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


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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.