January 28, 2012

OCD and The Doormat

OCD is prevalent in so many areas of my life......it’s not just limited to obsessing about my sexual orientation and my “significant other” relationships.  I have a major problem with taking too much responsibility in relationships.  And that goes for ANY of my relationships.  I obsess about a lot of my relationships with people......friends, acquaintences, family members – you name it.  It’s not just isolated to my boyfriends (when I am actually in a relationship).  Frankly, I cannot tolerate having anyone mad at me.  I cannot tolerate making any mistakes in any of my relationships, and I have a very difficult time if I don’t interact “perfectly” with them.  What, you may wonder is my worst fear surrounding these obsessions?  Usually my fear is that the individual will be mad at me and won’t tell me and then some other horrible thing will happen.....she/he will stop being friends with me, I will get fired from a job, the whole relationship will just be a lie and that will all confirm the worst, - that I actually am the horrible, awful person that my core beliefs tell me.  It will all be proven true.   

The problem with this type of obsessing, is that it makes me a TOTAL and COMPLETE doormat.  If ever there is a sniff of conflict with anyone I have a relationship with, I immediately jump to the worst case scenario and then blame myself.  I COULD HAVE DONE SOMETHING ELSE TO PREVENT IT FROM HAPPENING.  I could have been calmer, a better communicator, more mature, less driven, less controlling, and in general just MORE PERFECT.  It causes big problems because it is the absolute opposite of acceptance of myself, imperfections and all, and it also just creates anxiety and anger towards that person because I constantly feel like a victim of my own fears. 

The two compulsions that I associate with this type of obsessing are reassurance seeking, and checking/mental reviewing.  Soooo many times I will call several friends and have to tell them the whole story about a situation where conflict has ensued, and get their reassurance that I was in fact right and the other person was wrong.  (Because if I was wrong then that would mean that I am a horrible person and FOR SURE my worst case scenario will come true!).  I also spend hours and hours ruminating over the situation, re-playing it in my mind thinking to myself “what could I have done differently?  Is she wrong?  Am I wrong?  If I could just be more patient, or less controlling, maybe this wouldn’t have happened  etc etc.  This type of thinking just leads me down a horrible path feeling horrible about myself, and blaming myself for everything that goes wrong in my life. 

I’ve really been struggling with this type of obsessing regarding a relationship I have with another woman (let's call her Jane) I am working on a project with.  We just do not “mesh”.  Jane clearly does not like me, and though she has never said so, she certainly acts like it through her communication with me.  She is, however, only one woman, and really not that important to the whole project.  But it doesn’t matter, because all I do is obsess that because she and I clearly do not work well together, I may get kicked off of the project.  I worry that she will tell her boss (a colleague of mine), and that my entire reputation and all the work that I have done will be called into question.  I am driven to talk to all of my friends and get reassurance, or talk to her boss (and pre-emptively get reassurance that I’m “safe”).  Jane and I had a very cold email interaction this week, in which I made an attempt to very gently put up a boundary.  She did not take well to that, and responded very coldly and did not answer any of the questions that I asked her.  The email interaction sent my anxiety sky-rocketing, and all I have done since then is review the email correspondence and look for ways that perhaps I could have done something different to prevent her from getting upset.  Here's the thing:  there's ALWAYS something that I could have done better, so I just cannot win with that game, because upon review I can always find something that I did wrong which just ends up in endlessly beating myself up and blaming myself for the crappy interaction. 

I need to get a handle on this obsessing.  I have tried to realize that I have to live with the uncertainty that yes, my worst case scenario may happen.  I may get kicked off the project, and it might be all my fault, and I will have to live with guilt and regret.  I need to start empowering myself because like any other type of OCD, this is a slippery slope.  People can practically behave however they want to me, and I start to cave over the smallest of things because I don’t want to take the chance that it could be my fault, my responsibility if we have conflict.  The sad reality about this is that people lose respect for me and I end up scared to have relationships and try for things that I care about because all it does is cause anxiety.  This is a tough one. 
Does anyone else struggle with this issue?  If so, how do you handle it? 

January 25, 2012

The OCD Master.......

My battle with OCD is definitely not going to be one that is clear-cut or quick.  I am wondering if I will ever be one of those sufferers who can call myself “recovered”.  I have just had OCD for so long.  ROCD and HOCD have run my life for over fifteen years.  Both manifestations of OCD have weaved themselves into my world so masterfully.....to a point where I don’t think I can even recognize some of the compulsions that I am doing.  Not only that, the OCD is so brilliant, that no matter what I do, it finds a way to make HOCD and ROCD a theme in my life. 

But the good news is that I am making progress.  I am slowly starting to un-ravel the hold that OCD has had on me for so long.  As I said in my last post, I am doing things now (not always consistently, but definitely more often!) that I would never have done in the past.  I am making choices that go AGAINST my OCD, not in support of it.  What frustrates me - and this is where acceptance and motivation are so important – is that there are some days that no matter what I’ve done in the past – OCD still finds a way to scare me into doing compulsions.  It’s amazing how “smart” OCD is!  It’s amazing how I can have a few days of feeling great and think “OK , I’ve got this.  It will be OK.  I’ve got the upper hand”, and then WHAM!  OCD ups the ante and throws something EVEN SCARIER at me.  Even though I know this about OCD, I don’t think that I have come to actually accept this fact, because EVERY SINGLE TIME, it throws me for a loop. 

My ERP for weeks now has been to write scripts about my worst fears coming true.  I am to vary the “story” each time I write, and some days are easier than others.  On “good” days, when my drive and motivation to fight OCD is good....when I have an attitude of “bring it on!”, my OCD finds ways of twisting this motivation to mean that I am actually really looking forward to doing my ERP because deep down inside I am a lesbian in denial. 

Which lead me to a small flash of insight today:  I have taken reassurance from the idea that I have always thought that being a lesbian would be horrible, and the thought of being with a woman is gross.  Now that I am starting to become habitualized to all of this “stuff” (ie: the lesbian theme in general), it doesn’t bother me as much – exactly what is SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN with therapy.  But guess what?  Good ole’ OCD has found a way of telling me that this is my “coming out process”, that I am slowly just accepting reality.  OCD can always find a twist on the original theme, can’t it? 

What it comes down to is accepting uncertainty.  OCD will always have a way of trying to get me to stop in my tracks.  It’s won many, many battles so far.  But I will keep picking myself up, dusting myself off, and trying again....and again....and again. 

As an aside, I got my period, and I am starting to feel better.  It’s amazing how a “switch” just seems to go off, and my motivation just changes. 

January 21, 2012

OCD and the Serenity Prayer

“God Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

I can’t believe how much this poem resonates with me these days – in so many areas of my life.  I’ve been struggling for the last few days.  Let me first say that my PMS is at its peak – I am expecting my period any day now and heavens – I hope it gets here soon.  I feel pretty yucky.  It’s amazing how difficult it can be to fight my compulsions during this time.  I really do feel like a dark cloud has descended on my brain....definitely SOMETHING has changed in my brain.  I also think that my obsessions are so much stronger and more frequent during this time too.  UGH.  It really frustrates me that it is impossible to take a break from OCD.  Even during difficult times.....times when the last thing you want to do is make your anxiety (or mood) worse.....the only thing to do is turn towards the fear.  I haven’t been doing that this week.  OCD also never ceases to amaze me in the way that it can insidiously sneak into my life so quickly, and without me noticing.  The next thing you know – I feel crappy, and the thoughts are going, going, going in my mind, with no reprieve.  My motivation and resolve has sucked.  But the Serenity Prayer says it all.  I can’t change my thoughts.  All I can do is accept them. 
Someone I follow on Twitter said something today that really makes sense to me:
"I think the trick is to work on extending the number of good days between bad OCD days until there are hardly any, if any, bad days at all!"
Lord, I wish I could get there!!!!  The problem for me is that things just seem to go off the rails during PMS time, and PMS is something I just can't control.  Today I wondered if I will always have bad OCD days for a couple of weeks out of the month.  Maybe I won't ever be one of those people who can go months feeling OCD-free.  That notion really depresses me. 
Another Pure OCD’er wrote something very poignant on one of her blog posts the other day, and I hope she doesn’t mind that I quote her:

“No matter how clear you are seeing things on the good days, and no matter how much you know your OCD notions are ridiculous on these days – OCD will show its face again at some point in time, and no matter what kind of clarity you were feeling in the past, everything will become blurry and clouded again.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.  The frustrating thing is that I KNOW I’ve made progress.  I can’t tell you the things I’ve faced, the things I do now that I would never have done a year ago.  But still, somehow, OCD manages to take over, and the feeling is EXACTLY the same.  Do I find this fact discouraging?  Yes.  Do I find this fact frustrating?  Absolutely. 

The Serenity Prayer is also very applicable to my current situation with my family.  Though I haven’t spoken to anyone in my family since “the incident”, obviously I have spent some time thinking about it.  I’ve wondered whether I WANT to have a relationship with my father – given his nature, and the way he treats me.  Part of this whole scenario is accepting him for who he is.  He isn’t likely to change.  Given that information – what type (if any) of relationship would be healthy for me?  It sure seems extreme to completely cut my entire family out of my life, but right now, that seems like the only option.  So....I am lonely.  I’m lonely because I don’t have people around me – in my close vicinity who love me.  I’m lonely because I have to accept that I will probably never get what I need from my family.

I’ve got an opportunity to go on a date.  And then the ROCD sets off – already!!!!  I start thinking about my ex, and whether or not we have hope for a future.  I start analyzing whether or not I really like the “new” guy.  Is now a good time for me to be dating?  What if I don’t find him attractive when we meet?  What if, what if, what if!!!!  Three weeks ago I would have taken on all of this stuff with conviction and a gusto.  Today, not so much.  I’m going to go on the date, because that’s what fits with my values – meeting new people, having opportunities for close friendships, and even maybe someday an intimate relationship again.  I just wish I could be excited about it – like “normal” people would be. 

January 15, 2012

Update on Canadian OCD Network and a few other things.....

I haven’t written in a bit so I wanted to write a quick update on a few things. 

OCD Progress!
Wow – I’m very irritable these days, but I know that I am about to get my period so that’s why.  I’ve been doing great with my ERP and practicing mindfulness all week.  I’ve definitely had OCD thoughts, but I’ve managed to “intercept” at the right time before my mental compulsions start.  The last two days have been the worst – I’m sure because of the intense PMS.  I’m finding the mindfulness really does take practice and, as I mentioned in my previous post – I seem to need constant reminding about how to practice it, so I am trying to get my hand on every book written about mindfulness and anxiety or even depression.  Right now I’m reading “The Mindful way through Depression” – which in my opinion is only mediocre.  Hopefully my next post will be about “The Mindful way through Anxiety”. 

We’re making great progress with the Canadian OCD Network.  Dr. Stewart and I had a phone meeting last week and the result was a big plan for a number of things to accomplish.  I am super excited that we are partnering with AnxietyBC and the IOCDF to bring a BTTI (Behavioural Therapy Training Institute) to Vancouver in March.  The BTTI is a training program for psychologists and other healthcare professionals who would like to learn more about treating OCD, which in my opinion is desperately needed.  You can find more information about the BTTI on the
IOCDF website.  We are also working on getting our website up and running as soon as possible.  I’m working with another psychologist to write the copy for the website, and hopefully we will be “live” in March or April.  Support groups is another area that we are focusing on; gathering information about any current support groups that exist in Canada, and finding a way to encourage others to start one.  My goal is to have at least one OCD support group in every major city in Canada by the end of 2012.  If anyone would like more information about the COCDN, or would like to be put on our mailing list, please email us. 

I still have not heard from my Dad, which isn’t surprising.  I am still really enjoying the “distance” and time to focus only on myself, grieving my mother, and just getting my life back on track.  I actually feel GREAT – being away from all the drama, and also just having the emotional energy to deal with some other parts of my life that needed attention.  I have been going on two hour long hikes with a friend of mine, a couple of days per week, which feels wonderful!  Just getting out in the fresh air and getting some great exercise.  Plus, I’ve been back on a healthy eating diet, and it’s amazing what that has done for my state of mind.  I still have days/moments where I am overcome with grief and just missing my Mom, and I am sure I always will.  I was talking to my aunt on the phone yesterday and she mentioned how much she missed my Mom and their talks about spirituality, diet etc.  My Mom was a great “analyzer” (where do you think I got it from???), and could philosophize about anything.  It would drive me crazy at times, because it certainly didn’t help my OCD, but that trait also made her a very good friend – to me and to other people. 

That’s all for now – hopefully I will have more time to write this week. 

January 8, 2012

OCD and Mindfulness

I remember when I was working with a therapist five years ago and she suggested that I read a book by Jon Kabat Zin called “Full Catastrophe Living”.  At that time, mindfulness was just emerging as a way of treating emotional disorders.  I read the book, and some of it really resonated with me.  For me though, in order to learn a new “skill” – I have to read and re-read about the topic until it sinks in.  At that time I couldn’t really find a lot of information about mindfulness as it applies to treatment for OCD, so it wasn't something that I adopted in my "tool box" for battling my OCD. 

Fast forward five (or so) years later and the situation has changed.  I have promised to write a book review for “The Mindfulness way through Anxiety”, and I will.  When I started seeing my new, awesome therapist – the one I am seeing now – we reviewed ALL of the strategies for coping with OCD – thought re-structuring, ERP, and mindfulness.  I have started doing my ERP again, and have really been trying HARD to practice mindfulness as well.  Given the other real personal stress that I have been going through, I really think that the time is perfect to develop the skills of mindfulness.  It has really helped me to sit through the incredible wide range of emotions that I have been feeling lately – grief, anxiety, disgust, disappointment, sadness, anger etc etc. 

Last summer I actually took a day course about ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy).  For those of you who don’t know (I suggest you read about it) – ACT is another form of mindfulness therapy, but it takes the whole thing one step further and suggests spending time clarifying your values and moving towards those values (the behavioural component).  It provides a “beacon” or an “eye on the prize” for times when the overwhelming emotions take over.  I’m sure we can all understand those times where you feel like you’re spinning and floating in space and IN THAT MOMENT you just don’t know what to do.  ACT has an answer for that – decide what you value most and move in that direction NO MATTER WHAT YOUR FEELINGS ARE TELLING YOU IN THE MOMENT.  

I have always been a very emotional person.  My therapist says that when people are told that they CAN’T have certain emotions then the feelings tend to come up even stronger.  It’s the whole idea of “what you resist, persists” – same thing with having thoughts.  OK, I get that, but it still doesn’t change the frustration I feel by getting completely overwhelmed by MANY emotions on a daily basis.  And to be honest, usually it’s the negative ones.  (Why can’t I feel overwhelming joy??????) I’ve struggled with how to show those emotions too.  Normally I’ve vacillated between blurting it out in an “in your face” way, and not saying anything at all (repressing them).  As I”m sure you know – neither works very well. 

Mindfulness seems to have an answer to this.  It’s not an easy answer – nothing in OCD ever is.  But I’ve practiced it in a few situations in the last week, and it really seems to have helped.  Now I just have to remember to use it!  The change in my reactions is different, and just that – A CHANGE.  Which is scary for me and causes me to have anxiety.  But I just notice the anxiety and sit with it.  And yes, it does eventually recede. 

I have definitely made progress.  Things aren't easy for me at all right now, and I have no idea where my path lies.  Not having a Mom around anymore has a way of making one feel "anchorless" which is a very scary feeling.  The uncertainty of how this will all "turn out" leaves me feeling very uncomfortable and unsettled.  But I am getting up everyday, still doing my ERP and other things that matter to me.  A year ago there is no way I would have been doing any of this.  Yes, the feelings are still there.  But I'm beginning to learn that the feelings will ALWAYS come and go.  And I'm also realizing that it's not about the feelings.  It's about the actions. 

January 6, 2012

Lots to say....too tired to write.

I have so much to say:

  • Canadian OCD Network developments,
  • The Mindfulness way through Anxiety book review,
  • General Update.....mindfulness "progress"/epiphany,
  • More I am sure.

But I am sooooo tired.  It will have to wait until Sunday (hopefully). 

January 1, 2012

I lied.

I feel horrible.  Really depressed.....and sad....and hopeless. 

Trying to just go with it.  Geez - I have a heck of a time just letting it out and crying.  I wish I could do that. 

Right now life seems overwhelmingly hard on a number of counts.  I don't know how I am going to get out of this.  Logically I know "this too shall pass", but wow - how many scars will I come out of this one with?  That's what scares me. 

How is it possible that one can go from feeling like progress is being made, to feeling stuck in quicksand in a matter of one day???????

More Hormones & OCD

I’ve noticed a shift in my mood.  Maybe it’s all the stress I’ve had lately with my family stuff.  I think though that it has more to do with hormones.  I have gone from feeling really quite good – to slightly “yucky” (ie: depressed) and yesterday I had my first OCD spike in a few weeks.  That’s not true – I’ve had OCD spikes lately – what seems to have change is more my ability to let it go and work through the spike.      

Many people with OCD who are on medication speak of their ability to just “let OCD stuff go” with so much more ease while they are on their anti-anxiety medication.  This is how I feel when I am in the first part of my menstrual cycle.  Then, when I start to approach PMS my OCD just seems so much more REAL. Alas, I need to refrain from trying to figure it out because this too is a compulsion in an effort to get rid of my OCD thoughts. 
Sooooo... the big spike I had yesterday.  

One of the ways my HOCD manifests is the following:
Although I haven’t yet found myself in love with a woman, the reason is because I’ve been doing all of my “safety behaviours”, and when I stop doing all of this stuff (ie: avoiding lesbians, reassurance, checking etc), I will meet a lesbian and really like her and will fall in love, and that stopping all of my compulsions has thrust me into the process of “coming out of the closet” and realizing my true sexuality. 

I’m sure this is how people with other OCD themes feel.  The person with contamination OCD feels that if he stops washing he will cause his family to get a horrible disease.  The person with harm OCD is sure that when she stops avoiding knives she will suddenly get the urge to kill her kids.  It’s pretty text book OCD stuff, and I have to learn to live with the uncertainty that my worst fear might actually happen. 
When I first started this post I was going to write out all the details of what happened, and what my OCD was telling me, but I’ve decided against that.  I don’t want reassurance, and I think that giving you the details and having you comment on the scenario will only reassure me.  I sent an email to my therapist this morning and he got me back on track.  When I woke up this morning all I wanted to do was avoid the whole world.  All the plans I had to cook and take my dog for a walk had gone down the tubes.  But I am back on track now.  I am not going to let OCD get me.  I am going to do what I wanted to do DESPITE the residual anxiety that I am feeling.....despite the fact that I am at a “heightened awareness” and will probably continue to have OCD thoughts all day today. 

It starts now.  I can do this.  I’ve read a lot about mindfulness and I know how to get through this. 

Family Update – I haven’t spoken to anybody in my family.  No doubt this is causing me stress.  I feel a lot of shame.  I feel like it’s all my fault.  I am hurt and disappointed.  I was feeling great for a few days because I was just AWAY from that horrible situation, but then the reality set in about what my next step will be.  The reality is that this woman is now in my Dad’s life – like it or not.  It’s sure put me in a crappy situation, because if I want to have any sort of relationship with my Dad then.......where does that leave her?  A big part of me really does feel that some time away from all of them would be very helpful for me.  Enough time for me to grieve my Mom the way I would like.  Enough time for me to be able to focus on getting MY life back on track.  Enough time for all of us to grow and change, and perhaps come back together in a different place.  My Dad and I have been communicating the same way for so many years that I just don’t think that anything is going to change without something major happening......something like a significant amount of distance for a long time.