Thursday, December 28, 2017

New Year, New Me - BC Pill Free!

Me: "I want to do a blog post, but I don't have a picture"
Fiancé:  "Use a picture of me!"
Back in May, I did a blog post about my experience on the pill. Since then, I had actually settled in nicely to my new pill that had three weeks of the same level of hormones.

Things were good and steady, so that was when my insurance decided it was time for a change.

Without consulting my doctor, the insurance company decided that all birth control pills were created equal and therefore I should be switched to the cheapest one.

The problem here is that the cheapest one was completely different.  It cycles through three levels of hormones instead of keeping me on one steady level.  During the first pack, I had my period for 2.5 weeks after it was supposed to end.  I also turned very mentally unstable.

I was constantly frustrated and depressed through mid-December.  There was a lot of anger and crying.  I cried in the grocery store aisle when a box of Frosted Flakes reminded me of my dad (a man who is still alive and well.)  I cried once again at the end of Titanic (a movie I have seen 5,000 times.  It really is a beautiful film though.)  The depression and anxiety was overwhelming.

I called the doctor, but the doctor's office didn't pick up the phone and there was nowhere to leave a message.  Mom said I was being too impatient and hanging up too early, so I called back, put the phone on speaker, and let her listen to it ring from the dining room table until she acquiesced that they were indeed not answering.

It took a few more weeks before I tried back.  Why?  Because even picking up the phone seemed overwhelming.  Every little task felt frustrating at the time.  

The good news is, they did pick up.  My doctor called me back and I told her I wanted off of these things for good.  I was right at the end of a monthly pack, and she said I could just stop.

I had read that the side effects of going off the pill could be interesting and somewhat negative.  I've been lucky so far: I have been BC pill free for about two weeks now, and I feel great!   

Ultimately, the side effects were not worth it for me.  I'm excited to fully return to my natural hormonal balance.  There are other ways, and BC is a personal decision for everyone.  I've talked to other female friends who decided to get off the pill, or change which pill they take, for the same reason.  I have other friends who are fine on the pill.

Going through this process made me realize that freedom from the pill is the best decision for my mental health.  Stepping into 2018, this is a triumph for me, and I encourage other women to consider all of their options.  Rather than just sticking with what your friends do, or what you feel you can "deal with", make the best choice for your own wellbeing.  You're worth it girl.  Let's make this our best year yet!

Monday, December 4, 2017

In Clorox We Trust

If you are a woman who has reached a certain age in America, you have been
invited to a shopping party.  These are parties where women get together and someone gives a presentation to sell them things like jewelry, makeup, or
In Clorox We Trust.
Tupperware.  The hostess gets free gifts and the participants learn about new items and enjoy the quintessential female pastime of buying things they don't need. 

Well, Mom and I headed to one recently for a company called Norwex.  They sell cleaning products, and they are focused on natural.  Less artificial.  Less chemicals.  More clean.

Though it wasn't her intention, with the OCD between me and my mother, this party merely highlighted our blind faith in soap.

In the middle of her presentation, the presenter stepped into the kitchen to prove that Norwex's microfiber towels could clean raw chicken with just water.

My mom looked at me like the woman had just suggested the sky was green.

The presenter rubbed raw chicken on my friend's kitchen counter.  She wiped the area with the special towel and water.  She took a bacteria testing kit and proved to us that the bacteria was gone from the counter. 

My mom gave me a knowing look.  There was no way in hell she accepted this.

The presenter then proceeded to pull out Clorox wipes and ask how many people actually read the instructions and followed them.  

My mom alone raised her hand.  

The presenter had not anticipated that.  She then wanted to know if people realized how much Clorox actually needed to be used to be effective, and if they understood that the counter had to then be cleaned with water after.  

My mom again rose her hand, the sole religious follower of disinfectant wipes.

One of mom's OCD fears is death by raw chicken.  Her OCD germ fears have always outpaced mine.  That being said, we are both more afraid of germs than chemicals.  It's funny, because I don't even really know what the scientific definition of a germ is.  I certainly couldn't explain to you how soap works to get rid of them.  All I know is that the concept of washing without soap makes me extremely anxious.

This Norwex woman could have talked all day about how chemicals were going to make us sick and potentially harm our children.  She actually gave me new concerns I hadn't even considered (Impressive!).  But what she didn't do was convince me that her products had the solution and that water alone could battle raw chicken and other germ nemeses in the home.

She had the scientific test, but OCD germ fears are not about a scientific understanding of germs.  We need to feel safe from harm, and what makes us feel safe does not always make perfect sense.

I can think of a perfect example from years ago.  I used to be very worried when I washed my hands that I didn't wash high enough up my arms to get all the germs, but I found that washing up to my elbows was too messy and got water everywhere.  Solution: Febreze.  I would wash my hands and then spray my arms with Febreze. 

Febreze is not for people.  I knew that.  There was no scientific reason to believe this was an effective method for anything.  Didn't matter... I kept doing it.  All that mattered was that this compulsion took away the anxiety.  OCD is a funny thing that way.

The party got me thinking about how much OCD can focus more on the feeling of clean over what is really clean.  Trying to balance what feels good with what actually should be done is a constant battle.  

There is a healthy balance to seek.  At the end of this party, I ended up buying a dishtowel.  I'm still a big believer in soap, but maybe I'll strive for a pump or two less next time.  Small steps. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Bring Your Fiancé To Therapy Day

Life sentence. :)
So, my fiancé who is normally out of town Wednesday mornings happened to be in town a couple of weeks ago when I had a therapy appointment scheduled.  I knew he had been curious about how best to support me when I'm having an OCD or anxiety crisis, so I decided to bring him in to therapy.

While my therapist gave him some nice advice and a good handout with some strategies for coaching me, she also gave him one piece of advice that I did NOT appreciate.  

He told her about a particular instance where I was crying inconsolably at 3 am over something I had no control over and asked her what he could do next time.  She said he could go to another room and go to sleep. 

Are you for real, lady?

Now I understand this perspective if crying in panic was a nightly habit... even if it was a weekly habit or bimonthly habit.  Obviously if someone is irrationally upset and having hysterical breakdowns late into the night on the regular, that person should not expect a partner to stay up and suffer every single time.

But that is not the case with me.  Not even close.  This was a very upsetting circumstance regarding a family member that lead to what I still see as genuinely justifiable sadness for that person's current situation and potential poor prospects for the future.  

When I was crying, did anxiety lead me to catastrophize?  Absolutely.  But in many ways, this situation was a catastrophe without any help from my anxiety-ridden brain.

One of the tragedies of having anxiety and OCD is that you can often fall prey to "Boy Who Cried Wolf" syndrome.  You get anxious and upset often enough that when something is really bad and you are reasonably upset, people tend to still see you as unreasonable.  

My therapist may have many years of experience with anxious patients, but I can tell you what I know based on 28 years of being me:  If my fiancé had gotten up and walked out to sleep on the couch that night while I was panicking, he would not only have had a panicking and upset fiancée at 3 am.  No, that would have quickly transformed into an extremely hurt, angry, panicking and upset fiancée at 3 am 

I let my fiancé know that I was not okay with the therapist's conclusion on this issue, and we talked it over.  I think he agreed at least in part with my side.  

It is true that you cannot always be the best judge of what you need, but a therapist's advice won't perfectly apply to every situation you have either.  You have to fit that advice into your life in a way that works for you, and try to make strategies and suggestions fit your individual situation.

Ultimately, I'm glad that my fiancé came with me to therapy if only that it opened up more lines of communication on these issues.  I'm very lucky to have a partner with me on my fight against OCD and anxiety.  Navigating these obstacles will be a challenge, but one I know we can face together.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

OCD Week and the Importance of Awareness

Sometimes, it's the society that's really insane.
It's 2017 OCD Week!  I can't believe it has been a year already.  Once again, it is time to raise our voices together to try to build more awareness about what OCD really is.

This week comes every year right around Halloween.  I was actually at a haunted house recently that reminded me of how important OCD Week really is.

I hadn't been to a haunted house in like 10 years, but my fiancé and I were looking for something fun and different to do.  And it was fun.  Four different themed haunted houses with pop-out scares... including one simply titled "Insane Asylum."

Now, I'm not one of those people who demands complete political correctness at all times. I understand why the "Insane Asylum" has become a Halloween staple. Mentally ill can sometimes mean unpredictable, which can in turn sometimes mean dangerous, which is something that people fear.  

But the problem is, most mentally ill people are not dangerous; they're just tortured and hurting.  On top of that, a number of the mentally ill people who are "dangerous" are only in danger of causing harm to themselves.

Insane asylums are all but gone at this point, because the scariest part of them was not the patients themselves but how many people were mistreated. If you actually look into the history of "Insane Asylums", it is very disturbing and horrifying... but not in the fun Halloween way.  I had to try and put those realities behind me and just enjoy the rest of the night, facing more "fun" villains like clowns and masked monsters.

But I couldn't help but realize that I have considered committing myself in the past to some sort of mental health facility.  I have never been dangerous, but more than once I have been so scared and overwhelmed by the intrusive thoughts that accompany OCD that I have considered seeking refuge somewhere that intensive treatment could be provided.  

I was lucky enough to have family support.  I had a diagnosis and I had access to outpatient mental healthcare.  I was secure enough in my position that I didn't feel the need to hide that something was wrong or deny that I had a mental illness that needed treatment.  Unfortunately, many are not so lucky.

I know someone who is currently facing serious mental health issues.  She not only clearly struggles with some mental illness, she also deals with some other problems as well.  The worst part is, I'm not sure that she knows life can be any better.  Her family does not discuss such matters.  Their pride and the stigma related to any mental "defect" stop them from dealing with the problems.

I hope that soon we can all get to the point that we stop judging people for the mental problems that they face.  I hope that enough people raise awareness that we stop seeing the mentally ill as haunted house characters, and start to see them as real people.  The less stigma attached to mental illness, the more people will feel like they can come forward and get the help that they need.

Therapy and medication are nothing to be ashamed of.  Whether it is OCD or Schizophrenia or Borderline Personality Disorder... it is okay to admit you have a problem.  Working to become the best person that you can be... acknowledging and facing your shortcomings and making changes to fix them?That's bravery.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Negative Nancy

Gus being a moper.
For those who know me, you would probably identify me as a very positive person.  I'm extraverted, enthusiastic, and generally upbeat. If you come to me with a problem, I am more than happy to reassure you that everything is going to be okay.

You are great.  Whatever happened may be difficult, but you have the strength to get through it.  Nothing catastrophic is going to happen.  Your worries are overblown! Don't be silly.

But for some reason, I can't give myself the same positive outlook that I so easily give to my family, friends, acquaintances... hell, even strangers.

The tragedy is, if the situation involves me, then I always jump to the worst, most negative conclusions possible and assume that they are probably right.  It's like pessimism, but only self-directed, and with more enthusiasm!  Like, I picture a pessimist saying, "The worst outcome is going to happen. Oh well."  Instead I'm like, " THE WORST OUTCOME IS GOING TO HAPPEN.  PANIC MODE."

Take for instance this past weekend: I was finishing the last sessions of an "ACT Bootcamp" for high schoolers.  It was basically a two-day weekend review of what to expect on the college entrance exam and strategies to help them learn how to attack it, study effectively, and figure out what scores to aim for. 

In case you haven't been around high schoolers in a while, please let me remind you that they are terrifying.  Trying to reach them and gain their respect is hard for anyone, and taking up their weekend with information many of them don't process as relevant is a hard angle to work.

That being said, at the end of the class, I handed out surveys.  I want to learn what works and what doesn't.  I want to see if what I did was actually helpful.

Most of the surveys came back positive, saying thanks and identifying that the class helped them feel better prepared.  Some actually didn't identify a part of the class that they considered to be "least helpful," and most of the criticism was constructive. 

But there were a few that were all negative.  For example, a student who circled "No" that he did not feel better prepared after the class, said the most helpful part of this class was "the book,"  the least helpful part was "the lectures" and in other comments said "None".  Another student who circled "No" that he did not feel better prepared after the class actually wrote a number of lewd comments, one of the tamer of which was "I didn't find it helpful eccept (sic) for dat ASS!"

After reading over the surveys, I immediately fixated on the negative ones. What if everyone felt like this was a waste of their time and money?  Had I done a bad job?  Was it my fault that certain kids were loud, disinterested, and distracting?  Could I have been more engaging?  Were my strategies useless? Was I just a joke to these kids?  What if I wasn't invited back next year?  

Negative self-talk is a huge problem with anxiety and OCD, and I am the queen of it.  It's no surprise that seeing some negative survey results caused me to catastrophize.  I give other people the benefit of the doubt and see their problems with a level-head, but as soon as I am faced with an issue myself I can no longer hear that reasonable voice that says, "It's going to be okay."

Months and months ago, perhaps even years ago, my therapist gave me a list of questions to challenge these kinds of thoughts, but I still always seem to go down the route of doom and gloom.  Anything negative sent my way is immediately put under a microscope, and then amplified until it drowns out the positive.

Still, I know I have to keep challenging.  I guess it is funny to think about the opposite scenario:  What if I had gotten mostly negative reviews from the surveys, and then picked out the few positive ones and concluded that I was the best educator alive?  It's easy to see how out of touch with reality that would be.  

Framing it the opposite way helps show me how ridiculous I'm being.  But I'd be lying if I said that is where my mind goes first.  The thing is, you have to learn not to always follow your mind down the rabbit hole.  Try to take things out of the perspective of anxiety and see them another way.  You can triumph over your inner-"Negative Nancy".

Monday, September 4, 2017


I haven't updated in awhile, but that's because things have been very hectic over here.  The good kind of hectic, the ultimate triumph: On August 10th, my boyfriend asked me to marry him.

Dating is rough.  There’s a delicate balance as you get to know someone new… What stories can I reveal on a first date? When is it appropriate to share what memories? Will this person accept me when I reveal who I really am? 

Everyone struggles with these questions, but adding OCD into the mix can take this struggle to the next level. 

The intrusive thoughts that come with OCD are excruciatingly painful to live with and can be even harder to share, especially with a romantic partner. Whether it is the worry that you are a rapist, a murderer, a child molester, a creep, or a fraud… The person with OCD often has difficulty understanding that these thoughts are OCD related and have no basis in reality, so it can seem virtually impossible to communicate that to someone else.  When you want a man to see you as desirable and lovable, the last thing you picture saying while looking into his dreamy bedroom eyes is, “I used to have to avoid knives because I thought if I got too close I was going to stab myself.”

I remember the first time I shared my worst OCD fears with a boyfriend: I was 18 and he was 23. I told him because I felt like he had a right to know how messed up I was.  I laid it out, prepared for him to be disgusted and never look at me the same way again.  Prepared for him to leave.  At the time, I didn’t even want to live with myself, so why would any man ever want to be with me? 

What happened was the opposite of what I expected.  He listened and made a real effort to understand.  He even shared some of his scariest thoughts with me.  Intrusive thoughts may not plague everybody the same way, but they occasionally happen to almost everyone.  My boyfriend didn’t have OCD, but he didn’t have to in order to be empathetic and accepting.  He really loved me and that was enough.

That was 10 years ago.  Since then, I have gone on dates with many different men and even developed close enough love with two of them to share everything.  

Like most things in relationships, it ultimately comes down to trust. Are there men who wouldn’t have understood or even tried?  Absolutely.  Are there men who would’ve made me feel like a freak?  I’m sure.  But what I realized after that first experience was that there are people out there who can understand and who will love me, the real me, OCD and all.

My fiancé's reaction was to do research.  He asked me questions.  He shared where he could relate and admitted where he couldn’t.  He's supportive, loving and understanding of the struggles that I face and accepts them without judgement.

What we have is open and honest and real.  We are free, and we are stronger because of it.  What I would recommend to anyone with OCD is to hold out for the same.  

You're worth it, and it's worth waiting for.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Another Psychiatrist, Another Let Down

Blooms that meet my expectations.

I've definitely had my fair share of bad experiences with psychiatrists.  I have even discussed it before on this blog.  So, it is very frustrating to me that a new psychiatrist has just let me down.

It's important to realize that at this point, I am like the dream patient for a psychiatrist.  I know that I have an OCD and anxiety diagnosis, I know what pills work, I am stable, and I just show up twice a year and basically confirm that everything is still going relatively smoothly.

Well, I started with a new woman last summer and maybe I should have known from the beginning it was going to be trouble.  She didn't accept like any insurance plans.  But fine, whatever, I'm on autopilot... how hard could this be?

We met and she seemed nice.  I met her again in January, confirmed things were good, and asked if I could just have some Xanax for emergencies.  I had them in the past, but didn't have them anymore.  She looked at me like I might be a drug addict.  She looked me up in her computer system, saw that I wasn't a pill shopper, and agreed to give me a prescription for 10 pills, but lectured that this wasn't the standard of care anymore and told me she would never give me a refill.  (Please note that since she prescribed them in January, I have taken a total of one.  I seriously only use them for extreme panic attacks.)

So I was kind of off put by that situation, but okay.  I see this woman twice a year.  She doesn't need to trust me.  Whatever.  

That brings us to last week. I get a bill in the mail for $125.  Underneath the date and total info was handwritten only, "missed appointment."  I didn't even recognize the name at the top of the invoice at first.  What even was this?

I was angry, but remembered that I had made an appointment with my psychiatrist back in January for July. It was 6 months ago that I made that appointment, so I had just forgotten the day. I've never had a doctor before who didn't do some kind of confirmation.  Email, text, call... even my manicurist confirms her appointments!  

I called in to figure out what to do and her receptionist basically said all she could do was take the money I owed, but if I wanted to make another appointment I'd have to leave the doctor a voicemail.  I paid and let the receptionist know I wouldn't be returning.

This whole situation had me fuming.  Regardless of the fact that this woman has no confirmation system, what I think the real tragedy is here is that this woman is a psychiatrist who had a patient not show up, who she has had no contact with for six months, and her only response was a bill with the handwritten note "missed appointment."

Luckily, I am stable.  But what if I wasn't?  Apparently she sees no need to confirm and remind patients of their appointments and believes they can remember them on their own.  Well, in that case, the fact that I missed the appointment should be even more disturbing.  What if I hadn't shown up to my appointment because I was in crisis?  A lot of these pills that are supposed to help mental health can sometimes lead to negative effects.  She's supposed to be a mental health professional... shouldn't she at least check in?

I talked to my friend about it who agreed it was ridiculous.  She said her therapist calls her if she's even 15 minutes late for an appointment just to make sure she isn't dead.  

I know most doctors don't check-in when you miss an appointment.  But, as a mental health professional I would hope psychiatrists would understand the importance of showing care and empathy to their patients.  Even if you tell me this woman has no time to send emails or make phone calls, if she had expanded her handwritten note to read, "Missed appointment.  Hope all is well, please check in,"  that would have been enough.

Maybe that's a good lesson for all of us:  Take the little extra step to show people you care.  It can mean a lot.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Reach for Your Dreams, OCD or Not

A beautiful day to ignore OCD 
For those who know me, it will come as no surprise that one of my aspirations in life was to work as a golf cart girl.  Spending the day in the sun, bouncing around in a golf car, handing out beer, with everyone happy to see you... What could be better?

Well my friends, last Saturday I had the opportunity to live that fantasy and I knew that I had to seize the day.  Only one problem: I'm OCD with money.

For those of you who are not OCD with money, or are OCD with money in their own way, let me explain what I mean.  I am terrified of stealing.  Petrified.  I tend to count and recount.  I doubt my numbers and even my honesty.  I worry that I took tips that I wasn't supposed to take or somehow cheated the employer or the customer.  I never feel safe around money, and my anxiety around cash is extremely high.  This fear and anxiety actually gave me the compulsion to give back a ton of tips at my old bartending job.  I would sneak them back into the cash register. I eventually quit because it was so overwhelming.

Knowing that I was going to deal with money at this event made me very nervous.  But I wasn't going to let OCD get in the way of my little golf cart girl dreams.  So I went anyway.

Did I worry about counting? Yes.  Did I worry about stealing?  Yes.  It was especially bad at one point when I pulled out my wallet to make change for a $20.  I handed the change over and took the $20 and put it in my wallet.

Sounds simple, right? But my OCD was only focused on the act of putting that $20 in the wallet.  

OCD doesn't care about context or reality.  OCD was just saying "Did you steal that $20?  I can remember you taking a $20 from a customer and putting it in your wallet."

But I wouldn't let myself get caught up in an argument with my OCD.  I said NO.  Not today, buddy. I moved on.  

I had a fantastic day and even made a little money.  I kept my tips and didn't return them.  I'm glad that I didn't let my OCD fears prevent me from taking the gig, because I would have missed out on a wonderful time.  

Sometimes you just have to put through.  Don't let OCD take your dreams away.  You are capable of triumph.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Birth Control Kind of Crazy

They look so innocuous!
Oh, birth control pills.  They can certainly be a beautiful thing.  Aside from preventing pregnancy (major pro), they can also help keep your skin clear.  Plus, it is certainly nice to be on a schedule and know when you're going to have a visit from Aunt Flow.

That being said, they certainly have their drawbacks.  People talk about how using these pills can lead to depression.  Messing with hormones can mess with mental health.  As someone with OCD and anxiety, I've experienced first hand how these pills can play into some of your weaknesses.  It's a unique feeling of imbalance that I wouldn't wish on anyone.
I was on a birth control pill for awhile which went through three different hormone levels over three consecutive weeks, followed by one week off.  I found that one week a month was particularly rough in terms of my mood.  I was extra anxious and cry-prone for that week (My boyfriend learned to tread carefully during this time). Call it PMS, call it whatever you want, it was a noticeable difference that I wasn't comfortable dealing with 25% of the time.

So, this past month I switched to a new kind of birth control pill that my Dr. informed me provides a steady level of hormones, rather than changing week to week. 

Sounded brilliant.  Sounded steady.

However, instead of balancing things in a positive way, now it feels like every week is the bad week!

I am feeling all the feelings.  The negative ones are especially strong.  Sadness. Irritability. Fear. Despair. Frustration.  I started sobbing watching the end of Big the other day.  I was crying just from catching the last like 20 minutes of a Tom Hanks' movie that I've already seen... with a happy ending.  

Feeling overwhelmed and anxious is the standard this month.  I'm going to try and give this pill one more month to see if this is merely a transition phase, but if not I have to explore other options.  

When you have mental health issues, you often have to make tough decisions between two less than ideal choices when it comes to medication (Ex.: Do I deal with the side effects of my OCD meds or do I deal with the intrusive thoughts, fears and anxiety that I experience without them?). My therapist has reminded me that there are other options for birth control if the pills are having too much of a negative impact on my life.  That being said, I like knowing I'm on them and what to expect month to month.  It doesn't seem fair to have to choose between that peace of mind and better mental stability.  

The tragedy is that I might just have to.  

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Face of Anxiety and OCD

For my dog Gus, anxiety is a squirrel.
For whatever reason, your anxiety and OCD often pick a target.  What follows from exposure to whatever scares you are feelings of fear, dread, and often intrusive thoughts related to that topic.  Whether it's a fear of germs, a fear of harming yourself, or a fear of stepping on cracks... the anxiety takes hold.

What you have to remember though is that the face of anxiety is different for each individual person.

If you don't know someone well (and sometimes even if you do), you often have no idea what sets off his or her OCD and anxiety.  Few of us go around shouting our greatest fears from the rooftops, and our fears don't always follow logical rules.  

For example, someone with harm OCD, who fears they want to hurt others, might not be set off by the stereotypical exposure to dirt, but could be set off by seeing knives.  At a restaurant where most of us are completely carefree and oblivious to the silverware, this person might be close to a panic attack, or feel the need to do certain compulsions to avoid disaster.

The other thing is that a lot of us are pretty good at hiding our inner turmoil.  We try to maintain an image of cool, calm and collected.  When intrusive thoughts are too dark, too scary, or too embarrassing, we want them kept to ourselves and do our best to hide them from the public eye.

So what can you do to be supportive?  Two things stand out to me.

First, don't assume.  When your friend says they have OCD and anxiety, realize that it could mean many different things.  You won't just know what sets them off unless they share.  

Second, if your friend does share, try to refrain from judgement.  Think about your own idiosyncratic fears.  OCD or not, we all have them.  One of my non-OCD fears is that Diet Coke is poison. (Yes, some scientific studies have shown bad effects, but most of my concern with the artificial sweeteners is just based on feeling.)

Just as every person is unique, every manifestation of mental illness is unique.  There is no one face of anxiety and OCD, just like there is no one face of Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia.  Those with the same diagnosis share many common threads, but we are ultimately all our own blanket of crazy.  Keep an open mind and remember that you don't have to completely understand to empathize.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

OCD: Not as Seen on TV

 The other day one of my tutoring clients who is aware of my OCD asked me a very sincere question.  Acknowledging his ignorance on the topic, he wondered, "Do you ever just not take your OCD meds one day if you know you have a major homework assignment or project to focus on?"
What you see on TV isn't always what you get.

Fascinating.  He saw my OCD as almost a kind of superpower that could be used for good... harnessed and directed at my will. HA! As if.
The truth is that OCD can't help me become a better student.  On the contrary, there have even been times that it has made it impossible to do the work that I needed to do.  Rather than a superpower that I can use to direct my focus and perfect my projects, OCD chooses the focus. It brings on anxiety that can slow or even halt progress.  For example, if I get into an OCD reading funk, I may feel the compulsion to reread sentences over and over and over.  Soon they lose their meaning.  

There are a lot of misunderstandings about mental health out there.  Just think about how many times people equate schizophrenia with multiple personality disorder, or how little people know about the varying symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, pop culture and the media generally take a very surface level exploration of the topic. They give people something easy to understand and digest. 

Since the overall media isn't educating the public, it becomes even more important that individuals who are able spread awareness when they can. When my student asked his question, as someone who is in a relatively stable place and felt safe to share, I seized it as a teachable moment.  

Many people get understandably angry and frustrated by the lack of knowledge that's out there.  However, instead of getting annoyed by this student's question, I just tried to explain the reality of the situation.  If the person is sincere in trying to understand, what good does it do to get mad?  It isn't his fault the only vision of OCD he had been exposed to was an incorrect caricature.

We can triumph by setting the record straight, even if we have to spread awareness one person at a time.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

When Anxiety Attacks

Anxiety can hit you like a blizzard.
Mondays are hard.

They are especially hard if you have an anxiety attack in the middle of the afternoon.

Monday morning, I was feeling pretty low.  I was driving home from visiting my boyfriend who lives in another city.  I was still upset about a small argument we had the night before (even though it was resolved.) Adele's "When We Were Young" played on the radio and I could feel the feelings starting to bubble up.

When I got home and was sitting on my favorite chair, all the negative feelings hit. Tragedy. Mom asked me what was wrong, and I couldn't pinpoint it, but soon I'm loudly sobbing in her arms.

Anxiety attacks can feel different to different people.  For me... it feels like my heart is crying.  And I'm crying.  And the whole world is overwhelming and there appears to be no good outcome in sight.

All sorts of negative doubts, questions, and considerations bombard you at once.  Here are just a few of mine from Monday (Trigger warning for those who are prone to anxious fits.):

- Maybe I'll never find a career I love.
- I'm a disappointment.
- I feel so physically blegh lately... Maybe it will always be this way.
- What if I never find someone who loves me enough to marry me?
- My parents will likely die before me and I'll have to live without them.
- I don't see a positive future where I'm happy.
- I should have made a lot of decisions differently.
- I'm getting old.
- There's not enough time.

In hindsight, when the attack is over, many of these concerns seem overblown. But while the attack is occurring, they are all very real.

Why Monday afternoon?  Was it because of where I was on my cycle of birth control pills (Varying hormone levels can lead to mood changes)?  Was it related to an exacerbation of OCD and anxiety?  Was it just a normal twenty-something freakout? Feelings are difficult enough to figure out without these other factors.

My advice to those facing an anxiety attack is to just let it happen.  Cry it out. Feel all the feelings.  Don't hide from it.  Take it from someone who has been there and back (and there and back and there and back....) You will come out on the other side.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Magic Germs

Recently, somebody I know with OCD was having some serious anxiety about getting sick.  The reason?  They were in the vicinity of someone who had thrown up.  Even though she knew she hadn't made contact with that person, she was still concerned that maybe she had been exposed.  What if she had been in contact with a person who had been in contact with that person?

What could be lurking on the sink handle?

Now this concern may seem outlandish to some, but for those of us with germ-related OCD fears it makes total sense.  Although I'm much better than I used to be, I know that at different times in my life I have determined that germs have amazing powers.

Powers to spread... powers to stick around. Powers to crawl over distances.  

Magic germs.

But I got to thinking this week... what do I know about germs?  

As far as actual facts go:  Not much.  

What even is a germ really?  As I'm writing this, I realize that I don't actually know, other than that it is something that is icky and can make you sick.

Most of my germ fears are not based on any real scientific knowledge.  They're based on false beliefs, and the tragedy is that I know sometimes there is no level of scientific reasoning that would get rid of the anxiety.

Obviously germs can spread through contact with people who are infected, but different diseases spread in different ways.  I just don't know how it all ultimately works.  There are those times you get a cold and you don't remember even coming into contact with someone who had a cold.  There are other times you know you made out with and snuggled your boyfriend all weekend, and then you don't catch his cold.  

Washing your hands before you eat or after you come into contact with a sick person is obviously a smart move, but over-washing or spending your time worrying about what you will catch will only give you dry skin on your hands and an unquiet mind.  

But I know what it's like to not be able to shake that feeling of contamination until you've washed your hands a certain extent.  My concerns have definitely lessened over the years, but I can still relate to the caricature of an OCD person: someone terrified of germs, washing and washing and washing.  

To those who still struggle, I hope you know it can get better.  With the right treatment, you'll see the real magic isn't the spread of germs, it's the power of your own mind to overcome your biggest fears.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Don't Try This at Home

As I mentioned previously, I've been in kind of a funk lately. 

Take as instructed!!
As I also mentioned, I was exasperated by my psychiatrist's decision to do nothing to change my medication.

So, a few weeks ago I did something dumb:  I took matters into my own hands.

I was on two different kinds of medication for OCD, and I decided that I didn't want to take one of them anymore.  (I'm leaving out their names because I don't want anyone copying my stupidity and thinking they will get the same result.)  

I had started this second one and loved it.  It gave me amazing amounts of energy.  I felt so much BETTER.  Not just with OCD, but in general.  I was ready to tackle the world! 

Unfortunately, this was just a side effect that wore off after a few weeks.  Then, even though I stayed on the lowest dose possible, I think another common side effect took over... and this one was much less pleasant: weight gain.

See, when I was on this pill I rarely ever felt full.  This isn't a huge deal until you put me in front of a bowl of mindless snack food, like chips and guac. Imagine being able to eat chip after chip without any signal from your body to stop?  It's almost like a super power, but with unfortunate consequences.

Now being a girl is hard enough.  Being a girl with OCD?  Very hard.  But getting chubby on top of it?  No.

So my funk had hit and I decided since I was on the lowest dose just to stop taking it.  It didn't seem to do much for me besides potentially prep me for a food eating competition.  

I didn't tell my psychiatrist.  I didn't tell my mom or my boyfriend.  I didn't want any naysayers.  I figured I'd tell them when it was already done and my transition off was complete.  I ignored the fact that I had stopped taking other OCD meds before and had total freak outs weeks later.  I didn't even Google what might happen.  Just did it.

And in the following weeks I saw no change to my mental health.  With a strict diet, I very quickly lost 8 pounds, but who is to say if the pills had anything to do with it.

I finally told my mom, who went straight to the internet to find out what horrors I may have risked.  Turns out, they were pretty big.  People experience drastic side effects coming off this medication, including seizures.

I somehow was lucky, and consider this a triumph over my own stupid choices.  I made it out unscathed, but I beg you, do not try this at home.  Don't let some weight gain make you go rogue.  Consult your doctor first to come up with a plan if you want to get off a certain medication regimen.  That way, you will make sure you do it safely.

You will also make sure your mom doesn't waste hundreds of dollars on refills that you don't plan on taking.  Yikes.  Sorry mom!

Thursday, January 12, 2017


A comfort after a cry.
I've been in a major funk lately, and not the cool Uptown kind that Bruno Mars sings about.

To top it off, I just discovered that my feelings of awful might not be OCD or anxiety disorder related.  They may just be normal.


I go to my psychiatrist and I tell her about my current life situation... how my business has not been picking up and I may have to find a new job and how my boyfriend has moved to Dayton. (Her response to my boyfriend moving away was just one word: "Yikes."  I hadn't heard that word since like '96.) 

I also tell her how I've been feeling.  I explain how my energy is so low it's hard to get out of bed in the morning, how I have a lack of motivation to do basically anything, and how I've put on weight.  I just generally feel anxiety and eugh all the time. 

I expected her to recommend something different for my medication.  Instead, she reflected that there was a lot of "uncertainty" in my life right now, and then made no change to my drug regimen.


So, I go to see my therapist yesterday and tell her all of this.  I explain how I thought it was weird that we weren't making any changes to the meds when I feel this bad.  Surely something should be done. 

That's when my therapist put things in perspective.

She told me she wanted to "normalize" what I was feeling.  This anxiety wasn't because of the OCD or other anxiety issues: This was anxiety that made sense in my situation.

I've read before and recently talked to my mom about how with OCD, or any other mental health issue, you tend to pathologize everything.  It's easy to blame the OCD for any anxious or bad feelings.  But the fact of the matter is that yucky feelings happen to everyone.  

Now, I don't often like the theory of "normal."  It can serve to make us feel like we don't belong, or we're crazy, or we somehow don't fit a made-up standard. But sometimes we need the concept of normality.  It keeps us in check.  Plus, we all have times where we need to just feel "normal."

So now that my problems have been qualified as not just in my head, I'm left to fight on and figure this out. Triumph or Tragedy? Still unclear.