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.