Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking forward to 2013

In my last post, I wrote about 2012. In this, my last post for the year, I’m looking forward to 2013.
Usually I make some New Year’s resolutions. Last year, I tried setting some goals. But I think I set too many and my attention got scattered.
This year, I am thinking of a theme to carry me through the year and to guide my goals. That theme is “Letting go.”
Letting go is something that I need to practice. Letting go of fear, of anger, of resentment. Letting go of feelings of helplessness and worthlessness.
And in letting go of these things, I am leaving room for courage, compassion, peace. I am leaving room for hope and initiative and a healthy self-esteem.
I have been thinking of “Letting go” for a while, and it seems a good thing for me to concentrate on this year.
I will let it guide me in making decisions about my health (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual), my relationships and my work (which is more than my job).
I’m looking forward to 2013, and I hope you are too. I wish you all a joyful and peaceful New Year and beyond. God’s blessings to you!

What about you? Are you setting any resolutions or goals for the New Year? What do you want 2013 to be like for you?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Looking back at 2012

I’ve been thinking about what kind of year 2012 has been. I guess it’s not unusual to do that as the year winds down to a close and the new year begins in just a few days.

As I thought about the themes of this blog—living with obsessive-compulsive disorder while also dealing with depression and anxiety—I kept coming back to what has played a big role in my life this year: therapy.

I thought about the many times this year that I’ve climbed the front steps and walked into the red brick building where my therapist and my psychiatrist have their practices.

I have spent hours in their offices, feeling the gamut of emotions: fear, anger, joy, sadness.

I’ve talked, I’ve listened, I’ve role played, I’ve wept.

I’ve heard things and learned things that have reached my very core.

I had been away from any type of therapy other than “medication checks” with my psychiatrist for many years, but I had the goal of starting exposure and response prevention therapy, or ERP therapy as I started the year.

I had my first appointment with my psychologist in January. At that time I discovered that we would do cognitive behavior therapy instead of strictly ERP therapy, which was fine with me.

My therapist and I worked on my OCD for a while, and I made headway in learning to accept and deal with anxiety instead of doing compulsions to try to lessen it. I did ERP exercises and reported back to my therapist.

The therapy took a turn in April when my therapist noted that my depression—which he diagnosed as chronic—was affecting my ability to deal with the OCD and other anxiety.

We started CBASP therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System of Psychotherapy. It’s made up of intense sessions using situational analysis. These sessions have chipped away at the anger and subsequent helplessness that feeds the depression.

In October, I decided I needed to simultaneously work more on the OCD, so I started doing more ERP on my own, using as a guide Dr. Jonathan Grayson’s Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recover Program for Living with Uncertainty.

Compared to this time last year, I feel like I’ve moved down the path towards real recovery. I deal better with my interpersonal relationships, my OCD is better under control and I feel hope that I’m going to get better.

All this has reminded me of the importance of treatment for OCD and for depression and anxiety. There are many kinds of treatment, and each person is different. Different things may work for different people. The point is to reach out and get the treatment that is right for you.

I plan to continue climbing up those front steps in 2013.

What are some of the things 2012 has taught you?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

OCD and Christmas Day

I hope everyone is well and at peace, and if you celebrate Christmas, I hope you had a wonderful day.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were both busy and fun for Larry and me. We visited with his mother and my mother, attended the candlelight service at church on Christmas Eve and enjoyed time together. It was a wonderful holiday.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder didn’t ruin the holiday, but I found it sneaking in a few times to remind me that it’s still there, Christmas or not.
I felt it Christmas morning, when Larry and I opened our gifts to each other.
We keep our wrapped gifts on the dining room table until Christmas morning because our cat Sam likes to chew on boxes, wrapping paper and ribbons. She can’t climb up on the table anymore, so it’s the safest place we can keep them.
Christmas morning we took the wrapped presents to the big tree and sat in front of it to open our gifts. We had Celtic Christmas music playing, and it was a peaceful and fun time as we discovered what we had picked out for each other.
We were prepared. We had a trash bag to put the used wrapping paper in, and a box to put the ribbons in.
But I still found myself anxious about leaving a piece of paper, a bit of tape or a sliver of ribbon on the carpet for the cats to eat.
So I grabbed the paper and tape from Larry’s hands as soon as he tore it from a package and stuffed it down in the trash bag. Then I scanned the carpet for any pieces I might have missed.
It was not a big deal, compared to some other compulsions I have and have had in the past, but it was enough to take my mind momentarily off the festivities.
The real anxiety-producing obsession came later, when we visited my mother and had dinner with her.
She lives in an assisted living home, and has a large bedroom and bath, plus a lovely living room and dining room that she shares with the other ladies that live there.
My brother and his wife were also visiting, so we had to get an extra chair out in mother’s room where we talked with each other after dinner. Mother had a folder chair stored behind her bathroom door, so I got that out to sit in.
When it came time for Larry and I to leave, I refolded the chair and put it back behind the door.
That’s when the self-questioning started.
What if I didn’t set it firmly enough against the wall? What if I didn’t balance it well enough? If it fell, it might cause my mother to fall.
I turned the chair both ways and leaned it against the wall. I couldn’t tell which way made the chair more balanced, so I asked Larry to look at it.
My mother heard me and said, “There’s a certain a way you put it so it won’t fall.”
I asked, “Which way?”
My mother just said, “There’s one way to put it so it won’t fall.”
I was really anxious then. She apparently didn’t know how it should be set up, just that it had to be a certain way.
Larry looked at it and moved it around a little. We did our best to set it right.
He told me later that he thought he understood what my mother meant and put the heaviest part of the chair against the wall.
But as we said our goodbyes and left, it stayed on my mind. What if the chair fell? What if my mother fell?
Outside, my brother was taking a smoke break. I knew he was going back in, so I asked him to check the chair again for us to make sure it wouldn’t fall. He agreed to.
Looking back on it now, I should have just let it go. The chair was fine the way Larry and I had it. But I wanted the extra “checking” that my brother would give it.
Small things in the grand scheme of OCD, but they were enough to give me pause during the day.

Did OCD or anxiety sneak into your holiday activities?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

Our big Christmas tree.

Our little Christmas tree.


Larry made the Christmas trees surrounding Santa in our front yard.

The manager scene.

We include a stocking for each cat, including stockings in memory of Waddles and Thunder Cat.

From my heart to yours, Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Spirit of hope

As I write this Thursday night, it’s raining and cold outside. I just got home from work, and a hot shower has helped my chilled bones.
And I’m thinking about what this day has brought me.
This morning, my husband and I did our second stint of ringing the bells for the Salvation Army. But I didn’t think much about my OCD this time.
Instead, I enjoyed seeing people’s generosity. I enjoyed their friendliness in saying hello or Merry Christmas. I enjoyed seeing children coming up to slip their money into the slots of the bucket top.
This afternoon, as part of my job as a newspaper reporter, I interviewed an investigator with the sheriff’s office who is retiring after 30 years.
I listened to his stories of his time of service and was impressed by his commitment to the victims he encountered and their families, his commitment to giving them some kind of closure.
This evening, also as part of my job, I covered a vigil held to remember the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings.
In the pouring rain, people huddled together under umbrellas, holding candles and praying and singing.
I saw a lot of hope today.
I saw hope for those in poverty, those who have been victims of crimes, those who are in need of comfort and peace.
I felt hope in my heart at a time when I needed it.
I saw and felt the spirit of hope move throughout this day.
May the spirit of hope move throughout our lives this season and always.

Have you seen any signs of hope lately?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wishing as an OCD obsession

I went to two undergraduate colleges. The first was a state university.
I left after two years because I told myself I was homesick and wanted to go to college closer to home.
I lived at home and attended a local college for two years and finished my degree.
The real reason I left the state university? I was suffering from deep, untreated depression and increasing symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I thought going home would help alleviate my pain.
I have regretted the decision for the many years since I made the change after my second year at the university.
The university was more prestigious than the smaller college, and I have wished I had stayed. Perhaps I would have had more and better job opportunities, I’ve thought. Perhaps I would have done better in life. Perhaps I would be happier now. So goes my thinking.
I never attributed this type of thinking to obsessive-compulsive disorder until I read about wishing in Dr. Jonathan Grayson’s Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty.
Grayson names several functions of rituals, one of which is wishing: “Everyone has dreams, hopes, and wishes; these lie at the core of our creativity and humanity’s greatest achievements. However, when we pursue an impossible wish, it can lead to our downfall” (p. 40).
He uses as an example a man who left college for a short time because of his OCD. “He constantly obsessed about the events of that year and how much better his life would have been if he hadn’t dropped out. In other words, he was constantly wishing he could undo his negative experience.” (p. 40).
That example struck a chord in me. I realized that my thoughts of regret—which I still had 27 years after graduating—were based on an obsession. I have been wishing that things could be different, haunted by my decisions, playing over in my mind how things might have been.
But I’ve been wishing for something impossible. I can’t go back and change the decision I made.
With the realization that my thinking was an OCD obsession, I’ve been working on ending the wishing.
Getting away from this type of wishing is giving me a new attitude. Instead of spending time regretting the past, I am slowly getting better at focusing on the present and what is in front of me. I am getting better at focusing on things that I do have control over.
  And I’m getting better at facing the fact that there’s no certainty involved here: I don’t know that my life would have been better if I had stayed at the state university. It might have been better. It might have been worse.
I’ll never know. And I don’t need to know.

Have you held on to wishes for too long?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Praying for Newtown

I’m sure that the thoughts and prayers of all of us have been with those involved in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday.
I can’t truly imagine the depth of the pain that the families of the victims and the survivors are feeling.
I feel like all I can do is pray, and praying is not always easy, especially when my thoughts and feelings seem numb from the shock of such news.
On Friday, as news about the shootings came out, my pastor posted the following on Facebook:

In the face of the violence we have seen today in CT, the most appropriate prayer seems to me to be a simple one: Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

That’s what I have been praying: Lord, have mercy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A day at home and thoughts on health

Today I stayed home from work, sick with sinus problems, including a bad headache. I took medicine and slept much of the day away.
But I also thought about the way I think about my physical health and my mental health.
I was inspired by a post Madison of My Meddling Mind wrote about the importance of taking care of both our physical health and our mental health, and how they affect each other. I hope you’ll take time to read it.
I am vigilant about taking my medication for my OCD, depression and anxiety. I make sure I don’t run out before getting a refill.
I see a psychiatrist and a therapist. And I take steps to work on my mental health issues on my own.
I’m not perfect with taking care of my mental health, but I am much more proactive with it than I am with my physical health.
I worry much less about running out of my blood pressure medicine. I’ve been known to go a couple of days without it because I’ve delayed picking up a refill.
I eat pretty healthy, but I eat too many sweets and processed foods, and just too much food period.
I don’t move around enough. I need to have an exercise plan and stick to it.
  What does my blood pressure medicine and my diet and exercise habits have to do with sinus problems?
Maybe nothing. But my time off today gave me time to think about my physical health and how I need to do a better job with it.
Just one day of lying around has left me feeling a bit dull and a little depressed.
And that’s not to forget my spiritual health because that’s important too. When I get too busy with “stuff” and don’t take time to do my spiritual reading and meditation, I can tell.
It can seem overwhelming to have to think about so many “parts” of our health. But all the parts roll into one and represent how we live.

How can we do our best for our health?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The lights at work: Are they really off?

The lights at work—specifically, the two lamps I use in my office—have been a checking nightmare for me.
My ritual has been to turn off the floor lamp first, then unplug it. I then stare at the lampshade, trying to convince myself that it’s dark, that the light is off.
Then I stare at the electric receptacle, trying to convince myself that there’s nothing plugged in.
Then I turn off the desk lamp and stare at that lampshade, again trying to convince myself that the light is off.
I don’t unplug that lamp, which shows just how inconsistent OCD can be: I feel the need to unplug one lamp but not the other. If it’s dangerous to leave one lamp plugged in, why not the other, you might ask.
I have stayed behind while the others left work, to be alone to check the lamps and make sure they were out.
On my checking fear hierarchy, leaving the office without checking the lamps is a 90. That means that I have extreme anxiety over these lamps.
I’ve been working on this checking dilemma for weeks, with mixed results. I could turn them off and leave fairly quickly, but I was first trying to convince myself that the lamps were off before leaving. I couldn’t figure out how to get past that.
Then I had a talk with my therapist last week about OCD and logic.
He reminded me that there is no logic in OCD and that I can’t use it when trying to combat an obsession or a compulsion.
According to what my therapist told me, when I turn off the lamps, it’s time for me to leave the office and focus on something else.
  I’ll have anxiety, he said. But I need to be actively engaged in whatever I do next, like driving. Don’t engage with the thoughts about the lamps, he said.
  And it’s helping. I turn off the lamps, and though I’m still glancing at them, I’m no longer spending time convincing myself that they’re off. I’m packing up and leaving the office. I feel the anxiety, but it dissipates quickly as I focus on other things.
Now I want to get to the place where I’m not even glancing at the lamps, where I’m not even thinking about them after I turn them off. I hope I can build on the success I’m having.
  If anyone has advice on how to do that, I’m all ears!

Monday, December 10, 2012

OCD and cleaning off the table

This weekend I finished something that I’ve been working on periodically for months. I cleaned off the table in our dining area.
It had been literally piled up with mail and other paperwork—old bills, receipts, bank statements, health insurance statements, etc.
  I wrote about the table back in March. My therapist thought I was avoiding facing the clutter because of the anxiety involved in going through the paperwork. He was right.
Every time I worked on even just a little bit of the clutter, my anxiety would go up to about an 85 or 90 on the SUDs scale.
I was afraid of what I would find—an unpaid bill I had forgotten about, an important notice I had ignored.
And I didn’t want to deal with the decisions of what to do with the paperwork after I cleaned it up.
As I wrote in my March post, my therapist told me it was all about the OCD. It was about my scrupulosity.
So I continued to avoid cleaning up the pile.
I would throw away a piece of junk mail every now and then, but I avoided any deep or methodical cleaning. I just let the paper pile up even more.
The pile had been on the table for a few years. I had gotten into the habit of putting my mail on the table. After I opened it, I left it there.
  If someone was coming to the house, I could sweep it into presentable piles at one end of the table. I managed.
  But the anxiety of having the mess as well as the anxiety of not knowing exactly what was in the pile was always there, sometimes under the surface, sometimes front and center.
So what helped me to finally face the paper?
The approaching Christmas season helped. I wanted to put up a second, smaller tree and use different colors than we used on the main tree in the den. The table was a good place to put the tree.
But I think the lessons I’m learning as I work on my OCD have been the biggest help.
I’ve been learning that facing the fears usually has good results. I’ve been learning that nothing is gained by continual avoidance. I’ve been learning that any anxiety over facing a fear is usually short-lived, and it certainly doesn’t do irreparable harm.
So one evening last week I worked a bit on it. Then I saved the bulk for this past Saturday. I sat down with a trash bag and a couple of banker’s boxes and some file folders and went at it.
I was surprised at how much stuff I could just throw away, and how willing I was to throw the stuff away.
And I was surprised at how quickly the process went after I had a routine going. It took me about an hour to clear the table.
My SUDs score was probably at about a 70 when I started. It quickly dissipated as I finished up the job.
When I had the table completely cleared—that was a good feeling. Then I had a whole space to do with what I wanted. So I decorated the tree and put it on the table.
I don’t have a “before” photo to compare with the “after” photo. I was too embarrassed by how bad the table looked.
But the “after” picture, though a long time coming, is beautiful to me.

  How do you push through resistance to accomplish something that you’ve been putting off?

Friday, December 7, 2012

OCD and ringing the bells

Sometimes obsessive-compulsive disorder gives me tunnel vision. I become self-centered. I focus on what I’m feeling and what I want or don’t want instead of other people.
OCD never completely goes away, and it can appear in any part of my life. It even showed up when I was trying to do a good deed.
The past two years, Larry and I volunteered to ring the Salvation Army bells outside a big box store here in town.
For just an hour, once the first year and twice the second, we stood outside the store and rang the small red bells and thanked people who put donations in the red bucket.
It was fun, and it really put us in the holiday spirit.
So we decided to do it again this year. I signed us up for two stints, and we did our first last week.
The bell ringers wear red aprons, the type with the bib and the string that goes around the neck.
When Larry and I relieved the people ringing before our shift, the man took off his apron and handed it to me.
I didn’t want it to touch me.
I had a coat on because it was cold, so I just put the apron over my coat, and then put the neck string under the collar of my coat to keep it from touching my skin.
Funny things was, Larry felt the same way. His apron had been lying folded up on the sidewalk beside the bucket. I helped him put the neck string under his coat collar, too.
Even with the string under my collar, I still felt anxious about it. I had to put my hand in the pocket to get the bell out, and I cringed.
I couldn’t wait to get that apron off.
I felt small and petty for worrying about such things when my real purpose was to thank the kind people who donated to the Salvation Army.
I try not to be selfish, but I’m not perfect. I have to accept that of myself.
But OCD has more than selfish moments. It has its funny moments, too.
Last year, while ringing the bells, Larry’s bell broke. The little piece of metal inside the bell flew off.
At first we couldn’t find it. I kept ringing my bell, and we kept thanking people, but the whole time, we were scanning the area for that little piece of metal.
And all I could think of was that the next people to ring would have only one bell.
My scrupulosity made me feel like I needed to “confess,” so I called and left a message for the coordinator, telling him we’d broken one of the bells and there was only one left.
Then we found the little piece of metal lying on the pavement in front of us, and Larry was able to fix the bell.
So I was soon back on the phone and leaving another message for the coordinator, telling him we’d fixed the bell and not to worry about it.
He probably thought I was strange.
But he called me again this year to see if we’d volunteer and didn’t mention it, so I guess that’s a good sign.

Do you ever get tunnel vision when dealing with OCD or other anxiety?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Restlessness and the power of medication

The medications that I take for OCD, depression and anxiety are powerful. They have the ability to help me live a more fulfilling life. They also have the power to make it difficult to do the simple things that make for a fulfilling life.
I’ve always had a respect for the medications I take, and I have learned anew just why I have that respect.
It’s a feeling that I literally can’t sit still, that I must move. I’ve been unable to settle down to a task, especially if it’s one where I have to remain still while doing it. I’ve been having a difficult time focusing on one thing at a time.
I haven’t been reading like I love to do because I have such a hard time concentrating. I have stacks of unread books, on my shelves and in my Nook.
It has even been difficult to do a sudoku puzzle, something that usually is rather meditative for me. I start a puzzle and less than a minute later, I want to get up and look for something else to do.
I have an unfinished scarf that I’ve been crocheting.
I’ve had a hard time writing at work and on this blog.
At home, especially in the evening, I’ve felt like time was stretching out in front of me, waiting to be filled, but I didn’t know what to do to fill it. Settling into a task has seemed too difficult.
On a recent evening, I decided to meditate. It wasn’t pretty. I managed to sit for 10 minutes, but I kept shifting my position, and I was able to focus on my breath only a few times.
My psychiatrist said the restlessness was likely a side effect of one of the medications that I’d been on for about six months as kind of an adjunct to my main antidepressant.
I was noticing the symptoms when I was on a low dose of the medication, and the doctor thought that increasing the dose might relieve the symptoms.
Apparently, that works for some people, but not with me.
And some people have a wonderful experience with this medication. Not me.
Last week, he decided to take me off the medication, and I cut down gradually. Now I’m off of it completely, and I’m already noticing an improvement in the restlessness.
My doctor talked about increasing the dose of the main antidepressant I’m on, or switching me to another, because in the past I have tended to feel a lack of energy or fatigue on the medication I’m on now.
But I’ve been on the antidepressant for three years, and I like how this medication handles the depression and the anxiety. I’ve felt good overall on it.
So I told him that I wanted to stay on the same antidepressant and the same dose, at least for a while, to see how it goes.
I am all for medication when it’s needed, and I believe I need it, but at this point, I’m tired of trying new combinations. I want to rest a while on the current medication and give it a chance again.

Have you ever had a negative experience with a medication?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sitting with Chase

Chase Bird

It started with an upset stomach.
Our cat Chase Bird began throwing up early on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, and he continued to do so periodically throughout the day and night.
Late Friday and early Saturday, he threw up spots of blood.
Saturday morning we took him to his regular vet.
She gave him a shot for nausea and took a “wait and see” approach, telling us to offer him soft, plain food for the rest of the day.
Once we got him home, Larry and I took turns sitting with him. He lay around, sometimes sitting up to cry and drool. He didn’t throw up anymore, but he didn’t eat any of the soft food we offered.
We finally offered him some dry food, and he ate a few pieces.
By Sunday morning, he wasn’t eating or drinking anything.
By Sunday afternoon we were at the emergency animal hospital, discussing possible surgery.
The vet thought Chase had an obstruction. All the symptoms pointed to it, including the fact that he wouldn’t eat.
Tests through the night showed no blockage, so they began treating him for an infection. He ate a little food for the hospital staff.
We brought him home Monday morning. And waited for him to eat.
I had to go to work, but Larry kept an eye on him during the day. That evening, we again took turns sitting with Chase.
He was agitated. His pupils were huge. He stayed on a pad in his open crate. He came out occasionally to look at us, look at the food we offered.
He still wouldn’t eat.
At around two in the morning, I woke up to see the light shining from across the hall, and I knew Larry was sitting with Chase.
I fell half-asleep, glad that Larry was with Chase, worried about what would happen if he wouldn’t eat.
When I awoke early Tuesday morning, Larry was in the bedroom, standing by the bed, holding two food bowls.
He had stayed with Chase, offering him food, putting treats on top of the canned food to try to entice his appetite.
He held Chase when he briefly jumped up on his lap.
He patiently waited while Chase walked around, sniffed at the food, walked to the litter box, sniffed some more, walked to the litter box, jumped on his lap. Over and over.
“Did he eat?” I asked.
Larry turned both bowls upside down. No food fell out.
He ate.
  And he’s still eating and is OK.