Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Frosty and Anxiety

Cold but lovely.
The holiday season is in full swing!

As the new year approaches, it is a time for reflection on the past and planning for the future.  This can be a huge source of stress for some.

What does the future hold?  What will the new year bring?  If you have anxiety, it is easy to worry about the bad things that might happen.

This is where we can all learn a lesson from a well-loved holiday icon: Frosty the Snowman.

So, we have all heard the song about Frosty, a snowman who came to life for a day when a magic hat was placed on his head. However, what makes him an inspirational figure is not his magical transformation to living being from inanimate object.  It's his attitude about life.

For me, this is the most meaningful part of his story:

"Frosty the Snowman knew the sun was hot that day,
so he said let's run and we'll have some fun now before I melt away."

Frosty was aware that his time was fleeting.  Instead of worrying about his impending end, he seized the day and lived in the moment.  He didn't waste the time that he had worrying.  He lived that day triumphantly spreading joy to those around him.

This is something that I admire and want to learn.  Rather than spend my time suffering, mulling over whatever catastrophe I think or know is coming, I need to live in the moment and enjoy what I have.

So, if you're like me and you let anxiety get the best of you more often than you'd care to admit in 2016... let's make a deal.  We will continue to try.  We will fight our inclinations toward negativity and work towards more positive thinking.  We will be more like Frosty.

Let's make 2017 our best year yet.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Can't

A helper.
The other day my mom and I were working on making my bed and Gus decided (as he always does when we make the bed) that the best way to help out was by sitting in the middle of the mattress.

Mom concluded, "Now we can't make the bed."

But we did.  We put the blankets over that silly pup and continued.

That's the funny thing about the term "can't". Yes... there are times that you literally cannot do something.  However, most of the time we use the word to cover up something else.

Instead of "I can't do this," what we really mean is "I won't do this," "I am too afraid to do this," or "I don't want to do this."  

This is especially true with OCD.  OCD is always telling me that if I don't perform some compulsion, I can't go on.  I worry that I won't make it through the anxiety if I don't listen, or something bad will happen if I don't comply. Sometimes my OCD also tells me that my anxiety over something will never disappear, no matter what I do.  It says "You can't get over this."

Well guess what?  OCD is wrong.  I CAN.  Not because I'm some superhuman, exceptional person, but because I keep going.

So here's to the triumph over can't.  You are strong and you will get through whatever trial you are facing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Gaslighting and OCD

Not a gaslight.
So I was recently reading about the fascinating psychological phenomenon of gaslighting.  For those who aren't familiar, it's a horrifying form of abuse. Dictionary.com defines gaslighting as: "to cause (a person) to doubt his or her sanity through the use of psychological manipulation." As Louis de Canonville further explains, it "is a form of psychological abuse used by narcissists in order to instill in their victim’s an extreme sense of anxiety and confusion to the point where they no longer trust their own memory, perception or judgment."

Now, gaslighting anyone would be reprehensible. But I started thinking about the tragedy of how easily a person with OCD could be manipulated.  

As I've talked about before, OCD means facing self-doubt regularly.  We can have trouble trusting our memory, especially surrounding our worst fears and obsessions.  This causes some of us to seek reassurance from others (even if this is ultimately an unhealthy compulsion). What would happen if our partner, family member, or friend was reinforcing those doubts?

The result would be terrifying.  When you actually have a condition that causes you to question your sanity, the last thing you need is someone playing this up. 

I've been lucky enough never to face this.  I imagine that as someone with OCD, you would immediately spiral downward.  Especially if you were unaware that this potential form of abuse existed, if would be so easy to fall into it... to become completely reliant on this other person to define what was really going on. The person could totally manipulate you however he or she pleased.

David Wolfe recommends, "If you feel like you’re being gaslighted in a relationship, it’s important to seek help."  I agree 100%.  

If you even have the slightest concern that this could be happening, talk to someone about it. Don't face this alone.


References/Interesting Articles:
"Are You Being Gaslighted?" by Robin Stern, PhD.
- "10 Things I've Learned About Gaslighting As An Abuse Tactic" by Shea Emma Fett
-"10 Signs You Are a Victim of Gaslighting" by David Wolfe
- "The Effects of Gaslighting in Narcissistic Victim Syndrome" by Christine Louis de Canonville


(Also... for anyone who was hoping this was really about physical gaslights, check out my uncle's site: www.nationalmantle.com

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Candy Crush Taught Me About Living With Anxiety

Mom indulging in a favorite pastime.
Candy Crush Saga.  Most of us have played it at least once.  For many, it has eaten up hours if not days of our lives.  (I'm currently on Level 375... For perspective, my mom is on or above Level 1752.)

It might seem like a frivolous time suck, but I've gained some real knowledge from my Candy Crush experience.  As a girl with OCD, I've discovered that Candy Crush offers more than just a distraction... It has actually taught me some key lessons on how to live with anxiety.  

Hear me out:

Lesson #1: Sometimes you need a little help.

There are levels that I've only gotten through because of a booster of some sort.  Such is life.  When you have anxiety and you feel overwhelmed or unable to move past the thoughts in your head, it's easy to feel like a failure.  At those times it's important to remember that it's okay to need a boost occasionally. A boost in life can be many things, from social support to therapy to prescribed medication. Whatever help you need, it is alright to seek it out.

Lesson #2:  Give it 5 tries, then take a break.

After you lose 5 Candy Crush lives, it takes time to recharge before they let you play again. Though many people find this annoying, it is actually a great strategy to take when something is bothering you and making you feel anxious. If you've given it multiple attempts and are still facing failure, take some time off. Rejuvenate.  It's perfectly acceptable.  Then, you can get back to it refreshed and ready to face the challenge.  (Don't just listen to me, check out this article I found on an OCD page from the Harvard Business Review, "Resilience is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure".)

Lesson #3:  Sometimes things are hard that aren't supposed to be.

Candy Crush tells you when you are facing a "hard level."  But sometimes it's the so-called easy levels that wind up being the most challenging.  The truth is that we all have different journeys and sometimes we will find that something is difficult without warning.  You can't let it get you down, you have to keep fighting. 

Lesson #4:  Things don't always fall into place.

You have to learn to accept that sometimes it isn't your fault, the right combinations just didn't materialize.  That's something you have to live with in your daily life.  Don't allow yourself to get caught up in possible alternate scenarios and blame yourself for fate.

Lesson #5: I can do anything I set my mind to.

I've often been at Candy Crush levels that I have deemed impossible.  Multiple times, I have decided never to play EVER AGAIN because it would be pointless to try and continue.  But every single time, I have been drawn back in and eventually beat the so-called unbeatable level.  Candy Crush has shown me that as much as I worry, nothing is impossible.

Did King create Candy Crush, with an entire magical world that held parallels to our own, to help make me a better, stronger person who was more capable of handling the anxieties of life?  Probably not.  But sometimes you find life lessons in the strangest of places.  If it took a social media game to help me find some zen, I'll take it.  Candy Crush triumph.



Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Real Doubt

Artsy, introspective photo. :-P
I quit my new job.  Just 7 days under my belt and I quit.

And I quit because of doubt.

Now, I've mentioned before that self-doubt is a major part of OCD.  I can doubt things that other people easily dismiss.  For example, when I was obsessively worried about stealing, I would doubt whether I paid for an item at the store.  When I was obsessively worried about driving, I would doubt whether I ran over a squirrel.

Doubt can eat you alive.

But here's the thing.  OCD doubt is different than real doubt.  If you learn to really examine your feelings and be introspective about it, you can learn to discover which doubts are legitimate.  For example, sometimes you actually do forget to lock the house or you do leave the curling iron on and it isn't an OCD check, it's a real check.  Learning this difference between feelings of OCD doubt and feelings of real doubt can help you fight the OCD kind.

The triumph to my quitting is that it wasn't OCD related.  It was a doubt to the core, a feeling that what I was doing wasn't right for me and that I should take a different path.  

Now, I'm working on starting up my own tutoring business.  I'm thinking about finally publishing my memoir (Eugh! Please ignore how pretentious that sounds). I'm taking my career into my own hands and not letting OCD stop me. I'm still sorting through doubts, but I know I'm getting better at it.

I hope that others fighting can learn to do the same.  Don't be deceived by doubt.  Keep going and learning and sorting.  You can do this!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Gus - A Dog in Therapy

A calm Gus in session.
On Friday of last week, I went to therapy with my dog, Gus.  I do not mean that I took him to my therapy session, I mean that I went to his.

Now, some of you may remember that my dog is a complicated person...  I've written about Gus's anxiety before.  He's a unique snowflake and like the rest of us has personal battles within himself.

You'll be glad to know that he is still doing well on his anti-anxiety medication prescribed by the behavioral specialist.  He is also currently working through therapy. (You know what they say: Often a mix of drugs and therapy can be the most effective treatment regimen!)  

I had never actually been to a therapy session with him until Friday.  He always just went with my mom and dad.  But last week I went along too, to see what it all was about.  
What would I discover about the depths of the Gus?

What I learned is that effective dog therapy for anxiety is a lot like effective cognitive behavioral therapy for OCD. They're teaching him behavior modification and hoping to decrease his anxiety, which is one of the same goals that my therapist has for me.  Yes, my therapist and I get more into the "cognitive" aspect, but a lot of it is the same: Change your behavior to change your story.

The therapist also talked about Gus's worries, which squeezed my heart because I totally understand being consumed by worry.  She said that she used to see the tension in his face.  I could totally relate to that "worry face"... my mom can always tell when I'm having OCD concerns just from looking at me. 

But now the therapist says she is seeing less worry and tension on his face. He's improving!  It's nice to know that the therapist sees a positive change in Gus.  I know he will continue on his path to "Good Boy."  He's already the best.

So today's post is dedicated to Gus's triumph.  I love that my handsome, sweet, nerdy fluffhead is winning the battle against his inner demons.  May we all be that successful.






Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Not Just a Lock: In Honor of OCD Awareness Week

It's never just a lock.
So, as some of you may know, it is the IOCDF's OCD Awareness Week!

For those of you who are unfamiliar, IOCDF stands for International OCD Foundation.  They offer great resources and support for OCD sufferers, family and friends.  Feel free to check them out.

So, with #OCDWeek in full swing, I was left to wonder: What is it that I really want people to be aware of?  I write about OCD on a regular basis, but what is one key point that I want to press for this, the week of awareness.

I've decided on this:  It's not just a lock.

You have to look beyond the surface.

To take the literal example:  Let's look at people with OCD who are afraid that they left the door unlocked and check... and check and check.  For them, it isn't a question of a careless mistake.  They are worried about what could happen if that door really was left unlocked: Plagued by worries of their house being broken into, or their dog being stolen, or some other horrible vision, their anxiety rises up to an unbearable level. They do their compulsions and checks to kill that anxiety and reach a feeling of "okay".  They often don't see the odds; they see the catastrophe.  It's not just about the lock: It's their whole sense of security

There is real pain and suffering here.

And the lock example is just one that can be explained in a paragraph.  From intrusive thoughts, to constant self-doubt, to compulsions that don't always make sense to others, OCD can be much more insidious and the connections much more complicated.  

So learning to stop those compulsions and live with that anxiety, it's hard.  The therapy is work.  And trying to get help when there's so much stigma and misunderstanding out there?  That's courage.

So please take this week seriously and raise that awareness so more people take OCD for the serious disorder that it truly is.  The more we choose a path of understanding as opposed to fear, the more we will triumph going forward.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The End of the Job Hunt

My job spreadsheet.
As some of you may remember from a few posts ago, I was on the job hunt. Well, not anymore.  Triumph:  This girl got a job.

For someone who has anxiety, the waiting game was murder.  I created a job spreadsheet to keep track of my progress, and looking at it now is pretty interesting.  Let's consider the numbers:

21 - Jobs applied to between August 17 and August 30.
13 - Jobs that just ignored me.
5 - Flat out rejection emails.
2 - Jobs with false hope.  One of the jobs they gave me a phone interview and then called me in for an interview.  Before we could schedule it, they filled the position.  The other job they told me to wait for a telephone interview "sometime next week" (already putting me on edge for days) and then I found out from the recruiter they had made an error and were already at the offer stage with someone else and wouldn't be calling.  
1 - Job success.  

My advice to anyone with anxiety looking for a job is to remember that it's a numbers game.  People would tell me that, and it's 100% true.  You can't take rejections personally and you have to stay tough and keep putting yourself out there.  It's easy to start obsessing over waiting to hear back, but it's a frivolous exercise.  Instead of freaking out over applications that are pending, focus your energy on putting out more applications. 

For the one job offer that I received, I went through a four step process: phone interview, writing sample, in person interview, and finally a project.  That being said, this company was very quick to get back to me at every stage. They are a recruiting firm, so they have a real understanding of the job search process and are compassionate toward candidates.  I even told them that I had OCD during my interview and they were super accepting about it.  I love that I was able to be myself in the interview.  It seems like I have found an extremely nurturing environment to grow my career.  

So now, onto new anxieties... anxieties such as: How do I know if I'll be any good?  How can I be sure I'll like it?  Are my coworkers going to like me?  Is my boss going to like me?  How long will it take me to "get it"?

Better to focus on the excitement and positive possibilities than drown in the negative ones.  Like most things, it's important to remember that only time will tell.  


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

nOCD - An App to Tap


We live in the tech age, so why not use that technology for good?

The nOCD app is doing just that:  They're helping OCD patients effectively go through Exposure Response Prevention therapy.

Now you may be asking, what exactly is Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy?  Well... it's basically the gold standard for OCD treatment and it works just like the title indicates.  You expose yourself to a trigger for your symptoms (one of your obsessions) and then you prevent your normal compulsive response.  

Quick simple example:  If you are obsessively afraid of the germs from touching the floor, maybe the therapist recommends that you touch the floor and then stop yourself from washing your hands and just continue with your day.  

Sound easy?  Well, when your anxiety level is through the roof, stopping yourself from performing a compulsion is anything but.  

This is where nOCD swoops in to help.  It's an easily accessible phone app that can help you with your exposures whenever and wherever you are.  You click on "On-the-Go" help and enter your obsessions and compulsions in real time.  They collect data that can be helpful in discovering things like when you're the most vulnerable to an episode and how intense your episodes are.  

The app also lets you schedule ERP sessions for yourself if you need.  It gives you "Response Prevention Practice" by helping you learn to live with uncertainty.   They even provide distraction if that's what you need, and will send you over to Facebook, Snapchat, or Youtube to help you get out of your own head.

Why do I love this app?

1.  It was created by OCD patients and OCD experts.  It was obviously created with the understanding of what it's really like to live with the disorder, not just theoretical mumbo-jumbo.

2.  It's free for subscribers.  They are helping you without draining your wallet.

3.  You can use it with your therapist.  Since a lot of ERP is done outside of the therapy session, this app can really help show your therapist how your sessions are going.

4.  The creators are just incredibly nice.  After speaking with Stephen Smith, one of the cofounders, and Gagan Bhambra, who works on the app's blog and with social media, I can honestly say that these seem like honest-to-goodness helpful people.  
 

The app is still evolving, and in about a month a huge update is scheduled to come out.  I can't wait to see how this app grows! For more information, you can visit their website: http://www.treatmyocd.com/ or check out their blog at: https://treatmyocdblog.com/

This app is a definite triumph in the advancement of OCD treatment.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Psycho Psychiatrists

Chilling in the pool during my trauma-free childhood.

Tragedy: All men may have been created equal, but all mental health professionals definitely were not.

Yesterday, I saw a new psychiatrist.  I thought this would be an easy transition... give her my OCD backstory, explain the medications I'm on, let her know I'm doing pretty well working with my therapist about once a month.  Easy peasy.

Wrong.

Instead, the woman I saw described my medication as "toxic."  She suggested that I do intensive psychotherapy instead, twice a week.  TWICE A WEEK! As my dad asked, "What is this? Hollywood?"  This remark made me feel a little better, like Marilyn Monroe.

This woman was also obsessed with my past.  It was like a run in with Freud.   She wanted to know details and memories from when I was very little, even asking me to do research to see how my mom's pregnancy was and how I acted as a baby.  It was clear she thought there must be some trigger for the anxiety from my childhood. 

This is far from the case.  My childhood was awesome: Nothing bad happened.  I am not repressing something.  I am not hiding something.  I'm seriously just lucky.

That's the thing about OCD that many people don't seem to grasp: It's genetic and chemical.  Situations may trigger it in some people, but nobody had to do anything wrong; there didn't have to be a trigger.  It's not like PTSD... some people even call OCD a brain disorder instead of a mental disorder.

The psychiatrist also just didn't seem to understand some of my OCD symptoms when I described them to her.  Now, I get that this was our first meeting... but I'm pretty textbook.  I felt like I was dealing with someone who didn't have a good grasp of the problem.

This is the big issue with finding a psychiatrist.  To rephrase Forrest Gump: "Psychiatrists are like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get."  They all have different views and different training.  Some of them hate medication, some are pill pushers... some are more Freudian, others lean toward more modern theories. Some you would trust with your life, others you wouldn't want to trust with your lunch.

My advice to OCD friends out there looking for a psychiatrist is to find a specialist if you can.  Also, follow your heart.  Find treatment that you can feel good about.  Just because someone has an M.D. doesn't mean that they know everything.  You are the best expert on you, so find somebody compatible who can support your recovery.

 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

So I Guess I'm Disabled?

As many of my friends know from my constant complaining... I am currently on the job hunt.  I have two part time jobs but I need to move on to one full-time position.  Bring on the benefits.

Now, I think most would agree that there are few things in life as anxiety-provoking as job searching.  The future is so uncertain... you never know who you will hear back from and circumstances can change at the drop of the hat.  As my mom has pointed out, you have to "cast a wide net" and hope to catch something good.  

So, I've turned into an aggressive job huntress, prowling the internet for the best available positions for my skill set.  I have filled out many online job forms lately, reiterating my resume and personal information.  This includes the "Voluntary Self-Identification of Disability" form.

The form.
Now, in the past I've paid little attention to this form, because I never considered myself disabled in any way.  

Then it caught my eye: "Obsessive compulsive disorder".... listed right there with "Missing limbs," "Cancer," and "Intellectual disability."

What?

Now, part of me thought, "This is really great news! Mental health problems are being recognized as real problems.  They're listed right alongside physical ailments."  I was surprised anxiety wasn't on there too... but at least it's a step in the right direction.

But a bigger part of me winced.  The discomfort associated with the negative connotation of the term disability as it applied to me was very real.  


I have to admit that even after seeing my diagnosis right there on the form, I still checked "No."

Let me be clear: I don't think that people with disabilities should be ashamed or feel like they have to hide.  I'm not ashamed of my diagnosis (which might be obvious as I blab publicly on the internet).  That being said, I couldn't deny my concern with showcasing it on a job form.  

I want employers to see my strengths, "Laura's Greatest Hits," my highlight reel... not my biggest weakness.  I certainly don't want to have my entire application viewed from the lens of one check in one "Yes" box.

I recognize that this is what those labeled as disabled have to struggle with every day.  For over a year I've worked with students with a variety of learning differences (from Autism to dyslexia to different physical limitations) and I finally got a small taste of what it feels like to be considered "disabled."  I think the experience will make me a more empathetic tutor.  Honestly, in some ways it may even make me a better person.

Whether this incident is ultimately a tragedy or triumph... jury is definitely still out on this one. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

OCD in Sin City

Bellagio all lit up, like my friends and I would be later.
I just got back from Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada!

My friends and I spent an amazing weekend gambling, eating, seeing Britney Spears and David Copperfield, and even taking a burlesque dance class.  It was incredible.

The biggest triumph of all was that I kept my OCD in check.

For some with OCD, myself included, dealing with money can be a huge trigger of symptoms.  This is because money can be counted and quantified.... it can therefore lead to compulsions to recount and recheck.  It's easy to obsess over whether you have the "right" amount.  Doubt can creep in.

Money is also something that you can worry about stealing.  With OCD, you often worry about doing the wrong thing, the bad thing.  I worry about getting money I don't deserve.  In the past with slot machines, I have actually worried that they paid me too much (ha!).

Las Vegas can be a huge trigger of symptoms for this reason.  There is so much cash changing hands.  Last time I was there, my OCD was really bad and I would worry that I hadn't tipped correctly or that somehow I had cash I didn't deserve.

This time, the thoughts were definitely still there (for example at one point I put money down on the counter and then minutes later wondered if it was really mine).  However, I was able to move past them more effectively.  I was able to tell myself, "It's just OCD, relax and move on".  And it worked!

I may not have won any money (bummer), but this trip was a definite win on the OCD front.


 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

That Mid-Vacation Meltdown

A dolphin sneaking up behind me like all of life's problems.
Vacations are a triumph.

I just got back from an amazing Caribbean cruise with my family.  We got to relax, let go... stop worrying.  As someone with OCD, any excuse to stop worrying is a welcome one. 

But then you get to the middle.  All of a sudden you feel that mix of nausea and stifled screams: You remember that vacation is going to end.  

All those problems and stressers you were avoiding?  They're coming right back at you.  Then, the tragedy is that you spend a ridiculous percentage of the rest of your vacation worried about the end of your vacation.

My therapist (and a ridiculous amount of mental health tips) recommend practicing mindfulness - staying in the moment.  It's not easy, but it's the only way to really enjoy your life.

As summer comes to a close, don't let the mid-vacation blues get you down.  Don't let the upcoming winter stop you from enjoying these lovely sunny August days.  Focus on the now. Enjoy.    

Monday, August 1, 2016

Anxiety-Go! Vs. Anxiety-No!

So, I've realized that anxiety reactions tend to go one of two ways - Anxiety-Go! or Anxiety-No!

Let me clarify.

Recently I encountered someone who was so anxious about work that was due that he just didn't do it and procrastinated until he was in complete panic mode.  I would call this, Anxiety-No!  You just say no and ignore the problem to avoid the anxiety.

This is something I've always had trouble understanding because I am a fixer.  When something is wrong or causing me anxiety, I generally want to do whatever I can to make the problem go away.  Anxiety-Go!

The issue lately is that I've been facing anxiety-provoking situations that are completely out of my control.  I can't take the reigns.  It's frustrating and just raises the anxiety to new levels.

My therapist says that I need to take the "positive" steps that are within my control or the anxiety will just keep building.  She clearly is more supportive of the Anxiety-Go style.  

I understand where she's coming from, but sometimes you really do just have to wait and see.  They say patience is a virtue... it's also a bitch.  That being said, if you aren't being avoidant, learning to wait can be a triumph within itself. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Another Year

Let us eat cake!
Last Wednesday was my 27th birthday.  It also marks approximately 8 years since the worst OCD breakdown of my life.

Right before college, when I was about to turn 19, I just lost it.  I couldn't function because the fear from OCD and anxiety was so great.  I thought the intrusive thoughts would never stop. 

I had suicidal ideation - which for those of you outside the psychology world "is a term used by mental health professions to describe suicidal thoughts and feelings (without suicidal actions)." (This definition is from Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D. and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.'s article "Defining Suicide", an interesting read for more information on different aspects of suicide.)  

I was worried that I would feel that way forever.  I didn't think I could handle it for the rest of my life.  

But things got better. 

I got help and have been slowly making progress for years.  I've had my ups and downs, and some of the problems and fears from the past still plague me, but I have better tools to deal with them now.  

So today I feel the triumph of living another year, fighting another day.  Hopefully 27 will be the best year yet.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Wine Weekend

Tasting Tray!
I had the most wonderful time at the Ohio wineries in Madison this weekend.  My boyfriend and I stayed at the loveliest B&B called The Lost Pearl and went to a number of different wineries and did tastings (favorites including M Cellars and Laurentia).

Obviously wine is alcoholic (Many would say that is one of its best characteristics!)  That being said, the thing about drinking when you're on OCD/anxiety medication is that you have to be very cognizant of what you're doing.

On certain medications you can't drink at all, and then on others you just have to be very careful.  

Depending on your view, the tragedy or triumph is that certain pills can make you get drunk faster.  

This alone wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but the problem is drinking on pills may also just give you a tummy ache .  Or worse.  I had a friend in college who passed away from some deadly mix of drinking and Xanax. (If you are ever thinking of trying that combo - DON'T).

Ultimately, most of these drugs are serious business and they need to be treated that way.  No matter what pills you're on, listen to what your doctor says.  Alcohol/pill reactions are not something to mess around with.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Not So Sweet Dreams

Waking up can be a huge relief!
There are dreams and there are nightmares... and then there's that in-between anxiety dream

It's not exactly a nightmare in the traditional sense.   You aren't afraid for your life and nobody else is in danger... you're just put into some sort of every-day scenario that makes you extremely nervous and anxious.

For me, the two reoccurring themes for these dreams are school and stage.

I haven't taken a math class in almost ten years, and I still sometimes dream that I'm about to take some sort of math test and I don't know any of the answers.  Similarly, I have dreamed that I have a huge project due soon that I haven't even started.  School may be over, but the fear of failure that goes along with it remains.

I also used to act in high school, and sometimes I still have anxiety drama dreams. I'll envision that I have a huge role... I'm about to get onstage, and I haven't memorized any of my lines.

Recently I was blessed with both of these dreams in one night!  I was actually laying there in a half-awake state afterward trying to figure out how to get the project done before I came to enough to realize that it didn't actually exist.

Having these anxieties still haunt me is a tragedy, but waking up to realize that none of it is real?  That's always a great triumph in my book.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The NBA Finals and Sports Anxiety

That game!

Anyone who saw Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Sunday understands the term "Sports Anxiety."  

It was Cleveland's Cavaliers vs. Oakland's Warriors, a close back-and-forth game that came down to the final minute.  Then it happened... the Cavs who were down 3-1 made history, and Cleveland won its first major sports championship in over 50 years.

Now watching that game was torture.  It was up in the air until the end.  With the conditions of these playoffs, I've heard a lot of people talking about sports anxiety recently.  One of the players after the game even talked about how it almost gave him an "anxiety attack."  Fans feel it too.  Some people hate it so much they don't even like to watch the game.

But as someone with an anxiety disorder, I feel the opposite.  I love sports anxiety.  Here's why:

1.  Sports anxiety invests me in the game.  By the end of Game 7, I was literally shaking. When you don't care, sports are really boring.  Caring and freaking out with the ups and downs, on the other hand, really makes you feel alive! 

2.  Unlike with a lot of general anxiety, sports anxiety has an obvious end point.  You either win or lose, and it's over. Clear-cut.  Beautiful.

3.  There's always another chance.  "There's always next year" was the Cleveland motto for my entire life.  If we lost, as we did every single time up until this point, it was okay because there would be opportunities in the future.

Honestly, it's hard for me to remember a single moment in the past twenty-some years of my life where I wasn't feeling some sort of anxiety.  Anxiety sucks and I wish it would go away 99% of the time.  But, feeling it because of love for a sports team?  Because of love for the place I was born and raised?   That anxiety can feel pretty damn good. 

And this time, we triumphed.  Cleveland - We are the champions.


 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

I think my therapist may be trying to break up with me...

Hold on a second.  I realize this sounds like a paranoid delusion but hear me out.  

Everyone knows that insurance is obnoxious.  Especially when it comes to mental health, it's hard to catch a break.  When my therapist, an OCD specialist, decided to switch practices, my insurance decided not to cover her anymore.  Nothing about her changed except her location, and they cover other people at her new practice, but they are still giving her trouble.

So, my therapist tells me about this and we try to go about fixing the problem and appealing the decision.  We encounter conflicting answers and no results.  

I was ready to try new avenues, but my therapist comes back at me with something along the lines of, "Well, we will meet one more time for closure and if things don't work out I can always recommend other therapists to you."

Closure?!  What is this, a breakup?

Something about the way she approached it came across as eager to pass me along to someone else.  I'm friendly and self-reflective... I imagine I'm a pretty easy patient.  So why is she so quick to give up the fight?  

Plus, we've been working together for about a year.  Now, I get that OCD must be an obnoxious disorder to treat because it can be the same thing over and over, but this is her specialty.  I feel like it's helping and the last thing I want is to start over and explain all my meshugas to someone else.

If anything this is a tragedy, but really it's just ridiculous.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Up in the Air

Sky-High Anxiety.
When you have anxiety, not knowing what is going to happen can feel the same as knowing something bad is going to happen.

I'm the best at assuming the worst.

Right now, I'm dealing with a lot of uncertainty.  I was waiting on job news that I originally hoped to learn by the end of May... then the end of June... and now have discovered I may not learn until August.

I want to be able to feel secure and plan, but I can't.  At this point, things are out of my hands.  Everything is out of my control... let the chips fall as they may.

I have to learn how to live with the unknown.  The truth is that nothing is certain in this life.  Even when you feel certain, you don't really know.  Certainty is a beautiful illusion.

Yesterday, the anxiety of not knowing really got to me.  I had a total freakout... crying, sobbing, wanting to give up.  My triumph for today was getting up and going to work.  Bad days happen during high stress times, but life keeps moving and you have to keep moving too. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

OCD Dieting

Dieting sucks.  I know "diet" is now a four letter word... so instead let's just say I've put on like 10 pounds and need to "make a lifestyle change."

Diet Portion vs. Epic Portion
Changing eating habits is difficult for everybody, but OCD can add an interesting component to the mix.  Calorie counting or sticking to a regimen are ripe situations for over analysis.  Basically, you have to make sure you don't tag an obsession onto your new habits.

In the past, when I've tried to diet I used that MyFitnessPal app.  You can log everything that you eat and it counts up the calories for you.  It's a brilliant concept: it helps keep you in line, it makes you more aware of what you're eating, and it's easy to use.  However, it can become an OCD nightmare.

I was so worried about under-counting and accidentally eating too much that I was always overestimating what I had eaten.  When you're given a limit of ~1200 calories a day, overestimating can leave you very underfed and angry.  This is different than anorexia, it's more an obsession with accuracy than anything else... or at least with not cheating (I'd much rather overestimate than underestimate).  

I never kept these diets going very long because I would get frustrated.  Not eating all the delicious food that you want can make you irritable enough...Maintaining a diet when you're overly concerned with a log is just shooting yourself in the foot.

So this time I'm trying it on my own without a counter or a log and just trying to eat less and make better choices.  So far I've been good for like a week (Triumph!).  Hopefully this can continue without spiraling out of control.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The City that Never Sleeps

Sometimes anxiety can tower over you.
I just got back from a truly lovely trip to New York City.  I had an amazing time with my equally amazing man.  However, the last morning of the trip was not easy.

Our alarm went off at 6 am for some reason (certainly not on purpose!).  After that, there I was in "The City that Never Sleeps," unable to get back to sleep.

I felt chest pain, unease, discomfort... and I had no idea why.

One of the weirdest parts about having anxiety is that sometimes you can feel the pain and discomfort of worry without actually having a target for your worries.  

Think about how you feel when you're waiting to hear terrible news... Maybe you're getting back a test you don't think you did well on, or your significant other said, "We need to talk."  Now imagine that feeling without an identifiable reason behind it.  How do you talk yourself out of it when you don't even know what it is? 

It's a tragedy, to be afraid and not know why you're afraid.  Unfortunately, sometimes that's just the nature of having anxiety problems.  The best thing that you can do sometimes is just remember that cliche but true saying: This too shall pass.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Magic Numbers

Which number has the power?
Numbers are fascinating.  Counting is one of the first things that we learn, then there's that whole field of mathematics, and most of us have a favorite number.

Some people with OCD have something special that is sometimes referred to as a "magic number." Sounds fancy, right?

Well, it's really a trap.  This number becomes the amount of times that they have to do something to feel safe.  

An example helps:  If the person's magic number is "3", then they might have to check the stove three times to make sure it's off, or turn the light switch on and off three times before they leave a room.

I've never had a magic number.  Some people would say that makes me lucky, but really it's a different kind of tragedy.  I don't know when to stop.  Sometimes, I have to do an action (like check my time card) over and over and over and over until the anxiety dies.

I have tried to apply the "magic number" 3 before.  3 is manageable.  3 is nice!  3 doesn't take up too much time. 

Sometimes this works, but what I've generally found is that you can't choose your magic numbers.  Apparently, they choose you.  

As someone with OCD, but not this particular quirk, this concept is fascinating to me.

If you're interested in learning more about "Magic Numbers" from an expert perspective, this article might help: http://beyondocd.org/expert-perspectives/articles/your-number-is-up-magical-numbers-and-ocd

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Count me in!

Today's triumph?  I counted.

Yes, counted.  As in one, two, three, four... and so on.  I counted survey answers on sheets of paper and reported them to my coworker.

No, I'm not still in kindergarten, but yes, this was still a feat.  

See, you may have noticed that OCD makes me doubt almost everything: The correct amount of something is no exception.

There are times that I've had to recount and recount something, and then have someone else check my number just to be sure.  The act of counting can drive me mad.  Did I skip one?  Did I double count another?  Anything could happen!

But this morning I was pretty good about it and my coworker didn't have to suffer from a time-wasting amount of checks and recounts.  That's a win for me today.

In other news, while texting my boyfriend made a very astute observation.  He said "I can authoritatively say that you tend to hear one possibly bad thing and then assume the worst possible interpretation ever imagined by anyone ever in the history of the world." 

My therapist agreed that this was anxiety in a nutshell.  The boyfriend also gets a win today.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Pre-Mother's Day Post

I think it's important to make a post in the spirit of Mother's Day.  My mom has always been my rock through OCD and anxiety.

Whenever I've gone through a hard time, from my first really bad OCD experience in elementary school through college and beyond, my mom has stood by my side.  She's been an advocate for me when I couldn't advocate for myself.

She has listened to me through intrusive thoughts, laughed with me over weird compulsions, and always been completely supportive while I've gone through all this OCD nonsense. 

Mom, you are the reason behind every triumph.  I will never be able to thank you enough for everything that you have done and continue to do for me.

Here's to you, ma.
 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Foot Dexterity

A doctor once told me I had beautiful arches.
So, one of the perks of having OCD is that I have amazing foot dexterity.  Why, you may ask?  Because I have learned to pick things up with my feet.

Extreme hand-washing isn't the only part of OCD, but it certainly plays a role, at least for me.  There have been phases in my life where I have washed my hands extensively just to feel appropriately clean. 

These times have stuck with me... so, even though I'm not in an extreme-hand-washing phase of my life, I still try to avoid getting my hands dirty whenever possible, because I HATE over hand washing.

In the bathroom, for example, when I throw a tissue and miss the trash can and something falls on the floor... I know that if I pick it up with my hands, I'll have to wash them.  Doesn't matter what it is... the bathroom floor is a scary place.   
The same goes for cooking sometimes in the kitchen when things fall on the floor and need to go in the trash.  I already over wash my hands when cooking, so if I can avoid doing something that will make me feel like my hands are dirty, I'm going to damn well do it.

That's where my feet come in.  When I'm in my house I'm usually rocking out barefoot.  So, I just pick whatever it is up with my feet and avoid the whole problem. 

Feet weren't particularly designed for picking things up, but I've found with practice you can do pretty well.  Definitely well enough for my purposes, anyway.

Now, I'm sure therapists would call this a tragedy, but seeing how good I've gotten at picking stuff up with my feet, I'm calling this a triumph.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Time after Time

Innocuous household item or ultimate source of terror?
One of my major OCD fears is about cheating people out of money.  I really do not want any money that I don't deserve.  I mean don't get me wrong, I'm very pro-lottery and other instant influxes of cash... I  just don't want to get overpaid at my job or steal from anyone.

For this reason, I am very scared of clocking in and out at work.  Yes, I am afraid of the clock.  Dun dun DUNNNN! 

Getting to and leaving work can be a stress fest.  I always want to make sure that I get there at least a couple minutes before I'm scheduled to begin and leave at or after my scheduled time.

Yesterday night I was released early, so I left work at ~7:27 pm instead of 8:00 pm.  I know because I texted my sister and have a time stamp (and I did this specifically because I knew I would worry about marking my time sheet wrong because of this deviation from the normal schedule).  

So when I got home, I naturally marked my time sheet for 7:15 pm.  Totally logical!

Why did I cut out those 12 minutes?  Maybe because 7:27 is a weird in-between numberFor sure because if I texted my sister to say I was done, I wasn't working anymore at that moment.  I was texting.  So when did the work really stop?  

See, I can feel absolutely sure I was still at work at 7:15.  And there's nothing better to assuage anxiety than absolutely sure.

What exactly am I worried is going to happen if I get paid for a few extra minutes?  I can tell you what I'm not worried about: getting fired, going to jail, going to hell.  This isn't a fear of punishment at all: the anxiety just surrounds the idea of being a dishonest person.

Cheating myself to assure that I didn't cheat someone else is something I really need to stop.

But probably not today.  Thinking about changing my time card to say 7:27 pm or even 7:20 pm makes my insides cringe.   

Today is the tragedy of 12 minutes.