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, June 28, 2012

Who's Afraid Of A Little Light Switch?

Recently, my good blogging friend Tina, over at Bringing Along OCD, wrote a post that described her difficulties with touching compulsions. One of these compulsions included light switches. Over the years, I have also had struggles with light switches. In particular, I really fear leaving a light switch half on/half off. I am afraid of this because I believe that a switch in that position will cause an electrical fire, burning the building down.

I'm not sure if certain things happen to me because I am simply more aware of them, or if sometimes I am just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe these things just seem like they happen to me more than they happen to other people. I really don't know.

A few years ago, my husband and I stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast. We were having a good time, but as usual, my OCD continued to mess with my head. This bed and breakfast has a really fun game room in the basement. The only thing about this room though, is that the staff asks you to turn off all of the lights if you are the last person in that room at night. I hate being the last person in the room. I don't want to be responsible for this kind of stuff. It sends my anxiety skyrocketing. What if I do something wrong?

One night my husband and I were the last people in the room. I had had a lot of anticipatory anxiety about the end of the night, as I knew it would be up to us to shut everything down. When the time came for bed, we turned off all of the lights. We were walking up the stairs and there was just one more light switch at the top of the stairs that we had to turn off. My husband flipped the switch, but his hand partially missed it. Unfortunately, the light switch got caught in a half on/half off position. My husband and I literally heard a crackle of electricity from the switch to the overhead light bulb. I screamed at my husband to hurry up and turn the switch off all of the way. I thought I would die. This was so upsetting to me that I felt like I was going to vomit. I was just sure that the old house would go up in flames, killing everyone in their sleep.

My husband went up to bed, but of course, there was no way I could sleep. I grabbed a book and kept an agonizing vigil in that basement room for quite a while. I had to make sure there was no fire. I eventually moved up to our room, but again, sleep was impossible. There was a large walk-in closet attached to our room, so I grabbed a chair and sat in that closet most of the night, reading my book. I felt that it would be irresponsible for me to sleep that evening and I had to make sure everyone was safe. It was tormenting.

The next morning, I quickly told the staff about what happened. They put a note on the light switch saying not to use it and they called an electrician who planned to come by later to look at it.

I was so afraid that I would hear about this place burning down in the days to come, but it never happened. In fact, the following year, we visited this same bed and breakfast again. Everything was fine. There had been no fire and they did not sue us for damages (I was very afraid of that too).

In fact, everything turned out fine. It did not feel alright during that weekend, however. In fact, OCD ruined our weekend. I was a walking tangle of anxiety when we left there. I was also angry at my husband, because I felt the situation had been all his fault. Of course, I realize now, it was just a human type of thing. His hand slipped. No big deal. However, when you have OCD and your anxiety is ramped up to the point that you feel like your head will explode, you tend to get angry and blame whatever you think is the cause of your pain.

I still occasionally worry about light switches. I continue to be careful to make sure that any switch is fully turned on or fully turned off because I don't ever want to go through that nightmare again. The interesting thing, though, is that my worst case scenario occurred, and it still ended up being alright. Hmmmm.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mixed Bag

Today, I accompanied my husband into Boston for his bi-monthly infusion. The appointment went very well and my hubby is feeling great. As usual, I did have a few little OCD issues. The first one was when we were crossing the street from the parking garage to the medical center. Instead of pressing the walk button with my finger, I sort of used my knuckle, so I would not contaminate my hands. I did it without even thinking. A lot of compulsions become habit after a while. Once I realized what I did, I should have gone back and touched the crosswalk button. I didn't.

On the plus side, I did use the bathroom at the hospital right away in the morning. This is helpful because it takes the anticipatory anxiety out of using the restroom if I use it immediately, instead of avoiding it until later in the day. Unfortunately, I did visit the restroom for an OCD reason. Let's just say it was a stupid reason, involving compulsive skin picking. Enough said.

One of the more upsetting and confusing issues for me is what to eat in the Hematology and Oncology Medical Center. As a visitor accompanying a patient, I am allowed to bring food in for myself. I favor snacks with peanuts. I also worry obsessively about sending someone with a peanut allergy into anaphylactic shock should they come into contact with my peanuts. When I went to go purchase the food, I was really torn about what to do. Additionally, I was concerned that if I didn't buy something with nuts that I was just giving in to my OCD. My fear ended up winning, though. I just couldn't risk giving someone a problem. After all the back and forth in my mind about the nuts, it turned out that the only place I could buy food was in another building and I decided to skip the snack altogether.

I wore flip-flops again, and wouldn't you know, there was torrential rain. Of course! My feet got very wet on our way back to the car after the infusion. Not only that, but when I was crossing the street, my flip-flop went flying a few feet in front of me and I had to walk with one bare foot on the wet pavement to grab it. My poor husband thought I was going to get hit by a bus because I was concentrating on my footwear and not on the traffic. I put my flip-flop back on though, and did not wash when I got home.

I also had to drive home in the rain, which was a bit difficult and anxiety producing. I did ask my husband a Hit and Run OCD reassurance question, but that was the only real issue. Other than that, the drive was non-eventful.

When I got home, I went down to the basement all by myself and ate my lunch. There was just a little anxiety about that, so obviously forcing myself to go down there all the time is really working.

Lastly, in the early evening, I noticed that the driveway sealing company I called had left an estimate for me in between my screen door and the front door. OK, I admit that I picked up the estimate with plastic sandwich bags. Not so good. However, I touched the screen door handle without bags or without washing my hands afterwards. That was good.

Today was a bit of a mixed bag. Then again, I guess most days are. Onward and forward!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

One Minute In Time - Part Two

It is true that one minute in time can be life changing. Generally, I'm drawn to think about all the negative things that can happen in one minute. However, some of the comments to my previous post got me thinking. Life is filled with wonderful things too. I so want to focus on the good in life. There really is a lot of good, in spite of living with an anxiety disorder.

One minute I'm not a parent, the next minute, I'm a mom. One minute, I'm not a college graduate, the next minute I'm holding a degree. One minute, I'm a single woman, the next minute I'm married. One minute my husband is unemployed, the next minute he has a great new job. One minute, I have no direction for my life, the next minute I'm following Jesus. One minute, I'm not a pet owner, the next minute I'm the proud mama of a fluffy kitty. One minute, I'm deep in the pit of anxiety, the next minute I realize I might actually be starting to get better.

One minute. Life can also change for the better.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

One Minute In Time

One minute. That is all it takes. Then your life is completely different. There is a before, and then there is an after, where nothing is ever the same. Have you ever had something happen that was so life altering that you have a before and an after? I have. The fact that life can be completely normal one minute, and totally upside down the next, has viciously fueled my OCD. I have spent hours upon hours trying to control everything around me to prevent another "after" from ever happening again.

Often, I will read in the news about terrible car accidents in which people die or are seriously injured. At times, these accidents occur even when the driver has done nothing wrong. They are just true accidents. Whenever I hear of these incidents, I can't help but feel immense pain and anguish for the drivers. Certainly, they (and of course, their passengers and their families) have entered a time of "after." Often, just reading about these stories will cause a spike in my anxiety level.

Why do I connect so much with these drivers? I guess you could say that I project my own feelings onto the drivers that I read about. Even though I've never actually been involved in an accident like that, I have at times convinced myself that I have caused such an accident, and I've experienced the guilt of having done so. That's how illogical Hit and Run OCD is. I've felt the guilt for no reason based in reality.

These days, when I hear about these types of sad stories, I realize I need to think differently about them. Rather than letting these events send me into an OCD frenzy, I think I can instead use them to learn a few things.

First, it is impossible to prevent all the incidents that can catapult me into a life of "after." Oh, I can send myself into an obsessive compulsive craze trying to prevent them, but that is useless. I absolutely have to accept that I cannot control everything. Uncertainty is simply a part of living. There is no way around that fact. I may very well cause a terrible car accident someday. Then again, I may not. I desperately hope I do not, but beyond being a careful and attentive driver, there is not much else I can do to prevent something like that from happening. (When I refer to careful and attentive, I mean in a healthy, non-compulsive way.)

Second, I also have to accept that good things happen all the time too. It is just a real struggle for me to focus on good things and I have to work at it constantly. I shouldn't always assume that a horrible thing will happen.

Third, the realization that these types of painful events occur should encourage me to appreciate this moment. I may never again have an "after" type of event in my life. If I spend my whole life obsessing and planning and thinking about something that never happens, it will have been for nothing. Even if an "after" event does happen to me again, I still would have wasted much time in unsuccessfully trying to prevent it. In either case, it's a losing proposition. 

I need to focus on this day, right now, instead of on something that may never occur.  Really, what other choice do I have?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Got Guilt?

If you have OCD, odds are you’ve got lots of guilt. A soul crunching, mind-numbing, stomach twisting, bring-you-to-your-knees type of guilt. I’m well acquainted with this sick feeling. For many years, guilt was one of my closest companions. It taunted me at night. It followed me throughout the day, whispering it’s cruel accusations in my mind. “You’re a horrible person! What kind of Christian are you? You say you love Jesus?! Ha! You’re a joke. If everyone else finds out what you are, you’ll be abandoned and unloved, just like you deserve to be! Even God Himself must be disgusted by you.”

I would feel guilty about everything and anything. Maybe I was a little abrupt with the cashier at the store. Afterwards I would be tormented by thoughts like, “What if she’s deeply depressed? What if what I said is the very last straw and she kills herself? It’s all my fault!” One time, I was less than friendly with someone on the phone. I was so incredibly racked by guilt afterwards that I vomited. Oh, I don’t mean a little polite up-chuck. I mean, I vomited so violently that I was literally unable to breathe because I couldn’t stop heaving long enough to take a breath. It scared me.

I have mostly struggled with guilt when it comes to being a mom. Ann’s post about her sister got me thinking about my role as a parent. Being a mom with a mental illness is not exactly what most young ladies dream about becoming. It was my reality though, and it was my child’s reality. There are things I certainly could not control, like the fact that I had OCD. There were some things I could have controlled, like trying harder to get help, and doing what I needed to get better. I have terrible regrets about not working hard enough to improve my mental health. I can say though, that I actually don’t have too much guilt about it anymore. That’s not because I’ve convinced myself that it was no big deal. It was a big deal. It always will be a big deal and I sure wish I could change my past. It’s just that I finally understand that guilt is an often useless emotion.

Don’t get me wrong. As someone who follows God, I do believe guilt has its place. If I’ve truly done something wrong, then it’s probably a good thing that I feel some guilt about it. Of course, the guilt is only useful for making me aware I’ve done something wrong and in motivating me to change my behavior. However, someone with OCD has guilt that is so disproportionate to the level of their behavior that it can be paralyzing. Not only that, but there are times when a person with an anxiety disorder will feel guilt about imagined things. I can’t tell you how many times I have felt (and still occasionally do feel) deep guilt about something, only to be told that I didn’t even do anything wrong at all!

So how did I get over this horrible guilt? By finally believing my psychologist. It was as simple as that. Crazy, huh? She kept repeating, over and over again, that guilt changed absolutely nothing. Guilt was only serving to keep me ill. It was tying me down in such a way that I simply could not move forward with my life. Eventually, I made the conscious decision to let myself off the hook, despite the fact that I didn’t think I deserved it. Actually, I knew I didn't deserve it, but that was no longer the point. I had too much healing left to do and the guilt was blocking my recovery. I could think of no better way to honor my loved ones and to make up for the past, than with my recovery. I realized that even though my child was grown and out of the house, I continued to be a parent. I still had lessons to impart. The most important one being that change is possible and that we don’t have to be chained to who we were.

Monday, June 11, 2012

I'm Really Not Addicted to Therapy

But . . . I do find therapy very helpful for my life. Though I have completed CBT with my therapist, my husband and I have started seeing another psychologist who specializes in working with couples with anxiety disorder issues. This psychologist is also located in Boston and she was recommended by my therapist.

Boston: Lots of History & Cutting Edge Treatment
We decided to start seeing her as there is a lot of "collateral damage" so to speak, caused by our having to live with my OCD for so many years. Next month, we will officially celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. It is important to note, though, that the last 16 years of our marriage have been significantly impacted by my struggles with anxiety. Though I'm greatly improved now, my husband and I currently have a way of relating to each other that still caters to the demands of anxiety. This psychologist is helping my husband to stand his ground with me when it comes to compulsions, and to learn how to be a more effective ERP coach for me. Moreover, I think this therapy has helped my husband to feel less guilt about having some "normal" expectations of me. He has always treated me very gently, which is great, but it has made it easier for me to give in and avoid my issues. I have also found this therapy to be a great step-down from my previous therapy. We only see this psychologist every 2 or 3 weeks, and this will not be a long term therapy.

I have to admit that I feel a little weird about doing therapy once more. Lots of people live their lives without ever having to visit a psychologist. I was also a bit worried what people would think about me seeking therapy again. I've come to realize however, that it really doesn't matter what other people think. The reality is that when a person has a serious mental illness, it becomes a problem for both people in the marriage. It takes a great toll on the relationship. I would rather admit that I have an issue and deal with it, than continue to limp along and just survive.

We are already seeing some of the benefits of this therapy. Working together to fight the OCD and to improve our marriage is probably the best gift we could give each other for our anniversary.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hit and Run OCD Wins One

Today, I battled against my arch-enemy, Hit and Run OCD. Unfortunately, Hit and Run OCD won this little skirmish.

I had to drive downtown to take care of some business. As I parked my car, I scraped both passenger side tires against the curb. (Please, no jokes about female drivers!)

Mistake #1: After I parked my car, I told myself that I would check the curb for dead or injured pedestrians when I came back to my car after I completed my business. Uh, big no-no. I should never have reassured myself by making plans to check the curb later.

Mistake #2: After I returned to my car and drove away, I suddenly remembered that I had never checked the curb. For some strange reason, I decided that I needed to keep my "promise" to myself to check the curb. If I had not made that promise to myself, I probably would not have felt the need to return to the curb.

Mistake #3: I actually drove around the block and went back to check the curb. Another big no-no. Every time I complete a compulsion, I am actually reinforcing it in my brain, making it harder to resist future compulsions. Grrrrr. I KNOW better. Oh, and do you think there was a dead or injured pedestrian laying by the curb? Should I even bother to answer this question?

Mistake #4: This actually has nothing to do with Hit and Run OCD. It is a contamination issue, however. As I was walking into City Hall this morning, I noticed a gentleman (I assume he was an employee) pushing a large garbage can through the entry doors. Of course, the garbage can rubbed up against the door and the door handle. This happened right in front of me, so I got a really good view of it. I should have purposely grabbed the door handle. I didn't. In fact, when I later left the building, I made sure to avoid touching any spots that may have hit the garbage can. Again, every time I perform a compulsion (including avoidance), I make it harder for my long term recovery.

Some days you win, some days you lose. Thankfully, God's mercies (and His care, comfort and strength) are new every day. He reminded me of that by blessing me with a beautiful rainbow this evening.

Lamentations 3:22-23

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Where Do I Put My Trust?

In addition to OCD, I also struggle from GAD. While the worries that accompany OCD are very often irrational, GAD is marked by worries that are generally based in reality, though they commonly are distorted and exaggerated.

One of the big things that really affected my anxiety symptoms was the economic woes of the last 4 or 5 years. Particularly, in the Fall of 2008, my husband and I were hit with some setbacks. We experienced some significant financial losses. Even with those losses, we were alright. There was never any question of whether we could pay our bills or keep food on the table. We were never in "trouble." We were, however, faced with having to make some changes with regard to our financial plans.

I was struck with deep anxiety about what the future held. Moreover, I was, at the time, pursuing a degree in Accounting/Finance. Many of my homework assignments were to read news articles about the economy and to write reports about them. These assignments forced me to analyze and think about the failing economy day after day. This only intensified my fear.

I had been a long time follower of Christ. My trust should have been in Him alone. Unfortunately, I discovered that a lot of my security actually rested in material things, rather than in my Lord. This stress led to an exacerbation of my anxiety symptoms. Of course, the vast majority of my anxiety symptoms pre-dated 2008. However, I believe this fear and panic partly encouraged my illnesses to worsen at an accelerated pace, until I experienced a near break-down in the Fall of 2009.

During that Fall, I was so very sick and so very angry at God. I felt completely alone, and utterly abandoned. I realize now that was not true, but it certainly felt that way. By December of 2009, I slowly began to work my way to recovery through my therapy. I was still angry at God for several months. I told family members I didn't want to pray with them because I felt it was useless. I even considered permanently walking away from my faith. Thankfully, my family did not listen, and they continued to pray for me. I reached out to someone on staff at my church and he helped me to see God's goodness through my pain and my tears. Finally, after much soul searching, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to follow God, in spite of my struggles. I did not understand what was happening in my life, and it hurt so badly, but I just knew I could not walk away from Him. In my heart, I renewed my commitment to follow Him regardless of my circumstances.

That was a little over two years ago. A tremendous amount has happened in my life since then. I have recovered much of my health. My marriage is stronger than ever. My trust in my Savior has grown. I was very humbled by my mental illnesses, and though that was unbelievably painful, I learned a lot from it, including how desperately I need God. I've been given a new purpose in life. Material things can never provide me with the security I'm looking for. Trust is still a struggle for me, but at least I recognize it now. I'm choosing to trust, even though I don't necessarily feel it. I often have to keep reminding myself to trust, and that monetary security is just an illusion.

Some years ago, I remember reading the following example. I really wish I could recall where it came from because it is so beautiful and has meant so much to me (it may have been Corrie Ten Boom who wrote this). Basically, the author told us to think about a tapestry. On the unfinished side of the tapestry, it's a big mess. There is thread going every which way and it can be difficult to make out the picture. However, right side up, the tapestry is a thing of beauty. Our lives are like that tapestry. We only see the unfinished side. God sees the beauty of the finished work. My life is that tapestry. Your life is that tapestry.