February 8, 2013

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde....with OCD.

Sometimes I do wonder if I have bi-polar disorder AND OCD (and yes, in the past I have obsessed about the possibility of having bi-polar disorder!), because I really do feel like Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde on some days.  

The last few days have been EXCELLENT.  Things have taken a huge turn for the better.  I feel like my old/new self.  Why?  Who knows.   

I had a fantastic session with my therapist a couple of days ago (have I mentioned how much I love my therapist?).  We're at the point in our relationship now where he doesn't really give me a lot of new information.  Let's face it - I know what I have to do.  But he gives me some "tough love” in his very kind, friendly, supportive way.  And he still catches me....and has an amazing way of making me think differently about things.  I am re-motivated again. 
Plus, I hate to admit it - but I do think my difficulties in the last little while were somewhat PMS related.  I’ve written before about how PMS affects my OCD, and I suppose that happened again.  I am flabbergasted by how – within a day or so – my mind-set can COMPLETELY CHANGE!  The way I view things, my emotions....all of it. 

Anyway, my courage seems to have come back again.  I’ve got some exposure homework to do, and I’m not dreading it, or even all that scared.  Go figure. 
Once again I am reminded of the eternal truth:  “This too shall pass” 

I am grateful. 
I hope everyone is well.  :o)

February 3, 2013

More on....willingness....

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the subtle “nuances” that seem (at least in my case) to make the difference between struggling with my OCD, and feeling like I am beating the monster.  It really does come down to having the attitude of being willing to accept, face and deal with my worst fears coming true.....in every single moment of every day.  And not just "parroting" the words to myself when faced with a fear.  Nope.  It's a deep, personal commitment to myself.  In my opinion, this requires mindfulness and a lot of courage.  I'm still struggling with the acceptance and courage pieces, I think. (Heck, I’m still challenged by all of it!) 
Why is it that those of us with OCD need to be courageous all the time? 
The whole world avoids their fears.  I know of people who are terrified of driving, but live perfectly fine lives taking the bus.  I know people who are scared of dogs....so they just don’t have a dog as a pet.  I can think of many examples of this happening in everyday life.  The curse (and possibly blessing?) of those of us with OCD is that we just don’t get to have that luxury....we don’t get to avoid our fears.  And there are still times for me that this fact makes me angry. 
I alluded to this in my last post.  Geez it frustrates me that during the times that we really want to be OCD-free - times like holidays, special events, or times where most people would be "care free" and having fun - this is when OCD loves to latch on.  What a rip off.  Seriously. 
Perhaps the fact that we don’t have the “luxury” of being able to avoid our fears is a blessing in disguise.  We develop courage.  We become stronger people.  We get to fully live life to the fullest, learning not to be halted with “road blocks” that might stop others from realizing their full potential.  Or, maybe we’re just more fearful people to begin with.  Who knows.  I do know that most people would agree that the best way to live life fully is to face our fears....to live life courageously....to be strong. 
This is a new “skill” that I am still developing.  I'm still learning how to live a good life while being OK with accepting that really everything in the future is uncertain.  What do we know FOR SURE, anyway? I'm still learning to not "crave" security and appreciate the beauty of uncertainty.

January 29, 2013

You have to be willing to face your worst fear....every minute of every day......

......and that’s the hardest part.  We really don’t ever get a break from our OCD fears.  Wouldn’t you all just love to wake up one day and truly NOT be afraid of your worst fear coming true?  I’ve definitely had days, weeks, even months where I thought to myself “if I find myself in love with a woman one day I will deal with it” – but that “theme” was always in the back of my mind.    

I try to say to myself “what’s the big deal?  If you someday fall in love with a woman why would that be such a bad thing?” and all the other stuff that people who don’t have HOCD probably tell themselves.  I really WISH I wasn’t scared of that.  But we all know that wishing doesn’t change anything. 

I just returned from an amazing holiday in Mexico.  My aunt lives there for four months in the winter.  My cousin/best friend met me there.  But OCD was with me every step of the way.  I suppose I have “slipped” a little, which is frustrating, but I am trying not to battle that fact and just accept where I am at today. 

I’ve managed to allow myself to avoid some things.  I've also been ruminating and mental checking - a lot.  I’ve had a few pretty big anxious moments, which have led into days.  It really is all about being willing IN THE MOMENT to do whatever is necessary to accept and face the possibility of your worst fear coming true. 

Travelling alone is really good exposure for me.  (As a side note – I really resent this fact.  Why does a holiday have to be exposure for me?????)  I’m exposed to situations, people and places that are all uncertain.  Who knows who I will meet and where? 

For some reason I think I’ve “backed off” of my willingness to face my worst fear.  I think it all just became so overwhelming.  Luckily it’s a moment-by-moment thing and we always have new opportunities to kick OCD in the ass.  I just know that right this second - I am so overwhelmed that I don’t have that wholehearted commitment to being willing to do whatever it is in order to face my worst fear.  In my opinion, this type of discipline is required for all of us if we are to avoid getting swallowed up in OCD.  How do the rest of you do it?  I would love to hear from some who have ROCD/HOCD. 
I had a few opportunities while in Mexico to really kick my OCD in the teeth.  One of the ways I do this is to purposely be friendly and smile to everyone - even women who look like they might be gay.  I just couldn't do it.  The voice in my head said "If you do that these women will think you're coming on to them and they will come up to you and try to meet you.  They will think you're a lesbian.  And THEN what will happen?????"

I had an experience with a man while I was in Mexico.  We met at a restaurant, and I thought he was cute.  We obviously felt a physical connection.  Without going into all of the details, we ended up meeting each other, and spending some time together.  He is from Mexico, so I knew that whatever transpired between us was only going to last for the duration of my trip and just be light and fun.  But as soon as we started spending time together the obsessing (and MASSIVE anxiety!) started:  How do you feel about him?  Why are you feeling so anxious?  What’s the big deal?  Maybe you don’t like him.  Marian said that she once dated a guy who would cry every time they were intimate because he was really gay.  Maybe that’s why you’re so anxious.  WHY CAN’T YOU JUST ENJOY THIS?  WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? Do you want to kiss him?  Do you feel attracted to him?  I just couldn’t wait to get out of it.....to get away....it wasn’t fun.  In all honesty, it was hell.  And then the "Maybe you're just afraid of facing who you really are....a lesbian." thoughts start.  We didn't sleep together, and of course that was a source of obsession as well.  Why didn't I want to sleep with him?  Is it because I wasn't really attracted to him?  Was I scared that I wouldn't like it?  If I didn't like it - that would obviously mean that I'm gay. 

Now that I’m home and I have 20/20 hindsight, I can see that I was wrapped up in thinking, thinking, thinking.  I couldn’t stop.  I tried so hard to just be with the anxiety, but my mind wouldn’t stop.  And then the urge to avoid started.  I wish I could have just enjoyed it more.  It drove me crazy that after meeting me for two hours he was constantly telling me how beautiful I am, and how much he loves me.  I used that as an excuse to “back off”.  Why couldn’t I just have enjoyed the compliments knowing that it was only going to last for a few days anyway?  Instead I had to spend my time TRYING TO DECIDE/FIGURE OUT IF I LIKED THIS GUY.  Or justify why I DIDN’T like him – because making a choice to not like a guy means that deep down inside I’m probably a lesbian.  No, I didn’t love the constant doting, and I was suspicious of the compliments.  But in the end it really didn’t matter.  Of course I wouldn’t have had a “real” relationship with this man.....so none of that really mattered! 
Anyway, I’m in a spot of “yuck”.  I’ll get through it.  I know I will.  I’m not sure where I go from here, but I have a session with my therapist next week and I’m sure we’ll come up with a plan.  I need to find a way of switching on that willingness....willingness to feel the anxiety, the doubt....the panic.  I’ll find it.  I know I will. 

January 16, 2013

The Problem with OCD....

I’ve had many days, weeks and months that have been relatively “OCD free” recently, and it’s amazing how clear thinking my brain is when it’s not clouded with all of the obsessive thoughts, ruminating and trying to “figure things out”.  I like to call it my “Moments of Clarity”.  I love those moments.  I suppose one might also call them epiphanies.....sprouting me forward in growth.  From a Buddhist perspective, these moments might be called getting in touch with our “inner wisdom”, or “Bhudda nature”.  The truth. 

As we all know, OCD tends to latch on to that which we feel is most important to us.  For me it’s relationships and my sexuality.  (And if you read my previous post, it’s my aging body!) A few days ago I had a big HOCD spike.  Probably the biggest that I’ve had in awhile.  Rather, I had a few in a row, and it caught me off guard.  In all honesty, it knocked me down.  I’m working through it, but I’ve been a bit overwhelmed. 
So I’ve been anxious for a few days.  And I’ve looked for some support.  No, I wasn’t “internet searching” – for the answers.  I was looking for support – as we all do when we are experiencing difficulty.  Anyway, I found this fantastic blog about a guy who suffers from ROCD, and is “recovered”.  It’s got fantastic tips and insight.  I highly recommend reading some of his posts. 

As I was reading one of his posts, it occurred to me that (particularly with my type of OCD) obsessively looking for answers really is counter-productive.  When really hit with a bad spike, our minds go on and on with mindless, useless, VERY unhelpful banter, that really gets us no closer to the “answer” anyway.  We are lured into believing that if we just thought about it for a few more minutes, or just reviewed yet one other incident from the past, or just solved this one problem  – that we would figure out THE ANSWER once and for all.  It’s such a trap. 
But – it’s hard to stop.  It’s SCARY to stop.....and just feel the anxiety.  Scary to sit with the uncertainty...that our worst fear may be coming true.  To endure the tightness in our chests, the sick feeling in our stomachs, the “tingly” feeling in our bodies.....and worst of all the obsessing....the thoughts that say that our worst fear is about to come true....or that we are crazy for not doing SOMETHING to try to stop our worst fear from coming true.   
Some days I really feel courageous.  Some days I feel like I could face my worst fears and be OK.  Some days I really don’t.  (My therapist says feelings aren’t facts and it deosn’t really matter how I feel right now - that if I am faced with my worst fear I would deal with it.)

But I do know that even if I DO have intimacy problems when in relationships (and who doesn’t?) for example, when I am obsessively trying to figure out if I am in the “right” relationship or if I am a lesbian in denial – I am not effectively able to deal with the REAL problem at hand.  I am not effectively able to concentrate on the things that I need to concentrate on in order to grow and evolve as a person.  When in a relationship, I’m not able to deal effectively with the REAL problems and issues that inevitably come up with two people when in an intimate relationship.  I just don’t have the head space for that clarity/inner wisdom to come through. 
I know that I am not my OCD, but sheesh – on some days – days like this where my mind is going, going, going, and I have a sick feeling in my stomach all day – it sure feels like it.  I look forward to having more of those epiphanies.  This too shall pass. 

P.S. There is something wrong with my spell check....of course I had to let you know that.  Wouldn't want you to think that I would publish a blog post with spelling errors.  :o)

January 12, 2013

The Many "nuances" of OCD.

I can tell that I’ve come a long way in my battle with OCD, because now I can laugh at it – at least most of the time.  As I sit down to write this post and let all of you know OCD's latest "antics" in my head....I am chuckling to myself....at the absurdity of it all.  Thankfully I have some friends who have OCD too – and we always joke “it takes one to know one”.  Now I’m at the point where I can just laugh about how ridiculous it all is.  Don’t get me wrong – in the moment – it FEELS as urgent as usual.  But wow – it is just so absurd – isn’t it? 
You won’t believe my latest.  No, it’s not relationships.  No it’s not my sexuality. 

It’s my chicken/turkey neck.  (Now I completely understand the notion of “OCD Spectrum Disorders”.....can you say BDD????)

Though this past year has been bittersweet for me in many ways, and I have grown tremendously, I also became immensely aware of my own mortality.  And my age.  Ironically, I think all of this is what helped me to finally muster the courage to face my OCD – after all – what am I waiting for?  I’m not getting any younger!  On the other hand, being so blatantly aware of my mortality has created a breeding ground for new and different OCD (BDD?) themes to emerge.  Great. 
I don’t FEEL forty.  And most of the people that I spend time with are in their early to mid-30’s.  In fact, since gaining control of my OCD, I feel so much younger!  Many people tell me that I don’t look 40 at all.  I hear that all the time.  I am in better shape than I’ve ever been – both mentally and physically.  I am happy.  I am excited about life.  But the other day – I started inspecting my face....just a little longer than usual.  And that voice – THAT DAMN VOICE – popped into my head: “Your chin is a bit saggy isn’t it?  Do you see that skin on your neck?  It is pretty wrinkly....”.  And WHAM!  The anxiety set in.  The thoughts.  The checking.  The ruminating.  All of it.  All....about my turkey neck.  I was getting a turkey neck and something had to be done - NOW. 

Mom was pretty wrinkly, but Dad wasn’t.  I wonder who you’re more like?  Hmmmm....what age was it that Mom started getting wrinkly?”
And then....going back to the mirror.  Inspect.  Shift angles.  Do I see wrinkles or is it just the angle of my face?  Look again.  And again. 

Panic set in.  This can’t be happening!  I am at the prime of my life.  Feeling better than ever.  Starting to get excited to date!  Feeling confident in myself – in all aspects of my life!  And now suddenly.......not only do I feel like I DON’T LOOK YOUNG – LIKE EVERYONE TOLD ME – but I feel like I look OLDER than my age! 

For about four days I couldn’t stop obsessing about my turkey neck.  I mentioned it to friends (yes, I know that’s reassurance-seeking).  “Are you crazy?!  You don’t have a turkey neck.” They would say.  Of course that wasn’t good enough.  I actually spent about two hours one day at work researching turkey necks and what to do about them.  (In case you’re wondering – the best procedure for this is surgery and it costs $10,000.  Not going to happen.) After doing that research I rushed up to the spa to purchase a tube of $60 retinol face cream!  (Lord, I hope that helps!) I even booked an appointment for a cosmetic surgery consult – as consideration for Botox.  I could go on and on.....
The worst part of it is – I KNEW I was obsessing.  I knew I didn’t have perspective or any objectivity.  But I was in a panic.  I felt horrible.  It FELT like an emergency. 

Those moments have passed and I think I now have some objectivity.  Realistically, though, I am sure that my chicken neck is an area of OCD vulnerability for me.  I might as well work on accepting that. 
Crazy what this disorder does to us. 


November 19, 2012

OCD and Paying it Forward....

Now that I’m “on the other side” of the hell of OCD (at least for this moment), I can see the positive aspects of having such a horrible disorder.  The biggest thing about struggling with a chronic problem – be it physically or emotionally – is that it helps to develop compassion and empathy for human suffering.  I’ve learned a lot of lessons in my life, which – in my opinion is the “juicy” part of living.  Even though many of the lessons have been difficult and learned the hard way (I seem to be one of those people!), I thrive on learning and being challenged and growing.  It makes me feel alive. 

Since starting to really face my struggle with OCD a few years ago, I have been passionate about doing what I can to help others who are challenged with mental illness.  I seem to be able to see those people a mile away.  I can sniff them out.  The “crazies”.  (LOL – I say that with all love and affection.  I embrace it now!)  I guess the old adage “it takes one to know one” really works here.  But – in all honesty – I find “the crazies” the most interesting people.  We’re the ones who have struggled.  We have depth.  We have stories.  We get it.  I even find myself dismissing those who claim to never have struggled in life.  (Very judgemental!  I am working on that.) I chalk that up to either extreme denial, miracle genes, or well......just plain boring. 

Anyway, one of my friends Rachel has issues with anxiety.  I’ve known Rachel for about five years.  She’s struggles with perfectionism, combined with Panic Disorder (my diagnosis).  You see, Rachel is like many of us who have lived most of our lives in denial that we have an anxiety disorder.  So in the past, Rachel and I haven’t really related on that level.  In fact, I rarely spoke with her about my OCD. I don’t think she wanted to be able to relate – that would’ve made her crazy like me.  :o)

Until now.

About a month ago, Rachel started breaking down.  All of us can relate.  She started having panic attacks.  The thoughts in her head started ramping up.  EVERYTHING seemed like an impending catastrophe.  She and her family were on holiday in Hawaii and they had to come home early.  For Rachel, one of the side effects of her panic is to violently vomit.  She’s lost about fifteen pounds on an already very small body frame.   Things have spiralled downwards quickly. 

Initially, she wasn’t talking to me about it at all.  I work with her husband, and he would mention some things to me at work.  Then finally, last week it hit me.  She’s really bad.  She’s not coping.  I asked Michael – he confirmed my suspicions.  First, I texted her and just casually asked her.  She confirmed that things weren’t going well.  I just let her know that I was there for her if she needed anything. 

Since then, I have become Rachel’s “sponsor”.  She called me on Friday night to ask me some questions.  On Saturday, we walked the dogs, and then I went with her inside the house, where she proceeded to have a full blown panic attack.  She cried.  I cried with her.  I sat with her for four hours while she talked, and cried and talked some more.  Yesterday we went for tea.  And this morning as I was on my way to work I got a phone call: "Can you come over?  I need you.”  Luckily I was able to arrange my day so that I could be there for her. 

It’s amazing the pain I feel for my friend.  Unless you have suffered with mental illness, it is impossible to understand. It’s amazing how watching her brought me right back to those days....the days when I couldn’t sleep without having the TV on all night.....the days when I would panic if I had to be left alone.....the days where just making a simple decision about what to eat for lunch seemed impossible.  I feel incredible compassion for Rachel, but also a lot of hope.  She will get through it, and I keep telling her that.  She will figure it out in her own time, and in her own way.  She’s on the path. 

As for myself – I am so, so, so grateful.  Grateful for the path that I am on....grateful for my amazing therapist...grateful for the support of our little blogging community....grateful for having the courage, every moment of every day to keep going, despite anxiety....grateful that I am now far enough on the other side of it all that I am starting to figure out what I am passionate about – and actually see some of these dreams become reality...and grateful for the love and acceptance that I seem to have developed for myself.  It really all is OK. 

November 12, 2012

OCD and my Identity Crisis....

I remember my therapist saying to me over a year ago – maybe it was even when we first started working together, that when I started to recover from my OCD, I would most likely go through some sort of identity crisis.  His thinking is that OCD takes up so much of our time.....so much of our lives, that when that “space” starts to open up – we aren’t sure what to do with it. 

I’ve been feeling this way lately. 

I’m not sure if it is directly related to feeling “recovered” from OCD, because I don’t think there is such thing.  Some of it has to do with the events that have occurred in the last year.  Either way, my life has taken a major departure from how I was living it before.  For the most part, I LOVE where I’m going.  But there are some days when I am scared to death, because I don’t have all the answers laid out right in front of me. 

I had a session with my therapist the other day and we briefly discussed this notion.  In some ways I think I am going through a “mid-life-crisis”.  Or, maybe it’s more like a “post-OCD-crisis”?  Who knows.  No, I haven’t gone out and bought a fancy new car.  (But I did have a bit of a crazy “affair” this summer.  LOL.)  I explained to him that for my whole life, I have always been responsible.  I’ve always over-thought everything.  (Of course, being a perfectionist, I still didn’t think that what I was doing was enough!)  I did my best to make choices that were “safe”.  And the result was to make me a bit of a china doll....suceptible to a lot of emotional distress should anything not turn out exactly as I wanted it to.   

In the last six months, I have grown tremendously.  I have made so many changes....for the better.  One of the biggies is that I am exercising regularly.  I can’t express enough how helpful this has been for me....for my OCD, for my PMS, and generally for my overall self-confidence.  Exercise (and new sport activities) has opened up my life.  I have a new friend that I run with twice/week.  I have a whole other group of friends that I mountain bike with.  And yoga has helped with my meditation and living in the moment. 

For those of you who follow my posts, you will know that about two years ago, I quit my “career job”.  I was burnt out, and my Mom was starting to get very sick.  At the time, the main reason I quit was because I wanted to be able to care for my mom in her last days.  But I also hated my job, and I was ready for a career change.  The problem was that I didn’t know what I wanted to do. 

This past summer was “The Summer of YES” for me.  I’ve had so many new experiences – some good and some not-so-good.  But my skin is thickening.  And the OCD voice is diminishing, which is leaving room for my true, inner voice to speak up. 

I’ve spoken before about my plan to go to Africa next fall.  I’ve always wanted to go to Africa – it’s been a dream of mine for many years.  Now, with my new motto “What are you waiting for?”, I have made it my goal to go for six weeks next year.  I am passionate about this trip.  I feel drawn to Africa.  I have already made contact with the orphanage that I plan on volunteering at.  I wish I could go now!! I am hoping that my trip will open up doors for me.  I feel so strongly that I need to follow this path, and see where it takes me. 

Some days it’s very scary though.  It’s scary for lots of reasons.....and the “what ifs” start flying around my head like crazy.  Part of what’s scary is that I really do believe that being in Africa for that period of time will give me some answers regarding where to go next in my life.  For the last two years, my career life has been on hold, and I really have no idea what I want to do.....other than go to Africa and see what happens.  Perhaps I will get down there and love it so much that I will want to stay?  Perhaps I will get down there and come into contact with an organization that I can work at?  Or – What if I go there, it’s a great experience, but I come home with nothing other than some great memories – what then? 

Then there’s the scary notion that I might just not be able to go for financial reasons.  Lots can happen in a year.  What if my car dies and I have to buy a new one?  What if something major happens to my house?  What if, what if, what if.  In the last few weeks, this is where my mind has been going (See? We never really do “recover”!).  And suddenly, something that has been motivating me and making me feel alive, began to feel out of reach.  Impossible.  Unrealistic.  All the voices that used to fly around in my head...the ones talking me out of taking risks savouring life were back.  I felt so deflated. 

One of the things I’ve really learned in the last few months is “just do it – you’ll figure the rest out later”.  This is not to suggest being irresponsible.  However I would assert that many of us with OCD are OVERLY responsible – so it might not be such a bad thing to move to the other side a little bit.  :o)

I’ve adopted this motto with many things, quitting my job, getting a roommate etc etc.  And so far, it’s all worked out.  These challenges and experiences have also helped build my confidence.  And, I believe, helped me to keep OCD at bay. 

During my therapy session, as I was explaining to my therapist what I was struggling with, he said to me: “Jo-Ann – why don’t you just tell yourself that you’re going to Africa no matter what and you’ll figure it out along the way.  You’re not an irresponsible person.  You might have to take a bit of a financial hit.  So be it......”.  It made sense.  It was exactly how I had been living life since May.  Suddenly I felt so much better. 

I was speaking with my cousin about this theme the other day – telling her what he said to me.  She agreed.  She said that two years before she left her husband, she remembered being in therapy and despite her incredible unhappiness in her marriage, she said to her therapist that there was no way she could leave her husband.  For various reasons – moral, financial etc etc.  Well, she did it.  And you know what?  She’s doing just fine. 

I have one year to prepare myself to go to Africa.  During this year I will continue to learn how to take good care of myself, I will continue to have many, many growth experiences.  I will continue to have fun, and make smart financial decisions.  But nothing will stop me from going.  I really do hope that my time there presents new opportunities for me, because if not, I'm not sure what my next step will be.  But you know what?  I'm sure I'll figure it out along the way.