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.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

8 Reasons I Cried During Disney's Aladdin

Cue the water works.
I have been transitioning off of my OCD/anxiety medication, and to say it has been an emotional roller coaster would be an understatement.  

I experience waves of feelings with such intensity that it overwhelms me.  Unfortunately, a lot of these feelings are also negative - from anger to profound sadness.

Well, I saw the live action remake of Disney's Aladdin while in the middle of this transition period.  The original Disney classic came out in 1992 when I was three and was very important to me as a little girl.  With all the nostalgia about to ensue, the situation was ripe for a breakdown.

And the breakdown was real.  So much crying.  Overt sobs at one point.  Don't get me wrong, the movie was beautiful, but I was also in a state.  Nostalgia is hard, but it's even harder without medicine.  

Please note the SPOILER ALERT here if somehow you are not familiar with the Aladdin story.  (Also, please go and watch the classic cartoon immediately and then go see the remake!)  Here, for your viewing pleasure, I've compiled a list of reasons that an emotionally unstable, anxious, unmedicated 29-year-old woman cried during a Disney movie remake.


1.  The Music in the Lion King Trailer  (Hans Zimmer got me.  Also just the idea of Mufasa.)

2.  The Walt Disney World Commercial (Being at Disney was so wonderful.  My family is the best family.  What if I don't get to go again?  When did I get so old?  I don't want to get old.  I don't want my parents to get old.)

The Film Begins

3.  The start of "Friend Like Me" (Will Smith is trying his best but Robin Williams will never be matched.  And now he's gone and that light in the world won't be repeated.)

4.  Jasmine is perfect looking.  (How can someone be that beautiful?  I'm getting old.  Why am I not that beautiful?  All I wanted when I was little was to be Jasmine.  Imagine what an honor to actually play that dream role.)

5.  Aladdin pretends to fall off the balcony on to the magic carpet.  ("A Whole New World" is about to be sung.  I'm not ready.)

6.  "A Whole New World"  (I am not ready. Overtly sobbing through the whole thing and barely seeing any of the actual footage.)

7.  Aladdin sets the genie free. (What a nice thing to do.  Imagine what it would it feel like to be free for the first time.)

8.  Aladdin and Jasmine get married. (They're in love and it's a wedding and it's beautiful.)

I realized stepping away from it that most of these are ridiculous tear triggers that my anxiety and emotions just took off with (Obviously not Mufasa.  Always cry for Mufasa).  I hope that this is a temporary issue and that things will balance out.  

For now, I am lucky that I have a family of saints who are able to find humor in the situation and take it in stride.  Sitting between my husband and my mom in that movie theatre, I had support on both sides and hands to hold - and they only laughed at me a little.  Sometimes, when the emotions get too intense, that's the triumph: we just have to laugh.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Never Ending To Do List

Puppy Photos & Waffle Magnets > To Do Lists
I know that everyone has to go through the same realization, but it still shocks me at almost 30 years old how obnoxiously hard it is to be an adult.

As a married woman with a house and two puppies, it seems like as soon as I fix one problem another starts... that is if I can even fix the first problem at all.  

Example:  Today, I tried to submit a receipt to insurance, but I couldn't because I changed my last name when I got married and they have my old last name.  When I asked the health insurance company originally about this, they said I had to go through my husband's employer to change it with them.  Except I did weeks ago... My husband wrote to HR and received a response that it was handled.  Regardless, nothing has changed and I can't turn in over $1,000 in receipts for therapy.  

After another frustrating phone call on that topic, I discovered my oven was broken and that's the second major appliance in just as many weeks (we just got a new fridge installed Thursday).  

Meanwhile, as I'm trying to juggle these things the dogs are fighting each other.  They are almost nine months old and have reached a stage where they want to eat and destroy everything they love: their reign of terror knows no limits, and they fluctuate between snuggle buggle and demon sometimes minute to minute.  I love them so much and I feel guilt and self-loathing every time I get angry and yell at them for misbehaving, but I also get frustrated as they continue not to listen and inevitably wind up yelling again, and so the cycle goes on and on until I can get a trainer's help.

The challenges feel constant and overwhelming, and with anxiety they can be especially hard to process.  The way my mind is set up, I always want to have the tasks that are weighing on me checked off.  I want what is worrying me to be accomplished and handled.  

High school and college were in many ways set up beautifully for this mindset.  Assignments were clearly defined and spelled out.  A class had due dates and a set time period.  When the class was over, it was over.  I could work hard and succeed... and I was even given a letter grade at the end to clearly indicate that I had in fact succeeded! Even if a class had a lot of work to do, there was always a light at the end of the tunnel.  

With adult professional work and house work, it is completely different.  There is no end.  At work, when one project is over... there is another one in the wings. Then another.  There won't be a final anytime soon.

Sometimes the assignments don't even have clear instructions.  And there are roadblocks at every turn... a contractor who won't return a call, unexpected electrical issues that stall a project, a company's buggy website.   

The small tasks pile up and sometimes it seems like everything is designed to keep you from being efficient. Seriously, if I have to talk on the phone with one more customer service robot, I'm worried I'm going to snap.

I guess I'm still struggling to find balance.  I used to relax when the work was done, but now I need to find a way to relax even when the work is still there.

I'm still learning and I know I need to stay hopeful.  I have a lot of great support from the people that love me, and I know plenty of people successfully navigate adulthood every day and enjoy the ride.  Still, if anyone has tips for balancing sanity with the never ending to do list, I'm very open to suggestions.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Ninety Percent Sure

Read: Risk VERY VERY Small
A few weeks ago, after so much waiting, a number of anxious phone calls and a spout of me crying in a small hospital room, we finally got the results of the pre-pregnancy genetics tests back.

On the test that screened for over 200 potential genetic problems, we discovered that Nathan and I are each carriers for one disease.  However, since it is not the same disease, the risk that we have an infected child is 1/4,400 (0.0227%) for one of the diseases and t 1/3,520 (0.0284%) for the other. 

As for the other genetic test for Nathan, the results came back with a 90% chance that he doesn't have the disease.  Combined with the fact that he doesn't meet the clinical criteria, the doctor felt pretty confident that he does not have it.  However, he did say that they could be even more sure if they compared the results with a blood test from a family member.

Now, this is where I feel I really had a triumph over my OCD tendencies.  Something I struggle with that is very common with OCD and anxiety is that I find it very hard to live with any doubt.  OCD feeds on doubt, and so you want to be 100% sure of everything.  This can lead to all sorts of unhealthy behaviors from checking and rechecking to unhealthily obsessing over horrible possibilities that have only a small remote chance of either being true or becoming true.

You have a feeling that somehow you will be on the wrong side of statistics.  If there's a 97% chance that something is good, it is very easy for someone with OCD like mine to focus on that lingering 3%.  The most ridiculous part is that this fixation on small chances and the feeling that the unlikely occurrence is sure to happen only acts up when considering improbable bad outcomes.  

For example, if someone told me there was a 2% chance I would die tomorrow, I would be very uncomfortable.  I would spend the whole day thinking I was going to hit that 2%.  I wouldn't feel any safety in the 98% chance that I would be okay - I would feel doomed.  But, if it was reversed and someone told me there was a 98% chance I would to die tomorrow, I wouldn't focus on the 2% chance of survival and feel a lot of hope.  It isn't about a misunderstanding of how numbers or chances work as much as constantly fearing the worst while also expecting it as unavoidable.

But when we got these results, I was satisfied.   The odds from the overall couples' screening were clearly astronomically small, but I even feel good about the 90% assurance on Nate's major test.  I heard the results and didn't want to keep digging.

I know we can never with 100% certainty prove the negative.  Even comparing the results to a family member's results, the doctor admits that they still could not make a 100% guarantee.  The truth is that seeking any assurance higher than 90% won't really make me feel any safer.  Starting a family means accepting a lot more risk in my life.  I know by now that the OCD fears and worries aren't going to magically disappear, but accepting these results and feeling good about moving forward was a step in the right direction.  

So, here's to moving forward even when you're only 90% sure.  Sometimes, that's the best thing to do. :)