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. :)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

I'm an Email Hoarder.

I've never felt like I understood hoarding.  I know it's a very real OCD compulsion that some people have, and I even know a few hoarders, but I just didn't feel like I could relate.

But as I was looking at my email inbox the other day, and I got it.

I have over 2300 messages in my AOL (yes, I'm almost 30) email inbox that date back to 2009, and that is after a recent purge.  That figure also isn't counting the messages I have saved outside of the inbox in folders with titles like "Funny Past,"  "Tutoring," "Travel," and "Old Teacher Comments." 

I showed my sister and she told me it gave her anxiety to see.  But deleting emails from certain people is very unnerving and uncomfortable for me.

Why do I still have "Fwd: Cat-Faucet Video" and "One for the Dogs" from 10 years ago? 

There's this horribly part of my brain that gets switched on whenever I want to delete an old email from a loved one.  My thoughts start hitting on this terrifying realization: Someday that person is going to die and they won't be able to send you email anymore.

I don't want to lose a reminder that my mom sent me a care package in college or something she thought would make me smile.  This doesn't explain every email though, because I have emails from college that aren't even from loved ones.  

Why can't I delete certain messages from my sorority days?  I realized that in many ways it's actually for a similar reason to why I keep the messages from people I care about.  It's because of this tragic fact: I know that I can never get the messages back.

Holding on to those emails helps me hold on to this past that is gone forever.  There's something comforting in being able to look at those old messages from when life was simpler.  So, I feel this compulsion to keep them.  Time never stops, but the emails are some way to hold on to these moments that just seem to keep slipping further and further away.  

I know not every hoarder has these same worries, but I imagine that some hoarders of items experience similar feelings.  It wasn't until recently that I recognized the connection in myself.  

I feel like I can actually relate and understand hoarding in a whole new way now.  So to all the OCD hoarders out there - I want you to know that even in uncluttered houses, some of us are having the same fears...  My clutter is just hidden in cyberspace.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

What would an OCD song sound like?

Happy to skip these tracks
"What would an OCD song sound like?"  my coworker asked last week.  He's a music man and often connects experience with sound.  We had a brief discussion about it, and he concluded, "That's something you could blog about."

So here we are.  I've seen articles on music related to mental health before, and there are certainly some great songs about what it's like to have mental illness.  I also know that music can be therapeutic.

Still, given music's power to inspire feelings, it was interesting to consider how the traumatic parts of OCD would SOUND.

My mind immediately went to horror film soundtracks.  This is fairly logical, as OCD and anxiety play on fear, but certain songs seem to capture this kind of fear better than others (The Exorcist has a great theme, for example, but it doesn't match).  That said, here are my top three picks for songs that capture the feeling of experiencing OCD.

3.  Halloween Theme

One of the best horror movie themes of all time, the progression of the song also really fits the feeling of when anxiety and OCD combine.  The song starts out frantic, reminding me of that alert that comes over me - the general sense that something is wrong.  Then a more sinister sound drops, just like the feeling in the pit of your stomach when your OCD finds a target and the worrying begins.  

2. Psycho Theme

The incessant, alarm-like sound of the classic Hitchcock theme captures the discomfort of being hit by an unexpected OCD trigger and feeling unable to get the thought out of your mind. The thoughts are repetitive and feel inescapable, just like the loud blaring of this song.

1.  Jaws Theme

If there is a song that better captures OCD's sense of impending doom, I haven't heard it.  Like OCD, the theme starts out slow and foreboding and builds to nightmarish panic.  Intrusive thoughts can work the same way. One frightening thought comes along like a beat.  It would be harmless on its own, but soon your mind repeats and builds up the thought until you feel barraged and overwhelmed by worry, questions and concern.

I'd love to hear other people's opinions on this subject.  If you have OCD or suffer from any other mental illness, can you think of a song that sounds the way it feels?

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Waiting Game

Is it February yet?
Most people don't like to wait.  In our instant-almost-everything society, we want answers, results, and gratification, and we want them yesterday.

That said, those of us with anxiety disorders are notoriously bad waiters.  We were bad even before the internet had immediate answers.  We go negative naturally.  If you give me a situation with multiple outcomes, I am assuming the worst one until I have heard otherwise.  I may even invent a new possibility for failure or disaster that hasn't even been considered before.  Watch me.

None of this works in my favor as Nate and I are having some pre-pregnancy tests done.  My mom's side is of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, so doctors recommend checking for certain genetic diseases, and my husband also has a serious genetic disorder in his family.

So we made an appointment with a genetic counselor.  I felt sick leading up to it, terrified of what we might discover.  Unfortunately, the initial appointment was basically a nonevent with no answers.  Instead, we each had a blood test to screen for a number of possible genetic problems that could be passed on to future offspring. 

The blood was sent to a lab and the real waiting started: two to three weeks for a call from the doctor to see if we hit an unlucky combo.  Knowing my anxiety levels, we considered not even doing the general screening because I can read a 2% chance as almost a certainty. However, we wanted to make sure we knew the risks we would be taking.  A few weeks of worrying would hopefully assuage some of the worst fears.  

A few weeks seemed bad enough, but the counselor also told us that the test could not screen for the issue in Nate's family.  For that, we would need to wait until March to get an appointment with a geneticist.  I have been concerned about this issue for years and thought we were finally going to get a real sense of what we were facing.  Now they wanted us to wait months longer? 

By some miracle there was a cancellation and we were able to see the geneticist last week instead.  Of course there were no answers there either; instead, we needed another blood test and the results of that test could take 6 weeks.  Those results could give us a definitive answer, but they could also be inconclusive, in which case we would need to get a family member of Nate's blood tested and wait even more.  

To top it off, the geneticist told us that they would only call if it was positive.  I explained that I have anxiety and would be waiting for a call and assuming I missed it.  He said to make an appointment in 4 months and we could go over the results... What kind of cruel joke is this?  Wait four months for the results of a test you are getting in six weeks?  

This was a test that could have ramifications for my husband's health and for our future family.  I want to know what we're facing so we can make a plan for how to move forward.  

Positive results won't change my love for him.  If I had known his results were positive before, I still would have married him.  That said, I want to know so we can take care of his health.  I want to know so we can have a sense of potential future issues.  Limbo - waiting and not knowing - is the worst because you have all the dread and no ability to control or plan.  God can only grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change if I learn what I cannot change.

I asked for alternative ways to get the test results.  The doctor suggested that he would memorize our name and make sure to call us either way.  I asked if I could call to check the results after 6 weeks.  I don't think he understood how upset I was until I started crying.

I know that I am basically a professional worrier, but I couldn't help but wonder: Are average people really just that chill?  Are most people willing to sit around not knowing if they or their loved ones have major disorders for months longer than they have to?

The days since the test have been interesting.  I am mostly impressed by how often I am not thinking about it.  The human brain (even the anxious one) is amazing in its ability to distract itself.  With my OCD, I can ruminate and worry and be hyper-focused on the negative and on fear.  However, even at my worst, my brain was still always moving.  Even my worries move around.  This week they have jumped from the test to groceries to taxes.

The truth is that this experience will be a great test of how I can handle parenting.  There are no assurances when you decide to have a baby.  There is no way to avoid all risk and ensure that your baby will be healthy.  You have to learn to be patient and to wait with some sense of grace and optimism.  If I can learn to handle these next few weeks, maybe I'll be okay handling 9 months, and then 18 years, and then a lifetime.  

For now, all I can do is take it one day at a time.