Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Out With The Old Obsession, In With The New

An interesting thing I have noticed about OCD, through my efforts toward recovering my personal control, is that my mind quickly finds something else once a compulsion or obsession is calmed or eliminated. My mind will literally scream at me (well, not literally, just in the sense of a very intense stream of worried thoughts bombarding my consciousness) new, random things to worry about. For example, if the price total of several things I am buying doesn't feel right, or if something about one or more of the items feels wrong, I will be afraid that something bad will happen. I have struggled with that one before, but it mostly vanished when replaced by the more severe contamination fears. It is attempting to return, which I take to mean that the contamination obsessions are loosening their grip on my brain. At least with the magical thinking variation of OCD, I was functional and happy.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Fungus Among Us

I think things are improving. However, I do find that it is very easy to slip backwards and to become a bit of a hermit by not leaving the house. I suppose dropping the decontamination ritual upon returning home would eliminate the whole desire to stay inside (which, in turn, exacerbates the OCD). But that will take some effort.

I have decided to set small daily goals, even if it is something as simple as packing a healthy lunch for my daughter instead of having her buy those disgusting school lunches. It is something we both want, and it will help me overcome some contamination issues with the OCD. It is currently difficult for me to touch most things because I fear that either I will contaminate it, or it will contaminate me. Which, of course, is absurd. I need to start living my life again and I know I can beat this.

My current goal is to pack a healthy lunch for my daughter each day this week, in addition to the typical exposures I have to deal with on a daily basis using the 15-minute rule (wait 15 minutes before acting on a compulsion). The 15-minute rule has worked wonders with my need to constantly mop the kitchen floor. I managed not to clean the floor for the entire duration of Thanksgiving break (that's Thursday through Monday, y'all!). Five days - a record for me. My lungs are thankful, and my hands are almost fully healed.

Quite unfortunately, due to all of the handwashing and the acrylic nails I was wearing, I managed to acquire onychomycosis (a fungal infection of the nails), which I understand is a bitch to get rid of. It's funny, because in all of my efforts to avoid contamination of various sorts, I ended up with a friggin' nail fungus.

Monday, October 4, 2010

ERP Works

I think I am still in shock. Yes, all of the experts will tell you that ERP is the gold standard for OCD treatment, but when you are staring into the hopeless abyss that is the reality that becomes of a life turned living ritual hell, it is really difficult to believe that anything can set you free.

I am not free yet. In fact, I have a lot of work ahead of me. But doing ERP the way I am supposed to has restored something that OCD stole from me: hope. I have been able, through doing ERP, to do things I have not done in two years. I am stunned that this works, mostly because it feels so counter-intuitive at first. I mean, come on, forcing myself to do things that my brain is screaming at me to avoid? Things that the mere thought of result in my heart racing, my palms sweating and feelings of near panic? How can making myself suffer heal me? But it does.

Today, I was able to confront one of my biggest fears. Two of them, actually. Not only was I able to proceed with what I needed to do without getting into major rituals, I tackled both of these things with minimal anxiety symptoms. Typically, even after my rituals, these two things leave my pulse pounding and my breathing shallow and quick. Not today. And, at least two or three times, something happened that absolutely, unequivocally would have sent me back to do things over again. A couple of months ago, nothing would have gotten done tonight. This time, I completed the task.

Despite the fact that I am still in the thick of this and anticipate my share of difficult days and mistakes, I feel...hope.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Consistency is Key

If anyone reading this is suffering through the nightmare that is OCD, and you are wondering what the trick is to ERP, I can tell you: consistency and ritual prevention.

For a few months, I did what I thought was ERP. I would force myself to do exposures, then I would either ritualize for hours afterward or I would take days off between ERP exercises to "recover". The only thing that recovered was OCD; I was getting worse for my efforts. The experience reminds me of a quote that really stuck with me, though I can't for the world recall where I found it. It basically stated that you cannot recover from OCD within the parameters of OCD. It is such an important thing to remember, because it is 100% true.

I have been feeling better lately, but not without hitting a new rock bottom first. One day, completely undone by my own anxiety, kneeling on the floor as bleach dissolved the skin on my hands and knees, I was howling in agony...and still could not stop the ritual. In fact, the pain was so severe (my chemical burns were so bad that I was bleeding) that I kept becoming distracted and having to start over. I was pleading for it to end, and I no longer cared how.

Over the days that followed, I knew I had two options; I either had to take control of my life back, or the self that had existed for more than 30 years would cease to be forever. I asked myself a very critical question; Is anything worth this? Anything? And I thought about that for a while. I examined the question, every terrible possibility, allowing myself to become immersed in the fears that had spawned this demon OCD. And the answer, unequivocally, was no. Even my very worst case scenario was almost laughable by comparison to the hell I had inflicted upon myself for two years.

Now, just having this realization is not a cure, and the feelings don't go away. However, it has served as a catalyst for me to begin doing the real, hard work of ERP. And, much to my astonishment, ERP does work. It really does. I know this because there are things I am doing now with a fair amount of ease which would have crippled me with fear to even think about a few months ago. Often, I find myself smiling because the work is becoming less like work and more automatic.

I faced a fear today that would have sent me into days of compulsion hell. I still did some precautionary measures, but it was not a full-on ritual disaster and I am not overcome with stress and anxiety. That alone is amazing. I don't think I'm out of the woods yet; I will never underestimate the power of OCD. But ERP, well, it's pretty powerful, too.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Eh, So What?

I recall sitting in the counseling center office on my college campus a few years back, emaciated and battling anorexia, nervous about, well, everything. The counselor made the profoundly obvious and wildly understated remark that I appeared to have some anxiety. As I discussed the what-if tune that is often on repeat in my mind, she said to me, "Have you ever just said to yourself, 'so what if'?"

So what if? My first thought was that this woman clearly had no grasp of the seriousness of my concerns. I was not your typical college student, with my most pressing worry being my roommate or whether I was going to get an A or a B on the mid-term. I was married, living off-campus, trapped somewhere between college life, full-on adult life and a nervous breakdown. I had an ocean of issues from my past, none of which had ever been properly addressed or dealt with - and they were swallowing me whole. My mere presence on campus was triggering, and the PTSD was the catalyst for the severe anorexia which had brought me to the office in the first place. My problems were beyond the scope of this hippie, feel-good, tree-hugging woman in the college counseling office, and her statement proved it. I felt...hopeless.

Fast forward a decade to present day. A divorce, re-marriage, children and a whole host of new issues later, and I have a relapse of my holyshitIfeelhelpess need for control. This time, it manifests in fear of contamination. And oh boy, did it manifest. It seems that, when I do something, I don't do it small. This need for control, turned fear, turned disorder has swallowed my whole life much like the anorexia did. Oddly enough, that gives me hope; I recovered from the eating disorders. And let me tell you, I was obsessed to the most infinite degree you can imagine. Weigh, measure, exercise, eat, purge, weigh, measure...repeat. If my mind can switch off of that, it can do the same with this, I'm sure of it.

It frustrates me that anything has a grip like this on me. For all my fear of contamination, my excessive handwashing led to a fungal nail infection. And with that, a member of my household ended up with a tiny patch of ringworm, probably from my doing the laundry with still-damp fingernails before I treated the nail infection. Nothing a little Lotrimin can't handle. The funny thing about that is that, had I just been doing things normally, a typical daily routine would not have been as likely to result in my spreading a fungus among us. So ironic. Good thing fungus doesn't totally trip me out. Interestingly, it used to.

Tonight I was reading some blogs. A woman casually mentioned that her child had caught something I fear. She mentioned it as something annoying, something to be dealt with and moved on from like so many difficult days. I think I would have totally lost my shit. But that's when I realized something - shit happens. To all of us. Even when we live in a bubble of disinfection and washing until our hands bleed, perfectly sterile is just not possible. No wonder we drive ourselves to the brink of insanity (or worse) trying.

My mother tried. My grandmother used to always say to her, "You can't put pillows around them forever," and she was so right. You end up focusing so much on the pillows that your kid ends up getting hurt because of the pillows, metaphorically speaking. Maybe not physically, but most definitely psychologically. I never once witnessed my mother taking a "meh" attitude toward anything; everything we encountered, from tonsillitis to injuries, always resulted in a massive overreaction. We lived in emergency rooms, she totally abused the healthcare system and I have taken so many antibiotics in my lifetime that I had developed sensitivity reactions to most of them by the time I was in my early 20s. Overkill is not a good idea, clearly, but I never learned otherwise.

Time is teaching me, though. Tonight I was thinking about one of my fears. For the second time in recent weeks, I thought to myself...okay, so what? Is it really as bad as what I have been doing to myself? And it makes me tense just typing that, but increasingly often I am beginning to truly feel that way. I could fear anything. Anything. You could fear anything. Is there a little bit of truth to some of it, like contamination fears? Sure. But is it worth un-lived lives, lost hope, bleeding hands, missing out on everything we once enjoyed?


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Diet and OCD

For as long as I can remember, I have been addicted to sugar. It isn't just that I like sugar, I go through withdrawal symptoms and have serious cravings without it. All of the information out there that says you feel better and the cravings diminish after a few days have proven completely irrelevant to my situation.

I appear to have reactive hypoglycemia; my blood sugar rises with a meal, but plummets like a rock right after. I get extremely sleepy and cold after a meal, unless I quickly follow with sugar. Problem is, eating candy or consuming a sweetened beverage like cocoa just sets me up for an even more precipitous drop in blood glucose - sometimes into the 40s and 50s. The solution? Perhaps not the best one, but I just keep on eating sugar.

It doesn't take a genius to ascertain that this plays havoc with my moods and energy levels. And, since adrenaline shots are the body's natural way of dealing with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels in the body), this diet can quickly and easily create an anxiety nightmare. In fact, at one point during my eating disordered days, I began experiencing actual panic attacks from the surges of adrenaline brought on by the extreme hypoglycemic episodes that resulted from consuming a pint of fat-free ice cream (which is not, by the way, sugar-free) and then rejecting it.

On days when I was having a particularly awful time with the OCD, I started looking for what" bad days" had in common. The answer? Yep, you guessed it. Sugar. I recently had one of my best run of days in two years in terms of rituals, obsessions and general OCD symptoms. Coincidentally, or not so much, I had run out of candy three days earlier and had been forced to snack on healthier sweet snacks like bananas and apples.

Though it is incredibly difficult, I am now doing my best to follow the hypoglycemic diet. This is basically a diabetic diet. I still allow myself some sweet things, but I make sure I have eaten protein or complex carbohydrates before indulging and I keep those indulgences small. It seems to be helping so far.

I was rather astonished at the amount of information on the internet about the connection between sugar and anxiety disorders, and diet and many so-called psychological disorders in general. It seems to me there is a great deal that our diets can do to heal us...and to destroy us.

While sugar avoidance is uncomfortable (and requires a heck of a lot more healthy food to replace those empty calories and keep my glucose levels balanced out), OCD compulsions and the nightmare grip it can have on my life is much worse.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Three Steps Forward, One Step Back

I assume this is positive progress.

I washed my hair today for the first time in a month. That sounds more disgusting than it is, since my hair is usually very, very dry and washing it daily is not even an option. Still, not pleasant or pretty to go a month. I had just stopped caring about everything, though, and that is most definitely not like me at all.

I called two people who I have not spoken to since May, and had promised to call. The conversations were positive and uplifting. Though I was reminded how far from my former self I am, I was also reminded that I am heading back that direction now.

I tackled a part of my kitchen that had needed organizing really bad. It was an exposure issue, as is anything I don't deal with regularly. I got it done and it feels great. I also organized my cupboards and cleaned and organized my fridge. These are also exposures, since they contain groceries. And groceries really freak me out due to the number of people who touch them before I do.

So that is all good stuff. I did have a bit of a meltdown this evening when the groceries came home, however, and cried for about a solid hour. While wiping down the milk container, I found something on my towel that looked exactly like a piece of dead skin. Skin and skin diseases are the things that freak me out most of all, so this did not sit well. After asking no one in particular, about fifty times, what am I going to do!? I ended up crying and doing a massive cleaning of the kitchen and every grocery item than came home. And, of course, the floor. Sigh. So that didn't go as I might have hoped. Later on, I discovered a similar piece of something on my son's dinner plate. I suspect it was actually a dried up piece of fish fillet. I sealed it in a plastic bag, and when I moved it around in there, it left greasy marks on the bag. Dead skin wouldn't, unless there was something on the skin.

I touched my hair, my freshly washed hair, after touching the scary object in question. I desperately need to highlight, so I am using that as an excuse to re-wash. Oh well. At least I can identify and admit that I am using it as an excuse. Honestly, I'm just kind of relieved that I have the motivation to bother. I was really lost for a while.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Slow and Steady

I seem to be emerging slowly from the latest fear tsunami. It's funny, because after most incidents where I feel out of control or afraid, the waters seem to recede from the shore and all looks deceptively calm. And then, the huge wave comes. I had a nightmare about it last night, actually.

It's easing. My mind is clearing. My hands feel less raw. I washed them only twice today, though the second washing was 15 minutes long and felt all wrong the whole time. The big, thick patches of injured, thickened skin on my palms have given way almost completely to normal, soft skin again - even with the recent washing injuries. My left hand looks completely normal, though my right hand is still dry and peeling a bit. I am actually surprised the scabs are minor and already healing. I guess having some healing already helped save them a bit from my recent setback.

My thoughts are healing. My actions are slow to follow, but the things I am thinking are healthier. I am trying to focus on healing and separating myself from the negativity. None of this is easy, particularly given that my OCD is highly related to the amount of stress I am experiencing and I am under a load of stress. I hate the idea that this is all taking much longer than I hoped, but I keep telling myself that - while this form of OCD is new to me - my experience with OCD has been going on for half my life. Now that it is identified as such, the real work is taking place.

But still, it is trying my patience.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sticking With It

Some goals are too embarrassing to bother posting. However, since I have made some progress, I will fess up now. A few challenges - some new, some old, dealt with in the past several days:

My children have a new swing set. Things not within my home are not within my control. Thus, the thing feels like a source of possible contamination to me. I am afraid of it. They, however, are not. And the thing is awesome. The mere thought of having such a something in my backyard at their age nearly gives me butterflies just thinking of it. They must play on it. Though my 0 - 100 anxiety level was a 90 when it arrived, I am now at about a 30.

My kitchen has been relatively clean. Back in the day, before this contamination OCD took over my life, my home used to be the envy of others. It's not big, it's not fancy, and it's not even new. But it was nice and tidy all of the time, even when my children were babies. Funny how fear of touching everything makes keeping a tidy home impossible. Dust accumulates, dishes pile up, crumbs sneak up on the kitchen table and seem to multiply while there. But my kitchen is currently, aside from a few dishes in the "soaking side" of the sink, clean. And it has been all week. I have been touching the dirty dishes, loading the dishwasher, putting clean dishes away, all like clockwork. Easy? No. But it is getting easier. I am really proud of myself for sticking with it.

I have gone full 24 hour days without washing my hands, 3 times this month. Now, I am not going out of the house on these days, nor am I doing laundry, but I am doing other typical household necessities. The episode of The OCD Project where everyone had to give up their rituals inspired me. These exposures, I think, have led to massive progress elsewhere. A couple of months ago, this would have been unthinkable.

I cleaned the kitchen floor. There was a semi-permanent layer of film over the floor from accumulated floor soap. It took me all day today, but I did it. And I did a load of laundry - after messing with the nasty floor all day. And I cleaned my kids' summer sandals and shoes and they are ready for wearing, also after the floor. Exposures, exposures, exposures.

And I am really feeling good.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Habituation Happened!

If there is a time of day when my rituals are at their worst, I would have to say right before I go to sleep. The thought of contaminating my bed is more than I can handle. Typically, my pre-bed handwashing ritual alone takes 25 minutes and half a roll of paper towels, and that isn't even considering the clothing change - the duration of which largely depends upon whether I do it correctly, and in the correct order. Being so preoccupied with those details, it is often that I make a mistake and touch something I "shouldn't" and have to start over from scratch.

The other night, I encountered a cashier at a convenience store with a very obvious infection on her hand. I was horrified, put down my items and immediately left the store. I now feel like that set of clothing, my car, my seatbelt, my purse, and anything I touched before I scoured my hands is contaminated. Last night, as I was about to head off to bed (all clean and ready), I touched a door with my bare hand - a door that I felt was contaminated. Initially, my anxiety was a 95 of 100. I felt that I had to change clothes and go through my handwashing ritual immediately. But I didn't. I sat with it. I kept reminding myself of all the times I have heard and read that the rituals are not necessary to reduce the anxiety, and eventually habituation will occur - and that is the key to freedom from this crap!

It took nearly an hour for me to even consider not washing before going to bed, but I began considering it. I calculated my stress level in my mind and figured it had come down to around 60. Impressed with the drop, I forced myself to wait longer. Not long after, maybe 20 minutes or so, I realized that I was comfortable going to bed without doing anything! Well, I did wipe my hand on my PJ pants, but clearly, that wasn't washing or changing so I will let it go for now. By the time I put my head on my pillow, my anxiety was about a 10. I am still kind of amazed about that. Equally interesting is how empowered I feel today, and how much quieter that bully is than usual.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Way Things Were

I realize sometimes that I am waiting for something to change. While that is happening to some degree, with consistent exposures and forcing myself to deal with the anxiety, I sometimes forget that my attitudes and beliefs are what need to change. Some people are completely unbothered by the things that threaten to completely unravel my sanity!

There was a time when I was like that, when life was fairly normal and the things that have me trapped in rituals rarely even crossed my mind. I keep thinking that there may come a day when the realization of what I have lost outweighs the fear of what could happen if I make an error and don't disinfect something properly.

I remember when I used to run out at 2AM for something I'd forgotten and think nothing of it. Pajama pants, hoodie, and flip flops, buying what I need and heading back home. I'd crawl into bed in exactly what I wore to the store, never washing my hands and certainly never thinking a thing of it. Yet, now I have to go through this whole decontamination process when I get home, which includes stripping out of every stitch of clothing and putting on fresh. What the eff is that about? Suddenly the whole world is dangerous? Clearly not any more than it was previously. But my mind, well, it would have be think so.

So what has happened? It came to be that I needed to have certainty in my life. Nothing with any risk is acceptable. It's no way to live a life, for nothing is certain.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


It seems that getting out of the house and being around people helps. I find myself much less compulsive and, for that matter, much less obsessive when not behaving like a social hermit. And even the obsessive parts have less power when I have been out and about. It's odd, because while I am at home, going out and facing a plethora of contamination possibilities kind of makes me want to bar the doors and windows and never emerge from my safe zone again. Meanwhile, I fully realize that avoidance only breeds fear, and is basically like feeding OCD a giant bowl of crack.

I visited with my dad again recently, and it was really cool. I was in town where he lives and called to see if he wanted to meet me for dinner. He did, and another family member was at the restaurant we went to, so we all sat and talked two hours away. It was great, hugs and all.

My laundry pile is finally diminishing, and it is so satisfying to watch that pile get smaller. Also satisfying is opening closets and drawers and finding them full, instead of completely (or damn near) empty. It hasn't been easy, standing there with my heart pounding and my hands shaking until my mind accepts that I am just going to do it despite my fear. Get used to the cold pool water, your body will habituate, I tell myself. Years of spending entire summers swimming in pools and the lake have afforded me this metaphor. Jumping in always sucks, but pretty soon you're just swimming and going about your business without a thought in the world to the water temperature. That is precisely the goal of habituation in OCD. And, perhaps not surprisingly, it often works if I make myself stick with it.

I am getting better with public. I still cannot bring myself to touch shopping carts, even if I wipe them down with those sani wipe things. That is a goal for me. For now, I carry plastic bags with me or use produce bags in the store to wrap the cart handles with. Shopping carts just freak me right out. Gah!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Battles In The OCD War

I often read the blogs of others and think how simple their lives are, even the more complicated ones. These, of course, are not OCD blogs I am referencing. They mention going to the store so casually, or going to their child's school as if it were nothing. That used to be me. I could do a billion things in a day (okay, as much as time allowed) and think nothing more of it than how accomplished I felt. I miss that desperately. I keep thinking I should just be able to decide to be like that again and do it.

And, you know, it probably is kind of like that. Deciding to live my life the way I used to, just doing what I used to do. In fact, that is probably exactly what needs to happen - it just won't be any kind of easy. I seem to expect easy, like just deciding to live my life like I used to should erase all of this other nonsense (i.e. obsessions, compulsions, fear, anxiety). Where I have to get to is the point of understanding that, at first, my life might function as it used to, but it will not feel the way it used to. There will be tremendous anxiety and fear attached, an overwhelming desire to perform compulsions, and obsessions that threaten to flood my mind to the point of crowding out everything else.

I cannot give in. Every time I give, even the slightest bit, I let the rope slip toward my opponent in this tug of war for my life and sanity. And even the smallest advantage may be all the bully needs to yank that rope hard enough that I land face down in the mud, defeated for the day. Though, even when that happens, I must remind myself that OCD may have won the battle, but I am still in it to win the war.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Pitiful Mess

At what point does it have to stop?

Tonight, as I stood sobbing over my Clorox mop for the 4th time today, load of socks in the washer for the 6th time in 24 hours because I can't manage to move them to the dryer "correctly", I was suddenly standing in a pool of my own blood. Another nosebleed. The repeated exposures to chlorine fumes have clearly made my nasal passages angry. And another destroyed shirt...between bleach stains and blood, how many articles of clothing have I destroyed now?

I contemplated the pathetic nature of my situation. People don't do this, I reasoned. I have to stop, I pointed out in my mind.

The past 48 hours have been horrid. I found a spot on my hand that I am convinced is something contagious, despite some rather compelling evidence to the contrary. It has made everything rather difficult, especially laundry. I am so sick of this. As soon as it is proven that this particular thing is nothing to worry about, there will be another. And another. And, yes, another. And there's the problem - I keep waiting for this to stop happening, but it won't. What actually needs to change is my reaction. Life can't keep stopping every time I find some mystery spot, scratch, or lesion on my body. Life will never be in motion at that rate.

Monday, May 24, 2010


I am not a religious person. However, I do understand why people need religion. I am not here to debate what people believe, or whether it is good or bad, right or wrong. That's not my place. But it has occurred to me why religion works so well; it gives people a purpose.

As I trudge through this nightmare known as OCD, living my life with a bully in my head, looking for some way out, I think often of how a faith like Christianity could be beneficial to someone in my situation. Right now, I view my situation as unfair and absurd, with no meaning or purpose whatsoever. OCD is doing nothing but destroying my life, my marriage, my happiness, my health, my sense of self-worth, my self-esteem, my everything. Buddhism points out that suffering is a fundamental part of life, and that none of us are picked out to be picked on. And I believe that. But, I sorta wish I didn't.

I read blogs about Christians enduring hardships and losses, and their belief is that God has a plan, and that "God's plan is perfect". Heck, if I believed that, it would be so much easier to accept this. Not only this, the suffering, but also risk and uncertainty. I could just tell myself, "Self, don't worry. Yes, that item might feel contaminated, and hell, it might even be contaminated. But God has a plan. Whatever happens will come to pass regardless of whether that item is clean or contaminated. If God wants me to be infected, so it will be. If God wants me safe, so that will be. It is in God's hands, and it is all a part of the plan." Phew. It would feel so incredibly good to say that, think that, feel that.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Today Was Good

No. Today was great. I actually felt more like my old self today than I have in the better part of a year.

I had a bunch of purchased things to return, which meant a horrendous amount of exposures. It was a grand total of four retail stores and a trip to the postal store to ship and/or return other items. I also stopped at two secondhand clothing stores to sell some used clothing, and then I went shopping at a mall. In addition, I saw (and hugged!) my dad for the first time in more than a year. This, all of this, was huge.

I stopped being able to be around my dad, who I love dearly, because he became "contaminated". I have a thing about skin diseases, and he mentioned about a year ago that he thought he had a fairly benign skin disease. Even if he did, which he probably didn't, it should be long gone by now. But did the OCD Bully care? No. And subsequently, I have not been able to visit my own father for more than a year. I cannot adequately express how much that hurt me.

When I saw him pull up in front of my grandmother's house today, I thought I would feel panic and fear. I didn't. Aside from some momentary discomfort at the thought of a possible contamination, my happiness won out and I ran and gave my dad a huge hug. Nothing else mattered. For once in a long time, OCD didn't completely eff something up for me.

After a really nice visit with dad and grandma, I went to the postal store and handed contaminated items to a contaminated cashier, used a contaminated pen to sign my name to a contaminated piece of paper, touched a contaminated door to get in and out, and...well, you get the idea. So I was then contaminated, and so were my keys and car door and steering wheel and cell phone and so on. But I was mostly cool with it. And that surprised me.

I stopped at all of the other places, handed my debit card over to be swiped by multiple people to process my returns (I have to buy online a lot because of how far from malls we live), visited a secondhand clothing store (two, actually) - a huge exposure for me, and handled more potentially contaminated things than I could even keep track of. By the time I got to my reward store, where I just shopped for fun, I was almost feeling like a normal person (read: me, without OCD)! Almost.

This likely goes back to my previous post about habituation. Getting out is certainly good for me, and I should probably make an effort to do it more often. I really enjoyed my day, and being able to visit with my dad really, really made me happy.

Screw you, OCD. Today was mine.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Habituation: If It Doesn't Suck...

You're not doing it right. At least, that is the conclusion I have come to. If I feel content, comfortable, free of massive stress and anxiety, then I am not working the ERP hard enough. And the results only come when I am really pressing myself. The fact that it feels so counter-intuitive only complicates things; I feel like I am running a race, and everything tells me I should run faster, but running slower is what pushes me forward. It makes no sense.

The secret lies in habituation. I have noticed that that if I have one fear, and I encounter another fear which seems more substantial than the first, the initial fear loses almost all of its power. For example, say I have a piece of laundry which I feel is contaminated (by my standards, which I know are not normal). I might feel like it is impossible to place that piece of laundry in the washing machine with less contaminated articles of clothing. The mere thought of it might provoke a rapid heart rate and trembling. But then I go shopping, and I touch something sticky. While it is probably just juice, or something equally benign, my mind runs with the possibilities until I feel like nothing short of a hot shower will make me feel better. Upon returning home, the piece of laundry that once felt frighteningly contaminated no longer bothers me. I am able to wash it without any psychological discomfort.

That is habituation. I liken it to jumping into a cold pool, which I did many times during my childhood. At first it feels awful! You want to get right back out and remove yourself from the discomfort of the cold. But, if you wait, your brain stops paying attention to the signals from your body. The water doesn't get any warmer, but you become habituated to it. It no longer brings the same level of discomfort. In fact, before too long, you are enjoying yourself in the water without much of a thought to the temperature. If you get out of the pool, but get right back in, there isn't nearly the jolt you felt the first time. And that is the key. Who knew all those years of swimming would afford me such a useful metaphor?

Keep jumping in the pool.

I have found that some things are getting easier. As I continue pressing myself, which feels like the wrong thing to do, life is becoming a bit more normal. Things that would typically drive me nuts are much less anxiety-provoking. But occasionally, for whatever reason, I have a really, really bad day where I can't seem to do anything right. Those days are filled with much self-loathing (I have no patience with myself for this crap). But I am reminded of something I read in a newer book by Jeff Bell, called When In Doubt, Make Belief. Though I don't recall the exact phrasing, the point was that we have an opportunity in each moment, if we don't let past (did I?) or future (will X happen?) overrun our current, our present, our now. And many times I have stood, facing my nemesis, saying to myself, I have this moment...just this moment...and I don't need to think about anything else right now except what I am doing. It is not as bad as it seems. OCD is a bully. It wants me to be afraid. The fear I feel is real, but the threat is not. And it does work, not miraculously, but with enough effort.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

OCD: The Invisible Fence

I am a person who uses a lot of metaphor to describe how I experience the world. Never has an experience been so rich with metaphor as what I have been through with OCD. While each component has its own subset of descriptives, on the whole I compare having OCD to being a dog in a yard with invisible fencing. There is the illusion of freedom; life is right there, all around me, within my reach, I often think to myself. Yet, one little step outside of the prescribed OCD boundaries (i.e., the fenced-in area that my life has become), and I get a very uncomfortable reminder that my illusion of freedom is just that - an illusion.

The invisible fence of OCD is one of the most challenging and depressing aspects of the disorder for me. I realize that, if I merely thought differently, all of that could be mine. And I remember what it feels like to have it. But that is just like me; I want things accomplished now. I've had some critical epiphanies about OCD and how to manage it, so it should just be done now. If only it were that easy.

There is a way to escape the yard. I am searching diligently for the way out. Knowing what is beyond the invisible fence is both inspiring and depressing. I want it, and that motivates me. But I realize how simple it is for everyone else and how difficult it is for me, and that is really a downer.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Beginning

A little over a decade ago, I found myself entrenched in an epic battle for my life. I had an eating disorder, a lovely combination of anorexia and bulimia. I didn't eat, and when I did, I purged. Not very pretty, but then, it had nothing at all to do with being pretty.

Anyone with OCD will easily recognize the similarities between an eating disorder and their disorder; the weighing, the measuring, the nightmares about having eaten something forbidden, the guilt, the self-loathing, the loss of everything that once mattered to the fierce grip of the disorder. Looking back, I think that was just one of the many manifestations of my OCD. Some are mild, the type that fly below the radar and register as nothing but quirks. But in the case of the eating disorder that nearly cost me my life, and with my newest manifestation of fear of contamination - which, in some ways, has also almost cost me my life, some are quite blatant and affect those around me. I hate those.

I hate the manifestations of my OCD that affect people around me for two reasons. One, obviously, is that I don't want someone else to suffer the consequences of my disorder. The second is a bit more selfish; I am embarrassed. I don't want people seeing my weakness, my vulnerability.

My eating disorder came on the heels of a very traumatic experience in my life, which is probably beyond the scope of this blog, so I will leave it at that. I needed control, for I had none. Similarly, this new manifestation followed some of the same feelings. I had recently been diagnosed with arthritis, and Lupus was on the table as well (still is). Just two years prior, I had recovered from a very serious and frightening illness which, until more recently, had been my very worst fear come true! For a time, I had tremendous confidence and comfort for how I handled it. But then, as if the OCD (which you will often see me refer to as my Bully) took note of my comfort and wanted to destroy it, the Bully saw these new diagnoses as hot buttons and acted accordingly. Oddly, not about those things, but about contamination. I have a very specific contamination fear of skin diseases.

At the lowest point of my OCD (for heaven's sake, I hope that was rock bottom, because I cannot fathom worse), I was, for all intents and purposes, crippled with fear. I could not touch a shopping cart, found leaving the house more trouble than it was worth, became terrified of any possible source of skin diseases (which, if you think about it, is pretty much everything), and spent most of my time thinking I, and those around me, would be better off if I were dead. I saw no way out. Every relationship in my life was coming apart, I stopped having any contact with my friends, and I still have not seen my dad in more than a year. He mentioned once that he had a skin disease, and he became a source of contamination. How much that pains me is not something the English language has words for. I miss my dad so much that I often cry about the situation.

Determined that, if I could beat anorexia and bulimia, I could beat this (or anything, for that matter), I armed myself with books, workbooks, websites, and anything I could find that would be of use in my fight. A bully lives in my head, rent free, and the idea really pisses me off. What this bully has taken from me grates me even more.

I know I am not alone. I will find my way out of this, and I want so very much to help others do the same. When I searched for OCD blogs, I really didn't find many, so I decided to start my own. If you have an OCD blog that you update on a regular basis, let me know. I would like to add you to my links. Power in numbers, right?

Stay tuned. It's on, and this bully is going down.