Monday, May 7, 2018

Bridal Neuroticism

No veil can hold back all these feelings.
My wedding is less than two weeks away, and I am in a feeling frenzy.

By this I mean that I am experiencing all of the feelings.  All of them.

My new therapist said from our first meeting that she hates weddings because they cause so much stress and conflict.  I have been lucky in that my mom has taken on most of this stress through planning the rehearsal dinner, wedding, and out-of-towner brunch.  We haven't faced any crazy levels of conflict either... but a wedding is a wedding.

Nobody can save me from the emotional significance of my wedding day.

My anxiety disorder has compounded with the natural anxiety of being a bride. This has lead to an experience of intense volatility, and I am moving through the whole gamut of human emotions hour by hour: from elation, to despair, to anger, to amusement, to frustration, to excitement, to irritation, to anxiety, to contentment.  It is not about cold feet or doubt as to whether the marriage is the right thing; it is like marriage has initiated some kind of emotional existential crisis.

My thought processes move like this:

It will be lovely to move into a new house with my new husband.

We get to really start building our own family!

I love my fiancé, he is so handsome and kind.

My fiancé and I get to spend the rest of our lives together.

I can't wait for my wedding!

I wish I could stay focused on the positive and joyful pieces of the now, but when you have anxiety, the darker thoughts always find a way to mix in somehow.  You are often worried about the future or upset about the past.  Having OCD can make this hard as well, as thoughts that you don't want to have seem to stick the worst.  Therapists will recommend mindfulness techniques, but it can be very hard not to get caught up in your fears.

Now, I am the first to admit that a high level of irrationality has taken hold. This was proven to me the other day when I called the auto-body shop to cancel an appointment.  I was mid-major crying breakdown as I dialed (functional even mid-frenzy).  I was so hysterical on the phone that the worker let me know that I could still come there if I needed to talk to someone.  You know you have reached maximum-crazy-woman-potential when the man at the car shop is offering you emotional support.

I have strong logic skills, so my irrationality is always interestingly tempered by some understanding that I'm being irrational.  For example, yesterday when we went to get our Ketubah (the Jewish marriage contract) framed, the woman was curt and dismissive of us, and I was very perturbed. I refused to go anywhere else that day to handle the errand.  

I was irrationally upset, and all I wanted to do was call customer service and rant, but I also didn't want anyone to lose their jobs or be punished.  I mean, this woman was probably being paid minimum wage which isn't enough to care about anything really.  I realized the call would be useless, consisting of me saying that I was wronged but refusing to say when or by who.  

I played out what I would say in my head, but I never calledI took a nap instead.  Lucky for Michael's customer service line, I am not good at lashing out.  Truthfully, I think the world would be a much happier place if more people took naps instead of calling customer service.

After that nap, I woke up and through the rest of the day and night continued to move up and down through the emotions.  Today has been exactly the same.  It's fascinating to experience (if understandably somewhat frightening to spectators).  I'm just trying to move through and hopefully not cause too much collateral damage. 

The wedding is now 11 days away.  I'm lucky enough to get to marry the man of my dreams, and if it takes an emotional rollercoaster to get to the alter... at this point I just need to laugh and enjoy the ride.  Getting to have him as my husband at the end of the day will be the ultimate triumph.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

I lost 10 pounds in two months! Ask me how!

At the beginning of March:
Goal achieved... but at what cost?
Chronic Stress and Anxiety!

Not the answer you were expecting?

Women in modern American society are constantly reminded that thin is the ideal.  

Thin = Pretty
Thin = Desirable
Thin = Good  

People who lose weight quickly and keep it off are considered success stories.  We all want to know their secrets... How can we be thinner too?  

What people forget is that weight loss isn't always a positive sign.  I could be a considered a weight loss success story, but my experience is not something you want to emulate.

When I bought my wedding dress back in October, I told the seamstress I wouldn't be losing any weight.  I've tried losing weight many times and trying to diet never seems to work, so why would it now?  I have blogged about dieting in the past, along with the OCD struggles that come with it, and I am well aware that I suck at dieting effectively.  The last thing I wanted was to buy a dress that wouldn't zip on the big day.  I decided to watch what I ate and maybe if I was lucky I would lose a pound or two.

What I didn't account for was that between working two jobs, taking tutoring clients for my own business, house hunting, and wedding planning, I wouldn't even have to try to lose weight - the insane amount of stress and the ensuing anxiety flair-ups that followed would do the work for me.  

Some people reach for food when times get tough, but I stress starve. When I feel like I'm drowning in responsibilities and struggling to find time for basic needs, food is the first thing to go.  If I start to panic as to what to tackle when, a meal is an easy thing to cut while prioritizing - an unnecessary time suck that can always be postponed. 10 more minutes of sleep vs. breakfast? Sleep always wins.  

On top of that, if the anxiety gets too extreme, I often do not even want food.  I start to feel disgusted at the mere idea of it.  Keep food away from me and let me take a nap.

I know this is not healthy.  My weight has not been this low since I was 22 and had an OCD/mental health breakdown while trying to figure out what to do with my life.  I know that in these extreme circumstances I need to find a better way to balance getting nutrition and fulfilling my obligations.  The real tragedy here though is all of the positive reinforcement I have been getting for these unhealthy behaviors.  Because thin is the goal, once the weight started to fall off, the compliments started to pour in.  

I do not have an eating disorder, but this experience has given me more of an idea of the seductive nature of the process.  I have bought clothes in sizes I never dreamed possible, and I couldn't help but feel like I had accomplished something when they fit.  

But perhaps the craziest part is that I still do not really feel thin. My weight high was 142 pounds and I always thought if I could just get down to the teens again, I would be happy.  At the beginning of March, when I hit 119 (23 pounds less), it didn't even feel that different.  So what weight would be low enough?  Is there a weight that would make me satisfied? 

At my final wedding dress fitting last week, I was warned that I need to maintain my current size - any more weight loss and the dress will not fit.  I have been hovering around 118-119 for the past month, my weight maintenance supported by some lovely dinners out and a decadent Vegas bachelorette weekend of indulgent eating.  

During this final countdown, I know I need to schedule meals and jump on to the self-care movement to stop my weight from slipping any further.... but part of me still can't help wanting to be thinner.  I have to work hard to fight against ingrained cultural beauty standards that value image over health.  

If this experience has taught me anything, it is to be very careful when dishing out weight loss compliments.  Sometimes weight loss is a sign of illness.  For example, my grandmother wanted to be thin her whole life and ultimately only reached her goal when she contracted pancreatic cancer.  Then there are the stress and anxiety situations like mine where mental health imbalances are manifesting physically.  One of my friends lost a lot of weight before her wedding because the stress of wedding planning on top of her intense grad school program actually gave her an ulcer.

Next time you are feeling dissatisfied with your weight, remember to practice gratitude. Having an appetite is a blessing, and enjoying a good meal is one of life's great pleasures.  If you are at a healthy weight and you feel good, there is no need to make yourself miserable trying to "lose those last 10 pounds."  Take it from someone who lost them - you may not even notice that they are gone.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Pain of Cyberbullies and Internet Trolls

The kindness of strangers.
Oh, the wonders of the internet!  It is a magical place: a place where I can see almost unlimited pictures of puppies and hedgehogs, a place where I can share my story and make meaningful connections with people across the world, and (sadly) a place where I can be randomly insulted at any time.

I would like to share with you a story from last Tuesday evening.  

Background:  There was a man from an OCD support group that I had reached out to in September of 2016.  I wanted to ask him his opinion on some of the recent drama that had transpired in an OCD facebook group we had joined.  I reached out to this particular man about it because he had a different group himself and I felt the need to talk to someone else about this weirdness.  

He agreed with me about the odd Facebook group situation.  We spoke a few times and shared a number of pleasant conversations about OCD, facebook and blogging.  We didn't speak often, but when we did he was always very nice and we were both supportive of each other.  Though he was in another country and almost a decade my senior, it was nice to meet someone who was facing similar demons and who worked on OCD advocacy.

In February 2017, we had a brief conversation, and then I didn't hear from him until one evening in May 2017.  I responded expecting normal pleasantries and asked for an update on the book he had said he was writing.  His response?

"May I see the mounds?!
As in your huge tits 
Go on"

This was followed by a missed Facebook call and finally the message "No worries."

I just didn't respond.  

This was not how we spoke to each other.  In our first conversation he mentioned his girlfriend and I spoke about my boyfriend.  While he had made an occasional flirty comment before, it always seemed to be in good fun and he was always respectful. I didn't understand where this came from, but I certainly didn't need to be sexually harassed online.

To his credit, the next day he messaged me apologizing saying that he was drunk.  However, I chose not to reply to his apology.  Though we had chatted a few times, I considered his outburst a pretty significant breach of boundaries.  The consumption of alcohol is not an excuse for harassment, and I did not care to continue speaking.  At that point, I considered the matter closed.

Then comes Tuesday. I was perusing Facebook, minding my own business, when I received the following message from this man:

"They're fine udders
Pity about the face
You look like an old woman
Bet you love to knit"

10 months without a word, and out of the blue boom.  Another mention of my boobs, followed by a nasty dig at my looks, completed by a laughable conclusion.  Where did this come from?

I hate to admit it, but my anxiety and self doubt had me looking at my pictures and trying to figure out what made me look old.  The self-blame is easy and natural for me.  However, recognizing the ridiculousness of such a reaction, I started to ask myself what the comment said about the commenter.

That is where the real tragedy comes in here.  I started to think about the kind of pain someone must be experiencing to feel the need to lash out at people online.  I started wondering what kind of need someone is trying to fill when by cutting down someone else from afar, unable to even witness any reaction.  What satisfaction did typing these things to a relative stranger give to this man?

Also, what do these bullies hope to accomplish?  Cyberbullies have literally contributed to suicide.  I would assume most of them are not sadistic enough to hope for this result, but that begs the question... what exactly were you hoping for here, guys?  

Do these bullies want their targets to hurt the way that they hurt? Are some of them seeking some kind of twisted justice?  In the case of the man who messaged me, for example... was he so mad that I had not accepted his apology that he felt he needed to get back at me for it all this time later?

At my tutoring job recently, a student was looking at research articles related to cyberbullying.   One of the articles described how there are even groups of internet trolls who specifically target funeral pages (I could not believe that this would be at all widespread, but apparently it is very real and has been for awhile.  Check out this article from 2011 describing the problem.)  

With all the wonderful things a person could spend time doing on the internet (ex. There is literally an entire Facebook group dedicated to "Disapproving Corgis"), how bad does a person have to feel about him or herself to be spending otherwise free time trying to tear down other people? 

Happy people do not become cyberbullies or internet trolls.

Please do not get me wrong here.  While pain may be a reason for cyberbullying, I do not believe there is any excuse for it.  Cyberbullying is cowardly, cruel and destructive.  However, I do think there is a benefit in recognizing that cyberbullies are not coming from a place of strength or power.  

If you are ever harassed online, either directly or anonymously, remind yourself of this.  Do not let the opinions and rantings of troubled minds determine how you judge and value yourself.  Repeat the wise words of Coco Chanel, "I don't care what you think about me.  I don't think about you at all."

And to the guy who harassed me:  I hope you work through whatever's going on and find peace.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

When You Have to Fight Your Nature

Gus's nature? Take the burger. 
No regrets. No remorse.
We all have natural inclinations that we should fight against for our own good.  

These demons come in many different forms.  If you have OCD, one of yours may be naturally seeking out reassurance to combat self-doubt.  If you have anxiety, you may naturally jump to the worst conclusion in every situation. 

Whatever your demons are, building character involves the difficult process of learning to combat these internal signals to craft a better self.

With this in mind, I have realized that my dog, Gus, is honestly one of the most noble creatures I know.

Those who have met Gus or have heard of his antics may be surprised by this.  Gus has bitten 3 of the 4 members of my bridal party.  Gus snarls, guards his food, and barks at strangers. He has seen a behavioral therapist for his anxiety and paranoia, resulting in a regimen of anti-anxiety medication, and he still gets very ornery.

But Gus is growing.  This morning, I went to give him his kiss goodbye and I got snarled at.  I knew to back away, and I went to sit on a nearby chair where I knew I would not come across as threatening. Gus followed me, did some light angry nibbles on my hand, and then, still slightly snarling, jumped up on me for a hug.  

I was moved.

Some of you may read this and wonder how I could possibly view this as positive.  Here's the thing: Gus showed restraint.  You could tell that he was really trying to be good...  The mismatch of his snarls and his cuddles revealed the internal struggle between his natural inclination to attack vs. his desire to show love and not hurt his loved ones.

Now, you may accuse me of anthropomorphism, but I think this experience really highlights something important about judging human behavior.  Certain instincts vary from individual to individual, and how impressive it is for someone to abstain from a behavior really depends on that specific person's natural inclinations toward that behavior.  

Anger is a solid example.  Most people don't bite, but a lot of them yell.  Personally, I rarely have outbursts where I scream at the target of my rage. However, I know that there are people who really struggle not to snap at others whenever they are frustrated.  In my opinion, when those people don't yell at someone, it is much more admirable than when I do not yell at someone.

Another way to think about it? Imagine fresh, hot french fries.  There may be two people who decline to eat them, but if one of those people hates the taste of french fries, their act of restraint just isn't as commendable or meaningful.

Trying to fight our negative instincts is the only way we can stop them from controlling our lives.  Even small steps matter.  If you have an OCD fear of germs and manage to ignore your compulsion to wash your hands an extra time? You have fought a harmful instinct.  If your depression tells you to stay in bed all day, but you get up anyway? You have fought a harmful instinct.  If your eating disorder tells you to binge, but you stop after one plate? You have fought a harmful instinct.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking comparable actions require comparable strengths of character.  Context matters.  Evolving and becoming stronger means that you have to appreciate these little victories in your unique journey.  

Congratulate yourself on the small improvements.  The little actions add up.

This is how we grow.  This is how we triumph.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

OCD Paradox: Wanting and Fearing Control

Kind of like Ketchup and Mustard,
these opposing flavors somehow fit
together on the OCD sandwich. 
If you have experienced life with OCD (or have read other entries on this blog), then by now you know that OCD is a very strange beast.

It doesn't always make a lot of sense - even to the person who is experiencing it.

One of OCD's trademarks is anxiety about what's to come.  I worry about what might go wrong.  I worry about what negative consequences might result from a scenario.  I jump to the absolute worst conclusions naturally and with ease.  

Compulsions often come into play when the OCD sufferer is trying to stop something bad from happening.  As an easy example... If I was worried that germs on my hand were going to get someone else sick, then I might wash my hands to try and take back control of the situation and take the concern away.

For someone who is constantly worried about bad outcomes, it seems like a natural thing that I would want to step up whenever possible to maintain the best control that I can over what's to come.

Except no.  It's not that simple.

One of OCD's other trademarks is doubt.  You'd be amazed what OCD can make you question.  This doubt can lead to an intense desire to avoid situations where you have to be in control.  

I HATE having responsibility for something if I can avoid it, because the OCD doubt makes me question myself and whether or not I have done things appropriately.  I'm such a great worrier, and the more I am responsible for, the more there is for me to worry about.

For a simple illustration of this opposite phenomenon, even keeping my own time clock at work could drive me crazy.  What if I write something down wrong?  How can I really prove to myself that I marked my time correctly?  Was I really there at 9:57 am, or should I have marked 9:58 am?  

Having a clock-in machine at one of my jobs has been such a relief just because it takes that concern off of my shoulders.  It marks the time that you click on arrival, and there is no self-reporting... no room for a mismark.  

Wanting to have control over outcomes while also fearing that you will mess up anything you are in control of can be a maddening situation.  This is one of those OCD tragedies: a seemingly lose-lose situation where OCD can creep in from either side.  

So, what can you do about this kind of thing?

You actually have to work on both sides, because control in life is both something that you need to take while also accepting that you never truly have completely.  

You can work with a therapist on learning to accept that sometimes you can't control situations, and that the motto "Let go and let God" is sometimes your best bet.  At the same time, you can't let yourself avoid any situation where it is appropriate to take the reigns.  Having a therapist lead you through Exposure Response Prevention therapy (exposing you to situations where you need to take control and aren't allowed to perform the compulsions you use to eliminate doubt) can help you grow in this area.

As usual, it's all about balance.  May we all continue to work towards it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

When Your OCD Therapist Retires

Nothing says 'thanks' like a puppy card.
Today was my last appointment with my therapist.

Don't get me wrong, this was not because I have achieved a zen state of perfect well-being and faced all of my demons; this was because she is retiring.

It's a very bizarre experience when your therapist leaves.  Here is this woman that I have spent years confiding in, telling her things that I don't tell even some of my close friends.  She has been there through the ups and downs of my dating saga with my fiancé, leading up to his proposal and into wedding planning... and now *poof* we will never speak again.  I wonder if it's a bit unsettling to her as well in some ways, not knowing what will happen to me and other clients - not getting to finish the story.

She warned me she was retiring about three months ago.  This woman certainly has every right to do so.  I know not to take it personally, and lucky I am stable enough that this isn't a true crisis. Still, it is a frustrating experience in many ways to lose your therapist.

With OCD, and the intrusive thoughts that accompany it, every time you share your story you have to worry about how it will be received.  This is true even when you talk to new mental health professionals, as not all of them are OCD experts.  Mental illness is very vast and mysterious, and a therapist simply can't be an expert in every diagnosis.  The intrusive thoughts trouble you enough, and then when you share them with someone new, you worry and wonder:  Will the person understand?  Will the person panic and think I'm a freak or a monster?  Will the person misinterpret what I'm saying?

I definitely had these fears when I found out my therapist was retiring, and they were compounded when she warned me that there weren't that many OCD specialists in the area... especially female ones.  Given that I prefer to work with a woman as my therapist, I was very worried I may be left to dry.

When we spoke originally about where I would go next, my therapist shared the idea that I could work with someone in her office who was practiced in anxiety and wanted to learn about OCD.  She believed that since currently my OCD was relatively stable, and since I had learned a lot over the years about OCD, I didn't necessarily need a specialist for regular visits.  

Though she suggested I could always get an OCD specialist for emergencies, I didn't want any part of this plan.  My OCD can come on strong seemingly out of nowhere, and I don't want to be a guinea pig for someone just learning about OCD.  The wrong reaction to an OCD crisis could be very damaging.  I've already had an experience with a psychiatrist who seemed to have no idea how OCD worked.  I didn't want to go through that again.

Luckily, I spoke up and I have an appointment booked next week with one of the few female OCD specialists (Always speak up y'all!). My therapist knows her, likes her, and was able to arrange to transfer a number of her clients to her.

So, today was bittersweet.  I gave my therapist her final update on my life, gave her a card with puppies on it that thanked her for everything, and gave her a little gift: three matching notebooks wrapped in a bow, the top of which reads "You are stronger than you think."  I thought this was appropriate, since she always made me feel that way.  I wish her all the best, and I can only hope that next week when I meet my new therapist/OCD spirit guide, that we can connect in the same way.

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!