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!

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.

21 comments:

  1. I resonate with the sense of regret. The therapist who I was seeing for depression and anxiety diagnosed me with OCD, but didn't know much about treating it, and I spent 6 years in therapy. My depression lifted, and I changed much of my life, but my OCD was still there, and even though I'd found the IOCDF, and read the newsletter, and learned about ERP. I didn't think it could help my mental obsessions or health anxiety. It took a melt down and lots of suffering to finally find an ERP therapist.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so sorry for all that you've suffered. I see that we do have similar stories. It's a sad one though, isn't it? About a year ago I went to the monthly lecture series on OCD at McLean Hospital. Dr. Michael Jenike (he's so awesome for so many reasons) was the speaker that month. He said that in his experience, most patients wait to try CBT/ERP until their life is so bad that they just can't live like that anymore. Yep, that described me perfectly.

      Delete
  2. THIS is exactly where I am at right now. I read this, and maybe a few slight details are different, but I am exactly like this right now. I don't feel like I could handle any of that treatment, but I know I need it. I look forward to reading more and possibly knowing if you could change it all, how you would do it instead. I'm so sorry you had to go through this. I hate for anyone to ever have to feel this way!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your support, Cara. Well, I'm certainly sorry that YOU have to go through this too. OCD really is terrible.

      I cannot encourage you enough to try CBT/ERP right now. I know, I know, I KNOW how terrorizing it sounds. I've been there, totally, totally get it. The problem is that if you wait, it is very likely that the OCD will become more ingrained in your life and then the CBT/ERP will be even harder when you finally attempt it. And you will be totally kicking yourself for waiting (and suffering) longer than you needed to. You CAN do this. I'm the biggest scaredy cat that ever lived. Really I am. If I can do this, then my goodness, I think just about anyone can! As my psychologist used to say all the time - "You're in terrible pain now already. Why not instead be in pain that you know will lead to less pain later?" OK, I'll get off my soapbox now! Hugs.

      Delete
    2. I think we, as the OCD community, don't stand on our soapboxes enough. You know, I was really thinking hard about all of this. It's hard to try to decide, but I know I need to. I want to do it for me, but for everyone else who wishes they could have a long time ago. Maybe I should contact McLean Hospital and others and see what exactly I can do. Thanks for your encouragement!

      Delete
    3. Cara, I'm totally rooting for you whatever you decide! I will be here for you should you need any encouragement to keep fighting.

      Delete
    4. Cara - reading your comments reminds me of also being scared to do ERP. Actually, though I've done some, I'm still scared of it. However, I have seen it work in my life. Also, I was able to start slowly. For example, instead of going straight from washing my hands half way up my right arm to not washing my hands ever, I more slowly moved down to my wrist and then to more normal hand washing. This way might take longer, but it's still shorter than never starting.

      Delete
  3. It took me years to get treatment. I've had OCD since I was a child and for me, when I was a freshman in college 1996-97, I think I almost had an honest to goodness nervous breakdown because of the OCD. Maybe I had a minor breakdown. It was really bad and I can so relate to your crisis of 1996 where you would be sitting there crying and things like washing the dishes and laundry overwhelmed you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Elizabeth - I'm so, so sorry for your pain. I'm sure the stress of entering college did not help your anxiety issues. It is a major change (and I personally never do well with those). I know what you mean about the breakdown. I was never hospitalized, but I think I was about as close as you can get to having a breakdown and not being hospitalized - so I get what you are saying. Everything seems overwhelming when you are oppressed by anxiety - even things like having to fold some laundry.

      Delete
  4. Oh, wow...do I get this, and I don't even have OCD. It's the fear...you do the research into your problem, find out what some of the treatment entails, and the treatment scares you so bad you start looking for help that won't include that when, deep down, you know or at least suspect that this is what you need! I've lost precious time in my life because of fear. :-(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, Jean, one thing I've come to learn is that those of us with OCD don't have the corner market on fear! I know that your struggles have been very painful for you too, and I am very sorry for your pain as well. Oh it's true, when we are scared, we will look for ANYTHING else that might solve our problem in an easier and less painful fashion. Unfortunately, that doesn't work too well and usually leads to more suffering.

      Delete
  5. I can relate to this so much. I did not want to do any kind of therapy for so many years, and I regret not getting that kind of help until recently. I can also relate to the sense of fogginess about some points in my life when the OCD and/or depression were so bad. Thanks for sharing this, Sunny. It will really resonate with so many people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tina, I am VERY proud of you for your recent decision to get help. It is such a brave and courageous thing. You are not only using your therapy to help yourself, but you are helping others through your writing as well.

      Delete
  6. Thanks for sharing this, Sunny. I'm sorry you had to diagnose yourself and that your therapist didn't offer a better answer, either. I have done some CBT, but I know what I really need is ERP. My hope is that I can go through with it and get a handle on it before we have kids (several years down the road). Your story is immensely encouraging. Tearing up now!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your kind words, Anna. You know, I'm sorry my therapist didn't offer a better answer either, but the reality is that I KNEW better and I just went along with it, so I have no one to blame but myself.

      Well, if my story encourages you even a little bit to do ERP then I'm glad I shared it.

      Delete
  7. Before I diagnosed myself... i really thought I was going crazy or becoming evil (due to the thoughts not b/c I actually ever did anything). I called my mom asking for therapy during undergrad and she said "of course sure"...but that never happened... It wasn't until I called my parents crying when I was in grad school convinced that my roommate and I were going to die b/c I used a clorox wipe to clean the sink that they finally heard my hurt and plea. I should have gone before..convinced my parents before then that I needed it... but I was so sucked into my OCD that I was for sure that they were either going to determine i was demon possessed or I needed to go live in a facility for the rest of my life.

    Diagnosing yourself isn't the best thing in the world to do... but it calmed me down until my therapist could first see me (which was like a week after my call to my parents). My therapist at first only did talk therapy with my b/c I was honest to God that bad off... I could barely make it to his office.. talking was the only thing I could handle...then we did CBT... He never did much ERP with me b/c the one time we did it I had a panic attack... but through our CBT he talked me through the ways I could do ERP on my own and I actually did... Like touching and particularly tying my shoes ALWAYS freaked me out and I would always have to wash my hands... but I was able to slowly progress myself to waiting sometime before I washed them... or only using hand sanitizer... and eventually even though I really wanted to wash I didn't... and now I can totally touch my shoes without a problem! So it was kind of like doing ERP on my own was actually better for me b/c I didn't feel like I had homework and had to please my therapist... but that would probably only work for a few people and people with my personality.

    Sigh... How I wish there wasn't a social stigma to mental illness.. I would have been in a much better place if I had gotten help sooner... but I nor my parents wanted to admit it

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh Brooke - your story breaks my heart! I understand thinking that you might need to be placed in a facility. I remember thinking that I was going insane too, which is a truly frightening thought.

    That is unbelievably incredible that you were able to do ERP on your own! Wow, what an accomplishment. I've really never been able to do that for any large or even medium type ERPs. You are a very brave woman. Congratulations on working through the shoe ERP. Really great job, you should be proud. : )

    I so agree about the social stigma - half the time I think we stigmatize ourselves the most. It's so hard to admit you have a mental illness. I think a lot of the times we just hope it will go away on its own. Hang in there - you're doing great!

    ReplyDelete
  9. You have sure helped so many people with this post, Sunny. My son's story was similar, except his first therapist claimed to know a lot about OCD, and insisted talk therapy was the way to go. I often wonder why I just took him at his word. I was naive, I guess, but with a little research, I could have easily found out that ERP Therapy was the therapy of choice for treating OCD. Anyway, I have always been thankful that Dan did not have to wait years, as a lot of people do, to get started on ERP Therapy. Thank you for sharing this obviously difficult time of your life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for you support, Janet, as always! You know, I totally get why you took the therapist's word for it. They are supposed to be the professional. I think it's very easy to assume that they are trained and that they know what they are talking about. Frankly, that should be a reasonable expectation.

      I'm really glad that Dan didn't have to wait either. I've got to think that getting right on it has got to have a better long term prognosis.

      Delete
  10. Beautifully written Sunny. It seems so unfortunate that so many therapists are not pro-active in educating their patients as to the correct treatment. They could learn to do ERP, or say it is not their specialty and recommend someone who does but it seems to be a pattern that they waste everyones time doing talk therapy. I have had one therapist in over 30 years who talked to me about ERP and attempted to help me with it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're so sweet, Krystal Lynn, thank you!

      I have to agree with you and question why more therapists aren't proactive. I just don't get it. It personally goes against my nature because I am a studier. I love to learn. You know, maybe it's because they really believe that what they are doing is the right therapy. In that case, I have to question the schools that are training the therapists. Why are the schools not at least giving a brief basic coverage of a lot of the more common illnesses and the preferred treatment for them?

      Well, just more reason for us to get the word out about OCD and it's proper treatment. Of course, it's better if the patient actually listens to it and doesn't ignore it like I did for so long! I have no excuse. I knew all along about CBT/ERP.

      Delete