Monday, November 29, 2021

5 Lessons From Getting COVID With OCD and Anxiety

After my fully-vaccinated husband got COVID in July and I didn't, I honestly thought I might never get the virus.  

My irrelevant negative rapid test. 
PCR came back positive.
However, as we've learned, COVID is full of surprises.  After learning of a potential exposure prior to Thanksgiving, I decided to get a PCR test to be safe even though I had no symptoms.  The email came just over 2 days later: Positive.

Tuesday was my only real day of symptoms: mild congestion and sneezes.   These also may have been due to the booster shot I received that Monday or dust from my office move... we will never know.  Since then, other than some random sneezes, my COVID has been invisible.  My anxiety and OCD, on the other hand, are here as usual if not exacerbated by this whole situation.  Here are five lessons that I've learned from this experience of processing a COVID diagnosis as someone with OCD and anxiety:

Lesson #1:  COVID Triggers OCD Differently in Different People

I've always been someone who has OCD worries about getting other people sick more than someone who has OCD worries about getting sick myself.  Have I considered the possibility that I could end up with bad health outcomes from this diagnosis?  Sure.  But I worry more about people who may have been exposed to me before I knew. There is so much fear surrounding COVID, and your OCD can take that fear in different directions depending on your unique themes. For people who incessantly worry about their own health, the worries could easily go in that direction instead.  People can also worry about how a diagnosis will disrupt their lives more than any health issue (How would I handle it with work?  Will I have to miss a trip/wedding?)  There isn't a one-size-fits-all way to worry about this. OCD can be creative!

Lesson #2:  OCD therapy can in some ways prepares you for calmer COVID risk analysis.

People with OCD and anxiety can often struggle with appropriate risk analysis.  Like I will turn off one electric power strip in my room before I leave the house on the extremely off-chance it would somehow overheat, catch fire and burn it down.  I am perfectly aware that's extremely unlikely to happen outside of a Final Destination movie, and there are other things I probably should worry about that I don't.  In therapy, I learned the technique of talking myself through some major fears to see that they weren't really as rational or likely as the panic originally lead me to feel.  This has been a helpful skill with COVID in many ways when trying not to spiral.  

For example, I have have a coworker who is particularly high risk, and it would be easy with my brain to panic that I was going to give him COVID and he could get really sick or even die.  However, thinking the risk through logically helps me realize that isn't a likely outcome (Examples of reasons not to expect the worst: Not everyone who is exposed gets it; Even people who live in the same house don't all get it; We are both double-vaccinated; As soon as I learned I was exposed, I masked up in the office; I hadn't been around him that much in the past week before my positive test; Even in at risk populations, not everyone with COVID gets extremely ill.)  Unfortunately, terrible outcomes have occurred with COVID, and we can't just throw caution to the wind, but for sanity it is important not to constantly jump to the worst case scenario. 

Lesson #3:  Coronavirus subreddits are like anxiety heroin.

Oh my gosh what a dangerous world Reddit can be if you have anxiety and it's hungry for doom to feed on.  Literally at any time of day, I can go on Reddit and go to r/Coronavirus and see articles about how we are all going down.  My anxiety is always looking for something to latch on to, and what better place could there be? Between the clickbait titles and the fatalist comment section, you can always find some information to confirm your worst nightmares have a chance of coming true.  Advice to myself and others like me: Stop checking this before bed. 

Lesson #4:  Following COVID guidelines can be a privilege.

My heart goes out to anyone with anxiety whose employer is writing their own rules.  I am very fortunate to have an employer who is letting me follow the guidelines set by the CDC and Ohio Department of Health, and also lucky that my husband can work remotely while he is in the window of concern, but I know that many other people are at the whims of their employer's policies right now.  

I have a friend who works at a school, and they are so understaffed that they aren't having employees quarantine even if someone in their house has COVID.  In Ohio, the guidance is always changing.  USA Today did an interesting article recently on how inconsistent policies are.  I can't even imagine how triggering that would be for someone with OCD concerns about getting other people sick.  

I was super fortunate that I could take this week off work unpaid, but not everyone can afford to or has an employer who would even give them the choice.  I guess the point of this lesson is to try to meet people where they are with what they can do and try not to add to the anxiety of a terrible situation by judging people who aren't able to follow current COVID guidelines to the letter. 

Lesson #5:  There is always someone more worried than you about COVID and always someone less worried.

I consider myself to be pretty considerate when it comes to COVID etiquette.  I got the PCR test when I learned of my exposure... I am staying home from work... I considered who I had seen the 48 hours before my test results came back and let them know so they could take care of themselves.  With my fears of getting other people sick, I even contacted someone I had seen in the past 72 hours prior to the test, just to be safe.  What I've learned is that there will still be people who feel that I am not doing everything I can and would do more.  

For example, I tested positive on a Sunday after learning of a potential exposure at an event the previous Wednesday.  Everyone at that event was notified via email of this potential exposure.  Relaying my story to a friend, she was shocked I didn't email everyone again to let them know that I later tested positive too. I explained to her that the event may have been where I got it and was over 72 hours prior to my positive test.  Emailing those already notified people again just didn't make sense to me by any of the guidelines.  For her comfort level, she still would have emailed.  

On the other end of the spectrum, some people I know are completely unvaccinated and don't really care about masking either or are outright against it.  Still others somewhere in the middle.  All of this uncertainty is extremely triggering if you have anxiety because sometimes it is often hard to know the "right" thing to do right now with changing guidelines as this evolves. In some ways, you just have to accept that your best is not going to be enough for some people and would be way overkill for others.  

What a wild time to be alive, yeah?  As my sister says, people have to do what gives them peace of mind.  I have heard other people say to give everyone a little extra grace right now, and that's something we can all work on.  But don't forget to include yourself in that group too!  

Thursday, July 8, 2021

OCD Workarounds

One of my most nonsensical OCD annoyances right now is my time card obsession.  It constantly evolves and I just can't seem to shake it. 

My work time card is basically the bane of my existence.

It should be so simple... go to work, clock in, work, clock out.  Add the hours at the end of two weeks. Lots of people do this and don't give it a second thought.But instead, with my OCD, it turns into checking and double checking and docking time and worrying. So much worrying.

I ask myself so many "what ifs" related to work timing: 

What if you clocked in before you actually started working?  

What if you clocked out after you finished working, and the delay in opening the app means the clock already moved to the next minute... so now you're getting paid for an extra minute you didn't work?

What if the math is wrong and you're overcharging?

What if you weren't truly working the whole time and you're cheating?

It's always OCD worries and fears related to stealing and dishonesty...  Like just an over-the-top concern I will be getting money I didn't earn. Unfortunately, this leads to compulsions like docking time from myself when I get home. I logically understand that my fixation on this and minute by minute concern isn't normal and my boss would never expect me to do this, but I can't stop.    

I can't seem to get around it either.  I have tried tactics to stop the neurotic obsessing over this (ex. I downloaded a time card app that does the math for me, I text my mom right before I clock in and right after I clock out to have a backup log of the time), but I still worry about overcharging and not clocking in or out correctly.  

The issue is that OCD is amazing at workarounds. If you come up with a way to make things easier, your OCD can come up with a new way to make it hard.  For example, if I try to avoid my time docking compulsion, instead my OCD brain suggests maybe I should keep working a little bit more after I have clocked out to make sure I am not getting overpaid. And even though I now have an app for my time card, my OCD brain still wants me to double check the entries - I write each entry in my planner and double check my app entries against my daily texts to my mom.  To try to stop the worry that I didn't actually check, I make check marks and underlines to try to prove to myself that I did... but I find the worries are still creeping.  Ultimately, I know each compulsion is just feeding the problem. 

My therapist has suggested some Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) style work with this. She says to try just clocking in and out one day without giving in to my compulsion to dock time and to leave the office as soon as I clock out so that I can't give in to my compulsion to keep working.  Instead of the compulsions, I would just sit with the anxiety and reminding myself that I deserve to be paid for my work.  The goal is to see that I can overcome the anxiety and nothing bad will happen if I don't do the compulsions.  Getting to work, clocking in and out and not worrying any more about it is normal.  

But so far, I haven't been able to bring myself to do it.  My fear of time stealing is so great that I worry I won't be able to shake it and will go into full blown panic.  I'm not worried about going to jail or getting punished, I'm worried about being a bad person who steals.  It's such an intangible fear, and the anxiety around it so so big that day-to-day it always seems easier to just cut off a couple minutes than to risk feeling like a fraud.

But the tragedy is that those couple minutes daily add up.  Any fear of cheating myself or cheating my family out of the money I've earned is overpowered by the fear of theft, but I also feel guilty that I keep doing this when my husband works so hard.  At this point, I've tried so many different ways of dealing with the problem except for actually facing the anxiety.  I know ERP can be very successful, I just need to get the courage to do it.

If you're currently dreading your ERP homework, know that you are not alone. We just need to get up the courage to face it.  Today, I did my underlines and my check marks, but here is hoping that I can muster up that courage soon to try the ERP for this and finally work around all the OCD workarounds. 

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?  


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? 


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.