July 26, 2011

Sad Times

Hello "OCD Blogging Friends".  This past week has been rough.  Exactly one week ago I got a phone call from my Dad saying that he had taken my Mom to Emergency.  I immediately got in the car and sped to be with her.  (Thankfully, my ex, who is still incredibly supportive, stood right by me through all of this and actually drove the car, because I was in the middle of a panic attack. My parents live on Vancouver Island, so we had to drive for 1 1/2 hours to get to the ferry, and then sit for a 1 1/2 hour ferry ride.)

I don't have the energy to write about all that has happened in the last week, but it has been words can't even describe the whirlwind of emotions that I have been feeling.  I wanted to let you all know what is going on.  My mom is dying, and at this point we think that we only have a few more weeks with her.  It has been so difficult to see my mom suffer.  My mom is my rock.

I am leaving on Thursday to go to San Diego for the OCD conference.  My mom knew how important this conference is to me, and she insisted that I go.  It was difficult to leave her, but I am thankful that she is so strong and supportive.  She knows how important attending the conference is to me, and I am grateful for that. 

Please wish my mom peace and strength. 

July 19, 2011

OCD "Guest Post" - Reassurance Junkie

Hi, I’m Pure-O's Pen Pal, and I’m a reassurance-aholic. It’s only after many, many years of struggling with GAD and OCD that I have come to realize exactly how huge of a role reassurance plays in my disorder. My reassurance addiction has left me unable to recognize that I can cope on my own, because I’m so convinced I need reassurance to get through my day. The way I cope with my anxiety is through reassurance seeking, and it’s been my strategy for decades (and I’m only 27). Maybe it was okay when I was a kid, maybe my parents reassured me too much, maybe I never learned that I could get by without reassurance… but regardless of the reasons, it’s time to overcome this dependency. The problem is how good reassurance feels in the moment. I’ve never done drugs, but I guess that’s why people keep turning to crack even though they know how awful it is for them. In the moment, it brings relief.

Well, if we know anything about dealing with anxiety disorders, we know the treatment goal cannot be to get rid of the anxiety but rather to learn to tolerate it. Of course, the end result is often lessened anxiety, because we’ve stopped fighting it and making it stronger, but in our minds, our intention must never be “I must stop feeling this way.” And what is the point of reassurance? The point of reassurance is to make the anxiety go away, and that’s why it doesn’t work.
It’s been less than a week that I’ve been working on kicking the reassurance habit, and I’ve become more and more aware of what my reassurance seeking looks like. On the Yahoo Pure-OCD group, I posted about these behaviours and asked for suggestions on how to get past them. Jon Hershfield of OCD LA, the group’s moderator, was kind enough to respond, and I want to share my reassurance behaviours with you and Jon’s suggestions for how to kick the habit.

First, Jon recommended this article (which, because of my compulsive internet researching, I’d already read): http://www.ocdla.com/blog/reassurance-seeking-ocd-anxiety-597
It is an excellent article, and it really opened my eyes to my own reassurance seeking behaviours. Reassurance seeking wasn’t even part of my vocabulary really until I read this article. Says Jon, “Reassurance seeking is a tough compulsion to break. But, of course, they're all tough. The trick is being willing to tolerate the feeling that you are ‘lazily and irresponsibly choosing to let something be unresolved and carelessly risking negative consequences that MIGHT be averted by just asking.’ But don't ask anyway. The discomfort passes and the benefits of beating the compulsion last forever.” For me the unanswered question is ROCD-related: “Will I get a divorce?” “Do I love my husband?” Here is my list of reassurance seeking behaviours and Jon’s suggestions for stopping.

1) Go on the internet and research ROCD, trying to find people "like me" so that I know the condition DOES exist and I am not just crazy/actually wanting a divorce. I have promised my pen pal (and blogger) Pure-O Canuck that I will at least limit my forum visits to THIS forum where people know not to reassure, but I want so badly to keep re-reading Dr. Philippson's articles, or reading posts on "Stuck in a Doorway" or any of the other sites... Chicago OCD has an article I like to read.
Jon: “The articles helped. Now LET them continue to help by NOT letting your ocd take them away from you. Keep them in your heart by not re-reading them. You're doing to Phillipson what commercial radio did to Alanis Morisette. Too much to take seriously anymore!”

2) Call someone or go to someone for reassurance, like my Mom or my husband. They both know not to just tell me "Look, Lindsay, you're not getting a divorce," but I still manage to squeeze out nuggets of reassurance. In fact, just being on the phone with them and talking about it, even if they just say "uh huh" is a way I reassure myself. I LOVE to get started explaining the mechanisms of OCD and WHY I have the thoughts I do and the reactions I do. This has become a reassurance behaviour. I also think that crying is an avoidance behaviour because I prefer the feeling of sobbing to the feeling of gut-wrenching anxiety.
Jon: “They need to be in on the treatment at this point. Telling you there won’t be a divorce is just fueling your ocd by sharing in the compulsion. What you need to hear is a refusal to answer the reassurance-seeking question. You can do this by forming a verbal contract with your loved ones giving them permission to kindly call you out when you are doing this compulsion and help you deal with the discomfort WITHOUT reassuring you.”

3) Think of all the good times with my husband and think of all the things I love about him to prove to myself that my doubts are unfounded.
Jon: “This is a mental ritual. You don't need to go out of your way to think about the good times. They are good times and will pop into your head whenever they feel like it. Digging them up and dragging them through the ocd muck is only going to distort and cheapen them.”

4) Reading any kind of self-help books on OCD. Mind you, Dr. Grayson's book is a god sent.
Jon: “Grayson's great and so are many other ocd authors. Good job having read them. Now stop. Maybe later you will go back and read them again. Right now you are using them compulsively. Don't let ocd take them away from you by turning their knowledge into a compulsion. Instead keep what you've learned by choosing to sit with the discomfort of NOT re-reading them.”
And Jon throws in some reassurance in the end…
“Don't beat yourself up. You're trying your best to get off the reassurance-pipe and it's no easy feat. But you can do it. I assure you, you can do it!”
I have had my parents and my husband agree to not reassure me. When I call in tears, they are tasked with telling me “You are compulsing right now. Either we talk about something else, or we hang up the phone.” So far they haven’t had to say it because the fact that I now know they won’t reassure me has been enough to deter me from turning to them. On Saturday morning I was reading gossip blogs and saw the big “news” that J.Lo is getting a divorce. Normally I would need to talk this through with my husband because of this anxiety trigger, and I really wanted to go to my husband to… well, compulse. Instead I did some cognitive restructuring and made a promise to myself that I would delay my compulsion until at least the end of the day. By the end of the day I didn’t even feel compelled to discuss it any more. Success!

July 16, 2011

OCD Exposures Update

These days I’m swapping between the stress of ERP for my OCD, and the stress of dealing with a very sick mom, and some other big family problems.  These days, I’m quite happy to stay home alone and watch some of my favourite shows on TV......I guess you could call that hibernating.     

This is what happened today:
I finished watching “Lianna”.  It was OK......aside from the fact that the movie was made in the early 1980’s and the acting was horrible.  My therapist said that my immense criticism of the movie was kind of like a compulsion – preventing me from feeling the feared outcome.  He’s probably right.  My feared outcome here is “What if I am married and in an unhappy, loveless, unfulfilling marriage and I meet and fall in love with a woman and become a lesbian?”  I still need to work on this feared outcome.  I was still compulsing while watching this movie.  The big culprit – THOUGHT STOPPING. 

I was also dealing with what we-who-deal-with-OCD call “the backdoor spike”.  It goes something like this: “Wow – watching these two women together isn’t bothering me anymore.  What does this mean?  Maybe it means that I’m finally accepting my true self and I’m in the process of coming out of the closet.” 

Those are the two big things that I need to tackle in the next little while – thought stopping and dealing with the backdoor spike.  More to come on both of those topics.  Sometimes I just find it so hard to exaggerate my thoughts. 

After I finished watching “Lianna” I was feeling quite proud of myself and I had a great sense of accomplishment.  Then the thought came to my mind “You should go look on the movie website and see what other gay and lesbian movies they have.”  I’m sure you can imagine where this is going.  Anxiety surged through my veins.  Why did you just think that?  Are you starting to like these movies?  Maybe you really are enjoying these movies!  Maybe you really are coming out of the closet!”  So I forced myself to go to the website and peruse the lesbian and gay movies.  I found a couple that triggered me immensely.  So I decided that I would start watching one tomorrow for my next ERP assignment. 
This is BIG for me for two reasons:
1.   Normally I would wait for my psychologist to recommend a movie to me.  This has been reassuring because I know that he has watched it and “pre-approved” it for me. 

2.  I really don’t know exactly what is going to happen in this movie.  I am throwing myself into complete UNCERTAINTY territory.  Supposedly I have to learn to become OK with the uncertainty of not knowing what is going to happen in a movie and what thoughts this will bring up for me.
Isn't this SO MUCH FUN?????

July 14, 2011

OCD and Family Patterns....

I think I’ve used this title before.....

How does one finally – if ever – have enough distance from their family upbringing that it doesn’t pull them in anymore?  My family is so dysfunctional – actually – more specifically – my parent’s relationship is so dysfunctional, and after all these years of therapy, I STILL find myself getting pulled into old patterns, and then feeling very emotionally affected.  And it is a HUGE trigger for my OCD.  This is something that I long to be free from. 

For years I hated my father.  He is incredibly old fashioned, chauvinistic, and domineering.  In short – he scared me.  My dad is basically completely emotionally inept.  He REFUSES to experience any feelings other than the “happy” ones.  So – feelings like sadness, fear, depression, and anger were NOT allowed in our house.  The other day I was talking to him on Skype about my Mom and her current physical and emotional state.  I asked him if he thought that she was depressed (she is dealing with terminal cancer), and his response was: “I have no idea.  I don’t know how to read those kinds of feelings.”  So sad on so many levels.  First that he has been married to my Mom for over 40 years, and he is that emotionally disconnected from her AS SHE IS COPING WITH TERMINAL CANCER that he can’t even tell if she is depressed.  The man wouldn’t know what it looked like if it hit him on the head.   

Gradually though my overall anger towards my Dad has diminished and I’ve started to see the balance in the responsibility for dysfunction in their relationship.  My mom does the “victim” role REALLY WELL.  It’s comfortable for her, and she uses it to her advantage.  Everyone feels sorry for my Mom.  She’s a GREAT martyr. 

Since my brother and sister are several years older than me, I was basically an only child, left alone with my parents, for several years.  Within that time, a very unhealthy pattern developed between the three of us.  For some reason I felt like I had to protect my mom.  Usually what would happen is I would end up in a big fight with my dad, and go away crying because he was so hurtful and abusive, and my mom would end up in a big fight with my dad because of how he treated me.  Or, I would be witness to all the ways my dad would mistreat my Mom, and she would cry and not stand up for herself.  Now that I’m older, I really wish that she just left him.  But – that was her choice, and she has to own it.  I’m SO TIRED of protecting my mom from something that she CHOSE to stay in. 

Tonight was an emotional night.  My mom has had severe back pain for over a month, but being the great martyr that she is – she has refused to go to the doctor to get to the bottom of it.  Dad and I have been – as she calls it “bullying her to go in and get it checked out”.  We’ve argued about this on and off for the last couple of weeks.  Finally tonight, after talking to my dad about both of our frustration with the situation, I got her on the phone.  Mom, I want to tell you that I am very concerned about your health, and because you have refused to go to the doctor, I am feeling very frustrated.”  This conversation went on for over an hour and a half.  She immediately became defensive.  I was told that we were bossing her around etc etc.  She then said: “I will go on Monday.  Dad has to take the car in for servicing tomorrow.”  (Are you kidding me????) To which my Dad said: “I don’t have to take the car in tomorrow, I can re-schedule that.”  When we finally got her to agree to go to the hospital, my Dad said something about going to take the car in first, and THEN going to the hospital.  See!  My Mom said.  Dad isn’t being very nice to me!”  When I questioned her about what she meant, she said that he agreed to not take the car in but then reneged on his agreement (my mom is in a lot of pain so doesn’t want to sit in a car dealership waiting).  I finally said to her:  Mom – you have a voice.  If you don’t want to sit in the car and wait while Dad takes the car in for servicing, then say so!  Do not allow yourself to be a victim here!”

Then I felt guilty because I think I made her feel bad.  I just can’t win.  My family is so f%*&ed up.  I hope someday I have the confidence to know that things don’t really have to be this way, and that I can create my own reality.  I am not doomed to repeating the past. 

July 8, 2011

New Exposures.....ROCD and HOCD combined.

Expwoman has commented a couple of times on my blog posts that she has suffered from relationship and sexual orientation obsessions in the past.  She so very poignantly and accurately describes the fear.  On one of my posts she commented: “One of my compulsions was to major in feminist theory in college as a way to figure out if that was the only way to be safe – be a lesbian and a feminist (not every lesbian is a feminist, so in my world, I needed to invoke both, in hopes of being completely safe from violence by men, or betrayal)."  She also wrote in one of her posts: “....they were so interconnected that trying to separate them out would have been futile.”

Growing up, my family experience of abuse was not “overt”.  Though my parents spanked me, they were not violent people.  My dad didn’t physically abuse my mom.  They never called each other horrible names like “you’re an asshole”.  No one ever overtly said “you’re a loser and you’re completely un-loveable”.  But a lot of that stuff was implied.  There was a lot of passive aggression.  And – my dad and I fought.  And he scared me.  He still does on some level. 

Expwoman hit the nail on the head though with her comments.  I am not so scared of ending up in a violent relationship.  What I am TERRIFIED of, however, is ending up in a relationship where I feel emotionally starved, where my needs aren’t being met, and I don’t feel loved.  Just like what I grew up in.  I am terrified of being betrayed by a man.  I am terrified of being hurt, rejected and disappointed even on the smallest level by a man – just as I was by my dad.    

What also scares me is that due to my family history, my “filter” is defective.  I don’t trust myself.  Though I’ve witnessed healthy relationships, I don’t know if I have any idea how to be in one myself.  I don’t know if my selection process is even healthy.  And – in all honesty – it’s not all that often that I DO witness a healthy relationship.  Many of my friends are in marriages that I would never want to be in.  Marriage for the most part, does feel like a trap. 

My big anxiety spike the other day, that I wrote about here hit right to the core of all of these issues.  Though Stephen not texting me the next day to see how I was doing emotionally, WAS disappointing, it wasn’t that big of a deal.  He is still a rock in my life.  He would never purposely hurt me.  But to me it FELT like a huge rejection.  And it FELT very risky to not start compulsing.  I FELT like I was in a danger zone.  And OCD was all too happy to start chiming in with “You don’t obsess about your female relationships.  You must feel safer.  Women are so much better at emotional stuff.  You’d be happier if you were with a woman.”

(Let me clarify – Stephen and I aren’t even in a committed intimate relationship at the moment.   However, he still continues to be there for me during rough times regarding my Mom’s Cancer and my OCD.)

My ERP assignment this week is to watch a movie called “Lianna”.  It’s about a woman who is in an unhappy and repressive marriage.  She gets fed up and starts a relationship with a woman.  I have no idea how it will end, but the whole thing scares me.  I watched the first fifteen minutes this morning, and it caused a lot of anxiety. 

I don’t know my way out of this type of obsessing.  I’m not sure where the obsessions end and the compulsions begin.  In my opinion, this isn’t as cut and dry as the pure sexual orientation OCD.  It’s fine for me to watch a movie about women being attracted to women (though I have to give myself some credit here – I didn’t always feel that way!), because that isn’t really what my OCD is about.  There’s some genuine pain here, and real history that I have worked very hard over the years to over-come. 

I have faith that my therapist and I will work through it. 

July 6, 2011

It's been awhile since ROCD hit me....

Since I’ve started with my new, awesome therapist, we’ve been working hard on my HOCD.  Makes sense because I’m not even in a relationship at the moment.  I’m nowhere near ready for dating, which is a huge trigger for me.  But it doesn’t take being in a relationship to start having ROCD triggers.  Anytime I have interaction with men (my dad, friends, etc) and they disappoint me somehow (usually regarding emotional stuff), my OCD spikes. 

ROCD manifests itself a few different ways for me, and what happened the other day is one of them. 

It was three separate incidences that all formed together to create the perfect storm:
1.  My sister sent me an email talking about how she has been doing the on-line dating thing and she doesn’t think she’ll ever have another long-term relationship with a man again.

2.  I spoke with my social worker/psychoanalytic cousin (a trigger for me), and we ended up discussing my most recent break-up.  She indicated that perhaps neither my boyfriend and I have the skills to even be able to create a secure attachment with one another and therefore create a happy, loving, intimate relationship.

3.  With all this stuff that is going on with my Mom, my ex-boyfriend has been a lot of support.  I spoke to him on Monday night when I was at my worst.  But since then I haven’t heard from him.  Not a text or phone call to say “hey – how are you doing?”  This has me feeling disappointed and abandoned. 

So the thoughts start and go something like this:
Stephen didn't even text to see how you're doing today. That's disappointing. It makes me feel alone.  See? He's emotionally inept - like all men are. Maybe my sister is right - are there any men out there who are capable of having a healthy intimate relationship and really connecting emotionally with a woman?  Kelly (cousin) said that maybe I don't have the skills to have a healthy relationship. Is that true? I think I have healthy relationships with some women. Maybe it's a man that I can't have a healthy relationship with. After all - I certainly didn't have a healthy relationship with my dad! See - you would be happier with a woman!”

I try to use cognitive restructuring, but it just becomes reassurance.  And then I start berating myself and saying things like: “You’re just too needy.  You have too many expectations.  Maybe you’re the one who is screwed up to the core.”

This is all new territory for me.  Thus far, we’ve been dealing with the straightforward parts of HOCD, and it’s gone fairly well.  But I’ve been feeling “unsteady” since Monday.  I talked to my therapist about this, and I felt like he was speaking Greek to me.  He explained that I should just let myself be disappointed in Stephen, and that it doesn’t have to be about him being emotionally inept, or about all men being jerks or about me being fundamentally flawed in some way that prevents me from having a relationship with a man.  BUT I DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW TO DO THAT.  I don’t understand what part is OCD, and what part is “real”, and what part needs cognitive restructuring etc.  Is this OCD and I’m being too picky and have too high of expectations or am I “checking” like crazy and taking too much meaning out of it? 

And today I did some HOCD-related avoidance.  Sigh.  This road to recovery is sure fraught with a lot of pot holes. 

July 4, 2011

OCD and Stress

The last few days have been hard.  It’s amazing how stress can increase OCD thoughts and DECREASE my ability to resist compulsions. 

It started with an ongoing battle that I am having with my condo committee.  It’s a long story, and not even worth writing about, but suffice it to say that I really struggle with injustice.  And that is what is happening in my condominium complex.  I feel helpless.  And I hate that feeling.  It makes me very angry.  So angry, that I’ve been waking up at night and obsessing about it. 

Then today I found out that my mom isn’t doing well.  She’s been experiencing back pain for the last month and a half, but hasn’t told me because she doesn’t want me to worry.  My sister told me today in an email.  She hasn’t been able to get in to see her Oncologist.  Though, knowing my mom – who is NOT assertive at all – she hasn’t tried very hard.  I am angry, and I don’t know who to be angry at....the Cancer Clinic or my Mom?  I am scared......REALLY scared.  And – again – I feel HELPLESS.  We got her CT scan results back and the tumour is still there.  Her tumour markers are up, and she is feeling horrible.  Not good.  And there isn’t much we can do.  Her cancer is in-operable.  The chemotherapy didn’t work.  What now? 

So, today my OCD thoughts were ramping up.  Dealing with my sister is an exposure, because she is divorced, and annoying and has nothing good to say about men.  And I just don’t have the energy to do ERP. 

Please do what you can – pray, think good thoughts or whatever it is that you do – for my Mom.