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.