Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Do It Anyway

  • I haven't kept track of the exact number of days, but it's been weeks since I've done one of my hours-long hand washing rituals. While I have, probably 3-4 times, washed my hands for longer than a normal person would, the longest I've done that is less than 10 minutes.
  • I've been putting all the groceries away as they come home. Nothing has stayed on the floor for a very long time.
  • I've been having a healthy breakfast and taking a multivitamin every day for a while now, and I'm feeling better.
  • I'm exercising much more regularly.
  • I'm doing more things I enjoy.
  • I finally got that blanket out I was working on for my daughter, the one I was afraid to touch because it was "contaminated". I'll continue working on it now.
  • I've allowed a visitor to stop by twice now. That's huge, and a first since 2009.
  • I finally got the living room arranged just the way I want it! That's also been on hold since 2009.
  • I've been asking for less reassurance, and almost never asking for a "spotter" to watch me do things. Major improvements on that front.
  • I'm cooking more! And eating healthier in general.
My fingernails are growing - not just back, but kind of long! I have not had any length to my nails in years. Kinda makes me want to paint them. I just might.

My mantra, as I press on through this week, this journey, this fight, is: be afraid, and do it anyway.

"Courage is simply the willingness to be afraid and act anyway."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Medications, Me, and OCD

At the risk of potentially offending some people, and I sincerely hope I do not, I felt it time to address the issue of medication as it relates to me and my ocd and my beliefs. I emphasize my because I do not want people to think I am forming opinions of what they do, casting judgment on what works for them, doubting their success, or suggesting that anyone stop or avoid the use of medications for the treatment of ocd or any other psychiatric disorder. However, due to the frequency at which people are recommending I go get myself on some medications (every time I post), it's something I need to discuss.

First, I know the people who suggest this to be are doing so out of kindness and compassion, so I hesitate to even post on the topic because I do not want anyone to feel that I am being dismissive of their genuine, caring attempts to help me. I take these acts for what they are, as an attempt to offer me a beacon of light and some hope on this very dark journey through ocd. We know this road, we walk it together, and I believe we all only want the best for each other.

Second, I realize there are people for whom life would be unbearable without certain medications. Medications have their place, and undoubtedly there are situations in which they greatly improve lives and are a necessary tool in a person's quest for health and wellness. I would never try to convince anyone otherwise.

And finally, your life is not mine to live. I have no right to say what you should or should not do. These choices are your own, and I respect them - particularly when they are part of a desire to improve your life.

Now, with all of that said...

My stance on medications is that I will not use or try them unless I have completely exhausted every other option.

I do not like SSRI medication. I think they are profoundly over-prescribed. I think we, as a society, are far too over-medicated. I've had everyone from doctors to friends to strangers trying to shove SSRI medication down my throat for everything from anorexia to restless legs during my pregnancy to PMS and cramps ever since they gained major popularity back in the 1990s. But I have studied these drugs, I know what they do, and I realize that they are truly a last resort.

I have seen far too many people overuse and abuse medications. I also realize that the bottom line remains the same; at the end of the day, I will still have to do my exposures, feel the fear, and press on. Also, I have managed to get through, sans medications, everything that people have tried to cram SSRIs down my throat for. This does nothing to bolster their case.

All feelings aside, there is also the matter of my spiritual beliefs. I am a Buddhist. The fifth precept advises that we should abstain from intoxicants. Now, I do have an occasional drink. Clouding my mind for a mere few hours versus weeks or years on a medication is a huge deal-breaking difference for me. Alcohol also does not chemically restructure my brain. SSRIs do. I believe that my faith and the use of psychotropic medication are mutually exclusive in all but the most unavoidable cases. I'm not saying that good people who follow the Buddhist way of life cannot take necessary medications, I just find it far too difficult to take SSRIs seriously considering their copious overuse, the kickbacks received by the medical profession, the endless indiscretions of Big Pharma, and the fact that (as I stated before) I've been offered SSRI medication for so many things that I find it more than a little disconcerting. The lawsuits spawned by the prolific "popularity" of SSRI medications is enough to scare anyone to their bones. I encourage you to Google this, only for informative purposes. I believe many people are far too uninformed about what they ingest daily, be it medications or even genetically-modified food.

I hope that clears things up about where I stand on medications for me personally. As I said before, I do thank you for the concern and kindness. I realize these things come from a positive place. I hope you, too, will understand that we all think and do differently. This is the path I've chosen to go.

Monday, May 28, 2012


I am just getting back into the groove here, so forgive my if I haven't given your blog any attention just yet. I like to read them when I can take adequate time to consider the words you've written and respond.

Yesterday wasn't too bad. I realize much of this comes down to choices I make. Some of those choices are extremely scary and painful, but only until I adjust. The rewards are substantial. This journey must be taken one step at a time, as much as I would like to jump to the finish line and be done with it or refuse to acknowledge that this is a path I may be on for a lifetime - to one degree or another. Acceptance is crucial, I think, not of allowing ocd to ravage my life but of myself as someone who has ocd. Yes, I still struggle with that.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


I took an unintended break. Things are much the same with most of my issues. I think the laundry might be taking a backslide. Scratch that, I know it is. But my hands! I went without washing them at all for several nights. It's been weeks since I did one of my hours-long pre-bed rituals. My hands have shed layers of dead crap which had basically created a shell. I have feeling in my fingertips again! The backs of my hands are so incredibly soft. They have no bled in weeks. My nails are beginning to thicken to a point of near-normal, and some of them even look...dare I say pretty? But I still have redness. I don't get that. I no longer have the ring at at my wrist, clearly indicating where I repeatedly and painfully wash to to many, many times per day. That makes me feel like I've conquered at least something.

However, I am on the floor again. I've been taking the easy way out. I've been letting the bitch ocd win far too often. But I didn't really want to be in my bed. Not after the things he said to me at the beginning of this month. Hell, I didn't even want to exist after that. Sure, sure, he followed it all with sometimes I feel that way, but the damage had been done. Those words had been etched into my very freaking soul.

It's a slow climb, and one I'm not completely sure I want to make. I feel like I have done this so many times, only to have the rug yanked out from beneath me. There's only so many times a person will run after a 10 mile goal, only to get to 8 miles and have the marker moved to 30. Lather, rinse, repeat. I'm tired, people. Tired. Bone tired, and mentally exhausted. I ask what the hell I am fighting for when (a) it seems like everything I thought I had is gone and (b) it never seems to really matter anyhow.

I've been in a dark place, not suited for blogging. And yes, I know I have potential. I know I could do great things. I know I could have a good life. Thing is, half of me feels like it's missing. I feel shattered and broken. It's an effort to summon the desire to live every day, let alone do anything else.

But, I got up today and ate a healthy breakfast. I took a vitamin. I ate a healthy snack. I started thinking about healthy recipes. I forced myself to tackle a couple of chores that scared me. I guess I am trying again. However, if I am to be honest here, I am so close to breaking point that I don't know what will happen if this all falls apart and something like what happened at the beginning of the month happens again. At that point, I think I'd like to crawl up my own ass and die. It usually takes days to a couple of weeks for me to find my center again. It took a month this time, and I can't even say I'm really there even now. I'm forcing myself. I have to. I keep hoping there's something to all of that "fake it 'til you make it" shit.

Monday, May 7, 2012


Today was difficult.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Meat Blood and Skin Pieces

I woke up today feeling pretty good and clean. Which is, with ocd, a bad thing. The urge is to stay as clean as I currently am, and that gets me nowhere but into a fearful avoidance routine.

On the menu for dinner tonight was a roast, which I was to make in my newly-cleaned slow cooker. The slow cooker had spent the past couple of years in a cabinet beneath a drawer in the kitchen which previously was home to many a band-aid and thus it and anything in the cabinets below it was considered "contaminated". The other day during my mass cleaning spree, I said screw it and got my slow cooker out and ready for use.

Now, I'm not a big fan of meat. I don't care to eat it, and I really don't care to touch it uncooked. Red meat is much worse because it looks all bloody - and if you've been reading my blog for more than a day you know that blood and I don't get along particularly well. But even that is something I can usually deal with; I slice open the bloody meat package with a knife and use said knife to stab the meat and lift it ever so carefully into whatever thing I'm cooking it in. But today, as I was rather confidently slicing the package open, I noticed wet blood on the outside. The out-freaking-side of the package.

So shit. I have a difficult enough time dealing with meat blood on the inside of the goddamn package. At least when it's on the inside, I can be reasonably certain that it is from the meat and not an injured human being handling the meat. The fact that it was still wet blood didn't matter much to me, because I'd had it stored inside of the plastic grocery bag in the fridge overnight. Conceivably, this could have kept the blood wet if it was not from the meat. Likely? No. Probable? Unlikely. Possible? The ocd can make anything seem possible. And the way ocd works is something like this:

Most obscure, tiny possibility, no matter how remote ---> It's possible, therefore it is not 100% safe ---> Possible means probable ---> Probable means likely ---> Likely means almost certainly ---> Almost certainly means the risk here is about 99% ---> BAM! PWNED by OCD

I wanted more than anything to throw that meat away. I didn't. I put it in the cooker, added all of the veggies and seasonings, and moved on. I didn't change clothes, I just washed my hands for about 2 minutes. And because I already felt pretty freaked out, I went ahead and got some things done that I'd been procrastinating about touching.

Earlier this morning when I washed my hands, I had a ton of dead skin come off. This happens occasionally, being the massive user of soap that I am; every week or so, the skin on my hands all sheds like a snake. I rubbed off the extra bits which remained after I dried them, and didn't think anything of it...until I returned later and found pieces of skin all over the sink. And of course my mind starts running races around the potential disasters this could bring about. I mean, sure, I saw a ton of dead, dried up skin come off of my hands - but what if it wasn't from me!? You know, because that makes all the damn sense in the world.

I'm really getting tired of ocd living rent-free in my headspace.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Ignoring The Lion

My ocd evolved quite rapidly from one very specific concern to a spiderweb of relationships to other illnesses, people, places, objects, and experiences. While I wasn't relieving myself in bottles in a dark room like Howard Hughes at my worst, I'd still call it severe. Being housebound for six months qualifies, and I was.

Even eating got to be too challenging; there is always the risk for an unexpected exposure if something doesn't look right or appears to have been tampered with in some manner. For a period of time, I was sleeping on the floor with no blanket or pillow, eating nothing but bottled water, coffee, and snack crackers, and not even stepping out my front door to retrieve packages or mail. The wake-up call came when the "diet" ocd had imposed on me started making me retain fluid in my ankles and my kidneys started hurting all the time from constant dehydration. While I drank the bottled water, it wasn't much. Opening the caps was an exposure for me, and I avoided it until my thirst was so intense it was almost unbearable.

I utilized a broom to reach items placed on the wrong side of the door when mail packages arrived. Literally every single moment of my day consisted of cleaning and washing rituals, and even my sleep was invaded by contamination nightmares. If I came into contact with anything on myself which I believed to be an infection of any sort, a minimum of 4-8 hours of ritual body cleaning and disinfection of the area around me and the area around that would follow.

At my worst, I truly believed suicide was the only way out. I thought my life was over and I was left with an existence of suffering and watching like a ghost as my life, he one I once enjoyed so much, kept going on without me. This was before I experienced the results of response prevention.

If someone had told me five years ago that I'd be living that way, I would have laughed and said, "There's no way in hell I'd ever do that to myself." I completely understand why people have such difficulty imagining why we do the things ocd tells us to do. The worst of it, I think, it the fact that lessening the grip ocd has on me involves reacting to and doing things in such a way that it feels wildly counterintuitive. Common sense says wash if you feel dirty, and our biology has us programmed to react to fear in a certain way. I always say that reducing the ocd's power involves something akin to having a hungry, roaring lion in your living room and knowing that the only way to avoid being consumed is to ignore any urge to respond to the lion or fear the situation causes. Doing anything to placate the lion will only cause it to grow and become angrier. Mindf_ck.

But it is what it is.

I went to sleep last night without washing my hands at all. I didn't plan it that way, but I sat in the recliner feeling like I just needed a break for a moment, then I woke up hours later. I decided to skip the rituals I knew I'd need to go to my bed and sit with the fact that I hadn't washed my hands because it was still a step in the right direction. In all, I slept over 10 hours in the chair. After being awake for two straight days, I guess I needed it. I washed my hands when I got up, but for less than 5 minutes. Feelin' good. In the past, falling asleep with dirty hands might have worked briefly, but it would have been on the floor only and I would have had to spray the floor with disinfectant, change my clothes, and wash any uncovered part of my body as I cannot know what I touched in my sleep. None of that happened, and I don't really feel the need.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Goal Check-In and Tackling Doubts

Do you ever get the feeling you've touched something when you haven't? Do you ever believe you've sabotaged yourself? One of the biggest ocd issues I struggle with is being unsure of my own actions and behaviors. Did I get this paper towel off of the roll, or was it a used one from the sink or counter? Did I really put soap in the dishwasher or washing machine? Did I use my hand instead of my covered arm to switch off the light? Did I reach over there and touch the garbage with my clean hands? I'm always convinced of these things, it seems. I ask for reassurance a lot about them.

Now that I am getting more comfortable with my daughter helping me with laundry (she's really good at it, too!), I am getting things done much faster and no one is running out of clean clothes. She had been asking for her own chores for a few months, but ocd kind of makes me feel like I have to do everything myself and I hadn't been able to allow her to help with anything. I finally asked her what she would most like to do, and she said laundry. Of course, it had to be the thing I fear the most, right? But it has turned out to be a very good thing for both of us. I love seeing her confident little smile as she carries the towels to the linen closet and sets them inside, folded a little less perfectly than my ocd would prefer, but wonderfully nonetheless. "Did I do a good job, mom?" she asks. And I tell her, "The best ever. Way better than I do!"

So currently, the biggest obstacle between me and the damn laundry is my doubt. My most debilitating, time-consuming ocd brainfart is that I become absolutely convinced that I either didn't set the washing machine on the full cycle, or I went out there, opened the door, stuck in a dirty hand toward the end of the wash cycle, and contaminated everyfreakingthing. My daughter always says, when I speak this brainfart aloud, "Mom, why on earth would you do that?" I have no idea why I would, but I sure am afraid I did - especially if I happen to be working with something "contaminated" while the stuff is in there.

It seems that just thinking about something, like what if I touched something in the washer near the end of the cycle with that blood I found on my hand from some unknown source? Then BAM, ocd turns what if I did into I must have done. When that happens, I typically tell myself that resistance to the thought is futile, the risk is just too big to take, and I immediately run out there and restart the effing machine. This is something I need to work on because it is an extremely strong compulsion I have an extremely difficult time talking myself out of or avoiding. I feel like it owns me, and it's gotten to the point where I will close the door to the laundry room, check the time so I know exactly when the machine should be done, and put something (like a big bag of cat food) in front of the door so I know I would have had to go through multiple obstacles to contaminate the clean laundry. I guess they call it "the doubting disease" for a reason, eh?

So, moving on. Goals progress for the week (even a shitty week). To review:

* Put away the holiday decorations. Done!
* Get living room how I want it. 90% Done!
* Read every day from my Kindle or a real book. Didn't do.
* Start taking better care of myself, including daily exercise and multivitamin. Improved.
* Go to bed at a reasonable time, regardless right now of where "bed" ends up being. Eh.
* Avoid taking the "comfortable" route as much as possible, with the awareness that doing so is what fuels ocd. I am in a fight for my life. Was improved, backslid.
* Do at least 3 loads of laundry per week, reasonably spaced so I am not freaking out and doing an all-nighter every Sunday so people have clothes for the week. Did it!
* Ask for reassurance less. I must say, "Did I just touch that?" or "Did you just touch me?" 500,000 times a damn day. I'm sure it annoys my family even more than it annoys me. Was improved, backslid.

On a cool note, I also tackled a goal from my "later" list of goals, and I have been sleeping in bed exclusively ever since I started again over a week ago. That's huge. I'm proud of that one.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

BAM. Wall.

Saturday was complete shit.

I'll write more when I hate myself and life in general a little less.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Correlation: Stress Level and Finding What I Fear

I'm pretty sure I found blood and pieces of skin or scabs no fewer than 20 times yesterday. I felt the overwhelming need to change my clothes after bringing in the mail and opening a "scary" package. But I didn't. I also felt the urge to change after part of the grocery bag hit my sleeve, but I resisted. And when I stepped on a cold spot on the floor and was convinced it was wet, which is terrifying to me because I can never be sure why it was wet, I was sure I'd have to change my sock and quite possibly wipe my foot with bleach water. But I didn't. And I wore the clothes and the socks to bed.

Yesterday's exposures included, total:

  • handling visibly dirty laundry, some of which I've been too afraid to tackle for months

  • putting away groceries

  • grocery bag hitting my sleeve

  • bringing in the mail and opening a package which "looked contaminated"

  • finding things that looked like scabs or blood

  • stepping on a spot I believed was wet with an unknown substance

  • cleaning the toilet

  • going to bed in "dirty" clothes

  • Washing for <20 minutes
For the fourth night in a row, I washed for no more than 20 minutes and subsequently slept in my own bed. I did stay up rather late last night, but being Saturday I was able to sleep in and still got a good night's sleep. Sleep is magical when it comes to dealing with the stress that ocd brings. Being exhausted makes everything so much worse and leads to a lot of, "Screw it, I just don't have the capacity to deal with this today." Sleep is absolutely critical, non-negotiable.

It is the weekend, and I suspect my typical Friday anxieties had a great deal to do with why I felt tense and found so many things scary yesterday. I still feel a bit stressed because I don't care much for weekends, but I'm determined to stay on track. If ocd gets an inch, it'll take a trip around the globe.

Friday, April 20, 2012

More Stupid Blood Exposures

Wow.  I can't begin to express how much I hate the new Blogger interface.  It absolutely sucks.  If there is an option to use the old format, I will be forever grateful to the person who shares this info with me.

Anyhow, I did something huge last night.  I had a drop of blood on my sock shortly after putting away some groceries.  I knew it came from me, at least I was pretty damn sure it did, but ocd was screaming, but what if it didn't!?  I had two options.  The urge was to change my sock, scrub my foot, and change my clothes.  The second was to keep the sock on, keep my clothes on (which I really needed to do to sit with the bed exposure from earlier yesterday morning), and dab the blood with a bit of Clorox to make sure it didn't mess up anything else.  I did the latter.

The real challenge was going to bed with that sock still on.  Because I was already dealing with a previous blood exposure, my brain was on high alert already.  This can create some major anxiety and resultant urges to engage in compulsive decontaminating behaviors.  I wasn't sure how I would feel, but I'd already made up my mind that I was going to sleep in my bed regardless.  And I did.  I feel really proud of myself. 

As for my anxiety level on the bed exposure/fear, it's now basically non-existent.  It was in the 90s easily when it first occurred to me yesterday morning, but apparently the Do Nothing approach caused my mind to be done with it.  I'd say the anxiety about it now would be maybe a 5.  Yes, just a five.  Wild stuff.

Putting away groceries, then going to bed in the same clothes I was wearing when I touched them?  Also pretty epic.  I believe I've done this fewer than five times in two years.  I'm finding that, just as engaging in compulsive behaviors spreads to other things like peeing in a pool, true response prevention (not delaying - delaying does nada, IMHO) also extends to other areas.  It is absolutely the hardest, scariest thing to do, but the benefits never cease to amaze me.

But, as always, it's not all fairy tales.  I got up this morning, found some spot (probably just a variation in the paper process) on the toilet paper in the bathroom where my daughter had just been, and was convinced it was contaminated with something.  I asked her to change clothes and wash her hands because she'd used the roll.  Sigh.  You win some, you lose some.  I'm not going to get too down on myself about this.

I am hoping to fight like hell and be ready to take a trip later on next month to visit some family.  That's a post in itself, so more on that later.  For today, I have some goals.  I have to avoid the biggest trap, which is feeling clean and going to excessive lengths to avoid feeling contaminated.  Right now, I feel pretty clean.  I have to remind myself that I'm really neither clean nor dirty, and just keep pressing on.  The ocd will continue to try to find things to trap me, and I have to remain focused ahead to avoid getting sidetracked by all of the bullshit.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


If you Twitter, you can find me here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Bedtime Ritual

Going to bed sucks.

Once upon a time, when I decided I was too sleepy to remain awake any longer, I would turn off the lights and TV, walk to my room, hop into bed and snuggle in for the night. Sometimes I would fall asleep reading a book if I didn't feel sleepy just yet. And I never imagined I would long for that simplicity.

Now, bedtime happens between 2AM and 8AM. It involves a ritual where I must clean under my fingernails with a 50/50 bleach/water solution and a toothbrush, wash my face, wash my neck, wash my arms, clean the bandage on my possibly diseased and thus encased in a bandage thumb, then wash my hands. I can't dry with paper towels, because that has bit me in the ass too many times to count. Paper towels are littered with paper-ish things, like random color variations and speckles. My ocd doesn't like it. So I air dry. And I could accomplish all of that fairly fast, except for the fact that there is uncertainty, and I almost always screw something up. On a great night, I can accomplish the ritual without any additional cleaning (floor for dirty water splatters, etc.) and be done in about 15-30 minutes. On a terrible night, I can end up tearfully completing this nightmare ritual in as many as 5 hours. Some of those nights I've just said f%#k it, made a ton of coffee, and just stayed up.

The worst part of this isn't even the painful loss of sleep. Having kids means I can't sleep all day, because they're up pretty early, and their needs are not optional. The worst part is how ill-equipped sleep deprivation leaves me to cope with stress and take those necessary risks.

I often wonder how other people prepare for bed. Prior to ocd, I would go into my master bathroom, wash my face with a yummy-scented face wash, brush my teeth, grab a book, and climb into bed. I was usually in my pajamas from the second I got home. I never washed before that, either, and now I wouldn't dream of not scouring myself and dumping my contaminated clothes in the wash bin before changing.

For that matter, how often does the average person (or even the person with the flavor of ocd that isn't germaphobic) wash their hands? I remember sometimes looking at my manicured nails (you could not pay me a million dollars to get me to go to a nails salon and let people poke and prod at me with instruments used on God knows how many people now), thinking, yuck! I have a bunch of crud under there and really ought to invest in a nail brush. Eh, screw it. I'm showering later anyhow. What I would not give to feel that way again, filthy or not!

Anyway, some positives for today:

  • Had a healthy breakfast and a multi-vitamin.

  • Didn't wash myself and everything I touched a billion times before being able to sit down and eat said breakfast.

  • Got to bed last night with a very short washing ritual. Resisted the urge to re-do several things.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Do You Have an OCD Blog?

If you comment on my blog, and I have not commented on yours, please leave a comment below with a link so I can visit! I don't selectively discriminate, my mind is just usually all crapped up with ocd thoughts and I forget very easily.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Cold Pool of OCD

Why can't I just stop?

Can I just stop?

How do I stop?

I've come to a few realizations. One is that you can't just stop having ocd. The other is that you must just stop doing ocd. Habituation is jumping into a cold pool; at first, the shock to your body from the cold water is unpleasant. You might have the urge to jump right out of the chilly water and back into the warm air. However, you also probably want to swim and enjoy being in the pool. To get there, you have to wait. You have to allow habituation to occur. If you wait, you'll eventually realize that the water no longer feels uncomfortable. After a few minutes, the water will feel quite comfortable. You will no longer experience the urge to leap out of the pool for the sake of escaping the unpleasantness of the chill.

Now, the water temperature has not changed; the only difference is that habituation has occurred. The unpleasantness, the cues from your brain telling you, "Holy crap, this water is COLD!" have stopped coming. Again, nothing has changed about the situation, the water, or your physical self, per se. Nothing, that is, except habituation. You've "gotten used to" the pool water and you are now free to enjoy whatever activity you jumped into the pool for in the first place. Even if you get out of the pool, say to use the diving board, you will still feel acclimated to the water temperature. Unless you stay out of a few minutes, in which case you will habituate to the air temperature around you. Which is why it is important to keep going back into the pool.

Which is why it is important to keep going back into the places that scare you or make you feel uncomfortable. Avoiding jumping into the pool will not make the water any warmer, and avoiding contamination will not make something any less contaminated.

Habituation also happens much faster if you just jump right the hell into the pool. Easing your way in a little at a time just allows the process to last longer, your mind to consider the coolness of the water longer, your body to experience the unpleasantness longer. The person who jumped in at the same time you started tiptoeing in is already having fun and enjoying the water, while you're still standing there thigh-deep, re-experiencing the shock of the chilly water one step at a time. Whose experience of getting used to the water is likely to be more negative? Who is more likely to avoid the unpleasantness in the future? The tiptoer, of course.

And OCD is the same.

I have the power to either strengthen or take the wind right out of the sails of ocd. Every time I react to an obsessive or frightening thought (i.e. OMG, that red dot is blood!) by washing or performing some compulsion or ritual, I am telling my brain that it was correct in its assessment of the risk. In doing this, my brain takes my action as confirmation, and the compulsion is deemed "necessary" in the future. An unrelated pair of things becomes related, and OCD gains strength and validity. Now all red spots are dangerous and require a decontamination ritual - even if they're easily recognizable as simple polkadots in a pattern on a dress.

I went to sleep two nights in a row with no soap & water handwashing. None. I did briefly wipe my hands with a cloth, but that was it. Will this continue? Likely not quite yet. But I am hoping it will help me break the 4-hour handwashing ritual that nightmares are made of. Time will tell. And meanwhile, I will keep reminding myself of the cold pool.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Britney Spears, a Book, and Contamination

I'm kind of obsessed with Britney Spears for the past few years. Not because I'm a fan or anything, and not in a stalkerish kind of way, but because this beautiful girl who was on top of the world had such a public breakdown in what had to have been an unimaginably painful way for most people to comprehend. My life began to crumble not long after, from ocd, and since it is speculated that Britney has bipolar, it's made me feel as if no one is immune to the cages our brains can lock us into. And I have to admit, I still keep hoping the "old Britney" will re-emerge, because that would give me more hope for myself. But I look at her now and see a shell of what once was.

Of course, I have no idea what goes on in her own world, what her everyday successes look like, or if she even has bipolar disorder. But, maybe because we are so close in age, I compare myself to her a bit. I'm certainly not famous and would never want to be, but Britney shows us that we all struggle. I choose to learn from that. And I will continue to hope that she makes it through whatever it is she's still obviously dealing with and finds real happiness. Everyone deserves to have some happiness, and I think she's suffered a lot.

Or maybe I'm projecting. Because I've been suffering deeply with the ocd lately. I am currently reading a great book called Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Steven C. Hayes, PH.D. with Spencer Smith. I have read a lot of books on ocd, and this one is not ocd-specific, but it is absolutely the best self-help book on any topic that I have ever read. If you're struggling with anything, from anxiety to addiction to ocd to just things in life that drag you down, this book is life-changing.

I feel a bit odd saying that since I have really been dealing with some major ocd junk lately. The past three weeks have been some of the worst since contamination ocd began. I've been absolutely convinced that blood is on multiple things, which led to multiple rituals, which led to me feeling contaminated, which led to me not sleeping in bed and eventually me sleeping on the floor without so much as the comfort of a blanket or sheet. Life basically sucks right now.

Also, I'm convinced that I have an infection on my thumb, which has not changed much in the past year and a half that I've been convinced it was there. But I am afraid of doctors' offices, because sick people with diseases and infections go there, and I might come home with something worse than what I went there I don't have any confirmation on the infection. Or lack thereof. But if I could get past the stupid thumb issue, which creates a plethora of bullshit side issues (keeping the bandaging clean, the HOURS it takes to re-bandage, the fear that the infection will somehow seep out and infect the whole damn household...I swear, I should make a site called Crazy Sh*t OCD Says), I think life would be pretty sweet.

But that's the problem, right there. If only and What if are the two phrases that prevent me from living fully. I want to sleep in my bed, take normal showers (instead of going through an hours-long disinfecting process), and get outside. All the time! Like I used to. Sigh. Why can't I just stop?

Okay, something mildly positive. I've been able to get to sleep the past three nights without a massive handwashing ritual. Just a quick wash or no wash at all. For about three days prior to that, I had spent approximately 3-5 rolls of paper towels, 1/2 a bottle of soap, and 4 or so hours washing my hands just to feel clean enough to go to sleep on the chair in the living room. Before I found blood on the back of the chair (seriously, wtf was that from!?) and started sleeping on the living room floor instead.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Just a Quick Wash...

We've all been there (us ocd people); you feel you've touched something contaminated and you just want to do a "quick wash", or you think you heard something in the house and you just want to do a "quick check". Haha, right.

That "quick" wash starts out okay, until you realize you've splattered "dirty" soap water onto the floor. Then you have to clean it, so you dry your hands and grab the floor cleaner. Then you have to start over with the hand washing. But now you're running out of paper towels or hand towels, or you've contaminated what you've got and need fresh ones. So you go get what you need and start again. By now, you've washed so many times you forget if you got each part of your hands...and wait...did you really clean up after the soap splatter, or did you just know you had to? Shit. You need to do that again. Meanwhile, you think your hair touched the contaminated cleaner bottle, so you have to clean that part of your hair. And because of all of the contamination you've been in, you'll need to change your clothes.

Or maybe you went to check out a noise you heard. And you did, but when you got back to bed you couldn't remember if you checked the window lock. So you went back to check. And once you were back in bed, you weren't sure if you really checked it or if you just went into the room and thought you checked it but really looked at something else. So you check again. But wait...did you check on your child? What if there was a blanket wrapped around his or her neck? You run out of your bedroom and into theirs. The kid is fine. Lather, rinse, repeat. You finally get done with this "quick" wash or check about 3 hours later. You're so exhausted you're asleep before your head hits the pillow.

This is why I have come to realize that "just a quick..." never is, no matter what it is, when you have ocd. The epic tidal wave of anxiety and exhaustion that could potentially (and probably will) overtake me if I decide that I need to do just a quick wash or check is often far worse than just sitting with the anxiety of whatever it is I'm trying to avoid. In fact, the experts would recommend going a step further and sitting with the anxiety while simultaneously imagining my worst case scenario. Honestly, I don't do the latter most of the time. I did once, and the result was kind of funny. But usually, just sitting with it is enough.

For example, I have a thing about contaminated water. Sometimes, when I am filling my coffee or tea cup with water in the morning, my ocd says, "Stop! Where did that water come from!? Were you paying attention to the faucet? Did it come from there? Or did you pick up a soaking cup full of old coffee and who knows what else?" Of course, this is absurd, and it sounds even more absurd when I externalize it by speaking it or writing it (the reason I came back to blogging!). There are a number of things I could reassure myself with. But, as absurd as it is, ocd is a powerful naysayer who can dismiss any measure of comfort and destroy my peace of mind in seconds. So I've stopped listening about the water. Because I've decided that drinking junk water is going to be more pleasant in any circumstance (even if it did, in fact, sit overnight soaking in a cup) than listening to ocd tell me I have to refill my damn coffee cup countless times before it feels "right" and I am allowed to be fully convinced of the safety of the water. Sometimes I even say aloud, "F%ck you, ocd. I'm using this water. I'm putting it in the microwave. See? Right there. And you can kiss my ass." Of course, I only say this if I am alone, which I usually am in the early morning. I don't know why, but when I talk back to ocd aloud, I feel more powerful. Eh, and maybe a little crazy, but whatever.

ERP is awesome. Well, maybe not the E (exposure) part, which is why you might often see me say just RP or response prevention. My ocd, this episode, has been what I would consider severe. I was housebound for 6 months, and wore only one pair of shoes for 2 years. I washed my hands for sometimes 3 hours at a time, and could not touch laundry without plastic gloves on my hands at one point. So for me, and I'm guessing some of you, simply preventing the response part of my constant friggin' anxiety and stress is huge all by itself. I don't need to seek exposures; simply getting out of bed and going pee in the morning constitutes an exposure for me. Really. But anyhow...

Recently, I found what I think is the best book ever written on the topic of ocd. It is called Coping with OCD: Practical Strategies for Living Well with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, by Troy DuFrene and Bruce Hyman. This book is fantastic; it hits all of the important points, stresses the importance of maintenance, and gives practical advice anyone can use. In short, it basically affirms that you're not alone, that they "get it", and gives you some very easy-to-follow instructions on how to set yourself free. Or, as they put it, to quiet the "Doomsayer". And ocd is a doomsayer, yes? And a bitch. And a bully. And so many other things. I find metaphor to be helpful in explaining my struggle with those who are unfamiliar with ocd. I like to say I have a bully living in my head 24/7, who only shuts up when I sleep. And back in the day, not even then! The bully even made its way into my dreams! Not lately, though.

Anyhow, I highly recommend the book. I'm not paid or encouraged to say that, I don't make money from my blog, and I'm not here for anyone's benefit but my own. And, if I am blessed enough to make a difference in someone else's life, your benefit. If I help even one person, even a little, by sharing my own struggle, it's all been worth it. And I sincerely mean that. I truly wish all of you who suffer with ocd a life free of it, where you can be you again. I don't even know you, and I want that for you. No one deserves this. I hate bullies, and ocd is one of the worst.

So this week, my goal is to avoid (as many times as possible) the "quick" wash, or the "quick" check. Want to join me? I'll be happy to cheer you on! If you're reading along and have a blog, I'd love to read yours, too, so leave a link in my comments. I add my regular reads to my sidebar.

Best to all of you.