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!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Two Hard ERPs

One of the things I need to do if I want to continue to improve my mental health is to perform planned ERPs. Unfortunately, I haven't been very proactive about this, and I've mostly been doing ERPs that just sort of "happen" throughout my day. That's good, but it's not enough.

The "Evil" Basement Room
One of the big things I should have been doing recently is spending lots of time in my finished basement. Even though the room has been cleaned, I'm still very uncomfortable going down there. Thankfully, my husband has taken on a bit of the "coaching" job with regard to my ERPs. He has been intentional about trying to get me to hang out in that room with him. So last night we were down there for at least an hour watching T.V. and eating dinner. I was a bit stressed about it though, so after dinner I ate my way through two-thirds of a family sized box of Crunch 'n Munch. Ugh.

I'm also afraid to touch things in the room. I know my husband literally wiped down every single item with a disinfectant wipe, but fear looms large in my mind. A friend of mine loaned me a book quite a while ago and that book has been stored in the basement. Recently, that friend asked that I return the book. I was afraid that the book was contaminated with mouse droppings and that I would jeopardize my health, my husband's health, and my friend's health with this book. I had been putting off mailing this book for months. Last evening, my husband talked me through picking up the book and packing it for shipment. I took the package to the post office today and then afterwards, I ate lunch without washing my hands first! I did cry some last evening, but honestly, these ERPs didn't seem all that bad after all. It was the anticipatory anxiety that was much more painful.

At this point, after all the exposures I have done, I should realize that now I can usually get through my exposures without too much trauma. The more exposures I do, the easier they get. I still have a hard time believing that though. I guess old (anxiety) habits die hard.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Time To Dream

What would you be able to do if your OCD or anxiety improved? Is there something that you've wanted to do, but anxiety is holding you back? Are there any dreams or goals that you've abandoned?

Since starting (and recently completing) CBT therapy, my life has changed drastically for the better. I can use public bathrooms again. Believe it or not, this has really changed my life. When I go out to a restaurant with friends or family, I no longer worry about how much liquid I consume. I can leave the house for an entire day and enjoy my time with loved ones, without feeling the physical discomfort of not being able to use the restroom. I can go places and not worry about having to take another shower when I get home.

I've been able to go swimming in a pool. I'm really looking forward to doing lots of swimming this summer, especially because my gym is building a new outdoor pool. I've been able to bike ride again. I can even do silly things I used to be afraid of, like going on a roller coaster. I've pushed beyond my anxiety to socialize more and be more open about who I really am. I'm enjoying lots of time with great friends. I've been able to take on some new ministries at my church. Perhaps I would have taken on those ministries before anyway, but it sure would have been a lot more stressful and anxiety producing. I rarely re-drive by places anymore, and overall, driving has become a lot less stressful. Though I was previously always afraid to write anything online, I'm even writing a blog now (obviously!). I spend much less time trying to control everything around me, and instead, I try to enjoy everything (and every one) around me.

Essentially, life looks different. Life seems do-able now, where before it just seemed hard and impossible. I just had a great weekend. I biked (and didn't fall!), worked in the yard, hung out with family, attended church services, and went to dinner and a movie with friends. Basically, I did what I wanted to do, not what my anxiety wanted me to do (or not do). What would your life look like with less anxiety? Dream a little. You can use those dreams to motivate you to fight the anxiety.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Finding The Right Kind Of Help

One thing I have heard repeatedly is the difficulty that patients have in finding qualified therapists to treat their anxiety disorders. I am always surprised at how many therapists are not only unqualified to properly treat anxiety, but often, many of them don't even have a basic understanding of the true nature of anxiety. In the Fall of 2009, when I finally decided to deal with my OCD, I was determined to find the right treatment. I was not interested in wasting my money, time, and effort on something less than optimal. I knew I needed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), as it is currently regarded as the best treatment for anxiety issues. I also knew that Boston was the center for a lot of cutting edge OCD treatment. I called a Boston teaching hospital and got connected with a fabulous psychologist, who taught me how to "be my own therapist." I am doing much better overall. I am not cured, but because I have the tools I need to survive, I am able to guide myself through most of my difficulties now. Joy has returned to my life. I want it to return to your life too, if it's being eaten up by anxiety.

One of the best ways to fight anxiety is to do it with great therapeutic help. If you are looking for a psychologist, I highly recommend starting the search for a doctor by calling any teaching hospital or university in your area. Even if the closest of these organizations is not in your immediate area, they may be able to refer you to someone that is closer to you. I also know that some progressive doctors are now starting to use Skype for treatment. What a great way to get top notch treatment without having to leave your house!

The reason I recommend starting with universities and teaching hospitals, is that more than likely these psychologists will be trained in the proper usage of CBT/ERP. I've also listed several different treatment center links below. I cannot vouch for the quality of the care of all of these centers. Some of them I do know are excellent. Some of them I've never heard of before, but thought I would post them here anyway. They are not listed in any particular order. Note: To my international readers - if you look on the side bar there is a link to the OCD Center of LA - they have a page full of international OCD links. I hope you can find help there.

Again, even if these centers are not in your area, they may direct you to someone who is. Keep calling. Don't give up. You are worth the effort. If there's anything I can do to help, please let me know. I'd be glad to at least try. God bless!

McLean Hospital OCD Institute, Belmont, Massachusetts
Bio Behavioral Institute, Great Neck, New York
Houston OCD Program, Houston, Texas
Rogers Memorial Hospital OCD Center, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin
The Gateway Institute, Costa Mesa, California
The Anxiety & Agoraphobia Treatment Center, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania
NeuroBehavioral Institute, Weston, Florida
Stress and Anxiety Services of New Jersey, East Brunswick, New Jersey
Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center, Durham & Chapel Hill, North Carolina
OCD Resource Center of Florida, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

In addition, the OCD Foundation has links to therapists interested in treating OCD. Furthermore, the OCD Foundation has links to the state affiliates of the OCD Foundation. Each of those state affiliates may also be a place to contact for names of good local therapists.

International OCD Foundation

UPDATE: I just visited the International OCD Foundation's website and found a page that had a list of global partners. I thought I would put this link for my international friends.

SECOND UPDATE: I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner, but in the sidebar, under "Online Resources," I have links to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. Both of those organizations have lists of therapists as well.

THIRD UPDATE: FYI - From what I can tell, it looks like the Anxiety Disorders Association of America has changed its name to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. You can find a link to them under "Online Resources" to the right.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Thoughts That Hurt

My previous post spoke of some success I had with riding a bike for the first time in many years. I forced myself to push forward, even though I was very fearful. I felt really good about that. However, in spite of that accomplishment, I was still plagued by many obsessions. These thoughts ran the gamut from just downright silly, to quite frightening. I'm sure the following does not cover every obsession I experienced that day. These are just the ones that I recall.

First, I hate getting sweaty. I always feel so filthy and uncomfortable. I was definitely anxious about sitting down on my car's cloth seats afterwards for fear of contaminating them. Additionally, I was petrified of hurting someone with my bike. I recently heard about an elderly woman in the Boston area who suffered a fractured pelvis due to being hit by a bicyclist. I certainly didn't want to be responsible for that type of an injury.

After I fell and injured my leg, I was also mildly worried about getting MRSA. There is an unfortunate Georgia college student who is now currently fighting for her life, even in spite of having had one leg, one foot, and both of her hands amputated to stop the infection. She was infected with the MRSA bacteria after getting a large gash on her leg. I have to admit, I've been occasionally checking my knee for signs of infection. I was also concerned about the blood dripping down my leg from my injury. I took off my sock and sneaker in order to rinse the blood off of my knee, but then I was concerned about putting my sock and sneaker back on, because I thought they would become contaminated. It was hard for me to put my sneakers on even today, one week later.

I had one last obsession that was quite upsetting. I considered not writing about it all. It's just really hard to admit, because I feel like it makes me look so weird and strange. Frankly, it's humiliating. I know, though, that many others with OCD probably struggle with these types of obsessions as well, so I feel in my heart it is better to share this.

While biking, I was wearing a special little skirt that came with a pair of bike shorts to wear underneath. We were riding at a pretty fast speed at times, and the wind would lift up my skirt. I wasn't concerned about it, though, because I knew I had the special bike shorts on underneath. However, when I got home, I realized that the bike shorts were quite a bit more see-through than I had previously thought. I was horrified. I immediately felt guilty and ashamed. Then the obsessions began. "Oh, no, I'm going to be arrested for indecent exposure! Everybody at church is going to find out and hate me. I'll never be able to show my face in public again. I should have made sure my skirt stayed down. What is wrong with me? I'm such an idiot. I did a really bad thing. I'm a bad person." Over and over again, these thoughts kept repeating in panicky, rapid-fire sequence. I cannot begin to tell you how real these thoughts felt. As recently as a few days ago, I was still unsure if I would be arrested or not. I was so disturbed by this that I immediately started compulsively asking my husband if I would indeed be taken to jail.

Me: Do you think I'll be arrested?
Husband: No.
Me: Are you sure?
Husband: Yes, I'm sure.
Me: Really, are you really sure? I mean, it could happen, right?
Husband: No!

Of course, this was not enough reassurance, so I next called my mom.

Me: Do you think I'll be arrested?
Mom: No!
Me: I don't know . . . are you sure?
Mom: I said, no! Now don't ask me again, because I'm not going to answer you. This is reassurance and I'm not doing it.

I got off of the phone, and to tell you the truth, the reassurance didn't really help all that much. Often times, it doesn't. The only thing that helps is time. Time to cry. Time to get adjusted to the high level of anxiety. Time to see that nothing really is going to happen. Time to let my brain adjust to the thought and realize that it probably is a stupid thought. Time to pray, and to ask the Lord to help me. "Please God, just one more time, save me!"

OCD is hard. Even when you "do" all the right actions and (mostly) fight the compulsions, it's still painful. Moreover, this pain is secret and hidden. Other people would never be able to recognize that all of this was going through my head. I can carry on a complete conversation with someone while these obsessions swirl around my brain. Sigh. I often wonder how much private pain goes on in the lives of those around me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

You CAN Forget How To Ride A Bike

I am about to declare my complete nerd status to the entire world. I have never been known for my physical prowess. I was the kid that always got picked last for teams in gym class. Sitting in a quiet corner while reading a book always seemed more heavenly to me than kicking some ball around.

As I get older, I realize the increasing need to become more physically active. Hence, this weekend I got on a bicycle for only the second time in about 25 years. It was not pretty. I was even given the moniker of "worst bicycle rider in the world" by my husband. He did follow that up though by saying that he still loved me.  : )

I cannot even begin to tell you how frightening it was to get on (and try to stay on) that bike. My heart was pounding insanely while I held on to the handle bars with a vise grip. I was especially anxious when I rode by any pedestrians or other bicyclists on the trail. My biggest fear was that I would hurt someone. At one point, there were two pedestrians walking by, and instead of speeding up to go by them, I slowed down too much, lost my balance, and literally fell at their feet! Pretty humiliating. Even worse, I landed on my knees, severely scraping my left knee. Of course, it just so happens that it is the left knee that had major surgery performed on it about a year and a half ago to remove a very large, benign tumor. I landed right on my scar and it was quite painful.

After my fall, I really, really wanted to turn around and go home. I was sweaty, exhausted, embarrassed, and in pain. My natural inclination is to quit in these types of circumstances and to avoid it altogether in the future. However, I started thinking about all the ERPs I've ever done. Bike riding seemed so scary and terrible at that moment, but honestly, it was nothing in comparison to fighting OCD. I started to remember that every time I do an ERP for the first time, it is incredibly frightening, but then it gets a little easier with each subsequent attempt. I knew I had to keep biking. I didn't want to disappoint my husband. I had been promising him for months that I would join him in bicycling. I didn't want to disappoint myself. Quitting is not an option, either in life or in fighting OCD. The best part, is that when you don't give up, you are usually rewarded with something beautiful at the end. Continuing to fight OCD has given me a much more joyful and meaningful life. Continuing to bike ride led me to a beautiful view off of the trail that I would never have seen had I turned around and gone home.

I really love NH!

Sometimes, we will get bloodied and bruised by doing our ERPs, but we can't give up! What beauty is awaiting you in your life if you continue to fight anxiety?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Blog Follower's Gadget

I know most blogs have the Follower's Gadget added to their home pages. I'd like to add this to my home page as well. I wanted to give notice to any current followers ahead of time, in case they wanted to un-follow (is that even a word?), before their profile pictures showed up on my blog page. If you have any problems with this, please let me know. Yes, I'm probably being OCD about this as I'm sure most people would not double-check first, but hey, I'm still a work in progress!!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Oh My, What A Week!

My little fur-ball got her biopsy last Tuesday. Initially, she seemed to tolerate the procedure quite well. However, two days later she kept visiting her litter box, over and over, which is unusual for her. The next thing I knew, there was blood everywhere. Large amounts of it. It was really scary. I called my husband and he came home from work to drive us to the veterinarian as I was too upset to drive. We discovered that she had a "raging urinary tract infection," to quote my vet. It came on very suddenly, without any prior noticeable symptoms. We started her on antibiotics and this stopped the bleeding in less than 24 hours, but it did not immediately stop the excessive urination.

This whole incident ended up being extremely taxing for me, as it challenged all of my contamination issues. She urinated so much blood on the carpet underneath my kitchen table that I ended up having to throw it away. For days, she urinated all over the house. I tried to keep up with cleaning it, but it was impossible. The house smelled terrible throughout this time period as well. One night, she just wouldn't stop. It was late and I couldn't deal with it anymore. So I literally just walked away. I went upstairs, closed my bedroom door, and went to sleep. I figured I would deal with it all in the morning. You know what? It worked. I got up in the morning and cleaned whatever new 'presents' she left for me. It ended up being fine.

She has finally started urinating normally in her litter box again. The house smells alright today. However, she's vomiting all over the place now. Is it OK if I scream? Last night, I decided to give all the floors a good washing, just to make sure I got all the spots. Not compulsive washing, just a normal, one time, type of washing. While I was on my hands and knees cleaning the hardwood floor in the living room, I turned around and noticed that Anna was vomiting in the hallway. This is starting to get comical. OK, not really. We believe it is the antibiotics, so the vet told me to give her a break from the medicine for about 36 hours to let her tummy calm down. Poor baby.

In any case, it's been a difficult week, but I've made it so far. Yes, my anxiety was ramped up, but not as much as you would think. (Agh, she just threw up while I was typing this!) I'm trying to be mindful, and not let my emotions take control. I'm not thinking about tomorrow, or even later today. It's too overwhelming that way. Slowly but surely, we're making it through this, Anna and I.

I do, however, have really good news. Anna's biopsy came back negative! It was just a cyst, so she does not have cancer! What a great surprise. Thank you all for your well wishes and prayers. It is much appreciated.

Another good note, I just found out that my recent mammogram also came back negative. Ladies, if you're 40 and over, time to schedule those mammograms. If you're under 40, it's recommended to get one mammogram that can be used as a baseline for later. Even if you don't want to do it for yourself, do it for the people who love you. (That's the only reason I did it!)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Children's Mental Health Awareness Week

May 6-12, 2012, is Children's Mental Health Awareness Week. It is so important to remember that little ones also suffer from the affliction of mental illness, like Anxiety Disorders and ADHD, to name a few. Children do not have the ability to express and articulate their suffering and/or their needs as well as adults. It is critical that adults are educated about, and are aware of, the signs and symptoms of illness, so that kids can get appropriate care in a timely fashion.

Me, at age 3
I first displayed some symptoms of anxiety as a 6 month old. I am told that, for some reason, I was unable to keep any food down without vomiting. Thankfully, my pediatrician at the time was quite sharp, and she suggested that I had what she called a "nervous stomach." A few weeks of medication calmed me down enough so that I could keep in my nutrition and stop the cycle. Problem solved.

I recall having my first anxiety attack as a 3 year old. The event is still very clear in my mind to this day. We were eating spaghetti and I spilled my glass of milk. Like any child, I did not want to get in trouble for spilling my milk, but my reaction was completely over the top. I was simply overcome with anxiety and could not stop crying. My mother also recalls this incident, and at the time she was taken aback by how upset I became. My parents kept trying to reassure me that it was alright, but apparently I was a bit inconsolable.

It was during this same time period that an interesting incident occurred at my preschool. My mom came to pick me up, and I was very distressed. Apparently, the staff had rolled me around on the ground to teach me that there was no reason to be afraid of dirt. When my mom saw how disturbed I was by this, she scolded the staff and told them to never do that again! Of course, they actually did the exact right thing. However, my mom had no idea about this, and it angered her to see me so upset by this event.

The truth of the matter is that Anxiety/OCD treatment in the early 1970's was probably not very good. Even if my parents had recognized the signs of mental illness, it most likely would still have gone untreated, or perhaps have been treated in unhelpful ways. However, today, it is a completely different scenario. New treatments are available for a whole range of mental illnesses. Moreover, though stigma regarding mental illness continues to exist, it has certainly improved. Much work still remains to be done in this area, however. We need to talk about mental illness. We need to educate about mental illness. Lastly, we need to protect, care for, and provide treatment to, our littlest and most vulnerable members of society with mental illness.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

But I Wouldn't Look Good In An Orange Jumpsuit!

A souvenir from our trip to D.C.
One of the more bizarre and troublesome obsessions I am plagued with is the thought that I will be falsely accused of a crime and be sent to jail. I have spoken with enough of my fellow OCD sufferers to know that I am not the only one to worry about this. The strange thing about this obsession is that there is absolutely no rational basis for it. I have not committed any crimes, nor have I been falsely accused of any crimes. There is literally no reason that I should be concerned about this. Perhaps I have watched too many television movies?

A few days ago, I visited a jewelry store. I have a hard time visiting jewelry stores by virtue of the fact that all of their products are extremely expensive. I feel like I need to walk around the store with an “innocent” look on my face, just so the staff doesn’t falsely suspect me of anything. I’m not really sure what an “innocent” look is, but I try to wear it! The day after my visit, I was mortified to read in the news that there was a robbery at that same store, roughly forty-five minutes after I had been there. My first thought was, “Oh, no, what if they think I did it?” My next thought was, “Oh no, maybe I did it and I don’t even remember doing it!” I had to take a minute to carefully think through my visit to the store to reassure myself that I did not accidentally rob them. (This “thinking things through” is, of course, a compulsion.) The crazy thing is that deep down, I knew I did not rob them. And yet . . .

Some time back, I was in the mall with a relative. I quickly popped into a store to check a price on an item. I was in and out of the store in literally 10 seconds. I then got the obsessive thought that the staff would think this was weird, and that they would assume I stole something. I was also worried that maybe I did accidentally take the product out of the store with me. I had to ask my relative (this too is a compulsion) if I had taken anything out of the store. Of course, their answer was, “No!” Again, I sort of knew that I hadn’t stolen from the store, but I just couldn’t trust my memory or my senses. The fact that I wasn’t holding the merchandise should have been confirmation that I didn’t take it, but . . .

On and on it goes. Sometimes, the local police will release a still picture of a criminal in the act of stealing something from a store. I always look at these pictures, just to make sure it is not me. I know there is no possible way it could be me, but something in my head always taunts, “You never know, it could be you. Maybe you were at that store. Maybe they think you took something.” So I give in to the compulsion to check. Sigh.

Ah, just another convoluted journey through the OCD mind maze.