Monday, September 29, 2014

Anticipating the worst gets you nowhere

"A bit of autumn"

Every time I woke up Saturday night into Sunday morning, I thought about the upcoming Confrontation.

They won’t believe me.
I’m going to get upset.
I’m going to start crying.
If they can’t help me, I’m going to have to go probably a week without enough meds.
It’s going to be too hard.

I turned over and told myself that I couldn’t know then, in the middle of the night, lying in my bed, what would happen. It might not be so bad. I’d deal with it then.
I fell asleep.
Then I woke up again, and the fears would take over again.

I was experiencing classic anticipatory anxiety, where I was getting anxious about an upcoming event or interaction. I was feeling the anxiety as if I were in the middle of the situation, and the situation was going badly.
What was the Confrontation I dreaded?
A talk with the pharmacist at the local drugstore.

I hate confrontations. I have a lot of fear about people being angry at me or thinking ill of me. I have kept quiet and suffered the consequences of not speaking up, not asking for better service, not asking for what was rightfully mine.
I know at least some of this tendency is because of my intense anxiety.

The situation I faces was this: When I got my antidepressant refilled, I thought the bottle felt light. But the bottle was small and the pills were large, so it was hard for me to tell.
I pushed aside my worry. Surely, the pharmacy staff would have gotten it right.

On Saturday night, I really looked into the bottle, and I could see the bottom, with only six pills left. I checked the refill date, and it was just two weeks ago. There was no way that I started out with 60 pills.

I told Larry about it.
“They’ll think I’m lying to get some free pills,” I said.
I was also worried that they would think I was taking extra pills. That I was one of those “mental” people who couldn’t keep track of her meds.
Yep, I was self-stigmatizing too.

There was nothing concrete that Larry could do, of course. It was too late to go the pharmacy. I’d have to wait until the next day.
So I had the difficult night.

Morning came, and I got showered and dressed and drove to the pharmacy. It was just about seven minutes away, but I wanted it to be longer.
I walked into the store and asked to speak with the pharmacist on duty. She met me at the counter. I her my story.
“I don’t remember for sure if I started that prescription the day I got it. It may have been the following Monday or Tuesday. But I only have six pills left,” I said.
I was nervous. I talked faster than I usually do.
She looked at the bottle and said, “It looks like we probably gave you 30 instead of the 60. We’ll fix that.”
“I don’t have any way to prove that you didn’t give me the pills,” I said.
“That’s OK,” she said. “We believe you.”
And she put the extra pills into the bottle and apologized for shorting me.
And that was all.
No accusations. No rebuffs. No anger. No tears.
I felt the light-headed feeling I get after an anxious experience is over.

I had spent all that time worrying and creating stories with negative outcomes. I expected a bad experience, even though I knew I couldn’t know for certain what would happen.
In truth, the reality was not nearly as bad as I had anticipated. And it usually works out that way, if I’m honest.
Sure, we all have difficult interactions with others sometimes. And bad things happen to all of us. Maybe we had times when we expected good things and they never happened.
But there’s no need to worry about something that might not happen.
This seems to be a lesson that I have to learn over and over.

How about you—Do you ever experience anticipatory anxiety?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bringing along my camera

I got my camera out yesterday.
I decided the night before that I would take pictures outside around our yard before going into the newspaper office, and then more when I got home.
I have had a hard time lately following through with my intentions. But this time I did it. Something in me wanted to get outside and see things in ways I do only when I have a camera in hand.

Acorns scattered on the driveway. Larry cleans them off, but more take their place.

A pile of acorns here. Maybe it's a nature-made buffet for the deer and squirrels.

A close-up of the acorns that seem to fall almost constantly. I'm glad to see them. Last year there were very few for the animals.

The leaves aren't changing as quickly as I thought they were. This tree in the backyard is starting to show some red.

This tree in the neighbor's yard is going to be lovely once it all turns.

It was drizzly when I took my morning pictures. By the time I got home from the office, it was pouring. So I didn’t get my after-work pictures. But I worked around that.
Earlier, I had to drive out into a rural part of the county to interview a person for a story. On the way to this person’s house, I noticed some things I wanted to photograph.
There aren’t many good places to pull over on these country roads. The ditches are often too near the roadside for a safe pull-over, and trees and other foliage tend to hug the road.
But a fence I wanted to photograph happened to be across the road from a church, so I pulled into the driveway and took photos.

A fence in rural Campbell County. You can barely see the barbed wire because of the growth around it.

The fence must not be keeping anything in or out right now. It ended with a post wrapped in extra barbed wire.

A few weeks ago, in a comment, my friend Janet from ocdtalk shared a link to an article called “Photography as a Balm for Mental Illness,” by Aimee Lee Ball. It’s discusses the reasons that photography can be so helpful for those struggling with mental illness. You can read the article HERE.

I can relate. It feels so good to create something. And focusing on what I want to capture, and how, puts me in the moment, with a mind too busy to focus on anything negative or fearful.

Since I finally captured a photo of a fence, I’m linking up with Theresa’s Good Fences meme on her blog, TheRun*Around*Ranch Report.
It’s fun to see the fences and gates that people have found on their daily adventures. To link up yourself or to see some fun photos, follow the link HERE.

Do you enjoy photography? Why or why not?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Working on it

Changing leaves from a past autumn.

Happy autumn to you, dear readers! It’s one of my favorite times of the year. Perhaps it’s a relic of spending years in school, but the beginning of fall seems like a new beginning to me.

I have been working on getting better since I posted HERE about feeling stuck and full of anguish.

I saw my psychiatrist, and he was concerned about my lack of energy and motivation, my lack of desire to do anything but sleep. We made an adjustment in my medication. It’s one we’ve made before.
It’s too early to experience the full effects of the change, but I have felt more like making plans and setting goals. I am having an easier time starting the day. I am feeling better.

My psychiatrist also thinks it would be a good idea for me to get into talk therapy again to deal with my anger and confusion about my mother. I agreed. I do want to talk with someone nonbiased who can help me find my way through the confusion.
I’m going to see the same psychologist I saw the last time I was in talk therapy. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have an opening until mid-November. I’m on the list to call if he has cancellations, and they did call about an appointment. But it was for a Monday, which are busy days at the newspaper. So, I’ll wait until November if that’s what I have to do.

The idea of taking care of myself, of loving myself, is something I’m still getting used to. It’s not what I was taught to do as I was growing up, and I’ve held on to the belief that thinking of oneself is selfish.
But the time for change is here.
I’m learning more about taking care of myself when I am anxious, angry about the past, or feeling lost.
For example, last week, a particular news story was bothering me. It brought back a lot of bad memories, and I felt tense with anger.
I sat down and wrote down a description of how I felt. I probably frightened the keys on my computer by how hard I was pounding them. But I felt better—relieved, calm—after I finished.
Writing can definitely be therapeutic.

So can knitting. Here is my first knitted scarf:

I love the motions my hands make as they work the needles. I like the way the yarn feels. I like the rhythm. I like having a finished product. I feel soothed.

So that’s where I am right now. Still putting one foot in front of the other, as we all have to do.

Take care of yourselves, love yourselves. And I will see you on Thursday.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Protective factors and making it through life

My view from the front steps of my office building on a recent evening.

Do you ever wonder how you got from your childhood to where you are now in one piece?

I get emails from people who have found my blog and want to know more about how I deal with OCD and/or depression and anxiety.
I am not a medical expert or a therapist. I am a person who has mental illnesses. I try to share my experiences with different treatments and different ways that I have dealt with OCD, depression, and anxiety.
It still surprises me, though, that I seem like someone who has reached a place where I can be of help to anyone else. Like someone who has a good life in spite of having mental illnesses and setbacks along the way.
Believe me, I have not overcome all the obstacles that mental illnesses cause. I’m still trying to figure out who I am.
But I have managed to build a good life.
What helped me do that?

Despite some difficult times during my childhood and teen years, I had the benefit of protective factors.

Protective factors are individual or environmental characteristics, conditions, or behaviors that reduce the effects of stressful life events. These factors also increase an individual’s ability to avoid risks or hazards, and promote social and emotional competence to thrive in all aspects of life, now and in the future.” 

The CDC lists the protective factors of school connectedness, parent engagement in schools, and positive parenting practices. There are more, of course.

Recently, I’ve written about two parts of my life that I define as protective factors for me. I had people in my life—whether related to me by blood or not—who helped to nurture me and encourage me as a young person.
And I had books that taught me and inspired me.

Knowledge about protective factors comforts me.
As a young person, I had help in several forms that led me to eventually get treatment, begin thinking in different and healthier ways, and start living the life that I wanted to live.
All of that help didn’t have to come from the ones we think must provide it, our parents.
We all have protective factors that help counteract the bad times in life. We can celebrate and nurture those factors.
I wasn’t alone as a child. I’m not alone now.
And neither are you.

So how did I make it from childhood to where I am now in one piece? With a lot of help along the way.

What are some of the protective factors in your life?

Monday, September 15, 2014

How books saved my life

The library in Altavista. Our county has four branches.

Does that title seem like an exaggeration? Over the top? Maybe.
Books didn’t literally save my life. A pile of books didn’t literally keep me from dying.
But they helped me survive mentally. I got through a lot of trying times because of books, especially when I was a child.

Books made me feel secure. I read some books over and over, so they were familiar to me.
I suppose they were an escape, too, from tension that was sometimes in the house, from anxiety and fear.
The real thing books did for me was to show me the world. I learned that other people lived different lives from me. I learned how other people treated each other. I was inspired to live a different life.

I visited the county library quite often, along with the school library.
I loved walking up and down the aisles of the county library. For a while, I stuck to the area holding the juvenile books, but gradually I started looking at the books in the other sections.
The librarian, Mrs. Guthrie, seemed to be able to identify every book in the place. She knew where every book was and whether or not I might like it.

Here were some of my favorites:
*Trixie Belden books
*The Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace
*A Gift of Magic by Lois Duncan
*Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp
*Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
*Rosamond du Jardin books featuring the characters Pam and Penny Howard and Tobey Haydon
*Encyclopedia Brown books
*Books featuring the Tuckers (Tina, Terry, Merry, Penny, and Tom) by Jo Mendel
*Nancy Drew books
*Robin Kane books
*A biography of Amelia Earhart that I read over and over
*Sherlock Holmes stories

I had such a good time working back through my memories, remembering the books I read as a young person. Now I want to read them again.

Chase Bird seems to like reading, too. We're now reading "Personal," by Lee Child.

What books did you read as a child? And if you have children, what are they reading?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

After 9/11

This is a repost of an entry that I originally posted on Sept. 11, 2012 under a different title. It has now been 13 years since that awful day. That awful day gave me, and I think many others, lessons about what is most important to us.

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 8, 2014

People who helped me survive

If I look at only the negatives in my life—mental illness, dysfunctional family, emotional and verbal abuse—it’s easy to think that all of life is negative.
But if I consider that despite those negatives, I managed to accomplish many things and am an adult doing what I hope is good work, then I have to admit that I had and have many positives going on in my life, too.
How did I survive and in many ways flourish? How did I reach the point where I could seek help for myself and gain self-understanding?
For starters, I had people in my life who provided love, hope, support, structure, encouragement, smiles, consistency, trust, and values. Even when I was a lonely, scared child, there were people around me who cared and showed me that they cared.

My first grade school picture. I loved school and found acceptance there.

 I decided to compile a list of some of those people who were positive influences on me when I was a child, a teenager, and a young adult. Looking over this list reminds me of how I’ve been blessed, that all of my life has not been negative.

*My great aunt Ida. I wrote about her and her iris garden a couple of years ago. I stayed with her and my uncle quite a bit as a child when someone in the family was in the hospital. With her, I felt safe and cared for.

*My best friends’ mother, Barbara, who I wrote about almost a year ago. She treated me with respect by listening to me and showing interest in me. She encouraged me.

*The first Sunday school teacher I had. She showed interest in me, too, and never tried to dissuade me from coloring everything in purple. She never forgot that purple was my favorite color.

*My elementary school teachers. I was blessed to have good ones overall, and school was a source of happiness. I have especially fond memories of my second grade teacher, my fourth grade teacher, and my fifth grade social studies teacher. They allowed me to follow my curiosity and do more work than was assigned.

*My high school English teacher who taught me for three years. She encouraged me to think big about my future. Her choice of me for the English Award when I was a sophomore helped my self-esteem more than she ever knew.

*My first-year suitemates at the University of Virginia. They showed me that not everyone came from a family like mine, that there were other, and better ways, to interact with people and enjoy life.

*My friend D in graduate school at Bowling Green State University. She encouraged me to seek counseling by telling me that she had gotten counseling. I figured if someone as pulled together as she was could sometimes need help, then I could seek it too.

*My first talk therapist. I revealed things to her about the way I was raised and how depressed I was that I had never talked about with anyone else. She was also the first person to whom I revealed my OCD symptoms. She helped me to begin to move past unhealthy ways of thinking. She also referred me to a psychiatrist.

*My first psychiatrist. She formerly diagnosed me with depression and OCD and started treatment. She called me “high functioning,” which surprised me at the time. Now I realize that she saw more strength and capability in me than I did.

*My friends A and B in graduate school. They treated me with respect, spent time with me just hanging out and having fun, and encouraged me. They reflected to me that I was a valuable person. And they showed me other ways of living life than I was used to.

We never know when we can be a strong, positive influence on someone else’s life. We never know when the small things we do for others turn into big things for them.
Writing this post made me realize how much I want to be a positive influence in the lives of others.

In the comments section, name one person who had a positive influence on you as a child or younger person. Let’s remember together!

Just a reminder: My new blogging schedule is to post on Mondays and Thursdays. So I will see you again on Thursday.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Anguish, but Hope

“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.” Joseph Campbell

  Lately, I haven’t been as consistent as I’d like with my blogging. I debated with myself about this post. I don’t want pity, and I don’t want to whine. I just want to be honest about where my head has been. And perhaps there are others out there who are going through similar upsets or who can relate and know they are not alone.

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I experienced a jolt to my emotional and mental sense of well-being this summer. My mother attempted suicide, and my reaction to her act was like an emotional explosion.
I began remembering things that I haven’t thought about in years, memories of my childhood and teen years, memories of my mother. I began thinking of familiar memories from a different perspective.
I made the decision to not have a relationship with my mother, at least right now
As a result of all of this, I feel like I have been peeled down to my core and have been left wondering, who am I?
My mother taught me certain things: I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t creative, I was lazy, I was selfish, I was like “a lump on a log.” If others knew what I was really like, she’d say, they wouldn’t like me.

Who am I if I don’t view myself through my mother’s eyes? If I don’t believe what my mother said I was, who am I?

It has been a difficult time. I have done a myriad of things to soothe my soul. The bedtime anger has lessened. Probably someone seeing me in my daily life would note no difference in my demeanor.
But just the other day, while I was taking a shower, I became infused with anger. It felt like it was burning me, like my heart was going to burst from it.
I cried because I didn’t know what to do with the anger. There’s no one to foist it upon. No one deserves it. Certainly no one wants to hear all of it.

One thing I’ve been doing to deal with it is journaling, some by hand in a lovely book Larry gave me, and some on the computer.
When I’m angry or upset or very anxious, writing on the computer suits me better: it’s faster, and the sound of the keys clicking helps to calm me.
Much of what goes in my journal is for my eyes only. But here’s a bit of what I’ve written lately.
It’s personal. It’s embarrassing. But it’s a way to show what I’m thinking:

I am stuck. I am sad. I am depressed. I am lazy. I am immobile. I do what I have to do, absolutely have to do, and a little of what I want to do, and then it’s sleep. It’s nothing. I have a nothing life. I have a small life. And I don’t know how to get a big one. I want a reason to get up in the morning. I need something to push me through life. Oh, God, have mercy on me, please.

And then later:

My past is over. I am 51 years old and it’s time to do what I want to do with my life. Not selfishly. But I need to stop adding that. “Not selfishly.” I am not a selfish person usually. It’s OK that I want to do something with my life that makes me happy and content and in the flow. I want to be in the flow. I want a good life, a big life.
What is a big life to me? I’m not yet sure. But it’s more than I’m living now. It’s doing what I want. Doing. Things. I. Want. To. Do. Loving others. Being honest. Being compassionate. Helping to make the world better. Being in the flow. Being in the flow. Not letting fear and fatigue stop me. Not letting depression or OCD or anxiety stop me. Living in spite them. Living a big life in spite of them. In spite of my past. Living a big life.

Yes, I’m struggling. But I have hope. Things will get better. I am putting one foot in front of the other, every day. I will get better.
I will learn more about who I am and how to be in this world so that I have a positive effect on those around me.

Part of my journey is rethinking how I’m spending my time and what I’m writing. With that in mind, I’ll be starting a new posting schedule, changing to two times a week, Mondays and Thursdays. I won’t post again this week, so I’ll be back here on Monday, Sept. 8.
I’d like to devote Bringing Along OCD to the subjects that I originally started out with. I want to use this blog as a form of mental health advocacy.