded to things.
I plan to keep trying this exercise when I get caught up in the hopelessness thinking.

So, dear readers, I feel like I am on my way back. Thank you again for your support and caring.

Have you ever worked on negative thinking patterns in a systematic way? If so, what did you do? Does it help you to write out your thoughts?