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!

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.