Saturday, October 29, 2011

Phone Jitters

Though I probably don't have enough of it to warrant a label, I think I do have some social anxiety.  It's gotten a lot better over the years - when I was a kid it was really so much worse.  Back then, I was often labeled "shy" or "quiet" and hated it because every time someone used one of those adjectives to describe me, it just seemed that much harder to overcome my difficulty of speaking up.  Those jolts of anxiety I got from voicing my opinion were intensified when I discovered that, despite my desire to be talkative and efforts to be outgoing, I was still perceived as being "quiet."   I had a hard time as it was being more vocal when not at ease, but when someone commented on how I was "shy," the self-consciousness would flare up even more, creating an even bigger hurdle to overcome when I wanted to express myself.

Like I said, it's a lot better now.  I think through accidental exposure and repeated confrontation of social situations, I have adjusted.  Just as I have begun to habituate to the fear of "feeling dirty" and other contamination-related concerns, I likewise have habituated to the fear of vocalizing my thoughts (and being evaluated negatively if do) by repeatedly putting myself or by being put in social situations that evoke anxiety.  The thoughts that maybe I'm really obviously "weird" or "different" or "awkward" (or that my comments are somehow "dumber" than those of other people) still linger, but they are less intense and they don't hold as much influence over my choices as they used to.  When I was a kid, I really grappled with insecurity and lack of self-confidence, and I still often do, but these days I am more often able to overcome that fear in order to make the decisions that I want to make and act how I want to act.  In fact, I really like to talk.  I did when I was a kid, too, but back then the fear of being judged and feeling embarrassment just seemed to overpower my eagerness to express myself.

What remains of that social anxiety tends to rear its ugly head when making phone calls for my job.  When I have to make a new contact for the first time, my anxiety shoots through the roof.  I type the number into the phone and just have to press "dial" whether I feel ready or not, because if I waited for the jitters to go away, I would never make that phone call.  I do my best to sound professional and not nervous, but sometimes I get off the phone and still think, "Wow, that was special..."  or "I said that the wrong way" or "I could have explained that better."

I try not to dwell on it, though, or reassure myself in a way that only feeds the fear.  Instead I think:  Maybe I sounded stupid, or maybe I didn't.  Maybe it was a better-than-average phone call, or maybe it was worse.  What's the worst case scenario?  That I sounded unprofessional?  What's so wrong with that?  While it's not exactly the way I wanted to present myself, who cares?  People say dumb things.  People botch phone calls.  People make mistakes.  It happens.  I'm not an exception and can't expect to be.  Humans do things "wrong" sometimes.  What makes me think that I'm any different?  I'm not.

Putting it into perspective helps, as does writing about it here.  I'm still coming down from the anxiety and jitters awakened by a few phone calls I had to make almost an hour ago, but if I have learned anything in treatment for OCD, it's that feelings are just that:  feelings.  They are not always a good barometer for what's a threat and what's not.  I could have made an awesome phone call and felt awful about it, or I could have actually made a phone call that was awful but felt good about it.  It all depends on how I interpret the situation.  To use my feelings as the sole measurement of my performance would be to fall into the trap of  one of those lovely "cognitive distortions" CBT therapists are always talking about - namely, emotional reasoning (i.e. I feel a certain way about something, therefore it must be true).  I know better than believe my feelings all the time, especially when I suspect that my alarm system is a little out of whack.  My body was already pumping with little waves of anxiety before I made the phone calls, so using that anxiety to judge the phone calls as a success or failure would be misleading. 

As with other fears, it basically comes down to accepting uncertainty.  Maybe I did well, maybe I didn't.  I can't be sure and I don't need to be.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tired in a Good Way

I'm tired and a little down this evening as I relax after a full day of intensive treatment and then work.  I want to go to bed but I also want to get my exposure work done.  I'm dreading doing the dishes in a way that I haven't normally lately - it probably has something to do with the fact that I have been putting them off several days and have started doing some new exposures that make me feel a bit dirty to be doing them.  Other than that I need to shower - 10 minutes is the current goal.  I took a 12 minute shower the other day and a 13 minute shower this morning.  Those are the obstacles (or opportunities, I suppose) that await me before going to bed.  Last night I put off showering for so long that I ended up not sleeping in my bed and not taking my meds (which make me sleep much better than I would otherwise).  And the night before that I only got about 5 hours of sleep, so I'm a bit run-down and tired.  Mostly I just feel like there's an overwhelming amount of things to do, and I'm running a little low on motivation to get them done.  I like that I am staying busy.  I have treatment everyday in the morning, work everyday in the afternoon, and work on top of it all on the weekends.  There's not really a day off but sometimes that's good - free time leads to compulsive avoidance and compulsivity in general, but then again, taking care of myself and getting enough rest also reduces the amount of compulsions I perform.

I guess what I'm trying to say is:  I'm tired, but in a good way.  I dread the exposures ahead of me for the evening, but that's better than dreading compulsions - at least the exposures provide some benefit.  So I'll take a break for a little while longer and then it's back to work battling my OCD for the evening.  OCD doesn't rest so neither can I.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Intensive Treatment Update

It's been an eventful few weeks.  I can hardly believe it, but I have been in my intensive treatment for almost a full month now and am about 2/3 of the way through the program.  Four hours a day, five days a week, I've been in treatment for OCD.  And I think I'm finally getting what I needed to propel me forward - a more aggressive, thorough, and persistent attack on my disorder, a sort of fight that I struggled to make with just one hour a week of therapy.

Perhaps I'll write more in depth on the actual experience of being in the program later, but right now I have another topic on my mind:  what will I do when I am out?  My number one fear:  slipping, losing not only the gains I've made but the forward momentum I've collected.  What I hope to take away with me is not necessarily the ability to face any one specific fear, but rather the willingness and readiness to do what it takes to get better.  It's so much easier to do what needs to be done when you are accountable each and every day of the week for the choices you make.  Can I maintain that and continue to progress when I am again on my own?  I hope so.

As I wrote in a previous post, what is often the hardest for me is breaking "the rules" without explicit permission from my therapist (i.e. I have often felt like I had to continue to perform a compulsion, whether or not it really seemed to serve much of a purpose anymore, until a therapist said the magic words, "This week I want you to work on not doing compulsions x, y, and z.").  I am continuing to get better at breaking "the rules" independently, and if I can hold onto the progress I've made in this area, I think I'll have an easier time applying my therapist's recommendations throughout the week, even with less time spent in therapy, once the program is over.  Though it still seems tenuous at times, I am so grateful to be working on and strengthening my ability to make therapeutically beneficial decisions without getting permission from a therapist for every last choice I make concerning exposure and response prevention.

What goes hand in hand with this is the realization that every compulsion, no matter how mandatory it feels, is ultimately a choice.  This idea has been discussed a lot over the last few weeks, and we also talked about how, at first, there really doesn't seem to be a choice.  OCD appears to have the all control.  But as you begin to make more and more non-compulsive choices, the power starts to feel as if its being transferred away from the OCD and back to you.

I was skeptical at first.  I knew deep down that compulsions were a choice:  I knew that if someone were to hold a gun to my head and threaten to shoot if I didn't stop washing, I could turn the faucet off.  But short of just that scenario, it seemed pretty impossible to choose to forgo so many compulsions.  And it was hard to imagine a space where I wouldn't constantly have to have a frustrated therapist breathing down my neck for me for me to be able to make non-compulsive choices.  But now, more than ever in my life and especially since my big relapse, I feel like the OCD and myself are on an equal playing field.  OCD no longer has me outnumbered a billion to one.  And what's even more interesting to consider is that, in reality, OCD actually has no power but the power I give it.  OCD may seem less threatening than it once did, but the only reason it still holds any clout at all is because I let it have that power when I choose to perform compulsions.

I don't know why it's taken so long for all this to sink in, but it has, and it's incredibly hopeful and freeing.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fighting Like Hell

It's been a long time since I posted and even longer since I've made posts regularly.  But, tonight, well I'm feeling in the mood to write, and goodness, there's plenty to write about.

A couple weeks ago now I began an intensive treatment program.  I'm basically in treatment about 20 hours a week.  And in the time since I started that program, well, I have done things that I am not even sure I would have done BEFORE my contamination OCD flared out of control.  As I write, I feel dirty, but I am also determined to keep going, to resist the urges to avoid and perform other compulsions that would be so easy to give in to.  I feel as though I'm finally making a solid effort to wholeheartedly commit to doing ERP as I know it needs to be done.  I'm finally breaking the rules that, for so long, I felt couldn't be broken, even while I was doing active exposure work in the past.  I am rebelling against my OCD and doing what I know, deep down, I want to do - I want to stop dragging my feet, stop undermining my treatment, and go towards those things I feel a need to avoid.  It has its ups and downs, but I feel like I have finally broken down my fear of fighting back fully.

Before I always felt like I HAD TO self-sabotage, like I had to wait for explicit and specific directions from my therapist to do an exposure.  If I didn't, well, I felt like I was being some sort of hypocritical, negligent individual who "couldn't really have OCD."  Even then, I would find myself pulled away from compliance by urges to hold myself back until someone "forced" me to do what needed to be done.  While self-handicapping is still tempting, it doesn't feel quite so mandatory.  I feel like, for the first time, I can independently make the choice to do exposures and to do them without perfect "permission" from a therapist.  And that feels like the key:  for so long I have desperately NEEDED the self-sufficiency and adaptability of being able to chose therapeutic decisions on my own.  It's still a challenge, but I'm finally seeing and feeling a glimmer of independence that has long been buried deep, tangled amidst the myriad of twisted "rules" and compulsions.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It's Not Defeat but Sometimes It Sure Feels Like It

I haven't written a particularly introspective or well thought-out post in a while.  And I'm afraid this one isn't going to be any different.  Maybe it's the whole almost working full time thing.  Maybe it's the half-way normal life I'm living and trying to balance with my OCD.  I know there are OCD impediments that I just don't even really notice anymore.

For instance, tonight I realized I don't have anything to wear to work tomorrow.  I can't fathom doing laundry now or even determining whether I am "clean enough" to do laundry.  I can't (aka won't) pick a skirt (that I just wore once before condemning) out the dirty laundry - too contaminated.  So what am I going to do?  Take the least offensive route - find a dress that I haven't unpacked in over a year and wear that, even though I'm not sure if it was "clean" before I packed it or if it's "okay" to wear since it's been in a box for so long, even if I did wash it before packing it.  These are dresses that I have avoided wearing for some time now because of this very issue of not knowing how to deal with them...

Everyone has their problems, and this is nothing, I'm sure, compared to "real" problems faced by so many out there, but sometimes I feel that, when living life at this pace, its just assumed that this sort of thing isn't a problem.  It's assumed that finding something "clean" enough to wear to work is not the most mentally challenging part of your day.  It's assumed that you can take care of yourself in this way, at this point in life, and yet, I don't always feel I can.  Life moves faster than I can.  And while I am loathe to give up my compulsions, I feel like the world just moves too fast for them.  The pace of life that I am "supposed" to be living was not designed to accommodate so much compulsive behavior.  But I squeeze it in.  It's way better than it used to be, but I still feel defeated sometimes.

When other people vent about their parking tickets or roommate issues at lunch or during breaks (and trust me, I do that, too), I sometimes wish I could share more of what is really on my mind - like the internal debate I'm having about whether or not to use the bathroom at work or if I'll be sleeping in my bed that evening if I do use a public restroom.  It's not exactly the kind of thing that your average co-worker can probably relate to.  And at this point, I hardly notice anymore.  I'm used to keeping that to myself until I have the rare chance to be completely honest about it - like when talking to my therapist or when I was staying with a friend at the OCD conference, a friend who also has OCD.  And because I don't talk about it, I almost don't even notice how much of my internal debate is dominated by these sort of OCD conversations with myself.  But they're there.  And they wear on me. And sometimes I wish I could just share what's really on my mind instead of pushing it away, hidden as my silent secret.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I feel as though I'm having motivational issues right now.  I'm avoiding showering.  I'm avoiding doing dishes.  I dread doing both, and it feels like what's the point?  Why bother?  I'm preparing to sleep on the floor even though I know I shouldn't.  I know it's compulsive.  I recognize that.  I recognize that I am making an unwise decision from a therapeutic standpoint, and yet, ugh.  How to make myself do what needs to be done?  I'm still figuring that one out.  Still figuring it out...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

And the countdown begins...

And so, the countdown next year's conference that is!  I had an amazing time at the 2011 IOCDF Annual Conference - heard a lot of inspiring stories and  learned even more about this disorder that I have personally found so debilitating yet so fascinating at the same time.

I'm definitely in a post-trip funk right now.  I think the normal lows that can come when an anticipated vacation is finally over are exacerbated by the fact that, for a few days at least, I felt like I could be my complete, honest self.  No hiding my OCD.  No hiding my past.  No working around the truth of how and why I have gotten to where I currently am.  My life is about much more than just OCD, but for a couple days I didn't have to keep this part of my life a secret.  So it's a bit tough coming back into the "real" world, where you aren't surrounded by other OCD sufferers who know too well the toll this disorder can take and who aren't surprised or weirded out by it.

While OCD is pretty much always on my mind, it hasn't been quite as prominent a part of my life as it was, say, a year ago.  I'm working now.  I am much more functional.  I'm going out more and not letting every single choice I make be dictated by my disorder.  But when I had the chance to really be myself at the conference, it reminded me just how much of my OCD I keep hidden, even now.  So I'm a bit sad to be home - I already miss that open and honest and safe environment!

One goal that I definitely have for myself this year is to finally become more involved in the OCD community in some way or another.  It's something I honestly think would be very motivational and simultaneously therapeutic for me.  I like being in an environment like that of the OCD conference, so why not find a way to put myself in that sort of setting more frequently than just once a year?  We'll see.  There's just something about the OCD community that provides a sense of belonging that can't often be found elsewhere.  Anyways, there's still a lot up in the air for me right now - when, where, and how much I'll be working once the summer is over and the possibility of entering an intensive outpatient treatment program are two major things that still aren't sorted out, but I still want to try to pursue ways to become more involved.

I'm going to try to write more about the conference and some of the interesting presentations I went to another time, but not today :).  Just as it was last year, though, the conference was an amazing experience in so many different ways, and I hope to be able to go again in the future.

Last but not least, I wanted to give a quick shout out to Pure O Canuck!  It was great to finally meet you in person at the conference and I hope you had a safe trip home!  Thanks for taking the time to meet up. :)  You and your mom are in my thoughts.

The conference was great - just as good as or perhaps even better than the last one.  All I have to say is:  hurry up next year!  I'm waiting for another conference!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Gearing up for the Conference!

This week I have something to look forward to as I plan and prepare for my short trip to San Diego for the International OCD Foundation's Annual Conference!  Woot!  I'm pretty excited, I have to say. :)

In case you don't know what this is, let me give some quick background:  every year the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), a fantastic resource for learning about OCD and finding treatment, hosts a 2 and a half day conference with TONS of presentations and panels, all of which address aspects of OCD and related spectrum disorders and their treatment.  Basically, it's my chance to totally geek out for an entire weekend while immersing myself in OCD education.  What makes the conference even better is that, for a couple days, I feel like I can let my guard down a bit because I am surrounded by people who understand OCD and have first-hand experience with this disorder, either as sufferers themselves, as friends and family members of sufferers, or as treatment providers of individuals suffering from OCD and related disorders.  So yeah, totally my OCD-nerd heaven :).

During each 1-2 hour time slot of the conference, there are several presentations going on simultaneously geared towards different groups of people - OCD sufferers and their family members, therapists and clinicians, or researchers - though anyone is perfectly welcome at any type of presentation.  Last year I actually attended a lot of the research-oriented presentations, but then, I studied neuroscience and did research in college so I find that sort of thing completely and utterly fascinating.  This year I again want to see some the research talks, but I think I also want to see more of those presentations that offer practical advice and support to those who have OCD.  This year, I feel like I'm in a place where I'd be better able to take some of that information in and apply it to my own life, whereas last year I was having a hard enough time as it was taking my own therapists' advice and implementing that.  Don't get me wrong, I still struggle to do my homework and comply with my ERP assignments, but I am a bit more flexible and malleable when it comes to thinking about my OCD and ways to fight it.  We'll see how adaptive I am soon enough :).

One lecture I really want to attend is "OCD Genetics: Progress Report from the OCD Collaborative Genetics Association (OCGAS) Study" presented by Gerald Nestadt, MD.  Apparently they have this lecture every year, and during this talk they do exactly what the title suggests - provide an update on research being done and what we have learned about the genetic basis of OCD.  For me this is fascinating because it takes what I learned from too many years of college bio and chem classes and applies it to OCD in a very easy to understand format.  I get to learn and feel like the stuff I studied so much in college actually had some use after all :).

Another talk I definitely plan on attending is “Careers in OCD: Which Path Makes Sense For Me?”  I actually attended a presentation/panel on the same topic last year and it was really interesting and informative.  I kind of have a not-so-secret wish to somehow find a career related to OCD, both so that I can help others and so that I can continually help myself.  I think that being immersed in a world that continually encourages non-compulsivity would, among other things, really help me thrive and work at my best, and I would love to in some way be able to help others do the same.  Discovering that I have OCD and learning how to fight it has been a life-changing experience for me, and I would love to be able to contribute in some way to helping others learn about and conquer their own struggles with this disorder.  Anyways, there are different ways to pursue an interest in OCD, and last year that's exactly what this talk discussed.  I haven't given up on the dream, so I plan on going back again to refresh my memory and learn even more :).

Finally, this presentation just happened to catch my eye when I was reading the "Conference Buzz" blog (see, I really am way to interested in this...):  "Recovery Avoidance: Why Some People Have It And What Others Can and Cannot Do About It."  At last!  A presentation that actually addresses avoiding recovery.  While I have come a long way in my fight against OCD, avoiding recovery has been a continual impediment to my success throughout treatment.  I know what I need to do to get better and I believe that the treatment strategies really do work, and yet sometimes, for the life of me, I just can't help but get in the way of my own progress.  Getting better is scary - yes, because ERP is hard, but also because I am still realizing all the ways OCD has affected my life, and going from "OCD sufferer" to "recovering OCD sufferer" is a bit of an identity crisis for me.  As I confront my more regular OCD fears, though, I am also confronting my fear of getting better and no longer knowing "who I am."  Two birds.  One stone.  I'm hoping that this particular presentation might address some of these types of issues as part of "recovery avoidance."

So this is certainly not an exhaustive list of all the conference presentations I would like to attend.  In all honesty, I would love to attend EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM, but umm...that seems to reek a bit of compulsivity now, doesn't it?  Alas, that can't be done, but trust me, I'll be plotting out my schedule well in advance, carefully deciding which talks I just can't miss and those I might just have to.  There's really something there for anyone who has a relationship with OCD, in one form or another, and...I love it.  Yes, indeed, I do. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Letting Go of Self-Discipline

Goodness, I don't do well with free time.  What happens when I have a wide open expanse of time in front of me?  Well, it looks something like this.

Step 1:  Plan on getting things done - dishes, showering, laundry, decorating, etc.

Step 2:  Avoid the above because I am feeling unsure whether I am "clean enough" and am unsure of how to do complete the activities mentioned - the compulsive way or the non-compulsive way.  So, with the possibility of having to do said things the compulsive way looming in front of me, I have a hard time finding the motivation within me to just get up and face them.

Step 3:  Spend all of my free time thinking about how above tasks are not being completed while searching my soul for the drive and courage to face them.

Step 4:  Wishing I could sleep the weekend away and or find something to distract me from my avoidance and/or motivate me to actually just get things done.

That's how I've mostly spent my Saturday, and I hate it.  What's the real solution?  The self-punishing OCD side says the solution is to just get up and do all of the above in the "right" order and "right" way despite the dread that comes with having to do so.  The more logical side of me knows that I dread these things precisely because trying to get them "right" is a dangerously ever-evolving standard that can make things ever harder than they need to be with no clear sign of when things are actually "done."  When I can get myself through this obstacle course of compulsions and can meet or exceed my standards for having done "enough" work in the "right" way, I am rewarded with that elusive sense of accomplishment and productivity, but when I can't, it results in boredom, depression, and frustration.  Is it really worth it?

Getting through the rigorous list of chores I set aside for myself in the "right" way is something I'm just starting to really see as yet another compulsion.  When I think about it, it seems remarkably comparable to how I feel when I am sure I have washed my hands "perfectly" or the "right" way, no matter how long it took me to get there.  I feel complete.  I feel "right."  I feel vindicated.  I feel like the universe is as it should be and like I have passed some internal test of self-discipline and perseverance.

I'm starting to finally recognize, I think, what it is I am seeking when I perform some compulsions.  I have always had a hard time relating to the idea that OCD sufferers feel "better" when they do their compulsions and thus it is hard to resist the quick (though misguided) fix.  I see a lot of compulsions as pure hell.  I don't do them because they make me feel good - usually it's the opposite - they make me feel bad.  And if, everyday say, I can push myself to do a bunch of useless compulsions even if I hate them, then, at the end of the day, I get a sense of accomplishment that I am otherwise void of.  That's where the feeling "better" part comes in.

So I have a decision before me.  There are several paths I can take.  There is the "perfect" path - the one where I do all my chores in the "right" order at the "right" time and in the "right" way.  This is the one I beat myself up for not taking.  This is the one that I find so alluring and yet absolutely hate at the same time.  Failure to do things the "right" but compulsive way seems like proof of my inner laziness and lack of self-discipline.

But when I step back, and allow myself to think, for a moment, more rationally, I realize the challenge probably shouldn't be testing my ability to force myself to complete things the compulsive way.  No.  Instead, I should see the challenge as testing my ability to do things in a way that makes sense, whether or not it instills that sense of "perfect" self-discipline when I am done.

The third option is to avoid and procrastinate doing anything, torn between wanting to find a way to do all these things "perfectly" while despising that idea having to do things "perfectly" at the same time.  That's the path I've mainly taken today - urging myself to do small things here and there in the way that is painfully "right" (or despite the fact that I'm not sure I'm doing things the "right" way, which makes me feel decidedly "wrong").

So yes, I get so mixed up sometimes.  Sometimes forgoing the compulsions isn't the "hard" thing for me.  Rather the difficult thing is letting myself to things more "easily" and in a way that may or may not instill that since of having worked "hard" at the end of the day.  It's such a confusing paradox, but someday I hope to break free of this way of thinking.  It's an approach to life that I have adhered to for much of my life, just in different ways and in different settings.

I feel the need to test my self-discipline.  And yet I define self-discipline as getting myself to do things this arbitrary "right" way that I usually arrive at by forcing myself to do whatever it is I want to do the least.  If I sense hesitance towards having to wash this or that better, or do this task or that in a particular way, then that becomes how it "must" be done for me to get the sense of accomplishment I seek.  It's all about searching for that elusive feeling of achievement that comes from forcing myself to do things I don't want to do.

Really, I should be aspiring to self-discipline in my ERP homework.  That makes much more logical sense.  But because being "good" and doing my ERP homework doesn't feel like the same kind of hard-work and self-discipline of compulsions, I get confused.  Isn't ERP supposed to feel "hard"?  What does that mean?  It's difficult, but not in the way that forcing myself to do compulsions is difficult.  It's difficult in a strange and different way, which is why I think I often get so thrown off.  I'm waiting for that feeling of self-disciplined accomplishment to come from my ERP homework, but it doesn't, because it's not designed to create that feeling like my compulsions are.  No, my ERP homework encourages me to do the opposite - to resist seeking the strange and backwards sense of reward I get from doing things the "hard" way.  And this is something I am just now starting to realize - that doing things the "hard" way is, in some ways, the "easy" way, and that doing things the "easy" way is, in some ways, much harder for me.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Couch Surfing...

And somehow I find myself here again...needing to sleep but unwilling to shower and also unwilling to sleep in my bed because I'm not "clean enough."  Of course, "clean enough" doesn't really mean anything.  It's useless OCD fluff, but it somehow still has a strong hold over me, even though I can recognize it for what it is.

So I'll be sleeping on the couch.  My roommate is out of town so it's easier to avoid doing those things I find so onerous - i.e. showering.  I don't normally feel comfortable sleeping out in our living room when she's here, so eventually the desire to have somewhere besides my bedroom floor to sleep drives me to the shower.  But with my roommate gone, I am far too comfortable sleeping on the couch, and the procrastination of the showering goes on and on and on.

So...the couch it is...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Back into Blogging?

So life has been a bit all over the place as of late, and I haven't been writing as much.  I think it's partly because I feel pressure to write the "right" kind of post - you know the kind where I come to some new level of self-awareness in the process of writing or where I finally put into just the "right" words the thoughts I've wanted to share about OCD.  I haven't been feeling super "inspired" by my OCD or by the process of fighting it as of late, (perhaps because I am gradually getting better and spend less of my time cloistered in a room with my laptop writing posts :), or perhaps because I've been a bit down lately).  But in reading one of Pure O Canuck's posts this evening, Here we go Again - More OCD ERP experiences. , I was struck by how nice it was just to hear about how she was doing and what specific ERP homework assignments she is now courageously tackling.  So perhaps I will do the same, so I feel a bit less out of touch with the blogging world  and a bit more motivated to comply with my ERP treatment guidelines.

First of all, I don't actually have to many exposure "assignments" these days - more like life guidelines for the exposure opportunities that seem to constantly bombard me in everyday life - dishes, hand-washing, showering, doing laundry, etc.  I may not be doing something special and out of the ordinary right now to combat my OCD, but I've been doing better following the "guidelines" for regular life activities.  Here are some of the areas that I've been working on:

1.  Dishes.  Big deal, right?  Dishes.  Everybody does them.  Well not me.  At least I hadn't really been doing them since my big OCD relapse began.  However, since I moved into my new apartment about a month ago, I have really pushed to change this.  My new kitchen is SO MUCH CLEANER than the kitchen I had before, and this in turn makes the task of actually facing the process of washing dishes seem that much more approachable.  Don't get me wrong - coming out my cave of paper plates and plastic silverware was still a challenge, but at least my kitchen (and house for that matter) no longer looks like it belonged to some sort of strange cross between a frat house and a dive bar.  It's definitely easier to face because of that.

These are the guidelines I am supposed to be following:

  • Wet sponge and put small amount of soap on sponge (i.e. don't wash sponge separately before embarking on dish-washing extravaganza)
  • Rinse dish for no more than 5 seconds
  • Wipe inside and outside of dish for no more than 10 seconds
  • Rinse dish for no more than 5 seconds
  • No hand-washing before of after

So, I don't adhere to this perfectly (yet), and I still force myself to complete a lot rituals in the washing process (I count in my head to keep track of the number of seconds spent washing/rinsing), but it's getting easier and I try to use and do my dishes regularly.  I haven't gotten pretty good at not washing my hands before/after the dish doing process.  Not washing before isn't so hard - it's the not washing after that usually feels a bit icky.  But I've been doing my best to adhere to this one.

As for the amount of time spent washing/rinsing, I wasn't coming even close before, but this past week I have been trying to limit myself to an amount of time closer to those limits advised by my therapist.  I try to spend no more than 10 seconds washing the inside of a dish, 10 seconds on the outside, 5 seconds for other random parts, and 10 seconds rinsing.  (Side note:  If I ever doubt whether I *actually* have this disorder, I should seriously just read that last sentence I wrote.)  I still allow myself to cheat quite a bit even on my modified guidelines, but they're a bit easier for me to realistically adhere to (if my therapists guidelines seem just too ridiculous to me, I tend to go into things like dish-washing without any intention to really adhere to them at all which means that I then wait until it feels "right" to stop instead, and that method just never, ever turns out well...).  In writing all this, I think I begin to see just how weaselly I am when it comes to doing my "homework."  Goodness, maybe I really do have OCD ;).

All jokes aside, doing dishes really has been incredibly liberating.  It has opened up my food options - I can expand my diet beyond those entrees that can be simply prepared on a paper plate or in the microwave.  Doing dishes also means that can eat healthier.  Plus, having greater variety and fewer restrictions on my menu brings my mood up.  Let me tell you, eating Lean Pockets day after day gets old.  Going to the grocery store is intriguing as I can now purchase and prepare items that I have long avoided, items that I had, for almost 2 years, written-off as "un-preparable."  I still don't completely realize the things I can make - I'll walk by an aisle and think, "nope, not that one, nope" and then realize - wait, I can eat that now!  I do dishes!

I still have work to do in the dish-washing compulsions department, but I am finally washing them again and have begun doing some simple cooking, as well (I still don't like eggs, raw meat, etc...maybe someday!).  It definitely makes life easier and it's one less "oddity" that I worry about others noticing.

So, when I started this post I thought I would write about more than just my dish-doing exposure work, but clearly this has become a post in and of itself.  In an effort to not overwhelm myself with writing "perfectly" thorough posts (and to spare anyone who has bravely made it this far in reading my dish-washing odyssey), I guess I'll save the other exposure work I'm doing for another day.  AND it will give me a reason to actually DO what I am supposed to be trying to do ;).

Monday, June 27, 2011

It's almost conference time!!

I am officially registered for the 2011 International OCD Foundation Annual Conference!  I can't believe it's only about a month away! I am a self-professed OCD nerd and let me tell you, this conference has to be the Mecca of all OCD nerdiness.  With the expert presenters, the plethora of informative lectures, and the hundreds of empathetic attendees, it is an amazing experience for sufferers to learn about OCD and meet others who have experience with this disorder.  Now that I am registered, it suddenly seems so real!  Can't wait!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Fear of Losing Interest

A fierce wave of apathy and a new level of busyness in my life have led me away from blogging recently.  This lessening of interest creates additional anxiety on top of everything else:  why am I not so interested in writing anymore?  Am I losing my fascination with OCD?  Am I losing my identity as someone who has suffered and continues to suffer from OCD?  Is finding out that I have OCD no longer an intriguing life revelation and now just one thing more thing to deal with?  I hope not.  Of course, that's exactly why I start obsessing about it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, so much has changed in my life recently.  I have a new apartment and a new roommate.  I also have a new job.  However, with the initial training period for that job now complete, I have drastically fewer hours, and the limited number of hours and my somewhat unpredictable schedule have me feeling less useful than I'd like to feel.  Lack of purpose breeds apathy and apathy breeds trouble adjusting to this new life.  It's getting better, but I still feel somewhat lost at times.

I'm hoping that going to the IOCDF's Annual Conference (which is coming up quickly - it's just a little over a month away!) will remind me of how much this disorder has affected my life, recently and in the past, as well as how intriguing I have found the research and treatment of OCD.

When I finally figured out, almost two years ago now, the cause of some of my strange behaviors as well as the key to freeing myself from those behaviors, CBT with ERP, it was like a whole world had opened up before me.  A world that had always been there but that I had never seen before.  It was a truly life-changing revelation, and since then I have clung to the hope that this revelation provided to buoy me up when things were not so great.  In fact, in some ways, that revelation has led me to cling more tightly to my OCD for fear of losing this thing that had for so long defined my life and the hope that this discovery had to offer.  I am slowly overcoming this fear as I move forward in challenging and letting go of my OCD behaviors, but it's still hard sometimes, and as I get better, it often feels as if my fear is coming true:  it seems like I am losing interest in my disorder and the dream of pursuing a career somehow related to it.

My failure to write here and to read and comment on others' blogs feels like proof of this fear coming true.  In truth, there are probably a number of factors that have contributed to my decreased online activity - all the new things in my life draw my attention elsewhere.  I am often still in the trenches, fighting daily battles with my OCD in so many of the things I do, but they are no longer the only concern that fills my mind.  Now I worry about work and whether I am performing well enough in my job.  I worry about what my future will become.  I worry about my roommate discovering my big OCD "secret" and what she might think of it if I were to straight up tell her about my condition.  There is so much else I feel I "should" be doing that it's hard for me to garner the enthusiasm to write an entire post - even now I feel like I should be showering, changing my sheets, doing laundry, running errands, etc., instead of sitting and leisurely writing a blog post.

I feel like I'm losing something, but I know that this is only one way to look at it.  I could assume the worst and take my changing behavior as proof that I no longer have any interest in my disorder and am back to square one when it comes to figuring out my strange life, OR I could look at the broader picture and think about all else that is currently going on in my life that might draw my attention away from my blog.  I treasure this place to write and to give a receive support within a community of OCD bloggers, and I don't want to lose touch with it.  Still, I don't have to view my decreased activity here as a purely negative thing - perhaps it shows that I am progressing and my relationship with my disorder is evolving.  Sometimes I can even entertain the idea that getting better will bring me CLOSER to my OCD and help me understand and appreciate the role it has played in my life even more, as my therapist suggests.  But all the same, it still scares me!  I don't want to lose touch with this forum for communicating thoughts about life with OCD, nor do I want to lose touch with this wonderful community of individuals who diligently and very kindly offer their empathy and support!!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Unseen Victories

Right now, life is so different.  New home, new rally to fight against OCD, new job.  It's that last one that has me tired and anxious today.  Today was my first day at a new job.  Granted, I'm still just doing training, but even so, it's not so much the job as the small unrelated challenges that come with it - things that I know others take for granted - that place strain on me. 

I feel like there should be some sort of support network out there for people who have overcome or are overcoming severe OCD.  A support group for those who are re-entering "normal" life and bravely facing the exposures that come with it.  A place where those who are "in recovery" can guide and mentor those who are getting back on their feet.  In general, I wish there was more available in terms of rehabilitation, guidance and support for the challenges that OCD sufferers are likely to face as they re-integrate themselves into society.  I certainly feel like I could use such a program.  Someone to tell me:  "Here's what to expect when you begin to get back into normal life.  These are some common feelings that sufferers experience.  These are feelings/situations that you can expect to face and a rough timeline of the stages in your recovery."  I recognize the importance of working on the behavioral components during therapy sessions, but what about the emotional side of things?  What about the rehabilitation aspect?  What about guidance in how to deal with all the emotional baggage and feelings of isolation that arise as a sufferer re-enters that "normal" world where people work full time and actions are not dictated by compulsion and avoidance?

So what were my unseen victories of the day?  I used a public restroom.  I touched sink handles.  I washed my hands like a relatively normal person in public and didn't avoid things after touching the bathroom key.  I also washed a mug I used at my new office in a relatively non-compulsive fashion considering that I just began washing dishes again on Friday.

These are all things that the average person does without thinking, without any sort of concerted effort.  But today, they were my victories.  Today my win was not completing the first day of job training in a professional sense.  No, today my victory was functioning and taking care of things that needed to be taken care of unrelated (or at least not specific) to my line of work - getting myself to work on time, washing dishes at work, and using the bathroom at work, etc.

But carrying this secret is hard.  I know I can handle the discomfort, but that's not the point.  The point is, I feel like something's missing, like there should be some program for helping sufferers adapt to their new lives after OCD has taken its toll and left the recovering OCD-er with the feeling of being somewhat out-of-place and unsure how to exist and operate within the confines of "normal" life.  After bending to OCD's will so thoroughly for so long, "normal" life is what feels foreign while the OCD world is all too familiar and comforting.

For me, it doesn't help that I have a new home/new roommate, as well.  I love it here and I adore my new apartment-mate, but all the same, I constantly feel like I'm carrying around this big black secret that I can't tell anyone about, that I can't reveal lest others find it disturbing or treat me differently because of it.  I envy those who can come home and can speak honestly of their day's stressors, who can turn to the comfort of family, roommates, or friends to get the understanding and support they desire after a hard day.  But with my OCD struggles and successes, it just feels like most people couldn't understand or would even be made uncomfortable if I shared such burdens with them.  So I keep them inside, hidden, even as I exert substantial effort to do those things that most take for granted.

My first day was taxing, but not so much because of the nature of my work.  No, the taxing part was exerting the effort to maintain the level of functionality expected when working and living a so-called "normal" life.  Honestly, I think using a public restroom and washing a mug were the most challenging parts of my day, and I feel disconnected from others because this fact is my big fat hidden secret.

Can anyone relate?  How have you dealt with the struggles of gradually re-entering the "normal" world after struggling with OCD?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Roommate with a Disclaimer

Sometimes I feel like I should just come with a disclaimer taped to my forehead for any potential roommate, apartment-mate, house-mate, or whatever:

WARNING:  Proceed with caution.   This individual may exhibit odd behaviors and may spend an excessive amount of time washing/showering/doing laundry/avoiding dirty things.  Will do best to limit strange behaviors around you and to avoid inconveniencing you.   Roommate will initially seem normal and will go out of her way to be a polite and considerate roommate, but odd behaviors will begin to become apparent over time.

I'm in the midst of packing and there's a lot to do, but I thought pausing to write about some of my worries would be a bit stress-reducing.  In fact, I suspect the immense pressure I feel to act "normal" during this stressful time will be leading me here frequently over the next few days and weeks.  So much is changing, and it's exciting.  But it's also overwhelming - especially for someone like me, someone with OCD who is quite inflexible when it comes to her home environment.

In the moving process, the separation between clean and dirty gets compromised.  I'm forced to either touch or throw out things I've avoided all year.  I have to adapt to a new environment, and its triggers.  I have to figure out a new way to make things work in a new home.  And on top of it all, I feel immense pressure to minimize my compulsions during this time of heightened anxiety, all so that my new roommate won't discover my not-so-"normal" side. 

The good thing is that, in new environments, it's usually easier for me to break old habits.  It's a good time to let go of old compulsions and to renew my fight against OCD (as much as part of me hates to admit this).  Being in a new a place with a new set-up means that all the "rules" feel less concrete.  There's room for them to shift and slide and change before again becoming ingrained and tied so strongly to my new environment.  I'm hoping that I can take advantage of this time to push myself onward, as terrifying as it may seem at the moment.  My new home will provide strong incentives to be and appear "normal," and I hope that I can use that drive to help me get past my fear of moving forward.

Moving is stressful for most people.  Moving with OCD presents its own *special* challenges.  For me, that stress means a strong urge to make myself feel better through compulsive behavior.  To make things even more fun, I feel this strong urge while simultaneously feeling immense pressure to suppress those very rituals I want so badly to perform.  It's a bit crazy-making.  A bit overwhelming.  But I made it through this process somehow last year, and I know I will make it through again.  I will come out on the other side...perhaps not feeling as "clean" as I would like to, but I will make it!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Have a Home!!

I have a home!!  Okay, well, a NEW home.  It's not like I was homeless or anything before, but I was starting to wonder if I was going to end up that way...

My lease is up at the end of the month, and while I had the option to stay through June, I really didn't want to since all of my roommates will be moved out by then.  So over the last month or so I have been madly scouring the area I want to move to for an affordable place to live.  And it was difficult, to say the least.  I was looking for a studio/single just for myself, but living alone, especially in my city, is not cheap!  But it didn't seem like I had much of a choice.

Then a friend of mine suggested that I look online for someone who was trying to find a roommate.  My therapist suggested the same.  I hadn't even really considered it.  I mean, I thought, "I don't want to bother someone else with my rituals, and I don't know if I can handle the pressure of having to keep them under control."  It seemed like putting myself in that position would be highly stressful.  But when my therapist seemed concerned about me living alone, I started to think about how my current roommates act as constant exposure and keep me from getting even worse:  they touch things.  They get things dirty.  They don't follow my rules and it ultimately trickles down to me in some way or another, but because there's really not much I could do with it other than avoid to the point of complete non-functionality, I deal with it.  I am used to it.  It works, and I accept their contamination and just try not to think too hard about all the disturbing things they do.

So, I began to consider finding a roommate.  I was still looking for my own place but thought I'd reach out and contact some people who were looking for roommates just to see how it went.   And after spending several weeks searching for and viewing places for myself, I went to meet this first potential apartment-mate today, AND...I was sold.

I am both thrilled and terrified.  She seemed like a great person and a very considerate roommate, and the last thing I want to do is freak her out or inconvenience her with any strange behaviors.  Oh, and did I mention that she has a dog?  A DOG!?  I love animals, but ever since my latest OCD episode began, pets have been off-limits.  I have avoided sleeping in my bed, washed everything I was wearing, and showered after hanging out with people's pets in the past.  NOW, I'm voluntarily moving in with one.  Let's just say that it'll be a good exposure :).

Anyways, this whole business of uprooting my life and putting it down somewhere completely new is like one GIGANTIC exposure.  I will be extra motivated to appear "normal" for my new apartment-mate, meanwhile I won't be able to avoid certain things anymore (aka DOG).  It's pretty much the perfect environment for OCD exposure.  Right after making the decision I was slightly terrified and unsure of what I had done, but I think at this point, this is something I can handle.  It makes sense and is definitely a choice that works in favor of my mental health.  OCD may be shuddering right now, but I know that this is the decision that I wanted to make, a decision that will help me move forward on the path to getting better.  It'll be a bit scary, that's for sure, but it's time to keep moving forward!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stiff Upper Lip?

I've been at war with myself inside lately.  Half of me wants to give in, to let myself breakdown and complain about the difficulties I am currently struggling with.  The other half of me whispers, "You are choosing this.  You are choosing to be unhappy.  You know how to make things better.  You just won't.  So you can't complain."  I never know at what point I can justifiably be stressed.  It's like I spend so much time trying to be strong and just keep going because I don't want to be that person who portrays every slight struggle as a disastrous life setback.  So at what point am I allowed to give myself a reprieve?  At what point am I allowed to believe that what I am going through is difficult?  At what point am I allowed to believe that maybe, just maybe, I'm actually fighting really hard?  It's just so difficult for me to see or believe.  I always feel like I could be trying harder, doing better.  I constantly feel like I am CHOOSING to be this way.  To have OCD.  To go into a state of apathy and numbness like the one I am in right now.  And I don't know if it's because the OCD will always say that I could do more, that I could try harder, or if I really could be and should be doing more and trying harder.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Life Update

So, I haven't written in a while.  I started a few posts and then either fell asleep or gave up, lacking the energy and drive to continue.  Lately the urge to "perfectly" capture the chaos in my head and my feelings about it has been strong.  Strong enough to drive me away from writing.  But I'm going to try to finish a post for once, whether or not it is the most perfectly accurate depiction of the inner workings of my mind.

Lately I have been feverishly applying to jobs, sending out resumes left and right, and scouring the internet for more possibilities.  I've been going through a similar process in trying to find a new place to live.  My lease is up at the end of May (though I may be able to stay for June, as well), so the question of where I will live (and where I can afford to live) has been weighing heavily on my mind.  Meanwhile, I have drastically less work because my job is somewhat seasonal, and the combination of trying to find a new place to live, looking for additional part-time jobs to take on, and attempting to just plain figure out what I want to do with my life, has been stressful.  This process has really made the reality of the opportunities I have sacrificed to OCD, and the amount of money I have spent on treatment, all the more apparent.  It's kind of scary to step back and look at all that has happened.

Almost exactly this time two years ago, I was graduating from college.  A few months later, I came unhinged and quickly delved deep into a new very vicious flare up of OCD.  I thought, at that time, that it would be a matter of months, at most, before I was "normal" again.  But then, I soon realized that far more of my life, and all the strange little things I had always done, were so strongly rooted in OCD, and I began this hard, strange, but also wonderful journey into learning about and fighting my OCD.

That said, I am again considering more intensive treatment.  There is a hospital nearby that has a very well respected intensive outpatient program for OCD that my therapist has suggested I consider.  It's just so hard to treat all my symptoms in week-to-week one-hour therapy visits.  We tried an intensive treatment program tailored specifically to my needs by my treatment center, but ultimately that's not what they specialize in nor what they are optimally designed to deliver treatment-wise.  So, I'm looking into getting intensive treatment from the people who specialize in doing just that.  Not sure about it yet, but looking into it a bit and researching it as an option.

All in all, it's all a bit confusing for me.  I am more functional than ever, but still not really progressing enough between my therapy appointments.  I suppose the fact that I am unsure how to shower or brush my teeth in any sort of non-compulsive way without explicit step by step directions from my therapist is probably a sign of the severity of my OCD.  I think it's just become more apparent lately.  The more intensively and more rigorously we strip away my compulsions, the more apparent it becomes just how dependent on and glued to them I am.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Trying to Change

I'm not even sure what to say.  Other than the fact that I'm definitely in new territory.  I'm finally committing to a more extreme method to ERP (at least what seems extreme to me), and I'm not sure what to do or how to feel about it.  Let's just say it's not as bad as keeping myself out of contact with water for days on end, but it feels that way to me.  I still get to shower and wash my hands, but not in a way that really provides any sense of cleanliness.  It seems all wrong, and it's only been a few hours since I started this new regimen.

How did this all get started?  Well, after I ended my outpatient intensive treatment program back toward the end of February, I went back to the standard once a week therapy regimen.  I improved a lot during the few months that I did the intensive treatment, but little by little, things have begun to slip again  over the last month and a half.  So yesterday I scheduled a last minute session with my therapist for this afternoon.  My compulsions were just becoming overwhelming again, and as much as my OCD kept chanting, "Come on.  Just push through.  Just put up with the compulsions for now.  Stay strong and don't call your therapist.  You can get through the compulsions if you just do them already and do them right,"  I went ahead and made the extra appointment.

One thing my therapist and I have recently discussed a bit more seriously is the severity of my OCD.  It's hard for me to see the severity, because, well, compared to how I used to be, I am far more functional and adaptable.  Even so, my symptoms apparently still fall in the range of quite severe.  And I actually find this INCREDIBLY comforting.  It's like someone is telling me that life doesn't have to be this way.  That life isn't actually this hard, and that I'm not just bad at keeping up with the rigors of daily life.  I find comfort in the fact that so many of the things I do are not actual life requirements but those of OCD.  And I find comfort in the fact that so many of the things I do are compulsions, and thus, not necessary to put up with.

I think one reason I often find it so hard to see where I'm at in terms of severity is that I have pretty much ALWAYS had OCD.  It hasn't always manifested itself in this particular way, and thus, I can imagine a life without all my contamination compulsions, but it is deeply rooted in many other areas in my life.  Contamination is just the latest iteration, the latest vehicle through which my OCD has chosen to express itself.  So, while I can imagine not washing my hands all the time or taking super long showers, it's hard for me to fathom living life with relatively minimal OCD, because, well, I'm not sure I ever really have.  And that's a terrifying thought, in addition to being an extremely hopeful one.

Anyways, it's hard to imagine another way of living.  A way in which the OCD part of my brain doesn't commandeer choices and actions so thoroughly.  I have discovered, through the process of treatment, that so many of the strange things I did as a child and later on into adulthood, things that I thought were just "the way I had to do things," were actually deeply rooted in the world of OCD.  I have read chapters from OCD books, blogs, articles, etc. and found perfect descriptions of my own behaviors, behaviors I always knew were strange but just never really thought much about.  I just thought I had to put up with them, or that I "wanted" to do them and could force myself to stop if I really wanted to.  It was jarring, especially when I first began reading and learning about OCD, how well the descriptions fit my behaviors.  Moving from chapter to chapter, I could recognize myself in so many of the pages, in so many of the different types and ways OCD could manifest itself.  Some were compulsions I still engaged in while others were compulsions I had performed in the past and had since faded.  But even so, reading about those compulsions still conjured up a powerful sense of empathy and understanding.  I feel like I KNOW the pain of so many types of compulsions, of how it feels to find yourself doing these strange, nonsensical things without really knowing why or why you just can't seem to stop. 

I KNOW that feeling.  What I'm not sure I understand is what it's like to live without constantly tweaking, navigating, strategizing to appease OCD.  Because the more I learn about OCD, the more convinced I am that I have always had it and have, more often than not, been driven by an attempt to pander to it in so many different ways.

So what does life look like without OCD?  Or even with just well-managed OCD?  I'm starting to feel like I really don't know much about that kind of life at all.

My point in bringing all this up is that my last-minute appointment with my therapist focused a lot on helping me to conceptualize the severity of my OCD, even after all the improvements I have made.  And though this may sound daunting or frightening, it actually seems incredibly helpful and hopeful to me.  It serves as an impetus for change.  I needed that reality check.  I really did.  Because in just trying to get by from day to day, I forget that I am still living a heavily OCD-centered life.

One thing that really caught my attention was when my therapist said, "this is the kind of stuff that gets people into intensive residential treatment programs."  Part of me yearns so much to have just such an opportunity.  The idea of dropping everything, living somewhere else, and focusing solely on fighting OCD seems like a dream.  To have that kind of support.  To have that sort of jarring change in life structure to propel you onward in your fight.  It sounds so nice.   Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it is extremely hard and a lot of work, but all the same, I envy those who can afford to enroll in such programs and devote their time so fully to getting their lives back.  Being able to participate in a residential program seems like it would be such a relief.  I could stop trying to limp by living this double life of working and fighting and hiding my OCD.  I could stop telling myself that my OCD is nothing and that I should just push through the compulsions or not do them.  I could put those burdens down for a moment and admit to myself just how much I need help.  I could turn myself over to process of getting better.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that's really an option for me.  I keep trying to get by on my own and through what my local treatment center can offer me.  And if I put in the work and actually do what my therapist wants me to do, I know I would get better.  It's just, well, hard.

Anyways, I'm trying a new approach, one that my therapist has long wished he could get me to try but not something I have ever bought into.  It is more extreme.  It turns my showers into 5 minute opportunities to just shampoo my hair.  It means that I don't get to wash my hands with soap, only cold water.  And it's completely turning my world on its head.

But then, if want to recreate for myself what it might be like in a residential treatment facility, I suspect this might be how things would go.  So I wish I could afford and fit that sort of treatment into my life?  Well, then I might as well do on my own what they would ask me to do in that sort of environment.

So I'm doing what my therapist has asked me to do.  It may be extreme, but honestly, trying to whittle away at my OCD bit by bit has been a slow process.  I'm trying to take the severity of my OCD more seriously and meet it with more serious treatment strategies.  I'm not sure how I feel about all this extreme-ness at the moment, but all I am asking myself to do is to commit to these exposures for the next few days until my next appointment.  I'm tired of backing down and giving in.  I'm tired of letting my OCD find ways to work around my exposures and minimize their effectiveness.  I'm trying to create a break with my OCD and a sense of change.  And I suppose this is a great way to do just that.  I wanted an impetus for change; well, here's my chance.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

White Hot Anger

I don't know how to handle my anger sometimes.  It's both OCD related and not I think.  The OCD part comes in with beliefs like, "I must never show my anger."  "I must, at all times, maintain composure."  "I must act cordial and polite even if I am incredibly furious."  "Letting anger affect your actions and decisions is unacceptable."  "As an adult, you cannot let emotions affect your ability to do your job and do your best."  "You can't show your anger or express your frustration unless completely, 100% certain you are justified in being upset."

These are the kind of should/must type statements that I have known as a common OCD pitfall ever since the day my therapist handed me a list of some of the cognitive distortions often found in OCD.  The perfectionism takes the original anger and fuels it.  It stokes the fire by adding to the initial anger another kind of anger:  anger at myself for not being able to stay completely emotionally detached, anger at myself for giving in and letting my anger get the best of me.  Basically, it's anger at myself for getting angry.

Why am I bringing this up?  Well, I got incredibly angry yesterday.  And in the process, I actually said aloud, to a friend, a small fraction of the things he does or says that piss me off.  Like REALLY piss me off.  I finally just let it out.  I couldn't take it anymore.  Or that's how it felt anyway.  Something he did and a few things he said just finally broke my self-control.  I picked a fight with him.

I don't fight with people.  I just don't.  But I picked a fight with him.  A very loud, angry, no holding back kind of fight.  And yet he still insisted that he had no idea why I was mad at him, which just pissed me off more, because a large part of my anger at him stems from his seeming inability to go out of his way to consider others' feelings, to do things, not because he has to, but because he wants to show that he does consider others and how they might or might not be affected by his actions.  His inability to understand why I was angry was the perfect example of why I was angry in the first place.  I just wanted him to put himself in my shoes from a moment, to at least TRY to see things from my point of view, rather than dismiss my concerns as nonsensical.  I wanted him to show some sense of apology.  I wanted him to meet me halfway.  I agreed that he had a point on some things, but he was too stubborn to even give consideration to my way of looking at things.  He just dismissed me again and again and showed no remorse and made no attempt to apologize for having hurt me, whether or not it made sense to him.

Anyways, I let it affect my choices, my behavior, and that really bugs me.  If I like a sense of control, well, anger and making choices because of anger seem like the exact opposite of self-control.  And that made me even more angry - at myself and at him for having the power to unleash such strong feelings.  I don't really know what the "right" thing to do would have been in this situation.  I will concede (and did) that he had a number of good points.  But he refuses to acknowledge or consider any of my own.  For every reason I gave him for my anger, he proposed a counter reason, a defense.  All I wanted was an, "I see, well, I may not agree, but I acknowledge your argument.  And you might have a point since I know that others may see the world differently and I may not always be right.  I may not be able to put myself in your shoes, but I'm sorry."

But all I got was a dodge, a dodge, and another dodge, followed by, "I still don't understand what we're fighting about."  He didn't understand what we were fighting about because all he was willing to consider was his own side.

I think what gets me more riled up is his seeming lack of self-doubt.  I say "seeming" because I know part of him is deeply lacking in self-confidence.  I hate that, even if any of my arguments do reach him, he certainly won't ever show it.  Besides, I'm not sure he believes any arguments or is willing to believe any arguments other than his own.  So he won't budge, staunchly assured that he is right, leaving me fuming because he keeps questioning why I'm angry and then discounting all the reasons I give him and claiming that he still doesn't know why we're fighting.

The fact is, whether or not he understands it, I am extremely angry with him.  Furious actually, in a way I don't often become.  And the fact that he won't come down from his tower of superiority to stop and think for a moment that he might not always be right, well, that just compounds the anger further.

Anyways, I don't know how to handle anger.  I spend most of my time telling myself that I should not be angry, that I should keep my frustrations to myself.  That I should be able to keep a civil outward facade at all times.  But the anger slowly wears cracks in that facade.  And well, yesterday, it came bursting out.

I feel both dumb and yet also justified.  However, I hate how I am already beginning to feel like I am the one that should apologize, like I am the only one in the wrong.  He seems to in no way think that he could be wrong, and it infuriates me that, even now, I am losing grip on my feeling of being justified in my anger.  I am beginning to believe him.  I am beginning to succumb to his confidence again.  And that just spurs more anger.  More anger, more anger, more anger.  Anger that he provoked me, anger that he can't seem to understand how he provoked me.  Anger that he doesn't seem to doubt his arguments in the slightest.  Anger that in his facade of certainty, my ability to justify my anger seems to melt away. Anger that he doesn't seem to feel he could be wrong in the slightest, and anger at his unwillingness to really consider my thoughts and how I might have been hurt rather instead of just throwing out counterarguments about why I can't be angry with him.  Because the fact is:  I am angry.

Angry.  Angry.  Angry.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Disproportionate Frustration

Sometimes (like now), I find myself disproportionately angry with the world.  At times like this I feel like society, our culture, has set me up for disappointment.  I feel like I have been taught, indeed instilled with, certain beliefs that are later turned on their heads.  I feel lied to.  I feel betrayed.  I'm angry.  And then I have to watch and bear witness as others merrily go about their day, unaffected by these things that society promotes, blissfully unaware of any sort of duplicity that others might see and experience.  Or, if they are aware of the incongruent messages and actions of society as a whole, they remain somehow unfazed by the anomalies and can proceed with their lives unruffled by the discordance.

The particular subject of my anger today is a bit too personal for me to describe here.  (Yes, I know it is anonymous, but still, I already have a hard enough time talking about this particular thing with my therapists.  Putting it in writing for the world to see is a bit much for me at this point.)  However, I recognize that I am overly bitter.  I try to give things a chance.  I try to be mindful of my tendencies to catastrophize, and I try to let my thoughts and feelings come and go freely.  But somehow things still seem to lead to disappointment, which in turn ramps up my anger with the world for making it seem so easy, so natural, to be happy with this particular thing.  I have been brought up to believe that things are supposed to intrinsically be a certain way, and yet for me, that never seems to be true.  So I am angry.  I am disappointed.   I am frustrated.  Did I mention angry???

I realize that this post is probably hard to understand without giving more information about the particular subject I'm referring to.  But it's the best I can do right now.  I need an outlet for my frustration at this moment, and this seems like best option.

I feel broken, imprisoned, and betrayed by society AND my body.  Hopefully it won't always be that way.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Little Time Equals Little Writing

Life has been a bit crazy-making lately.  A few weeks ago I started to titrate down from my uber high dose of Zoloft (sertraline) so that I could try out Prozac.  And as I much as I feel like the Zoloft never really noticeably affected my thought patterns or my ability to fight my OCD, I have been hesitant to proceed in going down in dosage.  Meanwhile, my psychiatrist is out on leave, and I have been further hesitant to call the psychiatrist covering for her in her absence.  But I haven't proceeded with the schedule for decreasing medication dosage, and I should probably talk to someone about it.

Part of my hesitation to going down in dose is rooted in OCD, I believe.  OCD is probably also the reason I stayed on the Zoloft (and my super high dose) for so long.  It didn't seem to be harming me.  I WAS getting better, albeit ever so slowly, as I continued to move forward in CBT.  And if my ability to progress was, in fact, facilitated by the meds, I was reluctant to rock that boat, even if I wasn't seeing really clear signs that the medication was working.

Who knows, maybe it was working.  Maybe it still is.  Maybe it was for a while but has lost its effect on me.  But all the same, when my psychiatrist suggested we try something else or continue to go up on the Zoloft, I decided I was ready to go with something new.  And thus, the decrease in dosage process began.


I went down one step and remained there.  I stalled and then stopped going down on the Zoloft for a number of reasons.  I was having a rather rocky time when the dosage change process began (but then, isn't it always rocky?  Maybe rocky isn't rocky at all but just the way life always is?  I can never tell...).  Anyways, I was having a rocky time and I missed a day here or there of taking my Zoloft and didn't want to go down in dosage immediately after having forgotten a day, and so on and so forth.  And after perpetuating this pattern for several days, I got cold feet and I stopped continuing the process of weaning off the Zoloft.  My dosage gave me some sort of feeling of security, most of which was probably NOT due to the effects of the drug itself but rather my attachment to the idea of it and the desire to maintain "sameness."

Meanwhile, I was feeling incredibly sleepy more frequently than usual.  I'm not sure if this was just the result of things I was dealing with that week, lack of sleep, decreased quality of sleep due to various things OCD, or the decrease in the Zoloft, but because of that sleepiness, I stopped taking the very very low dose of Seroquel I have been on.  The Seroquel has always seemed to counteract the sort of hyperactivity and inability to fall asleep that I've come to associate with the Zoloft, so when I found myself sleepier than usual the week I went down in Zoloft dosage, I was hesitant to make myself MORE sleepy by taking the Seroquel on top of everything.  And when I stop taking the Seroquel on a regular basis, my sleep schedule starts to drift (I don't work until the afternoon, so I don't have to get up early), I don't make enough time for sleep, don't get enough sleep, and at that point, I certainly don't want to resume taking the Seroquel, because if I take it too late at night, I oversleep.  Like a lot.  So on and on it goes, as the domino-like effect accelerates and makes problems worse.

I am beginning to get back on top of things again (one of those things was calling my back-up psychiatrist to report my medication issues), and I suspect the decrease in dosage regimen will begin again soon.  Such is the course in fighting OCD.  I fight.  I get tired.  Everything starts to catch up with me, and I can't seem to keep up.  I spend a few days in an abyss of just trying to keep up with my OCD.  But then, I regroup.  I get back on the horse and continue fighting.  And the cycle begins again.  Right now I'm in the getting back on the horse phase.  Or so I hope.  Not completely back on track yet.  But trying my best to get there.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Little Compulsions and the Big Role They've Played

Sometimes I think I have a hard time seeing just how much OCD I have and have always had.  Today I was reading an article from my Winter 2011 IOCDF newsletter.  There was a personal account from a parent whose son had suddenly starting exhibiting OCD symptoms after apparently acquiring a strep infection (I still find the whole concept of PANDAS intriguing - in college, I did a fairly in depth project on a related neurological issue also caused by strep, Sydenham's chorea).  Anyways, when she mentions the things her son suddenly "convinced" himself he had to do, like twirl past his sister's room to prevent something bad from happening, the degree to which OCD has been part of my life for YEARS, since I was also a kid, becomes more apparent.

I'm caught off guard by accounts like this one, thinking, "Wait!  But doesn't everyone do that?"  My day is probably filled with all sorts of these little compulsions that hardly even register anymore because I am just so used to doing them.  Fidget with that until it feels just "right," do and redo this or that motion with the "right" thought, do this or that again just because you happened to have the thought that something might go wrong if you don't, and so on and so forth.  These sort of things have permeated my life over the years, and I am so used to just dealing with it, that I am always surprised when people point on these little intricacies.  Again, I think, "Wait, what?  You mean, everyone doesn't do that all the time?"

I actually do far fewer of these types of compulsions now that I have learned about my OCD and have been able to recognize many of these small compulsions for what they are.  Indeed, they have often been far easier for me to let go of than my major compulsions, because I largely did them just because I "felt" like I had to.  I had never really paused to consider what might ACTUALLY happen if I didn't.  I did what my OCD told me to, because I didn't know that, if I waited long enough, my mind would find its own equilibrium again.  I didn't have to force it there by performing compulsions.  So when I finally did learn about OCD and how it perpetuates itself, I was able to sit with the momentary discomfort and resist performing some of these smaller compulsions.

My larger compulsions have been much harder to fight, and I still have a ways to go.  And I think this is because, to a certain extent, I cling to the obsessions that drive these compulsions with excessive fervor.  I have a developed elaborate systems of thought, a maze of scaffolding, to justify the performance of my rituals.  And though we are deconstructing that framework piece by piece, I built it up strong and high and resist every step of the way, sometimes even building up a new type of compulsion to make up for those we are taking down.  It's a process.  It's a process that will probably always be in progress.

So, that said, I am always somewhat dumbfounded when I read observations and others' reports of OCD behaviors.  What stands out to me are the major flare-ups that have occurred off and on since I was a child, but when I pause to look at what was going on in between, I realize that my life was still rife with compulsive activity.  In fact, I think by the time I got to college, I had turned it into an elaborate art.  I had learned to adapt to a certain degree and despite my compulsions, so that no one, including myself, really knew any better.  I had learned to weave my compulsions into my daily routine so seamlessly that it was only when my last flare-up began that the long hidden monster suddenly became apparent to others and to myself.

Sometimes I get frustrated.  I think, "How did I manage to get better so fast before?  How did I manage to force myself to stop performing compulsions long enough to overcome my past flare-ups?"  And then I realize:  I never really fought my compulsions before.  All I did was push them around, slowing their assault in one area of my life by accommodating them in another area.  I was doing those "little" compulsions all the time, especially (ESPECIALLY!) when I was anxious about something.  (I still get twitchy when I'm super nervous.  When no one's around at times like this, I find myself jerking my head in a certain direction and in a certain way until it feels "right," or I find myself tensing this muscle or that in just the "right" way or the "right" number of times.  I probably look really funny, actually!)  Maybe it wasn't apparent to myself or to others that I was still feeding the OCD demon inside me, but I was.  I was constantly giving in to this compulsion or that, stoking the fire.

What I am attempting now is different from what I experienced when I "recovered" before.  This time I'm fighting it.  This time I'm not just trading one set of compulsions for another to appease this hungry disorder.  This time I'm depriving my OCD of the compulsions it needs to survive.  And it really, really doesn't like that.  It doesn't like that I've FINALLY discovered, after all these years, that I don't have to obey its every whim or justify my every move.  No, it doesn't like it at all.  And thus, I think this time around is harder because I am not just finding more covert ways to be compulsive; instead, I am outright trying to fight and eliminate my rituals.  And it may be more difficult, but hopefully, if I keep going, it will pay off in the end.

On a completely different (and completely geeky!!) note, the registration brochure for the 2011 IOCDF Annual Conference is out!!!  I am SO overly excited that I just had to mention it here.  I pretty much feel like a kid on Christmas morning right now.  So yeah, so nerdy, but SO cool!  For those who have never been to the IOCDF's Annual Conference, I would highly recommend it.  It's a bit pricey, but I had a sensational experience last year.  I not only attended several very informative lectures, but I also met other sufferers like myself, some of whom I have continued to keep in touch with.  Again, I would highly recommend it.

And now if you will excuse me, I will be starting the process of mapping out exactly which lectures and presentations I want to attend during each and every hour of the conference.  Not kidding - I wish I could attend them all!  So, yeah, excuse me while I plan out 3 days of my life that are still almost a half year away...

Friday, March 4, 2011

What I Want to Want

This is my life.  I live with OCD day in and day out and suspect that I always have.  And because I have lived with it for quite some time, I have a hard time seeing it and just how much it affects my life.  I forget the cost, the toll, of giving into OCD's wishes, because, frankly, I have grown used to the sacrifices.  Indeed, I'm not even sure I know what it's like to not make SOME sort of sacrifice to keep this disorder appeased.  The more I learn about myself and how OCD has wriggled its way into the nooks and crannies of my life, I begin to wonder - how many of my decisions, in the past and in the present, have been based on my attempts to quell OCD's insatiable need for certainty, for feeling "right"?

I have been a bit more reflective on these things this past week as I decided to take some time off from therapy.  I'm not giving up.  I'm certainly not done with treatment by any means, but I have been feeling, well, complacent, lately, and I felt like I needed a break from the never-ending assault on my OCD in order to regroup and re-solidify my will to fight back.

And there it is:  complacency.  I want to get better.  Yes, yes, yes.  And yet, as the compulsions become less severe, less pain-staking, less onerous, I lose my will to keep fighting back.  Before there seemed to be no choice.  I just couldn't continue on the path I was on.  It was awful.  I was imprisoned by the rules my mind developed and OCD's insistence that I follow those rules.  I couldn't keep going, so I had to fight back.  The alternative - just complying with OCD's every demand - was more than I could bear.  So, I fought back.

Now compulsions are still a regular part of my day, but they have been toned down to a point where they seem manageable.  Can I have the life I want while maintaining this level of engagement with OCD?  No, not at all.  But can I get by?  Can I face my days without wishing I never had to get out of bed in the first place?  Yes.  I most certainly can and continue to do so.  But somewhere in that transition from terribly unmanageable to manageable, my motivation, my reason to push forward in treatment, seems to have been subdued.  Before fighting back didn't really seem like a choice.  I just COULDN'T keep going like I was.  It was too hard.  The choices were fight back or dread every decision, every task of my day.

But I'm beyond that now.  I feel like I have far greater control over my decisions and the choice as to whether or not I will give in to a compulsion.  There is so much more flexibility.  Not performing a compulsion just seems uncomfortable, not utterly devastating.  I feel like, when I really have to, I can choose not to perform the compulsion and be okay.  I can make therapeutically helpful decisions without it resulting in a terrifying contagion of post-exposure compulsions that I just can't seem to resist. This is absolutely wonderful, but to a certain extent, it leaves me with a vaccuum of will power where my desire to fight back and control my disorder should be.  Before I was being propelled forward by the urgent need to free myself from the exhausting compulsions I was engaging in.  Now that the compulsions are not quite so exhausting (but still fairly inhibiting), that urgency has dissipated, and I feel like I have to reevaluate my reasons for committing to this process.  Because I'm reaching a point where the compulsions seem to provide a sense of peace more equivalent to the amount of effort put in - in other words, I don't have to go to nearly as much trouble as I used to for my compulsions to bring me some sense of peace.  Thus, compulsions have become a more attractive option as they have become less elaborate and less painful to endure.  Dire need to escape the hellish regimen of ritual can no longer be the driving force for my treatment.  Somehow, I need to find motivation that doesn't come from a desperate need to escape - because I no longer feel the absolute need to fight back just to keep my head above water.  I'm still stuck in the middle of the OCD ocean, but I'm not constantly on the verge of drowning anymore. 

Just to put things into perspective:  I still sleep on my floor sometimes when I feel too dirty to sleep in my bed.  I still don't cook or bake even though I now have time to.  I have largely subsisted on a strange combination of frozen foods that could be microwaved, sandwiches, other goods that don't have to be cooked, and eating out - certainly not the healthiest, most interesting, or most well-balanced diet.  I still avoid certain social situations or activities because I might have to use a public bathroom or might find myself in a position at odds with my OCD.  I still don't feel like I can even consider initiating another relationship (I broke up with my boyfriend of a few years when things really started going downhill a year and a half ago), because I can hardly tolerate the possibility of contaminating my environment myself - adding a whole other person to the equation seems preposterous (plus the avoidance of any sort of physical intimacy that began at the time of my big contamination "relapse" a year and a half ago just makes a relationship seem sort of unrealistic right now. Even if I did decide I wanted to date, this issue would soon become apparent and cause strife in any relationship I tried to start).  I still am not really able to keep my home environment clean or use it comfortably because of my OCD, and I still spend a certain portion of my day figuring out how I will work my life into the intricate dance of my OCD rituals.  Finally, I still deny myself opportunities and a number of things I would like to do because of OCD.  Because at this point, I have adjusted to all these sacrifices, to this modified way of existing.  So while the compulsions have become less harrowing, I have, at the same time, become accustomed to the sacrifices I make on a daily basis so that I am hardly able to recognize what it is that I actually am sacrificing.  Put these two trends together and you get complacency.  I may not be satisfied with this way of existing, yet as the pain of rituals and the desire to escape them lessens (and as I grow more and more used to my dysfunctional way of life), the drive to find a way out, a way to break free from OCD, also lessens.

As I told my therapist last week, before my little vacation from therapy began, I "want to want to get better."  I want to want it.  How do I find and maintain that desire to keep fighting back?  To keep improving so that one day I can live a fuller life again?

How do you continue, day in and day out, to fuel the desire to get better?  I would love to hear how others deal with this challenge as I am struggling with this at the moment!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Frustration with "Normal" People

Bad advice is everywhere when it comes to dealing with OCD.  Today I ran across one of those yahoo question/answer deals where someone described taking extra long showers with a great big helping of compulsive avoidance.  This person asked:  how can I make my showers more pleasant?  What can I do?  I never answer those sort of things, but as I read the answers that had been provided so far, I quickly changed my mind.

The answers angered me.  And it's not the fault of those answering - they just don't know better.  Answers like "try listening to music to relax yourself," "dance in the shower," or "maybe take a bath instead so even if you don't want to touch certain parts of your body to wash them, they are at least getting a little bit clean."  These are the kind of answers that I got from the first therapist I saw when this all began.  Answers like, "Why don't you try to do some deep breathing exercises to reduce your stress?" or "Why don't you talk to your boss about taking a few extra safety precautions so you're not so worried about the danger of working with chemicals?"  And while, for a non-OCD individual these answers might be useful, in the face of something as compelling and irrational as OCD, these answers are useless.  USELESS.

Other answers to this person's question ranged from "turn your shower into sexy time!" to "Omg!  Showers one of the best part of my day! If they were any more pleasant, I would never get out."  Again, useless.  And to me, extremely annoying, because they seem to trivialize the problem and the suffering that can occur.  Perhaps even worse are those that are well-meaning but actually only making the problem worse by suggesting the addition of new compulsions - answers like: "Try using a separate wash cloth to wash certain parts of your body first and then shower.  Or trying washing them with alcohol beforehand..."  Uh, as well-meaning as these suggestions probably were, they are the last thing that someone with OCD should do.  It's only adding to the compulsions, the distorted thinking, the idea that certain parts of the body are dirty and must be washed separately or differently or in some sort of ritualized manner.  One word:  NO.

Maybe this person out there doesn't actually have OCD (though if you are taking hour and a half long showers and avoiding showering for weeks at a time because the thought of showering is so dreadful, I highly suspect that you DO have OCD like myself and like many others out there).  Maybe I am over-reacting because her experience sounds so much like mine, and because her description of her routine conjures up powerful memories of my own suffering.  But if she does have OCD and doesn't know that there are excellent evidence-based treatments out there that work, she is suffering needlessly.

Long story short, I commented.  I recommend that, if she can, she should seek cognitive behavioral therapy with exposure and response prevention.  With that I included a link to the International OCD Foundation website, as well as a link to a post where I talked about my own showering rituals and how I was challenging them with the help of my therapists.

I hate to see and hear about people suffering unnecessarily when there are great treatment options out there.  I know too well the pain and the suffering of OCD (and in this case, the pain of OCD shower rituals and avoidance), as well as the confusion caused by others' thoughtless (or sometimes well-meant but uninformed suggestions) that only serve to heighten the anxiety and bewilderment associated with attempts to free yourself from the confines of OCD without really knowing WHAT you're fighting or HOW to go about fighting it.

That said, it's sometimes interesting to look at the statistics that Blogger provides about how is visiting your site.  I look at the search keywords that land people at my blog, and when I see some of them, I really hope that they stayed long enough on my site to realize that they have OCD and that there are very helpful treatments out there.  Because, while there are a number of reasons why I blog, one of the main reasons is that I hope by sharing my own story, others who are suffering like I was will realize sooner rather than later (or never), that they have OCD and that there is a way out!!

Anyways, if that individual who wrote that question on Yahoo, or anyone else out there for that matter, finds themselves here reading this, realizing that they have OCD and that it is a real and treatable condition, please get yourself the help you deserve!  It is entirely unnecessary to suffer when there are many resources out there and proven ways to treat this disorder.  Cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure and response prevention can help you infinitely!  I know they have helped me infinitely and look forward to the aid and hope they will provide into the future as I continue to make my way in overcoming my OCD.


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