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. 


  1. I'm sorry to hear about your mother, and that things have been rough for you lately! Times of stress really can exacerbate OCD. I wish your mother the best and sincerely hope that chemo helps!

    Congratulations, though, on going back to work part-time. That's a big step - one that I am still gradually working up to. I know how hard it is to have to readjust to balancing your schedule! I sometimes wonder how people manage to work full time, but then, I realize I spend a significant amount of time working for and catering to my OCD! Good for you for getting out there. Though it may be stressful due to the initial learning curve, I bet it will help move you along in recovery in the long run. I recently started tutoring a couple times a week, and getting out and having that time, albeit short, to focus on something OTHER than OCD is refreshing and inspires me to commit to getting better a little more.

    Relationship OCD is tough. Have you done any exposure work specifically for this part of your OCD? I think in a lot of ways, it is often treated similarly to HOCD. I have read therapist recommendations for addressing ROCD that include trying not to seek reassurance, avoiding mental checking/reviewing/retracing to try to determine whether you partner is the "right" one, as well as script writing. I actually wrote a script once that included some ROCD themes. I think it ended with me being trapped in a loveless marriage that lacked all intimacy, especially physical. And as wonderful as my husband was, I couldn't help but not like him, for which I then proceeded to hate myself even more because I couldn't find it in me to reciprocate his kindness because I was so annoyed that I didn't love him. Fun times ;). Seriously, though. It sounds like you doing exposure specifically for the ROCD in addition to the HOCD could help if you aren't already doing it.

    Just like with the HOCD, I bet that the more you analyze and try "figure out" the answer to your uncertainty, the less clear things begin to seem. When you cut back on the internal questioning and trying to be "sure" about things, things actually begin to seem clearer. I know that the less I wash, the less dirty the world seems. The less time you spend trying to make sure your relationship is "right," the more you will probably be able to enjoy it. And then, if you still aren't satisfied with the relationship, you can address that then. But as long as you're still in the midst of all the OCD questioning it's really hard to figure how you do feel.

    I hope you feel better soon!! I'll be thinking of you as I face my own OCD challenges!

  2. Fellow - thanks for the support. Your exposure script sounds very similar to my fears. For me, I think that if I could just stop this ROCD I might have some space to actually express my needs in a healthy way which might actually result in healthy progress in the relationship. Who knows.

  3. I'm so sorry to hear about your Mom! I know when I am stressed, my OCD starts to sound more credible, and I have to pull back and remind myself that it's not sophisticated enough to guide my life. OCD is offering a very impoverished choice of options, and really, it's all about maintaining itself. It's got you down to either this boyfriend or a woman. Period. The end. I suspect that if you found a woman, the OCD would start in on you about whether she's the right one, or whether you really are heterosexual. Trying to figure out what is affecting your relationship--OCD or "reality" is also an OCD trap, since in actuality your OCD is having an effect on the relationship, and that makes it "real". I know from experience that the more I ask myself if I feel anything, or if I'm happy, the more I can't really tell, because all the OCD thinking disrupts everything.

  4. Expwoman - thanks so much for your comments. As someone who has gone through this type of OCD it helps to hear your insight. I like what you said about OCD not being sophisticated enough to guide your life. That's actually a good way of putting it. I think OCD comes from "old brain dysfunction" doesn't it? My reactions seem so "archaic" yet so "intense" almost out of my control! Thanks to everyone for reminding me that there is hope to be able think clearly and without OCD influence.

  5. I'm a relatively new reader but I just HAD to comment on this one:

    What a rough time! It is no wonder that your mind is going round and round over these things. I'm so sad about your mother and all of the other rough things going on in your life.

    I know last year I was finally doing well in my OCD, or so I thought. Then my husband graduated, didn't have a job, I got a new boss I disliked immensely, work was getting super stressful, I wanted to quit but couldn't till hubby found a job, we knew we'd be moving but didn't know where, our car was totaled, my mother went through six weeks of undiagnosed intense pain before having her gallbladder removed and my Grandfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed away within months. And I sank. I lost all my traction and fell into worse habits than ever before.

    But you know? It was kind of good to go over the edge. I forced me to see how flimsy my former "progress" was, and on the flip side, the work I'd done before made it easier to "come back" after this downslide.

    Don't beat yourself up too much for struggling more right now, but don't read too much into it either! You know it's a lot of circumstantial stuff triggering your anxious mind. Don't afford those thoughts the importance that they are demanding from you right now. Don't give into their lies of supremity!

    Long comment, but I am enjoying your writing!

  6. Justpluckingdaisies - thank you SO MUCH for your kind words of support and compliment on my blog! It's amazing how great it feels to get support from other OCD sufferers even if we haven't met each other face-to-face. Thanks for reading and I will take a look at your blog too.

  7. I love our "virtual blogging OCD support group." I don't have great and wonderful advice. I just want to say, wow, it hurts. I know. My thoughts hurt. I'm tired of hurting. My situation isn't exactly like yours - situationally you've got some big things on your plate. But yeah, I'm sorry it hurts. I hope you persevere even as I persevere (but sometimes for me its more in the "rest 6 1/2 days, work for a few hours" type of perseverance).

  8. Hang in there. I KNOW how hard this is! I really do, I struggle all of the time. Stressful real life situations can really add to the pressure and make the ocd go crazy. I want to give you some encouragement and let you know that I made it through hocd and so can you! I stressed so badly...I thought for sure I must be a lesbian because I just FELT it. That's because I FELT FEAR, which made me believe that it was real. It sucks and I know it's realllllly scary, because we want to know like right now and today if we are or not and when we tell our selves we aren't we just get afraid that it might be a lie. For me it was accepting that I DO find girls pretty! (Please don't spike)There is nothing wrong with finding a girl is in all places. It was the fear that because I found a girl pretty it MUST mean I was a lesbian. Once I accepted that looking at a girl does not = lesbian, it got easier to dismiss the fear. I suffer with rocd now and it is pretty horrible, well very horrible. But I am not giving up and I do my best to survive, although it can be painful and terribly scary at times I know it IS possible to overcome. If you have any tips on things that help with your rocd I'd love to hear. Take care!

  9. Abigail - thanks so much for your encouragement - I can tell how sincere you are!
    Bumbly - So nice to "meet" another fellow HOCD and ROCD'er! It's very reassuring (and not in the bad way) to know that you've been through HOCD and have come out at the other end! Unfortunately I don't have any tips on anything that helps with my ROCD other than exposure. Check out my "Finally" post - about a website that was built by some of Dr. Phillipsons Pure O patients. There are some ROCD sufferers on there. Let's keep in touch so we can support each other!

  10. I am familiar with Dr. Phillipson's site and have found it helpful in understanding this disorder. There is a specific article he wrote called " I think it moved" that elaborates on the hocd and rocd portion that sheds ALOT of light on how our brains work. Check it out if you already haven't. Also I found a great site called, it has been helpful to read peoples posts and get encouragement. Just be careful though it can become a MAJOR form of handle with care :) !

    One day at a time. If I learn any coping strategies I will share them with you!