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, April 28, 2012

More Uncertainty

Living with the uncertainty of my cat's health problems has brought some pain to my life. However, living with the uncertainty of my husband's health issues has been excruciating. My husband's flare of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) was so unexpected and so out-of-the-blue. It felt completely uncontrollable. The truth is, it was uncontrollable, like so much of life. Yes, he is in remission now, but what about tomorrow, next week, or next year? We still don't know what it was that set off the flare.

Even worse, we are not sure if he has Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis (both are autoimmune Inflammatory Bowel Diseases). Though they have similar symptoms, and both can respond to similar drugs, there are slight differences in treatment regimens, depending upon the particular disease. Not having a definitive diagnosis means that my husband may not be able to get the exact right treatment for his specific type of disease. Scarier still, my husband must receive infusions of a special medication every 8 weeks, possibly for the rest of his life. The drug is extremely expensive (think thousands per dose), and carries the risk of significant (possibly deadly) side effects. I wonder if our health insurance will continue to cover the cost of the medication, or whether my husband will develop a terrible illness as a result of his treatment. Sometimes the medication has been known to stop working for patients. What if that happens to him? There are so many frightening thoughts churning through my mind that it is hard to keep track of them.

Beyond those worries, I also have a ton of contamination issues to deal with every time I accompany my husband to Boston to get his treatments. I chose to wear my flip-flops yesterday, as I knew it would be a good exposure for me. However, it started raining, and I got worried that the rain water would splash on my feet and transfer the grime of the Boston city streets onto them. Because my husband's treatments are given in the oncology/chemotherapy ward, it can be troubling to see the suffering of the other patients. I often worry that I might be carrying some type of virus or illness, and that my presence in the ward will cause them to get sick and die. In addition, the nurse often grabs the trash can with his hands, and then without washing his hands, continues to work on my husband.

Yesterday, the cover of my take-out salad fell on the floor. The cover had some oily dressing on it, and I got worried that the oil would cause the floor to become slippery, and that the next patient after my husband would come in and slip on the oil. Of course, I had to wipe the (non-existant) oil off of the floor. This meant that my hands were now contaminated from wiping the (surely filthy!) hospital floor. I then had to go wash my hands in the scary (contaminated) hospital bathroom.

These trips are always difficult, for all of the above reasons. I do continue to improve however, and I've had some recent victories. Yesterday, in particular, I didn't even think about the possibility that I might make the other patients sick until we were literally walking out of the hospital. I did use the hospital restroom several times. One time I even hung my backpack on the back of the bathroom door (wow!). I wore my flip-flops and did not wash my feet when I got home. I drove home from Boston and I noticed that my driving anxiety was significantly lower. I'm sure this is a result of all the practice driving I have had in the city over the last few years.

So I just keep pushing forward, uncertainty and all. I keep trying to give my worries about my husband's health to the Lord. I keep trying to do my ERPs. I try to appreciate today, this moment, because it is all that I am certain about. I also try to be grateful for what I do have right now. Right now, my husband is in remission. Right now he feels great. Right now the insurance company pays for his medication. Right now he has had no side effects. Right now he is waiting for me to eat lunch with him. Right now, I think I'm going to enjoy some time with him.

P.S. If you'd like to learn more about the Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, namely Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (not to be confused with Irritable Bowel Syndrome [IBS] which is a completely different type of illness), please visit the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Living (And Loving) For Today

Anna the Fluffy Diva
Meet Anna, my feline BFF for the last fourteen years. Anna and I have seen a lot of life together. She's actually been great for my contamination issues. So many times, I felt like she was dirty, but I kissed and hugged her anyway, well, because she's just so cute and squeezable! She's a diva who runs our house. Anna has been known to hiss, swat, and even bite, if she's angry enough. (I have a few small scars to prove it.) However, she's also affectionate, loving, and purrs so loudly, that sometimes you can hear it from across the room. She's the only cat I've ever met who doesn't like to eat shrimp or tuna. She loves milk though, and if you set a bowl of cereal down and walk away, you will come back to find little milk droplets on the counter around the bowl, and all over her fuzzy little face.

Unfortunately, my little girl has a growth on her lower lip. I saw the veterinarian on Monday, and the vet said it looked like a cancerous tumor. An aggressive, cancerous tumor. We won't know for sure until we receive biopsy results, so we scheduled a biopsy for this morning. I have been, of course, obsessing slightly over this. I did some research on the type of tumor that my vet thinks it may be, and the prognosis is not good. I was really looking forward to getting this biopsy done today, as I knew it would at least give us an answer, one way or the other.

I drove all the way to the vet's office this morning with my baby, only to be reminded that I was supposed to have withheld food and water from Anna after midnight last night. The biopsy is to take place while kitty is sedated, and it is necessary to have an empty stomach for safety reasons. Ugh, I can't believe I forgot to tell my husband not to feed her this morning! This means that we are unable to have the biopsy performed until next Tuesday. More waiting. More uncertainty.

I'm going to choose to look at this waiting as an exposure. If it's the type of tumor we think it is, there is really nothing to be done to help Anna, other than make her comfortable. One more week will not make a difference to her survival. It will give me one more week, however, to simply enjoy her, not as a sick cat with cancer, but as the little cuddly fluffball that she's always been.

I have been mentally preparing myself for this day for the last year or so. I knew she was getting up in age, and this is not a shock. Of course, it would have been better if I had just lived in the moment with her and been mindful, rather than wasting any time of this past year to prepare for this. It obviously changes nothing. It just steals the time away. I am going to work really hard over the next week or so to just enjoy her. She's here now, it doesn't appear that she is in any pain, and she's acting like her usual, high-maintenance self.

I don't know what the future holds. The truth is, I never knew what the future held, even when I was unaware she had a tumor. I have today, though; that much I do know. You have today too. Is there anything in the future that you're worrying about, when instead, you could be enjoying what you have today?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

No Fairy Tale Ending?

I really hesitated writing this post. I'm always very concerned about discouraging anyone from pursuing CBT/ERP. I want to make sure that I have a happy ending to share with everyone, so it will encourage others to seek out treatment. Truthfully, my progress thus far really is a type of happy ending. It's just not a perfect happy ending. I decided to go ahead and write this post, because if my blog is going to help anyone, I have to be honest. Really honest. I have to be real. OCD is messy, and it sure is real.

My previous post talked about how I completed CBT, and that I was ready for the challenge, etc. Well, I guess it didn't take too long for reality to set in. Last night I started to panic about going forward without a therapist by my side. In fact, I started to feel quite overwhelmed and I was filled with that familiar stomach churning sick feeling.

Then I heard a noise coming from the walls. Oh no, not another mouse problem! So of course, the scary thoughts start racing through my mind. What are we going to do? How could this happen again because my husband sealed up all the holes? Aghhh! Oh no, I can't go through this again!!!

While trying to investigate the source of the noise, I grabbed my smartphone and used the flashlight feature on it to shine into some dark corners. I then accidentally flashed the light into my left eye. It was extremely bright and I saw spots for several minutes. At that point, I started to obsess that perhaps I was going to go blind in my left eye.

OK, so this night was going down hill very quickly. I realized that I was starting to spin out of control and I knew it was not going to end well. So instead of sitting up all night panicking, I decided I should probably go to bed. I tried a few different things to calm myself down, including praying. I even took that same stupid smartphone to bed and played a game on it to distract myself until I got drowsy enough to fall sleep. I did eventually fall asleep.

I'm pleased to say that today was a much better day. I made it through last night. I will make it through other rough nights. Now if I can just figure out what to do about that noise in the wall.

Friday, April 20, 2012

CBT Is Over. Now What?

Today I had my last official session of CBT. As I was driving to my appointment in Boston, I looked down at the outside temperature gauge on my dashboard and noticed that it was exactly 71º. Not only that, it was bright and sunny. Ah, my Heavenly Father has a great sense of humor! When I saw that it was 71º and sunny, I just knew that God was grinning down at me and saying, “Hey kid, it’s ok, I’ve got your back.” Well, maybe He didn’t use that exact wording.  : )

I have such a mixture of feelings right now. I’m happy, I’m sad, I’m scared, I’m excited. I’m also ready. My psychologist has said over and over again that she was trying to work herself out of a job with me. Her task was to teach me to be my own therapist, so that I could move on with my life. Mission accomplished.

I guess the title of my post is a bit misleading. Yes, my weekly, professional CBT appointments are over, however, I will still be participating in CBT and ERP on my own. Because most of my appointments with my psychologist were on Wednesdays, I’ve put an appointment in my calendar for every Wednesday. Each Wednesday, I will evaluate my previous week’s progress with ERPs. I will also set weekly goals for myself. My husband will go over this weekly plan with me, so that he can help hold me accountable, because, let’s be honest, I still don’t enjoy ERPs!

I will also continue to read about OCD treatment, read anxiety disorder and depression blogs, attend support groups and lectures on anxiety disorders, and even attend events like the OC Foundation Annual Conference, whenever possible. CBT and ERP were lifestyle changing, and I will continue to keep them front and center in my mind. OCD is a chronic mental illness and I need to stay vigilant about my recovery if I do not want to backslide.

So here we go. Recovery, Part II. Will you join me?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Forget About Peacefully Counting Sheep

My husband and I ordered a mattress, box-spring, pillows, mattress covers (to protect the mattress from bed bugs of course!), and a bed this weekend. The delivery was scheduled for today between 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. I first had to prepare our bedroom by moving out a lot of accumulated stuff, both under the bed and throughout the room. I did most of this yesterday, and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. One positive note is that I used a vacuum cleaner that had been stored in the hall closet with the other, hand-held “dirty” vacuum cleaner (the one that had been used to clean up mouse droppings in the basement). I finally decided that my regular vacuum cleaner was not contaminated as it was not actually touching the hand-held one. I did beg hubby to throw out the hand-held vacuum, and he finally agreed to do so. (Don’t tell my psychologist!)

The real trouble came today. Wouldn’t you know that the delivery men showed up at about 4:40 p.m. I sat at my kitchen counter all afternoon waiting for them to arrive. I didn’t want to do anything or start anything in case they showed up while my hands were dirty, thereby making it difficult for me to answer the door.

Every one of the delivered items was sealed in plastic, but my goodness it had to be the most filthy plastic I ever saw. My hands got extremely grimy just from handling the outside of the packages. The movers’ hands were filthy as well, and they left dirty fingerprints on my new mattress!! Before the delivery men left, one of them asked me if he could please wash his hands. Of course, I had to say yes. So he washed his hands. I noticed that he didn’t dry his hands and I told him he could use the towel hanging in the bathroom. After he left, I realized why he hesitated using the towel. There were dirt stains all over it. Ugh.

At this point, I had to quickly start washing all the protective covers for the mattress, box-spring, and pillows so they would be ready by bed time. Most of the items were water proof and took multiple loads to dry. The worst part is that I forgot to unzip them open before they got washed, and I didn’t discover that until 10:30 tonight, when it was much too late to rewash them. My husband was tired and wanted to go to bed. So I was forced to put the coverings on the pillows and mattress. Of course, being that they are water proof, I’m sure none of the soap and water got inside of the covers, just only on the outside. Great. Unwashed items on my brand new bed. I feel like my bed is ruined now. Not only that, just as we were finally making the bed tonight, I noticed another dirty finger print on the mattress. The problem is that water is the only thing that seemed to get the prints off. My husband didn’t want to wait for me to wet the spot and then dry it (so we could put the waterproof cover on it), as by this point he was falling asleep standing up. So he insisted on putting the cover on anyway, put the sheets on, and and went to bed. With that dirty fingerprint on the mattress underneath him. I know he was beyond exhausted, so I don't blame him for wanting to get to sleep right away. However, I feel disgusting. I've been dancing with anxiety all evening, and frankly, I'm in a sour mood. I am not happy. I can't even do something as simple as have a bed delivered without it turning into a major OCD event. Most of the time these days I am more than able to handle what OCD throws at me. Sometimes though, it still really throws me off balance and I feel like I need to run away from all the fear. Then again, where would I run to? My brain follows me wherever I go.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Worry Questions

I struggle a lot with what I call "worry questions," a/k/a reassurance seeking. "Are you sure I didn't hit anyone with my car?" "Are you sure this shirt is clean enough to wear?" "Are you sure I didn't say something stupid?" "Are you sure what I did wasn't a sin?" "Are you sure it's safe for me to do that?" "Are you sure I didn't write anything bad on my blog?" Are you sure, are you sure, are you sure??!!?? I should write a book and title it "Are you sure?"

Reassurance seeking (in any form) is a compulsion. It continues to be the most difficult compulsion that I fight. In fact, it's probably the compulsion that I've made the least amount of progress with (though I have made some). I can touch something I think might be contaminated if someone says it's alright to do it. I can continue driving after hitting a bump if my passenger says to keep going. I can publish what I consider to be a "scary" blog post if my husband says it's not inappropriate. Essentially, I can do many things now that I couldn't do in the past, however, very often I can do them only if someone tells me it's alright to do them. It seems like I'm putting the responsibility on everyone else, so I can blame them, if I think I've done something wrong in my OCD world. For example, I can say to myself, "Well, he told me to keep driving after hitting that pothole, so I guess it's his fault if something bad happens because of it."

I know when someone reassures me, it is just enabling me. I also think there were times when this type of enabling was probably ok. I wouldn't have been able to move forward with CBT and ERP if people I trusted didn't convince me that what I was doing was right. It would have felt cruel if my family had cut me off of reassurance seeking all at once. I do think there was a time and a place for it. I think that time has ended though. I have to start taking more responsibility for myself. Ugh. It's hard! So often I just don't trust myself to make good decisions. I can't keep living like this though. I'm getting to the point that if I make a bad decision, then so be it. I'd rather make a bad mistake then continue to live in constant doubting torture.

Yesterday, I struggled with an issue. I went back and forth in my mind several times with it. I really, really wanted to ask my husband or my mom about it. I did not. I made a decision about the issue and told no one. I'm not even going to tell you what the issue was, as that would be reassurance seeking too. I'm not totally convinced I made the best decision about the issue. However, I think not seeking reassurance WAS the best decision I could have made.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My Mom The Blogger

I recently attended a local NAMI conference with my mom. I was incredibly touched by the stories of family members who shared their experiences of living with a loved one who has mental illness. I realized that it was important for me, as someone who has mental illness, to understand what my family goes through. It occurred to me that others might want to hear from family members too. As we walked out of the conference that day, I asked my mom if she would share her story with you. She graciously agreed to do so, and I have the privilege of posting it below. I'll admit it's slightly embarrassing for me as she says far too many nice things about me (and I really was not looking for her to do that, honestly!). I love her and appreciate her. She has suffered right along with me and I know countless tears have been shed on my behalf.

Mom's Story

OCD. Our Courageous Daughter. That's what OCD means to me now. I'm so familiar with this disorder because "Our Courageous Daughter" has OCD. However, I never had any awareness of this disorder or that she suffered from OCD until she was in her late 20's, and was married and living on her own. As I look back, I can now see where she had some tendencies of OCD as a very, very young child. My husband and I had never experienced, or even had heard of this until our daughter made us aware of it.
 
OCD was so difficult for many years, for both she and I. She would worry over things, at times, that I couldn't even imagine worrying about, or she would repeatedly ask for reassurance. She would ask me the same thing over and over again, to reassure her that it was ok. I would get to the point where I just wanted to scream “Why are you asking me, if you don't take my word for it, and then you go ask others the same thing!” I called this the "survey said" syndrome.  Now I know why she had to ask so many times, over and over and over. She was not capable of stopping.
 
If our daughter came to our home and I was cooking, I would have to ask her to leave the room, because she would constantly get upset that I didn't wash my hands when and how she thought I should. She would always expect me to wash my hands if I touched the trash can, or something on the floor. The list went on and on. It seemed that I couldn't do anything without upsetting her.
 
As difficult as it was to live with her behavior, it was more difficult for me to see how she was tortured. Yes, I use the word 'tortured.' As her mother I couldn’t do anything to help her. I couldn't reassure her enough, or fix it for her, or take it away, but I could enable her. At times, it was easier to enable than to address the behavior. We would pray together. Sometimes I would go to her house (when she needed me to go) and just reassure her. She would call or come over anytime she needed it. It was exhausting because I knew no matter what I said or did, it wouldn't change for her. As a mother, that is heart-breaking. I missed going out with her as a mother and daughter, as some of my friends did with their daughters. There were so many things she couldn't bring herself to do, like even cook a meal with me. I admit sometimes I was jealous of my friends and their relationships with their daughters, as they would go shopping, cooking, do house projects together, etc. It was ok though, because it wasn't that she really didn't want to do these things, she just couldn't.
 
It became extremely difficult when she decided to go through CBT because I had to watch her work through the pain of it. However, the change I have seen in her since therapy is nothing short of a miracle. When she came to visit my husband and I for a week in Florida this past February, I prayed so much that God would bless her, and give her a great week of relaxation and fun. I wanted her to just be able to enjoy herself, without worrying about everything and being afraid of touching things. I remember the night before she came, I was on my knees, in tears, begging God to bless her because she had worked so hard at her therapy. She had come such a long way with therapy and was getting so much better and putting her trust in God. I didn't want anything to stand in the way of her week. I spent the day before she came cleaning everything in sight. This included rewashing clean sheets (although I ended up using brand new sheets instead), rewashing the mattress cover and the blanket, re-cleaning the bathroom she would use, and even cleaning the shower curtain liner. I guess I was acting like I had OCD too. Sometimes I feel like it rubs off on you. I just didn't want anything to upset her. A mother of a child with OCD will sometimes go to extremes not to cause anxiety.

WOW!! Does God answer prayers. We had such a wonderful week. She came in without asking one question about the place we were staying in. There weren’t even any questions about bed bugs and I was really worried that would be a big issue for her. She went to the pool every chance she had. She went to the beach (and even picked up sea shells and brought them home). She arranged for the two of us to go for lunch and have a pedicure at a gorgeous place. What a treat that was. We even went shopping at the dollar store. Now that's AMAZING. It was such a joy and pleasure to have my daughter there. She had such a good time that she even extended her stay. I can honestly say that when she left, I wished she could have stayed longer. It was so pleasurable spending time and doing things with "Our Courageous Daughter." Thanks to God and to the therapist who helped our daughter have a full life and really live again.
 
One of the most loving and productive things someone can do is to educate themselves about OCD. Reading books and going to therapy for a few sessions with my daughter were some of the best things I did. I also got to understand the disease from the therapist’s point of view. I used to think, “Why is she not trying or why is she giving in on this?” I learned that her brain was wired differently and it’s not that she wasn’t trying hard enough or she didn’t care, but she really couldn’t do these things. After, it was easier to help my daughter because I got less frustrated, and I learned how I could help her by just loving and supporting her, and listening to her, and even just hugging her while she went through the anxiety.

I thank God for His grace and mercy and for "Our Courageous Daughter."

THANKS MOM!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

HAPPY EASTER!

"Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said."
Matthew 28:5b-6a ESV

Because Jesus is the reason for my hope.

HAPPY EASTER

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fighting Hit and Run OCD

Hit and Run OCD continues to be a little bit of a struggle for me. Just the other night, I was a passenger in my husband's car. I was turned sideways, talking to him, when we drove over a bump. I was very upset by this, even though he assured me it was a just a sewer cover. I wanted him to drive back to double check, but, being the helpful, non-enabling husband that he is, he said no. I had to remind myself that he was the driver and that it was his responsibility, not mine. We arrived home, and soon enough, I forgot all about it. Well, maybe I didn't totally forget about it, as I'm writing about it now! I did, however, lose the anxiety associated with it.

I know lots of other people struggle with this too, so I thought it might be helpful to share a few suggestions for fighting Hit and Run OCD.

It's really important to try to not give in to the compulsions that tend to accompany Hit and Run obsessions (the bad, scary thoughts). I'm not always successful with this, but every day is another chance to work on it. Probably the most important compulsion to fight is the urge to avoid driving altogether. Once I started avoiding driving, the obsessions about driving got worse.

If you have lots of trouble driving, it may be helpful to start out driving with someone in the passenger seat. After you get comfortable with that, you could proceed to driving on your own. You can also approach driving in stages. Perhaps you are afraid of driving on the highway. You could start driving on a really busy local street first. Once you get comfortable with that, you could get on the highway and then get off at the next exit. Once you've done that enough to be comfortable, you could then get on the highway and stay on for two exits, and so on. It might take you several days or even several weeks or longer to conquer all the different stages you have set up for battling a particular fear. That is ok. There is no time limit on getting better. You will even have some days that feel like you've gone backwards. That's ok too. Just keep trying to move forward.

You can be creative as to how you face your fears. My doctor was really helpful in giving me out-of-the-box ideas. She even suggested that if I had a troubling incident while driving, that I should pull over as soon as I safely could, and then fill out a Thought Record to help me fight my cognitive distortions. Perhaps you could talk about your obsessions with someone else and they could help you to come up with different, small ways to approach what you are afraid of. Just be sure to break it down into little pieces that are reasonable. Each time you are successful with a small piece, it will give you the encouragement and motivation you need to move on.

If you've had any victories, I would love to hear about them. It doesn't matter how small you think they are. Let's celebrate together. Last night, I had some struggles with driving, but I did not turn back around to check. I really wanted to, but my passenger convinced me to instead continue on to my destination. It didn't feel very good last night, but today, I'm really glad I did that.