Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Anxious

This is really the last thing I need to be doing right now. But I am tired, and anxious, and need to take a moment to pause and regroup as much as my nerves say, "No, no! You can't sit still! Too much left to do! Too much left to do!" And it does seem there is too much to do; there's so much I want to get done before showering (because I feel like I have to shower even though I know it's compulsive) and go to bed (and I would opt for not sleeping in my bed so that I wouldn't feel the need to shower, except, this is the last night in my apartment...I want to sleep in my bed one last time and "remember what it was like"). It's OCD on top of OCD on top of OCD.

I am pushing the boundaries where I feel I can, but this whole moving process is wearing on me in ways I know are irrational. I am frustrated with my roommate for leaving "dirty" things behind...cleaning sponges and brushes, bottles of cleaning chemicals, a dirty fridge that needs to be wiped out - things of that general nature. For a "normal" person this probably wouldn't seem that bad, but for me, disposing of these lovely items seems to require an intricate plot, a complicated dance...if I touch this...then I can't touch that...then I have to wash my hands before I can touch something else...and then I must wash again...and on and on and on. It is exhausting just thinking about it.

On top of that I am sliding backwards in controlling the time and extent of my hand-washing. Just a couple weeks ago, I had gotten to the point where my hand-washing, while still too frequent, was not such a burden because I had faith that I could stop. Now it is getting longer again. And as it gets longer, each time I feel that I must live up to the length of the previous hand-washing episode or it's not enough. I know this is all OCD nonsense, but still, it's how I feel. Normally I would challenge these ideas a bit more and fight back. But having to face so many things I fear all at once has worn me down. I have largely become the puppet of my OCD's whims. So I try to just take it a moment at a time, not worrying about what is left to do or how I have to do it. I do as much as I can to limit OCD while I am doing things, not forcing myself to figure out whether I am going to give in or not beforehand. Instead I am trying to just do what comes to mind without waiting for myself to figure out the "right" way to do it or to garner the "right" motivation to do it without compulsion.

That's it. No fancy ideas or thoughtful reflections. Just me trying to use the tools I have to propel myself forward!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Moving...

I survived! (So far.)

I am working on moving out of my apartment into a new room, in a new house, shared with new people and one good friend. While I am looking forward to the change of environment and a chance at a fresh start, in many ways it is also a struggle. I am basically taking a wrecking ball to the one place I consider "safe" and "clean" (well, at least parts of it), dismantling it limb from limb, stuffing it in "dirty" boxes and putting it in my "dirty" car, only to reassemble it all in a room that doesn't feel "clean."

On top of that my safety net is being taken out from under me as well. I rely upon washing my hands and showering to restore the feeling of cleanliness that is so easily lost. What if these rituals no longer provide the same comfort in this new place? What if I am forced to drastically cut down my compulsions at a rate that I am not comfortable with to hide the symptoms of my OCD? What if the shower at the new place doesn't feel clean (I'm sharing a bathroom with guys...)? How will I be able to shower there? Will I be able to shower under 30 minutes as I am supposed to? Will I be able to feel clean after showering? Will I find a way to make the new bathroom set-up work for me and my OCD? Will the sink where I wash my hands seem clean? Will I be able to wash infrequently enough and for short enough periods of time to avoid calling attention to myself? Lots of questions like these float around in my head. I guess I'll just have to wait and see, and take things one step at a time.

I realize that, in terms of exposure, this new place is some sort of heavenly gift, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't seem terrifying half the time. I am excited to have a real (though negative) motivating factor, (namely hiding my OCD from people who don't know about it and avoiding inconveniencing others) to provide the push and the desire to fight that all too often seems to be lacking. I have gotten so much better since my contamination issues reappeared close to a year ago now. And yet, I think I lose sight of just how limited I still am. I have grown accustomed to my routine and have adapted my world to my symptoms. Ultimately, however, I know that I cannot sustain this lifestyle. I think about all the things I'd like to do and realize that it would be very hard to accomplish them without regaining a greater degree of "normalcy." Hopefully this new home with its new housemates will remind me what "normal" is since I seem to have lost track of it.

I know I can do it. I know I can improve. I have been from one OCD episode to the next many times in my life. This time, though, I am finally getting treatment for the disorder. I am fighting it rather than just pushing it aside and replacing one form of symptoms with another. And I think doing it this way, the right way, takes time. But I hope by taking the time to do it right, that what I have and will continue to learn will stick, enabling me to avoid such severe relapses in the future. I also hope that I can do more than just return to being "normal" in terms of contamination issues. I would really like to tackle other difficulties that I have had, difficulties that I can now see were probably created or exacerbated by OCD, to improve my life in general. But for now, I am taking one moment at a time. Not even days, just moments, and that approach seems helpful. I can get through this as long as I don't get too far ahead of myself!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Doubt and more doubt: Is this anxiety? Do I really have OCD?


There are often those moments where I have a choice - to do what's comfortable and reassuring or to do what I know needs to be done to get better. I feel dirty, but then, that's emotional reasoning. I know better than to obey based on that feeling alone.

Nevertheless, I can feel myself being drawn towards the wrong decision, the decision to give in and do the thing that will make me feel safe, comfortable, and refreshingly clean. I also feel bad for being so easily lured into the OCD trap, especially when it seems like I don't experience that much anxiety and because I have the ability to sit here and calmly analyze my options. If I am this calm and rational, why am I still leaning towards making the non-therapeutic decision?

In fact, this is something I have had difficulty with since my relapse close to a year ago now. I have had different "types" of OCD throughout out my life and a myriad of different compulsions designed to alleviate the discomfort of each version that has popped up. This time it was contamination, and the OCD swept in swiftly and stealthily. It seemed almost overnight that the world suddenly became a place coated in chemicals (and later germs) fraught with danger and a responsibility to contain and minimize the risk. I couldn't function.

Looking back to when I was at my worst, I can now see that the anxiety was pretty severe, but at the time I had a hard time rating my anxiety level or determining whether I even felt anxious at all in the moment. Often I knew what I should probably do, but for some reason I just couldn't bring myself to do it. The only concept of anxiety I had (and often still have) was a feeling of reluctance or a need to do something to resolve the situation. I still dislike being asked to "rate my anxiety level" during an exposure, because it just leads me down a path of confusion, searching for an emotion that I would like to identify but can't. Clear signs of anxiety would almost be a relief. I would feel justified in my failures and in seeking help if I could just point to tangible physical symptoms of fear. Instead, I look for that feeling, fail to find it, and begin to wonder what's wrong with me. Why I can't get myself to do this? Do I really deserve help if I'm not shaking with fear or sobbing? Other people seem to suffer so much both outwardly and internally yet, even then, they make the decision to do those things they know will be best for them in the long run.

This supposed "inability to feel anxiety" makes me feel like a terrible fraud sometimes. I feel like I am choosing to have OCD, that for some very unknown reason, I am making up my symptoms. I mean, I have lost quite a bit to the disorder this past year in many different areas of my life. It is beyond me why I would ever want to lose these things by faking a disorder. In fact, it is very against my nature to let things get this bad. In the past, when undergoing intermittent bouts of OCD flare ups, I somehow managed to hold it together enough so that when I did recover, I could continue on with my life as if nothing had happened. This is the first time that I really let things just fall apart and come crashing down around me. I just felt like I could no longer maintain the facade that everything was alright. I just couldn't keep up. But even then, as soon as I tried to determine how anxious I was, it became impossible to know. It's as if I wanted so badly to feel anxiety, to have a solid excuse for falling apart, that OCD wouldn't let me have that either. I couldn't recognize my own anxiety when I was experiencing it. I was hunting desperately for the forest without realizing I was already deep in the midst of it.

I think I am just now learning to recognize when I am anxious, and then acknowledge and accept it. So much of the time I am just so caught up in thought. If I am reluctant to do something, I try to understand why I am reluctant and when the the logical me can't find a good reason, when I feel like I should be able to do this or that non-compulsively, I start to berate myself for not being able to stop. It almost seems automatic. I begin to feel like I am just being intentionally stubborn and difficult, and that if someone would just yell at me enough and in the right way, I would realize that I am making it all up. I would drop the act, and shape up. I guess it comes down to my struggle with seeing this all as a character flaw that needs to be beaten out of me, rather than a mental disorder for which I need and deserve treatment.

What has recently been very helpful for me is slowing down, recognizing that, as illogical as it may seem, even to myself, I am actually reluctant to do various exposures. Acknowledging and accepting this, I think, is helpful for me because it frees me up to encourage myself to keep going anyway, instead of beating myself up. Even if for some unknown, unfathomable reason, I am making it all up and doing exposures reveals that I'm actually a fake, I have to do my exposures anyway and take that chance of finding that out if I really want to get better. It's really no different than when people who have harm obsessions take the risk of finding out that they are murderers by putting themselves in situations that make them feel like they could cause others harm. By doing the exposures designed to combat my contamination issues, I am also putting myself in the position to doubt whether or not I really have OCD if I can successfully do my exposure homework. I just have to remind myself that whether it makes any logical sense or not, or whether it proves that I am a fraud or not, I need to do the work now and figure out what's what later. If I am really a lazy, defective, dirty person, so be it. If I am a fraud, so be it. I can deal with that when and if it turns out to be true. But right now I am wasting my life away continually trying to prove to myself that I am neither!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Beginnings


I'm not sure I would call this an exposure, but just as when I actually commit to doing a new exposure further up on my hierarchy, beginning to write publicly (yet anonymously) about my experience with OCD is initially difficult. Reflecting about the ins and outs of my disorder and its treatment is certainly not new to me, but whereas my usual audience, my therapist, is one very familiar and understanding individual, the audience here (if there is one) is unknown. Nevertheless, by starting this blog, I am hoping to accomplish two very tangible things, among many others.

First, I am trying to be more courageous in pursuing those things that I want rather sticking to the safer alternative or what I feel I should do. Pursuing the latter has often been the status quo for me, but I think (and hope) that part of recovering is trying to construct a life that is both productive and enjoyable so that I look forward to getting better and am more motivated to do the difficult work to get there. I have toyed with the idea of starting an OCD blog for a while now, and after having lurked in the shadows, following others' posts, I am finally jumping in not knowing whether the time "feels right" or if I am "as excited" about this as I was hoping to be when the time came. All I know is that, even if at the moment, I suddenly fear that I am not enjoying this as much as I "should," I will continue to write because this is something I have wanted for a long time. That's the trickery of OCD. As soon I begin something that I was looking forward to, I begin to check whether I am getting the satisfaction I sought, and of course, the act of checking, in and of itself, seems to send however I did feel into hiding, leaving in its wake only anxiety about not feeling what I so desperately wanted to feel in the first place.

Nevertheless, my second goal in starting this blog is to satisfy my desire to share my own OCD experiences with others. Since being diagnosed and learning that I have the disorder, it seems that so many things about my life suddenly make sense...why I felt the need to do that or why I had such a hard time changing the way I did this...a lot of things sort of fall into place. Looking at life, both past and present, with this newfound knowledge elicits many different emotions...sadness, anger, frustration...but mostly hope and excitement that knowledge about OCD and its treatment will allow me to live a more satisfying life. Perhaps this is one step in that direction.

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