Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Bring Your Fiancé To Therapy Day

Life sentence. :)
So, my fiancé who is normally out of town Wednesday mornings happened to be in town a couple of weeks ago when I had a therapy appointment scheduled.  I knew he had been curious about how best to support me when I'm having an OCD or anxiety crisis, so I decided to bring him in to therapy.

While my therapist gave him some nice advice and a good handout with some strategies for coaching me, she also gave him one piece of advice that I did NOT appreciate.  

He told her about a particular instance where I was crying inconsolably at 3 am over something I had no control over and asked her what he could do next time.  She said he could go to another room and go to sleep. 

Are you for real, lady?

Now I understand this perspective if crying in panic was a nightly habit... even if it was a weekly habit or bimonthly habit.  Obviously if someone is irrationally upset and having hysterical breakdowns late into the night on the regular, that person should not expect a partner to stay up and suffer every single time.

But that is not the case with me.  Not even close.  This was a very upsetting circumstance regarding a family member that lead to what I still see as genuinely justifiable sadness for that person's current situation and potential poor prospects for the future.  

When I was crying, did anxiety lead me to catastrophize?  Absolutely.  But in many ways, this situation was a catastrophe without any help from my anxiety-ridden brain.

One of the tragedies of having anxiety and OCD is that you can often fall prey to "Boy Who Cried Wolf" syndrome.  You get anxious and upset often enough that when something is really bad and you are reasonably upset, people tend to still see you as unreasonable.  

My therapist may have many years of experience with anxious patients, but I can tell you what I know based on 28 years of being me:  If my fiancé had gotten up and walked out to sleep on the couch that night while I was panicking, he would not only have had a panicking and upset fiancée at 3 am.  No, that would have quickly transformed into an extremely hurt, angry, panicking and upset fiancée at 3 am 

I let my fiancé know that I was not okay with the therapist's conclusion on this issue, and we talked it over.  I think he agreed at least in part with my side.  

It is true that you cannot always be the best judge of what you need, but a therapist's advice won't perfectly apply to every situation you have either.  You have to fit that advice into your life in a way that works for you, and try to make strategies and suggestions fit your individual situation.

Ultimately, I'm glad that my fiancé came with me to therapy if only that it opened up more lines of communication on these issues.  I'm very lucky to have a partner with me on my fight against OCD and anxiety.  Navigating these obstacles will be a challenge, but one I know we can face together.



Thursday, October 12, 2017

OCD Week and the Importance of Awareness

Sometimes, it's the society that's really insane.
It's 2017 OCD Week!  I can't believe it has been a year already.  Once again, it is time to raise our voices together to try to build more awareness about what OCD really is.

This week comes every year right around Halloween.  I was actually at a haunted house recently that reminded me of how important OCD Week really is.

I hadn't been to a haunted house in like 10 years, but my fiancé and I were looking for something fun and different to do.  And it was fun.  Four different themed haunted houses with pop-out scares... including one simply titled "Insane Asylum."

Now, I'm not one of those people who demands complete political correctness at all times. I understand why the "Insane Asylum" has become a Halloween staple. Mentally ill can sometimes mean unpredictable, which can in turn sometimes mean dangerous, which is something that people fear.  

But the problem is, most mentally ill people are not dangerous; they're just tortured and hurting.  On top of that, a number of the mentally ill people who are "dangerous" are only in danger of causing harm to themselves.

Insane asylums are all but gone at this point, because the scariest part of them was not the patients themselves but how many people were mistreated. If you actually look into the history of "Insane Asylums", it is very disturbing and horrifying... but not in the fun Halloween way.  I had to try and put those realities behind me and just enjoy the rest of the night, facing more "fun" villains like clowns and masked monsters.

But I couldn't help but realize that I have considered committing myself in the past to some sort of mental health facility.  I have never been dangerous, but more than once I have been so scared and overwhelmed by the intrusive thoughts that accompany OCD that I have considered seeking refuge somewhere that intensive treatment could be provided.  

I was lucky enough to have family support.  I had a diagnosis and I had access to outpatient mental healthcare.  I was secure enough in my position that I didn't feel the need to hide that something was wrong or deny that I had a mental illness that needed treatment.  Unfortunately, many are not so lucky.

I know someone who is currently facing serious mental health issues.  She not only clearly struggles with some mental illness, she also deals with some other problems as well.  The worst part is, I'm not sure that she knows life can be any better.  Her family does not discuss such matters.  Their pride and the stigma related to any mental "defect" stop them from dealing with the problems.

I hope that soon we can all get to the point that we stop judging people for the mental problems that they face.  I hope that enough people raise awareness that we stop seeing the mentally ill as haunted house characters, and start to see them as real people.  The less stigma attached to mental illness, the more people will feel like they can come forward and get the help that they need.

Therapy and medication are nothing to be ashamed of.  Whether it is OCD or Schizophrenia or Borderline Personality Disorder... it is okay to admit you have a problem.  Working to become the best person that you can be... acknowledging and facing your shortcomings and making changes to fix them?That's bravery.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Negative Nancy


Gus being a moper.
For those who know me, you would probably identify me as a very positive person.  I'm extraverted, enthusiastic, and generally upbeat. If you come to me with a problem, I am more than happy to reassure you that everything is going to be okay.

You are great.  Whatever happened may be difficult, but you have the strength to get through it.  Nothing catastrophic is going to happen.  Your worries are overblown! Don't be silly.

But for some reason, I can't give myself the same positive outlook that I so easily give to my family, friends, acquaintances... hell, even strangers.

The tragedy is, if the situation involves me, then I always jump to the worst, most negative conclusions possible and assume that they are probably right.  It's like pessimism, but only self-directed, and with more enthusiasm!  Like, I picture a pessimist saying, "The worst outcome is going to happen. Oh well."  Instead I'm like, " THE WORST OUTCOME IS GOING TO HAPPEN.  PANIC MODE."

Take for instance this past weekend: I was finishing the last sessions of an "ACT Bootcamp" for high schoolers.  It was basically a two-day weekend review of what to expect on the college entrance exam and strategies to help them learn how to attack it, study effectively, and figure out what scores to aim for. 

In case you haven't been around high schoolers in a while, please let me remind you that they are terrifying.  Trying to reach them and gain their respect is hard for anyone, and taking up their weekend with information many of them don't process as relevant is a hard angle to work.

That being said, at the end of the class, I handed out surveys.  I want to learn what works and what doesn't.  I want to see if what I did was actually helpful.

Most of the surveys came back positive, saying thanks and identifying that the class helped them feel better prepared.  Some actually didn't identify a part of the class that they considered to be "least helpful," and most of the criticism was constructive. 

But there were a few that were all negative.  For example, a student who circled "No" that he did not feel better prepared after the class, said the most helpful part of this class was "the book,"  the least helpful part was "the lectures" and in other comments said "None".  Another student who circled "No" that he did not feel better prepared after the class actually wrote a number of lewd comments, one of the tamer of which was "I didn't find it helpful eccept (sic) for dat ASS!"

After reading over the surveys, I immediately fixated on the negative ones. What if everyone felt like this was a waste of their time and money?  Had I done a bad job?  Was it my fault that certain kids were loud, disinterested, and distracting?  Could I have been more engaging?  Were my strategies useless? Was I just a joke to these kids?  What if I wasn't invited back next year?  

Negative self-talk is a huge problem with anxiety and OCD, and I am the queen of it.  It's no surprise that seeing some negative survey results caused me to catastrophize.  I give other people the benefit of the doubt and see their problems with a level-head, but as soon as I am faced with an issue myself I can no longer hear that reasonable voice that says, "It's going to be okay."

Months and months ago, perhaps even years ago, my therapist gave me a list of questions to challenge these kinds of thoughts, but I still always seem to go down the route of doom and gloom.  Anything negative sent my way is immediately put under a microscope, and then amplified until it drowns out the positive.

Still, I know I have to keep challenging.  I guess it is funny to think about the opposite scenario:  What if I had gotten mostly negative reviews from the surveys, and then picked out the few positive ones and concluded that I was the best educator alive?  It's easy to see how out of touch with reality that would be.  

Framing it the opposite way helps show me how ridiculous I'm being.  But I'd be lying if I said that is where my mind goes first.  The thing is, you have to learn not to always follow your mind down the rabbit hole.  Try to take things out of the perspective of anxiety and see them another way.  You can triumph over your inner-"Negative Nancy".




Monday, September 4, 2017

Engaged!


I haven't updated in awhile, but that's because things have been very hectic over here.  The good kind of hectic, the ultimate triumph: On August 10th, my boyfriend asked me to marry him.

Dating is rough.  There’s a delicate balance as you get to know someone new… What stories can I reveal on a first date? When is it appropriate to share what memories? Will this person accept me when I reveal who I really am? 

Everyone struggles with these questions, but adding OCD into the mix can take this struggle to the next level. 

The intrusive thoughts that come with OCD are excruciatingly painful to live with and can be even harder to share, especially with a romantic partner. Whether it is the worry that you are a rapist, a murderer, a child molester, a creep, or a fraud… The person with OCD often has difficulty understanding that these thoughts are OCD related and have no basis in reality, so it can seem virtually impossible to communicate that to someone else.  When you want a man to see you as desirable and lovable, the last thing you picture saying while looking into his dreamy bedroom eyes is, “I used to have to avoid knives because I thought if I got too close I was going to stab myself.”

I remember the first time I shared my worst OCD fears with a boyfriend: I was 18 and he was 23. I told him because I felt like he had a right to know how messed up I was.  I laid it out, prepared for him to be disgusted and never look at me the same way again.  Prepared for him to leave.  At the time, I didn’t even want to live with myself, so why would any man ever want to be with me? 

What happened was the opposite of what I expected.  He listened and made a real effort to understand.  He even shared some of his scariest thoughts with me.  Intrusive thoughts may not plague everybody the same way, but they occasionally happen to almost everyone.  My boyfriend didn’t have OCD, but he didn’t have to in order to be empathetic and accepting.  He really loved me and that was enough.

That was 10 years ago.  Since then, I have gone on dates with many different men and even developed close enough love with two of them to share everything.  

Like most things in relationships, it ultimately comes down to trust. Are there men who wouldn’t have understood or even tried?  Absolutely.  Are there men who would’ve made me feel like a freak?  I’m sure.  But what I realized after that first experience was that there are people out there who can understand and who will love me, the real me, OCD and all.

My fiancé's reaction was to do research.  He asked me questions.  He shared where he could relate and admitted where he couldn’t.  He's supportive, loving and understanding of the struggles that I face and accepts them without judgement.

What we have is open and honest and real.  We are free, and we are stronger because of it.  What I would recommend to anyone with OCD is to hold out for the same.  

You're worth it, and it's worth waiting for.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Another Psychiatrist, Another Let Down

Blooms that meet my expectations.
*Sigh*

I've definitely had my fair share of bad experiences with psychiatrists.  I have even discussed it before on this blog.  So, it is very frustrating to me that a new psychiatrist has just let me down.

It's important to realize that at this point, I am like the dream patient for a psychiatrist.  I know that I have an OCD and anxiety diagnosis, I know what pills work, I am stable, and I just show up twice a year and basically confirm that everything is still going relatively smoothly.

Well, I started with a new woman last summer and maybe I should have known from the beginning it was going to be trouble.  She didn't accept like any insurance plans.  But fine, whatever, I'm on autopilot... how hard could this be?

We met and she seemed nice.  I met her again in January, confirmed things were good, and asked if I could just have some Xanax for emergencies.  I had them in the past, but didn't have them anymore.  She looked at me like I might be a drug addict.  She looked me up in her computer system, saw that I wasn't a pill shopper, and agreed to give me a prescription for 10 pills, but lectured that this wasn't the standard of care anymore and told me she would never give me a refill.  (Please note that since she prescribed them in January, I have taken a total of one.  I seriously only use them for extreme panic attacks.)

So I was kind of off put by that situation, but okay.  I see this woman twice a year.  She doesn't need to trust me.  Whatever.  

That brings us to last week. I get a bill in the mail for $125.  Underneath the date and total info was handwritten only, "missed appointment."  I didn't even recognize the name at the top of the invoice at first.  What even was this?

I was angry, but remembered that I had made an appointment with my psychiatrist back in January for July. It was 6 months ago that I made that appointment, so I had just forgotten the day. I've never had a doctor before who didn't do some kind of confirmation.  Email, text, call... even my manicurist confirms her appointments!  

I called in to figure out what to do and her receptionist basically said all she could do was take the money I owed, but if I wanted to make another appointment I'd have to leave the doctor a voicemail.  I paid and let the receptionist know I wouldn't be returning.

This whole situation had me fuming.  Regardless of the fact that this woman has no confirmation system, what I think the real tragedy is here is that this woman is a psychiatrist who had a patient not show up, who she has had no contact with for six months, and her only response was a bill with the handwritten note "missed appointment."

Luckily, I am stable.  But what if I wasn't?  Apparently she sees no need to confirm and remind patients of their appointments and believes they can remember them on their own.  Well, in that case, the fact that I missed the appointment should be even more disturbing.  What if I hadn't shown up to my appointment because I was in crisis?  A lot of these pills that are supposed to help mental health can sometimes lead to negative effects.  She's supposed to be a mental health professional... shouldn't she at least check in?

I talked to my friend about it who agreed it was ridiculous.  She said her therapist calls her if she's even 15 minutes late for an appointment just to make sure she isn't dead.  

I know most doctors don't check-in when you miss an appointment.  But, as a mental health professional I would hope psychiatrists would understand the importance of showing care and empathy to their patients.  Even if you tell me this woman has no time to send emails or make phone calls, if she had expanded her handwritten note to read, "Missed appointment.  Hope all is well, please check in,"  that would have been enough.

Maybe that's a good lesson for all of us:  Take the little extra step to show people you care.  It can mean a lot.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Reach for Your Dreams, OCD or Not

A beautiful day to ignore OCD 
For those who know me, it will come as no surprise that one of my aspirations in life was to work as a golf cart girl.  Spending the day in the sun, bouncing around in a golf car, handing out beer, with everyone happy to see you... What could be better?

Well my friends, last Saturday I had the opportunity to live that fantasy and I knew that I had to seize the day.  Only one problem: I'm OCD with money.

For those of you who are not OCD with money, or are OCD with money in their own way, let me explain what I mean.  I am terrified of stealing.  Petrified.  I tend to count and recount.  I doubt my numbers and even my honesty.  I worry that I took tips that I wasn't supposed to take or somehow cheated the employer or the customer.  I never feel safe around money, and my anxiety around cash is extremely high.  This fear and anxiety actually gave me the compulsion to give back a ton of tips at my old bartending job.  I would sneak them back into the cash register. I eventually quit because it was so overwhelming.

Knowing that I was going to deal with money at this event made me very nervous.  But I wasn't going to let OCD get in the way of my little golf cart girl dreams.  So I went anyway.

Did I worry about counting? Yes.  Did I worry about stealing?  Yes.  It was especially bad at one point when I pulled out my wallet to make change for a $20.  I handed the change over and took the $20 and put it in my wallet.

Sounds simple, right? But my OCD was only focused on the act of putting that $20 in the wallet.  

OCD doesn't care about context or reality.  OCD was just saying "Did you steal that $20?  I can remember you taking a $20 from a customer and putting it in your wallet."

But I wouldn't let myself get caught up in an argument with my OCD.  I said NO.  Not today, buddy. I moved on.  

I had a fantastic day and even made a little money.  I kept my tips and didn't return them.  I'm glad that I didn't let my OCD fears prevent me from taking the gig, because I would have missed out on a wonderful time.  

Sometimes you just have to put through.  Don't let OCD take your dreams away.  You are capable of triumph.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Birth Control Kind of Crazy

They look so innocuous!
Oh, birth control pills.  They can certainly be a beautiful thing.  Aside from preventing pregnancy (major pro), they can also help keep your skin clear.  Plus, it is certainly nice to be on a schedule and know when you're going to have a visit from Aunt Flow.

That being said, they certainly have their drawbacks.  People talk about how using these pills can lead to depression.  Messing with hormones can mess with mental health.  As someone with OCD and anxiety, I've experienced first hand how these pills can play into some of your weaknesses.  It's a unique feeling of imbalance that I wouldn't wish on anyone.
       
I was on a birth control pill for awhile which went through three different hormone levels over three consecutive weeks, followed by one week off.  I found that one week a month was particularly rough in terms of my mood.  I was extra anxious and cry-prone for that week (My boyfriend learned to tread carefully during this time). Call it PMS, call it whatever you want, it was a noticeable difference that I wasn't comfortable dealing with 25% of the time.

So, this past month I switched to a new kind of birth control pill that my Dr. informed me provides a steady level of hormones, rather than changing week to week. 

Sounded brilliant.  Sounded steady.

However, instead of balancing things in a positive way, now it feels like every week is the bad week!

I am feeling all the feelings.  The negative ones are especially strong.  Sadness. Irritability. Fear. Despair. Frustration.  I started sobbing watching the end of Big the other day.  I was crying just from catching the last like 20 minutes of a Tom Hanks' movie that I've already seen... with a happy ending.  

Feeling overwhelmed and anxious is the standard this month.  I'm going to try and give this pill one more month to see if this is merely a transition phase, but if not I have to explore other options.  

When you have mental health issues, you often have to make tough decisions between two less than ideal choices when it comes to medication (Ex.: Do I deal with the side effects of my OCD meds or do I deal with the intrusive thoughts, fears and anxiety that I experience without them?). My therapist has reminded me that there are other options for birth control if the pills are having too much of a negative impact on my life.  That being said, I like knowing I'm on them and what to expect month to month.  It doesn't seem fair to have to choose between that peace of mind and better mental stability.  

The tragedy is that I might just have to.