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 ;).


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