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?   


  1. I'm so sorry you are dealing with all this crap. I encourage you to tell your therapist exactly what you said in the last paragraph--he needs to know your thought process. I don't believe there is a way to eliminate the compulsions magically before starting ERP. Grayson kind of implies that with his statements about the ideal being to stop all compulsions, but it is truly an "ideal" and not reflective of reality, especially, in my opinion, in dealing with mental obsessions and perfectionism. I also believe there is a difference between exposing yourself to things you avoid as a way to face the fear, and putting yourself at the mercy of people who are toxic to you. Yeah, your sister is a hotbed of stuff, and maybe avoiding her is a compulsion to avoid triggering your obsessive thoughts, but she can also be damaging for you to be around, and it's probably a mixture of both at once. I'd say hanging out with her complaining, blaming, psychodynamic self is much higher on the hierarchy of exposures, and for now do what you can, not what you think you should be doing.

  2. Oh, and to answer your question, yes, family crap exacerbates my ocd. Even without ocd, the family crap is stressful, and all the beliefs that were formed in that toxic turmoil rise up and squawk about my badness or my incompetence or my unworthiness. I couldn't just suddenly change my beliefs overnight, no matter what the perfectionism said. I needed some time with a therapist to learn new beliefs, which help me cope so much better with my family, and which also includes a lot of distance from them, in order to take care of myself.

  3. Expwoman - thank you, thank you, thank you! For your support and validation. You made a really good point - that dealing with my sister might be fairly high up on my exposure hierarchy. I think you're right. I plan on sending my therapist a link to this post so he knows what I'm struggling with. I also like what you said about "doing what you can - not what you think you should be doing". The perfectionism yells at me that I SHOULD be further ahead in this battle. That I SHOULDN'T have setbacks and if I do I am a failure. I also need some level of distance from my family - in order to take care of myself, I think my OCD really speaks up with my sister though because we used to have some semblance of closeness. Now - because I have made the "choice" to not engage in that anymore my OCD is all over me. I still somehow think that I should take responsibility for the way our relationship has turned out. Guilt, guilt, guilt!!!

  4. Ah, I feel for you in so many different ways! I can relate to many of the things you mentioned - the plaguing doubt about whether or not you REALLY have OCD, being extremely bothered by people who might suggest otherwise, and feeling like you're not "ready" to start ERP. I know all those feelings too well. Like expwoman said, I agree that there is, unfortunately, no "right" time to begin exposures. It rarely feels like the "right" time, and when it does feel that way, I am often engaging in some sort of mental ritual to make the exposure less threatening. Sometimes I think you just have to dive in, and at other times, it seems better to ease up a bit. I'm certainly still figuring it all out myself as I often fail to do my homework assignments...

    Hang in there! Though my family dynamics sound very different from yours, I know that being around/dealing with my family makes me anxious and fuels my OCD. The fact that you haven't told your sister about your OCD sounds like a difficult burden. Except for a very select few (and those who read my blog), most do not know the extent of my OCD, if they even know I have it, and that's always been hard for me - facing this thing day in and day out while also trying to maintain appearances for the outside world. Though you may not be all that close, it still sounds stressful to deal with everything else in your life along with your OCD, and then on top of that, to feel like you can't discuss this part of your life with family members for fear of being doubted and criticized. But you have a community of bloggers who know what it is like to feel this way! Even if you begin to doubt yourself, your exposures, or your OCD itself, we know what that's like.

    Good luck as you forge onward in your treatment. From my experience, if you find yourself asking, "Is that OCD, too?" then it probably is. I'll be thinking of you as I try to do better with my own exposure exercises!

  5. Fellow - thanks so very much for your support. I love our OCD blogging "kinship". It means so much to me. One of the reasons I'm scared of ERP is the crappy experience I recently had. But I talked through some of that with my therapist today and I am getting back on track. I'm so glad you're still posting!!!