Thursday, October 30, 2014

The dentist and OCD

Do you dread dentist appointments? Do you hate the thought of sitting in that chair with the fear of needles, drills, and other scary looking tools?
Yes, me, too.
Though I don’t dread it like I used to do. And I consider that lessening of anxiety a triumph over a bit of OCD in my life.

I went to the dentist this week for my six-month check-up. I’ve been seeing the same dentist for 29 years, and I wouldn’t trade him for another. He understands my teeth: their thin enamel, their hyper-sensitivity. He’s good at what he does.
And he’s very kind. The other day, the dental hygienist did the cleaning, as usual, then the dentist came in to look things over. As is usually the case now, he pronounced everything fine and told me he’d see me in six months.
“But if you need anything before then, you know we’re here for you,” he said.

I have spent a lifetime being vigilant about brushing my teeth and, as an adult, flossing. But I’ve had cavities and have had to have several root canals. We’re not sure why I have such problems. Perhaps the lack of fluoride as a child. Perhaps the thin enamel. Perhaps just bad genes.

When I started having OCD symptoms, the trips to the dentist became part of my obsessions.
As a dentist appointment drew closer, I felt very anxious. More importantly, I felt like I couldn’t relax, couldn’t NOT worry, until the visit was over.
If I had to return to the dentist for a cavity filling or a root canal, I tried to get an appointment as soon as possible. The sooner it was, the sooner I could get it over with and be OK.
If the appointment wasn’t soon enough (in my opinion), then I would call the dentist office multiple times, asking about cancellations.

When I grew in understanding that fear of uncertainty is a big part of OCD, I began to see that I would have to live with the idea that painful, uncomfortable, scary things were in my future, were in everyone’s future. That’s life.
But in the meantime, I was wasting the present by not allowing myself to enjoy life until the “big event” was over. I’ve learned that the present, right now, is so important.
Life is to be enjoyed and appreciated now.
Also, as my OCD improved overall, the improvement included a lessening of that belief that I couldn’t be OK until all worries were taken care of.
So I go see the dentist every six months. I still feel a little trepidation at the thought of something being wrong with my teeth. But I get through it. And if I need to go back for some work, I no longer obsess over getting the work done immediately.
It’s nice to be able to enjoy the present as best as I can.

So, what’s your relationship with the dental office?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Down and Back: Adapting to Change

The leaves are starting to pile up in the yard.

Down and back. Shoulders down and back.
That has been almost a mantra for me over the past few weeks. Ever since I started physical therapy on Oct. 3, therapists have reminded me many times to make sure my shoulders are down—not up around my ears—and back—not slumped forward.
Because I do tend to slump. My posture is horrible. Years of hunching over first paper and pen, then typewriters, then a word processor, then computers have instilled in me a slumped over posture.
Even now, as I write this, I have to remind myself over and over to sit up straight.
One of my therapists, Kyle, explained that when I lift up my right shoulder, whether it’s to pick up something, reach for something, or indulging in bad posture, I’m “grinding” those nerves that are irritated.
“When you feel pain, check to see what position your shoulder is in,” he told me once.
He recommended finding a cue to remind myself to keep the shoulders down and back. So far, I realize pretty quickly when I’m slumping forward or holding my shoulders up around my ears. But I would like to think of an actual cue.
Physical therapy has been a positive experience for me. I still have pain, but I am feeling stronger. And Kyle, plus Darius and Katie, are teaching me ways to adapt so I’m not putting pressure on nerves.
For example, during last Thursday’s session, I was having a lot of pain when I lifted up both arms to do an exercise with a stretch band. That pain had gotten better, but it seemed to have flared up again.
I can easily tell now what muscle soreness from exercise is and what the original nerve pain is.
Katie and Kyle were ready to find another way for me to strengthen the muscles without pain. It involved lying face down on a table and lifting my arm from that position. Gravity wasn’t pulling on my shoulder, so no pain.
I’ve been working on making adjustments in other areas of my life, too. When the pain was at its worst, it was very hard to use the computer—to move the mouse around, to hold my arms up to type.
Not using a computer was not an option for me. I write and edit for a living. I write and edit because I love doing those things.

The written word is like my breath.

So I am adapting. At home, I placed a firm pillow in my desk chair to lift myself up so I didn’t have to do any lifting of the shoulder to work.
I’m still working on my desk environment at the newspaper office. I originally had the mouse and its pad almost an arm’s length away from me so I could use the space right in front of me to place notebooks, reports, etc. Reaching for the mouse and moving it hurt. I found that moving the mouse pad closer to me helped a great deal.
In my daily life, I’ve learned that it’s OK to place my drinking glass on the left side of my plate so I can lift it with my left hand. I’ve learned that I can throw things pretty well with my left hand when I’m playing with Chase Bird. (He likes to smack rolled up pieces of paper or little play mice. It’s like playing volleyball with him.)

Chase Bird enjoying the sunshine on the enclosed porch.

A doctor told me years ago that I would have to adapt my life to having depression. I learned what helps me with the depression, and with OCD, and what doesn’t.
I’m learning that it works with my physical health, too. I can find ways to do the things I want to do. I just have to adapt.
And keep my shoulders down and back.

Have you ever had to adapt the way you did an activity? What would be a good cue to remind me to place my shoulders in a better position? I appreciate your input!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The blessing of animals

I am letting this photograph and some quotes speak for me today.

“Animals, like us, are living souls. They are not things. They are not objects. Neither are they human. Yet they mourn. They love. They dance. They suffer. They know the peaks and chasms of being.”
― Gary Kowalski, The Souls of Animals

“Animals can communicate quite well. And they do. And generally speaking, they are ignored”
― Alice Walker

“What sets humans apart from animals is that we have to walk around saying how smart we are, and animals just live their lives.”
― Chanctetinyea J.J. Ouellette

“Lacking a shared language, emotions are perhaps our most effective means of cross-species communication. We can share our emotions, we can understand the language of feelings, and that's why we form deep and enduring social bonds with many other beings. Emotions are the glue that binds.”
― Marc Bekoff, The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy and Why They Matter

What do you think the crow and the squirrel are saying to each other? 

Monday, October 20, 2014


After a week of rain on and off, the sun shone this Saturday and Sunday and temperatures were in that lovely range of 50s and 60s. In other words, we enjoyed some glorious fall days.
It was also Larry’s birthday weekend.
In celebration of his special day and my slowly easing pain from the pinched nerve (fingers crossed!), we spent some time outside enjoying the blue sky, the changing leaves, and the air that just feels fresher somehow.

Saturday night, we drove to Gretna, a nearby town, to have dinner at J.T.’s at the Lavalette. The house was built in the 1880s, with additions constructed in the 1920s.
It’s a lovely old house that now provides an excellent place to enjoy good food among the best things about old houses: huge windows, eleven fireplaces, hardwood floors, high ceilings, and a wide, wrap-around porch.

The Lavalette House before dark.

The Lavalette House after dinner, with darkness setting in.

Sunday, we traipsed around outside our house and in English Park, down by the Staunton River.

Larry at the end of the driveway, getting the paper out of the box.

These trees are in our neighbor's yard. I like the red and yellow so close together.

These red leaves are on one of the oak trees in our front yard.

Looking across the Staunton River.

We made a lot of noise as we walked over the leaves carpeting the ground beside the river.

A view of the river between the trees.

An Eagle Scout planted an orchard in the park as part of the steps he took to become an Eagle.

The sign explains the purpose of the orchard. It includes apple, pear, and plum trees.

What have you been celebrating lately?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Opportunities to help

I’ve been heartened by the attention given OCD on social media this week, OCD Awareness Week.
In my reading this week, I found Janet Singer’s blog post, “I’m a Little OCD,” on ocdtalk, particularly thought provoking.
Janet is preparing for the publication of her book, Overcoming OCD: A Journey of Recovery, which she wrote with Seth Gillihan. Janet’s son has OCD, and she learned about the disorder and treatments—good and bad—while helping her son.
Janet’s post this week addresses the situation that probably many of us with OCD have encountered. The subject of having OCD comes up, and someone says, “Oh, I’m a little OCD.” Or “I’m so OCD.”
If you have OCD, or a family member or friend with OCD, statements like that might frustrate you. They seem to trivialize a serious disorder. Just because you like to put all your Virginia Tech clothing in one drawer doesn’t mean you necessarily have OCD.
Janet came up with a great way to respond to such statements as she spreads the word about her work:

“So my response has been something like, “’OCD is such a misunderstood and misrepresented illness, which is one of the reasons why I believe this book is so important. I hope you’re getting the right help if you do have OCD.’”

I like the fact that the response is respectful and leaves open the opportunity for education and help if the person is really in need.
I used to get upset when I heard people seem to discount OCD as a little problem. And I do think there are misconceptions about the seriousness of the disorder and how it can disrupt lives.
But for all I know, the people saying, “I’m so OCD” might be worried that they have a problem. They might have untreated OCD. They might be worried about someone else. They might be looking for help. They might be able to pass along helpful information to family members.
So ….. I’m going to consider those “I’m so OCD” moments as opportunities to help. I hope I remember in the moment to give a response like Janet has been giving while she’s spreading the word about her book.
Because people can ask for help in a lot of different ways.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What I would tell my younger self: Things will get better

This week, Oct. 13-19, is International OCD Awareness Week.
One of the reasons I started this blog was to raise awareness about what OCD is and how it can be treated.
Another reason I started this blog was to connect with others and remind them that they aren’t alone. And things will get better.
That things will get better—that OCD does not have to control you—is difficult to believe when you are in the midst of the seemingly endless cycle of obsession, compulsion, obsession, compulsion.
But it would have helped me, when I was a young woman struggling with a disorder I didn’t fully understand, if someone had told me that things would not always be so bad, that help was available, and that knowledge about and treatment of OCD would get better as time went by.

My younger self.

So I decided to write a letter to younger self and tell myself those things. Writing a letter to your younger, or older, self is not a new thing. But I’ve never done it, and I wanted to use this as a way to help my own healing and, more importantly, tell all of you out there who are struggling that it won’t always be so bad.

Dear me at age 25,

I see you slamming your hands against the wall in your kitchen. I hear you begging God to help you. I feel your tears. I know you want to scream. And I can read your thoughts—you think it’s always going to be this bad.
The stove there seems like an enemy, doesn’t it? Even when you don’t use it, you’re afraid that you left it turned on, or that you accidently turned it on when you were cleaning it.
And if you leave it on, then a fire could start, and it could spread to other apartments, and people could get killed, and it would be all your fault.
Two hours ago, you thought it was OK. But then you started thinking that it wasn’t. You couldn’t relax. So you decided to check it just once, and then you’d feel OK. You promised God it would be just once.
It’s never just once. You really do believe that it’s going to be just one more time, one more check. But it never is. That’s the nature of OCD.
Rest for a while. I know you don’t believe you have the right to relax until all your responsibilities are taken care of. But just take a few minutes. Just lie down and rest for a while.
You already know you have obsessive-compulsive disorder. You wouldn’t dare tell a doctor about it, but you read a lot, and you know.
But you don’t truly believe that anyone else feels the same way you do. How can anyone possibly think the same things as you? It’s so bizarre, isn’t it?
Like you used to be able to walk to campus without a problem. Now you notice sticks on the ground. You wonder if they’re actually nails. You have to check and make sure they’re not nails. Because someone might step on one and get hurt, and it would be your fault.
How can anyone else think something so weird?
I want you to know that you are not alone. There are many people around the world who have the same sorts of thoughts you do. They try to do things like clean and check so they won’t feel so bad. They feel desperate like you.
You are part of a large group of people around the world who are struggling with OCD. Someday you’re going to meet some in person. Someday you’re going to connect with a lot of them on the computer.
And your friends who don’t have OCD are going to understand and be supportive when you tell them about your struggles.
For now, just remind yourself that you are not alone.
I also want you to know that there are treatments for OCD. You are going to see a doctor soon who will diagnose you with OCD and begin to treat you. You are going to get better.
And the treatments are going to get better as you get older. You’re going to read some helpful books. You’re going to learn about cognitive behavior therapy. You’re going to learn more about how your thoughts work.
But don’t wait until then to feel good about yourself. Remind yourself of what you’ve been able to do: work, go to school, and be with friends. You may have a hard time doing all this, but you are already accomplishing things. Don’t think you have to be 100 percent cured to start living.
And please, give yourself a break. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re doing the best you can.
Remember: you are not alone, and things are going to get better.
Just rest for a while.

With love,
Your older self

I was asked to share the following information, and I am glad to.
OCD Connecticut is holding a free conference called “Living with OCD” on Saturday, October 18th, 2014.
It will be held at the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven, CT from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Topics will include the diagnosis and best practice treatments for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and there will be breakout support groups sessions for adults, teens, and family members.
For more information and to register for the program, please visit


If you wrote a letter to your younger self, what would you say?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Let’s be aware

This week (Oct. 5-11) is Mental Illness Awareness Week, a week dedicated to raising awareness and educating people about mental illness.
There is so much more awareness about mental illness now than when I was younger. I remember being told as a child that certain people were in the hospital because they “had a nervous breakdown.” And it was usually said in a whisper.
I had no real idea of what a nervous breakdown was. But it sounded bad, like a loss of control, like something to pity. It definitely sounded like something that should be kept a secret.
In reality, it was a secret kept by people who thought having a mental illness was something to be ashamed of.
When I was first diagnosed with OCD and depression in my mid-20s, I was ashamed. I thought if others found out, they would think I was deficient, weak. So I told only a very few close friends and family. Even with them, I brushed it off as just a little problem that I was taking care of with medicine.
The secretive way I handled my mental illness kept me from getting the full help that I needed.
For example, I didn’t want to get into a lot of therapy, including cognitive behavior therapy, because I’d have to ask off from work. How could I ask off for a doctor’s appointment if I didn’t look physically ill? I wouldn’t lie about it, but I couldn’t be honest either.
Several concerns kept me from getting the treatment that I needed when I was younger, but my fear of being stigmatized was part of it.
Nowadays, people talk about mental illnesses much more openly. Advocacy and education are still necessary—there are a lot of misconceptions out there, a lot of blaming—but the atmosphere for discussion has improved.
With discussion, stigma can lessen. We can ask each other questions and listen to each other’s stories. We can learn that we’re not the only one feeling certain feelings and thinking certain thoughts.
We can learn that we’re not alone.
Being aware is a big deal for me. So I’m happy to lend my voice to awareness of mental illness this week and beyond.
For more information about mental illness, check out the website of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Oct. 9 is also National Depression Screening Day. If you even think you’re depressed, please get screened and get help. And pass the word to your friends.
Let’s all be aware.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Therapy for the physical, too

I spent a large part of this past summer concentrating on my mental health. Lately, I’ve had to start paying more attention to my physical health.
I’ve had some physical pain for a number of weeks. It started in my right arm, between my shoulder and elbow. I figured I was sleeping too much on that side. I’ve had pain in that spot before, and it went away on its own. Why wouldn’t it just go away again?
It just got worse. It hurt to lift my glass off the table to take a drink. It hurt if I lifted it for anything.
But still . . . why wouldn’t it just go away on its own?
The pain spread to my shoulder and down my arm. My hand felt numb sometimes. The pain made me want to grit my teeth.
I finally went to see my orthopedic doctor last week. I suspected I had bursitis or tendonitis in my shoulder.
The doctor said I had a pinched nerve in my neck caused by osteoarthritis. There’s a vertebrae out of place and some degeneration in the bone.
He wrote out a list: medication, physical therapy, epidurals, surgery. We’ll start with the medication—anti-inflammatory—and the physical therapy and hope that takes care of the pain, he said.
I plan on it working, I told him. I don’t want to have surgery.
I admit, this threw me for a loop. This wasn’t something I could get a shot for and be all better. This would probably be an ongoing challenge.
I even wept a little on the drive back home.

But I rallied and went to my first physical therapy session on Friday. The physical therapist said that even though “there’s a lot going on in there” (my neck), I was getting treated early, which would help.
And then he said something that set me straight.
“We have people come in there who can’t walk,” he said. “Three weeks later, they’re walking just fine.”
Of course, not everyone has such great results. But his statement reminded me that my situation could be far worse. And physical therapy can make a positive difference.

Besides the physical therapy sessions, I’m doing prescribed stretching exercises at home.
I’m happy to say that the pain has lessened.

And I am once again reminded that I have to give my physical health the attention that I give my mental health. It all works together: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual.

So I’m paying attention now.
I’ve been taking some short walks in my neighborhood as a start to being more physically active. The photos today are from those walks.
I’m going to work hard in physical therapy. I’m going to rest my arm and shoulder when I should. I’m trying to be more aware of my posture.

I’m doing my best. And that’s all we can do, right?

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Happy October! Now that we’ve started the first “full” month of the new season, it really feels like fall to me.

I’m writing about contentment today.
I’ve never had a desire for great excitement or daily adrenaline rushes. I’ve just wanted peace.
For me, peace is a contentment with life. It’s not a life where everything is necessarily going well, or where I’ve reached big goals.
It’s a sense of well-being, a belief that whatever life throws at me, I will handle. It’s the ability to enjoy the moment while moving toward accomplishments I’m passionate about.
I’m feeling more like that lately. With the help of my husband, my cat, my mental health treatment, the people in my day-to-day life, and you, dear readers, I am sturdier on this path I’m on.
I’m not expecting all smooth sailing up ahead. I have far to go and more battles, I’m sure.
But I am believing more in myself and my ability to build that big life—which is really a full life—that I’ve wanted.

Nature is one of the ways I connect to life. I feel a part of something bigger. Even the little bits of nature are beautiful to me.
On that note, can you stand a couple more photos of acorns?
It’s raining acorns here. At least, that what it sometimes sounds like. I sat in the car the other day and just listened to them fall, bouncing on the driveway and ground.
Larry continues to work on gathering them and getting them off the driveway. I loved this pile he made. It looks like the perfect supply for some hungry squirrels or deer.

I noticed an acorn lying flat on the bricks outside the door on my way to work one morning. That evening, I picked it up and was fascinated by the view of the inside of an acorn. In this photo, Larry is holding it up for me to get the shot.

Knitting is still going on inside the house. I bought a larger size pair of needles and some chunky yarn and started another scarf. This one is blue, a color Larry picked out. I love the flow of the bigger needles and yarn.

I’ve been feeling more content lately, and for that, I am thankful.

What has been making you content lately?