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!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lesson Learned From Christmas Exposure

I am now past the terrifying Christmas exposure of the candles. I'm not going to sugarcoat it - it was terribly miserable at first, but, as time wore on, I realized that I could handle this exposure just like I've handled every other one. Once again, the anticipatory anxiety was the true problem.

A couple of my worst fears even came true during this exposure, and yet, the world did not come to a crashing halt. Someone did accidentally knock over one of the candles, but it went out on its own on the way down. Phew - so it didn't burn down the building! Also, a child came over to help me blow out the candles, and she blew so hard on it that the wax flew back onto her and burned her hand. I thought I was going to die! I immediately sent her to the bathroom to put her hand under cold water and I went to find her mom. When I told the mom, she looked at me and said, "Uh, I think she's fine. If you turn around, you will see that she's jumping around and laughing, so I don't think it's a problem." Alrighty then. Another crisis averted.

Confession time - I did not hand out the glass candle holders as gifts. I was too afraid of the chipped glass hurting anyone (this is a harm obsession). In fact, I threw them all out (which was a compulsive act - a harm compulsion - because I didn't want to hurt anyone). I know, it's an awful waste of money. I do struggle with guilt about that, but fear always beats out guilt. Let's just say this incident caused a little, um, "domestic tiff" between myself and my husband, who had previously forbidden me from throwing them out. Ooops. he he

Sort of a White Christmas - just a couple of days late!
Meanwhile, I had an incredibly joyful Christmas with my family. I thank you so much for all of your prayers. Yes, OCD was still my companion, but it did not rule the day. We also got nailed with our first real winter storm (approximately 6 inches or so) on Thursday. Thought you might like to see a pic of that.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Have A Blessed, Merry Christmas

I'm praying for all of you right now that your Christmas will be filled with peace, love, and a sense of wonder. I'm praying for a peace that surpasses all human understanding, love that fills your heart to the brim, and a sense of wonder about Christmas and God's best gift ever, Jesus. My dear, precious friends, I pray blessings upon you. And if this season is difficult for you for any reason, I'm praying that you would feel the presence of the Comforter.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Exposures? Bah Humbug!

This can be filed under, "What in the world was I thinking?" Roughly a month and a half ago I volunteered to set up approximately 50 some-odd pillar candles on the stage at church for our Christmas Eve services. I offered to do this when my OCD was more under control and I was feeling great. Seriously, with my paranoia of fire, how insane was that? It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, not so much.

We have services tonight and tomorrow night, so a really good friend of mine, along with a couple other people, helped me set them up yesterday morning. We had to test them of course, so we lit them. Oh boy. That was painful. I was really worried about setting the place ablaze.

However, I'm more worried about tonight and tomorrow night, when the band and other assorted people will be on stage next to the candles. I'm concerned about them bumping into the candles and knocking them over, or maybe a stray ember will spark something on fire. Ugh.

I'm also worried about some gifts I am giving people that are food items. I'm so scared that I will accidentally do something bad to the food and that people will eat it and get sick. Oh, and I also bought some small votive candle glass containers to give as gifts. They fell and one of them has a small chip, so now my mind is telling me that someone will get glass in one of their gifts. Maybe it will even get into the food gifts. Aaaaggghhh.

I woke up at 4:00 a.m. today with my mind churning about all of this stuff. Finally, I decided to search online for some Bible verses about anxiety. That did help and I fell asleep around 5:30 a.m.

So now I'm exhausted, sick to my stomach with anxiety, and just generally not in a very holiday mood. I'm going to keep fighting though. I refuse to let OCD ruin another family holiday, even if I have to fake my way through it. I'm going to pull out all my CBT tools and trust my currently fragile spirit to my Heavenly Father.

The candles are pretty.

I hate glass items. Ugh.

Friday, December 21, 2012

This Christmas Season

This Christmas season, I've struggled a bit with getting into the spirit of things. The tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut has certainly been on my mind. In addition, this week, I attended the funeral of a young, expectant mother, who also left behind a child that was seriously injured in the same car accident. The same day I learned about the car accident, I read Janet Singer's heartbreaking post about the 19 year old who took his life because of severe OCD.

I was only a minor acquaintance of the young woman (in fact, I think I've only ever spoken to her once), and I never met any of those poor souls who lost their lives in Connecticut, or the young man who was so tormented by OCD. Yet, I've struggled with feeling guilty about trying to enjoy the holidays.

I had a discussion with my husband about this the other night. I told him that I was having a hard time moving forward and that I felt torn. If I move on with my life, I feel like I don't care about the suffering of others. However, if I spend too much time thinking about things that I absolutely can't change, then I end up getting sicker and my anxiety worsens while my depression deepens.

Pretty decorations lift
my spirits.
My husband looked at me and said, "Monique, life is for the living." Those words really stuck with me. So that's what I'm going to really try to do this next week. I'm going to live. I'm going to be thankful to Jesus for coming into my life, and I'm going to enjoy time spent with my friends and family. I know that if I passed on, that is absolutely what I would want for my loved ones left behind. I think the best way we can honor those who go on is to remember them, and to comfort and serve those they left behind. But, we also need to live, because life is for the living.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Who Knows Of It?

Pain, suffering covers all like a murky fog;
Who knows of it?
Grief, loss, futures vanished like whispers in the wind;
Who knows of it?

Hearts shaken, lives shattered;
Who knows of it?
Tears fallen, knees buckled under weight of sorrow;
Who knows of it?

Teeth clenched, palms raised in disbelief;
Who knows of it?
Eyes downcast, heads hung low in despair;
Who knows of it?

He knows of it.
He brings water to the thirsty,
comfort to the anguished,
strength to the weary,
and guidance to the lost.

He knows of it.
He brings hope to the hopeless,
dawn to the night,
healing to the pained,
and peace to the tormented.

Bring it to Jesus, who restores the crushed
and mends the broken.
Yes, He knows of it.
                     M. Gagne

I wrote those words in an attempt to get rid of it. What exactly is "it?" I have no idea. Sorrow, shock, horror, rage; take your pick. Whatever small discomfort I am experiencing is absolutely minuscule compared to the devastation that is facing several families in Newtown, Connecticut. I've struggled to pray for them. I don't really know what to say in my prayers, as the whole situation is completely overwhelming. Mostly, I just ask God to comfort them. Because, thankfully, He knows of it.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18 ESV

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Waxing And Waning

I love to watch the
moon wax and wane.
The moon is not the only thing that waxes and wanes. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is something that is also known to wax and wane. Meaning, OCD can get worse for no apparent reason, and at times it can get better, again without any obvious reason. I think it's easy to say that most of us are pretty happy when OCD wanes on its own, but when it waxes (or gets worse) without any explanation, that can become exceedingly frustrating.

Unfortunately, I'm at a point where the OCD is becoming more problematic. I have no explanation for this. Perhaps it is the cold weather and darkness that is settling like a thick blanket over New England. Perhaps not. In any case, it really doesn't matter what the cause is. My OCD is getting worse and I have to live with that reality. And deal with it.

I know of a handful of people that have almost completely recovered from OCD. I know many more people that have improved through treatment, but still have to be vigilant about their symptoms. I believe I fit in the latter category. I've come to the conclusion that truly accepting the fact that I have a chronic mental illness means that I also must accept what comes with it, including the waxing and waning of the illness. As my symptoms improve, I will celebrate. As my symptoms worsen, I will refuse to blame myself. Instead, I will ride the wave while at the same time doing what I can to minimize the symptoms. I'm done fighting the idea that I have OCD. I still hate it, but not as much as I once did. I'm choosing to accept it, while not giving in to it. Easier said than done.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Avoidance Works

It's true. Avoidance does work. So does stuffing my face with food so I don't have to feel any emotional pain. Drinking works for lots of people in order to dull their suffering. Yes, all these things serve their purpose of helping us keep the pain away - for a little while. Some time ago, my psychologist explained to me that there are "benefits" to these behaviors, or else we would never engage in them to begin with. The problem is that these poor coping strategies don't take care of the underlying problem, and of course, they leave a wake of devastation of their own.

I was reminded again today of why avoidance is my worst enemy, although it seems like my best friend in the short run. My husband and I spent several hours this afternoon dealing with some things around the house that I had been putting off for months and months. Oh, it was hard! I must admit that I complained the entire time.

I know, I must embrace the idea of dealing with things head on if I'm to continue making progress against the OCD. It has to be a lifestyle change. I always, and I mean, always, regret avoidance. Maybe one of these days I'll finally make that lifestyle change.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week

Advocacy for Crohn's and Colitis is near and dear to my heart as my husband lives with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Thankfully, because of bi-monthly infusions, he remains in full remission and his life is hardly impacted by this terrible illness. Unfortunately, many people are unable to enjoy the kind of remission that my husband has been blessed with. They continue to live with symptoms that make it difficult to live a normal life. If you, or someone you love, is afflicted with Crohn's or Colitis, I highly recommend that you visit the excellent website maintained by the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America. Here's to your good health!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Just A Thought

Yesterday afternoon, I was watching a football game with my family. The tv network showed clips of some people joyfully shaving their heads in support of a coach who is fighting cancer. This was a wonderful display of encouragement, compassion, and solidarity, for a man who is facing what is probably the fight of his life.

After seeing this scene, I had a thought. Someone gets cancer, and people shave their heads, raise money, and rally around the sufferer. Someone has a mental illness, and people get mad and frustrated with them.

Please understand, I want to make it clear: I think it is important that people who struggle with cancer get as much support as they can get. I know cancer is a terribly frightening disease and I'm happy to see cancer patients get showered with love and concern, as they should be. It's just that I wish I would also see the same response for those who suffer with a terribly frightening disease of the mind.

I know those of us with mental illness can at times be very, or even extremely, difficult to live with. We don't mean for that to happen. Really, we don't. And just like a cancer patient is responsible for following through with his or her treatments, we need to follow through with ours as well, and do what we can to minimize our symptoms. However, beyond that, well, it's not our fault. Really. It's doubly painful to have to live with an illness and then have people be angry with you because of it. It sure can be lonely sometimes. That makes me sad.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today, in the United States, we are celebrating the holiday of Thanksgiving. This is a day for us to get together with friends and family to eat a large feast and to thank God for everything He has blessed us with. There are so many people and things I am thankful for, that if I listed them, there would not be enough room on this blog. So I'm going to list just one thing I'm thankful for: you! Thank you for reading, commenting, and being so supportive. If you, or someone you love, suffers from an anxiety disorder or depression, I want you to know that I am praying for you right now as I type this. God Bless You.

Beautiful autumn mums.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Ps 118:1 NASB

My sweet potato casserole.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Nice To Meet You

Today is the one year anniversary of 71º & Sunny. When I first started this blog, I was anxious about keeping my identity a secret. I didn't want anyone but my immediate family to know that I was "Sunny." (By the way, thanks for giving me that nickname because I totally love it!!) I know that lots of you have struggled with whether to tell others about your OCD or mental illness issues. Many of you have chosen to keep that information private, and I completely respect that. I would never, ever criticize or judge someone for keeping their illness private. There are several reasons why someone might do that, and for many years, those reasons were my own.

I thought now might be a good time to share a little bit more about myself with you, seeing as we've been friends for a year.

I love cats, especially my little Anna. We once had a pure white, teddy bear hamster named Pop. He died a few months after we got him. He was so cute, and his passing made us cry like little babies. Speaking of crying, I'm a complete softie. I cry at movies, and yes, even at commercials. I love action flicks, dramas, mysteries, and the occasional chick flick. I'm totally into rock music (I was a teen of the 80's!) and pop. My most recent favorite pop song is "Call Me Maybe," much to my husband's irritation. I've had a drum kit sitting in my extra bedroom for about 5 years. I'm finally (probably) going to start lessons this winter.

I also love, love, love to read. It opens up an entire new world for me. Travel is another favorite past-time which is, of course, limited by budget. When we do travel, we like to stay at B&Bs. I also like to cross-stitch, and I've recently started doing it again.

My favorite foods are spicy Thai and Mexican, though I will never refuse a really good, greasy, extra-cheesy slice of pizza. Dr. Pepper is absolutely my drink of choice (I even have a t-shirt that says "I'm A Pepper"). I hate vegetables and milk. Peeps are some of my favorite snacks. I even have Peeps socks.

I've already told you in previous posts about how I like to sing, act, direct, and work the audio board at church. I'm thinking about auditioning for community theater next spring. I also love to attend the theater. It's so much fun to see something performed live.

I'm a fan of crisp autumn days topped off with apple cider and a nice pumpkin or banana bread. I like to visit big cities, but suburbia is where I prefer to live. I like the mountains and the ocean too. Thankfully, my beautiful New England has both.

I love Jesus, my family, and my wonderful church friends who are like family. I get angry when I witness injustice. I laugh a lot and I try not to take myself too seriously. Little kids and animals make me smile. I'm afraid of bugs, but I'm not afraid of heights, and one of my most treasured memories is of riding in a hot air balloon with my extremely height phobic husband. My favorite color is purple, but pink is pretty great too. My beloved iPhone is never too far out of my reach. My favorite games are Words with Friends, Phrase Friends, Gardens of Time, and the wildly addicting Bejeweled.

Oh, and I have OCD. And I'm not going to hide it anymore.

My name is Monique Gagne. So very nice to meet you!


Monday, November 12, 2012

Here An Obsession, There An Obsession . . .

As stated in my last post, it's been a really busy time for me recently. The last few days have continued to stay hectic (but in a good way). Sometimes, being very active is a great thing for my OCD because it doesn't give me much time to focus on it, or on the crazy thoughts (obsessions) that swim through my mind. Other times though, taking on additional activities introduces more obsessions into the mix because it takes me face to face with things that I might have avoided in the past.

On Saturday morning, I led a meeting for the Theater Team at my church. Because it was my meeting, I was responsible for opening up the building and then locking all the doors after we were done. I hate taking on this kind of reponsbility. It's a very scary proposition to me, because if something goes wrong, then it's all my fault. The funny thing though, is that I didn't even give much thought to the locking up part until the end of the meeting. That was a victory in and of itself, simply because in the past I would have been consumed with anticipatory anxiety for hours beforehand.

After everyone left, I stayed behind to use the restroom. I was a little anxious leaving the bathroom, knowing that I was the last one in there and that I was responsible for making sure that the faucets were off (I always worry I will leave them on and flood the church - weird, I know) and that the lights were off. Next, I had to make sure that the sound and lights were off in the sanctuary. This was not too stressful, as I'm often responsible for lights and sound on other occasions, so I've gotten pretty used to it. The side door though - that was a tough one as it can be a little tricky to close properly. I did re-check it once. However, once I reached my car, I really wanted to drive around to the side to check it again, only from the outside instead. I forced myself to drive away. That was hard. However, a few minutes later, I pretty much completely forgot about it!

Code Red - a dumpster is nearby!

On Sunday afternoon, after church services were over, there were only a few of us left in the building, including one of the women who was cleaning up all of the trash. Red alert. I generally stay far away from people wielding garbage bags. As I was walking to my car, I noticed her trying to put the trash into the dumpster. Unfortunately, the dumpster is really tall, and as she tried to lift the dumpster cover and toss the trash in, the cover fell down and knocked the bag over onto the ground, spilling a bunch of its contents. I really, really wanted to get into my car and drive away. I know, that would have been a jerky thing to do. I'm going to be honest with you - if she had not seen me, I probably would have driven away. However, she saw me, and I would have looked like a total loser (and very un-Christ like) if I hadn't walked over to help her. So, I sucked up my courage, walked over there, and held the cover for her (which was above my head because the dumpster is so tall) while she dumped the garbage in. Some of the garbage came out of the bag and flew into the air above us. I *think* some of it grazed my head, and I know that some of it hit my leg and shoe.

So I did the only thing I could - I cried all the way home and then washed everything in sight. Um, no, not really. That's what I wanted to do. Instead, I went back into the building, washed my hands, and went on with my day. Sure, my stomach was in knots as I drove away, but you know what? After a few minutes I was just fine. The obsessive thoughts bothered me a little throughout the afternoon and evening, but I checked with my husband and he told me to just go about my business like normal. Later, I went home and slept in my freshly cleaned and changed bed sheets, without having taken a shower first. Yep, progress. Praise God!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

There's Always Time For Hit and Run OCD

I've had a couple of really (good) crazy busy days this week. Of course, I still made time for Hit and Run OCD. Ugh.

It wasn't a big or time consuming incident. But, still, I gave in, even though I knew I shouldn't have. There is always guilt after I give in to an OCD urge. I hate that part too. Sometimes you just feel pulled in both directions and it can get tiring.

Last night I was driving to a lecture that was going to be given by a gentleman who is an expert in mastering albums for really big music artists. I was hoping to learn a little something that might help me with mixing sound for the worship band at my church. The lecture was scheduled to take place at a university in Massachusetts, in a city that I am not too familiar with. At one point I was looking at my windshield-mounted GPS when I hit a bump. I instantly felt that old familiar spike of anxiety. Rather than resist the anxiety, I decided to drive back and take a quick peek at the potential accident site. There was nothing there (surprise, surprise!). I even pulled over for a few seconds just to stare at the spot and make sure I was seeing everything clearly.

The whole thing took maybe two minutes out of my night. Not a major issue in the big scheme of things, but, I know that anytime I give in to OCD it can lead down a slippery slope. As I continued my drive to the university, the episode continued to weigh on my mind. I wondered why it was that certain bumps on the road bother me and why others do not. It then hit me. I had not been driving perfectly. Meaning, I was looking at the GPS, instead of looking at the road. And that makes me a bad person. Well, at least in my OCD mind it does. You really have to love those cognitive distortions.

A perfect driver never takes their eyes off of the road. If a perfect driver gets into a car accident, or causes one, well, it's a true accident. However, if I am not driving perfectly, and doing something that is distracting and then I cause an accident, well, I deserved it. It's all my fault and I should go to jail and suffer all of the consequences that come with it. Not only that, everyone I know will hate me because I negligently caused an accident.

I've come to realize that I am only stressed about driving if I've done something "imperfect" at the same time. The truth is, I think every driver is probably guilty of distraction at one time or another.  Of course, some drivers are more distracted than others! I think the important thing to take from this is that I'm not perfect. And I guess that will have to be ok.

I thought you might enjoy seeing a picture of Southern NH's first snowfall of the winter. We haven't even picked up all of the leaves yet!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

An Actual, Real-Life Sports Hero?

An actual, real-life sports hero? I think I may have just found one. In this era of doping, steroids, criminal behavior, and title stripping, it is refreshing to come upon an athlete who uses his newfound fame for something else other than his own personal enrichment. I recently came across an interesting article at CNN online that introduced me to a brave young man. Royce White, 21, is a basketball player who is commencing his rookie year for the Houston Rockets. Royce battles Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. And he's not shy about sharing that information.

One of Royce's biggest struggles is his extreme fear of plane flights. Of course, being part of a professional basketball team means constant flying. Ironically, this may actually help him to overcome his OCD. Those of us who've been through CBT/ERP know that consistent exposure to things that frighten us is the only real way to beat a fear. Going to work may be the best thing that ever happened to Mr. White!

Royce has used his experiences with anxiety to encourage others who struggle as well. As a college basketball player, he visited with a group of youngsters who also dealt with mental illness and he shared about his disorders with them. Additionally, he is working to end the stigma of mental illness through a new campaign that he is initiating.

Personally, I haven't been interested in the NBA since Larry Bird led the Celtics to greatness. Hmmm . . . I may just have to start watching a little basketball again.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Little Things

Do you ever feel like you have no impact on the world or on people around you? Does what you do not meet up with your expectations of yourself? Sometimes, I get what I call "visions of grandeur." You know, ideas that I "should" be doing this incredible thing or that. I was recently reminded by someone I love that anything that I do does not have to be big and splashy in order to be worthwhile. I just need to keep plugging away, trying to serve God right where I am, and hopefully making a little difference in my tiny corner of the world.

Don't minimize the seemingly "little things" you do. Illness (mental and/or physical) may limit the scope and breadth of the things you do, but that doesn't mean that it limits the impact on others.

God does not command that we do great things, only little things with great love.-Mother Teresa www.inspirationpeak.com

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16 ESV

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Have you ever used SUDS? No, I'm not talking about your bubble bath! I am actually referring to Subjective Unit(s) of Discomfort. It works similar to a pain rating scale, only it is an anxiety rating scale. Some people use a scale of 1 to 10, while others use a scale of 1 to 100. My psychologist suggested using the 1 to 100 scale so that I could be more precise with my feelings of anxiety. I agreed with her, so that is the scale I use. You could probably use any scale you want, as long as you are consistent with using the same one all the time.

Something very low on the scale, say around a 20, means you are experiencing very little anxiety, and something around a 100 means that you are completely overwhelmed with anxiety. Jonathan Grayson, in his book, "Freedom From Obsessive Compulsive Disorder," states, "When using 100, try to remember that this means there is no greater anxiety you can feel-or, in other words, don't use ratings of 110" (page 66).

To me, the important word is "subjective." Basically, the anxiety sufferer is the one who decides where on the scale his or her anxiety sits. Sometimes, that is difficult for me. Especially because it is subjective and I have no outside proof of what I am feeling. Often, I struggle with what "number" I am. "Am I a 55 or a 65 on the scale? Oh, no, what if I'm totally wrong about what number I am?" If I let it, attempting to find my number can itself become an obsessive and compulsive activity. I fight that urge, however, and usually just try to settle near to whatever number I first came up with instinctively. On a scale of 1 to 100, if I'm off by 10 or 15 points, I don't think it's a very big deal. I try to look at it as a rough guide. Again, we can take Dr. Grayson's advice: "With regard to the accuracy of your SUDS rating, don't worry. The ratings are meant to generally measure what feels mildly distressing to severely distressing" (page 66). There is no perfection allowed in OCD treatment and recovery!

Why is the SUDS scale helpful? The scale is invaluable when creating a hierarchy of exposures (more on that in another post). It can also guide us on how to proceed with an exposure. My doctor always recommended working on ERPs that were about a 60 or 70 on the SUDS scale. At this level, things are certainly uncomfortable and painful, but they are not completely out of my ability to tackle them. Additionally, the SUDS scale is helpful when looping ERPs. Moreover, during in-office exposures, my psychologist would often ask me, "What's your SUDS level?" so she could decide on how to proceed with the ERP.

If you have never used SUDS, you may want to start keeping track of your anxiety levels, so that you can get an idea of what is a really difficult exposure and what is easier for you to work on. I do think it's important to remember that this is just another tool to help us in the battle against OCD. So, what's your SUDS level?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Making The Most Of ERP

Sometimes (ok, maybe most of the time!) ERPs can be quite painful. It is for that reason that we should try to get the most out of them so we don't waste our efforts. My psychologist was really great about educating me in the proper way to do ERPs. She introduced me to the concept of "looping" them. Essentially, it is not enough to do an ERP just once and then wait days or weeks to attempt it once more. In fact, if we do it just once, it can be so painful that we may be afraid to ever do it again in the future.

To loop an ERP, simply means to re-do the ERP. For example, perhaps I am anxious about touching a public toilet. What I need to do is touch the toilet and then rate where I am on the SUDS scale (it can be 1-10, or 1-100). I like to use a 1-100 scale. Maybe after touching the toilet, my level is 80, which means I am experiencing a LOT of anxiety. At this level of anxiety, I am usually crying and shaking, and hating those three little letters: OCD. At some point, though, my anxiety will drop. When my anxiety reaches a 40, (half of my initial peak of anxiety), I need to go back and touch the toilet again. Once more, my anxiety will peak. I might only peak at a 70 this time. Once the anxiety drops to 35 (again - half of my peak), I need to loop back and touch the toilet. I will experience another peak and another drop. I think you get the idea from here.

To get more effectiveness from looping, it's helpful to loop it every day, as often as you can. Before you know it, touching that toilet will get easier and easier! I did not loop my exposure when I sat down in my finished basement the first time after it was cleaned. In fact, when my anxiety got really high, I left the room. Big mistake. Of course, this made it harder to go back down again days later. It took me a lot longer to get used to the basement room than it probably would have if I had looped it.

Looping seems easy to apply with contamination type items, but I'm sure it can work for other types of OCD too. Obviously, there are some obsessions that can't be physically looped because of safety reasons, or perhaps they are impossible to duplicate. That might be a great time to script out a worst case scenario of what you fear, read the script and sit with the anxiety, and then go back and re-read that worse case scenario once the anxiety comes down by half. Jonathan Grayson's book (see his book listed under Helpful Books to the right) gives directions on how to do scripting.

I thought my psychologist's idea of looping was great, so I wanted to share it with you. I wish I could say I did lots of looping. (Sunny writes this with her head hung low.) I wonder how much more quickly I would have gotten better if I had. It certainly does take time, effort, and planning. If you decide to try looping, I would love to hear if and how it worked for you. I'm always thankful to receive helpful tips and strategies from my fellow OCD sufferers to add to my own recovery "toolbox." Good luck!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Concluding OCD Awareness Week

What an exciting week! I had the privilege of attending two different worship conferences this week. These conferences are an opportunity for those involved in church music and technical ministries to learn from professional (mostly Christian artists and technicians, though occasionally some are not) musicians and technical experts. It's a great time of learning and connecting with other believers.

Often, the musicians who perform at the main worship sessions are well known artists. At the second conference this week, the featured artist was Paul Baloche. I love Paul's music as he is an extremely gifted songwriter. Our church uses a lot of his music during worship time, so when Paul led worship I felt like I was really at home. I was especially joyful when Paul led us in "Today Is The Day" (one of my all time favorite songs).

As OCD Awareness Week was concluding, I thought it would be appropriate to wear my awareness t-shirt at the conference yesterday. I must admit that I was a little nervous about wearing it, but honestly, the thought of bringing a little attention to OCD (and to my brave fellow OCD sufferers) really seemed worth any minor risk of awkwardness for me. I knew I made the right decision when I got stopped by an employee at the restaurant where my group had breakfast.

The employee noticed the "crafty" tools depicted on the front of my shirt and she asked me if I was an artist. I turned around and showed her the back of my shirt. I said that I was wearing it for OCD Awareness Week and I explained a little bit to her about how there is now effective treatment available. I also told her about the IOCDF. She seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say and thanked me for sharing the information. Wow. That rocked. I wore that shirt proudly for the rest of the day, just hoping that someone else would notice it and realize that help is out there.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Wish For You

I never discuss my child out of privacy concerns. I will, however, say this much. My wish for my child upon high school graduation was for a vibrant, full life, lived in Christ. A life not dominated by anxiety, fear of risk, or even a fear of failure. But a life of adventure, taking chances, and frankly, just plain old living. Not just subsisting. The song, "I Hope You Dance," by Lee Ann Womack, perfectly encapsulated all of my hopes and dreams, and I shared that with my child at the time. It has become our special little song.

I heard that song in the car this afternoon, and it brought me right back to that point in our lives. I continue to wish all those things for my child today. It also got me to thinking about OCD Awareness Week and about my fellow anxiety disorder strugglers. Why is OCD Awareness Week important? One reason it is important is because if we can get the word out about proper treatment, then perhaps many others can begin to "dance" through their lives, instead of being tormented by their illness.

Slowly, but surely, since my treatment, I have begun to "dance" more and more. My dear, sweet, precious readers - this is my wish for you too. God bless, and dance!

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid, love ever leave you empty handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice, to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin' might mean takin' chances, but their worth takin'
Lovin' might be a mistake, but it's worth makin'

Don't let some hellbent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to sellin' out, reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice, to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along)
I hope you dance
I hope you dance
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder, where those years have gone?)

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice, to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance
I hope you dance
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along)
I hope you dance
I hope you dance
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder, where those years have gone?)

Monday, October 8, 2012

OCD Awareness Week

October 8 - 14, 2012, has been designated OCD Awareness Week. I am grateful to the International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation's attempt to bring attention to, and to reduce the stigma of, OCD. The IOCDF's mission to educate the public about the true nature of OCD, and its effective treatment, is critical to bringing relief and hope to so many who suffer in shameful secrecy. For several years, I was one of those who kept my pain private for fear of discrimination and rejection. Thankfully, because of great treatment, my life has changed dramatically.

However, every time I am tempted to think that I am really almost done with all of this "OCD stuff," I am reminded that it is a chronic mental illness that I will most likely have to manage for the rest of my days here on earth. For example, this weekend has been a challenge for me. I had the Friday evening purse incident, and I also had contamination difficulties when I checked into a hotel room on Sunday afternoon.

I get frustrated sometimes because I feel like OCD should be mostly background noise at this point in my recovery. I realize that I do need to keep up with my newly acquired anxiety fighting skills. I also must continue performing ERPs as a lifestyle. However, there are some things I can't change, and that includes how much anxiety I feel. Some things will always be hard for me. I accept that. I don't like it, but I accept it. And maybe that is part of OCD awareness. Helping others understand that some parts of life are just difficult to navigate for those of us with anxiety disorders. We certainly don't want to be viewed as less than capable, and yet there is the necessary acknowledgement that at times, a little compassion and patience can go a long way to ease the burden of those living with mental illness.

So here's to awareness of the need for education and proper treatment, for ownership of recovery by the OCD sufferer, and lastly, for the desire and hope of receiving empathy and sensitivity from society for those who live with the daily turmoil of mental illness.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

It Was A Horror, But I'm Not Talking About The Movie

My husband and I were having a lovely dinner and a movie date night. That was until about 3/4 through the movie. I had my small clutch style purse, sweatshirt, and my husband's baseball cap on my lap. All of a sudden, my purse fell onto the theater floor. I was a little grossed out, but I figured I would just pick it up and force myself to use it normally. My husband reached down, grabbed my purse, and handed it back to me. That's when I felt it - some sort of wetness on my purse. Oh, how I thought I would die! I noticed that my husband rubbed his hands together quickly, as if to dry off something wet on them. I immediately wanted to go wash my hands. I asked him if he should go wash his hands too. He told me that there was no reason for him to wash his hands. He also told me that I should just wipe my purse off with a napkin and go on like nothing happened. Uh huh. Right. I've made tremendous progress in fighting my OCD, but this was really pushing it. No way I was going to let this one go.

I spent the rest of the movie holding my purse (and now contaminated sweatshirt) on my lap in such a way that I would not get even more dirty and spread the filth. When the movie finished, I looked down at the floor, and noticed what appeared to be spilled soda, and my husband's baseball hat laying right on it. Ughhhh. I picked up the hat and carried all my gross items back to the car. Thankfully, on the way out of the theater, my husband did agree to stop in the restroom and wash his hands. When we got to the car, he opened up the car door for me (because there was no way I was going to touch the handle), and then we drove home. Of course, the hat and the sweatshirt went straight into the washing machine, as well as everything I was wearing. My hands also got a good scrubbing. I'm still trying to decide whether I should throw my little purse out or not.

I was not very successful battling OCD last night. I did notice one interesting thing, however. While watching the movie, I was really debating whether I should go wash my hands or not, because I didn't want to miss any parts of the film. In the past, if something gross had happened, I would have been so freaked out that I wouldn't even have noticed that there was a movie still playing. Hmmmm . . . I guess you could still call that progress.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Good Medications, Questionable Usage???

My blogging friend, Deanna, brought my attention to a really great article that was published just a few days ago in the New York Times online edition. Published on September 24, 2012, the article, "A Call For Caution On Antipsychotic Drugs," is written by Richard A. Friedman, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan.

Some may read the article's title, and think, "Well, I don't struggle with psychosis, so this article doesn't apply to me." However, even though the newer antipsychotic drugs (commonly referred to as "atypical antipsychotic" medications) are generally used for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression, they are today, in increasing fashion, being prescribed for many different types of mental illness. According to Dr. Friedman, in some cases this may be appropriate, but in others it is not. In addition, though these drugs can be very helpful for many people, they still carry the risk of significant side effects, and patients should be aware of them. Unfortunately, they often are not.

In particular, there were two things that Dr. Friedman mentioned that really struck me. First, he referred to some recent scientific studies that debunked the previously assumed theory that the newer "atypical antipsychotics" were better and had less side effects than the older traditional antipsychotics. This was news to me, as I have always heard that these atypical antipsychotics were great improvements over the older drugs. I wonder if many doctors are still working under the assumption that these newer antipsychotics are safer and more effective, and perhaps that is why they are prescribing them more liberally?

The second surprise of the article was Dr. Friedman's reference to the fact that apparently, many doctors are using antipsychotics to treat anxiety disorders. The doctor is concerned about this because he states that ". . . the data for the safety and efficacy of antipsychotic drugs in treating anxiety disorders is weak . . ." (para 15).

This article contained a lot of new information for me on these medications, and I thought it was worthwhile to pass this on. This does confirm for me that as a patient, it is always important to do my research (through reputable sources) on any treatment I receive. Some patients may choose to follow through on a treatment plan that includes some risk. That is their decision and should be respected. However, I think it's critical that the patient is at least properly informed of all of the risks, so that he or she can make the best choice possible.

Just a reminder: I am not a doctor/psychologist/psychiatrist, nor am I trained in any way. I do want to state however, that if you read this article and you are concerned about any medications you are currently taking, I think it would be wise to talk to your doctor first before making any changes involving your medications. These drugs are powerful, and should always be used, started, or stopped under the guidance of a properly trained psychiatrist.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hyper-Responsibility And Vulnerability

Yep, I like a lot of bling!

An area of great anxiety for me is the safety of children. I’m always worried that I will drop something that a small child can choke on.

As I was scheduled for sound mixing duty yesterday, I arrived at church around 6:45 a.m., shortly before rehearsal was to begin. At that time of the morning there are no kids in the building yet, so we early arrivers usually enter through the conveniently located back door, which leads to the elementary Sunday School wing. When I arrived at the sound booth, I looked down at my Kindle cover, and realized that I had lost a rhinestone. My first thought was that it fell off in the kids’ area, and that a child would eat it and suffocate on it. I was immediately sick with anxiety. I ran to the kids’ area and looked everywhere I had previously been to see if I could find it. I also compulsively searched the back parking lot, and even my car. Nothing. I could not find that rhinestone anywhere. I was fairly certain it was there when I left the house, so I was sure I lost it at church. Unfortunately, I was supposed to be manning the audio board, so I had to rush back to the sound booth, in spite of not being able to find my missing rhinestone.

A little later, I was able to sneak out back again. It was there that the worship minister’s wife (thankfully, a good friend of mine) found me searching outside. She asked me what was wrong. I admitted that I was having an OCD moment, and I told her what I was looking for. Though she knows all about the OCD and some of my basic symptoms, it is quite another thing to be in the middle of a trigger and show my panic to her. She was so sweet though, and helped me search as we walked back into the worship hall. At that point, it was time for rehearsal, so I had to stop searching. It was so hard not to cry and to keep my mind on business.

After a few minutes, I was able to go out back one more time. Luckily, I found the children's pastor. She also already knew about my OCD. I explained to her what happened, and that I was worried. She too was incredibly kind. She assured me that where I walked was a common area, and that tons of stuff falls on the floor there, and that it was not a concern. I then asked her if it would be an OCD thing if I decided not to bring my Kindle back to church again (in order to protect the kids). She told me it would be an OCD thing. I was so relieved that I hugged her and thanked her.

I was very emotional for the rest of the day. Honestly, I was just so humiliated about admitting to my struggles while they were still happening. During an OCD event, I am in an extremely vulnerable state. When I reveal this state to others, it's almost like I'm saying, "Here, look inside my heart and see all the pain and (crazy, irrational, nonsensical, shallow, and yes, even petty) fears I live with. I suspect you are secretly thinking I'm insane and I'm desperately hoping you will still like me after this and not think I'm weird. Please, please don't reject me."

I am so blessed. Days like yesterday used to be typical days for me. Now, they are the exception. You might really think I'm crazy when I tell you that in some weird way, I don't mind having an occasional bad OCD day. It reminds me of how far I've come. It reminds me of how much others with OCD suffer. It reminds me to take a risk, open myself up to people, and let them see who I really am. It reminds me that sometimes, I need to allow other people (outside of my family) to help and support me, even though I am most uncomfortable with that.

Oh, I found the rhinestone about 8 hours later. Guess where it was the whole time? Stuck to my inner left arm. For 8 entire hours. Sigh.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Another Favorite

Because I'm running the sound equipment this week at church, and I was at rehearsal the other night, I already know the song list for the worship time that will take place during services later this morning. Hmmm . . . I guess I better get to sleep considering I have to get up in 5 hours. In any case, the song, "Praise is the Offering," written by Sion Alford, Shannon Alford, and Glenn Packiam, will be sung at my church this morning. This is another one of my favorite songs. I thought I would share it with you.

This is a version performed by Gateway Worship, with the lead singing done by Sion Alford. Hope it puts a smile on your face!

Come and let us sing for joy
Let us praise and shout aloud
To the lifter of our heads
To the Rock we’re standing on
Your salvation is our song
Now we can’t stay silent we will sing how

Great is Your love for us
And great are the things You’ve done
And praise is the offering we bring to You

Lord we come to worship You
Lord we bow our hearts in awe
By Your love we are redeemed
We are Yours and You’re our God
Your salvation is our song
Now we can’t stay silent we will sing how

Great is Your love for us
And great are the things You’ve done
And praise is the offering we bring to You

All of our heart and soul
And all that You are and more
And praise is the offering we bring to You

Lord we come to worship You
Lord we bow our hearts in awe
By Your love we are redeemed
We are Yours and You’re our God
We are Yours and You’re our God
We are Yours and You’re our God

Great is Your love for us
And great are the things You’ve done
And praise is the offering we bring to You

All of our heart and soul
And all that You are and more
And praise is the offering we bring to You