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.

Monday, December 17, 2018

OCD and Puppy Parenthood

My perfect Luke & Lily.
On November 4th, my husband and I adopted two adorable puppies from PAWS (Public Animal Welfare Society).  Born in August, Luke and Lily are a mix of Shiba Inu, Pug, and Pomeranian.  They are a brother and sister from the same litter, and they are so cute it hurts.

What I've learned in a little over a month?  Puppy parenting is hard for anyone. Specifically though, puppy parenting is an OCD Nightmare.  Examples:

  • My house is now a pee house.  They pee and poop where they please while learning to go outside.  
  • I worry that I'm not doing right by them. What if I'm not being a good enough mommy?  I feel guilt and hate myself for things like sleeping in.
  • I double checked the lock (I'm not even a lock checker usually) when I left the house because I know my babies are in the house.
  • I feel guilt when I get angry or upset or frustrated at them.  I judge and worry about any thoughts I have about the puppies that I label as "bad."
  • I feel guilt or worry if I tugged at their leashes too hard or picked them up and hurt them. 
  • I won't let them have stick treats in their cage when we leave because I'm worried they'll choke.  Their safety is now a big concern.

Even given all of these things, I wouldn't trade my puppies for the world.  OCD attacks what you care about, but you can't let it take away what you love most.  Avoiding having puppies would only let the OCD win and let the fears maintain their power.  Having these puppies may challenge me every day, but I know that the exposure is making me stronger.  I know that each day I fight through I am better off than the day before.  

I hope other people struggling with the same types of fears are also able to work through and grow rather than live a life without dogs.  Dogs are so pure and kind - They remind us of what is really important: family, food, and naptime.

A world without dogs, even without anxiety, would not be a happy world for me.  Luke and Lily are my triumph, and I will work to get through my anxieties so I can be there for them.  Being their mom is one of the greatest privileges of my life.  I know it will make me a better person.

Plus, naps with puppies are even better than naps alone. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Cracked Hands

Not a 90-year-old's hands. Mine.
Generalizations exist because they are true in some cases: Take the caricature of the OCD-hand-washer.

Not everyone with OCD is afraid of germs or contamination and washes their hands too much... but some of us do.  Unfortunately, lately I myself have fallen into the hand washing trap more.

This is especially annoying because one of my early symptoms of OCD was excessive hand washing.  I still remember this time I was watching SpongeBob and kept having to get up and wash my hands because I touched the floor.  It happened enough during one episode that it was an "aha moment" making me realize I had a problem.

Hand washing issues can take different forms.  Even after I stopped washing my hands too often, I struggled more with washing them too long when I got started.  How much soap is enough?  How long is enough?  With my OCD, if I go by what feels "right," I am often over-washing.

I have actually been doing relatively well for a long time with it, but now living in a new house with more cleaning responsibilities has somewhat reignited my hand washing and excessive cleaning proclivities.

When I clean dishes, I always want to wash my hands before and after...  Having new puppies means more messes and more hand washing...  I also probably wash my hands too often during the process of cooking because I worry about contamination (My mom's fear of raw chicken has become well instilled in me after many years).

My issues make me dread situations where I know I will have to wash my hands.  I'm very fortunate that I am still pretty under control, but I hate having to worry about how much soap it will take or how long it will take to feel clean.  Notice the choice of words: it is not about being clean as much as the feeling of being clean.  It becomes about cleaning until you know you won't feel anxious about it.

With the washing and the colder weather coming in, my hands look horrifying.  They hurt and I hate looking at them, but they are also an important reminder that my work is not finished.  Sometimes the OCD tendencies you feel are behind you crawl back.  In some ways this is a tragedy, but getting down on yourself for slipping up doesn't help.

Wherever you find yourself, you just need to keep moving forward.  The battles you fought before can be won again.  

Oh, and moisturizer can help too!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

OCD and Processing Sexual Assault

It's OCD Awareness week 2018, and I wanted to write a post that would help bring to light a lesser-known impact of OCD.  

Given the recent discussions of sexual assault and violence against women, I thought it would make sense to share my small story and discuss how OCD can impact these already difficult experiences.  Whatever your political affiliation, I think we can all agree that any instance of sexual assault is a tragedy.

When I was in high school, I slept over at a friend's house one night- let's call her Tiffany.  That morning, I woke up to the feeling of someone's hand on my chest.

Groggy, only half-awake and disoriented from sleep, I opened my eyes to see Tiffany's brother standing over me.  He retracted his hand from under my shirt and backed away.  I watched confused and didn't scream or move...  I just fell back asleep.

When fully woke up later, the whole situation seemed so bizarre that I thought maybe it was a dream... but it felt so REAL.  

That is when the OCD part of me started to creep in with self-doubt.  My OCD started making me question the memory.  Did I REALLY feel something?  Was I SURE?  Wouldn't someone in that situation scream or grab the person's arm or shout? Was it possible it was just a particularly vivid dream?  

OCD craves definitive proof, and I had none.  

I told nobody - not even my mother, who I told everything.  I was not 100% positive.  My OCD had always given me an irrational, magnified fear of lying, and I didn't KNOW what the truth was.  

I also didn't want to lose Tiffany as a friend because she was really important to me.  I didn't want my mom to start a war.  I didn't want to be called a liar, and I really didn't want to be one: even today, I consider false accusations particularly heinous

I only knew two things for sure: I wasn't physically hurt and I wasn't traumatized. 

I came to a decision to just let it go.  Since I couldn't prove it happened, I figured I would be better off assuming it didn't.  I didn't treat Tiffany any differently afterward, and I carried on as if it was a dream.

I never even gave it that much thought until years later when he was arrested for a crime that validated my experience.  The day I learned was this weird relief.  I finally told my mom about what had happened. It made sense now, and I felt a very real sense of vindication.

But then the OCD guilt started to creep in.  What if I should have said something earlier?  Had something similar happened to any other girls? Had something worse happened to any of them? Had he gotten to anyone else because I didn't speak up?  

Please know that I do not assert dramatic victimhood: I consider myself very lucky that this incident was a relatively minor thing, and I do not feel like my experience is in the same category as most sexual assault cases.  Still, it has given me some perspective on how weird it is to process these kinds of incidents.  

Reading accounts from survivors of much more intense violations, I find that even people without anxiety disorders experience similar feelings to the ones my OCD amplified, from self-doubt to guilt.  I have also seen how weird it is to look back on it now.  All I have are the faintest glimpses of memory - mainly the sense of confusion and the strange unexpected feeling of someone's hand.  

I don't remember what Tiffany and I did that night or if anyone else was there.  I don't remember what I was wearing. I don't even remember exactly how old I was.  

Over a decade later, none of these details seem to matter.  I am fortunate that it was such a relatively insignificant moment in an otherwise extremely fortunate childhood.  

That being said, I know one question will always haunt me, "Why didn't you scream?"

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Midas Touch

My hubby recently had to get an oil change and it reminded me of this amazing situation that occurred right before our wedding. Amid all the wedding planning chaos, I didn't get to write about it then, but it is definitely worth sharing.

Wedding planning is stressful, and when you are trying to process the gravity of the step you're about to take, balance the emotions associated it, work three different jobs with three different schedules, and go about necessary errands... it isn't always easy to stay calm, cool and collected.

Healing cars and hearts.
Different needs tend to collide at once, and I found myself with a car that needed a check-up and very little time to do it.  After much stressing over scheduling, by some miracle I found a time to setup to check in at our local Midas.

And then I learned that I wasn't going to be able to make the appointment.

This was the moment I cracked.  Between stress and anxiety and a jam packed schedule, I had reached my overwhelm limit and started crying: drunk-sorority-girl-at-a-frat-party-who-just-got-dumped level crying.

So, naturally, I decided it was fine in this state to call and cancel my appointment with Midas.

I picked up my cell phone and dialed, letting the man at the end of the line know that I was extremely sorry, but I couldn't bring in my car today because something had come up.  It is unclear how much of this message really got across clearly because crying Laura is an incomprehensible hot mess.

I will never forget the way he reacted.

He let me know that it was no problem.  Then, with genuine concern in his voice, he asked me if everything was okay.  He said that I sounded really upset and if I needed to talk, I could feel free to stop by Midas and he would be happy to talk about whatever it was.

I reassured him that I would be fine, and as I hung up I already felt somewhat better from finding this unlikely ally.  

As women, we are generally taught that other women will be our strongest emotional support.  Whether we like it or not, in America women are raised to express emotions and empathy while we rear men for independence.   As a culture, men are taught to hold back their feelings: "Boys don't cry."  With this mindset, it is common to see men who have no idea how to react to a woman in tears and are very off-put by intense emotional displays. 

But, in that moment, here was this man...and this wasn't even just an average man.  This was a man's man: the kind who works on cars for a living.  And yet, here he was, recognizing suffering in a stranger and trying to offer some sort of comfort, not wanting to let me off of the phone until he felt sure that I was okay.

It was unexpected in the most refreshing way to see someone who was that traditionally masculine who still had developed emotional sensitivity.  It would be great if our culture moved more in this direction, not only for the sake of supporting women but also for the mental health of our men, who should feel free to explore their emotions and communicate about feelings without judgement or ridicule.

When I told my fiancĂ© (now husband) the story, we both had to laugh that I had become so hysterical that even the man at Midas was like, "Someone needs to help this person."  However, I hope that someday we live in a world where this is the norm, where both men and women can recognize strangers in crisis and try to do their little bit to help.  A world where mental health stigma has been replaced with understanding and empathy.  That would certainly be a triumph.

Meanwhile, I will remain a customer of Midas for life.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Death Tacos

I'm not much of a cook.
My chef when I'm away from home!

I just never really needed to be before.  But, now that I'm a married lady, I decided it was high time to learn.

The big problem is that at the moment I work long hours (like 9:30 am to 7:00 pm) and sometimes come home pretty late.  Enter the magic of the slow cooker.  I can prepare in the morning and it is ready to go when I get home.  Perfect.

Well, it should have been anyway.  But last week on Thursday morning while I was trying to put together a recipe for beef tacos, I realized we didn't have a can opener for the Roma tomatoes.  

I had to open the can with a juice can opener, stabbing around the edges.  I was horrified that there might be basically pieces of shrapnel metal in this beef.  What if somehow a piece fell in and then Nate's throat got sliced open?

I then told my mom about the recipe and she (the queen of all things OCD kitchen related) asked if I had put enough water in the slow cooker.

I hadn't put any water in.  I even poured the water out of the tomatoes can.  The recipe didn't ask for water.

My mom now informed me while I was on the way to work that I may burn the house down.

Great.  So now I have to worry about the metal and a fire.

At this point, mom put the icing on the OCD cake and asked, "Did you check the date on the beef?"

Of course, I hadn't.  My OCD has not developed well in the kitchen arena, mainly because I haven't been in the kitchen that much.  Now I was on alert though.  These tacos risked internal bleeding, fire, and food poisoning.

Should we even eat them?

Mom, too horrified to hold back and without being asked, actually came to my house and put water in the slow cooker.  So, when I arrived home that night, our house was very much not on fire.  At this point, I had to make a choice about the other risks.  

Do we eat the tacos or not?

I warned Nate about the metal, but (in what I consider a triumph) we decided to go forward with the meal.  

And you know what?  Those tacos were so good, we each had three.

I am happy to report that we have both survived the incident and I feel a step closer to tackling OCD in the kitchen.  Small victories are still worth celebrating.