December 30, 2010

More Exposure Updates

I watched "The Kids are Alright".  Of course I was very anxious at first, but the movie was actually really good.  Hmmmm....I wonder what it means that I liked a movie about lesbians?  ;o)  By the time I finished I barely had any anxiety, and I was handling my intrusive thoughts fairly well. 

I think I am starting to come to terms with the concept that I might "never know".  I hear so many stories about people (male and female) who are with men (or women) for years, they break up and then start dating someone of the same sex.  There just are no guarantees.  This might happen.  I have no way of seeing into the future, or doing anything to prevent it from happening.  No matter how much I analyze their situations, and compare them to mine - in the end there just isn't an answer. 

I will have to go back to reading coming out stories at some point - probably after my therapy session next week.  It's still hard to continually challenge myself and the urge to avoid is still very strong!!!  That being said - I am able to recognize the things I have done and continue to do that I would NEVER have considered facing about six months ago.  Acceptance that this is a chronic disorder and reminding myself that the goal should not to be getting rid of the thoughts or ever figuring out what they mean - is still something I struggle with. 

I am FAR from out of the woods.  But maybe this time next year I will be.  :o) But given the stress I've got on my plate at the moment I think I'm doing OK.  Though - the perfectionist part of me sure likes to spend a lot of time beating myself up!!! 

I hope everyone had a nice holiday, and enjoys their New Year's Eve. 

December 22, 2010

Exposure Hell

I'm going through Exposure Hell at the moment.  I'm doing some really tough exposure, and I'm really struggling with it.  I’ve worked my way through so many things, and now – funnily enough – those things seem pretty much like no big deal (for the most part!).  BUT – the drive to “figure it out” and “find the answer” is still there, which I guess is just an urge to ritualize, which might take some time to go away. 
I think I deserve a momentary pat on the back so I’m going to list the things that I worked my way through on the hierarchy:
1.       Looking at women in the Victoria Secret catalogue and rating them on their attractiveness.
2.       Wearing a t-shirt that says “I might be a lesbian” around my house.
3.       Walking through the “lesbian” area of Vancouver.
4.       Picking up and reading the gay/lesbian newspaper.
5.       Looking at lesbian personal ads - without photos.
6.       Looking at lesbian personal ads – with photos.
7.       Writing exposure scripts about my feared consequences and reading them (still doing this one).
8.       Reading coming out stories about movie stars.
9.       Reading gay male coming out stories.
10.   Posting photos of lesbian couples and words like “lesbian”, “bi-sexual”, “dyke” throughout my house and leaving the gay/lesbian newspaper on my coffee table (still doing this one).
And now I am reading lesbian coming out stories.  Not only the stories about the girls who always knew, but the ones about the women who were married, had kids and suddenly found themselves in love with a woman.  Let-me-tell-you – it is very hard.  The urge to avoid is immense.  The urge to mental check is immense.  The urge to analyze is practically impossible to resist. 
There are two parts about this exposure that make it particularly difficult for me:
1.       The fact that there are parts of these stories that I can relate to.  Some of the stories I read and I just can’t relate.  For example -  I don’t remember being attracted to women from the time I was young.  Of course – when I say that – my OCD mind wants to pipe in “are you sure?  You don’t remember that for sure.”  I guess inadvertently I am finding some “reassurance” in some of these stories – but how do I not?  How do I stop myself from being relieved that I don’t relate to the experience of every lesbian coming out story?  In my mind – if I can relate to these stories it must mean that I’m a lesbian in denial – surely this is the only explanation.  Of course it would only make sense that if I can say “yes” to some of these key factors – it’s pretty much a certainty that I don’t actually have OCD, but I am going through a sexual identity crisis.  So – the fact that I can relate to some of what these women write about becomes inconclusive proof that I am actually going through my own coming out process.    
2.       The fact that these women find THE ANSWER!!!  So many of these stories follow the same pattern:   I never really felt attracted to women, but I always felt more comfortable around women than men (I can relate).  I married a great guy who was kind and generous etc. (I can relate – though we’re not married), but there was something missing (I can relate – is it the problems we’re experiencing or the fact that I’m maybe a lesbian?).  Our sex life wasn’t great (I can relate – is it our problems or me coming out as a lesbian OR my OCD?).  Then one day I met a woman and we fell madly in love.  Our emotional connection is so intense and our sex life is better than it ever was with a man.   I’ve never been happier.  I’ve found the love of my life and we’ll be together forever.  Wow!  Sure seems pretty perfect to me!  Sure seems like “the answer” to me!  And the worst part of it is – I don’t know how to NOT check/compare!  How do I face this?  “Yeah – well – even though all these women confirm that life with a woman is so much better, I am going to continue to stay with a man for now and sacrifice the chance at true happiness.  At least until the day comes that I just can’t take being miserable anymore, and I throw myself into the arms of another woman?” 

When does this horrible urge/need to find the answer end?  And why does it seem like others have found the answer and I can't?  It seems like others are living happily ever after.  Can I say that I feel that way about my relationship at the moment?  Definitely not.  (Spend too much time on that and the ROCD starts up - but that's for another post.)
Yesterday was a particularly difficult day.  Today I woke up and sent an email to my therapist.  As soon as I sent it I wondered if I was looking for reassurance or just some encouragement.   I then went back to the drawing board and did more exposure.  Now that I’ve done that, and written my blog post I know what I need from my therapist – and my virtual blogging friends – support and encouragement.  I know that I am not going to get an absolute, certain answer to these questions.  (I don't quite understand why - it seems like others have it.  But I guess that's just a momentarily feeling and it will come and go.) And I know that I need to continue doing exposure.  I think there is a part of me that every time I send an “emergency” email to my therapist thinks “this is the time she’s going to read what I wrote to her and say – stop all therapy now – I think you’re actually a lesbian in denial so we’re going to change therapy”.   Somewhere inside I'm thinking that if I just give her enough information she'll "diagnose" me.  I guess in some ways it's like returning to your physician for health fears.  The idea that more or new information might provide the proof or "the answer". 
I hope she writes back and says “keep doing the exposure – you’re doing great”.  And maybe a few tips reminding me not to avoid or ritualize.  I need someone to have faith in me right now – especially when I don’t have any faith in myself. 
Tomorrow I’m watching the movie “The Kids are Alright”.  Wish me luck. 

December 11, 2010

OCD & Other Therapies.....

I’m not sure if this is a common symptom of all people who suffer from OCD, or just people who suffer from the Pure O sub-type, but my OCD and anxiety is driven by an urgent need to know, figure it out, or find the answer – now.  I suppose that need is common with everyone who suffers from OCD.  After all – it is an anxiety disorder, and my hunch is that it is the anxiety that is driving the need.   
As I stated in my last post, my OCD has flared up substantially in the last several days.  Which makes me wonder:  “What am I doing wrong?  Why isn’t this going away?”.  One of my big OCD fears is that I am somehow avoiding facing “something” (I’m gay, I’m in the wrong relationship, I’m not living the life I truly want etc.) – or another way of looking at it – that I’m actually avoiding finding the answer.  I cannot deny that one of my main OCD compulsions has been to avoid…..so I guess none of these feared consequences are out of the realm of possibility.    
When I struggle like this I often start to doubt my therapy and the CBT approach.  I have thoughts like: “You’re not getting better – maybe this is the wrong therapy for you.  Maybe you have some real, deep seated issues that need to be resolved in order for your OCD fears to go away.  Maybe CBT helps with OCD, but there are plenty of people out there who claim to have figured out the key to happiness, and life, and anxiety.  Maybe the approach you are taking is wrong, and you’re avoiding trying a different type of therapy because you might find out that deep down inside you’re really a lesbian or you’re really in the wrong relationship and you’ve been lying to yourself all along.”  Psychodynamic therapy is all about “finding the answers” and “getting to the truth”, and for someone with my type of OCD, the option of going to psychodynamic therapy is always lurking in the back of my mind, tempting me during difficult times.  I suppose for me, a psychodynamic therapist is the same as a physician for people with health related OCD;  they go to the doctor to try and find their "answer" when really - no one can tell them with absolute certainty whether their symptons are a sign of cancer or simply an upset tummy.   
Certain people (friends, relatives) really spike me in this area – those who have gone through years of psychodynamic therapy and who claim to have it all “figured out” and who seem to be incredibly happy.  After all – they’ve found the answer – why shouldn’t I?????  My OCD mind goes like this:  “She’s managed to overcome her issues and she’s dealt with it through new age and psychoanalysis methods.  Why do I still have the anxiety defense mechanism that she claims to have let go of?  What’s wrong with me?  What issue in my life am I not letting go of?  Am I still trying to control things too much?  Am I in denial because I’m scared of facing the truth?  Maybe I’m not letting go of my defense mechanism because if I do I’ll realize that I’m a lesbian.  Am I staying “stuck” because I’m not ready to work through some emotional road blocks and face reality? Am I scared of facing difficult feelings?”  And on and on it goes.  Of course – this sets me on an endless quest of mental checking – trying to alleviate some of my anxiety and the horrible questions that spin around in my head. 
To tell myself that I don’t know the answer to these questions just makes me feel horrible.  To hear “it’s not possible to know the answer” doesn’t make me feel any better either.  After all – my friends/family have found the answers haven’t they?  To face the fact that these thoughts might actually be true, that I might never know, and that at the end of the day I really might not find the answer – is hell for me.  Then on top of it all I have to make a choice;  A choice about what path to take – when both of the options seem horrible.  On one hand – I can choose to treat my OCD (if this is in fact OCD) with CBT (the proven technique), and take the risk that I may never figure out the answer or any of my deeply hidden emotional issues (if there are in fact any to begin with), which might completely screw up my life.  Or – I can choose to go to psychodynamic therapy (which is not only known to not help with OCD – it can in fact make it worse) and I could make my OCD worse and go off the deep end and still not find the answer.  Then I think – maybe it comes down to answering the question - What am I treating here?  Am I treating the symptom or the problem?  Ugh!  My mind could go on forever with analysis – just digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole and the depths of hell. 
I’m not sure what my ultimate feared consequence is here – the fear that I’ll live in the dark, unhappy and in denial forever?  Is this just an extension of the same HOCD and ROCD?  And what do I need to do for exposure?  I have been trying really hard not to avoid the people who trigger these spikes, but holy – on top of everything else – this is hard. 
Will a day come that I feel that I too “have it all figured out” and I too learn to “trust the universe”?  That sure seems really hard for me right now. 

December 8, 2010

Finally

As I was compulsively searching the Internet for "answers" to my OCD problems last night, I came across this website.  Wow.  I wanted to share it with everyone because I know that I have struggled with what seems to be relatively little information on Pure O.  The people who started the site also agree, so they took it upon themselves to help increase exposure (excuse the pun!) on the Internet, and hopefully inform and help others who are going through hell.  

The website was started by former patients of Dr. Steven Phillipson's.  For those of you who don't know who Dr. Steven Phillipson is, he is the Clinical Director of the Centre for Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy, located in New York.  He is one of the foremost psychologists with knowledge in the area of the Pure O sub-type of OCD, and has written numerous articles on the subject.  My new (3 months old) therapist is from the Centre for Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy, and she has trained under Dr. Phillipson. 

Please take a time to check out the website, and inform as many people as possible.

December 7, 2010

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

This has been a horrible two weeks.  I am hoping my “virtual OCD blogging support group” will be able to give me some positive support.  :o)
Those of you who have read my blog since the beginning, will know that due to a flare up of symptoms, I had been unable to work since June of this year.  I started OCD treatment in August, and was making good progress - I thought.  I mean, I had never exposed myself to my feared consequences as much in my ENTIRE LIFE. 
However, there were other factors that contributed to my “breakdown”: I was working at an incredibly stressful job, my boyfriend and I were experiencing relationship issues (more on this later), within three months, three very close friends died, and to top it all off, my family found out that my mother’s cancer had returned.  It was too much for me to handle. 
In November, faced with the reality that my short-term disability was running out, I had a choice – I could either apply for long-term disability, I could go back to my incredibly-stressful-job, or I could quit my incredibly-stressful-job and look for a part-time job.  I chose the latter option - mostly because I was actually feeling pretty good and coping well.  I actually felt like I wanted to go back to work part-time.  Which leads to where I am today. 
In the last couple of weeks, I started my new part-time job.  I actually quite enjoy the job (I’m working at a bank), however, I am not used to having to balance my time, and there is some pressure with learning something completely different.  This stress was hard enough, but then last week I found out that my mother’s cancer has progressed.  The cancer is in-operable, and it is in the lymph nodes close to her liver.  The tumour has now grown to the point that it is impeding the function of her liver.  If some sort of intervention were not to take place, she would lose the functioning of her liver, and die.  The only option my mom had was to do chemo and hope that the chemo shrinks her tumour enough to allow her liver to return to normal function.  She started her chemo last week. 
To add to it all – things with my boyfriend have been difficult.  And the worst part of it is – I never really know whether the problems are relationship OCD oriented, a little bit of “real” problems mixed in with ROCD, or “real” problems only.  (After all - just because I'm obsessing about it doesn't mean that it isn't a real problem or the feared consequence isn't coming true!) But my OCD has come back with a vengeance, and at the moment I feel so completely overwhelmed I don’t know how to cope. 
Since I started my OCD treatment most of my exposure therapy has been focused on my HOCD and as I said before, I felt that I was making very good progress.  However, for me, my relationship OCD is so tied into my HOCD that I don’t know that it is possible to treat one without treating the other.  I have spent so much time in my head lately with thoughts like:  “Look at all the ways that you and your boyfriend have problems.  He doesn’t meet your needs in this way, this way, this way etc etc.  You could probably find someone better and be happy.  In fact – women don’t have a problem at all with these things – if you were with a woman you might have all your needs met.”  I feel tortured.  And then – in my mind – I list off the ways that my boyfriend is so wonderful – all the time feeling horribly guilty and wondering: WHY CAN’T I JUST BE HAPPY?????  The fact that I can’t be happy surely must be an indication that I’m in the wrong relationship AND even evidence that I am a lesbian.  Right now most of my obsessions are around emotional intimacy.  For my HOCD exposure, I have been reading lesbian coming out stories and many of the women say that they are so much happier being with a woman because the emotional intimacy is better.  Since this type of closeness is something that is very important to me in a relationship, and something that I didn’t have in my family, my OCD mind clings to this with a vengeance.  I immediately start going through my check list comparing boyfriend vs. emotional intimacy.  The problem comes in with the fact that my boyfriend – though a very kind, generous person – isn’t the best at expressing himself.  For example – in the last two and a half years that we have been together – we have said the “I love you” words about four times.  I’m sure you can imagine where this is going – can’t you?  How do I deal with this as someone with OCD?  Well – one of two things happen:
1.       I can’t deny that my boyfriends lack of emotional expression doesn’t really support my need for emotional intimacy.  So – if I agree with the fact that we don’t have emotional intimacy – then WHAM – my OCD mind starts up:  “see – you probably would be happier with a woman!  You better talk to your boyfriend about this.  You better work on this.  If you don’t deal with this problem you might end up unhappy forever.  You might become bitter and eventually after years of denying yourself your needs you might just become a lesbian. Are you even really happy right now?  Do you even feel close to him?”  Of course what comes next is massive anxiety, followed by the intense need to speak with my boyfriend RIGHT NOW about our problems and come up with a plan RIGHT NOW to fix them. 
2.       If on the other hand I find a way to disagree with the fact that we don’t have emotional intimacy then my OCD mind always finds a way of disputing me “Come on!  Look around!  Women are so much better at showing their feelings – you know that!  And you feel safer with that kind of intimacy.  Shouldn’t you have your needs met?  You’re in denial!  How can you know that he has only said that he loves you four times in 2 ½ years and think that’s OK?  You’re just justifying it because you’re scared of being alone (or you’re scared that you’re going to become a lesbian, or…..)” 
Can you see what this does to me?  Can you see how I can’t win?  And – neither can my boyfriend.  It seems that we’re doomed as a couple – no matter what we do.  Needless to say – this makes our relationship very difficult.  My anxiety causes me to become incredibly demanding and critical.  It makes him become very defensive and feel like he can’t do anything right.  And we fight.  (Which is a REAL problem.) And I feel guilty.  And my OCD gets worse (“see how much you’re fighting?  How can you honestly justify staying in this relationship? Look at all the ways that he's like your dad/mom.  And you know that they were emotionally unhealthy people and had an unhappy marriage!") But -  are the problems that lead to the fight real or OCD?  I can’t give you an answer, and it seems – neither can my therapist.  When I told her about the fact that my boyfriend hasn’t said that he loves me many times she responded with something like “Maybe you’re someone who needs that kind of verbal expression.”  I am so completely confused and frustrated I don’t even know what to do anymore.  I don’t have any insight at all into this problem, and I feel so hopeless about the entire situation.  I can't tell you how badly I just want to be happy.  How badly I just want to feel happy about my life, feel lucky to have my boyfriend and one day - look at him and have warm feelings - not horrible, yucky doubt.