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? 


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? 


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.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Inaccurate Perceptions

My vision is bad, but my perception is worse.
Early last week I left my tutoring job feeling like a failure.

There was a student who I was struggling to communicate with.  She at one point even directly asked, "Do you understand what I'm saying?"

I didn't really.  I tried to help the best I could, and by the end I thought we were on better footing, but I still left feeling very inadequate and like this woman thought I was a moron.

I told both my husband and mom about how I was feeling.  On Monday, I decided to tell my supervisor about the interaction.  She knew exactly the person I was talking about and told me she had showed up later that week: "She said you were wonderful."

Wonderful?  What?

I was worried she might lodge a complaint.  How had my anxiety caused me to read the situation so inaccurately?

When I messaged my husband about it, he sarcastically feigned shock, replying, "What!?!?! You inaccurately assigned negative aspects to an interaction?!?!?!"

Seriously, though. I've always struggled with this negative voice in my head tearing me down and it has gotten worse lately. Worse enough that my therapist brought it up as a point of concern.

But like... where did this bitch inside my head come from?

I hear her multiple times a day...

You're worthless. You're dumb. You're ugly.
You're old. You're annoying. You're a hypocrite.
You're lazy. You're incompetent. You can't do this.

As I've mentioned before, I had a very blessed childhood. My parents were very supportive and positive. They always told me that I was pretty and smart and funny and good. It's not like my inner voice is replaying ridicule I experienced as a child... so why is my inner voice such a Negative Nancy?

Unfortunately, I'm not sure I'll ever know the answer. From a pragmatic standpoint, it is probably better to focus instead on how to shut her up.

Challenging that voice sometimes feels like trying to see without glasses: Even though from a logical standpoint I know that I'm not seeing clearly, it's hard to ignore the distorted visions in front of me.

But what do you do when you can't see? You use tools to help you.

For actual vision, you get glasses or contact, but for correcting overly negative perceptions, you go to therapy for tools in your mind. The tools may not be as concrete, but learning new ways of thinking can help clear things up.

One of the tools I still need to practice is actually just questioning and considering alternative readings of different situations. Rather than go down the rabbit hole of negativity, I have to question the legitimacy of my negative thoughts, consider different interpretations, and acknowledge the unlikelihood that everything will default to a worst case scenario.

I can't just accept my initial assumptions, because I know my tendency is to go off the deep end into the pool of negativity. But like any change, reprogramming isn't easy.

As usual, it looks like this will be a one-step-at-a-time, definitely-not-overnight path to healing. So, time to put one foot in front of the other and get moving - especially as the voice says I can't.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Four Surprises in Transitioning off My OCD Medication

Bii for now Viibryd!
With Luke and Lily as our puppies, we already have a family.  My heart is full, but my husband and I would still like to have human children someday.  The medication that I was on for OCD is not generally considered safe for pregnancy, so something had to change before we could move forward.

I found a psychiatrist with fertility experience, and through discussions with her and weighing pros and cons, we agreed I would try going off of my medication.  

This has been a big step for me.  I started on Zoloft when I was in grade school.  I've switched medications around a number of times since then, but I've almost always been on something.  The few times I have been off meds, it hasn't gone well - everything inevitably crashes, and I end up going back on pills.

I've had psychiatrists and therapists tell me that I might never be able to go without medication.  I've also been warned that sometimes when you have an anxiety disorder, your natural anxiety levels can get so high that they can prevent you from getting pregnant or cause issues for the baby.  In some cases, it is actually safer for mom and baby if the pregnant woman is on something, provided the medication is approved for pregnancy and everything is overseen by a doctor throughout.  

The pill I had been on the past few years was a relatively newer brand without much research in terms of pregnancy. Since I would have to transition to something else anyway, and since I had been pretty stable for awhile, my doctor and therapist agreed that I would try going "clean."  This way, I have some time to feel it out before we start family planning.  Ultimately, if it doesn't work, I'll get back on something that the doctor approves for pregnancy.

I have been off of the pills for a few months now.  It has not been easy, but it also has gone much smoother than previous attempts.  That said, here are the four biggest surprises so far:

1.  Life has become an emotional roller coaster.

The highs are higher and the lows are lower.  Small setbacks can send me crashing down and feeling hopeless, but one good day can offset a week of the blues.  For better and for worse, every emotion just seems to be hitting at a higher level.

2.  Sometimes declines are unconscious.

Have you ever put on 10 pounds?  You don't notice it as it comes on a half pound at a time, and then one day you realize your pants don't fit.  My OCD symptoms have similarly snuck up on me.  For example, I didn't really feel my reassurance seeking behaviors and intrusive thoughts increasing day by day.  However, I realize now that they are considerably worse than before and it is something I will need to keep an eye on personally and in therapy.

3.  The anxiety and depression increased more than the OCD symptoms.

I was worried about my OCD getting out of line, but it is actually the anxiety and depression that have been the bigger bullies now that the medicine is gone.  Something as simple as balancing my schedule can seem overwhelmingly daunting, and I am constantly jumping to worst case scenarios in my head.  I wake up many mornings with a sense of dread completely unrelated to any intrusive thought.  So far, this generalized anxiety has been one of the toughest things to battle.

4.  It threw off my cycle.

I had no idea that getting off my medication would have an effect on the timing of my periods.  For a few months, I felt like I was getting my period every couple of weeks.  It wasn't until I went to the gynecologist that he explained that psychotropic medication changes can throw off your cycle because it is your brain that tells your body when to have a period (makes sense!).  To be safe, he did some tests, but everything else looks fine.  Luckily, he told me it should balance out, and this last month my timing seems to be returning to normal.

I'm about four months out now, and I just have to continue to take it a day at a time.  Maybe I will find a way to successfully use the tools from therapy to manage my symptoms on my own.  Maybe I will have to go back on some sort of medication.  For anyone out there on meds right now, there is no shame in needing medication.  Just like any other illness, you prefer not to have to remember a pill every day or worry about side effects, but if you need the pills you take them.  If going back on is what is best for me and my potential offspring, so be it.  But for now, Laura's Adventures in Brain Chemistry will continue.  Onward and (hopefully) upward!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

When You Forget What's Troubling You

Sometimes I have a disturbing or terrible thought and I can fixate on it until it balloons and spirals.  I mean, that's the O in OCD right?  I obsess over things, and I worry and I hem and I haw and I put myself in tailspins repeatedly.
My face basically always.

But when you worry as often as I do, sometimes your worrying gets interrupted.  Someone around might ask you a question.  You might get a text message.  You might even just stumble on another worry and go off on a different anxiety tangent for awhile.

I can't even tell you how many times I have forgotten what I am worrying about.

Now, for anyone who has struggled with an intrusive thought trap, that at first sounds like a dream.  

You forgot the worry?  What a relief!  Now you can move on!

Ha.  Hahahahaha.

I wish it could be that simple. 

But alas, when I forget it turns into a different kind of torment.  My OCD and anxiety is very physical as well as mental.  When I'm anxious, I feel it in the back of my throat and in my chest - a clenching telling me, "Something is wrong."  

The tragedy is that I will try to remember what that something is, and if I can't remember, then I start to worry that I can't remember.  

What if it was important?  What if it was something bad?  What if it was urgent? What if I was supposed to do something about whatever it was? 

The other sick part is that when I can't manage to recall what that original worry is, instead of going away, the anxiety will just finds another worry.  It's a lose-lose scenario where I either remember what was originally upsetting me or find another reason to be upset.  

On the bright side, the forgetting proves that my mind can move away from the disturbing concerns that sometimes seem inescapable.  Plus, the physical manifestations of anxiety can be worked on.  In past sessions, my therapist and I have talked about exercises as simple as deep breathing that can help alleviate the physical symptoms of an anxious mind.  As always, just one step at a time.  

Now if I can just forget when I forget...

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Reality of 13 Going on 30

When the Jennifer Garner movie 13 Going On 30 came out in 2004, I was 15.  The premise
Me at 13 at my Bat Mitzvah.
was fun and fantastical:  A 13-year-old girl wakes up one day as her 30-year-old self as if by magic.  She then has to figure out how to be 30.  Many jokes stem from her floundering about, feeling like she has no idea what she's doing.

Seeing it in theaters as a teenager was fun, but rewatching it recently, it didn't seem like such a fantasy movie after all.  I turn 30 on Saturday, and it kind of feels like I was a teenager yesterday, blinked and woke up like this.

Looking back on the past seventeen years, so many things are still the same...

  • I'm still struggling with many of the same obsessive fears.
  • I still want to turn to an adult for answers to like 95% of questions.
  • I still doubt myself and feel like I have no idea what I'm doing basically ever.
  • I still have not mastered eyeliner.
I don't feel like an adult.  I'm about to be 30... shouldn't I feel more together?  Shouldn't I feel more competent?  

At the same time, when I talked with some 20-year-olds the other day, I felt 500 years old.  It feels like being stuck in-between where I was and where I should be.

Time feels like it's racing faster than I can keep up.  My mom tells me to "make the most of what your life brings" and "enjoy your life," but this is sometimes easier said than done.  I'm an emotional mess a lot of the time now!  I see the path to sentimental old lady: each day I feel one step closer to becoming my great grandmother who cried at greeting cards.  

Getting older can make anyone existential, and with OCD and anxiety it can be especially hard not to focus on fear until it poisons the happy moments (Jennifer Scinto writes beautifully about this in an article for The Mighty).  As far as goals for my 30s, I hope to find more inner peace.  I hope to do a better job of actually applying suggestions from therapy even when it's hard or daunting.  I hope to spend less time worrying and complaining and more time finding joy in my day-to-day.  

Sometimes, when I think about my birthday, I feel overwhelmed and like crying.  But, as my dad has reminded me, getting older certainly beats the alternative.  For anyone freaking out about aging, I feel the most empowered when I embrace it with pride.  The years of life experience have value and there's no need to shy away from them.

I've been putting off starting the gratitude journal my therapist recommended, but I know there is so much to be grateful for: I have a husband who understands and supports me.  I have wonderful family and friends.  Even if I can no longer drink without a hangover, I can still walk and swim and play with my puppies.  So this Saturday, I hope to put on a dress and my birthday crown and smile.