Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Sayonara, Seratraline!

 

Well, here we are again...

Sayonara, Seratraline!
In August 2019, I wrote a post about the surprises in transitioning off of my OCD/anxiety medication.  Then, almost a year later in June 2020, as the Coronavirus pandemic made even the most mentally stable of us feel uneasy, I wrote a post about the lessons I learned from getting back on.

Now, it's April 2021 and as of Sunday, I am officially back off my meds.  My husband and I had planned to start a family last spring, and now we are hoping to try in the fall.  After speaking to my psychiatrist, we decided that I was doing well and it was worth a shot to try getting back off again.  

Ideal Scenario:  I continue to do well, see my therapist and keep my stress low so that I can stay off of the medication through pregnancy.  I get more into meditation and learn how to be zen while transforming into the physical embodiment of Gaya, mother goddess.  Then, as soon as I have the baby, I will go immediately back on a pill that has been studied as safe for lactating mothers.  Going on right away should help with any postpartum depression and anxiety, which I feel fortunate I already know to look out for.

Potential Plan B:  I realize within the next few months that this isn't feasible and my stress levels and anxiety will be more dangerous for pregnancy than getting back on medicine.  Because I got off now, I have time to figure this out and get back on and stable before we try in the fall. 

Potential Plan C:  I do fine before pregnancy but have to get back on something during pregnancy because the hormones take me to a dark place.  I'm already in contact and have a relationship with my psychiatrist, and she has helped a lot of mothers who have safely delivered babies while on medication, so she is prepared to help me tackle any blips along the way.

I am open to any of these possibilities - the important thing is to plan ahead.  There's a lot of stigma around mental health medication, especially for pregnant women, but for those of us who need it, we realize how important and life changing it can be.  Nobody knows your personal circumstances, and how you handle pregnancy and medication should be between you, your doctor and your support system.

Let me end with the same disclaimer as in my June 2020 post: Remember: I'm not a doctor, and I can only speak from my experience.  Since elementary school, I've tried a number of different OCD/Anxiety medications (from Zoloft to Luvox to Viibryd, just to name a few).  Some have worked better for me than others.  The best thing you can do is is to find a good psychiatrist, advocate for your needs and keep an open mind.  During these difficult times, don't forget to take care of yourself.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Hope? Is that you?

I can't believe I haven't written since June, but I also can't believe it is March again already, and yet... here we are.

This was the year everyone got to learn what anxiety felt like, and those of us who already knew went into hyperdrive.  With so much unknown and so much pain and fear, the COVID-19 pandemic threw us all for a loop.

And then there was the news - accessible 24/7 on your TV and your phone. Always full of new information about death tolls and hospital capacities...  Graphs, charts and infographics of death and despair.  

Sometimes doesn't it feel like the people producing the news have been coached by your anxiety?  

Examples:

Hospitalizations are down in Place A!     They're on the rise in Place B.  

Good news about Vaccine A!  Here is what could go wrong with Vaccine A.

Numbers are trending down in this area!  Prepare for another surge.

Any good news always has a counterpoint - someone saying maybe things won't actually be okay.  There are always multiple people willing to voice the worst case scenarios and many acting like they are the most likely outcomes.  Sometimes, it's like your anxiety came to life and got on CNN and Facebook.

With the constant ability to access news, and the updates that appear unbidden on social media or through news alerts, this barrage can become like a physical manifestation of intrusive thoughts - unstoppable, negative and overwhelming.

It can't hurt you when it isn't on.
Now we obviously have to take this pandemic seriously, but I think we have gotten to a place where it is safe to be... Dare I say it?  Cautiously optimistic.

Just today Biden announced that the timeline for availability has been pushed up and all adult Americans should be able to get a vaccine by the end of May.  And Johnson & Johnson hopes to manufacture a BILLION doses by 2022.

My mom was just able to schedule her vaccine.  My grandmother and two of my bosses have completed both shots.  Things are moving forward.

We all have to try and walk the line between staying necessarily informed and going down the rabbit hole of negative news.  When electronics are off, they're not very attractive to look at, but they're also less likely to intrude on your sense of peace.  

We still have to take steps to be safe, and the world won't be healed tomorrow, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Don't let the negative news cycle snuff that light out for you.  As we continue this pandemic marathon, I wish you all good health and inner peace.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Back on OCD/Anxiety Meds - 6 Lessons

Off-Brand Zoloft!
It has been awhile since I've written, but let's be honest - Life is a little crazy right now for literally everyone.  The pandemic crisis is hard on everyone.  With major changes to social, professional, and family life, even without anxiety, it would be hard to process everything.

With OCD and anxiety, and off of my medication, things became unbearable.  Even before the civil unrest, I was struggling to cope with all the changes and the disappointments.  I quit my tutoring job and took on more hours at the appraisal firm I assist at, my husband and I decided to postpone our plans to start a family, I couldn't see my parents or friends like before, we couldn't go to Disney as planned... I was crying. A lot.  My anxiety was skyrocketing, and I was feeling depression and hopelessness.

So, after discussing how I was feeling with my therapist, it was clear that it was time to call the psychiatrist and admit that I needed some more help.  Here are 5 lessons I've learned getting back on OCD/Anxiety Meds:

1) It doesn't mean you have failed if you need to get back on medicine.

I was off my medicine for almost a year, and up until the COVID-19 crisis, I was actually doing pretty well.  I delayed getting back on the medicine because I couldn't help feeling like I was failing.  I wanted to be able to just suck it up.  I would never judge anyone else for being on medication, but it was hard to practice what I preach.  However, I ultimately was able to rationalize that getting a little help from medicine during one of the most stressful periods my generation has ever faced was nothing to feel shame about.  Also, I'm able to be on a much lower dose than before.  Small victories! 

2) It is okay to take things a day at a time.


One of the reasons I got off of medication in the first place is that I want to be off meds for pregnancy if possible, or at least on something that is safer than the meds I was on before.  Another reason I delayed getting back on medicine was the feeling that I was making a long term decision and worrying about pregnancy.  

However, with COVID-19, our plans to start a family have been postponed at least a year.  Worrying about it now is really getting ahead of myself (which my anxiety makes me fantastic at!).  My therapist and psychiatrist both assured me that I could taper off again later if I was feeling better, and my psychiatrist started me on something that is better tested for pregnancy in case I still need to stay on it.  

3) Something that didn't work years ago may work better now.

When I was in high school, Zoloft worked great for me for years.  At one point, I switched from brand name to generic Zoloft and it was a hot mess: lots of sadness and crying.  I switched back to Zoloft, but then when I stopped taking it for a bit, it didn't really work the same when I tried to get back on.  

When my psychiatrist suggested trying Zoloft again (now approximately a decade later), I was skeptical and I was even more skeptical when I realized I got the generic.  However, I'm glad I didn't close myself off to it because its actually working really well now at a fraction of my former dosage.  Mental health meds are weird. 

4) Side effects are real, but some do taper off!

Even on a dose that is at least a quarter what I've taken in the past, I still experienced some side effects when I started.  The first couple of days, I can only describe feeling WEIRD.  It just felt like something was wrong.  Then, like I've experienced when messing with my OCD meds before, my period was thrown off a bit.  However, there was also something very new: I started to have insomnia (the opposite of my norm!).  The good news is that after a couple of months, the insomnia has really tapered off and things seem to be regulating back to normal. 

5) You can't medicate away a global crisis.


Maybe this is obvious, but it's also important:  everyone is feeling anxiety right now.  COVID-19 is scary because of the unknowns - and that is what anxiety feeds on. My therapist has reminded me that everyone is struggling right now. With other crises also dominating the news cycle, from racial injustice to unemployment, it would actually be a little concerning if you weren't feeling anxious.  Medicine can help you get by, but it won't make these stressors completely disappear.

5) Adjusting to medication can be like effective dieting - the gradual changes do add up.

When you get on an SSRI like Zoloft, it isn't like an immediate change after the first dose.  However, when you find the right pill, you do slowly improve.  It really is like losing weight... you won't notice a major change night to night, but one day your brain just fits better.  I wanted to quit at first because all I felt were the side effects without feeling a benefit.  Now, a couple months out, I'm  really glad I trusted the process.

Remember: I'm not a doctor, and I can only speak from my experience.  Since elementary school, I've tried a number of different OCD/Anxiety medications (from Zoloft to Luvox to Viibryd, just to name a few).  Some have worked better for me than others.  The best thing you can do is is to find a good psychiatrist, advocate for your needs and keep an open mind.  During these difficult times, don't forget to take care of yourself.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Indirect Coronavirus Fears

Please let me go to the one place
I can thrive in a fanny pack.
So, I saw someone posted an article about OCD and the Coronavirus panic.  Obviously for anyone with health related OCD worries, this is a nightmare.  Germs! Contagion! Death! The media is constantly fanning the flames of fear that these people are already very capable of fanning on their own. 

But I'm not a person with health related OCD.  I am 30 years old and in good health.  I survived a bout with the flu a couple weeks ago!  I live by multiple world class hospital systems (Go Cleveland!) and am lucky enough to have good insurance should I need care.  If I get the Coronavirus, I have a feeling I'll be in the 97% that make it.

Does this mean that my OCD isn't getting exacerbated by this pandemic scare?

Of course not!

Even though I am not worried about personally dying from Coronavirus, as someone with OCD and anxiety, there are many indirect ways I am panicking about Coronavirus.

The main issue is that at the end of April, my parents have planned a beautiful trip to Disney World and Universal Studios.  It will be my husband's first time there.  It will be my last time there as a free adult before I try to start a family of my own.  We have meals planned and every day charted out for maximum enjoyment.

What if we get sick and can't go?  What if the virus causes them to shut down the park?  

Now, I recognize that it is super bratty and privileged when people are dying to worry about your vacation.  But before you write me off as the most selfish person on the planet, please also know that an additional fear that I have is that I will get Coronavirus and then infect someone else who then dies because of me.

I'm already worrying about how I will be worrying right before the vacation about getting sick.  Again, I am not worried about personally dying from this, and I'm not normally someone who lets a little cold stop me from doing what I normally do... but because of this virus scare I know if I have any little cough or throat scratch, I will start catastrophizing.   Any possible sign that I have caught Coronavirus will send me in a tailspin wondering if I should stay home to save the immunocompromised from my infection.

I have been doing what any unstable worrier does in 2020 and have been googling terms from "Coronavirus" and "Coronavirus Florida" to "Coronavirus Disney."  Of course, there are no good answers, and there isn't any way to know how things play out over the next few weeks.  

I am going to have to fight my nature not to get sucked into the media's panic and just try to look forward to the trip.  Now will just be a chance to practice that serenity prayer and accept the things I cannot change.  As they say, "Que sera sera."

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Electric Worries

Unfortunately, my OCD has gotten much worse lately.  

As with any chronic mental health problem, there are bound to be ebbs and flows through life.  What is particularly interesting to me though is the way that obsessions and compulsions can shift focus.

Lately, I've been worried a lot more about electrical fires.  

I can't imagine why this specific fear would come alive now any more than at any other time, but here we are.  When I'm leaving the house, I sometimes get major anxiety that some Final Destination style nightmare will occur while I'm gone... The thought process goes something like this:

If you left your lamp or computer plugged in, even if it's off, what if somehow it creates a spark that starts a fire?  What if the fire spreads through the house?  What if then nobody realizes the dogs are in their crates and nobody gets to them in time? 

or...

What if the computer is plugged in and was left on the couch?  What if then it overheats and that starts a fire? What if the fire spreads through the house?  What if then nobody realizes the dogs are in their crates and nobody gets to them in time? 

or...

What if the drier was left on?  What if then it overheats and sets the clothes on fire? What if the fire spreads through the house?  What if then nobody realizes the dogs are in their crates and nobody gets to them in time? 

I am aware that none of these worries make any statistical sense.  Even if you can find articles on the internet where these unfortunate scenarios occurred, many people every day keep their electric devices plugged in and leave the house without burning down their homes.  

Logically, I understand that these fears are overblown.  Unfortunately, that won't stop me from worrying or checking, unplugging, and turning things off.

All these multi-step disaster scenarios stem from the same fear: something I do or neglect to do is going to kill my precious dogs.  Even if there is only a .001% chance of some horrible event occurring, that event is so horrible to me that the compulsion to check to unplug or make sure an adapter is turned off often prevails over rational thinking.

Sometimes it is great love that leads otherwise rational people to do seemingly irrational things.  I know I need to get a grip, but it helps to see and understand where the behavior is coming from.  

My advice for today is to look at your compulsions or the compulsions of someone you care about from a different perspective.  Rather than just seeing an OCD behavior as a brain glitch, try to consider the root of it.  Even if the behavior seems "crazy" at first, often the root of it is very relatable.  Understanding this can help you have better compassion for yourself and others.

Wherever you are with your OCD journey, trying to maintain compassion for yourself is key.  One day at a time, y'all.  We got this.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

I'm Not Finishing This Book: Toxic Perfectionism Challenge

Growing up, I never read a lot outside of school because reading gave me a lot of anxiety.  

It was okay. 🤷🏻‍♀️

I would worry when I was assigned something to read that I hadn't read it completely or correctly.  I developed the compulsion to re-read and re-read because I was so concerned that I was lying about having read the assignment.  

To say I had actually done the reading, I felt like I had to carefully read every word.  At least once, my re-reading got so bad that I had to have my mom read out loud to me just so I could get through the assigned chapters.

As an adult, even as an English tutor, I'm rarely forced to read things anymore. I've actually gotten to enjoy reading some books for fun!  The lying concern doesn't have to play a role in pleasure reading.  However, I still can fall plague to this sense of toxic perfectionism in other ways.  

Even though nobody is giving me assignments anymore, I am currently feeling a sense of commitment to finish a book I have started.  I can think of a few books from the past that I quit, but this is a weird quirk issue that has become a problem recently. 

Probably over a year ago now, I started reading The Night Stalker by Philip Carlo.  I am a true crime fan, and I got through the beginning of the book pretty quickly.  The story is very interesting and the book is well written... but I ultimately became super disinterested during the long trial section.  I like reading about trials normally, but the way this one is presented, it just seems to drag on and on.  I'm on Page 340 of 447 and the idea of 100 more pages just seems like torture.

So, instead of quitting the book like a normal person, I've just gone back to not reading for fun.  I let the book sit in my nightstand. I brought it on a recent weekend getaway and carried its heavy weight in my bag.  On a random night, I might read a few pages, kidding myself that I'm finally going to finish...but I'm not even connected to the story at this point.  I don't remember who is who anymore.  So, night after night, the book waits.

During my The Night Stalker imprisonment, I did read a novel assigned at the college where I tutor (because I had to), but I haven't been able to do any pleasure reading.  There are other books that I actually want to read, but I haven't been able to because I am in the middle of this one.  I'm committed. I have a duty. 

This is nuts!

So, tonight, I'm going to start reading a different book.  Life is too short to be held back by some vague sense of anxiety disguised as something more honorable like dedication.  Not everything must be perfectly executed.  Not everything deserves your time and energy.  I will triumph over The Night Stalker.  

I hope that as you move into the new year, you can also find ways to leave behind any useless sense of obligation you have to the insignificant trivialities that anchor you down.  Here's to starting a new chapter. 💗

Monday, November 4, 2019

Practicing Gratitude

My heroes.
One of the best exercises my therapist recommended to me was a fairly simple one:  Take time every day to think about what you're thankful for.

It's a nice way to get out of your negative headspace.  Sometimes it's so easy to focus on the negative: on the mean things people have said, on the work that isn't done, on the goals that aren't being met.  Whether it's anxiety or depression (or both) getting you down, when you're in a negative tailspin, it's hard to remember how much is actually going right.  

Some days are easier than others.  Any day you see a puppy in a costume is an easy day to think of joy.  Holidays and special events are easy too.  But even on a bad day, there are still small silver linings if you look for them.  On the days that are the hardest and saddest, it still helps to try and pull a few tiny pieces of positive out of the muck.

Some people write a gratitude journal, but I hate seeing my own handwriting.  I knew if I tried a journal I would just avoid the exercise rather than look at my chicken scratch.  Instead, I pulled my husband in for accountability and we do the exercise verbally, each taking turns saying three things we are grateful for each day before we go to bed.

The exercise has shown me how small changes can make a difference.  At first, it seemed like a silly, throw away exercise, but actively taking the time to concretely verbalize the positive really does help lift my mood.  Bedtime is a particularly anxious time, and it's nice to end the day on a good note.

I also think sharing the exercise has made it even better.  Sometimes my husband and I share the same highs, and sometimes they're different.  It's fun to see day to day what stands out to each of us.

Whether you suffer from anxiety or not, I recommend throwing this into your routine.  If you like to write, write them out.  If you prefer to type, type them.  Share the exercise with your spouse or your child.  If you live alone,  I still think it might be a fun exercise to share with a friend - promise to text each other each night with your top three moments.

With exercises like this, I think the most important thing to keep in mind is not to get down on yourself if you fall off the wagon.  Forgetting for a night, a week, or even a month doesn't mean you have to abandon the process.  Every attempt is a triumph - an active step away from toxic negativity.  If you slip up, you can always try again tomorrow.  This is one assignment that won't be graded, and that's just one more thing to be grateful for.