October 29, 2010

OCD on Vacation

I just got back from a holiday in Hawaii, Kauai to be exact.  I went with my boyfriend, another couple, and their daughter.  I’ve never been there before, and it was absolutely heavenly.  Our weather was (mostly) great – warm and sunny.  The beaches were unbelievable, and the people and small towns throughout the Island were quaint and down-to-earth. 
I was very anxious before leaving on vacation.  I never know if my OCD will ramp up or not.  I’ve had several vacations where I was so anxious from OCD that I thought I would have to go home.  This was before I had any sort of treatment for this horrible disorder and my “goal” was to not have any obsessive thoughts anymore.    
This time, as you know – I’m in treatment and doing ERP.  I had a session with my therapist before I left and she reminded me that it was important for me to be doing exposure all the time – even while on vacation in heaven (AKA Hawaii).  I found this challenging for three reasons:
1.       I still like to “get away” from my OCD, and if I notice that the thoughts are gone, I’m happy, and don’t want to do anything to bring them back.  Plus, I was on vacation and really was thankful for the break from all sorts of reality.
2.       We were with friends who don’t know a lot about my OCD and it was awkward to find an appropriate time to leave the group for an hour.
3.       We were so busy!
I am sure that I am going to pay for this little break.  It’s not that I didn’t do any exposure.  I definitely worked on allowing the thoughts to be there, and when I was inadvertently exposed to some triggers, I think I handled it really well.  But – I only did true, purposeful exposure once.  I actually find exposure hard.  Not for the obvious reasons, that it creates a high amount of anxiety.  But also because I find it really hard to purposely bring these thoughts to my mind.  I’m sure that has something to do with the fact that one of my rituals is to “thought stop”.  I definitely tried to so small exposures, and bring some thoughts on while I was sitting on the beach amongst my friends, but it definitely didn’t do the trick for me.  I really have to separate myself from distractions for at least an hour and focus heavily on bringing about my horrible thoughts. 
Another thing I realized though, is the fact that I was thankful for some respite from my horrible OCD thoughts.  This probably isn’t great from a "therapeutic progress" perspective.  From what I understand, the goal of therapy is to not care about the thoughts that pass through my head.  To have, essentially done enough exposure, and purposely brought the thoughts on myself, that the thoughts no longer give me any distress, and I don’t feel the need to do any rituals.  Clearly, I’m not there yet, which is discouraging, given how much I feel I have exposed myself to. 
Today I read Jonathan Grayson’s latest blog  - “Obsessing about Obsessing”.  Some things I read in his post really hit home for me, mostly the wishing ritual.  I think this ritual applies to me and was playing out while I was on vacation.  I still wish that someday these thoughts will go away completely and I will no longer have to deal with this horrible disorder.  Clearly, I am still working on accepting the reality of having OCD.....through good times AND bad. 

October 16, 2010

The Blessing & Curse of the Internet

If you’ve read my first post, you know that I have gay OCD (HOCD) and relationship OCD (ROCD).  Both are primarily mental in nature – both mental obsessions and compulsions (though I do have some visible compulsions).  For the most part, it really is “all in my head”.  I believe this is why it took so long for me to “discover” that I have OCD.  I use the word “discover” because although it was a psychologist who suggested that I might have OCD, any of the books that I read on the topic, covered only the traditional types of rituals such as washing, checking, ordering etc.  It took a lot more extensive research (mostly on the Internet), for me to confirm that her hunch was correct.   
I only saw that psychologist once.  That was the first time that I had ever been to a psychologist, and I didn’t know that there are differences between the types of therapies that they practice.  At that point (over 15 years ago), I was filled with anxiety, guilt and shame.  I didn’t want to talk to anyone about what was going on in my head.  There was no way that I was going to risk having some psychologist tell me that she thought I might be a lesbian, and perhaps I should consider coming out of the closet.  This would be going against all of who I believed I was.  I just knew it had to be something else. 
I am thankful for that psychologist, though, because she knew enough about OCD to know that there was such thing as obsessing about one’s sexual orientation.  Her comment sent me on a quest to learn more about OCD, and especially HOCD.  (Not initially of course.  Initially I thought that just having the knowledge of "what was wrong with me" would be enough for me to get better.)
From where did I gain most of my information?  From books, and the Internet, of course.    
I would be willing to bet that most of us who have OCD have used the Internet at one time or another as a vehicle for checking for evidence to support or disclaim our fears.  I have to be very careful about this.  Though the Internet has provided me with a wealth of information and ammunition about OCD, and how to fight it, the world-wide-web also very generously supplies many coming out stories and “how to know if your relationship is the right one for you” articles that I can easily become swept up in.  Though it is helpful to stay on top of new information about OCD, it is not helpful to constantly be searching for “the answer".  Until recently, (having gained a better understanding of how OCD works), I would spend hours searching for information to help me figure out if I had to leave my boyfriend and declare myself to be gay. 
The flip side of this though, is that if it wasn’t for the Internet, I wouldn’t have gained the knowledge that I have about this debilitating disorder.  I wouldn’t have learned that there is such thing as relationship OCD (discovered only one year ago).  I wouldn’t be receiving treatment from a therapist who has direct experience treating my type of OCD.  And I wouldn’t have found my own little support group of OCD bloggers who have given me an even better understanding of what goes on in the OCD mind.    
Now that I know that “figuring out” is a ritual, it requires a great amount of mindfulness and self-awareness to stop myself.  Some days are better than others, but I know that it sure feels good when I have some success. 
Some websites that I have found helpful:


October 13, 2010

OCD Awareness Week

My next post is going to be about the blessing and curse of the Internet.  Related to this, however is the International OCD Foundation website.  Had I not been surfing the net ad nausea, looking for more information on OCD, I might not have found out about this organization. 

The International OCD Foundation is a non profit organization that was founded in the 80's by a group of people with OCD.  It has since then grown, and provides an enormous amount of support for sufferers and treatment providers.  I plan on attending the OCF conference next year, which is taking place in San Diego. 

It is so important to increase the public's awareness of OCD.  This will help remove the stigma of mental illness, and help with diagnoses for those who suffer untreated for years.  

OCD Awareness week is taking place now (October 11 - 17, 2010).  Please take a look at the International OCD Foundation website.  On the site, you will find a page that is dedicated to the events that are taking place during OCD Awareness week.  If you are on Facebook you can even become a fan of the page, and receive updates on your Facebook page. 

One of the events I plan on participating in, is "An Evening of Stories" taking place on Saturday October 16.  Treatment providers and sufferers will be speaking about their experiences with OCD.  The event is taking place online, so everyone can participate. 

www.ocfoundation.org

October 7, 2010

Hello

I have had OCD for as long as I can remember.  Of course, I only found out what it was a few years ago.  I am 38 years old, and I have a form of OCD called Pure Obsessional (Pure “O).  From what I can remember, it started with obsessing about my health.  As a child, my mom had me back and forth to the doctors, running test after test because I just couldn’t shake my stomach ache.  I was trying to “figure out” from a very young age. 
After that, my OCD switched to scrupulosity and fear of the devil and going to hell.  Eventually, as I got older, and formed my own opinions about the existence of God and religion, that theme became much less threatening for me. 
When I was fourteen, I met and fell head over heels in love with my high school sweetheart.  He was wonderful!  Kind, funny, good looking, adventurous and he quickly became my best friend.  Then the obsessions about my relationship started.  We stayed together for a long time – almost nine years.  Through that time I was plagued with doubts – “Am I too young for a serious relationship? Do I love this man or am I dependant on him? What if we stay together and I have regrets that I never had any other experiences in life?”.  And on and on it went.  It got so extreme that I remember being at the store one day shopping and had my eye on a shirt that I really liked.  The thought came to my head “What if Michael (names changed for anonymity) doesn’t like this shirt?” – and that started a whole stream of doubts about why would it matter?  Am I that dependant on him?  Is he controlling me?  Am I in an emotionally abusive relationship?  All thoughts that were exaggerated and untrue, but I couldn’t figure it all out, and I fell deeply into the abyss of OCD and depression.  Eventually, I sought the help of a very kind but uninformed university counselor who thought that the only reason I was feeling this way was because I was unhappy and in the wrong relationship.  Of course that made sense to me – that’s what OCD had been saying all along.  So – we broke up, and I expected that hell to be over. 
On I moved to the next guy.  We hadn’t been dating long and WHAM!  The doubts started again.  This time my thoughts were slightly different, but still had the same theme.  While we were dating, I went away for six weeks, and the whole time I was away I obsessed, which lead to yet another deep depression.  I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just be like everyone else and enjoy my new, exciting relationship.  Why was I constantly worrying?  What was wrong with me?  This relationship with Mark also didn’t work out – surprise, surprise – and it also lead into another one of the OCD themes that I still struggle with – doubts about my sexuality.  I remember exactly when it happened.  I was in the midst of my breakup with Mark.  I was driving in the car to university with my friend.  She was talking about a friend of hers who had just come out of the closet and WHAM AGAIN!  It hit me like a ton of bricks. “Maybe that’s why you can’t make a relationship with a man work – maybe you’re actually gay.” And that was it.  My anxiety level shot through the roof and I immediately began trying to figure it all out.  That was thirteen years ago. 
I still suffer from relationship OCD (ROCD) and gay OCD (HOCD).  I, like many OCD sufferers have been to a multitude of therapists, all who claim to treat OCD.  But I have had little success in treatment.  In fact, I mostly diagnosed my OCD myself, from doing research on the internet (more in a later blog post).  For the most part I have been able to function throughout my life with OCD.  I have had a few larger episodes, but in spite of having very little treatment, I have been able to continue working, pursuing hobbies, and dating.  However, all this has recently changed.  The good news is that I have started exposure therapy, and I am working with a therapist who actually has experience in treating not only OCD, but Pure Obsessional OCD.  There is hope. 
I live in Canada and psychological care is only covered for those who have extended health insurance.  I do have health insurance, but my provider only covers $500 worth of psychological sessions per year.  Of course, I burned through that long ago.  There are no support groups in my area.  Very few of my friends even know I have OCD.  The only people that know the real details are my parents and my boyfriend John.  Most people who have OCD don’t tell many people due to fear of judgment.  I especially feel that way due to the type of OCD that I have.  Many well-meaning people are very quick to give their advice: “If you’re having this many doubts – something must be wrong.  Maybe it is the wrong relationship for you.  Maybe you really are gay.” 
 I decided to write this blog because during my recent severe OCD “bout” – I have been fortunate to find some blogs written by people who also suffer from OCD.  And it has been – literally – a God send.  These bloggers have become my pseudo support group.   The honesty and insightfulness expressed in their blogs, immediately provided relief for me.  I felt like someone understood.   I felt like I had found my support group.  I felt like I could have written these blogs myself!  This is also a sort of exposure for me too.  I am putting myself out there and risking what others will say – opening myself up for OCD triggers. 
I have no idea what I will say or write about.  But, here goes……