Why "71º & Sunny?"

I consider 71º to be the perfect temperature. Not too cold and not too hot. I also love perfect sunny days. The vast majority of days are not 71º & Sunny and yet, all days were created by God's hand and they are still gifts, even if they don't fit my ridiculous definition of perfection. My struggle with OCD has at times imprisoned me in an impossible attempt to achieve perfection. I'm now learning to love all kinds of days that don't even come close to 71º & Sunny.

Please leave me a comment below. I really want to know what you are thinking!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Good Medications, Questionable Usage???


My blogging friend, Deanna, brought my attention to a really great article that was published just a few days ago in the New York Times online edition. Published on September 24, 2012, the article, "A Call For Caution On Antipsychotic Drugs," is written by Richard A. Friedman, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan.

Some may read the article's title, and think, "Well, I don't struggle with psychosis, so this article doesn't apply to me." However, even though the newer antipsychotic drugs (commonly referred to as "atypical antipsychotic" medications) are generally used for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression, they are today, in increasing fashion, being prescribed for many different types of mental illness. According to Dr. Friedman, in some cases this may be appropriate, but in others it is not. In addition, though these drugs can be very helpful for many people, they still carry the risk of significant side effects, and patients should be aware of them. Unfortunately, they often are not.

In particular, there were two things that Dr. Friedman mentioned that really struck me. First, he referred to some recent scientific studies that debunked the previously assumed theory that the newer "atypical antipsychotics" were better and had less side effects than the older traditional antipsychotics. This was news to me, as I have always heard that these atypical antipsychotics were great improvements over the older drugs. I wonder if many doctors are still working under the assumption that these newer antipsychotics are safer and more effective, and perhaps that is why they are prescribing them more liberally?

The second surprise of the article was Dr. Friedman's reference to the fact that apparently, many doctors are using antipsychotics to treat anxiety disorders. The doctor is concerned about this because he states that ". . . the data for the safety and efficacy of antipsychotic drugs in treating anxiety disorders is weak . . ." (para 15).

This article contained a lot of new information for me on these medications, and I thought it was worthwhile to pass this on. This does confirm for me that as a patient, it is always important to do my research (through reputable sources) on any treatment I receive. Some patients may choose to follow through on a treatment plan that includes some risk. That is their decision and should be respected. However, I think it's critical that the patient is at least properly informed of all of the risks, so that he or she can make the best choice possible.

Just a reminder: I am not a doctor/psychologist/psychiatrist, nor am I trained in any way. I do want to state however, that if you read this article and you are concerned about any medications you are currently taking, I think it would be wise to talk to your doctor first before making any changes involving your medications. These drugs are powerful, and should always be used, started, or stopped under the guidance of a properly trained psychiatrist.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hyper-Responsibility And Vulnerability

Yep, I like a lot of bling!

An area of great anxiety for me is the safety of children. I’m always worried that I will drop something that a small child can choke on.

As I was scheduled for sound mixing duty yesterday, I arrived at church around 6:45 a.m., shortly before rehearsal was to begin. At that time of the morning there are no kids in the building yet, so we early arrivers usually enter through the conveniently located back door, which leads to the elementary Sunday School wing. When I arrived at the sound booth, I looked down at my Kindle cover, and realized that I had lost a rhinestone. My first thought was that it fell off in the kids’ area, and that a child would eat it and suffocate on it. I was immediately sick with anxiety. I ran to the kids’ area and looked everywhere I had previously been to see if I could find it. I also compulsively searched the back parking lot, and even my car. Nothing. I could not find that rhinestone anywhere. I was fairly certain it was there when I left the house, so I was sure I lost it at church. Unfortunately, I was supposed to be manning the audio board, so I had to rush back to the sound booth, in spite of not being able to find my missing rhinestone.

A little later, I was able to sneak out back again. It was there that the worship minister’s wife (thankfully, a good friend of mine) found me searching outside. She asked me what was wrong. I admitted that I was having an OCD moment, and I told her what I was looking for. Though she knows all about the OCD and some of my basic symptoms, it is quite another thing to be in the middle of a trigger and show my panic to her. She was so sweet though, and helped me search as we walked back into the worship hall. At that point, it was time for rehearsal, so I had to stop searching. It was so hard not to cry and to keep my mind on business.

After a few minutes, I was able to go out back one more time. Luckily, I found the children's pastor. She also already knew about my OCD. I explained to her what happened, and that I was worried. She too was incredibly kind. She assured me that where I walked was a common area, and that tons of stuff falls on the floor there, and that it was not a concern. I then asked her if it would be an OCD thing if I decided not to bring my Kindle back to church again (in order to protect the kids). She told me it would be an OCD thing. I was so relieved that I hugged her and thanked her.

I was very emotional for the rest of the day. Honestly, I was just so humiliated about admitting to my struggles while they were still happening. During an OCD event, I am in an extremely vulnerable state. When I reveal this state to others, it's almost like I'm saying, "Here, look inside my heart and see all the pain and (crazy, irrational, nonsensical, shallow, and yes, even petty) fears I live with. I suspect you are secretly thinking I'm insane and I'm desperately hoping you will still like me after this and not think I'm weird. Please, please don't reject me."

I am so blessed. Days like yesterday used to be typical days for me. Now, they are the exception. You might really think I'm crazy when I tell you that in some weird way, I don't mind having an occasional bad OCD day. It reminds me of how far I've come. It reminds me of how much others with OCD suffer. It reminds me to take a risk, open myself up to people, and let them see who I really am. It reminds me that sometimes, I need to allow other people (outside of my family) to help and support me, even though I am most uncomfortable with that.

Oh, I found the rhinestone about 8 hours later. Guess where it was the whole time? Stuck to my inner left arm. For 8 entire hours. Sigh.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Another Favorite

Because I'm running the sound equipment this week at church, and I was at rehearsal the other night, I already know the song list for the worship time that will take place during services later this morning. Hmmm . . . I guess I better get to sleep considering I have to get up in 5 hours. In any case, the song, "Praise is the Offering," written by Sion Alford, Shannon Alford, and Glenn Packiam, will be sung at my church this morning. This is another one of my favorite songs. I thought I would share it with you.

This is a version performed by Gateway Worship, with the lead singing done by Sion Alford. Hope it puts a smile on your face!



Come and let us sing for joy
Let us praise and shout aloud
To the lifter of our heads
To the Rock we’re standing on
Your salvation is our song
Now we can’t stay silent we will sing how

Great is Your love for us
And great are the things You’ve done
And praise is the offering we bring to You

Lord we come to worship You
Lord we bow our hearts in awe
By Your love we are redeemed
We are Yours and You’re our God
Your salvation is our song
Now we can’t stay silent we will sing how

Great is Your love for us
And great are the things You’ve done
And praise is the offering we bring to You

All of our heart and soul
And all that You are and more
And praise is the offering we bring to You

Lord we come to worship You
Lord we bow our hearts in awe
By Your love we are redeemed
We are Yours and You’re our God
We are Yours and You’re our God
We are Yours and You’re our God

Great is Your love for us
And great are the things You’ve done
And praise is the offering we bring to You

All of our heart and soul
And all that You are and more
And praise is the offering we bring to You

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ode To My Flip-flops

Ode To My Flip-flops

More comfortable than any other shoes,
oh flip-flops, how very much I love you.
by 71º & Sunny

Yay for purple nail polish!
Many of my fellow bloggers are incredible poets, and I was feeling left out, so I decided to get in on the action too. Um, ok, I know my poem stinks. However, it does highlight one very important point - a total 180º shift in my thinking. A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for me to wear flip-flops and not worry about my feet all day. I would have been obsessed about dirt and germs getting on my feet, and you can believe that the first thing I would have done was to wash them as soon as I got home. I almost never wore flip-flops.

During CBT/ERP, my psychologist challenged me to start wearing flip-flops everywhere. She wanted me to wear them in the city, on the subway, in public bathrooms, you name it. It was really difficult at first. There were times that I would come home and wash. There were other times when I would just use wet wipes after coming home. Finally, sometime this summer, I completely stopped washing at the end of the day. (I still take daily morning showers, of course!) It took a couple summers of wearing flip-flops for me to get to the point of wearing them without any follow up cleaning.

Today, I have very little anxiety about wearing them. The funny thing is that I now love flip-flops. I have several pairs, including a pink pair, a purple pair, one pair is black with silver sparkles, one is brown with gold sparkles, and I even have a pair with a little wedge type of heal. Wearing them gives me a great excuse to go to the salon, get a pedicure, and try all kinds of fun nail polish colors. Oh, and they are so much more comfortable than regular shoes! I'm actually dreading the cold weather when I can no longer wear them. Hopefully I can wear them into November!

My experience with flip-flops illustrates one key thing - successful ERP requires practice, practice, practice. I guess that is no different than anything else. We need to spend hours behind the wheel of a car in order to get a driver's license. Prior to a music or dance recital, kids can spend weeks on a performance piece. I had to play several rounds of Words With Friends before I started winning a few games. : ) In fact, most people who are good at anything are good because they worked at it. I want to be good at beating anxiety.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Back To School

Because I am tired of being the "dumb" one on the audio team at church, this fall I decided to take a college course on sound mixing at a local community college. Oh boy. Last week I got a first look at my thick textbook and a surge of anxiety shot through my body like a bullet. It is very math/physics heavy, and let's just say that I am not a math specialist. This is hysterical, given that I graduated with a degree in Accounting/Finance. The world at large is safe, however, because I am a homemaker and not working in that field!

A little thicker than I anticipated
Yikes!

When I first went back to college to get my degree (at the age of 36) I had to take a few remedial math courses first, before I could even take the basic accounting courses. One of my advisors asked me why I was pursuing an accounting degree if I wasn't good at math. I told him that I liked a challenge and that I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. (Plus, I hate writing term papers. I figured there would be fewer research reports in a math heavy field and I obsess SO much about accidental plagiarism!) I think he thought I was a little crazy.

With some at home tutoring from my husband (yes, I know, this guy manages to show up in almost all of my stories), I managed to do very well in my classes. But, I literally made myself sick with anxiety. I considered anything less than an A to be an absolute, dismal failure. Nothing else was acceptable. Believe it or not, that was part of the reason I ended up in my psychologist's office in the Fall of 2009. I had just had a brutal summer of accelerated classes (same work as in a 16 week class stuffed into either 8 or 6 weeks). Sure, I got A's, but at what cost? My sanity. I was a walking mess.

I am determined to not let that happen again. I have decided that even if I fail this class, it is ok, as long as I learn something. I am only taking this class for my own personal information. I do not plan to ever get a job in this field, so it really shouldn't matter what my grade is. But . . . ah there is personal pride at stake. There is my own perfectionism I have to deal with. Though I hate to admit this, I can also be a very competitive person. I struggle when I am bested by someone else. I think my self esteem is a wee bit too wrapped up in my performance.

The building where my audio class is held

My ERP for this fall is to accept being "good enough." I have a quiz scheduled for next Monday. I will do the assigned reading and that is it. No more. I do love learning, just for the sake of learning, so I will concentrate on that. I will enjoy the smell of my new textbook (for those of you who are avid readers - you know what I mean!!). I will focus on the new friends I can make at class (even if they are 20 years younger than me!). I will walk through the halls and soak in the joy of being part of academia again. I will walk through the pretty campus and marvel at the changing color of the leaves. In short, I will just be. And that is good enough.

The library


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

That Same Old Feeling

It's after midnight and I'm sitting in a hotel room in Boston and my stomach is in knots. Anxiety. It's back. I know I will be fine, but in the meantime, well I'm struggling a bit.

My husband has his yearly colonoscopy tomorrow to make sure that he is still in remission, and to check for colon cancer. The really weird thing is that I don't even think I'm worried about tomorrow's test results. He has no symptoms, so I'm sure he's still in remission. I would also be very surprised if the doctor finds anything cancerous.

I think I'm suffering from a case of bad memories, if that makes any sense. Most of the time, we are able to forget that he is sick. However, having to go in for tests just brings me back to December of 2010 and all the terrible memories of his horrible flare. I know I sound like a broken record about this subject. I feel like I should be past this by now. But I'm not.

And so I sit in my hotel room, trying to ignore the sick feeling in my gut. It's just anxiety. It's just a feeling, nothing more. That's what I keep telling myself.


One of my favorite Boston buildings

Monday, September 10, 2012

World Suicide Prevention Day




Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. As someone who has struggled in the past with bone crushing depression, I am keen on spreading the news about this day of awareness.

Depression has been a part of my life off and on since I was a teenager. However, there were two time periods when I became so overwrought that death appeared to be a welcome relief. The first time was in the Fall of 1996, when I became officially diagnosed with OCD. I felt like an incredible failure as a human being. I was absolutely mortified that I needed to (gasp!) take "psychiatric medication." I thought I was one of the biggest losers in the world. It took several months, but I finally regained some equilibrium in my life, and I started to accept the fact that I had a mental illness. I continued to live with a sort of low grade depression, but the acute crisis had passed.

The second, and more dangerous time period, was in the Fall of 2009. I had just begun CBT/ERP. At first, when beginning this therapy, it is not unusual for OCD to get temporarily worse. This makes sense, because in therapy the patient no longer avoids everything that he or she has been avoiding for so long. Indeed, my illness got worse. However, I started to make some progress with ERP. Then, I had an episode where instead of making forward progress, I went several steps backward. Again, that is not unusual in treatment, but to me, it felt like the end of the world. At that point, I became despondent and lost all hope of recovery. I was just sure that I would spend the rest of my life in OCD torment and that there would never be a way out of my living hell.

I began to fantasize about dying all the time. I was not actively suicidal, for I never made any attempts. I did believe that suicide was wrong, and that I would hurt my God, my family, and my friends if I chose to follow that path. However, I think you could say I was passively suicidal. I asked God to take me. I hoped all the time that I would get in an accident, or get sick and die. Just breathing was agony. One of the big mistakes I made was that I never told anyone, including my psychologist, just how badly I was doing. I was embarrassed and I thought people would think I was being overly dramatic. Even though at that point, I thought that CBT/ERP would not work for me, for some reason I continued to attend therapy. I think it was because I scared myself. I didn't know what the future held for me and deep down, I knew that I was very sick.

My psychologist and my family continued to push me forward in treatment. Somehow, someway, I started to make a little progress again. Then, on December 17, 2009, (yes, I remember the day) I walked out of a mildly successful therapy appointment with my husband, and I noticed that the sun came out. It was literally just like that. All of a sudden, there was color in the world again. I regained just a little tiny inkling of hope. It was enough for me to grasp onto and to begin to look at the future again. It took several more months of CBT/ERP to really get a handle on the deep depression. Mild depression still pursues me to this day, but it no longer has a stranglehold on my life. I have recovered a tremendous amount of my health from OCD, and I have so many joyful days now that I can hardly believe this is my life.

I share this story because I want you to know that you are not alone if you have ever struggled with horrible depression and suicidal thoughts. Depression is a serious illness and it is not to be taken lightly. If you are fighting suicidal thoughts, you need to get help. Today. Right now. On the top right hand side of my blog, there is a button that you can press, and it will send you to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website. Please, don't suffer in silence! There is nothing to be ashamed of.

If you feel like things will never get better, I am pleased to tell you that it is not so! I remember feeling so convinced that my life would never improve and that things would never change. Thankfully, I was wrong. I'm glad I never followed through with my fantasies. I am grateful to be alive. I'm grateful to watch the leaves changing color. I'm grateful that I got to enjoy my frozen pumpkin latte yesterday. I'm grateful I got to hug my kitty last night. I'm grateful that I get to connect with wonderful people like you today.

It is important to remember that how you feel today and how your life looks today, is different than how you will feel or how your life will look tomorrow, or next month, or next year. There is a reason God has put you on this earth. His work in your life is not done yet. You are meant to be here and you have a purpose. You matter. There is help available. Please, don't be afraid. Reach out and get help. There is hope for you.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Free Online Help For OCD

Today, I received a Facebook update from the International OCD Foundation informing the public that there is a research study involving an online OCD treatment program. This online program is called BT Steps. The point of the study is to determine if patients do better with BT Steps either by itself, or with additional help (such as with a therapist). I'm assuming that the additional help would be given by phone - but I do not know this for sure. There is no cost, and in fact, according to the IOCDF website, those who are part of the study may even get up to $150. If you cannot afford treatment, or if there are no qualified therapists in your area, this may be an opportunity for you to receive some help.

At the IOCDF conference in July, I attended a workshop that was led by the company that created BT Steps. It did appear to me that this online program could have some good possibilities for treatment. I asked the company representatives when the program would be available to the general public, and they estimated that it might be ready sometime in early 2014.

I don't know how many people they need for this research study, but if you are interested, you may want to inquire about it sooner rather than later. Below, I've linked to a YouTube video that was posted by the creators of BT Steps. It explains how the program works. I do not know if the online program in the research study will be exactly like the one in the YouTube video, but the video should at least give you some idea of how BT Steps will most likely work.



Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Powerful Film

A blogger that I really respect, Janet Singer, over at OCD Talk, recently brought a very powerful documentary to my attention. Twenty-three minutes long, and titled Heroes Get Remembered but Legends Never Die, it features the story of John Cleaver Kelly, a young man who eventually took his life after a painful struggle with OCD. Janet recommends watching this film "if you think OCD is a cute, quirky, trendy disorder." I can personally attest that OCD is neither cute, quirky, nor trendy. It is raw, brutal, terrorizing, and at its worst, completely disabling. My heart breaks for the Kelly family. I admire them for allowing this film to be made in order to bring more attention to a cruel mental illness.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Distorted Thinking

One of my favorite bloggers, Tina, at Bringing Along OCD, wrote an excellent post today about fighting the distorted thinking that accompanies depression. In my own battle against OCD and depression, my psychologist and I spent a good deal of time discussing the cognitive distortions that clouded my thinking and kept me in a shroud of pain and confusion. I think it can be incredibly easy to get so locked into one type of thinking that you don't even realize that there are other ways to look at life. Learning about my distorted thoughts was a true revelation. Learning how to fight them was a literal life saver. If you struggle with depression or anxiety, I highly recommend that you read Tina's post.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

ERP?

For those of us with contamination issues, I present the toilet bowl coffee mug. Bon Appetit!