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!