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!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Our Thoughts Are Not The Problem

Our thoughts are not the problem. I have to repeat that. Our thoughts are not the problem. You see, our thoughts are normal. Yes, I know you don't believe me. You don't have to. You can believe Aureen Pinto Wagner, Ph.D. I was fortunate enough to attend her workshop at the IOCDF conference this weekend. Her talk was entitled "CBT for Violent/Sexual Thoughts, Scrupulosity, and Just Right OCD in Kids and Teens." Whether you struggle with intrusive thoughts, contamination thoughts, symmetry thoughts, or any combination of them, or other types of thoughts, the truth about our thoughts is still the same. We all have them. People with OCD, people without OCD.

Dr. Wagner cited two different studies that reported that roughly 80-90% of the general population has the same types of thoughts that torment those with OCD. Actually, Dr. Wagner even joked that the other 10% was probably just lying! I don't know about you, but I've heard this statistic before. More than once. However, I missed something truly important about this fact. If everyone has these thoughts, then we are not abnormal for having them. You might want to re-read that last sentence. Our problem is how we respond to them. When a person without OCD has these thoughts, he or she may not even notice or acknowledge them. Or, if he or she notices the thoughts, this person might just think, "Ok, that was a weird thought. Whatever." Then this person can go on with their day because they've given the thought no importance.

Those of us with OCD get into trouble because we notice the thoughts we are having. Not only do we notice them, but we pay attention to them, question them, try to figure them out, and search for their significance. Moreover, they terrify and horrify us. We make all kinds of assumptions (cognitive distortions) about these thoughts. We think, "What kind of horrible human being am I to think like this? What is wrong with me? I must be crazy. I need to do something to change these thoughts." Unfortunately, our attempts to change the thoughts (which can't be done, by the way), make things so much worse. We give terrible importance to these thoughts, and that just reinforces the thoughts and makes them come more often and more strongly.

CBT/ERP helps us to learn how to live with the thoughts so that they don't control us anymore and don't cause us as much pain. The ironic thing, is that after treatment, I get the thoughts less often now. However, we really need to understand that we will still get the thoughts and it is ok. It's alright, because these thoughts are just part of the human condition. We can't expect to never have these thoughts ever again, because that would indeed be abnormal, according to Dr. Wagner. Thoughts are just thoughts. They are only as important as we make them. So you see, we are normal. I guess we just have a hard time being normal!

Now, how does this work when I'm faced with a dirty toilet in a public restroom? The thoughts tell me that it's filthy and I will be a gross person if I touch it. I will admit that I still struggle, even though I'm starting to realize that dirty toilets don't make me a gross person. That is where ERP comes in. Slowly, but surely, ERP is helping me to move from fearing my thought, to simply acknowledging it, and living in spite of it.

So the next time you have a scary thought, of ANY type, you are experiencing what everyone does. The trick is to try to respond normally to it, which is pretty much to ignore it. Harder said than done, I know. With practice it is possible. You can do it. We can do it together.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Another Update

As much as I enjoyed the 2010 conference, I must say that I like this one even better. Maybe I'm just in a better frame of mind. Well, ok, I know I am.

I'm learning quite a bit more than I expected to, which is a great surprise. Over the years I've read so much about OCD that I thought I had a pretty good understanding of it. Guess I didn't know as much as I thought I did. That will teach me!

This morning we were treated to a great keynote speech by Elizabeth Woolcock. Her story proves that one can be utterly disabled and tortured by OCD, and yet it is possible to return to a healthy, fulfilling, and productive life. She is a very inspiring woman.

For those of you who may be interested, I heard a rumor that some of the slides from the different workshops will be put on the International OCD Foundation's website. I have a link to the IOCDF on the right under online resources. You may want to check this over the next several days or weeks.

Until we meet again!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Second Day In Chicago

What a great (and long) day! Probably my favorite part was the scrupulosity support group I attended this evening. I literally wept tears of relief when I heard what the group leader had to say about my issues concerning spiritual perfection and the whole "mental illness vs. spiritual failing" controversy plaguing many Christians with OCD. You can be sure I will write more about this very soon.

We topped the day off by stopping at Rick Bayless' restaurant, Xoco, to pick up one of the most indulgent cups of hot chocolate I have ever had. Xoco has the coco beans delivered straight to the restaurant, where they grind them on premises. Wow. Even though it's hot and humid here, I just couldn't resist. Yum!

Conference Update

I am doing much better today. Last night was rough, but I believe it was a combination of fatigue, being in a new environment, and forgetting to take my medication on Wednesday. Oops.

I have surprised myself at how many formerly "contaminated" items I've been able to touch in the hotel room. Also, many times in the past I would buy travel size toiletries to take with me on trips, so that I could throw them out and not have to bring them home. This time, I brought items that I will not throw away, including all of my makeup. The best part is that I've come so far, that the obsessions about my makeup being dirty did not really concern me. I'm choosing to ignore them.

The conference is going really well. I'm learning some wonderful new information. Not only that, but I bought five new books and I can't wait to get started on them. I'll be sure to let you know about any especially helpful books.

I hope you are all having a wonderful day too. God bless!

First Day In Chicago

We had a pretty good day. We had a great lunch, then walked the Magnificent Mile. It was really hot and humid though. Nighttime was when it got rough for me.

We decided to go to the movies. Unfortunately, it was very dark when we chose our seats. What I didn't realize was that the material on my seat was completely ripped off, and I was sitting on exposed cushion. Part way through the movie, I could tell something was wrong with my seat. I was very concerned about contamination and bed bugs. I felt itchy through the whole movie, and I kept my feet elevated from the floor because I was just sure I could feel something moving around down there. I know it was all in my head. It's been a while since I felt this amped up from anxiety.

The other thing that made it hard was that we went to go see the Batman movie. Every time the theater door opened it made me really jumpy, because I kept thinking about what happened to those poor people in Colorado. Sigh. I never want to let some criminal make me change the way I live, so I'm still glad I went. I just wish it had not bothered me.

The final thing was when I returned to my room this evening, only to find that I lost the key to my luggage lock. Thankfully the Engineering Department had giant bolt cutters, so a nice hotel employee helped me break the lock open.

Every time I start thinking that OCD really isn't that much of a problem for me anymore, well, life teaches me a little lesson. I'm glad I'm here at the conference. I guess I still really need it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Safe Arrival In The Land Of Deep Dish Pizza

The flight is only 2 1/2 hours from NH. The flight was a little bumpy but thankfully we arrived ahead of some forecasted thunderstorms. As is usual, I've already encountered a few ERP's. We had to take our shoes off at security at the Manchester Airport. I was wearing flip flops, so I had to walk around barefoot. Yucky! My husband said, "How fitting, considering where we are going." Uh huh. Then, in the bathroom at Midway, there was a cleaning lady pushing a mop all around me while I was washing my hands at the sink. You can bet I kept the movement of that mop in my peripheral vision the entire time! But hey, that's life, I guess! We're now on the El, on the way to check into our hotel. I'm a little anxious about bed bugs. That is to be expected though. Until later!

Please excuse the messy formatting. It's a bit difficult typing this from my phone.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Off To The 19th Annual International OCD Foundation Conference

Tomorrow morning, we're headed off bright and early to the Windy City to enjoy a weekend of connecting with those who struggle with OCD, their families and friends, and many wonderful researchers, doctors, and therapists who treat this mental illness. I believe there is strength in numbers, and the annual conference is a great way to meet others who are like minded in fighting the difficulties of living with this terrible anxiety disorder. It is also a chance for supportive loved ones, like my husband, to learn more about the nature of OCD and current cutting edge treatment.

This is not my first conference, as I attended a previous conference in D.C., in July of 2010. However, this will be my husband's first conference. Several weeks ago, my husband confessed to me that he wondered if the conference would begin with a musical dance number, with the singers doing a cover song and replacing the words of Lady Gaga's hit, from "I'm on the edge . . . of glory" to "I'm on the edge . . . of worry." I, of course, had to remind him that this was not the Off, Off Broadway show, "Neuroses." Oh, brother. Silly, silly man.

Musical dance numbers notwithstanding, I'm really looking forward to attending many different workshops, and sharing any new-found knowledge with you through this blog. My husband has sweetly offered to be my "secretary," so he will take notes at the workshops that I am not able to attend. I can't wait to meet the many medical professionals who have dedicated their working lives to advancing the treatment of OCD and the OCD spectrum disorders. I'm also excited about meeting some of the most courageous and brave people I've ever had the privilege of knowing - other OCD sufferers.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I'm Not Really A Doctor, I Just Wash My Hands Like One

"You wash your hands like a doctor." Um, I didn't really know how to respond when someone said that to me in the ladies' room at church this morning. So, I unfortunately did what came naturally. I lied. I made up some lame excuse about how I had a stain on my hands that I was trying to get off. Nice. I hate lying. I know God doesn't like it either. I suppose it doesn't make a difference if I lie at the church building or not. Somehow though, that just seems worse. Like I should expect to be hit by a lightning bolt or something.

Honestly, if I was in the same situation again, I think I would lie again. Well, ok, I know I would. I mean, it's not like I'm going to say to a complete stranger, "Oh, well you see, I actually have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and I struggle with contamination issues, so yes, I guess you could say I wash my hands like a doctor." Calling real doctors in white coats!

I guess the only remedy to this situation and to stop the lying, is to stop washing my hands like a doctor. A little easier said than done.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

$11,922.95!

That was the number that greeted me when I opened the bill from the hospital where my husband gets infusions for his Inflammatory Bowel Disease. I'll admit, my heart lurched a little when I first saw that large number. However, I quickly understood that the bill was sent to us in error. In the past, though, that realization would not have calmed me down. I would have become sick with anxiety. I would have called my husband in a panic, causing him to stress out as well. What I've discovered is that panic is pretty useless to me. In fact, it's quite damaging. All it does is upset me and everyone else around me.

Thanks to CBT, I have learned to have much better control over my anxiety. I feel like I have retrained my body to deal with the adrenaline surge that accompanies panic. CBT has also taught me to have greater awareness of my cognitive distortions. It is easier now for me to counteract the thoughts of, "We'll run out of money, and we'll never be able to eat again, or we're going to lose our house, or, or, or, or . . ."

In addition, I'm learning to live with uncertainty, hard as that is. When I called the hospital to straighten out the bill, to my disappointment, I did not get a definitive answer about why the bill was messed up. I will have to wait to see if the bill is properly taken care of. In retrospect, I'm glad I will have to wait. This is a further exercise in uncertainty. It is another opportunity to trust God and to know that He is in control. In the past, this waiting would have been agonizing for me. I now see this as a training ground for better mental health.

I have no reassurance that this particular bill will be worked out. I could end up owing all of it to the hospital. I may end up having to make payments to the hospital for the rest of my life to cover all of my husband's future medical bills! Then again, I may not. The thing is, I just don't know. I don't know about the bad things that may happen, and I sure don't know about the good things that may happen either. I'm choosing to concentrate on the things I am certain of. Today, I have the tools to fight my anxiety. Today, I have a roof over my head, food in my stomach, clothes on my back, a cat I can cuddle, a family who loves me, and a God who's crazy about me (and you!). I guess you could say that today, I have everything.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Possibly The Lamest ERP Ever

A common concern for lots of people, not just those of us with OCD, is the fear of what other people think. For many, these fears hit their peak in the teen years. However, some people, like me, continue to take this to the next level. In particular, anxiety sufferers seem to be especially vulnerable, at least from what I have seen. For much of my life, I have existed behind a type of veil that I constructed to keep the real me safe from the criticisms of those around me. Through CBT, I have learned to become more confidant with who I am, what I stand for, and what my preferences are. I don't want to give you the impression that I move throughout my day imposing my personal taste on others, but I am more comfortable sharing my opinion these days.


video

Recently, I purchased beautiful bamboo wind chimes. I love wind chimes. I find them to be soothing and the musical notes bring a smile to my face. The other night, while lying in bed, I could hear the wind chimes. Instantly, I was overwhelmed with a terrible dread and anxiety about the noise that they were making. I became consumed with the idea that my neighbors would be kept up by the noise and that they would all be very angry with me because of it. It is very important to me that I'm viewed as a nice and kind person. A "good girl" if you will. I cannot begin to explain how deep-seated and long standing this fear is.

Thankfully, due to my previous CBT training, it only took about a minute for me to realize what my panic was all about. It was then that I understood that I absolutely, without a doubt, had to leave the wind chimes in place. This is probably one of the more silly ERPs I've ever done, but, I believe it is necessary for my greater mental health. It does not matter what my neighbors think. It does not matter if they consider me obnoxious or inconsiderate. Unless, and until, a neighbor knocks on my door and requests that I remove the wind chimes, they will stay in place forevermore. Well, at least until the beginning of winter.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Nursing Home Visit

Today, my mother and I visited my 100 year old grandmother at the nursing home. Of course, this was difficult because of my contamination issues. I hate touching anything there. My grandma's fingernails were very dirty, and to be honest, this really grosses me out. Basically, I just used one hand to touch everything and I used the other hand to hold my wallet. I'm sure I looked goofy.

Though she no longer knows us because of her Alzheimer's Disease, when my "memere" saw me, her eyes got big and sparkly. She speaks very little now, but it is amazing what you can tell when you look at her face. Today was one of the days when she was more alert, and we were able to read a whole host of emotions on her face. It was hard, but I let her hold my hand because she seemed to want to do it so badly. While holding my hand, she kept caressing it and examining it. I know she didn't know exactly who I was, but both my mother and I agreed that she seemed to know I was someone she loved. The best part was when my mom showed her an old picture of me and she kissed it.

I did wash my hands in the bathroom before we left the nursing home. The funniest part of this visit was when my mom offered to turn on the water faucet for me so I wouldn't have to touch it myself. I had to remind my mom that that would have been enabling!! This is funny because my mother has been one of my stronger non-enablers throughout my recovery. Oh well, I guess I can allow her a slip up now and then. Ha ha.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Diagnosis, Part 1

“So, what brings you back here today?” “OCD,” I said.

It was August of 1996, and my world had come to a crashing halt, for the first time. My hands and wrists (including halfway up to my elbows) were raw and red. They hurt from the excessive daily washing. I knew I needed help. Doing any type of housework was a nightmare. I couldn’t go near clean laundry, as I was convinced it would become contaminated from my touch. To the best of my recollection, that was also the year that Compulsive Skin Picking weaved its tentacles into my life. Bleeding and significant pain from the picking did not seem to be enough of a reason to stop.

Several evenings throughout that summer, my husband would return home from work to find me sitting in the middle of the kitchen, sobbing and surrounded by chaos. The laundry would need washing, the dishes would be stacked in the sink, and clutter would be scattered throughout the house. I was completely paralyzed and overwhelmed. My husband would help me calm down and get the house back in order. Daily living became so hard. There were times that I seriously questioned whether I was losing my sanity.

Even my part-time secretarial job was suffering under the strain of OCD. Many hours were spent just listening to the dictation, over and over again, double and triple checking, to find any words that might have been missed. "You’re not the same person anymore," a close friend and co-worker told me one day. She was right. I wasn’t the same. I never would be the same again.

Somehow, I knew about OCD. I have no recall as to the source of that information. It was just an illness I was aware of. Suddenly, I was aware that I had it. I diagnosed myself.

The internet had only in the last couple of years prior found its way into our home. It would prove to be a valuable well of information on OCD during the late Summer and Fall of 1996. I spent hours scouring the “World Wide Web” for clues to this strange illness. Shocked is the only way I can describe myself when I read that other people suffered from Hit and Run OCD. I remember thinking, “Really? Could that possibly be true? Other people also think that when they’ve hit a bump in the road that it was actually a body? That is such a random worry and yet, it’s common?” I also came across a residential treatment center at the McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. Secretly, I longed to receive treatment there because I thought it might give me the best chance at recovery. Still, it seemed like a scary place.

The internet also introduced me to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Reading about the techniques of Exposure and Response Prevention scared me to no end. I determined that I could not seek that type of treatment, as it seemed there was no way I could fulfill the requirements of ERP.

I did what I thought was the next best thing. I made an appointment with the same therapist who had helped us years earlier with some very serious marital issues. At that time, she had also diagnosed me with GAD. So there my husband and I sat in her office, with her wondering why we decided to see her again. The memories from that period are somewhat foggy. I was consumed with anxiety and depression. I do specifically remember, however, that in response to my self-diagnosis of OCD, the therapist said, “Well, I don’t know very much about OCD, but I can try to work with you on it if you like.” Deep down, I knew this was not the right answer, but fear kept me from pursuing the proper treatment. I hoped that CBT and ERP weren’t really all that necessary and that talk therapy would still help me get a handle on the craziness that had descended upon my world. Years later, I would deeply regret that decision.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Unintentional ERPs

We've been having problems with our garage door opener not working properly. Yesterday, the repairman came and fixed it. The only issue is that he touched our garage door opener with very dirty (visibly dirty) hands. I have been avoiding touching it since then. When my husband found out about it this afternoon, he touched it, then rubbed his hands on his face, and then put his hand on my shoulder. I have since touched it too. It didn't kill me.

This afternoon we did a little shopping. When we pulled into a parking lot, we noticed that there were several men gathered around an open sewer cover, doing some sort of work. I, of course, got instantly anxious about this, and mentioned that I was concerned that something would blow out of the sewer and all over our car. My husband mentioned that it was too bad there were no closer parking spaces next to the open sewer, because he would have moved our car over there. He did do the next best thing, however. When we came out of the store, he put his arm around my shoulder and led me next to the men and the open sewer. We must have looked pretty funny, because my husband was slightly pushing me next to the sewer and I was slightly pushing him back to get away from the sewer.

Also, there was water around the parking lot close to the sewer and we had to walk near it to get to our car. Of course, I was wearing flip-flops. In the end, we walked by, nothing shot out at us, and we got in our car and drove home. I'm starting to think that my hubby is taking this CBT coaching thing a little too seriously. : )

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Depending On God's Grace

The Bible: God's Love Letter To Us
What is the difference between scrupulosity and a real, genuine relationship with God? Sometimes, I just don't know, and it can be very painful and frustrating. I really want to follow God, and more importantly, I want to please Him. I get confused though, especially when I read Bible verses, such as Matthew 5:48:
"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." NIV
Now, I need to be very clear. No one would ever confuse me for a Bible scholar or a theologian. I don't read my Bible nearly as often as I should, so that may be the cause of my confusion. Maybe I'm just misinterpreting the Bible.

In any case, I struggle with verses like this. Perfection has been my enemy. At times, the pursuit of perfection has made me so very ill that I almost could not function at all. I truly do not know how to respond to Matthew 5:48. I want to do the right things in all circumstances. I also know it is impossible. I'm human, and I sin (behavior that offends and separates us from God).

I decided to look this verse up in the Matthew Henry Commentary. Henry explains this verse by stating:
"Which may be understood, 1. In general including all those things wherein we must be followers of God as dear children. Note, it is the duty of Christians to desire, and aim at, and press toward a perfection in grace and holiness, Phil. 3:12-14. And therein we must study to conform ourselves to the example of our heavenly Father, 1 Pt. 1:15, 16. Or, 2. In this particular before mentioned, of doing good to our enemies; see Lu. 6:36. It is God's perfection to forgive injuries and to entertain strangers, and to do good to the evil and unthankful, and it will be ours to be like him. We that owe so much, that owe our all, to the divine bounty, ought to copy it out as well we can." Pg. 1635
The problem is that when I aim at and press toward a perfection, I don't know how to do it in a healthy, non-OCD way. Whenever I miss the mark, and I do all the time, I tend to be really cruel towards myself. Somehow, I get the feeling though, that is not the response God is looking for. I've written previously about my struggles with guilt. A bit of initial guilt, when I've done something wrong, is useful, but beyond that, it's just a hindrance to living the type of life I want to live for Him.

Because I just don't know what else to do, I've decided to focus on God's grace and forgiveness. I don't use this as a license to do whatever I want, but when I make mistakes, I've decided to believe that God does indeed forgive me, if I ask Him. Even at this moment, I wonder if I'm making a mistake writing this. I have a terrible fear of misleading people when it comes to a relationship with God. Maybe I'm saying the wrong things about the Bible right now. Nevertheless, I'm trusting that God's grace is sufficient to cover anything I might mess up.

You know, I wonder if that's why Matthew 5:48 is in the Bible. God knows we can never be perfect. Maybe He's just trying to remind us of that, and of the fact that His grace can overcome that too.