Why "71º & Sunny?"

I consider 71º to be the perfect temperature. Not too cold and not too hot. I also love perfect sunny days. The vast majority of days are not 71º & Sunny and yet, all days were created by God's hand and they are still gifts, even if they don't fit my ridiculous definition of perfection. My struggle with OCD has at times imprisoned me in an impossible attempt to achieve perfection. I'm now learning to love all kinds of days that don't even come close to 71º & Sunny.

Please leave me a comment below. I really want to know what you are thinking!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Feeling Like Typhoid Mary

Have you ever heard of Typhoid Mary? I believe she is a character from history who got typhoid and was responsible for spreading the disease to many others. One of my biggest fears in life is that I too will be responsible for spreading some kind of an illness. I especially worry about children and the elderly.

In May of 2009, I suspected I had H1N1. It was my college graduation for my associate's degree. Throughout the day of graduation I compulsively checked my temperature for a fever. I even bought more than one thermometer because I wasn't sure that the one I had was accurate. I did go to my graduation, but I became fixated on a pregnant student that sat many, many rows away from me. I was sure that when she shook the hands of the faculty handing out the degrees that she would get H1N1 from me having previously shaken faculty hands a few minutes earlier when I got my degree. That day one of my favorite professors sat down to talk to me and I completely avoided looking at him while we talked because I didn't want to breathe any germs on him. I'm sure he thought that I just didn't want to talk to him.

In the Fall of 2009, I again became convinced that I had H1N1 and I didn't leave my house for over two weeks. I did have the flu, but went to the doctor and got cleared to go out in public. Even so, I got dropped from a college class and lost $900 rather than show up for class and risk infecting others. After two and half weeks, my mother had to drag me to my psychologist's office because I was too afraid to go outside and "expose" everyone. I cannot begin to tell you the agony I was in. In fact, I'm having to hold back the tears right now because I vividly remember the torment of that time. I was certain that I was going to kill some innocent person. My psychologist coaxed me into going out during that terrible time. My mom even made me go to a restaurant after my psychologist appointment. It was really painful, but I started attending events at church again. No one died or even got sick. Sometimes it is really difficult to know whether you are being irresponsible or not. I see lots of people go out with colds and the flu and they don't seem to think anything of it.

Today I have a sore throat. I'm supposed to meet some people at a restaurant in less than an hour from now. I'm scared. But I'm going. I'm going to pray and ask God to help me right now. I'm also going to pray and ask God to help you right now with whatever you are scared of today.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Thanksgiving Incident

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving. I did, even in spite of the OCD shadow that seems to follow me everywhere. I did hug my visitor right away. Of course, random bed bug thoughts have occurred throughout this visit, but they did not have much of a hold on me. There were also many other sporadic little things that bothered me as well. Like watching a family member grab the garbage can to move it, and then not wash her hands before she continued cooking. Aaaaaagh. And of course, my family decided to leave the garbage can in the middle of the kitchen as it made it easier to toss things in while preparing massive quantities of food. It was like a huge piece of kryptonite strategically placed to give us the most opportunities to bump into it. And really, what is up with my parents-in-law's garbage can? It is one of those old fashioned wooden things where you have to lift up the top to throw things out. So you have to touch it every time. Needless to say, I let the garbage accumulate on the counter so someone else had to throw it out!

Now to the "incident." One of my greatest fears is that I will hurt someone accidentally through my negligence and carelessness. In my mind, I am always negligent and careless. Well, it happened. At one of these Thanksgiving soirees, I was wearing 3 inch heels. I backed up and accidentally stepped on a young woman's bare foot, totally cutting her big toe. I wanted to die. My heart instantly launched in my throat and that terrible panic gripped my stomach like a vise. I tried to help her clean up the blood and stuff, but by the time I finished washing my hands to help her, other family members had already bandaged her up. I apologized profusely and waited for people to get angry with me. Well, it didn't happen. She was very gracious and told me she was fine. Don't get me wrong, I still feel terrible about it. I'm still waiting to hear that she got a terrible life threatening infection from it, or that she lost her toe to gangrene. (Yes, I even sort of jokingly warned her about gangrene, though I wasn't really, totally joking!) I'm tempted to call her to make sure she is ok. I won't do that. That would just be giving in to my OCD. Hard as it is, I'm going to live with the uncertainty of not knowing if she is ok. If something does go wrong, I'm sure I'll hear about it. In the meantime, I am surprised to learn that my world has not fallen apart even though this happened. Interesting.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More Is Not Merrier When It Comes To Bed Bugs

Someone I really love is coming to stay with me over the Thanksgiving holiday. On one hand I can't wait to see them. On the other hand I am always quite anxious when they come over. You see I am deathly afraid of bed bugs. This person lives in a large city where there is a very large bed bug problem. I am so scared that they will be bringing bugs with them to my house. Then my house will get infested, then I will have to spend thousands of dollars to rid my house of these horrible bugs, then I will accidentally pass them on to friends of mine, they I will have to humiliate myself to my friends and admit the bed bugs came from my house, and then they will also have to spend thousands of dollars to clear their house out, and then all my friends will hate me because of this. I know, it sounds crazy, but this is the logic of OCD. Let's just say my thinking is filled with what are called cognitive distortions - catastrophizing, all or nothing thinking, emotional reasoning, etc.

My visitor knows about my OCD and my fears, though I try not to make too big of an issue with them about it. There have been times, though, when I have put off hugging this person until after they had a shower or a change of clothes later on because of my fear of these stupid bugs. I have no idea if this was obvious or not. But if it was obvious that I was avoiding giving a hug, it must have been hurtful.

I hate the way I act sometimes because of my OCD. I hate that I put my anxiety before the feelings of others sometimes, especially with people that I love so dearly. I do know though that the best way to deal with this is head on. So I'm going to hug my visitor right away tomorrow night when I first see them. It will take the sting out of my anxiety right away, and let them know that I care.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Here and Now

I joke with my psychologist all the time that I consider myself to have the lazy person's version of OCD, a/k/a avoidance. Ha ha! Several years back I used to be the type of person whose OCD drove them to spend hours performing cleaning compulsions and checking compulsions. Yes, my house would be pretty spotless, but I was extremely exhausted all the time. Some years ago, I got so tired and overwhelmed by all of it that I started to avoid compulsions. Avoiding compulsions also means needing to avoid the stuff that will bring on an obsession. So you basically start stepping back from living a normal life. I don't want to give the impression that my house is filthy or anything - I do try to keep up with some basic stuff, plus my husband is an especially neat person, so thankfully he helps with a lot of stuff too. But, in my OCD opinion, nothing in my house is really ever clean enough. In fact, nothing is ever "anything" enough, if that makes any sense. Nothing is clean enough, safe enough, completed enough, understood well enough, explained well enough, etc. It is actually quite psychologically painful to live that way. It is like you are constantly unsettled and like there is always some unfinished business hanging over your head. It is very hard to truly relax and enjoy life like that.

That is why mindfulness has been very helpful to me. To be completely honest, I was afraid of mindfulness at first. I was worried that it was something that contradicted my faith as a Christ follower. The funny thing is, I think Jesus was describing a type of mindfulness when he stated that we should not worry about the future, as today has enough trouble of its own. Now I think I actually understand what He meant by that. I really do try to focus on today: right now, this hour, this minute. I try to think on the gifts that the Lord has given to me just for today. Because let's face it, no one is assured any type of future. I think in some strange way, people with anxiety disorders are maybe just more aware of the fact that there is no assured future. So we are in an even better position to really appreciate the here and now.

So when I'm struggling with anxiety, I will try to deep breathe. I try to focus on what is going on around me at that moment, not what might happen a few hours, days, or months from now. I will pray. I'm not always successful with this. But after a few years of CBT, the addition of a low dose of medication (though I'm certainly not advocating medication - it just works for me) and with the support of my husband, by the grace of God my ability to be in the here and now is increasing.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Get That Drill Away From Me!

I went to the dentist today. I have a HUGE dental phobia. In fact, I haven't been for a cleaning for over a year because I'm so afraid of going. Gross, I know. That's the thing about OCD. You worry about your phobia (going to the dentist) and then worry about the opposite of your phobia (not going to the dentist and then losing all of your teeth). Very often I feel stuck not knowing which way to turn as both choices seem like bad options. The problem with an avoidance compulsion (and avoiding going to the dentist is definitely a compulsive act for me) is that you can't avoid stuff forever. Something will almost always eventually force you into facing up to your fear - like the possibility of losing your teeth. So I guess it's better to just face up and do it. But it's so hard and so incredibly frightening. In fact, the only reason I even went today is because my sweet husband made me call and set up the appointment. The really neat part is that he had to have a cleaning too, and it turned out that his appointment was the one scheduled just before mine. So he was there at the dentist's office waiting for me when I arrived and he even went in to the office with me until I calmed down enough for him to leave. I'm so thankful to the Lord for that - what a gift. The funny thing is that the appointment didn't even end up being that difficult. It was just the anticipatory anxiety that got to me more than anything. That is usually the case. You'd think that I would have learned that by now.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What Exactly Are Obsessions and Compulsions?

Obsessions are unwanted thoughts that keep recurring in your mind. A common obsession is "My hands are contaminated." The thought just keeps repeating itself and I can't get rid of it until I perform some kind of compulsion. A compulsion is any act or thought that is used to bring down the anxiety caused by the obsession. For me, a common compulsion to reduce the anxiety caused by the thought of "My hands are contaminated" is to wash my hands. When my OCD was really bad I would wash my hands over and over again until they were rubbed raw and red. Let's just say I've spent a lot of time over the years searching for the best hand cream. My most common compulsion is avoidance. It took me about 5 months of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) before I truly understood that avoidance IS a compulsion - an act (or non-act) that reduces my anxiety caused by obsessions. My obsession might be that a particular bathroom is contaminated - this causes anxiety, so to reduce my anxiety I just avoid using that bathroom. Voila - I have now performed a compulsion! And trust me this is a painful compulsion if you are out with your family for say an 8 or 10 hour outing and you deem that all bathrooms are contaminated. More about how to fight compulsions later.

I am saying a prayer for you and me right now - that we would both be able to fight a compulsion today. It doesn't have to be a big one - just a tiny one. Every little step forward is a step towards health. That is how I've been able to regain parts of my life back.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Welcome!

I’d like to share some of my struggles with OCD to provide education, encouragement, and hope. I’ve lived with anxiety disorders for my entire life. I’m now in my early 40’s and I’ve only just in the last two years begun to address my issues in ways that are helpful. In particular, I’ve begun Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).  I have made some significant strides in my recovery and for many, many years I never believed that was possible. I want you to know that yes, it is possible for you too. I always thought I was going to be one of those people that never got better. Recovery is a life long process so I don’t expect to be cured at any moment, but the quality of my life has improved significantly. Listening to others share about their experiences helps me, so I’m hoping that I can do the same for you. God bless!