March 30, 2011

Something Positive about OCD?

I am someone who likes to give back to my community.  I believe in community involvement, and I like helping those who are genuinely less fortunate than me.  When I was working at my previous "hell" job, driving all over the province, and working hours on end, this is one value that I didn’t have the time or energy to pursue and it is one of the things that left me feeling as though I wasn’t living the live that I would like to be living.  I didn’t have any balance.  “Community value” is something I can thank my dad for.  Actually – both of my parents have always volunteered both their time and significant amounts of money to various charitable organizations.  (See?  Not everything is “black and white” or “good and bad”.  I did learn some wonderful values from my parents.)
When I had my recent “OCD Flare Up” last June, and was met with incredible frustration with trying to find good support (in all forms), I became determined that if ever I was to conquer this nasty monster, I would do everything possible to further the “plight” of OCD treatment in Canada.  I would definitely not say that I have conquered the monster, but I have taken some steps to help others in Canada with OCD. 
A few months ago I contacted the Executive Director of the OCD Foundation and let him know of my goal to start an OCDF Affiliate in Canada.  He introduced me to Dr. Evelyn Stewart a prominent psychiatrist who recently moved to Canada and is also interested in working out a partnership.  I have also contacted other OCD groups throughout the country to reach out and let them know what I am attempting to achieve. 
I have “met” (via email) some wonderful, thoughtful, compassionate people who all share the same goal.  We are working together, and we have accomplished what I think is a HUGE step.  We have succeeded in gaining the OCD Foundation’s support in forming a partnership, and we will be having a meeting at the OCF Conference in San Diego in July!  All Canadians who are interested in working together to create a Canadian partnership with the International OC Foundation are invited to the meeting.     I am so proud of this accomplishment, and so excited for the meeting.  I look forward to working hard to make things better for other Canadians with OCD. 

**If you are Canadian and planning to attend the OCD Conference in San Diego in July, please consider attending the meeting.**

March 26, 2011

Crappy Family Situations & OCD

Well – my “progress” was short-lived.  I don’t know what is worse – the feeling of struggling, or the feeling of taking a “step backwards” after having had a really good week or two.  I could have predicted this would happen.  I was trying to be prepared, while still not writing my fate.  But yup - I feel like crap. 
You see – my sister came for a visit with my parents and her daughter (my niece).  If you’ve been reading my blog you will know that the last year or so has been very stressful for my family.  That being said – the dynamics in my family have always been quite unhealthy.  So I’ve always struggled with family “stuff” – this past year has just been worse.  The stress of watching the "dynamic" between my sister and my parents, and the "dynamic" between me and my sister, and last-but-not-least - the "dynamic" between my parents was absolutely horrible. 
My sister is ten years older than me and we have what I would call a “different” relationship.  She wasn’t even living with me for a lot of my childhood years because she went away for university when I was 11.  We became closer about seven years ago as we started to “deal” with some of our crappy family history, and share stories and theories together.  The problem is – my sister has gone to psychodynamic therapy for about fifteen years.  And it is due to her therapy that she has a somewhat different spin on how to handle some of our past experiences.  She tends to dwell a lot on the past.  And she does a lot of blaming.  For several years I “went along’ with these discussions. I shouldn’t say that – I think I was more “pulled’ into them.  It’s pretty easy to dwell on things don’t you think?  (And of course if I choose to NOT dwell on things my OCD is more than happy to pipe in:  "You're just avoiding the real issue.  You're going into denial.")
Despite all of the talking and communicating that my sister and I did regarding my family – I still wouldn’t’ say we were particularly close.  We have very different values, and not a lot in common.  We didn’t spend any significant time talking about anything other than how screwed up our parents are (oh yeah - and our relationship troubles!).  Then my sister started having some problems with her own kids, and I started to notice some things that I didn’t agree with.  I started to struggle with my relationship with my sister.  And then, out of the blue she stopped talking to my parents.  To make a long story short this caused a lot of stress for me.  I could see how heartbroken my parents were, and yet on some level I felt that I had to defend her when my family would start criticizing her. 
I’m not going to give all the details of what has transpired between my sister and me in the last two years, but suffice it to say we have become very distant. 
And this is where OCD comes in:
There is a part of me that wonders if I’m avoiding my sister and a close relationship with her because of her view on life and therapy and how to find the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”(almost like emotional contamination).  You would not believe the mental ruminating that I get into regarding my relationship with her!  She grates on my nerves more than a lot of people, and I constantly feel as though I'm being judged and psychoanalyzed.  She has no idea that I have OCD, and if she did - I am sure she would disagree with the diagnosis.  My worst fear is that she would be one of those people who says: "I don't know if you really have OCD - I think maybe you are a lesbian.  And what would be such a big deal?"!!!  Some of the thoughts that run through my head are:  You’re just avoiding her because she is going to make you doubt your life and how you’re living it.  She’s going to make you doubt that you have OCD.  And on and on the thoughts go. 
My sister is a hotbed of “stuff” for me and when I get like this I really struggle to sort out what’s what.  And then I start to spiral downward. 
The time while my family was here was VERY DIFFICULT.  Now that they’re gone I've spiralled even further into OCD and depression.  And I don’t have perspective.  I am questioning my own opinions and judgements about so many things.  I am driving myself crazy.    
So here I am – feeling like crap and I am supposed to start ERP next week.  How am I supposed to start ERP when I don’t have a handle on my compulsions?  The whole idea scares the crap out of me.  But if I tell my therapist that I’m not ready to start ERP, that I would rather spend some more time “mastering” the recognition of mental compulsions - my mind  will tell me that I’m a failure, and that makes me feel very ashamed.  Is that OCD talking?  
I guess I still don't have it all figured out.  
Does anyone else struggle with family relationships, and find that this exacerbates their OCD?   

March 18, 2011

OCD Progress

OCD is still very much a mystery to me.  But today is one of those rare days (though becoming less rare – would you call that medium rare?) that I can actually objectively see my progress. 
Let’s do a brief run-down of the last twelve months.  This time last year I was:
1.       In a job that was incredibly stressful and demanding,
2.       Experiencing signs of my relationship breaking down,
3.       Dealing with the news that my mom’s cancer had returned,
4.       Dealing with a number of other family crises,
5.      Coping with the death of an uncle and two very close friends.
And YUP – my OCD was at its worst.  I don’t know if I can blame all of those things for my horrible OCD flare up.  My descent into OCD hell had started a year prior to that – heck – I never really learned how to deal effectively with my OCD in the first place!  I can say with all certainty though, that the things mentioned above definitely didn't help with OCD.   
For the last few days I can honestly say that I am starting to see the “light at the end of the tunnel”.  Maybe I’ll never get to the proverbial "end of the tunnel", but I FINALLY feel as though I’m on the right path.  What has contributed to this recent state of hopefulness?  I’d say a few things:
1.       I started to “come out of the closet”, and I have SO MUCH less shame about the fact that I have OCD than I had two years ago.  I have confided to some very close friends about the fact that I have OCD which has helped me to learn to accept the chronic nature of this disorder and not “deny” that I will be living with OCD for the rest of my life.
2.       Some of the external factors that were causing immense stress are no longer as “acute”.  My mom, though definitely not healthy, is also not dying tomorrow.  We are still able to have some enjoyable moments together, and she is not yet lying in a hospital bed.  I have left the incredibly stressful and demanding job and I am starting to figure out my new career.  I have grieved the loss of my uncle and dear friends – and I am working through the loss of my relationship.
3.       I have FINALLY found a therapist that I truly trust and respect.  I have read in many articles about the importance of the therapeutic relationship when facing OCD, and I guess I just dismissed that in my mind.  Don’t get me wrong – I have definitely had some very kind and wonderful therapists in the past.  But my current therapist just GETS ME.  Not to mention the level of support that he provides to me is……well let’s just say that when (notice I’m saying “when” – not “if”?) I start to win this OCD battle on a more consistent basis and I can even label myself "recovered" - I will have this guy to thank for giving me my life back.  I can now with great confidence say that the therapeutic relationship between patient and psychologist is of UTMOST importance when conquering OCD.
What’s that OCD?  Don’t get too cocky you say?  Don’t get too hopeful and confident and definitely don’t let my guard down and stop with the avoidance and rituals?  You say that you’re just lingering right around the corner waiting for a weak moment to pounce on me? 
Well thank you very much for the reminder that you WILL always be standing in the shadows of my mind.  I’ve started to accept that about you OCD.  And I’m also slowly starting to learn that you really don’t have that much power after all.  I’m going to continue with the positive steps that I’ve taken, and we’ll see where that takes us.  :o)

March 13, 2011

Great Explanation of Purely Obsessional OCD

This is one of the best explanations of Purely Obsessional OCD that I have come across. 

Please take a moment to read it, though for most who visit my blog - it won't be anything new for you!

Thanks to OCD UK for the information. 

March 10, 2011

I'm tired of having OCD

Does anyone else ever feel this way? 
My therapist and I have been talking lately about the “OCD Bully” that is in my head.  How it will always be there.  That perhaps I need to accept the “risk” of only enjoying life 80% while I have this horrible disorder.  He gave an explanation of OCD that I really liked – and helped me to cope better with the bully.  He suggested that people with OCD have a big flood light in their heads and our brains have a tremendous ability to be able to shed light on thoughts that many people probably don’t even notice.  Perhaps one could call that “hyper awareness” - I don’t know.  He reminded me that we think a lot of thoughts – both good and bad.  But – of course – I don’t remember all the other thoughts – just the ones that I find threatening or scary for some reason. 
Since my therapist explained OCD to me in this way – I have noticed a lot of silly, crazy or exaggerated thoughts that I’ve had.  I’ve noticed that I have an uncanny ability to IMAGINE THE WORST CASE SCENARIO (EXAGGERATED?) FOR EVERY POSSIBLE EVENT that transpires in life.  (Call this “Catastrophizing” I guess.)  It’s just the way my brain works.  I know for a fact that not all people are like this, but I definitely am.  And you know what?  It’s exhausting sometimes.  But realizing this and accepting it – will go a long way in recovering from OCD. 
I had a great day yesterday.   Being able to conceptualize OCD in this way seems to have helped me.  It’s made me realize that I will always probably think of the “worst case scenario” in a situation.  This is only a small step towards recovery though.  I need to be able to take the next step – which is realizing the pattern, and what I do to avoid the “worst case scenario” from happening – which is ritualizing. 
Today was tough.  I didn’t sleep well last night, and immediately I woke up and the analyzing, mental checking started.  I was pulled into the pattern AGAIN.  IT’S SO FRUSTRATING.  Why can’t I see the pattern for what it is and stop myself from getting pulled into the monster’s game?????  It just got worse from there.  I tried to recognize the situation for what it was, but my desire to avoid the anxiety won the battle.   
It’s days like this when I am left feeling defeated, frustrated and tired.  I read a post from someone on the Yahoo OCD Support Board and he said “you have to be willing to take the risk – there is no magic bullet”.  This is so true.  For me – the “knee jerk” reaction in many situations is still to avoid that anxiety.  To avoid the feared consequence, and not take the risk.  It all happens so fast.  And then I start obsessing about obsessing.  And checking for whether or not I have improved since starting to see my new therapist.  And will I ever improve?  And why not?  And how? 
I hate that I have OCD.  I hate that my brain thinks this way, and that it probably always will.  I realize that I may not have control over my thoughts, but I do have control over how I react to my thoughts, and my behavior.  Right now the “OCD Bully” is winning the game.  But I haven’t given up.     

March 5, 2011

Practicing not giving OCD Power

I’ve taken a small step back from my fantastic week.  But – I accept that recovery is not a straight line and I feel really good about the path that I’m on with my therapist.  I was doing SO WELL – it was almost like I didn’t have OCD anymore.  (Don’t you love weeks like that?)  And I think this might have been part of the problem.  I hate this disorder so much that during “good times” I am happy to “forget” that I even have OCD.  Though I know from looking back on my week that I was actually doing a really good job of recognizing the “OCD monster” and stopping it in its tracks, there was a part of me that was really quick to stop “associating myself” with OCD.  This has happened to me before, and has, in my opinion, led me to relapse.  Anyway, more on that topic in some other posts.  Someone on the Yahoo OCD Support Group made a really good point about this:  the key to recovery is accepting fully that we have OCD and being thankful for the good days, so that when an inevitable slip happens (and it will), we don’t feel so bad, and don’t spend as much time beating ourselves up for the slip.  I think that’s great advice.    
So what happened?  It was inevitable actually – at this point in my therapy.  It was  A BIG TRIGGER.  I sat down to enjoy watching Oprah just before I went to bed.  It was going to be a nice ending to a great day.  But – Merideth Baxter was Oprah's guest.  For those who don’t know – Merideth Baxter came out as a lesbian much later in life, after several failed marriages and a very difficult childhood.  THIS, AS MY FOLLOWERS KNOW, HITS SMACK ON THE HEAD OF MY BIGGEST FEARED OUTCOME.  I think I did OK in handling it, but I’ve definitely slid back and I’m struggling again to externalize the OCD and recognize and let go of my compulsions.  In general – I’m just more anxious. 
Despite all of that yuckiness, I am happy to report that today I had a very small “OCD win”.  It was helpful for me because I did a really good job of recognizing the OCD pattern and the lure that the monster was trying to pull me into. 
This is what happened
When my ex-boyfriend and I broke up, he very clearly said to me that – given the difficulties that I am currently experiencing – a sick mother, and trying to conquer my OCD – he would be there for me if I ever needed him.  This is HUGE for me because one of my core beliefs is that I am a worthless loser and no man could ever love me given my weaknesses. 
Anyway – yesterday my mom told me that one of my nephews mentioned to my sister-in-law that he really misses my ex-boyfriend.  My nephew is going through a really rough time at the moment (he’s 12 years old) because his parents are going through a separation.  So – I emailed my ex-boyfriend and asked him if he would feel comfortable getting in contact with my nephew. 
A few hours later, my ex-boyfriend called me and left a message wishing me Happy Birthday (it was my birthday yesterday).  I missed the phone call, so as soon as I listened to his message I texted him and thanked him for thinking of me and let him know that I had sent him an email about my nephew. 
My ex-boyfriend didn’t text me back. 
I was OK at first.  I was busy getting ready to go out for dinner with my friends for my birthday.  Thoughts were definitely starting to pop into my mind, just a few at first, and very quietly:  “Why isn’t he texting you back?  He’s always really good at getting back to you.  He must be mad at you. He’s avoiding you for some reason. What could it be?” 
I went out for dinner and had a great time with my friends.  When I got home, the thoughts were a little louder: “It’s been 7 hours now and he hasn’t returned your text or email.  He always gets back to you.  What did I do?  Why is he avoiding me?  This is evidence that you are a loser and crazy and he’s finally figured it out and doesn’t want to have anything to do with you.  See – all men are complete jerks and you’d be so much better with a woman.  Women would never do something like this.” 
So, I texted him.   Yup.  I did it.  And the whole time I knew in the back of my mind that I shouldn’t be doing it, but my OCD rationalized the behaviour, saying it was “OK”. 
This morning I woke up and what do you think was the first thought to pop into my mind?  YOU GOT IT – “I wonder if my ex-boyfriend has texted me back.”  So – I immediately checked my Blackberry, which was right on my night stand (of course I RARELY bring my Blackberry to bed with me, but this was an dire situation!).  NOPE.  NOTHING. 
At this point I was highly anxious and my mind was spinning.  I tried really hard to re-focus.  I could SEE that it was OCD.  I tried to think about what my biggest fear was, and I tried to use cognitive restructuring to recognize the distortions in my thinking (I know that at that point cognitive restructuring was only serving as a ritual.), but nothing was working.  I worked myself up to a horrible state. 
I then texted a mutual friend of ours.  I said:  “Do you know if EX-BOYFRIEND is getting his texts these days?  You mentioned that he’s been kind of hard to get a hold lately.”  To which she responded:  “I think everything is fine.”  GREAT.  There’s nothing wrong with his phone. 
I stewed – WOW – did I stew.  I was depressed.  I was anxious.  I was angry.  How could he do this to me?  I was getting mad at my ex-boyfriend, rather than getting mad at the hold my OCD had over me.  Let’s put this all in perspective:  It hadn’t even been 24 hours since I sent my first email reaching out to my ex-boyfriend.  It wasn’t like a few days had passed and I hadn’t heard from him. 
I called him.  He didn’t answer.  Seriously???????  So I left a message and asked if there was a reason he wasn’t getting back to me, and if there was, could he please let me know. 
At this point I was WOUND UP LIKE A TOP.  I was sick to my stomach.  So – I did the only thing I thought would help.  I turned to the Yahoo OCD Support group and typed out post for the board.  I knew I had to stop with the checking, reassurance seeking, etc etc.  I got EXACTLY what I needed from that group.  Someone told me to STOP checking, and STOP reassurance seeking.  It was great.  Thank you. 
I then decided that I would get on with my day.  I would write out my thoughts, and later evaluate them for cognitive distortions, and then I would go out and do what I had planned to do today.  I would not bring my Blackberry.  And I would not bring it up to anyone. 
It worked.  I felt so much better.  I didn’t give OCD the power.  I caught on to the lure of its promises.  I was anxious at first and had thoughts like: “how will I know if he’s ignoring me?  When?  In three days?”  But eventually, after I could really see the pattern, and fully committed to not letting the OCD win, I felt so much better.    
And you know what?  My ex-boyfriend wrote me back. 
Today was a good lesson for me and really helped me realize how my OCD affects so many people around me.  This INTENSE desire for certainty in so many areas of my life creates so much pressure for so many people. 
I’m doing my very best to conquer the OCD monster.  For myself, and for everyone I care about.    Regardless though, I hope that those who know me will love me despite my OCD and realize that I'm still pretty loveable.  :o)

March 1, 2011

Starting from the "OCD" Beginning

This past week has been the best that I’ve had in a LONG time.  I’d like to say it was due to a great session with my therapist.  But – really – with OCD – who knows????  I did have a little “epiphany” during my therapy session though, and it made me very thankful for starting, once again, at the “beginning”. 
As someone who has spent several years in therapy, and gone through MANY Cognitive Behavioural Therapists, I thought that I had become an expert in recognizing Cognitive Distortions.  I’ve read so many books on Cognitive Therapy for depression, self-esteem and OCD.  In fact, when I entered therapy with my new therapist, I clearly let him know that the cognitive portion of CBT had started to become part of my ritualizing.  I wanted to STEER FAR AWAY from addressing Cognitive Distortions.  Wow – was I wrong.  (Now I actually think that the problem was with the therapists who didn’t know how to properly apply the cognitive portion of CBT to OCD.)  During my last session, we reviewed Cognitive Distortions as they apply to OCD.  It was the first time I had read examples of how thinking errors apply to OCD THINKING, and it is VERY DIFFERENT, yet also interestingly similar.  Most importantly, I started looking at my thinking errors differently (or – perhaps noticing different thinking errors?).  Maybe the difference is so slight that I can’t even articulate it, but it has made a HUGE difference. 
I also have to commend my therapist, who has an uncanny ability to recognize and challenge my thinking errors as they relate to OCD.  He directly CHALLENGES my thinking – something I have needed from my therapists for a long time, but have not received until now. 
We also discussed the notion of the idea “a thought is just a thought”.  That it doesn’t necessarily have any inherent meaning – unless I choose to give it some meaning, or unless it is backed with values that I hold.  This notion is something that I really struggle with.  My OCD can always find ways to challenge this notion (Surprised?  OCD will find any way possible to survive – won’t it?) with thoughts like:  But what’s the difference between my OCD thoughts and other thoughts?  How do I know which thoughts to listen to?”  And – the big one “But doesn’t the fact that I get so anxious/uncomfortable when I have these thoughts mean something?”  (This is where my epiphany came in.)  My therapist very eloquently explained this whole idea of thoughts, their meaning, feelings behind them etc.  He did it in a way that made me suddenly have an “AHA!” moment. 
These concepts are so new to me that I feel as though I’m holding onto something very fragile that I could “lose” at any moment.  I’m certain that it will take me reviewing it all a few more times in my therapy sessions before I fully grasp it all.  (My OCD is trying very hard to survive after all!!) But as I become more comfortable with what I am learning/realizing, I will try to impart some of my knowledge.    
I’m so happy to report that I think I am actually moving forward.  I’m LEARNING things, and it’s starting to make sense to me.  I have someone who help me learn how to outsmart the OCD bully. 
I’m so glad I started (once again) at the very beginning.