Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Overcompensating for OCD

So much about living with OCD is about not doing what our minds tell us we have to do. If I listened to mine all the time, I'd have to check that I haven't offended a friend. I'd have to apologize again.

I'd have to get the medical test done to make sure I'm healthy. I'd have to explain myself repeatedly to make sure I'm understood.

If not, anxiety and panic ensue. But when I get in a rhythm of saying no to my mind, it can actually be satisfying to deprive myself of this pressure.

It's part of why Exposure and Response Prevention works for some people: We expose ourselves to what makes us anxious in order that the response, the panic, subsides with repetition. And for me it does, when I work with my therapist and support group.

But suppose you have hoarding issues (patterns that are closely related to OCD). Maybe you collect everything you can find--plastic bags, Tupperware containers, pens and pencils, old keys, anything--for no real reason other the paralyzing fear that these items will go to waste.

Maybe you're afraid that letting go of these things, if it really does mean you're being wasteful, will make you a bad person. This obsession with pragmatism has your house brimming with stuff you'll never use, and you can't find the articles you actually need.

So you're this person, and say a friend offers to help you by having a yard sale. (This is really tempting for you because you've been trying to work on the hoarding for your own sake, and the clean-up for practicality's sake.)

But here's the question: You know that if you have a yard sale, you're bound to find shoppers who will buy what you have. If someone buys the pens he's probably restocking a home office. If someone buys the keys she needs them for a craft project. The items are being used, not wasted.

But are you really confronting your OCD if you're ultimately satisfying the same goal that has you hung up--absolute practicality at any cost? Aren't you just feeding the fear?

My answer to this question is: "Stop thinking!" You're taking it too far. Maybe it's a little perfectionism setting in. In any case, it's keeping you from being productive and actually making progress at cleaning your house.

The question persists: If you were REALLY trying to practice ERP, wouldn't you throw everything away, in the trash, where it's certain nobody would ever find a use for your discards? Maybe. But that's just doing the opposite for opposite's sake. If you struggled with contamination, the tenets of ERP wouldn't require you to drink urine, would they?

We don't need to overcompensate for OCD. We just need to find our comfort zones...the place where healthy minds of the world function every day.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The New International OCD Foundation

You may not know it, but there is an organization out there that was created especially for us! It's called the International OCD Foundation, (formerly the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation). There are even local affiliates across the country. Here is a brief look into what the foundation can do for you:

  1. Find out how you can participate in OCD research. The International OCD Foundation posts information on clinical studies on its website. They aim to find answers on hoarding, body dysmorphic disorder, obsessions, compulsions, and the like. See how you can be a part of the research.
  2. Find a treatment provider. The organization has compiled a list of doctors who treat OCD and related disorders. While they have not evaluated the effectiveness of the providers, it is a good place to start your own investigation into finding some help. Find a doctor in your area, or search intensive treatment programs by state.
  3. Find a support group. I used the OC Foundation to find my support group, and I have already testified to the benefits I've experienced by going--accountability, objectivity, and community. Here's how the International OCD Foundation can help you find a support group of your own.
  4. Learn more about OCD. There's advice for parents of children with OCD, a list of books on OCD, and links to other websites and foundations. Visit to see what's there.
  5. Support the foundation. If you find the organization helpful or want to help fulfill its mission, make a donation or become a member.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Vote for Me, Please!

I've entered Wellsphere's Health Blogger Awards Competition. If you vote for me, and ask your other OCD friends to vote for me (if you like my blog, of course) I could be one of the top 100 people's health bloggers in the Wellsphere community!

Unfortunately since my site is anonymous, I can't send links out to family members like other bloggers can (and will), but that's a self-imposed handicap and I'll take it if I have to.

Click the button in the sidebar to cast your vote! It's much appreciated! Or, if you REALLY love me, and you have a website of your own, here's a link to my profile page at Wellsphere where there are instructions for posting your very own badge:

(If you haven't checked out Wellsphere, there's a wealth of knowledge there and it's growing daily at

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

OCD through My Husband's Eyes

A blog post written by bloggerwithocd's husband

So, my wife asked me to write a blog post for her about what it’s like to be married to someone with OCD. She jokingly said I could write about “how I put up with her.” In reality, it is a joy and a privilege to be married to such a glowing, caring, loving woman. For the vast majority of our time together, OCD has no negative effects and, as my wife alluded to in an earlier post, I believe that it benefits our relationship. We love to be goofy together, and I know that her non-linear thinking leads to a lot of laughter for us. Moreover, living with someone with OCD has taught me many things, both about the condition and about myself.

My wife revealed that she had OCD relatively early in our relationship, but it was hard to know what that meant, exactly. People say “Oh, I’m so OCD” so much that it’s easy to forget that OCD is an actual medical condition. That is unfortunate to me, and it seems to be in keeping with our culture’s inability to really address mental or emotional disorders. No one would ever say “Oh, that broken leg is just in your head. Get over it.” But people will cavalierly dismiss things like OCD without any thought.

One thing that I realized about eight months into our married life is how real and how potentially debilitating OCD can be. As my wife discussed in an earlier post, she had a difficult period in 2008 where she couldn’t sleep, could barely eat, and simply wasn’t functioning like she normally does. It was the first time that I experienced the power that OCD can have over someone, and I was simply overwhelmed. I had no idea how to help her, and when we were ultimately sitting in the emergency room at 1:00 AM, I realized that OCD needs to be treated, and treated aggressively, the same way you would address any chronic medical condition. Since that time, I think that I’ve gotten better at helping her address OCD problems. I try to help her confront issues, and to provide reassurance while at the same time trying not to enable any irrational needs or affirmations. At least, I hope I help sometimes. But the reality of OCD has made me more attuned and more sympathetic to others who struggle with the same or similar conditions.

Another striking aspect of OCD is its ability to surprise. There are certain things that I’ve come to expect from OCD and situations that I know are going to trigger OCD anxiety (leaving appliances on, dangerous driving, etc.). But then, I go to a session with my wife and her therapist, and I find out that there were days over the past week where my wife would gag when eating meals because of an OCD-related worry. It’s an issue that I hadn’t noticed, and a trigger that I didn’t even know existed. I’m someone who generally prefers to be on an even keel, and having such surprises can be jarring. But they have taught me to pay closer attention to my wife. It can be easy to respond to a question like “Did we shut off the stove?” with a “Yes,” and not even realize that this is an OCD-related worry. OCD encourages me to observe my wife more closely. And, I hope, it also encourages me to pay closer attention (and have greater appreciation) for the details of my daily life.

Finally, OCD has the capacity to frustrate. It obviously frustrates my wife, but it frustrates me sometimes as well. In particular, she has a bad habit of picking her nails and the skin around them. We all have nervous tics – I, like my grandfather and other male relatives, will rapidly bounce my knee up and down if I’m nervous and sitting. But my wife will pick her fingernails even when we’re in relaxed settings, like just watching TV together or having dinner with family. The message that sends to me is: “I can’t shut this off. There’s always something that I’m worrying about, even subconsciously.” That’s sad to me. She asks me to stay on her to catch her when she’s doing it, but no luck. The picking itself doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that it seems to represent a constant uneasiness. I feel like scolding her to stop picking isn’t really addressing the underlying worries.

In reaction to these frustrations, however, I think I’m slowly learning to be more loving. My wife is very naturally compassionate, and while I am to a degree, I can also be dismissive. Living with OCD in my spouse can help to push past superficial irritations or anger, and into more caring, connected relationships.

My wife and her OCD have taught me a lot in our first few years of marriage. I look forward to learning more in the years to come.

If you are the spouse or friend of someone with OCD, and you have questions for Husband, please post below. All replies to this post from Bloggerwithocd (with the exception of the first two) will be from him.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Escaping an OCD Exposure?

The other night my husband and I were trying to figure out what to watch on tv. We just got a bunch more channels than we need when we subscribed to a new cable service, so the options seemed infinite.

He was scrolling the channel guide when something caught my eye: "The Monsters Inside Me." Yes! Let's watch that! A show about parasites that grow inside people and the catastrophic events that follow. Perfect!

He was disgusted.

Only I wasn't kidding. I really did want to watch this show. Things like this always intrigue me: "Terror in the E.R.," "Rescue 911--" the types of shows where people narrowly escape death thanks to some supernatural force or a doctor's revelation. So he gave in and we flipped to that station.

I could only stomach 3 minutes. The episode was about a boy and a parasite that crawled into his brain. (We didn't watch long enough to hear how.) Immediately I felt my anxiety level climb. I didn't want to worry that this could happen to me or someone I love. "Maybe I shouldn't be watching this," I said, and my husband clicked back to the channel guide.

Whew. It was over. I didn't have to think about it anymore. The images of the boy in the hospital bed and the uncertainty about whether I could encounter parasites were both gone.

But then I thought, could this have been an exercise in exposure? Might it have been good for me to put up with this stress for the sake of learning that I can't hide from everything that scares me? OCD exposures are about "sitting with" the anxiety, and understanding that it's normal. In the grand scheme of exposures, for me they're about being able to maintain calm when uncertainty arises.

Sometimes, I admit, I'm lazy about exposures. When I'm feeling generally ok, when OCD thoughts are at a minimum, I fool myself into thinking I don't need them. Was this one of those times?

What do you think--should I have kept watching? What would you have done?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hosting a Party: OCD Exposures en Masse

This weekend we're having a gathering at our house. There will be lots of people--family, friends, maybe neighbors--more visitors than we've ever hosted here. Am I nervous? Not really. But will there be exposures? Mmmmm, yep. Here's what I'm doing to keep OCD from crashing the party.

  • I'm stopping obsessions before the first guest arrives. If I'm feeling the tug of irrational fears today, I'm working hard to squash them before the weekend. I've had intrusive thoughts about the pesticides I use on my landscaping, and of course I've mentioned the occasional nagging cooking ritual. If I'm planning on wearing a dress, baking cookies, and playing music, why wouldn't I plan on thinking positive thoughts?
  • I'm committing to keeping busy. It's hard to talk to everyone, but it's easy when I have an excuse to: If I stay moving, I'll move quickly away from the OCD thoughts that might interfere with my good time. Whether I'm preparing snacks, holding a baby, or just sitting and chatting, I want to keep myself distracted from OCD.
  • I'm not going to plan conversations. I've already said I have a lot to plan, but a person with relationship OCD like myself should not try to map out where conversations will go. I might say something embarrassing. I might offend someone. Yes, it's possible. I accept that.
  • I'm not going to be surprised. If any of the above does not work out as I hope it to, I won't be surprised. Every time I let OCD surprise me I'm in for some trouble. I'm ready if the stress of the situation, the excitement of entertaining so many guests, and, by the time the evening winds down, fatigue leave me vulnerable.

And then again it might be a splendid, OCD-free evening! Here's to hopin'.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Flip Side: How OCD Can Be a Good Thing

Last year, before I started this OCD blog, I attended a lecture about the disorder. Most of the discussion centered around Martin Luther and his struggles with scrupulosity, which, incidentally, is a fascinating (and for me, relatable) subject.*

The conversation returned to this century when someone asked about OCD and work ethic. The presenter, laughing, exclaimed, "My OCDers are some of the best workers ever!" I think I actually laughed, too.

It's true that OCD affects my work ethic, among other parts of my life. I thought it time to count my blessings.

One necessary, precursory caveat: Sure, OCD was nothing I chose, just as I didn't choose any of my innate characteristics. Therefore, I'm not going so far as to be proud of my condition, as if I've accomplished a great feat in having it. I'm merely pointing out that nothing, no matter how hard, is all bad. Here's why that's true for my life:

  • I apologize when I'm wrong. When obsessive compulsive disorder did what it's named for, i.e. throwing my life into chaos, I tried to get a hold of the intrusive thoughts that came with it. If I couldn't, I could at least feel guilt for them, which taught me what an apology really is, and when it's necessary. If I've hurt you or wronged you, you can be sure that I am comfortable humbling myself to ask for your forgiveness.
  • I DO have an excellent work ethic. My job requires me to check things, and make sure they're correct. Guess what? I'm really, really good at it! Even better, this kind of controlled checking teaches me to be mindful, giving me daily practice at understanding how much is reasonable and how much is unrealistic perfection. Beyond checking, though, I have an honest desire to be good at everything I do. Again, an exercise in limits, but still.
  • I think about things others don't. Whether it's tackling a problem or relating to another person, I do things a little differently. I posted before about my non-linear thinking, but there's more. Maybe it's akin to magical thinking, but I often make mental connections that aren't obvious to most other people.

If you and I have similar obsessions and compulsions, maybe these things are true for you, too. Do you care about people's feelings? Then love well. Show it, even to strangers. Are your thoughts a little off-kilter? Find a career that welcomes quirky creativity. If you haven't ever seen the other side of OCD, here's your challenge: In what ways has OCD made you who you are? How has it made you better?

Now, in the words of an old friend, I'll catch ya on the flip side.

*If you're interested in people in history who have OCD/scrupulosity, put John Bunyan on your list, too.

Monday, July 20, 2009

OCD and ADHD: I Don't Need to Know

I always say that my thoughts don't run in a straight line. I imagine that some people do have linear thought processes, and when they want to write something, deduce something, or do something they start at the beginning and follow a pre-determined set of steps to the end. It seems to me the rest of the world is made up of people who don't mind reading the directions when playing a board game for the first time.

But for me, arriving at a conclusion, solving a problem, or making a decision is more like a game of pick-up-sticks. Seems easy enough--just throw down the sticks and start playing from the middle.

If I'm really driven to find the conclusion, squash the problem, or exact the decision, that process works well. It's what makes me a creative, curious person. But sometimes my mind gets carried off in too many directions. Soon I'm finding sticks in every corner of the room.

Is there something more to this? Could this sometimes frustrating mental disorganization be the latent prints of ADD or ADHD?

A Question without an Answer
A few of my OCD friends have ADD. The therapist who leads my support group specializes in treating OCD and ADD. There are countless ocd bloggers out there who have both disorders, suggesting that they're sometimes comorbid. Do I have ADD, too? It might be a good question, but I don't need to know the answer. Whether or not I have ADD is one uncertainty I'm actually comfortable with.

Problems can be sticky. Calculated analysis doesn't always produce a conclusion. Decisions can go any which way. It helps to be the one person who does things a little differently.

And pick-up-sticks is no fun without the mess.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Three People Who Know I Have OCD

Everyone has their own opinion on this subject. Your obsessions differ from mine because the circumstances of your OCD are unique. You have harm obsessions, so you choose not to tell your child's friend's parents you have OCD. I have perfectionism obsessions, so I choose not to tell my boss. But this post is not about who I will keep in the dark about my OCD.

It's about who has helped me hold the light. (In another post, I compared my ability to conquer OCD to shining a flashlight on a monster). These people have helped me identify OCD for the ugliness it is, in light of rational reality.

  1. Medical professionals. I have been in the emergency room on account of obsessions. If I hadn't told the emergency room doctor that I had OCD, he, in his inexperience in dealing with patients like me, could have contradicted what I'm learning in ERP therapy by giving me the reassurance I sought to my detriment. Or what about when I have a baby? I plan to let my obstetrician know the full extent of my condition. That way she'll know how to help me weigh real vs. exaggerated risks.
  2. My spouse. My relationship with my husband is a healthy, loving one. He understands me, my weaknesses, and my OCD (to a workable degree). He helps me grow in dealing with the doldrums of my obsessions and compulsions, and praises me when I do well. My therapist helps us make sense of how OCD applies to married life, and she acts as a liaison between us.
  3. God. Fine. God isn't a person. But I have made my OCD a part of my relationship with him. I pray about it, and lately have been working on giving over my thoughts to him when I'm struggling with something. So much of OCD is about craving control, and faith is an exercise in admitting I have none. Funny, that's exactly what I need to work on.

So these are my the 3 people (entities?) with whom I've shared my truth: The monster of OCD can make life difficult. But together we wield a big ol' floodlight.

For now, the in-laws will remain in the dark. ; )

Monday, July 6, 2009

Don't Ever Take a Break

I took a too-long break from blogging, throughout which occurred to me many ideas that were never written down! (Hiatus Rule #1: If you go on a hiatus, take a pencil with you.)

But I'm back and ready to pick up where I left off. (Hiatus Rule #2: Don't expect OCD to take a break with you.)

It was all for good, as some pretty big things were happening in my life during my break from my blog. Maybe I'll even tell you about some. But until then, there's plenty more OCD to talk about! (Hiatus Rule #3: Pray that people haven't stopped reading!)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Looking Back Issue 2: Irrational Fear

This is the second iteration of my new series titled "Looking Back." Each post will analyze an entry in my OCD journal from 1998 when I first received the diagnosis. In most cases I won't post the entire entry (they're pretty lengthy), but I'll highlight the major points. It's been a while since the last post, but I promise these next ones will come more regularly. (I'm trying to buy a house and it's taking over my life.)

"Today it seemed a bit easier for me to put thoughts out of my mind."

That's the way the next entry begins. So much of my first experience with OCD was about this very topic. My first therapist called it thoughtstopping, but after years of trying the technique I found it less than helpful for me. I could never get it right. Simply wanting to stop the thought cold turkey, and thinking about how it needs to be "out of my mind," always ended up with me devoting more attention to it.

Trying, but Failing
That's what was happening to me as I scribbled this entry, eleven years ago. I was worried that my online pen pal was not who he said he was, and that he would come to my house to hurt me or someone else (I wrote about this in another post). I could feel in the tone of my writing that I was struggling to defend myself against the thoughts that grew stronger with every attempt to extinguish them.

I continued on about how I sent an instant message to a friend saying that my family would be on vacation this weekend. This led to the (seemingly very realistic) fear that my pen pal would break into my house. Here's how one misjudgement of risk led to another, bringing me quickly to this scary, unrealistic outcome. (Remember that OCD is often about seeing absolutes, as in these things would DEFINITELY happen just because there was a remote chance that they could.) Follow me here...

Misjudgement number...
1. My pen pal is not who he says he is.
2. He is a hacker.
3. He hacked into my computer.
4. He read the message to my friend.
5. He is coming to my house while we are away on vacation.
6a. He will be here waiting for me OR
6b. He will steal things from our house.
7. My parents will be mad.
8. It will be my fault because he's my pen pal.

A Better Solution
My OCD has been acting up lately, and I actually caught myself using the same faulty logic last night. So last night, instead of thoughtstopping, I used a set of questions that my therapist gave me from The OCD Workbook. The questions helped me to combat the intrusive thought realistically. I spent a reasonable amount of time on the thought, weighing what is likely against what is unlikely, and came to a conclusion that I could let this worry go.

With help from my husband, my workbook, and the knowledge of prior experiences, I was able to get over the thought. Yes it was work. But anything worthwhile is.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Looking Back Issue 1: "I Kept Apologizing"

This is the first iteration of my new series titled "Looking Back." Each post will analyze an entry in my OCD journal from 1998 when I first received the diagnosis. In most cases I won't post the entire entry (they're pretty lengthy), but I'll highlight the major points.

"Today I apologized to Tom for the third time; I said I was sorry for criticizing him about how he could all of a sudden like a new band, when really, I had done the same thing a few times."

Tom, to my middle school self, seemed to follow the pack. Evidently he had found a new band that he liked, and I presumed it was because someone else liked it. Judging by the entry I could have said something like, "So you're all of a sudden an Everclear fan?"

Granted the subject matter is immature, my ability to express how I felt was, I feel, beyond that of most of my friends at age 13. But still, one theme is at work here that I can only understand now, looking back.

Craving Consistency
To some people with OCD, this manifests itself as a need for symmetry. For me it was consistency. I had to be sure that the way I represented myself was consistent across the board, or at least internally consistent.

Here's what that looked like to me then (pardon the insipid example, but I want to stay true to the subject matter): It was inconsistent of me to buy, on a whim, a Third Eye Blind CD and then say what I said to Tom. It was hypocritical. How could I criticize someone for something that I have done myself? The only way to set things straight was to apologize. If one time didn't feel right, or I didn't feel like he understood me, I'd do it two more times.

Questioning Understanding
Later on in the journal entry I described planning a trip to a theme park over the phone with Leah, one of my best friends. My family invited Leah, but she declined the offer.

"I hung up, but now I am compelled to keep asking her if she's able to go on Friday. Well, more like to reassure me that she's not going. I feel like there's something I misunderstood and that we'll get home Friday and there will be a message on the machine: 'I thought you were taking me to the park?!' I remember the whole conversation but I'm still afraid I made a mistake and misunderstood."

When I finished reading this entry I was amazed at the exact correlation between this second-guessing and any of the second-guessing I do now as an adult. Furthermore, I didn't realize the over-apologizing was present so early on, or the need for consistency so pervasive. But the more times I see the monster, the easier it is to recognize him.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

New Blog Series: Looking Back

"Today I apologized to Tom for the third time."

That's the first sentence in my very first OCD journal. The entry is dated 7/14/1998. All I have read so far is that one line and it's immediate already that though my obsessions have differed, the OCD remains the same as it was 13 years ago. Same monster, new cloak.

That's why I'm starting this blog series. I want to look back at the beginnings of my OCD and see what I can learn, see what I can apply to my life now. I want to identify the red flags I may have missed then, and try to watch out for them in the future. There's a big, yellow smiley face on the cover of the journal, and I want to remember what that didn't feel like at age 13.

But perhaps even more I want this blog series to point out OCD's tactics. My favorite way of dealing with an obsession is to remind myself, mid-worry, "That's just OCD." Doing that is like shining a flashlight on the monster. I see him, I realize what he's made of, and in the light he doesn't look so bad. It brings me back to reality. Understanding that OCD's m.o. is the same no matter what the obsession will help me to more quickly catch OCD in the act. I want that understanding for me, and I want it for you.

The first installment is titled Looking Back: "I Kept Apologizing," and it will come in the next few days.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I Was Asked to Appear in a Show About OCD!

It's true!

I got an email from a production company called Pink Sneakers Productions yesterday. They are casting for a show tentatively titled "Life Chronicles" that will appear on TLC. They wanted to cast me! How funny! I was flattered.

The email, written by a production assistant, said, "I came across your blog and I really appreciate your openness and honesty. You seem to have an incredible story, and someone whose strength can be so inspirational to others."

"Each episode documents the day-to-day lives of people affected by different life experiences. One of our episodes will focus on obsessive-compulsive disorder. We are currently looking for people who have been directly or indirectly (family member of, etc) affected by OCD. We realize the sensitive nature of the topic and we think sharing the stories of people actively coping with this could help let others know they are not alone- that millions of people are dealing with this. This show is being produced to foster awareness and outreach."

Thanks, But No Thanks.
Fostering awareness is good, but I am not up for it, and here's why. Revealing that I have OCD to the entire world would change my life forever. I can have my blog, and help people anonymously, but I am not willing to share the OCD with everyone.

Plus, doing so, I'm sure, would trigger a bunch of new OCD worries for me. Before you remind me that I posted about not avoiding things on account of OCD, this situation is different. There is no personal benefit to going on television greater than the benefit I'm experiencing here, with you, in the shadows. It simply comes down to weighing options, and weighing options realistically is healthy, not ritualistic. I politely declined.

It's Not for Me, but Is It for You?
If you think you are up for participating, here is the contact info: I cannot attest to the legitimacy of this offer (I personally believe it not to be bogus, despite the rather basic website and not-very-formal casting flyer), so do your own due diligence before making any decisions. I don't know what that would entail, but I would think at least a phone call. An attorney, maybe? Not sure. It seems like there would be contracts involved should they use your footage, but like I said, I don't need to worry about all of that. You might, though.
Here is the website:

I know they have probably sent this email out to dozens of bloggers online, but I can't help but feel excited about the idea. I fantasized about it for a little while, then resigned myself to living a life without stardom!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Checking: A Good Week

Checking is my most common ritual. I can do it physically or mentally, but the mental checking (or rumination) is most debilitating for me. Whatever the case, my major, stops-me-in-my-tracks OCD begins and ends with checking.

That's why I have to keep it, er, in check. If I see myself doing more checking of things, like asking my husband "I didn't sound mean when I said that, did I?" or running back into the bedroom before I leave in the morning to be sure the heating pad is turned off, I force myself to stop for two reasons:

  1. It could be indicative of depeer issues. The last time I let allowed myself to check and re-check, it turned out a crisis was looming. My grandfather had just died and I was in for a two month-long regression.
  2. It could make my OCD worse. As I said in a previous post, "The more I check, the more doubt takes over and I fall victim to checking things repeatedly, or worse: fearing things that cannot be checked-away. Soon the snowball effect of anxiety and depression consumes me." For me, checking is my "gateway ritual;" it leads to worse things.

And forcing myself to stop is just what I've been doing! It was a pretty uneventful OCD week, but every morning that I was the last to leave the house the disease tested me. "Did I unplug my curling iron?" "Is the computer off?" "What if it just looks like it's off?" But I obeyed the tenets of Exposure & Response Prevention and I faced the fear!

With a shrug I locked the door behind me and left for work.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My OCD Story: How I Found Out I Had It

Day by day I'm working on turning my OCD story into an OCD success story, but there was a time when I didn't think it could be done. When I was 13 I got my diagnosis (I call this my first OCD crisis, mentioned briefly here), but finding out wasn't really a eureka moment. It was just the answer I got when any answer would do; suddenly I wasn't myself and I wanted to know why.

"What Happened at Kerry's?"
My best friend invited me to her 14th birthday, and while I was there I didn't really feel like being part of the group. Friends were hanging out in her bedroom, watching TV, and in my mind I was somewhere else. I felt bummed.

When I went home my parents wondered what was wrong. "What happened at Kerry's?" they asked. Nothing did...I just couldn't stop worrying.

It Started with a Pen Pal
It was the 1990s and the internet was blossoming but I didn't have a computer at home. In junior high I used to spend my time at the library. I visited chat rooms, talking to people all over the world. I found a few pen pals; one in Chile and one in New York. They were both boys.

After a few months talking to them and exchanging packages through the mail, I think I got bored. So I moved on. But that afternoon at Kerry's I worried that my pen pals weren't who they said they were.

My parents were new to computers and the internet, so they weren't privvy to what went on in chat rooms. It wasn't their fault, though--the world wide web was flat earth to them! I am certain, though, that I spoke to internet predators during my time at the library, and I was afraid these were two of them. I couldn't stop thinking about what would happen if they tried to come and get me. They might hurt me. My parents would be so mad. I wouldn't have any friends. I was certain that I deserved whatever I got for being so risky. The worries took over so much that I thought sure some day I would see a dirty old pickup truck waiting at the end of my street until my parents left the house. It was scary.

Knowing I Needed Help
Mental illness is not a stranger to my family. Since my mom saw a therapist, I felt comfortable asking to see one, too. It was my idea. Still thinking I was depressed as a result of something that happened at Kerry's, my parents were convinced that this was serious. What insight for a 13 year-old!

While I was in therapy, the OCD continued to set in. My worries shifted, of course, and it was always a relief when that happened, because I could finally have a break! No sooner than the kidnapping fear subsided, the realization that another fear was near sent a sickened feeling to my stomach. One worry after the next. Even though I had been diagnosed, that's how it was, and that's how it would be until I got a hold of my first OCD crisis.

Sometimes I think back to that point in my life and realize how much better off I am now. I'm older, stronger, more independent, more mature, and wiser. I certainly haven't mastered OCD, but with each year I'm strengthened by the very fact that it hasn't conquered me yet!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Worst Therapist Appointment: Part 2

In my previous post, you learned what happened in the waiting room on an emergency visit to a new therapist. It was April '08, and I was in the midst of an OCD crisis. I thought it didn't matter who I talked to for OCD help. Boy was I wrong.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When they called my name I had never been more ready to get out of a waiting room. I found my way through the narrow hallway (remember, this place was like a rent-a-shed) and into the therapist's office. We began to talk about me.

He was "nice" in the most general sense of the word. If not for the OCD and the events of the prior 15 minutes, on any other occasion I would have found him satisfactory. But of course since this was the re-opening of my case, we had to go through all the silly stuff. What do I like to do? Where do I work? Am I married? How do I feel about myself? You know, all of the typical cognitive behavioral treatment getting-to-know you prodding. I only had 45 minutes with this guy, I thought, so let's get on with it.

"What do you do to relax? You should try Yoga." He went on to some generic gibberish about yoga, mantras, etc. I wasn't listening. When there were only 15 minutes left on the clock, we finally talked about why I was there.

It's Me with Scrupulosity
My obsessions at this time in my life are key to the story. At times I have dealt with scrupulosity, and this was one of them. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, scrupulosity is OCD with a religious spin.

People who deal with scrupulosity often feel a sense of inadequacy before God, and apply OCD to their spiritual lives. For example, they may repeat prayers, never feeling like they were "done right" or they somehow "didn't count." Long story short, I am a Christian and I believe in salvation through the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ. But scrupulosity exists completely separate from strength of faith. (I will devote an upcoming blog post about scrupulosity in depth.)

My scrupulosity, at this time, was stronger than it had ever been. My grandfather had just passed away, and I guess you could say that stirred up some fears about the afterlife. I felt the need to ask God for forgiveness of a very personal sin. I did what the scrupulous do. I repeated prayers. I asked my husband to pray with me over and over. I even asked for reassurance, by seeking the advice of anyone I could trust to see if they thought God forgave me. It was different than "regular" OCD because I thought I could never really know if I was forgiven until I died.

Awkward Help
I thought my appointment with this new therapist would give me just enough reassurance to move on to another worry, or finally, to peace. He asked me about my worry, and I told him about it.

I think he said something like, "Everybody does that." So? That didn't matter to me. My OCD was still telling me that I hadn't really repented because I had inklings what I did was wrong when I did it. What did the therapist have to say about that, my OCD challenged him.

"Well, what does Jesus teach? Jesus teaches forgiveness." He was right. I knew it, of course, but thought, Ok, let's see what kind of a therapist we're working with here.

"Remember? In the Bible? The prostitute. Jesus said she didn't have to be stoned," he went on, making awkward allusions to one of the most (dare I say) widely-known, too-convenient pieces of scripture. People who don't know anything about the Bible know this story. And HE thought he could use this to fix ME?! It was the way he said it that got to me. Like I was supposed to believe that this new-agey guy really understood me. The moment he began misquoting scripture was the moment I checked out. For a second time that day, I had already mentally left the builiding.

Why This Matters
If I was going to be invested in this guy, and trust that he would be invested in me, I had to know that he understood me. He clearly did not. He didn't understand my beliefs, my faith, or what I hold dear. One on hand, I needed to talk to a Christian counselor. On the other, I needed someone who understood OCD and how it permeates everything that is important to me.

The moral? I needed to find a therapist who could meet me on my level. Since then, I have, and she is fantastic! Now my scrupulosity is at bay and I'm not struggling with it very often.

Even better, the healthy me knows that I don't have to die to know I'm forgiven. The Bible says, and I'm paraphrasing, "as far as the east is from the west, God will separate you from your sin." Period. Doubting God is distrusting God. It's the hardest lesson for an OCDer, but I'm working on it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Quick Note: Please Pray!

Nothing serious, but if you are a praying person, please pray for my mom and dad.

My dad has been having ear trouble, and my mom's emphysema has been acting up. They both were smokers, and my dad still does smoke.

Thanks much.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My Worst Therapist Appointment: Part 1

In Aesop's Fables, the moral of the story always came last. I'm going to give you the moral first. It's the reverse order that I learned it, but that way maybe you can have it easier! This is part 1 of 2.

The moral I learned: See a therapist who can meet me on my level.

During my most recent OCD crisis in April (mentioned in another post), I found myself in a predicament. I had an urgent need to see my therapist, who, before now, hadn't seen me for a few years. In the interim, however, she moved on to practice strictly as a high school counselor and alas, I was no longer in high school.

My case had actually been closed. To open my case I'd have to be evaluated again. But who should see me?

I had no idea. Up until now I had always seen women, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I would take the first therapist with a degree and a free schedule. I just needed to start feeling ok, and I thought it didn't matter who I told my OCD stories to. I made the call and set up my appointment for a new office.

Scheduling the Appointment
I found him! The mystery guy who would give me just enough reassurance to send me on my way with a few new OCD tools in my toolchest. I took a day off work to visit the office, which was in a shadier part of town. It looked like one of those trailers set up at a construction site--sturdy enough to handle the sudden onslaught of new cases yet curiously rickety enough to make an anxious person feel just a bit worse.

The Woman in the Waiting Room
I took my seat in the waiting room. I was more anxious than I had ever been. I hadn't slept for days, hadn't eaten for just as long, and was having a 72-hour panic attack. I had never felt that way before. My fears were deeply personal, painful, and all-consuming. But the woman sitting in the chair across the room didn't care.

"What are you here for?"
Really? What am I here for? Is it really any of your business? These were words I didn't speak because I knew if I did the devil would erupt from my soul and this woman would be a casualty.
"What medicine do you take?" I just ignored her.

Understand that the healthy me is very, very compassionate, and I have already told you that I was not myself that day. I love people, and I love to help people. Especially at a mental health clinic the healthy me understands that I could encounter other unhealthy minds, and some probably tragically worse than my own. These people may not behave like me, or understand social mores. I feel for those people, and pray for them daily. But on that day the VERY unhealthy me was not prepared to deal with the anxiety caused by the woman in the chair, let alone the man I was just about to meet.

Throwing Punches
He entered the waiting room. Of all the 15 empty chairs, he sat right next to me. I was feeling very insecure, scared, and downright ready to jump out of my skin. Why was this man sitting next to me? I could feel him breathing.

"Why are you here?"
"I'm seeing the doctor." (I thought if I answered his question, he might leave me alone. The woman across the room seemed jealous to be receiving such preferential treatment.) Another man entered the room and looked at me.
"Is that your boyfriend?"

What followed was a story I can't remember, probably because I had already mentally run out the door. It was something about getting shot in the leg, and his subsequent fight to chase the shooter down. No doubt was the story true--he kicked his leg into the air to show me the scar. With the story came a reenactment of the struggle, complete with flailing arms and the free-flying spit of excitement (not good for a person who, at that time, struggled with contamination.) I thought he was going to punch me, grab me, or do something really bad.

But it SO wasn't him. It was me. And I hadn't even met the therapist yet.

Click to read the conclusion in Part 2.


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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

OCD: Don't Give Up Hope

Sometimes getting better isn't easy, but it's not impossible. Isn't that how most things are, somewhere right in the middle of easy and impossible? It's just that we've tried so hard for so long, managing OCD looks extremely difficult. We think, "If the road ahead is as bumpy as the road in the rearview, I'd rather pull over into a ditch." Here's a catalog of where I've been as proof that working to get better can take time. Don't be discouraged!

I've been through...

  • 6 Therapists. It has taken me this many to find one who specializes in OCD! I've told OCD stories to some good ones and one terrible one. (Thankfully I knew that right away, and only went to one session. More on him in another post, I promise!) 6 therapists in 11 years is a lot, but unless my current therapist retires or moves, I'm sticking with her.

  • 4 Anti-Anxiety Medications. Given that it's not safe to hop on and off anti-depressants, it can take a long time to find one that works for you when you consider the time it takes to wean yourself off of one. Now I've found one that works for me and I'm willing to tolerate the minor side effects.

  • 4 Severe Crises. I use the word crisis because that is the most effective word to describe the intense hold the OCD had on my life in these instances. I literally hit bottom. The first time lead me to learn that I had OCD at age 13. Then came going to college. Then came another crisis during college. The death of my grandfather was my most recent breakdown, which resulted in desperate visits to the doctor's/emergency room, panic attacks, loss of 10 pounds in one week, intolerance to food, 4-5 days of nights without even a few minutes of sleep, and 4 missed days of work.

The crises aside, even when I'm doing well, having OCD would make a great full-time job. But though it might not seem like it pays, consider that the work we do in getting better has lifelong implications. So no matter how many therapists you go through, no matter how many meds you've tried, no matter how many times you've hit bottom, there's still plenty of time to wake up tomorrow and keep trying.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Support Groups: A Helpful OCD Treatment for You?

Like my profile says, I've had OCD since I was 13. Since then, therapists have recommended finding a support group. Only during my last severe regression in April of 2008 did I seriously consider it. I love my support group, and I've been going ever since. But it took a fit of desperation one day at work for me to find mine on the internet. Looks like you're in just the right place to find yours, too.

If you're considering a support group as a form of OCD treatment, perhaps these points to ponder will help you make the decision quicker than I did.

Support groups provide community.
I know OCD can make us feel lonely, stupid, and codependent. It closes the world in around us, isolating us. But at group I've met people who can sometimes think the same irrational way I think. I understand them, too. Bottom line: Join a group and if you were alone in your OCD before, you aren't anymore.

Support groups give you objectivity.
Join a group and you'll encounter all types of OCD--the hoarders, the scrupulous, the contaminated, the guilt-ridden, and those who can't be labeled. You'll hear all types of OCD stories. You'll see what it can be at its best, and you'll see what it can be at its worst, and hopefully identify tendencies in yourself so you can learn to keep the OCD in check. It's like looking in a mirror. If you see that a hair is out of place, you fix it.

Support groups let you see what works.
Before attending group, I had never heard of ERP, or Exposure/Response Prevention (more about that in a later post). My therapists through the years had always used Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, the other part of the OCD treatment dichotomy. I never even knew that this other kind of therapy existed, or that it could benefit me. Join a group and you can discuss treatment styles, therapists, and mental exercises and analyze what works for you.

Support groups give you accountability.
Every week at group we get together in small clusters and set goals, and check in on last session's goals. If needed or wanted, group members exchange numbers to serve as checkposts with whom to check in and record progress. Conversely, if we want to sit a week out and not give ourselves a goal, we allow that. We understand that each of us is choosing to be here, and choosing to get better. There's a lot of power in that, and a sense of control over what feels out of control.

If you are not a member of a support group as a means of OCD treatment, click here to visit the OC Foundation's "find a support group" page. Until then, if you're reading this blog, feel free to call what we have going here our little support group. : )

Saturday, January 24, 2009

OCD Misunderstandings

I'm sure you've heard it: People using OCD as an adjective.

"I'm really OCD about my apartment." "She was really OCD over him." "I'm really OCD about paying people back when they lend me money."

These people have some vague idea that OCD has something to do with needing order, being particular, or washing your hands repeatedly. This knowledge qualifies them to use "OCD" willy nilly. While this doesn't bother me nearly as much as it bothers my husband (in noble defense of me and my feelings), it's not the worst way that OCD could be misunderstood.

Jumping to Conclusions
The other day I was working on a project in my parents' basement. My dad was down there, too, organizing the newest toolboxes he acquired. It was chilly, so he set up a space heater for me. Using care to situate it just right so my legs would be warm, he put it under the table I was working on--except that it was just a little too close to some papers and cardboard for comfort. I said, "No, move it up a little bit. A person with OCD doesn't like that those papers are so close to the back of the heater," hinting at the fire worry that a lot of us have. It didn't really bother me, but I guess I was taking a little advantage of my habits. I was warmer, so I started working.

I was soldering metal for a project I'm working on. To do so I first clean the metal with flux, a liquid that roughs up the surface so the metal will stick. I accidentally dropped a Q-tip I was using to apply it into the flux bottle. Knowing my dad solders and welds and is generally a knowledgeable guy when it comes to the practicalities of tools and such, I sought his advice.

"I just dropped the Q-tip into the flux and I don't know if I can get it out. Do you think that matters?"

--an abrupt "Don't worry about it."

Worry? He said it as if I had some wild idea conjured up, like this Q-tip in the plastic bottle would start a fire, or someone would decide they needed to clean their ears with this very Q-tip.

"I'm not worried about it, I just wondered if it would ruin the flux." Purely a pragmatic concern; I didn't want to be out $8 for a brand new bottle of flux now ruined. He didn't believe me.

"Don't worry about it."

Not Qualified to Judge
Now, as a person of frequent irrational thinking, it would not have been unlikely that I was obsessing over impossible situations that could happen as a result of this Q-tip having fallen into the flux. I can admit that. And my dad knows me, and he knows what my OCD is capable of. But this was not one of those OCD situations! But in his mind it was, and his prior experience with my OCD made him feel qualified to judge so he quickly chocked it up to obsession.

This is the kind of OCD misunderstanding that hurts most. It's different than a person thinking he knows how to use the term "OCD." It's thinking he know when to use it.

Tip #1: Accept that people will misunderstand sometimes.
OCD is nothing to hide, but surely I keep it private from most people for this reason exactly: I cannot trust that they understand it. Of all the people that are close to me, my dad has been through it with me the longest, yet he still can be quick to judge my feelings and make assumptions--proof that even those who think they "get it" will sometimes misunderstand. It's ok to let them.

Tip #2: Be assertive.
If a misunderstanding arises, express your feelings. Assertiveness shows mental clarity, and mental clarity is never present during an obsession. I gently said, "You know, sometimes I wish you didn't know me so well."

"Did I hit the nail on the head?"

"No, you didn't, actually. And it's not always nice to be discounted like that." Point taken, and he didn't say anything about it. He's not a man of apologies, so I didn't expect one. The satisfaction that I had expressed myself was enough.

*Footnote for loved ones of OCDers*
Yes you've been through a lot with them. They have shared a lot of deep feelings with you. You know they trust you. But you don't know what they're thinking. Let the person with OCD have her feelings, and share with you what she feels comfortable sharing, but don't ever jump to conclusions. Listen, love, and offer advice.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

OCD: Knowing My Limitations

When I was 12, my dad worked for a condiment manufacturer. One day he brought home a box of 60 mini ketchup bottles. I remember thinking how perfectly diminutive they were, each one large enough for just a few burgers. There was also something satisfying about the sheer quantity of bottles. 12 rows of 5 each, all snugly aligned in the cardboard box. It was more ketchup than we would ever need, but looking at this box it felt like I had accomplished something. It was just an inkling of satisfaction, but it was the satisfaction of having something. If my OCD issues were different, could this have been the start of a hoarding problem?

Having obsessive compulsive disorder, I want to stay aware of my tendencies, especially the ones that don't make sense or feel odd. I know I have an addictive personality. It's hard to deny doubt. It's hard to stop doing things that could be bad for me. It's hard to turn my back on satisfaction, no matter how destructive. Therefore, here's what I'm paying attention to:

  • Urges to Shop. I'm the type of person who is sometimes stricken with a sudden urge to "buy stuff." It's satisfying, even when I don't need the purchase. When I worked in the "mature women's" section of a department store, I found myself eyeing up too-large sweatshirts though I'm decades too young for that clothing. Most of the time it's driven by the same 5 emotions that drive my obsessions: hunger, anxiety, loneliness, tiredness, or boredom.* When these emotions creep up, they often bring OCD issues with them. But if I take the emotion out of shopping, it's not as satisfying. Call it stoicism, but that's why I decided to make a habit of monitoring my shopping habits so as not to develop a compulsion.

  • Alcohol Consumption. Alcoholism runs in my family. Pair genetic predisposition with my already compulsive tendencies and I could end up with a serious problem. Even without the genetic factor at play, anything more than moderate alcohol consumption would be dangerous to me; after all, I can't even stop biting my nails. I'm thankful to God for the wisdom of this fact, which leads me to limit how often I drink alcohol.

  • Reading Online Medical Articles. Seems like anyone with any obsession will find their fears increase after reading an article about it. Say I feel sick. Could it be cancer? The internet answer is always yes. If I look *obsess* long enough, somewhere, in some article, I'll come across the answer. Not "yes, it is cancer," but "yes, it could be cancer." But to the OCD in me, the fact that the possibility is there, no matter how remote, means that it is definite. There's that inflated risk issue again. OCD wants to defeat us, and it defies our reason in order to accomplish that end.

But Isn't This Just Avoidance?

In my therapy sessions I'm taught not to avoid my triggers or my obsessions. What if I avoided harmless people or places because they feel contaminated or unsafe? Just like doubt always breeds more doubt, avoidance breeds avoidance. Soon my world would close in around me, nowhere safe to go, nobody safe to trust.

But there is a difference between compulsive avoidance and informed avoidance. Unlike the example above, I can't see any negative effects of making informed, wise choices about my life. Because OCD knows a shortcut to ramping up my anxiety and keeping me in submission, I have no problem cutting it off at the pass.

*My therapist taught me to use HALT-B (acronym for hungry, anxious, lonely, tired, or bored) to identify when I'm susceptible to obsessions. I'm not sure who coined that phrase, or if it's trademarked, but if you do please let me know!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Better safe than sorry? No, sir.

Sometimes I wish I'd never learned the proverb "It's better to be safe than sorry," because it's become my enemy. It's pretty much the worst thing a person with OCD could ever be told.

Say I went to a party last night. I wake up this morning replaying the events of the whole party over in my head. Did that one comment I made about the host's home come out wrong? Were people offended? Did I look like I thought his house was a mess? I had better apologize when I see him because it's better to be safe than sorry.

Or what if I'm cooking dinner, and the thought occurs to me that maybe I didn't wash my hands after touching the raw chicken. Then I touch the outside of a bag of flour. To a healthy mind it's no big deal if I didn't because I'm not serving dinner yet and I'm really only touching the pan handle with my chicken hands. Well, just in case, I'd better wash my hands anyway. Better safe than sorry.

But Am I?
These tendencies to "re-check" and "re-do" are my rituals. I can check anything, depending on what I'm worried about. As a person with OCD these rituals are soothing, but I'm addicted to the relief of doubt they give me...until I doubt something else.

The more I check, the more doubt takes over and I fall victim to checking things repeatedly, or worse: fearing things that cannot be checked-away. Soon the snowball effect of anxiety and depression consumes me. Depending on what I'm worried about I might land myself in an emergency room, 10 pounds lighter (read: sicklier).

The Problem of the False Premise
While "Better safe than sorry" is a helpful rule for the healthy mind, it's poison to the obsessive-compulsive mind. Checking and rechecking everything is a misapplication of the rule to situations that don't warrant it. I can check that I've turned the stove off, but what is the liklihood that I wouldn't see its glowing coils when I turned off the kitchen light? Pretty unlikely. The axiom assumes that every situation is highly risky, when in most cases it isn't.

A Different Kind of Relief
As part of my constant recovery I am taught to go towards the anxiety. Going toward it means flat-out avoiding the tendency to recheck. It teaches me to accept doubt. Accepting doubt flies straight in the ugly face of the proverb and my perversion of it...but it feels great.

I take a look at my life from a wider angle: How is it better to let doubt control me? If I'm certain that my purpose is not to live in suffering, and I am not living my full potential if I am paralyzed by worry, then it would follow that being "better safe than sorry" is, in fact, a lie.

Whew, what a relief.