November 19, 2012

OCD and Paying it Forward....

Now that I’m “on the other side” of the hell of OCD (at least for this moment), I can see the positive aspects of having such a horrible disorder.  The biggest thing about struggling with a chronic problem – be it physically or emotionally – is that it helps to develop compassion and empathy for human suffering.  I’ve learned a lot of lessons in my life, which – in my opinion is the “juicy” part of living.  Even though many of the lessons have been difficult and learned the hard way (I seem to be one of those people!), I thrive on learning and being challenged and growing.  It makes me feel alive. 

Since starting to really face my struggle with OCD a few years ago, I have been passionate about doing what I can to help others who are challenged with mental illness.  I seem to be able to see those people a mile away.  I can sniff them out.  The “crazies”.  (LOL – I say that with all love and affection.  I embrace it now!)  I guess the old adage “it takes one to know one” really works here.  But – in all honesty – I find “the crazies” the most interesting people.  We’re the ones who have struggled.  We have depth.  We have stories.  We get it.  I even find myself dismissing those who claim to never have struggled in life.  (Very judgemental!  I am working on that.) I chalk that up to either extreme denial, miracle genes, or well......just plain boring. 

Anyway, one of my friends Rachel has issues with anxiety.  I’ve known Rachel for about five years.  She’s struggles with perfectionism, combined with Panic Disorder (my diagnosis).  You see, Rachel is like many of us who have lived most of our lives in denial that we have an anxiety disorder.  So in the past, Rachel and I haven’t really related on that level.  In fact, I rarely spoke with her about my OCD. I don’t think she wanted to be able to relate – that would’ve made her crazy like me.  :o)

Until now.

About a month ago, Rachel started breaking down.  All of us can relate.  She started having panic attacks.  The thoughts in her head started ramping up.  EVERYTHING seemed like an impending catastrophe.  She and her family were on holiday in Hawaii and they had to come home early.  For Rachel, one of the side effects of her panic is to violently vomit.  She’s lost about fifteen pounds on an already very small body frame.   Things have spiralled downwards quickly. 

Initially, she wasn’t talking to me about it at all.  I work with her husband, and he would mention some things to me at work.  Then finally, last week it hit me.  She’s really bad.  She’s not coping.  I asked Michael – he confirmed my suspicions.  First, I texted her and just casually asked her.  She confirmed that things weren’t going well.  I just let her know that I was there for her if she needed anything. 

Since then, I have become Rachel’s “sponsor”.  She called me on Friday night to ask me some questions.  On Saturday, we walked the dogs, and then I went with her inside the house, where she proceeded to have a full blown panic attack.  She cried.  I cried with her.  I sat with her for four hours while she talked, and cried and talked some more.  Yesterday we went for tea.  And this morning as I was on my way to work I got a phone call: "Can you come over?  I need you.”  Luckily I was able to arrange my day so that I could be there for her. 

It’s amazing the pain I feel for my friend.  Unless you have suffered with mental illness, it is impossible to understand. It’s amazing how watching her brought me right back to those days....the days when I couldn’t sleep without having the TV on all night.....the days when I would panic if I had to be left alone.....the days where just making a simple decision about what to eat for lunch seemed impossible.  I feel incredible compassion for Rachel, but also a lot of hope.  She will get through it, and I keep telling her that.  She will figure it out in her own time, and in her own way.  She’s on the path. 

As for myself – I am so, so, so grateful.  Grateful for the path that I am on....grateful for my amazing therapist...grateful for the support of our little blogging community....grateful for having the courage, every moment of every day to keep going, despite anxiety....grateful that I am now far enough on the other side of it all that I am starting to figure out what I am passionate about – and actually see some of these dreams become reality...and grateful for the love and acceptance that I seem to have developed for myself.  It really all is OK. 

November 12, 2012

OCD and my Identity Crisis....

I remember my therapist saying to me over a year ago – maybe it was even when we first started working together, that when I started to recover from my OCD, I would most likely go through some sort of identity crisis.  His thinking is that OCD takes up so much of our time.....so much of our lives, that when that “space” starts to open up – we aren’t sure what to do with it. 

I’ve been feeling this way lately. 

I’m not sure if it is directly related to feeling “recovered” from OCD, because I don’t think there is such thing.  Some of it has to do with the events that have occurred in the last year.  Either way, my life has taken a major departure from how I was living it before.  For the most part, I LOVE where I’m going.  But there are some days when I am scared to death, because I don’t have all the answers laid out right in front of me. 

I had a session with my therapist the other day and we briefly discussed this notion.  In some ways I think I am going through a “mid-life-crisis”.  Or, maybe it’s more like a “post-OCD-crisis”?  Who knows.  No, I haven’t gone out and bought a fancy new car.  (But I did have a bit of a crazy “affair” this summer.  LOL.)  I explained to him that for my whole life, I have always been responsible.  I’ve always over-thought everything.  (Of course, being a perfectionist, I still didn’t think that what I was doing was enough!)  I did my best to make choices that were “safe”.  And the result was to make me a bit of a china doll....suceptible to a lot of emotional distress should anything not turn out exactly as I wanted it to.   

In the last six months, I have grown tremendously.  I have made so many changes....for the better.  One of the biggies is that I am exercising regularly.  I can’t express enough how helpful this has been for me....for my OCD, for my PMS, and generally for my overall self-confidence.  Exercise (and new sport activities) has opened up my life.  I have a new friend that I run with twice/week.  I have a whole other group of friends that I mountain bike with.  And yoga has helped with my meditation and living in the moment. 

For those of you who follow my posts, you will know that about two years ago, I quit my “career job”.  I was burnt out, and my Mom was starting to get very sick.  At the time, the main reason I quit was because I wanted to be able to care for my mom in her last days.  But I also hated my job, and I was ready for a career change.  The problem was that I didn’t know what I wanted to do. 

This past summer was “The Summer of YES” for me.  I’ve had so many new experiences – some good and some not-so-good.  But my skin is thickening.  And the OCD voice is diminishing, which is leaving room for my true, inner voice to speak up. 

I’ve spoken before about my plan to go to Africa next fall.  I’ve always wanted to go to Africa – it’s been a dream of mine for many years.  Now, with my new motto “What are you waiting for?”, I have made it my goal to go for six weeks next year.  I am passionate about this trip.  I feel drawn to Africa.  I have already made contact with the orphanage that I plan on volunteering at.  I wish I could go now!! I am hoping that my trip will open up doors for me.  I feel so strongly that I need to follow this path, and see where it takes me. 

Some days it’s very scary though.  It’s scary for lots of reasons.....and the “what ifs” start flying around my head like crazy.  Part of what’s scary is that I really do believe that being in Africa for that period of time will give me some answers regarding where to go next in my life.  For the last two years, my career life has been on hold, and I really have no idea what I want to do.....other than go to Africa and see what happens.  Perhaps I will get down there and love it so much that I will want to stay?  Perhaps I will get down there and come into contact with an organization that I can work at?  Or – What if I go there, it’s a great experience, but I come home with nothing other than some great memories – what then? 

Then there’s the scary notion that I might just not be able to go for financial reasons.  Lots can happen in a year.  What if my car dies and I have to buy a new one?  What if something major happens to my house?  What if, what if, what if.  In the last few weeks, this is where my mind has been going (See? We never really do “recover”!).  And suddenly, something that has been motivating me and making me feel alive, began to feel out of reach.  Impossible.  Unrealistic.  All the voices that used to fly around in my head...the ones talking me out of taking risks savouring life were back.  I felt so deflated. 

One of the things I’ve really learned in the last few months is “just do it – you’ll figure the rest out later”.  This is not to suggest being irresponsible.  However I would assert that many of us with OCD are OVERLY responsible – so it might not be such a bad thing to move to the other side a little bit.  :o)

I’ve adopted this motto with many things, quitting my job, getting a roommate etc etc.  And so far, it’s all worked out.  These challenges and experiences have also helped build my confidence.  And, I believe, helped me to keep OCD at bay. 

During my therapy session, as I was explaining to my therapist what I was struggling with, he said to me: “Jo-Ann – why don’t you just tell yourself that you’re going to Africa no matter what and you’ll figure it out along the way.  You’re not an irresponsible person.  You might have to take a bit of a financial hit.  So be it......”.  It made sense.  It was exactly how I had been living life since May.  Suddenly I felt so much better. 

I was speaking with my cousin about this theme the other day – telling her what he said to me.  She agreed.  She said that two years before she left her husband, she remembered being in therapy and despite her incredible unhappiness in her marriage, she said to her therapist that there was no way she could leave her husband.  For various reasons – moral, financial etc etc.  Well, she did it.  And you know what?  She’s doing just fine. 

I have one year to prepare myself to go to Africa.  During this year I will continue to learn how to take good care of myself, I will continue to have many, many growth experiences.  I will continue to have fun, and make smart financial decisions.  But nothing will stop me from going.  I really do hope that my time there presents new opportunities for me, because if not, I'm not sure what my next step will be.  But you know what?  I'm sure I'll figure it out along the way. 

October 20, 2012

Much Better this Week


Hindsight is 20/20 and sometimes when I am struggling through PMS, it is really hard to keep perspective.  It is abundantly clear that my OCD ramps up immensely when I have PMS, as evidenced by my post last week!!! 

I am feeling MUCH better this week.....much more balanced and my OCD is back in its place again.  I find it so amazing how my perspective on things can shift so substantially, just due to some stupid hormones.  Alas, I can’t control it – so I must do what I can to cope.  I do find it amazing though how as quickly as it can hit me, it can also disappear. 

Once again I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes:  “What you Resist, Persists”.  When I start to feel myself feeling crappy and I start to sense my view of the world becoming “skewed” this is what I do.  I panic.  I freak out.  WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE IT GO AWAY?  I suspect all humans react this way for the most part, but those of us with OCD know that this reaction is one of the worst things we can do!  Mindfulness is the key here.  Meditating....living in the moment.  It really ONLY in the moment when we have the choice to move towards a healthier way of living or staying stuck. 

I slipped back into some ROCD compulsions.  I didn’t see what I was doing.  I wasn’t being mindful.  And it backfired on me.  Couple that with raging, horrible, angry hormones, and WHAM!  You get despair. 

Don’t get me wrong – I fully recognize that I have issues re: healthy relationships with men (I guess that's called ROCD in my case!).  But it’s the URGENCY with which it felt like it HAD TO BE SOLVED RIGHT NOW OR ELSE SOMETHING BAD WAS GOING TO HAPPEN that was so painful.  It was also that urgency that tipped me to realize that it was related to OCD (actually, it was my therapist who pointed it out to me).  Heck, we ALL have issues of varying levels with healthy relationships.  I can only learn and do the best that I can IN THE MOMENT.  And I’m not even in a relationship at the moment.  So maybe I should just worry about that when I am.  :o)

I am back focused on taking care of myself.  I am back focusing on pursuing what I value in life....my goals.....living life to the fullest IN THE MOMENT.  I am working really hard to take care good care of myself.  Next year I want to go to Africa and volunteer.  I am so incredibly passionate about making this happen, and it makes me so happy to think about it.  THIS is what I am focusing on now.  Realizing dreams.  Living life and letting it just happen........trusting that I will figure it out along the way.   
I would love to hear what others do to cope with their OCD during PMS time. 

October 14, 2012

Courage


It’s been weeks since I’ve written.  I hope everyone is doing well.  :o)

Too much has happened this summer to even TRY to summarize it all here.  I had an amazing summer.  I’m sure you can tell from my blog posts, that my attitude of “say YES to life” really helped me with my OCD.  So did the Buddhist stuff that I’ve been reading....especially material written by Pema Chodron.  (I did break my wrist and was in a cast for 6 weeks, which is one of the reasons why I didn’t write.)

The last week has been difficult though.  HOCD hit me like a ton of bricks the other day, and tonight I had a major panic attack.  It’s frustrating and scary when I have experiences like this.  Thoughts like: “What about all my plans – the things I had planned to do while OCD-free?  What if I’m not able to do them now?” I did so many fun things in the last few months, and I had plans to do so many things I've dreamed of doing in my life!  Tonight, I was supposed to go to yoga, but instead I’m at home, obsessing, feeling sick to my stomach, and I will probably go on the Yahoo Support Groups later for the first time in months. 

The other day as I was struggling, I thought about how much courage those of us with OCD all have....how for most of us – on a DAILY basis – often many times per day we are must face our fears if we are to actually live a life free from the chains of OCD.  Everyone experiences fear, we all know that, but those of us with OCD often live in constant fear, and sometimes facing those fears on a daily basis is really, really hard. 

We all deserve a pat on the back for having this kind of courage!!!

Today was tough.  I didn’t do as well as I have in the last few months.  I avoided.  I’m scared. 
I just want it all to go away.  I want the challenges that I have in life to go away.  I know that the more I resist it all, the more it is going to persist.  I know that the more I try to make the thoughts go away, the more they will stay.  But this is all so tied up in some heavy stuff for me.  I KNOW I have issues with relationships with men.  I KNOW I have attachment problems with men.  And I’m wondering whether it’s time to start exploring some of that in a different kind of therapy.  I really do feel like a hopeless loser.  I feel like I will never be able to even CHOOSE a healthy relationship, let alone be a NORMAL person in a relationship with a man.  And I feel like I keep repeating the same patterns over, and over, and over again.  When/how will I learn????  I’m not looking for pity.  I’m lost.  I’m confused.  I’m not sure what it is that I need to accept?  What is it that I need to let go of?  I’m not sure what feelings I need to experience.....what I need to do, who I need to see in order to be free of some of this stuff.  I want to be happy.  I want to experience a happy, productive relationship.  I realize that ANY relationship is difficult.  It's not that kind of "difficult" that I'm talking about.  I would love to face some of the typical relationship difficulties, but in a "healthy" way.  Is the only way I can achieve that by being with a woman?  Lately the idea doesn’t scare me or bother me nearly as much....which scares me to death.  

 

August 26, 2012

Long Time, no Post

I feel like I haven’t written in forever.  These last few weeks of summer have been a crazy whirlwind for me.  I’ve been sooooo busy – mostly with saying “yes” to life.  Nothing in particular, yet so many things. 

The IOCDF conference in Chicago was fantastic!!!  I loved being there, and this year it was from such a different place.  During last year’s conference, so much was going on.  My Mom had just entered palliative care, and I was still virtually “in the thick of things” as it pertained to my OCD.  This year, well, I was attending with a year of therapy behind me.  In some ways it felt like more of a “reunion” of sorts.  I still really enjoyed the talks, and loved seeing my therapist.  The Canadian OCD Network meeting went really well, and I loved touring around the city of Chicago.  This year I tried to attend the talks that focused on mindfulness, and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).  It was nice to see more of a focus on these modalities for treating OCD. 

I am feeling like a different person these days.  Pema Chodron refers to the place/feeling as “groundlessness”.  As I mentioned above my new mantra is “Just Do It”, or “Just Say Yes”.  Non-avoidance hasn’t really been an option, which has been GREAT for my OCD, and many other areas of my life, but I definitely have days when I feel as though I am on a train bound for.....who knows where?  I suppose that’s how most people live – much less controlled, predictable etc. 

My OCD has been great for the most part.  My insistence IN THE MOMENT to accept my thoughts, not avoid triggers, and just “be” is definitely what has helped.  But I’ve had some tough days....mostly maintaining motivation. 

For those of you who have followed my blog, you will have read that I met a man this spring.  It turned out that an intimate physical relationship was not going to happen between the two of us, but that experience had a profound effect on me in many ways.  There are many things about this man that I greatly admire, and he inspires me on many levels.  And I think that meeting him was HUGE motivation for me to face, and deal with my OCD.  Now that he isn’t really a part of my life anymore, I am struggling to stay motivated.....which is really bothering me.  Why is it that it isn’t good enough to fight this disorder for ME??????

Don’t get me wrong – I’m still continuing to “just do it”, but my overall commitment to facing the thoughts, and fears in the moment seem to be more difficult for me, which I find so frustrating!  I suppose the moral of the story is that I have to somehow, somewhere, dig deep and find a reason to do this FOR MYSELF.  And deal with whatever happens as I do that. 

P.S.  One of the things that I’ve been noticing when I am practicing my mindfulness is the very subtle difference between just “watching” or “letting a thought be there” versus pushing the thought away.  I’m going to write about that topic in my next blog post. 

July 22, 2012

Upcoming Conference & Updates

The IOCDF conference starts this Friday.  I leave for Chicago on Thursday afternoon.  I'm really looking forward to it!  Last year was my first conference, and I remember feeling like I was walking around naked - that never before had I been in one room where EVERYONE knew that I had OCD.  Now that I look back on it, that was probably a good experience for me.  This year I am going without a lot of anxiety or shame.  Perhaps that's because I'm feeling so much better.  Not sure.  I'm looking forward to taking in some of the talks, and I'm looking forward to meeting some of my blogging friends, and some of the friends that I met at last year's conference.  I'm looking forward to seeing my therapist, and I'm also looking forward to the Canadian OCD Network meeting that we're having on the Friday at lunch.  I will be busy!  Hopefully by the end of this I'll have some topics to write about.  :o)

Practicing mindfulness and acceptance of the moment continues to be key for me to prevent my OCD from spiraling out of control.  I haven't struggled much with HOCD in the last little while, though I have had the odd spike.  If I can catch it right at the start, watch the thought, not judge it or "react" in any way, it will just pass, and I can maintain my perspective. 

I've struggled a little more with this as it pertains to the ROCD, but even that hasn't been too bad.  I wrote here about my recent experience with a guy I really liked.  That situation has continued off and on for the last few months, and I have learned a lot along the way.  It's not necessary to get into the details of what has taken place - nothing "dangerous" happened - though my feelings did get hurt (but I will survive!).  All I will say is that he is a man with some serious problems, and that I have a lot of compassion for his struggles, because he has a lot more to deal with than I ever will. 

The problem is that this recent experience - liking a man who is "all wrong" - has started me wondering:  Do I fall for the wrong guys?  Do I like the unavailable men?  Is there something wrong with me that makes me like the guys who aren't nice to me? 

These types of questions are ones that can start me obsessing like crazy.  The problem is, there may be a grain of truth to these questions - I don't know.  It's frustrating to me because while I don't want to obsess about these things - we all know that obsessing doesn't help anyone solve any problems - I would like to be able to grow and progress in the way that I approach relationships.  I am certain that due to my horrible relationship with my father, there is a part of me who is "comfortable" with being treated poorly by men.  That being said, I do know that I've done a lot of self-reflection and have grown a lot in that area, which is why I finally saw the truth about this guy and have put up appropriate boundaries. 

You see, this recent guy looked "perfect for me" on paper.  He was a couple of years older than me (check), he volunteered (check), he appeared to be spiritual/self-reflective (check), he had been through "something" so "got it" (check), he was funny (check), we were attracted to each other (check).  The list could go on!!! I really, legitimately thought I had found a good guy.  But, maybe he was too good to be true. 

I guess at the end of the day I will never be able to find out these answers.  Perhaps there isn't "an answer"!  I just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and continue to live my life hoping that everyday things become more clear. 

Aside from all of that I am having a fantastic summer and having lots of much-needed fun!  I can't believe the things I am doing now that my mind would have talked me out of six months ago.  Little things, that for most people probably don't seem like a big deal.  Saying "yes" when I am invited to go out with people that I hardly know.  Last night I even went to a Roller Derby Game (Ummmm...can you say lesbians???)!  I'm just saying "yes" and not even thinking about it.  I'm not allowing my mind to talk me out of these things.  For those of us with OCD, the mind can be such an enemy.  The amazing thing is that making a firm committment to living in the moment has a way of dissolving all of that "mind crap"!! 

I hope everyone is doing well.  :o)

July 11, 2012

I didn't think the day would come...... (knock on wood)

So typical of someone with OCD to be superstitious hey?  ;o)

I really didn’t think the day would come.  I have been writing this blog for 1 ½ years.  When I first started writing, and started following some fantastic bloggers such as Exposure Woman, The Beat OCD Blog, and OCD Reflections (to name a few), I remember wondering how, despite their progress battling their OCD, they always seemed to find an interesting topic to write about.  I wondered if I would be able to continue to come up with interesting topics – when/if the eventual day came that OCD wasn’t plaguing me as it was back then.   

As I have written in my last few blog posts, I am doing really well.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had the odd rough day, but I’ve managed to pick myself back up and get back “on track”.  I’m not taking it for granted, and I’m not holding on with too much attachment to feeling good, but I am actually going for almost three weeks without a therapy appointment – that’s GOOD for me!! 

When I reflect on what exactly it is that I think might be helping me cope so well, I would have to narrow it down to the following:

1.       Exercise – I am exercising regularily – and strenuously.  Wow, I remember when I first started getting back into exercising a few months ago – how my mind would try and try to talk me out of going for a run.  (I write about it briefly in this post.)  But part of my new attitude has been to learn to “embrace discomfort” in all areas of my life, and I thought that facing the discomfort of exercising would be MUCH easier than facing the discomfort of the anxiety of OCD!!! I am doing lots of cross-training which helps my back and keeps me from getting injured.  And I am doing yoga – which I am loving for many reasons! 

2.       Attitude – this one sounds simple, but requires lots and lots of work to maintain motivation, but I must continually remind myself to “embrace discomfort”.  I have been sooooo conditioned to avoid any sort of challenge and all of the difficult emotions!  Recognizing when I am in “avoidance mode” has taken a lot of mindfulness. 

3.       Mindfulness and meditation – By far the biggest contributor to my improvement.  I’ve been trying to practice mindfulness for the last few years, and I think I’ve actually become quite good at it (after all, aren’t all people with OCD fantastic at self-reflection????).  However,  I don’t think that I quite made the final connection, and just didn’t take it to that next level.  I  didn’t “get it”.  Reading books on Buddhism has really helped with that.  Maybe I needed the spiritual side of things in order for it all to click with me.  Who knows. 

4.       Feelings “work” – I’m really working at recognizing my feelings – especially the more challenging or negative feelings.  I’m noticing when I’m anxious, sad or angry.  I’m sitting with it.  And I’m learning that these feelings aren’t so bad.  This is also not the easiest – because I’m such an emotional/feeling person – my feelings definitely sometimes overwhelm me and I wonder if I’ll be uncomfortable or in pain forever.  They DO pass though – even if it sometimes does take time. 

I’ve also noticed a few other of my “compulsions” through my new strides with mindfulness.  I’ve noticed that when I experience difficult feelings, I immediately start to analyze WHY I’m feeling that way, and then start to beat myself up for having the feelings!  (Actually, I should give my therapist some credit for noticing this too.)  It’s all in an effort to make the feelings go away.  I seem to have been able to get a real handle on my “figuring out” compulsion too – all thanks to being mindful and being willing to take the risk and experience the anxiety. 

When I sat down to write this post, I really had no idea what I would say.  I hope that I will continue to cope well with my OCD, and I also hope that I will continue to be able to think of useful topics for people who read my blog. 

I am heading to the IOCDF conference in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to meeting some of you!   

June 25, 2012

This too shall pass.....



This is a photo of my living room wall.  I put this saying up a few months ago, after my Mom died.  At the time, it was to remind me that the horrible feelings of grief that I was experiencing wouldn't last forever.  That I would get through it all....that it would all pass. 

Of course, I am doing a lot better in the grieving department.  However, as I've written in several posts, I am still so incredibly averse to allowing myself room to experience negative feelings.  It's amazing how subtle a difference it is for me, but I really do have to consciously open myself up - and consciously let it all in. 

It dawned on me several weeks ago though, that this saying has much greater meaning than to "reassure" me that bad feelings won't last.  The point is, that nothing lasts.  "Good" feelings and "bad" ones.  "Pleasant" situations and "unpleasant" ones.  And, of course this is another lesson to me for dealing with my OCD. 

I've been doing so well lately.  Lots of mindfulness, lots of reminding myself that it really is only IN THE MOMENT that we can make the choice to either move towards a life free from fear/OCD or we can give in to OCD's demands.  That conviction is so hard for me some days!  Manifesting the courage....somedays seems almost impossible.  But I remind myself that it really is moment-by-moment that we can choose. 

And.......I got too attached to being free of the thoughts.  I got over-confident.  This has happened to me before, and I am in the midst of getting back on track.  But - the interesting thing is that this saying is so poignant here as well.  The lesson for me is to not become too attached to "feeling good" and not averse to "struggling".  Not an easy thing for me to work with, but I am doing my best these days. 

It's almost one year since attending my first OCD converence in San Diego.  I recall Dr. Reid Wilson's talk about dealing with OCD.  I found it inspiring.  He discussed a quote that I have seen in Buddhist writings.  It goes something like: "When a dog is chasing you, whistle for him.".  It's really only in the moment - EVERY SINGLE MOMENT - that I have a choice to turn towards my fear or run from it.  My perfectionism wants me to do it all right - NOW.  I have to remind myself for "progress, not perfection".....and do my best to be compassionate with myself when I fall down.  I tend to be my own worst enemy, which just makes it worse. 

I'd love to hear your comments about how you are kind and compassionate with yourself when you "screw up" or get off track. 


June 17, 2012

New Found Awareness

I’ve been doing really well lately, despite some of the difficulties that I have expressed in my posts.  As I mentioned, I’ve been reading a lot of Pema Chodron.  Her writings aren’t an introduction to Buddhism for me.  Obviously, having OCD, I’ve read a TON about mindfulness, and have tried to use it as a way of coping with my compulsions.  However, one of her books in particular has had a tremendous impact on me.  It’s titled: “Taking the Leap:  Freeing ourselves from old habits and fears”.  I highly recommend the book - especially for those of us who suffer from any sort of anxiety-related disorder. 

I had a few epiphanies while reading “Taking the Leap”. The first one relates to something Pema calls “shenpa”.  She describes this as the moment in time when we get “hooked” on something (usually a situation), and things begin to spiral downward.  We react – and do something - and that makes the situation worse.  This could apply to getting angry, or it could apply to doing a compulsion.  This isn’t a new idea for me, or perhaps for anyone, but perhaps it was the context, or what is going on in my life.....but the whole notion of “shenpa” really fit for me.  Reading about “shenpa” helped me to see that so often in my life, if I am able to be mindful, and slow some of the moments down, I have the choice to react in a different way.  Pema speaks of "remaining open" during difficult times and not shutting down.  This is something I did all the time!  My anxiety, and my lack of ability to experience this difficult emotion would cause me to very subtly shut down.  And this was my way of keeping myself safe, but still keeping the cycle going.  Of course, being able to practice making a different choice in the moment requires practicing mindfulness too, which I have become more skilled at in the last year.  Pema is a Buddhist, so she advocates practicing meditating, which I have tried to add into my life throughout the last few years.  It’s a very difficult thing to do!!!  But I have seen what a difference mindfulness makes for me, so I will continue to try to make room in my life for meditating. 

The second topic that Pema discusses in “Taking the Leap” is western culture’s strong aversion to feeling and experiencing difficult feelings.  Wow!  Did that one hit me like a ton of bricks!  As I’ve said in previous posts, I struggle with allowing myself to feel MANY feelings, but mostly all of the difficult ones for sure.  Feelings like shame, guilt, anger, sadness, hurt all get pushed away or rationalized. So my second epiphany related to just that – if I wasn’t willing to feel the anxiety associated with my OCD - IN THE MOMENT – I just wasn’t going to get better.  My mind was so well trained to stealthily avoid all of the discomfort relating to my OCD, that I felt stuck. 

Finally, Pema writes about the need for discipline in our lives in order to become spiritually enlightened (which is what she is encouraging in the book).  Discipline?  Really?  Again, I don't know if it was the way she wrote about the topic, or just the timing in my life right now, but as I've mentioned in previous posts - discipline in any way was something that was lacking in my life.  I think I was giving myself a "get out of jail free" card, given everything that had occurred in recent months.  Discipline is also something that is needed in order to recover from OCD.  Because so often - our ERP opportunities come in the moment, without any warning.  And if we're not going to be discplined enough to sit with the anxiety for the spontaneous exposures, then all the planned exposure in the world won't help.  I've taken Pema's comments about discipline even further.  I've realized that I need more discipline in many areas of my life - eating, exercise, finances etc.  You know what I've realized?  That discipline promotes confidence which promotes courage. 
Every bit of “Taking the Leap” made sense to me.  I feel like a light bulb went off in my head.  Combine Pema Chodron’s wise words, with my new-found motivation, and I have had MANY wins in the last few weeks.  My experience hasn’t been easy – now that I’m allowing myself to feel some of these difficult feelings – I’ve had a lot of emotion to process.  But as she writes about in the book, not getting caught up in the “storyline” is key, and simply watching, recognizing, and leaning into the experience helps us to realize how strong we actually are.   I’m beginning to find some faith in myself and the process. 

June 10, 2012

Letting Go...........

So – is it a “human” thing or an “OCD” thing to struggle with letting go of things?  I don’t mean “stuff” per se – that would obviously indicate a hoarding problem.  But, I do think that people who have OCD struggle with letting go in general, more than the average person.  Letting go of material things, letting go of feelings, letting go of people, etc etc.  Right now I’m definitely aware of my strong aversion to letting go.  Sheesh, sometimes it actually feels like it is almost impossible – like a legitimate problem in my brain.  (Maybe it is part of the genetic glitch that is OCD?)

I’m really struggling to let go of this guy.  I’m still obsessing about him.  I’ve managed to stop most of my compulsions, so I’m sure the obsessing will stop soon.  But, it’s painful.  The NOT BEING ABLE TO LET GO part.  I don’t want to let go!  I still cling to the hope that we can be friends.  He and I had some amazing conversations, he’s amazingly self-aware, and honest, and has integrity, and blah, blah, blah.  The reality is that I didn’t know him THAT well.  But I really wanted to get to know him more!  And – even more importantly – I wanted the control for how this relationship proceeded to be in MY HANDS.  The frustrating part is that this type of behaviour takes all of my empowerment away.  I don’t do this with my other friends!  Heck, I don’t do this with my other male friends!  But when I decide that I like someone – wow – is it hard for me to let go.  I could go on and on with examples of how this manifests in my life, but I’m too tired to get into it.  Suffice it to say – I know logically that I have to just believe that it will all work out for the best.  I have to believe that he sees something special in me too that would make him want to be my friend, and that if he doesn’t – or if there’s some other reason why he can’t be my friend – then that is the way it is meant to be.  But I HATE the words:  “If it’s meant to be, it will be.”  My Mom used to say that to me all the time, and it used to drive me crazy.  I could never really embrace those words. 

Another thing I’ve noticed about me is that it takes me a long time to let go of feelings.  Someone else might get upset and then just move on.  But for me, it seems to take me a lot longer.  And if the feelings are negative feelings, it seems to take forever to let go.  The problem with this is that it then leads to more anxiety (“Why aren’t these feelings going away?”), and even more self-hate (“Other people seem to let go of these feelings so much quicker, what’s wrong with me?”).  I realize that part of the reason it probably takes me longer to let go of disturbing feelings, is because in my family we were taught that negative feelings should be ignored and pushed away.  So it probably takes me a lot longer to even acknowledge them and just FEEL them than the average person.  But wow – lately I’ve been faced with some really difficult feelings relating to my core beliefs and upbringing, and they FEEL SO POWERFUL.  And they feel like they are going to consume me.  And I want them to go away.  Clearly, I am not exactly skillfully practicing the tips that my friend Pema Chodron has imparted on me.   

I had an interaction with my brother today on Facebook.  For those of you who read my blog regularly, you may know that I’m currently not speaking to anyone in my immediate family.  This “self-imposed exile” has been wonderful for me – it has helped me get some distance to deal with some of the major issues I’ve had with my Dad, and it has helped to break some of the very destructive patterns that had developed over several years.  In short, I did it for self-preservation.  I am not the kind of person who wants to alienate myself from my immediate family forever.  But this process has been extremely helpful for me.  And in all honesty, after the exchange with my brother today, I’m not in any rush to make any changes.  The point to this story is, that I handled myself very well.  I remained calm, objective, and true to myself.  I continued to be disciplined.  I worked on what I had to work on.  I went for a run.  In the past I might have crumpled in anxiety and self-doubt.  This time I acknowledged all of the old messages that my brain was screaming at me, and I continued on.  But the MESSAGES WERE SO STRONG!  THE FEELINGS......SO DIFFICULT TO EXPERIENCE. 

I had a good cry to a friend and let it all out.  It felt so good!  I am proud of myself. 

Sometimes the old messages are like hurdles being thrown up on your path to a better self.  And sometimes those hurdles feel like they are ten feet tall.  I’ve felt that way many times in the last few weeks.  And I wonder – will those hurdles ever get smaller and become fewer?  I really hope so. 

June 3, 2012

Canadian OCD Network Updates

I just wanted to write a quick post and let everyone know that we've got our new Canadian OCD Network website live on the web!  We're working on a few other important projects as well, such as attaining our Registered Charity Status, and sending our first newsletter/update to our email database. 

The website is a work in progress, but please take a minute to have a look.  If anyone has any comments or suggestions, please feel free to post them below! 

June 1, 2012

An Epiphany.....or two.

For those of you who have read my last couple of posts, you’ll know that I’ve been going through a major “growth spurt” due to some recent experiences.  Like I said previously, I’m so grateful for those experiences because it helped me to realize my profound aversion towards experiencing difficult feelings.  Now - I understand that most people probably don’t particularly enjoy experiencing feelings like sadness, regret, embarrassment, shame or – for those of us with OCD – anxiety and uncertainty.  But it took this recent experience for me to realize how steadfastly committed I was to doing EVERYTHING I POSSIBLY COULD TO AVOID THOSE FEELINGS.   It wasn’t only related to my OCD themes.  It was related to my physical health, my relationships, and my general well-being. 

It suddenly dawned on me one day that if I am to “recover” from OCD, and if I am ever truly going to achieve my goals in life, I have to radically accept IN THE MOMENT the fact that difficult feelings will occur.  My aversion towards these feelings has made me more sensitive to them.  And I’ve created a small glass house in which I’ve lived, that is so easily penetrable.....by the smallest thing. 

In short – I need to get stronger.  I need to grow a thicker skin.  I need to allow myself to experience difficult feelings so that I can prove to myself that I CAN get through it.  I will survive.  I will learn.  And hopefully, by the grace of the universe, and my common sense – I will do something different next time. 

This realization has been freeing for me, but it has also been scary.  It is my tendency, that when I make a forward step towards “growth”, that I want to “hang on to it tightly” for fear that I will somehow forget the lesson, or one day I will wake up and suddenly be back where I was before.  At the moment, I am almost in protective mode – if that makes sense – trying to protect all that I have gained.  This isn’t a productive place to be in either, because inevitably I will have a setback, which is human, and I will then start to beat myself up.  It’s all about letting go.  Something I struggle with immensely. 

I am fully committed though.  It takes an incredible amount of discipline.  Every single moment I have a choice to make – and it’s amazing how many opportunities throughout the day that I do have this choice.....to make a choice of turning towards the feelings, facing them, and letting them dissipate, or doing something to avoid my reality.  From the moment I wake up – from the choices I make for breakfast, to choices I make throughout the day (whether to exercise despite my mind trying to talk me out of it), they all are difficult for me at the moment.  I am learning that the easy way out, just doesn't work.  It will get easier, and I will start to gain confidence in myself.  I see it happening already, but I still feel like I’m on shaky ground. 

May 21, 2012

The Pain is a sign of Growth.....Part Two

I can’t express enough how the last couple of weeks have been a massive growth experience for me.  And I am taking it to be exactly that, and I am grateful for it.  It’s amazing – the shift – to be honest.  In the past, two things would happen:  I would be angry, and I would be obsessing.  Don’t get me wrong, the obsessing is still happening.  But the anger has really subsided. 

It’s amazing how things really do change, every second of every moment.  It really is impossible to predict the future.  For those of us with OCD who like to “think” we can predict the future (ie: answer), I am learning that that habit provides a false sense of security.  Letting go of this security is definitely not easy, but it is necessary for me.  I suppose truly learning to live in the moment is key, and that really takes discipline. 
I’ve had some comments on my last post, expressing negative opinions about the man that I wrote about and the experience that I had with him.  I am grateful for your care and concern, and believe me, there were moments that I wanted to persecute him too, and label him as a “bad guy”.  In reality though, I think he is a man with some very wonderful qualities, and a man with some baggage, but I am avoiding labelling him as “good” or “bad”.  We all have baggage, heck, I’ve got a ton of it, and he is just doing his best to navigate through this world, while still taking care of himself, and protecting the parts of him that he has to protect.  At this point I don’t know if he (and his “stuff”) and I (and my “stuff) would be conducive to a healthy relationship, and I may never find that out.  But really, at this point, none of it is about him. 

It’s all about me. 
  • It’s about me learning how to take care of myself and stay focused, even when I am slammed with uncertainty and the anxiety that comes with it.
  • It’s about me learning how to remain in the moment and not be attached to any sort of outcome. 
  • It’s about me learning to feel the real feelings underneath the anxiety and anger, and process them and move forward. 

I’m working on that right now.  If it wasn’t for this man, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity.  I am grateful for him for that reason. 

May 17, 2012

The Pain is a sign of growth.....

If emotional pain is any indication of emotional growth, and I believe that it is – then I would say that I’ve done my fair share of growing in the last.....let’s say....year or so.  For the first time in my life, I’ve put some genuine, concerted effort into facing my OCD demon, I was side-by-side with my mother through to her death, dealt with grief, and the family dysfunction that has resulted.  I can’t believe the lessons that I’ve learned, and there are days when I honestly do feel as though I’m coming out on the other side.  I don’t tend to be a super spiritual person, but if I had to label my spiritual beliefs, I would say that they lean more towards Buddhism.  The other day during my session with my therapist, he made an interesting comment to me.  He said: “In order to really conquer OCD, you have to let go of attachment to any outcome.”  Without sounding too dramatic, this was a profound statement for me. 

There’s been some recurrent “themes” that I’ve been noticing in my life lately, some of which I wanted to share with you. 

1.       Avoidance of emotions – especially the difficult ones.  This is something that I’ve become a master at over the years.  You see, in my family, we weren’t allowed to have feelings, especially the “negative” ones.  So, I learned to avoid feelings such as anger, sadness and frustration.  Even worse than that, certain feelings were labelled as “bad” and certain feelings were labelled as “good.  So feeling lazy was a “bad” feeling because of course BEING lazy was a bad thing.  It’s only in the last several months, through working with my therapist and reading many books on meditation that I have started to realize and accept that feelings aren’t good or bad – they just are.  And if I allow myself to feel them without judgement, they will pass.  But wow – this is still so difficult for me, especially when triggered by strong emotions.  And in all honesty, some of it just has to be about discipline.  I am learning to start to ACCEPT and BE OK with difficulty.  I need to be less “addicted” to “good feelings” and less “averse” to difficulty.    

2.       Letting go of attachment to outcome.  In other words – living in the moment.  For those of us with OCD, heck, even for those who don’t have OCD, our minds can be torturous to us.  I think it’s especially worse for those of us with OCD though, because of our creativity (and, perhaps our high level of intelligence? ;o).  We seem to have an incredible ability to create so many possible outcomes in our minds.  Now, I understand that everyone wants to have control, no one likes feeling out of control.  But for someone like me, if I have the ability to think of some scenario (whether it’s really horrible, or really good), then I seem to want to do everything in my power to make that happen.  The problem with this is that it takes the sincerity out of things.  I’m not being my true, genuine self.  And it creates a lot of fear and anxiety. 

I’ve had my eye on a guy for quite awhile.  I’m sure I’ve probably written about him before on the blog.  Let’s just say that I’ve had a HUGE crush on him.....and since I have ROCD I will say that at times it was obsessive.  I would only see him periodically, whenever he came into the bank and I would serve him.  We would chat for awhile, and every single time I saw him he would ask how I was doing after the loss of my mother.  I felt “head over heels” in love.  Now, I’m rational enough to know that it wasn’t true love, it was just deep infatuation created by my mind.  I don’t know this guy really at all.  That’s not true love.  But it sure FELT like it.  Anyway, without getting into all of the details, one day I finally decided to give him my number.  Eventually after several weeks, he called me.  He called me just last week.  I was ecstatic!!!  I had already created in my mind what would happen next.  We would go out on a date, then another, we would fall head over heels in love, and we would go down to the orphanage in Mexico that he volunteers at, and live happily ever after.  You know, all that fun stuff.  Fantasies.....not reality. 

Our phone conversation was brief and pleasant.  He didn’t ask me out.  I was stuck....anxious.  WHAT SHOULD I DO????  Finally after a few days, I texted him.  We immediately launched into a very intense flirting texting conversation that lasted from 9:30 AM until 2:30 AM the next morning.  The energy and attraction was palpable.  We laughed.  We talked about a lot of things.....life, my Mom, etc etc.  It was fantastic.  But it was intense, and sometimes it crossed lines that shouldn’t have been crossed.  Already, I felt out of control...........obsessing.  Does he like me?  Is he a nice guy or just playing me? What does he want?  Am I going to get hurt?”

We discussed the situation the next day.  He said that he wasn’t ready for an intimate relationship (for various reasons).  I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know what to say.  We continued texting for the next four days.  I told him that I wanted to actually see him face-to-face.  He seemed to avoid that.  I felt incredibly vulnerable.  I felt frustrated.  I REALLY like this guy.  And I was trying to control things too much.  I wasn’t hearing him.  I wasn’t listening. 

On Sunday night while we were texting, he crossed a boundary again – a boundary that he had set.  I got angry, because I felt frustrated with where we were at.  The situation wasn’t healthy.  I was trying to respect what he was telling me he needed, but he was giving me mixed messages.  The thing is though, that I was giving him mixed messages too.  This man had clearly told me that he didn’t want a relationship.  I clearly told him that I did....and I didn’t have the strength to walk away. 

I haven’t heard from him in two days.  I think that’s for the best in all honesty.  I am mature enough to know that healthy relationships don’t start that way.  But it’s amazing how much I still have the urge to try and control it – to “fix it”, when in reality I just have to let go....let go of any attachment to any outcome.  Maybe someday in the future I will see him again.  Maybe someday in the future I will be able to contact him while coming from a healthier place.  But at the moment, I am struggling with intense compulsive urges......The urge to text him......the urge to drive by his house.....the urge to compulsively search the Internet in order to learn more about him so that somehow I’ll learn how he ticks and I will feel better about the situation.

It is all very painful.  I was obsessed.  Plain and simple.  I created something in my head that I wanted to see through to fruition.  And that didn’t happen.  I’m disappointed – that it didn’t go any further (because I really do like this guy), and disappointed that I didn’t behave in a healthier way right from the beginning. 

May 9, 2012

What does "recovery" from OCD look like?

I often wonder what being “recovered” from OCD would look like for me. 

Are there any of you out there reading this who would say you’re “recovered”?  If so – what does that term mean for you?  Do you not compulse at all anymore?  Do you have any obsessive thoughts? 

I suspect that “recovery” falls along a continuum that is different for everyone.  At this point, I would definitely NOT say that I have “recovered” from OCD.  I am still seeing my therapist every two weeks (I cut back from weekly ONLY for financial reasons.), I still have obsessive thoughts (some weeks/days are worse than others), and I am still doing some compulsions. 

All of that said, I know that I have made progress.  I have faced a lot of my fears.  I am avoiding a lot less.  Things that, this time last year, I couldn’t imagine myself doing, I do with ease. 

But my mind can still scare me to death.  It can still catch me off guard.  And, it seems, once I have “mastered” one of the many permutations and combinations that my mind can throw at me regarding my OCD themes, my mind twists that theme into a new and different “what if” and we start back at square one.  It’s frustrating and discouraging. 

I know I still have days when I don’t want to accept the uncertainty, which of course drives it all.  In fact, I would say that only half of the time I am skilled enough to catch my mind in action and stop the OCD in its tracks. 

The other day I went to get a tattoo as a memorial for my Mom.  It’s a long story...but I went to a tattoo artist who was recommended to me by a guy (let’s call him Mark) that I have a huge crush on (who doesn’t seem to really know that I exist).  When I got to the tattoo shop, the artist’s wife was there.  I had spoken to her on the phone and she seemed really nice.  Right out of the blue – WHAM! – the thoughts hit me:  You just had a weird reaction when you saw her – you think she’s hot.  Do you want to have sex with her?  Do you like her that way????”  And then the checking, reassuring and overall anxiety sets in.  I start trying to figure out why I reacted the way I did when she walked in.  DO I like her that way???  Maybe there’s some sort of cosmic energy connecting the two of us and she picked up on that weird energy.  Am I exuding “lesbian vibes”??????  Ugh.  Of course that all then spirals into questioning my real attraction for Mark: “Maybe you only like him because you know he’s not available and you never have to worry about having to get close to him because you’re really a lesbian in denial.”

And we’re off to the races.  OCD is currently winning. 

OCD robs me of the ability to enjoy my crush.  It robs me of enjoying the entire process of “courting” with someone.  It robs me of my femininity and my ability to flirt.  It robs me of so many things. 

But what is even more frustrating is that I’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE!!!!!!!!  Why do these thoughts, after all of the ERP that I’ve done, still have the ability to bring me to my knees? 

May 3, 2012

I'm booked! IOCDF Conference #2.....

I am officially committed to the IOCDF Conference in Chicago this July.  I am so excited!  Last year was my first year attending, and it was quite anxiety provoking.  I remember telling my therapist, who was also at the conference, that I felt like I was walking around naked!  Never before had I been in one place, surrounded by so many people, who knew that I had OCD.  But it was also a wonderful experience, meeting all of the wonderful, compassionate people - OCD sufferers, treatment providers, and family members.  I made some great friends and fellow bloggers, that I still stay in contact with.  Overall, it was a WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE, and I highly recommend attending if you can afford to. 

If any one would like to meet up while at the conference, I would love to have lunch, or coffee or tea or whatever.....

We are such a fantastic group of people.  :o)

May 1, 2012

ERP and this week's OCD triggers.....

I’m religiously doing my ERP.  Pat on the back for me.  I’ve been doing really well with it. 

But I’m into PMS – mode again.  It-just-gets-harder.  That’s all there is to it. 
A few days ago I was watching lesbian movies and mini-clips on You Tube with barely any affect on me at all.  Yesterday – not so much.  The anxiety pulsed through my body.  The thoughts ramped up. 

I wanted to avoid doing my ERP homework today, but I refused to let myself.  So, I went on to Netflix, and looked among the selection of Gay & Lesbian themed movies and found a new one to watch. 
To say that the theme of the movie hits home with the theme of one of my biggest OCD fears is an understatement.  The movie is titled “Gray Matters”, and here is a synopsis:

“Gray and her brother Sam are inseparable – people often mistake them for a couple, sometimes to the frustration and embarrassment of their relatives.  The siblings agree to help each other find a boyfriend and girlfriend (respectively), which leads to Sam meeting and marrying the sweet, lovable Charlie.  There’s just one problem:  Gray finds herself attracted to Charlie in a very physical and emotional manner.  Gray comes to the painful and confusing conclusion that she herself may be a lesbian (which would explain her solitary life and inability to connect with men), and seeks advice on what to do.”
I have watched twenty minutes of the movie, and my OCD wants me to watch the whole thing to find out what happens – so that I can reassure myself that this in fact isn’t what is going on with me.  I feel the tightness in my chest.  My cheeks are hot.  My breathing has changed.  Ugh.  My OCD says: "Maye this is you!  You haven't dated anyone in over a year!  You've struggled with relationships with men!  You're guarded with men!  You're not thrilled about dating, getting married etc.  Just face the facts, this movie is really about you."

I had another big trigger today, too.  A former friend/colleague of mine contacted me.  There’s nothing particularly threatening to me about my friend, per se, it’s just that she has a lot of lesbian friends.  So, immediately, my OCD said to me:  This is a sign.  You’re going to start hanging around with Niki again more often, and you’re going to go to a party that she has, and you’re going to meet a lesbian and fall in love just like all of these movies that you’ve been watching.”
I wanted SO BADLY to not text her back.  But the thing is, that I really like Niki – we laughed A LOT.  (Ironically, she has OCD too, but her themes are very different than mine, and I never shared my theme with her.)  I miss her.  And I don’t want to let OCD stop me from living the life that I want to live.....from having friendships that mean a lot to me.  So I texted her back.  We are going to get together for lunch soon.  And who knows what will happen after that. 

Those URGES are back.  The urges to figure it all out, reassure myself, avoid, and MAKE ALL THE UNCERTAINTY GO AWAY.  I HATE this feeling. 
Just as soon as I start to feel like I'm one step ahead of the OCD monster, it ambushes me and reminds me who is boss.