Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween memories

   I hope all of you in Sandy’s path are safe and weathered the storm well. My thoughts and prayers are with those who were injured and killed in the storm and with those suffering from the aftereffects of the storm.
  We got through the wind just fine. It wasn't very bad, and we're very grateful that we didn't even lose power.


Since Halloween is today, I thought I’d write a bit about some of my Halloween memories.
When I was a child, I was afraid to say “Trick or Treat.”
I would either let my brother or friends I was with say it, or I would mumble it myself.
I was very shy and timid, and it took all my courage to even walk up to the door and hold out my bag for the candy. To speak out loud? Well, that was too much usually.
I wasn’t afraid of the spooks that might be out and about on Halloween—I was afraid of the people handing out the candy, even though they were people in my community.

But I still enjoyed Halloween—getting dressed up and, the best part, getting candy, which I loved.
We lived out in the country, so we had to load up in the car and drive from house to house to trick or treat.
I remember the year I had a store-bought costume of a princess. It had a blue dress and a mask of a golden haired girl with a crown.
Not many people saw my costume because that year, I wouldn’t even get out of the car. My brother had to go by himself to the doors of the homes we visited. Some of the people put in extra candy for me when they found out I was in the car.
One year, my brother was in the hospital on Halloween. I was staying with my great-aunt. Her daughter took me trick or treating with her daughter. I didn’t have a costume, so my aunt and cousin dressed me in odds and ends to make me look like a man.
Another year I wore an old purple dress that was my mother’s and dressed up with lots of jewelry and make-up and went with some friends of mine.
They knew people I didn’t know, so that year I went to more houses than I ever remember going to. I ended up with a bountiful supply of candy.
I’m sorry to say that I still love candy, too much, and eat too much, especially when it’s around the house and the office like it is now, in preparation for trick-or-treaters.

  What is a Halloween memory that is special to you?

Monday, October 29, 2012


May God bless all those who have already been in Hurricane Sandy’s path and those still in its path.
In our area of Virginia, we’re being told that wind will be the big concern, with some rain mixing in. Heavy winds can cause power outages, so we’re being told to prepare for that.
My husband and I went to the big box store today and stocked up on nonperishable food. We already had a good stockpile of batteries. When we lose power, we still have water—just not hot water—but we still stocked up on bottled water in case there’s a problem with that.
I’ve even written out the number of the electric power company to make it easier to find to report a power outage if it happens.
Larry is planning on doing some errands tomorrow to get them out of the way ahead of the biggest effects of the storm.
So we are prepared as much as we can be.
Am I feeling anxious?
Is it OCD anxiety?
The idea of the power going out does increase some of my contamination OCD concerns. At least we’ll have water, but I worry about the lack of hot water.
But is there anything I can do about that? No.
I can’t control the storm. I can only control how we prepare for it.
Times like this are a good lesson for me.

  • I learn that anxiety can actually be a reminder to get ready for something, to prepare.
  • I learn that too much news on TV can actually be counterproductive to me, as I find myself getting more nervous and experiencing an information overload.
  • I learn that once I’ve prepared all I can, I might as well focus on other things.

I hope you’re safe wherever you are, dear readers.

  Do approaching storms or other natural disasters make you anxious? How do you deal with it?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fall leaves

What is your favorite leaf color in autumn?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Why am I doing this?

One of the tasks assigned in Jonathan Grayson’s Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty is to create a cost-benefit analysis of why we are choosing to go through treatment for OCD versus not going through treatment.
This exercise has been valuable for me. I have been experiencing a lot of anxiety and discomfort from just reading about what I will have to do to get better.
Plus I have had the anxiety that goes with exposing myself to some of my fears and preventing myself from ritualizing in response.
It has been helpful to me to pull out my cost-benefit analysis and remind myself why I’m doing this.
Basically the cost-benefit analysis gets you to examine the advantages and disadvantages of going through treatment and not going through treatment.
Here’s mine:

Accepting Treatment


  • I won’t have the near-constant anxiety of OCD.
  • I will learn to live with uncertainty.
  • I will have more time to do the things I’m meant to do, like write.
  • I won’t have to spend time doing rituals.
  • I’ll feel better about myself.
  • I’ll be stronger emotionally.


  • It will take time.
  • It will be difficult.
  • It will make me uncomfortable.
  • If I take it to formal therapy, I’ll have to continue therapy and continue that cost.
  • It might not work.

Refusing Treatment


  • I won’t have to take the time to do the work.
  • I won’t have to go through the difficulty of trying to change.
  • I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work.


  • I’ll spend time doing the rituals.
  • I’ll have less time to do the things I want and need to do.
  • I’ll have the anxiety of OCD.
  • I’ll struggle with living with uncertainty.

  Have you ever used the cost-benefit analysis method, or some other method, to make decisions? How does it work for you?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

OCD treatment: Living with uncertainty

“Are you willing to learn to live with uncertainty?”
That is the key question OCD sufferers must answer before embarking on the program in Dr. Jonathan Grayson’s Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty.
Grayson holds the premise that there is no certainty in life. Even things that we think we can be certain about, we can’t.
One example Grayson uses is the belief we have that our car is in the driveway. But unless we’re looking at it, we can’t guarantee that it’s there. It could have been stolen and no longer be in the driveway.
  In addition, unless our loved ones are right in the room with us, we can’t be sure that they are safe and unharmed.
He says, “The inability to feel or be certain is reasonable. . . . Improbable is not impossible” (p. 9).
Grayson says that those with OCD already know that uncertainty is a given in life. No matter how hard we try with some of our rituals, we can’t arrive at absolute certainty in those things.
I can relate to that. My need for certainty tends to revolve around the safety of my loved ones, and even of people I don’t know. I want assurances that they will be safe and well, and a lot of my OCD ritualizing has to do with efforts to make that happen.
But keeping others 100 percent safe and well is an impossible task for me. I cannot guarantee their safety, and all of us are going to die eventually.
Grayson says that just knowing that uncertainty exists is not enough. We have to be willing to live with uncertainty.

“It is quite likely that you agree with the premise that you can never be certain. Indeed, the persistence of your OCD symptoms and its constant attendant doubt have shown you that certainty is unattainable. Yet you persist in trying to achieve the impossible. Why? Why won’t you accept what you know?
Answering the question with a ‘yes’ means choosing acceptance of what you already know instead of denial” (p. 52).

A way that we hold on to denial is through “fantasy and wishing. In the case of death, denial is not a delusional fantasy of believing the dead are alive; it is comparing the present with how much better life would be if the deceased were still alive” (p. 52).
There is a price to pay for living in denial, according to Grayson: “However, when we compare reality with fantasy, we also destroy and demean the moment” (p. 52).
That statement hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. I had never thought of denying uncertainty as denying reality. I had never thought of denying reality as disrespecting the very moment we’re in.
Acceptance of reality means acceptance of uncertainty. Acceptance of uncertainty, living with uncertainty, means living with the uncertainty of whether the lights in the office are off, whether or not my hands are contaminated, whether or not the stove is off, and so many other uncertainties in life, including the big ones, like whether or not my loved ones are safe and well.
My answer to the question? Yes.

  How important do you think it is to accept uncertainty?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fighting OCD: Making a commitment

I have decided to make a bigger commitment to fighting my OCD.
I am going to use Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty, by Jonathan Grayson Ph.D., as my chief guide.
I am going to follow the program as closely as I can.
This decision has been a while in the making. I started cognitive behavioral therapy for my OCD earlier this year, but my therapist and I decided to concentrate instead on my chronic depression.
We’re still working on that. But I want to work on my OCD, too.
Here are my reasons:

  1. I’m tired of feeling the constant anxiety related to OCD.
  2. My scattered approach to fighting the disorder has not been effective.
  3. I’ve read about and heard about people who have had success with an intensive program of therapy, specifically exposure and response therapy.
  4. I want to be free of the control of OCD.

Though it’s usually best to work with a therapist on this program, the book does provide guidance for those wishing to work on their OCD on their own.
I’ve been working hard—and I don’t say that lightly—in preparation for beginning. I have completed an extensive assessment checklist for both my obsessions and my compulsions, so I can group together those that cause the most anxiety.
I’ve been thinking about and noting my daily routines, so I can be sure I include as many of the OCD symptoms as I can in my work.
And I’ve been working on my fear hierarchies, which will provide me with the basis for the exposure and response therapy.
I’ll be writing scripts to help me get through the exposures and to help me avoid doing rituals.
And I’m making a commitment to live with uncertainty.
I was taking a shower this morning and became aware of how much tension and anxiety my body was holding because of the rituals that I go through during my routine.
I knew then that I had made the right decision in committing to focus on my OCD with Grayson’s book, and other sources, helping me.
Here’s my first script, one where I talk to OCD:

   OCD, I am going to win this. You’ve influenced me for most of my life—for over 40 years. I know you’ll still influence me. But you’re going to have a very small influence. You are not going to win. I don’t want to think of myself as at war with you. But we’re going to make peace, and it’s going to be on my terms. I am going to stop giving you my time, my effort, my tears, my feelings, my life. I will give you nothing. I will not feed you with rituals. I am going to have time on my hands, and I’m going to fill it up with helping others, with doing things I want to do, and with the life God made for me. OCD, I am going to win this.

This is a sentence from Grayson’s book that gives me hope and something to look forward to as I fight my OCD: “Your ultimate goal is to be less conscious of your environment so you can be free to enjoy the flow of life, to take all your creative and imaginative energy and have your thoughts dominated by things that you actually want to think about” (p. 125).

   When you have made a change in your life, what helped you to stay committed? Any tips to share?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Contamination OCD: What is that in my kitchen sink?

I saw Larry bringing a bicycle tire tube into the house. He walked in right beside where I was sitting at my computer. But I didn’t say anything.
I really didn’t think anything, either.
I knew he was looking for a possible hole in my bike tire, so I guess I just figured, vaguely, that it had something to do with that.
I was focusing on what I was doing, so I didn’t say a word.
Then I heard the water running in the kitchen.
I got up and walked to the kitchen door.
There my husband stood, tire tube in the sink. He was turning it round and round, looking for a hole.
In the kitchen sink.
I don’t even remember for sure what I said. Something like, “Oh, no, tell me you’re not doing that.”
I heard him call out, “What did you say?”
I was already on the way back to my computer.
I decided that I just didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to stand and stare at something that would only upset me.
He would have to take care of any cleaning up, I decided.
He soon brought the tire tube to me, showing me the hole and asking me to mark it with a yellow highlighter, since I didn’t have any chalk.
I still didn’t say anything about the sink.
Let him handle it, I told myself.
Later, when he came back into the house from his shop, I did ask him about it.
“You’re going to wash out the sink, aren’t you?”
“Why would I need to do that?” he asked.
I knew that he was teasing me and that he would be washing the sink.
I just didn’t want to watch.

  Have you ever just let go like this, when you knew trying to control the situation would only upset you?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Jelly and toast: was this an OCD episode?

Larry and I were in a restaurant. I had ordered toast with my meal, so I wasn’t surprised by the waitress’s question. She had already taken our order, but was walking back by our table.
“Would you like butter and jelly with your toast?” she asked me.
“Yes, please” I said.
“Here you go.” And she laid a small plastic container of margarine and one of jelly on our table. “And I’ll bring you more.”
After she left, I wondered why she had been walking around with margarine and jelly in her hand. Then I realized that she had been cleaning off the table behind us.
She had given me the margarine and jelly that had been left on the table by the customers who had just left.
Larry and I talked about it. Wasn’t she supposed to throw out anything left over like that? How long had it been sitting out?
“I don’t want to use it,” I told Larry. “I don’t think it’s an OCD thing. I don’t think she was supposed to do that.”
“It’s a health issue,” Larry said.
He took a napkin and scooped up the plastic containers, and I ate only the margarine and jelly that the waitress brought from the kitchen.
Now, dear readers, did I do the right thing in not eating the first containers or margarine and jelly?
It didn’t feel like OCD. I didn’t feel anxious.
And yet, I wavered at making a decision. I hate to waste food. The food was sealed. What was wrong with using it? Was I being a stickler about a health code that might or might not exist? Or was I right to pass on eating it?
I purposely didn’t look up the health code in Virginia to see if the waitress made a mistake because I didn’t base my original decision not to eat the food on information I knew for sure.
But I guess I’m still thinking about it because here I am asking for your opinion.

Would you have eaten the margarine and jelly?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Depression and expressing my needs and wants

I carry an ideal around in my head about what I should be able to accomplish: I should be able to be told something once, understand it once, and then never have to be told again.
Real life doesn’t work that way, of course, and the hardest lessons take time and repeated instruction.
I have found that out in the therapy that I’m undergoing for chronic depression.
I’m still having difficulty in expression my needs and wants to others.
Now, my therapist doesn’t want me to turn into a self-centered, selfish person who cares only about my own wants.
He doesn’t want me to become demanding or shove my wants down someone else’s throat.
But he does think it’s important to my emotional development and to my depressive moods for me to learn that my needs and wants are important.
Through my upbringing, I learned that my needs and wants were not important and I was selfish and spoiled to want them considered.
Even though intellectually, I know that people’s own needs and wants are important, even my own, I don’t accept it emotionally.
And therein lies my problem.
I recently failed once again to tell my husband what I was really feeling about something, what I was really wanting. It wasn’t over anything earthshaking, but it was important enough that I needed to express myself.
Instead, I resisted, and then later when my husband asked me what was wrong, that I seemed far away, I answered with my old standby: “I’m tired.”
I wasn’t making that up. It wasn’t like I was full of energy and raring to go. I really was tired. But I was tired with the fatigue of depression more than the fatigue of work.
My therapist said that when I don’t speak up about my needs and wants, I might avoid conflict. But I push the feelings down.
“And who keeps score?” he asked.
“I do,” I said.
“Your body does,” he said.
When I’ve acted in a way that is consistent with helplessness—not expressing myself, believing that it’s not important, believing that my needs and wants are not important—then I feel helpless.
That shows up in my body with a depressed mood and fatigue.
What can change that? My behavior.
I have to act like I’m not helpless. I have to express myself. I have to act like my needs and wants are important, even if emotionally I don’t yet get it.
If I watch closely, my therapist told me, I will begin to notice that when I don’t express myself, my mood is lowered. When I do begin to speak up, my mood will be better.
The brain is a social organ. Interpersonal relations affect how I feel, he said.
So once again I’m learning that my behavior can make a huge difference in how I feel.

  Do you have a difficult time expressing your needs and wants? How does that affect how you feel?

Monday, October 15, 2012

In memory of my sweet Wa

Waddles in 2003.

I spent her last night on the floor beside her. She was on a pad in the large hallway in our house, right outside our bedroom where she also had a pad.
She had made it to the other side of the house early in the evening of that last night, all the way into the den to sit by my husband on the couch until I got home from work.
At some point that evening, she could no longer stand.
I put a blanket and pillow down on the floor beside her, not wanting to be far from her because she periodically woke up and cried. I wanted to be close so I could comfort her.
Waddles had chronic kidney insufficiency, arthritis, a heart murmur, low potassium and low iron.
She was 21 years old.
During that last night, I knew it would be her last. I knew that I would have to call the vet in the morning and talk with her about the end.
I knew that I couldn’t keep her when she was suffering.
I knew I was going to have to give her up.

And we did give her up. Larry and I took her to the vet’s office that morning and held her and talked with her as the vet gave her the medications that could not heal her, but lifted her suffering.

When Larry and I returned home, I immediately lost any composure I’d had. I immediately doubted that I had done the right thing.

That was Oct. 13, 2011. I can’t believe a year has gone by since we lost our sweet Wa.

She was a beautiful half-Persian, black and white girl. Her voice was sweet and melodic, only demanding when she was hungry or scared.
She was very dignified. She would sit with perfect posture, her front paws crossed.
She liked to play with toys that we swung near her with a small fishing pole toy. She liked to bat at them and grab them and roll on her side, conquering the toy mouse.
She had some stuffed toys that came with her when I adopted her. She mostly ignored them when we were around, but we’d come into a room where she was sometimes and find the toys moved from one place to another.
She was a thoughtful eater. She’d eat a little, then pause and think about it, then eat a little more, then walk away for a while, then return and eat more.
She was a plucky girl, learning to live with new cats when Larry and I got married. She could hiss and then walk away with great dignity.

Waddles helped me break though my fear of being responsible for another creature. She helped me with my contamination OCD. I could clean up kitty messes without a thought.

I miss her every day. Sometimes the grief has overwhelmed me, and I think my heart will burst from the pain.
   I am forever grateful for my sweet baby Wa. And I will love her forever.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Playing the piano, then and now

From Microsoft images

I started picking out songs by ear on the piano when I was 4 or 5 years old.
My mother didn’t want me to play by ear, but by note, so she forbade me to play on the piano.
I played anyway, when she was out of the house.
When I was 5 years old, she let me begin piano lessons, which I took for seven years.
Today I still love to play, though I play on a keyboard instead of a piano. I play by note and by ear.
I don’t play very often, because it seems like there’s always something else to do. I recently sat down and played a while after work, and I found it relaxing and fun. I'm adding it to my "do more often" list for stress and anxiety relief.
When I was small, I would sometimes stand beside my mother as she played the piano, and I would play the tune along with her in the higher octaves. This semi-biographical poem reflects those times.

By Tina Fariss Barbour

Kurtzmann upright
my mother bought with her own money
earned at a third-shift job.
The elephantine piano captured me
as I played my whole notes,
one two three four,
rests, measures,
my knot of scales.

But sometimes I stood beside her
seated on the heavy bench and
we played together
her favorite, “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo.”
She played by ear across the keys,
singing like Leslie Caron,
smiling at me,
my finger following.

What hobbies or interests did you develop in childhood that you still enjoy?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Wrapping up a week of awareness: Depression

This week I’ve written more about OCD than another mental illness that I have, depression.
Today I’m writing about depression.
This past Wednesday was the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Day. It had the theme of “Depression: A Global Crisis.” According to the WHO website, more than 350 million people are affected by depression.
Here are some ways that depression has affected me in the past and still does to a lesser degree now that I have received treatment:

*I felt a deep fatigue most of the time, no matter how much sleep I got. I slept long hours and still had trouble getting up in the morning. But then sometimes, I had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
*I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I couldn’t think of any good reason to go ahead and get up except for the fact that I had to.
*I felt hopeless, like nothing mattered and nothing would ever get better.
*I felt empty. I didn’t feel happy, didn’t feel sad, didn’t feel scared, just felt empty.
*I wished I were dead. I wrote my obituary in my head.
*I sat for hours in front of the TV, not laughing, not crying, not really watching, just listening to the noise and sitting.
  *I had a hard time focusing on anything. I couldn’t read, keep up with a TV show, follow a conversation.

This is a journal entry from a bad time I went through several years ago:

My doctor listened to me tell him how I felt empty (I didn’t tell him that my heart felt empty, something that had come to my mind yesterday and seemed to really describe how I felt.) He talked about upping the medication and coming back in three weeks to re-evaluate. I was tearful and said that I didn’t even know what I was like normal. The doctor said, probably when you are really low—and he meant the low without any meds—that is your normal. That struck me. That was my normal? But that wasn’t normal! But the doctor said that a bright side to it was that there were so many meds that could lift me up from the bottom and things were getting better in the treatments for depression. He said that I would probably always—the rest of my life—have the low times and have to have the meds tweaked and changed. But like people who were born with something physically wrong with them, I could learn to adapt.

I am forever grateful for the medication and therapy that have helped me to “adapt,” to be able to feel again, to participate in life again, and to not feel empty anymore.
What helped me: medication, talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and CBASP (Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System of Psychotherapy).
There has been no magic pill for me. Medication alone has not taken away the depression. Therapy alone didn’t work. It has been a journey in learning the combination of treatments that have given me relief.
As my doctor told me years ago, treatments for depression are getting better.
  There was hope for me then, and there is still hope for me and for everyone suffering from this debilitating disease.

  What hopes do you have about the future of those who suffer now or who will suffer in the future from mental illnesses?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fighting mental illnesses: who’s on your “together” list?

 As I noted in yesterday’s post, the theme of OCD Awareness Week is “Dare to believe . . . together we can beat OCD.”
One word in that theme draws most of my attention: “together.
We don’t have to fight OCD and other mental illnesses alone. We can draw support from each other. We can help each other.
Here’s my “together” list:

*My husband. He offers support and understanding when I struggle with the symptoms of OCD and depression. He “gets” me. He comforts me and makes me laugh when I need a good laugh.

*Medical doctors and therapists. Through the years, many have helped me deal with the symptoms of OCD and depression and have helped me improve.

*My cats. Spending time with them comforts me and brightens my days.

*Friends. Supportive friends listen to me and offer their understanding.

*Readers of this blog and writers of other blogs about OCD and other mental illnesses. I have connected with so many wonderful people who have been supportive of me in my battle with OCD and depression, and I am grateful.

*Experts who conduct research on mental illnesses. I may never meet them, but there are people busy studying and doing research on OCD and other mental illnesses, looking for ways to heal them.

*Authors who write about their experiences with OCD and other mental illnesses. They help me remember that I am not alone in my suffering and that there is hope for better times.

  Who would you include in “together”?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How can we beat OCD?

The theme of OCD Awareness Week is “Dare to believe . . . together we can beat OCD.”
I like the theme, but I admit that at first it gave me pause. Beat OCD? Could obsessive-compulsive disorder ever really be beaten?
I was thinking in terms of a cure: a medication or a medical procedure or something that would take away OCD symptoms completely and for good.
But there are other ways to beat OCD.
The level of knowledge about OCD in my lifetime has grown tremendously, amazingly. I believe in cures and hope with all my heart for a complete cure for OCD, if not in my lifetime, then as soon as possible to help as many people as possible.
Short of a cure, I believe there are other ways we can beat OCD and other mental illnesses.

*Every time we check the light for one minute instead of five minutes, we beat OCD.
*Every time we delay washing our hands after touching an object we obsess over as contaminated, we beat OCD.
*Every time we don’t drive around the block to check the road for bodies, we beat OCD.
*Every time we read through a chapter just one time, despite the urge to reread it, we beat OCD.
*Every time we walk up the path and don’t turn around to see if the stick is really a nail, we beat OCD.
*Every time we sit with our anxiety and tolerate it, we beat OCD.
*Every time we try an exposure, we beat OCD.
*Every time we take prescribed medication as prescribed, we beat OCD.
*Every time we learn something new about OCD, we beat OCD.

  What other ways can we beat OCD, or other mental illnesses?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Guest posting to commemorate Mental Illness Awareness Week

Today I’m guest posting over at Adventures in Yayaland. I hope you will visit Yaya’s blog and read the post and leave a comment!
You can find the post here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A week of awareness: I will no longer be ashamed

I have mental illnesses. I also have physical illnesses.
It’s much easier for me to tell people I have high blood pressure and asthma than it is to tell them that I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and generalized anxiety disorder.
Why is it easier for me to talk about physical illnesses? In large part it is because of the stigma about mental illness.
I’ve written about the stigma of mental illness, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, before. But I thought it worth exploring again, especially during this week of awareness.
In that previous post, I gave the definition for stigma found in The American Heritage Dictionary: “A mark or token of infamy, disgrace, or reproach.”
Stigma about mental illness gives the impression that people with mental illnesses have something to be ashamed of. And it has negative effects on those who do suffer from such illnesses.

The book From Within Our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis, by Rosalynn Carter with Susan K. Golant and Kathryn E. Cade, states the following:

“One of the most insidious effects is that stigma gives rise to stereotypes: People experiencing mental illnesses are considered to be lacking in judgment or weak willed; they are seen as incompetent, unreliable, and unable to make decisions for themselves. It is thought that they can’t work, hold public office, or even live on their own; they are dangerous, unpredictable, and violent; they have brought these problems on themselves; and they will never get better.
The truth is very different. Most people with serious mental illnesses recover and do well in the world—go to school, flourish in their jobs, own homes—yet they are considered to be rare exceptions. The stereotypic beliefs held by the general public and by many people who experience the illnesses do not reflect what modern science and other people living with mental illnesses themselves have to tell us” (p. 22-23 in electronic edition).

  So when people find out that someone has a mental illness, they may automatically think the worst of that person. If they think that person is unreliable and lacking in judgment, someone who isn’t competent, then it’s likely they will treat him or her differently than they would someone without a mental illness.
As the authors of From Within Our Reach state, “Stigma is the most damaging factor in the life of anyone who has a mental illness. It humiliates and embarrasses; it is painful; it generates stereotypes, fear, and rejection; it leads to terrible discrimination. Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that stigma keeps people from seeking help for fear of being labeled ‘mentally ill’” (p. 21 in electronic edition).
  And when people don’t get help for their mental illness, they suffer needlessly.
  So what we do to get rid of the stigma about mental illness?
Authors Carter, Golant and Cade state that people may fear someone who seems different and not have compassion for them (p. 24 in electronic edition). Therefore, interaction with people with mental illness may help: “Researchers have shown that having contact with people who have mental illnesses helps to reduce stigma because it fosters empathy” (p. 28 in electronic edition).
  The authors state that “research shows we are not making any meaningful progress in accepting those with mental illnesses. We can only hope for this to change when more and more individuals are willing to talk openly about their experiences” (p. 29 in electronic edition).

  So where does that leave those of us with mental illnesses? Does that mean that we need to go out and tell everyone we know that we have mental illnesses?
  I don’t think so. I think we can be selective in choosing the people we tell and how we tell them.
  Those of us who choose to blog about our mental illnesses are telling a potentially large audience about our disorders.
  In the offline world, we can be even more selective, telling people we think will be supportive.
  We can begin to inform more and more people about the realities of mental illnesses.
  And we can choose to tell no one. There is no shame in that.
  One thing I think all of us with mental illnesses should do is to begin to work on our own attitudes and to try to erase any shame we may feel about having mental illnesses.
  I’ve set the intention to no longer feel ashamed of having mental illnesses. I may continue to have moments of embarrassment and shame, but those will lessen over time as I work on that intention.

  Have you ever experienced or witnessed stigma about mental illness?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Where I live

For this Friday post, here’s a tour part of of the town where I live, Altavista, Virginia.
It’s not my hometown. I wasn’t born and raised in Altavista. Rather, I grew up in the rural part of the county about 25 minutes away.
But I’ve lived here almost nine years, and I’ve grown fond of this small town of around 3,400 people.
I took most of these photos on a Sunday morning.

Staunton River Memorial Library.

A gazebo downtown.

A view of downtown.
Broad Street.

Gateway Park.

In English Park.
View of Staunton River from English Park.

Tell me one thing about the place where you live.

Note: I’m getting ready to post five days next week in honor of OCD Awareness Week and Mental Illness Awareness Week. So I won’t post tomorrow. See you next week!
(Second note: corrected "Mental Health Awareness Week" to "Mental Illness Awareness Week" at 1:49 p.m. on Oct. 5, 2012. I apologize for getting it wrong the first time.)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

OCD and taking on responsibility

Four months ago, as I wrote about my plans for my 50th year, I included the following: “I also want to be more in service to others.”
I have found one way to be more in service, but I didn’t come to it easily.
On Sunday, I was installed as the communications coordinator for the United Methodist Women Mission Team in the district that I live in.
My duties will include doing the quarterly newsletter.
It’s a volunteer position that seemed to entail more responsibility than I was at first willing to take on.

Being responsible for something that affects others has been a problem for me for much of my life because of my obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  Mostly it has to do with being responsible for the safety and welfare of another creature, whether person or animal.
  For example, that’s why it was so difficult for me to take on the responsibility of having a pet.
  But my concerns about taking on more responsibility also have to do with taking on anything that I might get anxious about or worry about.
With this volunteer position, I worried about whether or not I would be able to do the job. What if I couldn’t do the newsletter? What if I did it incorrectly? What if I sent out incorrect information? What if I was unable to stop thinking of the responsibility? What if there was always something to worry about?

I considered whether or not to accept the position. Finally, I decided to say yes to the responsibility and no to the OCD.
Here’s why:

*I don’t have to do it alone. I can ask for help. In fact, I’ve already been told that there’s help available if I need it. And I’ll receive training later this month.
In most situations we find ourselves in, we can ask for help, and there’s no shame in that.
*I’m not responsible for the world. I’m just responsible for one position and those tasks.
*I can learn to live with the anxiety. I may worry about the work in between assignments, but I can learn to tolerate it. I am developing tools to manage anxiety,.
*I can learn to live with the uncertainty. I don’t have to be certain that I’ll do a great job. I may, I may not. But I can’t see into the future, no matter how much I imagine it. I don’t have full control over the results. All I can do is put in my best efforts.
*I can help others. And wasn’t that the goal in the first place?

  Are you ever afraid of taking on a new responsibility? How do you calm your fears about your responsibilities?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Why I am a vegetarian

Today is World Vegetarian Day, the first day of Vegetarian Awareness Month, according to the North American Vegetarian Society.
I have been a vegetarian since February 2011. I thought I would celebrate World Vegetarian Day by telling you why I became one.
I am not trying to talk anyone else into becoming a vegetarian. And I’m not giving dietary advice.
I don’t think people who eat meat are wrong. My husband eats meat, and we regularly eat together in harmony.
For me, though, being vegetarian works.

I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian. According to The Vegetarian Resource Group, that means I do not eat meat, fish or fowl, but I do eat dairy products and eggs. Also according to the group, an ovo vegetarian does not eat meat, fish, fowl or dairy products, but eats eggs. A lacto vegetarian does not eat meat, fish, fowl or eggs but eats dairy products. A vegan does not eat any animal products, and most don’t use animal products, according to the group.

Very simply, I am a vegetarian because I do not want to eat animals.

I grew up on a beef farm, and we always had plenty of meat to eat.
But in recent years, it has been harder for me to eat meat.
I have learned about some of the farm factory practices in getting the meat from the animal to the table.
My doctor suggested that I watch the film “Food, Inc.,” which I did.
As I became more aware of animal welfare issues, the more I became concerned about my eating habits and how they, even in a small way, might be contributing to the factory farming.
I don’t agree with some of the practices of raising animals to kill and use for food. I don’t think animals should suffer on the way to being butchered to become our food.
I feel a kinship with animals that makes me not want to eat them.

There are health benefits to being a vegetarian. My cholesterol levels are good, as are my triglycerides. My digestive system usually works more smoothly because I get more fiber in my diet than I used to. I don’t feel as sluggish after eating as I used to.
Where I get in trouble is when I don’t follow a diet of mostly whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit. I pay the price in how I feel and with my weight.

Most important to me, however, is the fact that I’m not eating animals unnecessarily.
In some cultures and some areas of the world, meat is a mainstay in the daily diet. Anywhere in the world, it’s necessary for some people’s health to eat meat.
But I can go without meat. I have access to a variety of other foods that give me the nutrients I need to stay healthy.

As hard as it is for me to make changes in my lifestyle, it was not hard for me to become and remain a vegetarian.
I started eating less and less meat, and one day I decided not to have any meat that week. That grew into no more meat. And I haven’t looked back.
Sometimes I’ll crave a hamburger or steak, or some good fried chicken, but it’s a passing craving and I move on.
I have managed not to let my eating habits become an obsessive-compulsive disorder ritual. One time in a restaurant, I ordered bean tacos. The server thought I said beef tacos. I ate some of it before I realized I was eating meat. I wasn’t thrilled, but I didn’t have an anxiety attack over it. I just reordered my food.

If you’re interested in learning more about vegetarianism, resources include The Vegetarian Resource Group and Vegetarian Times. Please remember to talk with your doctor before making changes in your diet.

  Have you ever made a major change in your lifestyle? What was it and how did you accomplish it?