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, December 24, 2016

Monique's Holiday Anxiety Survival Skills

Cast all your anxiety on Him because
He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 NIV
1. Don't hang on to expectations of how the holidays "should" be;
2. Remember that anticipatory anxiety is almost always worse than the actual event;
3. Look at the holidays as a time for personal growth and to experiment with your coping skills;
4. Practice mindfulness. Really look at the decorations and appreciate their beauty. Breathe in the scent of the pine or the food or even Aunt Mildred's perfume! Sing along with your favorite holiday tune. Savor the taste of that awesome dessert;
5. Talk to someone and focus on them intently. Really listen. How are they? Could they use a little encouragement? A little support? Be there for them;
6. Contamination OCD can be tough at the holidays with so many people wanting to hug us at get-togethers. Instead of focusing on the "germs," focus on the actual hug and how good it is to have a little human touch;
7. Remember that this time period will pass pretty quickly and before you know it, we'll be back to our regular routines;
8. Hang on to God with all your might - He will get you through this time if it is a difficult one for you; and
9. Lastly, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 NIV 
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 NIV 

I have a little bit of a healthy
obsession with nutcrackers!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

No, I Haven't Fallen Off The Face Of The Earth!

Hello friends! I know, it's been a loooooong time. I've recently been through a pretty rough patch, but I think I'm finally starting to come out of it. This time, it was depression that got me down, rather than OCD. As I'm slowly coming out of the fog, so to speak, I'm hoping to share some things that I've discovered along my latest journey. It will probably take a little while for me to formulate thoughts about my experience and then share them with you. There are however, a couple things that I've been reminded about recently, that are so obvious to even me, that I can share them with you right now:

1. God is still and always has been in control;
2. God loves you and me and always has;
3. He really does want the best for us;
4. In spite of some intense pain in my life, I still have a lot to be thankful for;
5. Pain is a a great teacher (though an unwelcome one); and
6. No matter how bad things seem today, it certainly doesn't mean they will be this bad tomorrow, next week, or next year.

If you are suffering, please, please know that God does care and He does listen. Even when it seems that He doesn't (and believe me, I've been there too).

God's love and blessings to you.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3 NIV 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Their Feelings Aren't Facts Either

My therapist said something to me yesterday that literally blew my mind. Seriously. It's so simple, and yet, it was something I never, ever thought about before. Let me back up first . . .

One of the things that OCD sufferers do all the time, is confuse feelings with facts. We think that if we feel something, then it must be true. If I feel like a loser, I must be a loser. If I feel like I'm contaminated, then I must be contaminated. When I sought ERP therapy years ago, my psychologist spent a lot of time trying to get me to understand that just because I felt something, it didn't mean that it was a factual truth.

I struggle a lot with what other people think of me. Much of my OCD is actually fueled by what I fear are others' perceptions about me. At the core of it, I fear that they will find me unloveable. Yesterday, my therapist told me, "Just because someone else feels or thinks something about you, it doesn't make it a factual truth." Wait, what??? So even if someone else thinks I'm a loser, that doesn't actually make me a loser? Even if someone else thinks I'm a "bad" Christian, that doesn't mean it is truth? If my feelings are often not based on facts, why do I assume that other people's feelings are any more reliable than my own? This might seem so obvious to you, but to me, it is profound. I'm not so foolish as to think that I still won't ever worry about what others think, but I can tell you this, I'm going to start looking at it differently. There's only one Person whose thoughts about me are always based on factual truth. And hey, I have a sneaking suspicion He loves me. And you. ; )

Thursday, May 5, 2016

God's Comfort In Suffering

It would not be a complete tapestry without
all of the different colors and patterns.
Though my OCD symptoms are much less agonizing than they were before I underwent Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP), there are still some days filled with pain and suffering. And there are times when I question what God is doing in my life, and why He allowed me to live with a chronic mental illness.

I've recently started therapy with a lovely young Christian counselor and she has been a blessing to me. We are working through the remnants of OCD, depression, and the recent discovery I've made about being an extra emotionally sensitive person. In session yesterday, we were talking about a lot of these things and I also mentioned to her about my struggle with daily Bible reading. God has been reminding me that I really need to incorporate this into my lifestyle. My therapist suggested purchasing a new devotional, so as soon as my session ended, I marched myself down to the local Christian bookstore and purchased two new devotionals.

One of the devotionals I picked up is entitled "The God of all Comfort: Devotions of hope for those who chronically suffer," by Judy Gann. I was touched by the first entry that I read this morning, and I wanted to share a passage of it with you, in hopes that you may be comforted too:

"In my limited understanding, I view my pain as a knotty hindrance. However, God sees a different picture, a complete picture. He sees my weaknesses as essential threads in the unique tapestry he is creating of my life.
Not until my life, your life, is finished and silent, will we understand the darker threads of our human tapestries and their contribution to the beauty of our unique design.
We may disagree with God's choice of colors. But we are works in progress-still stretched on God's loom." Pg. 4
Yesterday, my therapist reminded me that we already know what the final chapter of life eternal will look like. And what a glorious chapter it will be! God bless my friends. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Was Your ERP Successful?

Over the years, I've noticed a common observation that a lot of OCD sufferers have made after performing an ERP. They will often consider their ERP a success if they didn't panic or have a lot of anxiety or if they did not feel too bad afterwards. Please do not use your feelings as an indicator of whether your ERP was a success or not. It's not an accurate measure. How do you know that an ERP was a success? It's the fact that you did the ERP in the first place!! And the less you compulse after the ERP, the more effective it will be. (You don't want to undermine all that hard work with compulsions - because that is what compulsions will do.) One of my very biggest ERP successes brought on some of the very worst anxiety I have ever felt. And that's ok! It just meant that I was facing a fear that was really huge. It's not about how we FEEL - it's what we do in spite of how we feel.

P.S. Ironically, after repeated ERPs, the anxiety will usually go down over time. However, it's important to note that the goal of treatment is not to reduce anxiety, but to learn to tolerate anxiety, which, yes you guessed it, eventually brings the anxiety down anyway, and on and on we go in a circle of irony!

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Resource for Anxiety and OCD Sufferers in South Africa

Hello friends! I just discovered an organization in South Africa that may be a good resource for people who live in the area, and I wanted to pass it along to my readers from Africa. It is called The South African Depression and Anxiety Group. They also have information on other common mental health issues. You can find them on Facebook and Twitter too. Hope this helps!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Reassurance Seeking & OCD, Part 2

Yesterday, I shared with you about reassurance seeking (both external and internal) and how it was a damaging compulsion to those of us with anxiety disorders. In treatment, we are taught to resist reassurance seeking as much as possible. However, should our loved ones stop answering all of our questions cold turkey and do we need to stop all reassurance seeking right away? Do we even need to remove all reassurance seeking?

There is more than one trail to the summit!
In answer to my first question, I think that if a friend or family member has been providing reassurance to someone on a regular basis, pulling all reassurance away at once can be perceived as cruel. Ultimately though, reassurance can, and should, be weaned. The goal is to move the person with OCD away from reassurance. This can be set at an agreed upon pace. I've known people that have worked out "deals" with their loved ones. Perhaps they are allowed to ask for reassurance 5 times a day in the initial stages of treatment. Then after some time, maybe it can be weaned down to 3 times a day, and so on. I've also known people to write down their fears in a notebook and then they would show the notebook to their "reassurance provider" at some agreed upon time. Even now, there are times when I will ask my family a question and they will answer, but when I ask the same question a 2nd or 3rd time or, well you know how OCD works . . . I will hear, "I've already answered that question. I'm not answering it again." Said in a nice, calm, and non-angry tone, I have no problem with that answer. Ok, well maybe I have a little problem with that answer - I do have OCD, after all! But in the heat of the moment - I get what it is they are trying to accomplish, and I still feel cared for and loved. I'm just not being enabled. When my family sets healthy boundaries that is a win-win for everyone.

But do we even need to remove all reassurance? Perhaps, if we lived in a perfect world. But we don't live in a perfect world. And most of us and our family members don't have Ph.d.'s in psychology and we don't have all day, every day to simply work on our anxiety. So my qualified answer is no, we don't need to stop all reassurance seeking if it helps us to move forward. I remember an incident early in treatment when I was faced with a terrifying ERP - and the only way I got through it was to give myself reassurance that I was going to be ok. In this case, I believe the greater goal of facing that scary ERP was much more important than any reassurance I was giving to myself. On that day, self reassurance helped me toward better mental health.

Many times over the years, I have been afraid to do some kind of ERP - like touching a perceived dirty item, or using a public restroom. On more than one occasion, my husband either touched the item with me, or reassured me that I could go in that scary bathroom and that I would be ok. Again, while the ultimate objective of treatment is to learn to live with the uncertainty that maybe I would or wouldn't be ok after using that bathroom, I think the more important point was that I actually used the bathroom! I probably would not have done many ERPs without my husband's reassurance and encouragement. The reassurance helped me move forward. I consider that healthy reassurance.

The danger with reassurance is when it is just used (repeatedly) as a soothing technique instead of as a way to convince the person with OCD that they are capable of dealing with their fears. Repeated reassurance is toxic reassurance.

I have not eliminated reassurance seeking from my life. I clearly do more than is healthy, but I do a lot less than when my OCD was at its worst. As stated earlier, my family has also gotten better about drawing boundaries with reassurance.

Those of us with OCD often seek perfection in life, and even perfection in our treatment and recovery. Perfection cannot be found! Believe me, I've looked. As long as my general trajectory is onward and upward, I'm ok with making some compromises. In fact, for this perfection loving girl, I consider compromise to be part of my treatment.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Reassurance Seeking & OCD, Part 1

In the OCD treatment world, reassurance seeking is considered to be a big no-no. What is reassurance seeking? It's when you keep trying to find evidence that what you thought, did, said, or felt, is really ok. Reassurance seeking can take all kinds of forms. I was really, really good at getting reassurance without anyone else even knowing it.

Said by Monique. On more occasions
than she can remember
For example, if I was afraid that my cooking might have given someone food poisoning, rather than coming right out and asking my "victim" if he or she was ok (because deep down, I knew my question would make me look foolish), I would find a roundabout way to discover how they were feeling. I might say something like, "Hmm, my stomach seems a little upset." And then I would wait to see what the person's response was. If they didn't say, "Yeah, my stomach's upset too," then I would know they were ok. Sneaky, huh? Or if I thought someone might be mad at me for some reason, I would make up an excuse to call them or go see them, and I could tell by their response if they were upset with me or not. I wish I could remember all of the tricks I used. Some of them were pretty ingenious, if I say so myself!

Of course, I also did a lot of actual reassurance seeking from my family. "Are you sure I didn't hit someone with my car? Are you sure I didn't do the wrong thing by going out in public while I had a head cold (and I could have passed it on to someone and maybe they could die from it)? Are you sure I'm not a bad person?" On and on it went. My poor family.

We can also give ourselves reassurance, and that can be more difficult to spot. Saying things to ourselves like, "Oh, I'm sure I didn't cause a car accident because I can see in my rearview mirror that all of those cars behind me are still driving normally. They would all have pulled over if something really had happened." (That could be considered a mental compulsion and/or a checking compulsion.) Or, "My hands aren't really that dirty, so it's ok if I don't wash them."

Why is reassurance seeking taboo in the treatment of OCD? Because it is a compulsion and a form of enabling. Compulsions are actions that we perform (or covertly get others to perform!) in order to reduce our anxiety caused by the scary thoughts (obsessions). What's wrong with a compulsion? Unfortunately, for people with anxiety disorders, compulsions only make the obsessions worse. We might feel temporarily better, but it never lasts. And then we need to do more compulsions. It just doesn't stop. That is why we are taught in treatment to take a chance and live with uncertainty (as horribly painful as that is). It is only when we can live with uncertainty that anxiety stops taking control of our lives.

So instead of telling ourselves, "Well, my hands aren't that dirty," we could tell ourselves "Yes, my hands are dirty, and I'm just going to have to live with the consequences." Instead of seeking reassurance from friends and family, I could live with the possibility that maybe my food did cause someone to get sick. I could even learn to live with the idea that maybe I really am a bad person. (Oooh, that's a super tough one.)

Stopping all reassurance seeking is pretty hard-core ERP, and some experts do suggest it. But do we need to stop all reassurance seeking, right away? Do we even need to remove all reassurance seeking? Come back tomorrow and I'll share my thoughts about that with you.