January 30, 2011

Whoa exposure!!!

One of the things I’ve been struggling with lately is the fact that I’m so “in the closet” about my OCD.  I think it might be another compulsion for me.  The fear here is that if I tell people that I have OCD they will ask me more info (I'm not a hand washer after all), and if I tell anyone that I have sexual orientation OCD, they will think “Sure you have OCD – just face it – you’re probably a lesbian.”  I guess what I’m saying is that so few people have a true understanding of OCD, and how it manifests in people, let alone me telling them that I worry about my sexual orientation.  "No, - HOCD isn't another word for someone who is a lesbian in denial."  (Of course, I suppose there's always that chance.  There's also a chance that I could get worms from picking up my dog's poo.) So, basically I’m avoiding the fear that people might – due to a misunderstanding of what HOCD is – think that I’m actually a lesbian.  And what would that mean?  It would mean that maybe they're right - maybe I really am a lesbian.  It would bring up the "Maybe this isn't OCD, but really a sexual orientation crisis" thoughts (Believe me - the way I'm thinking and feeling lately is making me wonder.)  Perhaps there is a part of me that is avoiding potential rejection from people too.  Though – I don’t have many (if any) friends who would reject me even if I did suddenly someday decide that I'm gay. 
As I mentioned in my last post – I’m feeling pretty “hopeless” these days about relationships and my ability to have a healthy one.  How is it really possible to have a healthy relationship with HOCD and ROCD? (If some of my fellow bloggers have any comments on this I would love to hear them.) Of course, as I also previously mentioned – this has taken my mind to the place of: “Well – if you don’t think there is hope to be in a healthy relationship with a man – then maybe you should just give up and be with a woman.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.  Maybe it’s your only hope of not ending up alone and lonely forever.  You've tried so hard to make it work with a man.  There are after all some real benefits of being with a woman.  Maybe for once and for all you'll get your emotional needs met.”  These thoughts kill me.  They are so hard to have.  They make me feel so sad and hopeless, and even more defective.  I’m not sure – maybe these thoughts are “normal” given what I’ve gone through recently and my "baggage".  Or – maybe I’m just a seriously emotionally broken, defective individual.  After all, my ex-boyfriend is one of the most decent men I know.  He has values that I respect, and he treated me with great care.  And I still managed to screw it up. 
Another thing that I avoid doing, is sharing any of these thoughts and feelings with my friends – again – for the same fear that they will think I truly am a lesbian.  Like “Ahhhh – now it all makes sense.”  Or – even worse - maybe they will agree with me – that healthy relationships with men really are hopeless (especially my ability to be healthy in one), and I might as well just declare myself a lesbian today.  That said, not only have I been feeling crappy because I haven’t been doing a lot of exposure lately, I have also been beating myself up and telling myself that I’m just a big “fraud” – not being sincere or honest about who I truly am because I’m not sharing a big part of myself – namely the fact that I have OCD.  (Don’t think that I have missed the irony of all of this – I’m sure this is how a person who REALLY is gay feels when he/she is in the closet – the lack of authenticity.)
So, today I decided to take a leap – and expose myself to these fears.  I was texting with one of my friends, talking about how I’m not feeling in the mood for a “happily ever after” chick flick tonight because I’m feeling pretty cynical about relationships.  Then I said it:  “Maybe I’ll just become a lesbian. Hehe.”  Her response was “Don’t think like that”.  Fairly benign – and really it doesn’t matter to me what her response was in the grand scheme of things.  Now though, is when the hard work comes.  It is really hard for me to live with the fear that she might think I’m gay.  But – it’s done.  It’s out there, and I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t anxious as hell. 
Then, a little later on, I decided to push it even further.  I was emailing with my cousin, who is recently divorced and quite cynical herself about relationships.  And I said the same thing:  “Ugh – maybe the only answer is for me to become a lesbian.”  And of course – one of my fears came true!  She wrote back: “Don’t write the option off yet.  It may be the best one when you consider how women relate to each other.”  WHAM!  She hit one of my worst fears on the head:  THAT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO RELATE IN A HEALTHY WAY WITH A MAN AND REALLY THE ONLY ANSWER FOR TRUE HAPPINESS MIGHT BE FOR ME TO BECOME A LESBIAN.
We continued our emailing conversation, and discussed our relationships and our roles in how we screwed them up.  At the moment I’m a basket case…..full of anxiety.  But – I’m glad I did it.  I was true to myself, my struggles, and what I’m going through right now.  We joked about being "cougar lesbians".  It was funny on some levels, but truly deep down inside I was terrified, and it was all I could do to not think "Hmmmmm....do you really mean this stuff?  You really are going through a difficult time right now.  You really do seem to struggle in intimate relationships with men." And blah, blah, blah.  Truth be told, I am having those thoughts.  But I'm doing everything I can not to DWELL on the thoughts. I am reminding myself not to try to "figure it out" right now. 

You see – I’m learning that I'm the kind of person who has lots of crazy, silly, "out there" type thoughts.  I’m also HIGHLY analytical, and highly emotional.  When I am “gagging” myself, for fear of what someone will think, I am doing myself NO FAVOURS.  All Im doing is reinforcing the idea that there is something to be scared of.  I know that I did this a lot in my relationship.  I was scared of saying lots of crazy, silly things to my ex-boyfriend, for fear that he would think I'm crazy, or a lesbian, or whatever.  In the end, that was one of the things that really effected our ability to be truly intimate with one another. I take a lot of responsibility for that.  But, I also know that at the beginning of our relationship, I tried to put myself out there a few times, and the response that I got gave me the message that it wasn't safe to be myself - crazy and all.  Now that I look back, I can see that neither of us knew what we were dealing with.  I'm sure my ex's response was not meant to be hurtful, or give me the message that it wasn't "safe" to express myself.  And I didn't express to him how important it was for me to be able to do this in order to "feel safe".   

I need to be able to put whatever is on my mind “out there”.  And – usually I do.  For most things, that don't have anything to do with my OCD fears, I am pretty open.  I'm learning though, that I do much better with people who understand that about me – and when I don’t feel like I have to modify my words, for fear of being judged as crazy……or worse yet – a lesbian.  In fact - I think that this trait is one of the very special things about me - and I really do want to be with someone who appreciates my "openess" as one of the very special things that make up who I am.  Isn't that what true intimacy is about? 

P.S  This anxiety makes me HIGHLY irritable. 

January 29, 2011

Lost

I promised myself that I was going to use this blog as a forum to post progress and positive results.  But – in all honesty – at the moment, I am feeling pretty horrible, alone and depressed. 
I’ve had a few incidents in the last little while where I had the opportunity to practice “skillfully” my reaction to some OCD triggers, and I failed.  Miserably.  And right away I fall back into that horrible anxious state of needing to understand WHY I’m having these thoughts, why they are so graphic, and what they mean about me?
My breakup has thrown me for a loop.  Though, on some levels I am coping really well – it has ramped up my OCD in a big way.  After obsessing about my relationship for over two years, I would think that it would be understandable that I feel incredibly burnt out, turned off of relationships, and yes – even turned off of men.  Not that I don’t still really love my boyfriend, but at the moment I have absolutely no desire to have a complicated relationship in my life – with anyone.  Of course this has ramped up my HOCD like crazy.  “Maybe life would be easier with a woman.  Maybe, after all your failed relationships you are in a process of opening up to the idea of being with a woman.”  That’s just the tip of the iceburg. 
Last week I went home for four days to help take care of my mom (and dad – who isn’t used to being the one taking care of anyone) while she is on chemotherapy.    This was also a very difficult experience for me because though I am so happy to be able to help my parents out – it is no secret that my family is highly dysfunctional.  A four day visit witnessing the unhealthy way my parents relate to each other, and the way they relate to me just left me feeling hopeless, lonely and depressed.  I am not sure, but I do suspect that the “baggage” from my past fuels my OCD.  I am terrified of ending up in a relationship like my parents – and I have analyzed this ad nauseum.  Over the years I have worked through a lot of the “baggage” from my past and have mostly come to forgive my parents for their mistakes (after all – they are human too), but right now all of this seems to be under a microscope for me.  All I could see was how I was acting similarly in my own relationship with my boyfriend, and the thoughts that came to me were “Maybe it’s just impossible to change your past.  You might as well be with a woman because I don’t think you’ll be able to have a healthy relationship with a man.”
And the final episodes came this week.  I was already struggling to deal with my OCD thoughts in a healthy way, and then some things happened, that ramped up my anxiety massively.  I am crying all the time, struggling to get out of bed, not sleeping at night.  My chest is tight, my mind is spinning, my heart is racing, and overall I feel horrible.  Is there any hope? 
I am doing some consulting for a government agency, and once per month, I go into the office to work with some clients.  A few months ago – I was in the office and in between sessions, I was chit-chatting with one of the women who works there.  Suddenly the thoughts came to my mind: “She’s really nice.  Maybe you’d be happier in a relationship with her.”  And then:  “OMG?!  Do I really feel that way?  I better check and figure out what I meant by that.  Could I actually be with her?” And then all the images came and I just felt horrible. 
This past week – I had been in the office meeting with ANOTHER WOMAN about an upcoming seminar that I was going to be teaching.  I was sharing some information about the fact that my mom is sick with inoperable cancer, and she has lost her mother as well – so we were discussing the experience.  After that meeting, she gave me a card and inside it read:  “Try not to focus on the end result – just enjoy the moment.”  At the time – I didn’t think anything of it.  I actually thought – that was a really nice thing of her to do. 
However – I had to go back to the office a few days later, and when I got there – this woman said to me “You look beautiful.” , and off it went.  “OMG – I think this girl likes me.  I think she is hitting on me.  I think on some level she’s attracted to you.  Could you be attracted to her?  She’s been really supportive with you about your mom – maybe you’ll be like Cynthia Nixon who became a lesbian after enduring cancer.  Are you attracted to her?”  And on and on it went.  I even had images of her kissing me.  The whole thing was just awful.  I was reeling in anxiety and thoughts.  I even told myself that I could feel her "vibe" - and I must have great GAYDAR.  I couldn’t get away from her fast enough. 
One would think that would be enough “challenges” for a week, but nope.  Yesterday I sat down to watch Oprah, and the topic was BETRAYAL IN MARRIAGES.  The first guests she had on were Fran Drescher and her ex-husband.  They are now separated because years into their marriage (a very happy one by-the-way) – her husband decided that he was gay.  Of course this is one of my biggest fears.  But – it gets worse from there.  Her husband said that he had had gay thoughts like that for several years and even went to over three psychologists.  They all said that the thoughts were just thoughts and didn’t mean anything.  REALLY?  Are you kidding me?  Someone who was having gay thoughts, that was “diagnosed” as having normal gay thoughts, but not gay, that eventually turned out to be gay???????  Now I know the goal of treatment is not to prove that anything is certain.  I have told myself many times, that just because I have gay OCD doesn’t mean that someday I won’t decide that I’m a lesbian.  But this triggered my OCD so badly. 
So here I am – alone – dealing with all of this.  I feel like a fraud – because no one – other than my ex-boyfriend and my parents (who aren’t exactly in the position themselves to be overly supportive) – knows about my OCD.  I feel terrified.  I feel hopeless, and I feel lost.  I am just so scared.  I am not a religious person, but during times like these I can really understand why people turn to a higher power.  Is this really what life is about? 

January 26, 2011

OCF Conference 2011

I’ve started to write about three different posts, but haven’t been able to finish them yet, so I am going to post about the upcoming OCF Conference in San Diego, CA on July 29 – 31, 2011. 
Has anyone ever been to this?  I am planning on attending.  It will be my first time.  All part of the process of “acceptance”, I think.  Accepting my “flawed-self” and presenting myself to a group of people who undertstand my experience.  Here I am.  I have OCD - sexual orientation & relationship OCD - at that!  I guess there’s always the possibility that even my fellow OCD sufferers will reject me and think I’m a freak.  :o) 
I have booked my ticket to San Diego, and I’m so very excited for this conference for a few reasons:
1.  I am hoping to learn more about Pure O.  I think in the last few months I have learned a lot about Purely Obsessional OCD, but in relative terms I’m an amateur when dealing with this disorder, so I could use as much reinforcement as possible.    
2.  I want to connect with others who are in the “OCD Club”.  Writing a blog and connecting with others with OCD has been such a great experience for me.  I don’t have the option of attending a self-help group, so the support that I receive from my blogging friends is very much appreciated. 
3.  I am hoping to connect with some key players in the OCD world from Canada and perhaps help to start a Canadian foundation similar to the OCF.  After the hell that I have gone through with this OCD, I am more motivated than ever to help others who suffer.  I am determined to help spread the word in Canada so that people will seek help sooner, and there will be a greater number of appropriately trained therapists who can help.  Of course, this will jeopardize my anonymity, and I struggle with this idea.  But I think for me - part of recovering from this disorder and truly accepting myself, I have to begin to be honest with people about the fact that I suffer from OCD.  (More on this in a later post perhaps.)
The conference program hasn’t been released yet, but I hope that there are several discussions on “intrusive thoughts”. 
I am hoping to leave the conference in July feeling re-energized to continue my battle the control that OCD has over my life.  At this point, I could also use an injection of renewed hope. 

January 16, 2011

Sad Times

About two weeks ago I broke down and told my boyfriend I couldn’t continue our relationship.  I was feeling completely overwhelmed and confused, and yes – ANXIOUS.  I cannot deny that the main reason I broke up with him is my OCD  – my level of anxiety was so high I couldn’t handle it.  My intrusive thoughts were almost constant throughout the day.  In addition, I am still dealing with other very stressful areas of my life, and there’s no denying that we were fighting – A LOT.  We didn’t speak to each other for almost two weeks, and though I wish we didn’t have to create that space between us, I actually think it was good for me – to actually calm down, gain some objectivity and gain some new resolve in order to deal with my first two priorities – spending time and helping my sick mother, and learning to cope more effectively with OCD. 
I don’t know what will happen between me and my boyfriend.  He is a wonderful person, with many qualities that I admire and would like to have in a partner.  I love him very much.  And I know that fundamentally, beneath all the struggles we endured in these last few months – we deeply believe in each other.  I am certain that OCD puts a strain on any relationship, but having HOCD and ROCD was even more challenging for both of us to cope with.  I can’t imagine how hard it would be to hear “I’m not sure if you’re the right person for me” as regularly as he heard it. 
Don’t get me wrong – my OCD wasn’t the only contributor to our problems.  My boyfriend has Dyslexia,  and struggles with his self-esteem and self –confidence.  He is a “people pleaser” too.  These things – when not identified and “managed” (I say this because we all struggle with these problems to some degree or another), can put great strain on a relationship.  I knew that, and I identified these issues fairly early on.  It scared me - and flared up my OCD like crazy.  I desperately wanted him to get help  - for himself – and for the sake of our relationship.  He did start to take positive action, but by that time, too much damage had been done.  By the end of our relationship – I just didn’t trust that we were on the same page, and I didn’t know who he was taking care of more – me or him.  He was trying so hard to avoid conflict and make us happy that he lost himself.  That makes me sad.  I know that we both see the “beautiful, deep truth” that each of us has inside, but somehow, something prevented us from nurturing that beauty. 
We talked today, for the first time in two weeks.  I have so much more clarity, and so much more tenacity to move forward together.  But my boyfriend said that we cannot get back together.  He said that he needed to learn how to take care of himself.  That right now – we both need to focus on ourselves, and that if our relationship is meant to be, it will be.  As much as I respect him, and I am so proud of him for putting up that boundary, it also makes me sad.  He’s right in a way.  I suppose I can’t expect a two week break to suddenly change things, and make things different.  But – I love him – and that makes me want to believe that we can endure – no matter what. 
I am being presented with several opportunities to practice living with uncertainty.  I will do the best that I can. 
“If you love something, set it free.  If it comes back, it’s yours. 
If it doesn’t, it never was.” 

January 13, 2011

Answering the elusive QUESTION

I am always amazed at how OCD finds a way of permeating my life.  Just when I think I am starting to gain control over the OCD monster, it finds ways of posing a question that is different enough to stop me in my tracks and in a split second I have started……..ritualizing again.  Compulsively trying to find the answer – whether that be through checking the internet, reassuring myself, or analyzing things down to every minute detail until I am absolutely mentally exhausted.  The worst, most frustrating part of this is that I have not yet become skilled enough to see it for what it is – yet another OCD question – dressed up quite nicely in a new costume, but in the end it has the same goal – to try to get certainty in the area of my OCD fears.  Expwoman seems to do a great job at "externalizing" her OCD and identifying when the OCD monster is trying to take hold of her thoughts.  She and I have been corresponding about this lately.  I think being able to recognize the pattern is very helpful in achieving recovery. 
I picked up Dr. Grayson’s book again and started reading it for the third time.  I think I will need to read it again, and again, and again.  He very effectively explains the nature of living with uncertainty and how this is the goal for all people in treatment for OCD.  If you have been reading my prior posts – you will know that I’ve struggled with this immensely.  The concept of not being certain about one’s sexuality, or certain about one’s choice in partner seemed so foreign to me.  I even wrote a post that gave examples of people who seemed to have "found the answer" and achieved "certainty".  But I think I am starting to understand this concept now, and the notion that for non-OCD sufferers, they may be able to FEEL certain about something, but that doesn’t mean that it IS certain.  I even have this type of certainty in other non-OCD areas of my life.  I remember writing an example in a previous blog post about picking up my dog’s poop, and having the thought “I could get worms”.  I definitely in that moment felt certain that I didn’t have worms, but I also could have been wrong.  Just because I feel certain about something doesn't mean that I am right.  And I wouldn’t have found out for sure until later. 
Dr. Grayson explains that the key to recovery is allowing oneself to have the disturbing thoughts without ever knowing what they mean.  I could always get my head around how that would relate to other’s OCD concerns – for example – those with violent obsessions.  But for someone like me – someone who struggles with the fear of becoming a lesbian, or the fear that I might be in the wrong relationship – letting go of trying to figure it all out is a much tougher concept.  Shouldn’t I be TRYING to figure all this stuff out?  Isn’t that the whole point of life?  Self-discovery in the quest for greater happiness?  There is a great risk for me in not compulsively trying to find the answer.  I feel like by not searching for the answer – I am allowing myself the possibility to be in denial (about my sexuality and about my relationship).  And that could be very hurtful – for myself and for my boyfriend.  (As an aside – this was great insight for me and I think will help when writing out exposure scripts and facing my feared consequences.)
When I look back on how I have approached treatment in the last few months – it has been with various amounts of consistency when it comes to stopping ritualizing.  Some days it was because I just couldn’t take the anxiety that I was feeling, and other days it was because I didn’t know I was ritualizing!  Either way, I hope that I have moved through to a new level of understanding of this disorder armed with more resolve for fighting. 

January 6, 2011

More on Rituals

As you know – I’ve been struggling a lot lately, and one of the thoughts that really bothers me is “I’ve been doing so much for exposure – how come I’m not getting any better?” (AKA – why aren’t the thoughts going away?)  Of course – the thoughts going away is not the goal of treatment, but I know that people without OCD don’t have scary thoughts nearly as much as I do – so at the very least I would like them to decrease.  However, I know logically that the goal of treatment is to be OK with the uncertainty of the question.  To be OK with having the thoughts and not knowing what (if anything) they mean about you. 
Haven’t achieved this goal yet. 
Pure O is tough because it is so hard to stop ritualizing.  I suspect that I haven’t even broken the surface of how I ritualize to avoid my feared OCD consequences.  I know that my rituals/avoidance behavior are well engrained into my everyday life. 
Here’s one of my rituals (I suppose this would fall under reassurance seeking):
READING OCD FORUMS. 
Does anyone else visit these forums?  I try hard to avoid them.  I know they are not helpful in fighting OCD.  But it’s a catch 22.  Sometimes I feel the need to connect with those who also suffer from this horrible disorder and can relate to the pain I am feeling.  That’s why I enjoy my blogging friends so much – I have found that the blogging forum is very positive, helpful and therapeutic (no reassurance etc).  Usually I feel the need to visit OCD forums either when I am in the middle of a full blown HOCD panic attack, or when I need reassuance that I do in fact have OCD.  Either way – as with other forms of ritualizing – reading the forum posts are very helpful in the short run.  But in the long run – visiting these sites does nothing for helping me face my feared consequences. 
It has also dawned on me lately that even doing exposure may have become some sort of ritual – because I have been doing them with the goal of making the thoughts go away.  The general definition of a ritual is some sort of behavior or thought that helps takes the anxiety out of the feared consequence, or helps to decrease the possibility that the feared consequence might happen, or helps to “neutralize” (take the sting) out of the thought.  I’m not sure about this – and I’d like to hear what you think about my theory, but I am going to ask my therapist next session.