Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hard Habit to Break

Until I started this blog, I don't think I was aware of how much time I spend trying to map out the "best" plan. What's the best day to meet someone, when will the weather be best, how do I time my use of car or bus to minimize exposure to germs for myself or others. I'm doing it again about a series of stuff I've got going tomorrow.

The answer of course is that I should do what's most convenient. Or the one that provides me the most exposure. Instead I often choose least convenient and least exposure.

Monday, December 28, 2009


I met up with the online group. The meeting was actually really fun, and much less awkward than I'd imagined. But the rest of the evening (the event at which we met up) didn't turn out so well, so the whole thing left me feeling a little cranky. I had a lot of OCD fears about this evening; there was hugging! But it was okay. I'm hoping, and assuming, that as I socialize more, I'll get more comfortable, and you have to start somewhere.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Goals for the Week

Ultimately, I guess this will be a New Year's resolution, but for now, it's a big goal for the week. I'm trying to do one scary social thing each week that doesn't include family. For this week, it's a chance to meet some people in person that I've only known online. One has the potential to be a friend, I think, and the older I get, the harder new friends are to come by. So I'm partly really excited, and partly looking for any excuse not to go. We'll see how it turns out!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

OCD and Dating, Part 2

So, I tried the internet dating thing during the late summer and fall, and didn't find anyone promising. This was a setback, in part because I was hoping that wanting to keep from freaking out while dating would be a good motivation to push forward on exposures. But no such luck.

Recently, however, I've developed a workplace crush. That hasn't happened in at least 5 years, so it's kind of fun. I have no particular optimism that it will go anywhere, but I have been able to use it as an incentive to keep pushing.

That said, I've been thinking and thinking and thinking today about tomorrow's exposures: hanging out with my sister and her kids, and going to a movie with my aunt and mom (yes, I know I need to expand this social circle- working on that, too!) Anyway, lots of opportunities for things that seem scary to me, just before returning to work after my boss's latest chemo, and with a coworker about to go on vacation.

If I read about someone else truly worrying about this stuff, I'd probably just laugh, but when it's my brain, it all feel so REAL. At least the New Year's resolutions will be easy to come up with this year.

Hope everyone (who celebrates it) had a nice Christmas.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas, check

Well, there was much coughing, as expected, but overall, not so bad.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Deep Breaths

My dad still has his cold. I have never met someone who was so "disgusting" with a cold. Snorfly for twice as long as the average person, sneezes twice as loud as anyone I know, and he coughs and coughs and coughs and coughs and, well, you get the idea. Never covers his cough, and rarely even turns away from you while coughing. Made all the better by the fact that he gets about 8 colds a year. Bad immune system plus zero handwashing is not a good combination.

Even when I was not afraid of colds, I sometimes couldn't stand to be in the same room with him when he was sick. Years ago I decided I could never date a guy who was "yucky" when sick (and again, this was pre-OCD!) Anyway, I'm pretty sure tomorrow will be super fun.

Sorry for the whining, just needing to let it all out before a day full of family. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

OCD and Christmas

So, Christmas is almost here. Many exposure opportunities come along with Christmas.

My goal through this weekend is to work on that acceptance piece. I've already seen myself try to change my schedule to minimize time with people who might hug me or who I think have the highest chance of being sick (as if I would know).

Anyway, that doesn't sound a bit like "acceptance," does it? So, my goal is to let other people dictate the schedule. I've got complete flexibility between now and Sunday. We'll see how it goes.

If it weren't for my OCD, I would love Christmas. I'm not very religious, but there's cookies! and presents! What's not to love.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

OCD and Acceptance

Well, I thought I had an awesome post to write about acceptance, but I can't find the couple of articles/blog posts I found on the internet that really resonated, so oops.

The basic gist was the misuse of the concept of acceptance in people with OCD. As in, I can accept that I might get sick, but oh! please don't let me. Or, I can accept that I might be gay, but I'm pretty sure I'm not, so that's a relief.

The acceptance is only theoretical, and that doesn't get you very far. True acceptance takes some time, and possibly some mourning for what might have been (that came from Dr. Grayson's blog, I do remember that).

Maybe this will get thought out better in the future.

In the meantime, made it through another work day without a shower, and I finished up my Christmas shopping in some crowded stores. So, I'm still doing pretty well on the exposures, but the acceptance is coming a little more slowly.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

50-50 Kind of Day

Went off to make Christmas cookies with my mom today. Found out when I got there that my dad had a cold (his 2nd in December, what is up with his immune system??). Managed not to freak out.

I did, however, have some moments with my mother about her cooking style. The 5-second rule is alive and well at my folks' house. I try not to say anything, but I don't usually succeed. That can be my New Year's resolution.

Also finished my Christmas shopping afterward, so yay.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

It Works!

So after a few hours last night, I didn't even feel like I needed a shower. I did eventually change out of the work clothes, because they're not that comfortable, but I didn't do it because they were stressing me out.

So, ERP 1, OCD 0.

The hardest part for me can be moving forward and doing another exposure, instead of saying, "Yay I did it!" and then taking a week off.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sitting With Anxiety

Working on two really difficult things right now. One, I realized this week (or was reminded) that the closer I get to an event that scares me, the more I try to avoid exposures. Which seems to wipe out the previous exposure success. My boss's next chemo is next week, and I've already tried to schedule things in ways that make me feel less likely to get sick before then. So I'm trying to work on stopping that.

And, I've also realized that it's been a long time since I've made myself really sit with the feeling of anxiety, and not eventually give in and do a compulsion, lately, taking that nightly shower, or changing my clothes as soon as I get home from work.

SOO, today, here I am at my home computer still wearing my work clothes. And despite the guy next to me at work with a cold, and the other coworker who went home early after not feeling well, I have no plans to shower tonight. Neither of these feels great, which is mostly the point.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Another Unplanned Exposure

Today at work I learned they will have to close the attached parking garage for as many as six months (!) while they fix it so random chunks of concrete won't fall on anyone's head (!!). Oh, small details.

Anyway, that parking garage has been my refuge at times, when I can't face the bus, or I can't face the thought of getting wet on my way to work. Not an option any longer. As usual, I guess it's a good thing. (Although as the budget analyst, I can say it's a terrible terrible thing for our bottom line. But that's another issue altogether)

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Outcome is None of My Business

This was the status report on a friend of a friend's facebook recently, and I love it. It's not true in every context, but for my OCD, it's a reality check that's working.

I have SUCH a tendency to try to micromanage what I worry about. Hmm, lunch on Saturday? Well, how about Sunday, the weather looks better (yeah, I don't know why the weather would affect lunch either). And if it's an event that can't be moved (especially if, God forbid, it's an outdoor event), I will watch the weather all week, as though watching the forecast actually has any effect on the weather.

When I think to myself, "the outcome is none of my business," it snaps me out of rumination and gets me back to the present, reminding me that I can't control everything and I shouldn't try. This is especially true when I'm trying to control the outcome of someone else's life, something that makes even less sense.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Yes, This

The passage quoted below was recently posted on the yahoo groups OCD Support website, and I believe it was written by Dr. Jonathon Grayson. It espresses quite succinctly and well what I have been thinking about and rambling on about lately in the blog:

"When you face a difficult exposure, ask yourself: why would I take this risk?
And when you answer remember in detail: 1) how has OCD made my life miserable, what have I lost, how have I humiliated myself; 2) how have I hurt my loved ones with anger, by making them late, by putting my symptoms before them and finally 3) how do my rituals not really work -- because no matter how extensive your rituals are, I can find a way in which they aren't good enough--leaving you with the choice of becoming worse or accepting that the saddest thing of all is that for all of your ritualizing, you don't even get the prize you are seeking."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Random Thoughts for Today

OCD is funny. People with OCD are funny. On OCD forums recently, a few different people have written, "I'd do ANYTHING to get over my OCD." But they won't really. They're usually asking for a quick fix when they write this. I sometimes feel the same thing. I'd do ANYTHING not to have OCD rule my life. Except, touch that pole on the bus? Well, no, maybe not that. The public restroom? Well, no, maybe not that either.

Fact is, with contamination OCD, if you're willing to do the exposures, you're getting past the OCD. But it's really tough to do.

I'm doing it, though. Most of my underlying concern lately has been about losing my job. But then I asked myself if I'd rather keep my job and be miserable all the time, or lose my job and (ultimately) live a happy life. The job didn't seem as important then. And heck, if I'm willing to lose my job, what's the worry?

So, I'm pushing, pushing, pushing. I touched the door handle on the bus yesterday. I didn't take my shower at the end of the day. I'm heading out to an open house this afternoon, despite the fact that it's just started to rain. I think I'll try some Christmas shopping as well. I find if I take the time to say, "do you WANT to get better," I can often make the right choice.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Let's See

There's not really a lot going on right now.

I'm doubling down on my efforts to not wash my hands overly much, and it's working okay. Today I didn't wash my hands any extra times at work at all, and I touched doorknobs and doorways and faucet handles a lot more than I normally do. I went to the grocery store twice in the last two days without any Purell use. Also took the bus twice this week so far.

H1N1 vaccinations have recently been opened to the general population here, so I got vaccinated today. I guess that means I can touch things with even more reckless abandon. :)

So, not very exciting, but encouraging nonetheless.

Still stewing over the medication question, as I tend to do.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Considering Medication, Part 2

Despite my reasonable success in exposures, something doesn't feel right. I still carry around a sense of doom a lot of the time. And I have an underlying level of mild (moderate?) depression that I can't quite shake.

So I am once again considering medication, possibly at a dose that deals with the depression, if not fully the anxiety. I'm pretty sure a lot of my past reaction to medication (which I took twice for about 2 months each time) was placebo, as I react within days, at a very very low dose, but I guess that's cool, too.

For now, I'm hoping the "threat" of medication will motivate me to more full exposures, but if not, I might be ready to go there. More on this as it arises.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


My aunt hasn't been in my house since at least April, and I think it's been even longer. Well, make that "hadn't," as she came over today. Like many people with OCD, rather arbitrarily, I feel like she's contaminated, in a generic "she has cooties" sort of way.

It made for a really interesting time while she was treated for cancer this year. I was both trying to avoid getting her sick while also avoiding her cooties. Fun!

But she lives in a very small apartment, and she stores her seasonal things at my house. Now that chemo is done, she wanted to look through her Christmas boxes. I was fairly stressed, but I thought I did pretty okay. It helps that I've been keeping my house much cleaner, so it wasn't a huge chore to get it in shape for a visitor.

We went to lunch after, and she seemed to enjoy herself, so I felt good about that.

Now I'm off to the grocery store and the pet supply store.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What a Surprise

Well, twice in the last week, I was SURE I'd get sick and mess up someone's plans, and twice in the last week, it didn't happen. And somehow, I think it's finally starting to sink in that nothing I worry about ever happens. But also, that people get sick, and then they get better, and that's that. My therapist was totally sick over Thanksgiving, and it didn't really matter, and no one else got sick. My dad is sick now, and all that's happened is a lot of extra napping.

So, I think my brain is getting it, finally. But now I've gotten so used to being a social hermit, that it's a struggle for me to be sociable, even when I'm not actually scared. I need to spend this winter really pushing myself to get out there and socialize, even when it's scary and even when I'd rather be at home reading a book.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Couple of Good Exposures (If Under Bad Circumstances)

Yesterday at noon, my dad called to tell me he had a cold, and maybe he would stay home from the game we were planning to attend together. Ha! My family's had to accommodate me so long, now they do it voluntarily.

Anyway, that would be the worst thing to do, OCD-wise, so we went as scheduled. I was anxious, but still able to concentrate on the game, so that was good.

Today, it became clear that it was time to put my cat to sleep. So I went to the vet. I think the tech had a cold, and she kept touching my shoulder and arm to comfort me, and I wasn't brave enough to tell her hands off. So the kitty is gone, and I cried and cried, but at least I got an exposure out of a terrible situation. I guess that's good, too. :(

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bad News

My cat is sick. Not going to get better sick. I find that I worry that my OCD will make me do this "wrong." That a fear of medical offices will keep me from having her put to sleep when I should. Or that a fear of uncertainty will have me put her to sleep too soon.

I know even "normal" people worry about getting the timing wrong. For now, she's still eating, and purrs when she sits on my lap. But she's a little skinnier and less steady on her feet each day. :(

Sunday, November 29, 2009

OCD in the Media

A couple of interesting links. On Friday Howie Mandel was on 20/20, talking about his experience with OCD. I've always wondered why he didn't get treated, rather than just refuse to shake anyone's hand. Turns out he is receiving treatment, but apparently it's not too successful (he doesn't say this, it's my interpretation). Mandel has just published a book about his OCD and ADHD. I'd like to read what he has to say about his treatment.

In other OCD news, the New York Times has an article about surgical treatments for mental illness, which focuses on OCD. I've read about this surgery before, offered on an extremely limited basis to people with debilitating and treatment resistant OCD. I suspect I'd never choose it, but I'm not morally opposed to the idea.

What fascinated me was the comments attached to the article. The majority felt this was simply the lobotomy all over again. While there's not actually evidence of that, there is evidence that the surgery mostly just doesn't work very well. But I was struck by the number of commenters who basically said, "why can't we just accept people with differences." It's clear to me that these are not people with OCD. Even at my worst, I fit into society just fine, the problem is that my life can turn into total crap. Most people with OCD want nothing more than to not have OCD, and if surgery might someday be a viable option, I wouldn't want that door closed. And I especially wouldn't want that door closed by someone who has no idea what I'm going through.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just Remembered an Ironic-ish Experience

At work, I am something of a budget consultant for 10 different departments. I put their budgets together, and I monitor them throughout the year. As such, I have frequent meetings with the heads of "my" departments.

The other day, at the end of a meeting, the department head said, "it's so nice to meet with you, you're always so calm." I was speechless at first, although I suppose I shouldn't have been. My annual review was full of similar quotes last year.

It cracks me up (it cracks my mom up even more). I'm extremely well suited to my job, and I find the budget stuff to be very straightforward, and to date, no one's ever done any crazy overspending, so there's just zero stress involved in my day to day work. Of course I worry about all the germs around me, but apparently not so you'd notice. :)

Now if I could just get my whole life in such good shape!

Looking Back on this Week

Here were this week's goals:
Continue to ride the bus. Rode twice, got sneezed on, survived.
Go to the grocery store- for some reason I've been avoiding it lately. Went twice.
Social events M,W,F- don't cancel any. Yippee, didn't cancel.
Fix flat on my bike, and ride to work one day if not too cold. Laziness set in, still may look into that tomorrow.

All in all, not a bad week. Now I'm enjoying the extra long weekend, having taken a vacation day yesterday.

I think next week, I need to set harder goals.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Big holidays often go badly for me. I think it's mostly getting a lot of people together in one place that tends to stress me out. But I also have a little bit of the "it's never quite as good as I sometimes imagine ahead of time" syndrome, so I get a little down around the holidays (you'd think I'd have adjusted my expectations by now, but whatever).

Today was fine, except for the part where I started sobbing while cooking with my sister. Random sobbing happens every so often when I'm feeling stressed by something. More disconcerting was the fact that my sister, while vaguely supportive, also seemed to wish I and my problems would just disappear. Which of course was really all I wanted to do. And I can't really blame her. I'd probably feel the same after this many years. In any case, I knew that I would just feel worse if I skipped the big dinner. And I would also be avoiding something that makes me anxious, never good.

Anyway, we came out the other side of the crying jag, the dinner was fine (until my aunt left in anger, but she does that at every.family.event.every.year, so that was nothing new). Ahh, family. Ahh, holidays.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Making the Leap

I've known for quite a while now, that if I'm going to get anywhere truly useful with my treatment, I've got to make the cognitive leap, the one that says "bring it on" to my fears. I'm not there, but for some reason, I'm totally confident that I'll get there soon.

This sounded a little silly, even to me, until I talked to a friend yesterday. She quit smoking 3 or 4 months ago. But she said she knew for a long time before she did it, that she would do it. She said people laughed at her, but she was right.

So for now I'm perched, waiting for the leap I know will come.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Yay for Me, Or, I Am Doomed!

I have a fantastic "radar" for sick people. I can spot and avoid a sick store clerk at 20 feet. Well, not always, but I'm pretty good. For the sake of recovery from OCD, I've been working to override this ability.

Yesterday on the bus, I spotted the woman before I sat in her sneeze zone, but I sat there anyway. Then I tried to reassure myself (bad, I know): I'm sure her breathing is that loud because she's quite overweight, not because she's sick. See, she hasn't coughed or sneezed once! Oops, just then, the wettest, sneeziest couple of sneezes ever! Right in my direction. I do think she covered them at least, but I sure wasn't looking her way to see.

So, on the one hand, good for me, right? On the other, ugh ugh ugh. As always. :P

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Goals for the Week

Not quite sure what to post this week.

I'm still in that "doing fairly well, but still feeling mighty stressed" place.

Last night I rode the bus home from a social event. There's a homeless shelter at the end of my bus route. Most of the people, you wouldn't even know that's where they were headed, if you didn't know it was there. But sometimes the people are pretty unkempt, and some are drunk. Last night I encountered 4 of those, plus it was pouring, and two of them had terrible coughs. A difficult ride.

Anyway, my goals:
Continue to ride the bus.
Go to the grocery store- for some reason I've been avoiding it lately.
Social events M,W,F- don't cancel any.
Fix flat on my bike, and ride to work one day if not too cold.

This list doesn't feel quite complete, but I'm not sure what else would go on it.

I guess another goal is to work actively (rather than simply reading) my Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Anxiety book.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Yay for Friday

Another okay if not great week. I had literally 10 meetings at work, and I'm not a fan, so I was happy to get through those. Managed two nights without a shower. Now I absolutely MUST work on my underlying fear of being sick. Without that, no matter how many exposures I do, I feel just as scared as always. With the holidays starting, it seems like an especially good, if totally scary, time to try. I've read a couple of interesting mental health related books recently and hope to get a review or two up over the weekend.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


My best friend outside of my family has recently begun dating again after a long gap. She lives in a different state, and we generally talk on the phone every couple of days, sometimes every day if one (or both) of us is having a tough week.

I'm happy for her, of course. But on Tuesday I called, and her sweetie was over. No problem, we arranged to talk today. No call. :( It has begun (yes, I know, I could have called her today. But despite my mellow reaction on Tuesday, I hate the awkwardness of the "umm, can I call you back later" call with new daters, and I do my best to avoid it).

In some ways it's a good thing. Because I'm quite aware of my tendency to seek reassurance from her. Sometimes subtly, sometimes less so. Having her less available is probably for the best. It still makes me sad.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This is Really Difficult

Thanks to those of you who've commented on my recent progress. I've got to say that doing these exposures lately has been really hard work. I've been working more and more on both doing exposures that could lead to a cold or flu, and dealing with the fact that I can never be 100% certain that I won't pass along a serious illness to someone else.

I've ended up near tears at work a few times lately, which has the potential for some really embarrassing moments, but so far I've made it through without anyone noticing.

One thing I'm also working on is scaling back my attempts to orchestrate the "best" outcome. For instance, I'll check the weather before planning a lunch out, because I hate being wet and feel something bad is more likely to happen. Or I'll try to imagine if the coworker I'm scheduling a meeting with is more likely to be sick after returning from vacation, or later in the week, after she's been exposed to people in the office again.

It's pointless, makes me feel bad when I guess wrong, and it wastes a whole whole lot of time. Not to mention that by doing it, I make my OCD stronger.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Getting There

My sister and her husband both had colds this weekend, and I went over to their house. I can't remember the last time I purposely visited them when I knew they were sick. I wasn't super comfortable, but I did it. So that's pretty substantial progress for me.

We'll see what happens when someday I actually get a cold myself.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Checking in at Week's End

I have to admit that I actually did a little better than I expected this week:
I took the bus.
I skipped the shower two days (that one surprised me!)
Did much better than I have been, if not perfectly, on the handwashing at work.
Cooked/ate after touching the phone several times.

I had the freak out in the flu shot line, but I've since scheduled some events for the weekend with people I know have colds, and after an initial panic, I'm feeling pretty okay about that.

I'm currently sitting out an exposure involving a clogged toilet. The jury's still out on how this one will end. :(

It's funny that as soon as I have some exposure success, I up my standards, so I still always feel like I'm not doing as well as I want to be. I guess that's yet another thing to work on.

Happy it's the weekend.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

If I Didn't Have OCD, I'd Be a Really Nice Person

I'm a pretty cranky/irritable person. I would estimate that 9 out of 10 times that irritability is caused by OCD-related anxiety.

Today my work sponsored a seasonal flu shot clinic. I was waiting in line, when a super big wig in my workplace got in line behind me. He clearly had a cold, and I didn't want him to touch me (or even breathe on me for that matter). Of course he was in a very very chatty mood. When I get anxious, I kind of shut down. I can't make small talk, I talk in practically a monotone, don't notice jokes people make, and have a tendency to be rude. It's not a good thing, especially when it's your boss.

Luckily, the boss-guy likes me, and he's a little oblivious, so he didn't seem to notice. I think a couple other people around us did, though, which is embarrassing. The oddest thing is that I'm not even all that afraid of getting a cold- it's like the reaction is just hardwired in at this point.

In better news, I took the bus today and did pretty well about not washing my hands during the day. I'm currently sitting out the urge to shower. The first hour I didn't think I was going to make it, but the anxiety has dropped a little now.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Goals for the Week

I've decided to start posting what I'm working on for the week- it's too easy for me to "forget" otherwise.

So this week:
Take the bus any time the rain isn't torrential
Skip taking a shower after work on at least one workday
No "extra" hand washing at work
Touch floors at home and carry on about my day
Cook after touching the phone or remote control or computer keyboard

Today I did well with the handwashing, have touched the floors, and am about to go cook.

The shower thing is going to be tough, but until cold and flu season kicked in, I was doing that without much thought, so I guess that means I know I can do it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It Changes Your Whole Perspective, Doesn't It?

Went to a charity auction last night, and had a pretty good time. I had one interesting experience, though. In the main doorway to the event, they had hung a metallic curtain that you had to walk through. Most people push their hands through it first as they walk through, and then it's pretty much in contact with all parts of your body. My first thought upon seeing it was "really? You want us all to walk through that all night? Might as well make me hug everyone in the room."

About an hour later my mom says to me, "You know what my favorite part of the night was? That metallic curtain thing. That was really fun to walk through."

She took one look at my face and said, "Wow, it really changes your whole perspective, doesn't it?" Yep.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

That's Not What I Meant to Say

OCD can be socially isolating. It certainly has been for me. My therapist wants me to work on that, so this week I am supposed to be striking up conversations with men (that sounds bad, but really it's just practicing small talk).

So today at work, a coworker I very rarely talk to stopped to chat. It went surprisingly well, until he mentioned that he thought he was coming down with the cold that's going around. I could have said, "Oh, I'm sorry." Or "Bummer, just in time for the weekend." What did I say? "Ooh, stay away." Oops. I don't think that's what my therapist had in mind.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Labeling and Acting "Normal"

It's a pretty basic technique, but labeling my fears as OCD has been helpful to me lately. In a "this is OCD so you better just do it" kind of way. I'm pretty sure I've written about this before, but I haven't had much luck with it before.

I've also been finding success with a "normal people don't have to do this" approach to life.

As in, you know, most people don't have to go wash their hands after putting on their shoes, or most people aren't afraid to schedule a meeting at work in case an attendee is sick.

I'm not using it as reassurance, because I'm still anxious after going ahead with the exposure, but it's making me do them.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

That Which Doesn't Kill Me...

I've got a big weekend coming up, for me anyway. I'd much prefer to sleep the whole thing away, but I guess that's not really the healthiest option.

Date number two on Saturday, followed by a charity auction. Then a basketball game on Sunday.

Also somewhere in there is a niece's soccer game, likely in the rain and wind. My OCD self hates the rain with a passion. Somehow wet things seem even more contaminated. Good thing I live in the northwest, then.

I've been working hard at not washing my hands excessively at work. I had great success today, but it was difficult. Good to know I can do it, though.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I have had migraines since I was a teenager. The ones I have now are in some ways milder than those I used to have, but in some ways they're worse, because they happen a lot more frequently. I've had one off and on since last Thursday- it's now Tuesday, so ugh.

I don't think they're related to my OCD, but it's frustrating that when I have one, it tends to throw off my whole schedule, including exposure plans. On the plus side, when my nausea gets really bad, I get some extra exposure.

In other news, I went on a date this weekend. It wasn't so bad! The guy was nice, don't know if it will go anywhere, but it was still a good thing overall.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Doing It Right

In several previous posts, I think I've noted that "If you're not scared, you're not doing it right," with respect to exposures. Today I went down to the little community grocery store. It's very small in there, and it was crowded. I touched lots of things, and there was a lot of sneezing (okay, there was a little sneezing). I came home and really wanted to take a shower, which I'm fully aware is an extreme reaction.

So I'm just sitting around feeling contaminated, and waiting for the feeling to pass. Fun times!

Friday, October 30, 2009


Today I had another reminder of how limiting my OCD can (try to) be. We had a potluck at work, and I considered not participating. I love potlucks, and in my 37 years of them, can't think of a single instance of getting any kind of food poisoning as a result.

And yet for a little while, it really seemed scary and dangerous. Weird.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Update for Today

I rode the bus! Disaster has not ensued!
On the way home, the bus passed by a high school cross country meet. I ran cross country in high school (not well, but I don't guess that matters), so I stopped to check it out. I had a brief moment of fear- all those high school students together in one place, surely some were sick. But I stayed, and it was fun to watch. It was another reminder that I rarely go places anymore, especially if I have a chance to think about it ahead of time. I'd like that to change.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Back on the Bus

Tomorrow I'm back on the bus. It's actually only been two weeks since I last took the bus to work, but it feels a lot longer. Of course yesterday our bus system sent out an email with tips to avoid the flu while on the bus. They recommend carrying sanitizing wipes. So, uhh, that's not helping. But people have been hacking and sneezing my way on the bus for months, so hopefully tomorrow won't be much scarier than any old day.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

One Step Forward, 3/4 of a Step Back

Despite moderate anxiety, I was able to visit my family today. The visits weren't super smooth, though. My sister had gone to a farm to buy apples and pears, and she wanted to set the boxes on her bathroom scale to split up the fruit by weight. I freaked a little. For a number of reasons (involving children's potty chairs), her scale has always seemed contaminated, plus it lives in the bathroom!

Then I went to visit my folks. I normally lurk to be sure that my mom washes her hands before cooking, or I'm just there helping and can see, but I wasn't paying attention today, so I asked her (she had). But later she went rummaging through the freezer out in the garage and then went straight to making salad. Again I freaked a little although I still ate the salad; the garage freezer isn't the most hygienic.

My family is fairly accommodating, but I probably shouldn't ask them to be, and I always feel like something of a failure after I make a weird request or get upset about something. Ugh. At least I netted that 1/4 of a step forward.

That's Just My OCD Lying to Me

It can be dangerous to fall into the "that's just my OCD" trap, because it can start to be just another form of reassurance, another way to look for certainty.

At the same time, I'm finding it useful in helping me do some exposures. My therapist reminded me this week that I have exactly zero instances of worrying about a horrible outcome and having that horrible outcome come true. That's not to say I never get sick, but that when I do, nothing much terrible happens. Which really makes it all the more astounding that I can still worry so hard.

So I find it useful to remind myself that OCD is lying to me. Remembering that OCD is the enemy of my happiness makes me want to work harder. And I'm going to need that, as my last excuse to avoid exposures, my coworker's wedding, was yesterday.

Today I'm off to a movie, to visit my nieces, and to do some shopping. I have not been to a movie in quite a while.

I have been driving to work a lot. Partly due to weather, but mostly to avoid my fellow passengers. A big goal for this week is to get back on the bus.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


It's my blog, so I can take a moment to vent, right? (and yes, I know, that the new improved exposure friendly me should be welcoming these exposures, but whatever!)

Dear Coworkers,
If you want to come to work sick, I can't stop you. But must you tell me about it? And must you tell me while also punctuating your conversation by continually touching me on the arm?

And to my boss. Fine, you want me to bring my budget book to the meeting. Must you then lick your finger before every page turn? If you want to spit on the budget, use your own.

There, I feel better already.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dating with OCD

I haven't had a boyfriend, or been on a date for that matter, since 2006! For part of 2006 and all of 2007, I was in school and working full time and decided that dating would be more than I wanted to handle. Then somehow 2008 passed, too. And now it's October 2009! I'm really shy, plus getting older, so dating opportunities just don't fall in my lap like they did when I was in my 20s. I decided to put up an online profile a few months ago.

My dating past is checkered. In my early dating life I didn't have OCD, and I've dated some guys for whom it wasn't a big deal. But my last couple of relationships ended because I was too stressed to handle it, or my stressing freaked the boyfriend out. Or a combination of both.

So I've been corresponding online with someone who seems great, and it's really time to meet. I know there's no harm in meeting for coffee. But I do wonder what I should be doing big picture. I know I'm never going to be OCD free. But I can't decide if I should wait until I'm coping with the world a little better to jump into the dating pool. I have some fear that if I jump in before that and it goes badly, it's going to take years to brave it again. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Doing Okay

Still hanging in there. I'm definitely motivated by the concept of a relaxed me, somewhere out there in the future. I can actually imagine it, even if I'm not close to living it yet. Going to a basketball game tonight. All those people.

In other news, I've been watching my way through Monk on DVD. Just started Season 7. I really enjoy the show, but I'm not so fond of the representation of his OCD. The character of the therapist has always been so central to this show, but the treatment he receives has no known effect on OCD. Over and over again they show him talking about his childhood. Ugh.

Not to mention that his OCD seems pretty random, and more phobia filled than OCD-like, except his dislike of being touched.

Anyway, I know that if his OCD went away, much of the premise of the show would be gone. And all I have to do is watch a CSI episode to know that TV is not based in reality.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Here We Go

All right, I'm off to visit with my sister's family. Did I mention her husband works in an emergency room? Where swine flu patients have been flocking for weeks? Ack!

Then the farmer's market, followed by an event at a large stadium.

I know visiting family, buying groceries, and attending a concert are not major accomplishments for most people, but given how much I DON'T want to do any of these things today, I'm feeling really pleased at the same time that I'm able to make myself go.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

OCD: Nature versus Nurture

Twice recently, I've had conversations with people about whether my OCD was "hard-wired" into me or was a result of my environment.

As I've mentioned before when talking about my immediate family, they do not have ANY contamination issues, and I grew up in a household where handwashing didn't really happen.

So I definitely didn't learn it there. Theoretically I could have rebelled at some point against my family's lack of concern about germs or dirt. But I don't think that's it either. I didn't ever (and still don't) look back at it in disgust. That's just the way it was, and we were all healthy and fine. And the older I am, the more I realize that most of the world is closer to my family growing up than they are to over-handwashing me.

Up until my early 20s, I had brief, very brief flashes of OCD behavior, including about a month where I was sure the house was going to burn down, and one truly weird incident when I become concerned about pregnancy despite not having had sex. But at age 25, it really felt like a switch turned on. Well, maybe a dimmer switch. Over the course of about 6 months, I just became more and more concerned about germs, and washing, and checking doors, until it completely overwhelmed my life.

I don't know how it happened, or why it happened then, but I truly feel that it was going to happen to me no matter how I'd been brought up. One half of my family has a full smorgasbord of mental illnesses, and this is just the one I was lucky enough to get.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Today was supposed to be "the day." My about-to-be-married coworker's last day in the office before her wedding, the day I would miraculously be able to do all kinds of exposures without fear of getting sick. Hmm. Well. It was her last day in the office, and despite what I feared earlier in the week, it doesn't look like we'll be meeting up for lunch next week.

However, the wedding's not till next weekend, and several coworkers are going. So I'm still feeling freaked out about somehow getting her sick, by getting them sick, now apparently ruining her honeymoon rather than her wedding. Especially since I'm meeting up with my sister and her two grade school aged children this weekend. And everyone knows kids are nothing but germ factories. :) (My mom very helpfully told me about the three classmates of my niece who "had swine flu and have already returned to school.") When I write these fears down, it seems as far-fetched to me as it probably does to you, the path from here to there, but at least part of my brain appears to find it likely. My brain is very skilled at this.

Despite a pretty extreme level of anxiety, I did better on exposures this week than I expected. I went to the store three times, went to the library, didn't skip my therapy appointment. And went to work, of course.

I want to get back to a life I can enjoy, but even though my current situation pretty much sucks, getting where I want seems so scary, too. I guess I'm working on it, just much more s-l-o-w-l-y than I'd hoped.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Out of My Stupor

One of my coworkers is getting married very soon. I am terrified of getting the swine flu, giving it to her, and ruining her wedding. Yes, that is a very specific fear. I had convinced myself that once she was out of the office (Friday), this would finally be the time that I would lose some of my worry about getting sick, and really work on exposures. Unlike every OTHER similar time, of course, where that "final" deadline came and another one took its place. It seems there's always someone about to go on vacation, or starting chemo, or graduating from high school, just waiting for me to ruin their special day with an illness.

In the meantime, I was cocooning myself up at home, so that I would "guarantee" I would stay healthy (ignoring the cesspool of germs that is my office, of course).

Today I learned that I will probably see my engaged coworker next week, too, and my anticipation of a mellow weekend was shot.

At which point the ridiculousness of never leaving my house except for work became clear. So it's back to the routine: grocery shopping, picking up books at the library, riding the bus (gulp!) I'm feeling anxious but surprisingly okay about it. Of course, that may be due to the fact that I finally turned the furnace on today after the house got down to 55. Everything looks a little better when you're warm.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Good Night's Sleep

After a good night's sleep, today looked a little better. I did some small exposures, mostly involving my cats. I tell you, you want exposure built into your life, get some cats. The vomit! The wet feet! The sitting in your lap and your bed!

Also spent some time reading yet another OCD memoir. A new review will be up one of these days.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Today's Blog Post

I'm really struggling right now. Like a lot of people with OCD, I'm an information junkie, and I'm super aware of what I should be doing to combat my OCD. Doing it is a whole other thing.

At this point, all I feel sure of is that I will drag my butt into work every day next week. Not making it to work is a slope I will not start down (unless I'm actually sick, of course), because that can lead nowhere good. Other than that, no promises.

I am posting here my commitment to finally listen to a meditation CD that a friend sent me weeks ago. I will post again tonight whether I did it- that'll be an exciting post for sure.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

So What?

That is what my therapist tells me I should be saying to myself. As in, "Oh, no. I'm afraid I'm going to get sick!" "So what?" Now if I could just internalize that, it would be awesome. I have about 10 minute blocks of time where it works great, and I feel pretty mellow about it all. Then, like today, I go to a meeting and the guy next to me has a hacking cough, and I'm right back to "Oh, no. I'm afraid I'm going to get sick!" Sigh. My blog might not be so accurately named.

Monday, October 5, 2009


If I needed any more proof that I can't control it: the party on Saturday was to celebrate the end of my aunt's chemo. I was very happy for her, of course, but I also felt a sense of relief for myself, that I didn't need to worry as much as I had been about getting sick and in turn making her sick. So, Monday morning staff meeting at work, a coworker confides that she's just been diagnosed with breast cancer and will start her treatment this week. I'm not enough of a clod to care more about the effect on me than the effect on her. But. I guess it's about time to realize that all I can do is live my life, it's just too much to try to protect everyone around me, because I'll never succeed. Here's hoping for positive outcomes for them both.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I Do Not Like Cold and Flu Season

When colds and flu are at the very top of your exposure hierarchy, this is sort of a stressful time of year. During exposure therapy has really been difficult, harder than I expected really. But I'm hanging in there. Yesterday was a big party for my aunt. I went through worrying about ruining the party by being sick, worried about going and having someone else get me sick, and I worried about bringing food that would make people sick. But I went, everything seemed okay, I brought my food, life went on. As it always seems to do, of course.

Yesterday I had a bonus exposure that was a huge success. Squirrels often frolic on my back deck, and I worry about germs being left behind. For some reason I went out there in bare feet yesterday, and then walked through my house without thinking about it. As soon as I did think about it, I felt contaminated, and like the floors had also been contaminated. For about three hours I fought the urge to take a shower and/or scrub down the floors. But I repeated my new mantra, that giving in to that urge feeds the OCD and makes it stronger. And I waited and waited, until eventually the urge passed. That felt great.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mindfulness, Part Something

So I've decided to really focus on mindfulness this week (starting today- my OCD week generally starts on Wednesday). A friend sent me some meditation CDs and I've got my copy of The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety and I'm going to really go for it.

That's not to say I'm leaving exposures behind, as the mindfulness is really (to me) more a means to get my anxiety down a bit and therefore help with the exposures. And given that it's now cold and flu season and those are my biggest fears, I'm pretty sure the exposures are going to happen whether I choose them or not.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Today's Exposure

Today my parents are coming over for dessert. Having them over didn't used to be a cause of stress, but it is now.

I'm feeling a lot of anxiety, but I suspect everything will go fine.

One thing that's made it easier is that since I've been working on keeping the house clean, there's not nearly as much frantic cleaning needed today as there usually is before I have a guest.

One the bad side, the cats seem to be doing their part to raise my anxiety, including a fresh hairball that I just stepped in. Maybe they're in cahoots with my therapist.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Voices of OCD

This week, The New York Times' Patient Voices feature is about OCD. They have audio interviews with 6 different people with OCD.

All of the interviews are interesting, but the words of Patricia Imbordino reminded me a major point of OCD that I always want to remember as I fight this (and for some reason I don't carry with me at all times, probably because it's scary): "The compulsions, the rituals, are what keeps OCD alive. The more you give in to your compulsions, the more you avoid things, the more reassurance you look for... The more you do that, the more you're giving in to your OCD. ... [you're] agreeing with your OCD."

Another interesting although horrifying portrait was the last man, who started therapy in 1989, but who didn't learn about exposure therapy until 2008. Within a year his OCD symptoms were basically gone. WHY doesn't the psychological training community make sure that all practitioners know about ERP? Shouldn't this be part of Mental Health Practitioner 101?

Friday, September 25, 2009

I'm Not Like *Them*, Am I?

Recently on an OCD forum that I read, two posters were sharing their belief that they are "special," chosen to affect the world in some important way, although one was unsure if he (she?) was chosen for good or evil. Either way, it was a huge responsibility that caused a lot of stress. I have to confess that I laughed out loud. I don't in any way mean to belittle their anxiety, it's just that from the outside it's clear to me that they are not "chosen ones," they just have OCD.

Of course, then it dawned on me that my fears of getting people sick make me react as though I too am "special" and must take extreme measures to avoid irrevocably harming others. I mentioned this to a friend recently, and she admitted that my "making people sick" fear strikes her as just as weird and slightly laughable as I found my forum-mates'.

I still want to argue that my situation is a little different, as I know that I'm not any more likely than anyone else to make somebody sick, I just don't want to be the one that's responsible.

But the similarity is clear, and it points out to me (yet again) that it's a lot easier to see the crazy in someone else's thinking that it is in my own.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Seriously? Chicken?

Today on my run, I looked over while passing a house, and there on the ground by the garbage can were 4 packages of raw chicken. What the heck?! Who does that? Did they think someone was going to take it home and eat it? Isn't that going to attract critters? And smell pretty terrible? It was 90 degrees today!

Of course my brain went straight to an "omg, salmonella!" place. I'd passed really close by, and I really wanted to go home and take my shoes off in the driveway. Who knows where and what that raw chicken had dripped, right? Luckily it's Wednesday and I see my therapist on Wednesdays. So with her voice still fresh (unlike that chicken), I did not alter my path or my plans.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cluttered House, Cluttered Mind

For years, I've struggled with clutter. Watching the A&E tv show Hoarders has made me think even more than usual about my clutter. I'm confident that I'm not a hoarder, as I don't have much emotional attachment to my stuff, and I can easily throw things out, once I get going. But I'm not at all good at cleaning, and I seem to have no natural ability to organize things.

This wouldn't matter all that much, except that I find that discomfort over my clutter, a feeling that I "should" be cleaning at all times, and I am cleaning a lot to try to get caught up. And when I'm doing that, I don't have the mental energy or time to work on my OCD "stuff."

In 2004, I sold my house and moved. When the house was on the market, I had to keep it spotless. During that time, I felt so light, but I wasn't able to maintain it in my new house.

I have been working diligently over the last few weeks to deal in a hopefully permanent way with my clutter. My main floor is good, my upstairs is getting there. I hope to finish up in the next month-ish, opening up time and energy for exposures and cognitive therapy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Back In "Too Much" Mode

I'm back in that place where I try to think about too many approaches to OCD: mindfulness, alternate thought records, plain old exposure, etc., and I don't do a good job of any of them. Tomorrow will post a little more about one of the reasons I think I'm not focusing as well as I should, physical clutter in my home, and what I'm trying to do about it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What Do I Like?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about not always knowing how "normal" people behave. But lately I've also realized something else: I can't remember what I like to do anymore. For so long my response to invitations has been so dependent on what my OCD thinks, and I've managed to convince myself that I don't actually want to do a lot of things that I'm really just scared of. I rarely hike anymore, I never camp, and both of those are activities that I used to love. I do remember that I've never really liked sports or recreation that involves water, OCD or not.

I've tried to tell myself lately that I won't let OCD make those decisions for me, but I find I don't really have a good means to decide except for OCD.

I guess I'll start with stuff I know I loved to do (my bowling excursion a few weeks ago was a start), and just try other things out. I feel like my seven year old niece. At the start of school this year, her second grade teacher made them all try all the activities at recess. As a first grader, my niece played on the monkey bars almost every single day. Last week she learned that she really likes kickball; the only reason she'd never played before was because she didn't know how, and she was sort of scared. Sounds familiar.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Working With a Tough Exposure

Several of my big issues have come together in a big scary exposure, and it's taking most of my energy; I'm having trouble focusing enough to write about some OCD-related topics that are humming around in the back of my mind. Hopefully over the weekend I'll be back to it. The fun never ends.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sometimes All You Can Do Is Laugh

Last night I was feeling really frustrated by my OCD. I had one of those angry, "I'm not going to let my OCD stop my from living my life" moments. This could be it! A huge breakthrough!

30 seconds later, I brushed my freshly washed hair against a small area rug sitting on top of my washer. "Oh no, oh no, oh no! Was that dirty? Should I shower?" 30 seconds!!!

(For the record, I didn't shower)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ooh, That Makes Me Mad

So I've done some google searches recently looking for other OCD blogs, because I like to read them. And one thing that comes up a lot in those search results is the "I can cure your OCD" website. There's a certain sameness to most of these, the main one being that you have to pay a lot of money to find out much of anything about how their system works. Now, I have nothing against someone making money if they've developed an awesome OCD cure. After all, I'm paying a pretty big chunk of change to my therapist every month.

But one thing a lot of these sites also have in common is contempt for mainstream treatments, you know the ones that dozens of studies have shown to work in treating OCD. It seems to me that if you have to take cheap shots at the "competition" to get any customers, there might be something wrong with your system.

In any case, the day I've conquered my OCD, I'm going to shout it from the mountaintops, not attempt to sell you my blueprint for success.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Happy to Reach Friday

Nothing major to report. I had a funny week, where I made some great progress (public restrooms, in malls!) but fell short, too (told someone to go ahead of me at the library to avoid a couple of people who I thought had colds). Forging ahead.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

So Tired of....

reading articles like the one with this headline. This was one of the featured articles at the front of msn.com today. Basically listing the same places that 100 other articles have told us are full of germs. They are things most people touch pretty frequently.

Having spent the last three months carefully touching shopping cart handles, ATM buttons, and my own laundry, I can say that most of us don't have that much to fear. All the fear mongering does make me wonder if the rate of OCD in society is rising. It also annoys me to know that most of this research is sponsored by companies like Clorox and the people who make Lysol.

One of these weeks, I'm going to collect all of the articles about germs that cross my path for the whole week, in the paper and magazines and online. I think there will be a ridiculous number.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Tough exposures

Hoo-boy. After deciding this week that if anything seemed scary I was supposed to go for it, I realized that public bathrooms have actually become more scary to me recently, not less.

So yesterday and today I went down to the grocery store down the street. Usually their bathroom doesn't scare me that much, but the whole way down there I thought, "I don't want to, I don't want to." It was crowded in the store (and the bathroom) both days, which added to my stress. But I did it. My anxiety spiked quite high both times (maybe an 8 or 9 out of 10?). I planned to take a shower last night, when I was still feeling really anxious, but my anxiety came back down pretty far, and I was really tired by the end of the day and just went to bed.

Today after about an hour, my anxiety is already pretty okay. I do know that as I move on to "unknown" public bathrooms this will be even tougher, but I feel like this fear is a huge limitation to being able to go out and do the kinds of things I enjoy, since I can't be away from home for too long.

I also had an accidental exposure this morning that REALLY made me want to look something up on the internet, but I distracted myself, and after a few hours the urge went away. That was extremely satisfying.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What Is "Normal" Anyway?

I've noticed on some of the OCD boards, the concept of what kind of "normal" we should be aiming for. After all these years of washing or checking or straightening or worrying, we've lost our calibration of normal activity.

While I often read that people with OCD have to reset themselves by exposing ourselves even past normal, recently I've been noticing that "normal" people sure expose themselves to some yucky things.

My family, as I've noted before, are all pretty non-OCD with germs, and I've assumed that meant I didn't have to do quite what they do (in some cases, pretty much never washing their hands EVER). During the last week I did a lot of watching of what other people do without thinking twice.

At a recent lunch meeting one woman, eating a salad, dropped some of her parmesan flakes on the conference room table and just "swept" them right back into her salad (along with who knows what else). Another guy dropped his pen on the floor and picked it up and immediately started chewing on it. A few weeks ago, another coworker was cutting up an apple, dropped a piece on the work kitchen floor, picked it right back up and ate it.

While I wait for the bus, I regularly see people rest briefcases and sometimes even food on public trashcans.

Several of my coworkers walk around in their sockfeet at work (I wasn't too horrified until she walked into the bathroom that way. Ack!)

Last week at bowling, a fellow bowler alternated bowling with the house ball and eating pizza.

And I won't even get started on what I've seen at potlucks at my house.

All of these people seem generally healthy, so I guess we've evolved to withstand this kind of thing, despite what all those public health websites would tell us.

Gulp, if they can do it, I guess I can, too,

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Exposure Homework This Week

I see my therapist every week on Wednesday. Usually we pick about 3-4 things to try to do every day (or as practical). Things like "use a grocery cart at the store" or "empty dishwasher without washing hands first" or "visit and hug family members." This week my homework is "if something seems scary, do it." Things are already coming up. My aunt called to say that she's feeling better than expected, and so we're getting together on Sunday. I wanted to come up with a good excuse not to, but I guess I can't. And I suppose part two of my exposure is to not worry about it between now and Sunday. That one will be easier said than done.

Today after work, I felt like my hair was contaminated, so I came home and lay down on the bed with my hair touching the pillow. Since I usually shower at night, this way I made sure to contaminate the pillow so that the shower wouldn't actually "decontaminate" anything before I went to bed.

I'm feeling good about the exposures, and not as good about the anxiety they still cause.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Your OCD Is Not My OCD. Or Maybe It Is

My aunt (the same one just finishing up her chemo) also has OCD. Hers is different than mine, and while I can sympathize, I can't usually relate directly to what she's worried about. But I had an odd experience the other day. She was worried that a shot that she needed wouldn't work out right. Just hearing the story, I couldn't even figure out why she'd be worried. She had an appointment, I was sure it would be fine. But she was really worried.

Somehow, though, after hanging up the phone when we talked, I became convinced she was right, that the appointment would get messed up and disaster would strike. It was the weirdest thing, like her OCD worry was contagious (the shot was today, and went off without a hitch, by the way). I've never had that happen, and I hope it doesn't happen again.

Oh, and my adventures in shoes today, while they caused a small amount of anxiety, also went off just fine. The training was boring, and the bowling was awesome, both predictably so.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Exposures for the Week

I'm thinking about two scary exposures this week, and I thought putting them in writing might help. Both on Wednesday, both involving shoes.

One, I'm attending a training in a Federal building, where they make you remove your shoes to talk through the metal detector. And the same day, I have a bowling social event, with rented bowling shoes. It looks silly even to me, but they're both making me nervous even two days ahead of time.

A good practice for the mindfulness as well.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sitting With the Anxiety

While I've been doing well with exposure, I know part of the reason is that many of my exposures, while they're scary in theory, don't actually cause me much anxiety once I've done them. Like going to the pharmacy, or letting my towel touch the floor. And those that are truly anxiety producing, well I often seem to find some reason to put those off.

My therapist has been pointing out for this process to really work, I have to be willing to accept uncertainty, and to sit with anxiety.

Ooh, it's hard! While I probably should have visited my aunt this weekend, and didn't, I did see my mom, which I hadn't planned to do. Usually I take a shower before I see my family, so I don't "contaminate" them. Today I didn't. And after I saw her, I felt really uncomfortable for a couple of hours, feeling like I'd sent her back home with some germs that she would share with my aunt.

I still feel a little anxious (it's been about 4 hours now), but it's definitely going down.

So I guess I get to remember, if I'm not really scared, I'm not doing it right.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Goal for the Future

Today my boss reminded me that she wants me to attend a training in Atlanta in June of next year. I was hoping she'd forget (and slightly resentful that she didn't approve my request to go to this year's training in Seattle, a mere car ride away). I haven't flown since 2006. I'm not great with change, or leaving my house for a week, or flying, or hotels, or airport bathrooms. So that's going to be fun! But at least I have a while to get used to the idea, and to get better at dealing with exposures.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Happy Week

Photo credit:
I have been in an almost weirdly good mood this week (not that good, just unexpected). I'm not completely sure where it's come from, but I think it's related to making some really good progress on decluttering my house, and keeping the parts that I got clean for my guests spic and span for almost three weeks now. That's not like me.

I've found a really interesting support group online (note to self: must consider the growing percentage of my social life that's online) that's helping motivate me. I may write more on that later. It's all been part of consideration of whether I'm a "hoarder," so it does have OCD links.

Whatever the cause, it's a welcome change; I wish I could remember this when my mood swings the other direction.

On the exposure front, I've had a great couple of days. Didn't take a shower last night after a lot of grubby cleaning, and have been feeling pretty mellow at work, even as everyone around me sneezes the days away.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Internet- Friend or Foe?

Most of the time, I love the internet, and it's been helpful for my OCD in a number of ways.

I post occasionally at both the yahoo-groups OCD support site and stuckinadoorway.org. On both sites, people are pretty good at providing support and advice, but not reassurance.

I found my therapist at the OCF website.

And of course there's this blog.

But I think most people with OCD also know that the internet can enable "reassurance seeking." I often look up dreadful diseases that I'm just sure I've been exposed to. But just reading one website is never enough, and the reassurance never reassures for long.

This week, one of my main "response preventions" is to avoid searching on the internet when I'm feeling anxious about something. Right now, while I'm not worried about anything in particular, it sounds really doable. We shall see.

Monday, August 24, 2009

More Faulty Thinking

Last week, my therapist pointed out that when I'm talking about an OCD fear, I often misrepresent the facts. The other day she asked me why I felt the shoes I was wearing were contaminated, and I said, "well, there was the whole walking in the vomit incident." She had to point out that I hadn't actually walked in vomit, but rather next to vomit, before I even noticed that I'd misspoken. It's not a case of lying, and I know objectively that I didn't step in vomit (sorry for repeating that vile phrase so many times!), but my brain still completes that connection as though I did.

I did a similar thing today. I was thinking that my headline today would be "Swine Flu in my Workplace" until I remembered that it isn't. I unfortunately sit next to the three health and safety staffers at work. People are always coming by with some horrible hazard or speculative scenario to share, as though I need to be provided with any more. Today it was to report that the wife of one of my coworkers is a doctor who recently treated a known swine flu patient. She has now developed symptoms herself and they were trying to decide if our coworker should stay home preemptively (which even paranoid me thought was a little much).

Chances are pretty good that swine flu will hit my office in the next several months. Maybe it already has. In my head, though, Joel was already sick and ready to sneeze on me at any moment. I'm happy to report that while I did a fair amount of freaking out today over this concept, I did not resort to a flurry of handwashing. So at least there's that.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Steps in the Right Direction?

Lately I've been on a very "one step forward, two steps back" system with my exposure. I've been making myself visit my aunt, despite fears that I'll mess up her cancer treatment, but I've been practically dipping my whole body in disinfectant before I go.

Her chemo is just about over, so I'll have no excuse at all to avoid a whole bunch of exposures. So that's good, and of course it will be awesome for her, too.

The rest of my family has been trying to help me out. We're not really a hugging family, but every time I visit my parents (which is most weekends), they give me huge exaggerated hugs, so that all our germs get all mixed together (by my theory anyway). Sometimes it's terrible that the rest of my family is so non-OCD, but often it's great, because they can help me see the humor in some of this.

I guess this post doesn't really have a point, mostly just marking a line in the sand to start up the next phase of exposure, post chemo worry.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Making the Right Choice

Today I came thisclose to calling in sick because I couldn't decide what pair of shoes to wear to work. It was a convoluted issue, involving feeling like the bottom of my shoes are contaminated, the car, and a trip to my aunt's house this weekend.

In the end, I made the right choice, picked a pair of shoes, and headed out to work. In the middle of the day, I realized that my shoes really looked horrible with my outfit. Oh, well, at least I was wearing them.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hmm, I think my plate is too full

So I've been working on regular old ERP, plus CBT, plus ACT. That is too many acronyms, for sure.

Today I went for a walk, and I was going to do the mindfulness practice of really noticing everything around me. But then I was feeling really anxious, so I thought instead I should re-run through the CBT approach that looks at alternatives to my assumed worst case scenarios.

Then my brain got overwhelmed by the choice, and I did neither. So that was really productive. I think this weekend I need to spend some time thinking about how to focus some of these ideas.

On the plus side, one of the harder exposures for me at work is the darned communal birthday card. There are about 30 people in my department, and for every birthday, we pass around a card. Even without OCD I would hate the card, because almost everyone writes something totally generic. But on the OCD side, I'm in the corner and almost always one of the last to sign, after everyone else has touched it. So I've been working hard to not immediately wash my hands after I sign a work birthday card. Today I literally walked toward the sink (thinking of the guy who's been sneezing all week), stopped, walked back to my desk, and repeated this two or three times. But I didn't wash. Stupid birthday cards.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rethinking Being Sick

A few days ago, I realized that while I'm moving at a decent clip down my OCD hierarchy, there's one thing I haven't worked on changing yet: the underlying feeling that being sick with a cold or flu would be REALLY bad, and would cause something terrible to happen to me or, more likely, someone else.

So while I'm doing a lot of exposures, and sort of resigning myself to getting sick (although I haven't yet, interestingly enough), I still feel like when I do finally get sick, it'll be awful and lead to a catastrophe of some kind. Which frankly, makes it all the weirder that I'm doing some of these exposures. But it's also keeping me from doing some of the harder ones.

I guess I need to work on a parallel track of non-exposure CBT, retraining my brain to acknowledge that people get sick without it leading to a doomsday scenario. It's a tricky balance, because the goal is NOT to reassure myself that "it will be okay, nothing bad will happen," but instead to take a more realistic view of the risk, all the while knowing that nothing much is certain in this world.

My plate is full!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mindfulness Practice

Today's mindfulness homework involved taking a walk where I focused only on what I was walking by, and how my body was feeling, rather than thinking about what I would do tomorrow at work, or after I got back home, or what happened yesterday, or ...

After a successful 4 minutes, I thought, "Wow, I'm awesome at this, I'll bet I become a Zen master." Then I promptly thought about what I should make for dinner. It was a great 4 minutes, though.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Another Weapon in the Arsenal

Okay, I usually hate war-related metaphors, but I think OCD might deserve one, thus my title today.

I've been doing much better on exposures this week. But I haven't yet figured out how to deal with some of the underlying anxiety I continue to experience. I pretty much always have something I'm worried about running through the back of my head, usually completely unrelated to my contamination fears. My sister's having a house built, and this week I've been worrying about all the things that could go wrong.

About 6 months ago, I signed up to be part of this study of a self-help workbook that utilizes "Acceptance and Commitment Therapy" or "ACT" to treat anxiety. (The study is now closed, but they are recruiting for a new one.) As the workbook title notes, it stresses mindfulness and acceptance of anxiety.

I've read the book, but I haven't been all that successful at implementing it to date, because I haven't been able (willing?) to focus on completing the exercises in the book. But mindfulness and acceptance seems like a perfect approach to the type of worry I've been dealing with. And recently a friend has been telling me about the success she's been having with lowering her anxiety using meditation, which is closely related. So I'm going to really focus on this approach in the coming weeks and see what happens.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Another OCD Memoir Review

Well, I've read another OCD memoir. I swear it's not a compulsion, I just like them! The latest book was called Washing My Life Away, by a British woman, Ruth Deane. As you might have guessed, she struggled with contamination OCD, as well as checking. She washed her hands 80-100 times a day, and became so scared that she'd be made sick by her food that she basically didn't eat.

She eventually seeks treatment which is mostly unsuccessful, until she checks herself into a psychiatric hospital. While the hospital staff don't seem to know much about OCD, she has a great therapist who does (making it not completely clear if she needed the hospital). In any case, she begins to take Prozac, which she finds makes it possible for her to complete exposure therapy. The timeline of her treatment in the book is not completely clear, but it was written in 2005.

The author is now mostly free of her OCD and works as a counselor. This book was very easy to read at 100 pages, and quite relatable and inspirational. It has a lot less of the "I'm okay now, except when I'm not" that most OCD memoirs have. As always, I would have liked more detail about her therapeutic process, but I still found it an interesting read.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A good OCD day (finally!)

I've been putting off all kinds of exposures lately. I can totally wrap my brain up in knots thinking about doing an exposure and all the reasons I don't want to do them. Today I finally forged on through several. One of my tires has had a slow leak for months. But I didn't want to take it in to be repaired, because I hate having someone else in my car (as they move it into the repair bay).

But today was otherwise a perfect day to do it, so I did. There was a screw in the tire, so it's a good thing I brought it in.

I also picked up a prescription (I tend to avoid all the germy people at the pharmacy) and interacted with some sneezing people at work.

And finally, I stopped at the grocery store and the person in front of me was talking about carpet cleaner and bleach. My brain had a field day with the possibilities on that one, but I didn't freak out. My instinct after a day like that is to come home and take a shower and change my clothes, and I've done neither. I'm feeling anxious, but not ridiculously so, and I'm sure I'll feel less so as the night goes on.

I wish my progress felt steadier, but I guess if it were that easy, I'd have done it long ago.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Do You Think I Could Afford This?

Today I was thinking that it would be awesome if I could take my therapist with me everywhere.

She does an amazing job of encouraging me to complete my exposures. Things I would swear I'd never do, well, I do them.

Yesterday my sister and I went out for my sister's birthday. I had planned on taking a shower beforehand, and changing out of a pair of shoes that I considered "contaminated" after an unfortunate recent encounter (at a distance) with vomit. But right before this, I had my weekly therapy appointment.

Ultimately I went over to my sister's without taking a shower, and I wore my "dirty" shoes. I was a little uncomfortable inside my sister's house in my shoes, but I did okay. I also didn't wash my hands at all during an evening that included dinner out.

So, if I had my therapist around to say, "Do it, do it!" I think I'd progress faster. I guess I'd also be broke! I'll just have to remember her voice in my head.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My House is Clean!

A fabulous "side effect" of my dinner guests exposure was that I cleaned my house. It looks better than it has in about a year. Hopefully I can keep it that way- it doesn't come naturally.

I've been watching A&E's Obsessed show over the last few months. They've featured a lot of hoarders. I've sometimes wondered if I had slight hoarding tendencies. But I don't seem to have much of the emotional attachment that the hoarders on Obsessed have to their stuff; I think I'm just messy.

Still in something of a holding pattern on moving my exposures forward.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Made It Through the Weekend

My Saturday dinner got postponed till Sunday (not by me), but that was good as it gave me extra time to prepare. Everything went okay, but I always overanalyze. That's probably not a surprise. I'm terrible at making big meals. It always takes longer than I think, and I'm never quite ready when my guests arrive and it stresses me out. You'd think I would adjust for it, but I never do.

So I wasn't able to serve the raw carrots as part of an appetizer as planned, because I ran out of time. I should have prepared them way ahead, but of course I didn't. But it wasn't avoidance, it was just lack of organization, so I don't feel too bad about it.

Anyway, while everything was basically okay, and I'm glad I did it, I also don't have any "woo-hoo, that was awesome" feeling going on either. Oh, well. One step at a time.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I'm Not Responsible

Like most people with OCD, I have an extremely heightened sense of responsibility. I worry that other people will be sad or disappointed, or I worry that they'll be harmed by something I perceive to be my fault. It could be as simple as inviting someone out to a movie. What if they have an accident on the way? They wouldn't have been there if I hadn't invited them. This has been complicated by having an aunt undergoing chemotherapy, as she actually is more susceptible to illness.

Twice recently, in situations when I would normally spend a lot of time ruminating about leading someone into harm's way, I've been able to take and actually believe a more rational view: my friends and (most of) my family are adults, and they can make their own decisions, and are responsible for their own actions. It's quite liberating, saves a lot of time, and I hope I can do more of it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

It's so easy to cheat

I'd been doing great on exposures lately until this week. Because I'm so focused on my upcoming eventful weekend, with some really big exposures, I've been giving myself permission to avoid things that I feel might make me sick before the weekend (for instance driving to work instead of riding the bus full of people). So I'm trying to spend the next few days NOT doing that.

I'd been having trouble touching the bathroom floor after my initial attempt. My therapist suggested scheduling it into my day so I won't "forget," so I've done that and it seems to be working. The funny/stupid thing about the bathroom floor is that my cats go in there all the time. And my cats also sit on my lap all the time. So I suppose I'm already exposed every day. But it's "different," you know. OCD brain.

I also promised my therapist that I'd serve my dinner guests at least one uncooked food, all the more likely to food-poison them. That seemed impossible when we first talked about it, but now I think I can do it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


I have a good friend with bipolar disorder, and we talk "mental health" a lot. Yesterday we had a conversation about happiness. As in, neither one of us feels a lot of it. So much of our energy goes into making it through the day, and it's exhausting. But of course, we can never really gauge how much happiness other people experience as a comparison. I know in my pre-OCD days, in high school, I had a lot more fun in my life. But again, I had almost no responsibilities in high school, and a lot more time for fun.

In any case, while I have some small moments of pleasure in the course of any given day, mostly I feel like I'm just surviving. Sometimes it makes me think this is a sign that I should be reconsidering medication, but I'm not quite ready to go there. But I feel like a good measure of how well ERP is working in the long run, is whether it can shift me from surviving to living a more fulfilling life.

Monday, August 3, 2009

What Have I Done?

Well, I've got those friends coming to dinner on Saturday. And now somehow that same day, I'm lined up to go eat at an Indian buffet for lunch. Best day ever! (that was sarcasm). Sometimes my desire for exposure gets a little ahead of itself. This is one of those days. Goal for the week: not spend every free moment imagining the horrible things that could befall me after eating at an Indian buffet.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Today's exposure

This week I'm supposed to 1) just rinse my hands (if that) before preparing food and 2) stick my fingers in foods that will then go back in the fridge or cupboard, rather than only feeling comfortable touching foods that will be completely consumed at the current meal. Boy am I finding it difficult. I did touch the tortillas that were left in the package today. When I can stick my finger in the sour cream, I'll know I've really made it.

I realized a few weeks ago that it's been months since I invited anyone over to my house (other than the briefest of stops), so I invited some friends for dinner Saturday. This also means preparing food for others, which is also extremely hard for me. It's going to be an interesting week!

OCD Book Review

(Sorry this is so long!) When I was first diagnosed with OCD, I read a bunch of books about OCD- mostly self help books. There are a lot of goods ones out there, and one of these days I'll do a run down of my favorites. More recently, I'm really drawn to memoirs and accounts of people with OCD. I'm mostly looking for success stories, as inspiration. Generally I've been disappointed by most memoirs I've read. One, because few people are as recovered as I'd hope, and two, because it's hard to convey how frightening the process of fighting OCD can be, and so the books never completely resonate with my own experience of OCD.

Earlier this year, the book Life in Rewind was released to a decent amount of fanfare in the OCD community. I understood it to be the story of an amazing therapeutic relationship between Ed Zine, a man completely and utterly disabled by his OCD, and Michael Jenike, a well-known psychiatrist who specializes in OCD. And it sort of is. In the late 1990s, Ed basically didn't leave his basement for a year, and didn't bathe once during that time. By the end of the book, he's out of the basement and is married with two children. So his transformation is pretty amazing.

But in truth, Ed was not that interested in Cognitive Behaviorial Therapy. Ultimately he sort of does his own Exposure and Response Prevention, but in the end, he still has some pretty elaborate rituals, which those around him continue to enable. Here's a quote from near the end: "Ed struggles not to let his guard down, as he tries to capture every one of his rewinding routines, while still engaging in the real world... If he gets behind, he will get overwhelmed trying to catch up and then get locked down." Another: "At the same time, there is more punishment, and Ed must still repeat sentences backward, countless number of times... But Ed cannot physically speak to tell the person that he is actually in the moment doing his reversing protocol in his head." I'm left with the impression that he still spends every waking hour trying to be sure he's done everything "right" and performing hours of rituals in his head if he hasn't. It sounds exhausting, and it sounds like pretty severe OCD.

Thus, I was somewhat frustrated by the book for a couple of reasons. As a biography, it's quite interesting, but I don't think it will all that helpful in convincing others to seek out treatment, since Ed never really does. And I would imagine that only a very very few people with OCD would be able to do as much as he does on his own. Of course, books on OCD shouldn't only exist to convince people to seek treatment, but I still think it's a great side effect. Also, Ed's attitude even at the end of the book left me feeling like he didn't think he really had control over his actions when "OCD" tried to make him do something. And I think for most people, the realization that you can take control of your thoughts is pretty important. It's a quick and interesting read, but I have yet to find a truly inspirational OCD memoir. Have you?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Murphy's Law- OCD?

Besides my standard contamination OCD, I also have what I consider a general "Murphy's Law" OCD- where I assume the worst case scenario will happen. I think this probably falls somewhere between OCD and General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I tend to have one big picture worry floating through my head at all times. Usually it's something with about a 0.1 - 1 % (or sometimes less) chance of happening, but when I'm really worried, it seems like about a 50% chance. For instance, the neighbor's cat and rabies, or worrying about my sister's house while she's out of town.

Today, it's that a friend has asked me to mail him an expensive item that I borrowed several years ago and then promptly forgot about. I'm convinced that it will be stolen from his front porch. However, despite the fact that if I chose to, I could actually take a road trip and return it to him in person, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to mail it, and sit with the worry. Ugh, but good, I guess.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It's too hot to blog

I live in the Pacific Northwest, where a typical "hot" day is 90. Today it was 104 (and is still 100 at 8pm), tomorrow may be even hotter. It's too hot to blog! I did get some good exposures in today. An example: my sister is out of town, and I'm worried that something terrible will happen to her house in this heat. But I'm just sitting with that uncertainty, rather than going over there and checking. I also had a good exposure involving a piece of cake at work. Anytime your exposure makes you eat a piece of cake, it's a pretty good day!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Joy of the Accidental Exposure

While I think of today's exposures as accidental, they weren't really. I don't usually put myself in the position for unplanned exposures, since I try to control everything. But today I had two of the many social events referenced in this post. First I went on a hike with a friend with a dog. Then I went to a high school reunion picnic. I didn't wash my hands after the hike, even after brushing some dried mud off my legs. I ate picnic food. I hesitated a little, but ultimately, it felt great to eat. And I really didn't feel that stressed about it. Little by little, scary things are turning not so scary.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


I don't hug people. All those germs, you know. Last night I went to my high school reunion. Boy, do those people hug. I must have hugged about 30 people, and I didn't cringe once.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Social Anxiety

I have a mild case of social anxiety. I sometimes don't go to events that I'll otherwise enjoy, because the anticipation of that first entrance, where I'm not sure if I'll know anybody, is so high.

I also hate scheduling to get together with people, because I'm always worried I'll get sick and cancel, and they'll be mad. That's all OCD, though.

So I've been trying to not just schedule a lot of events, but schedule them close together. Somehow, I get even more nervous that way.

In the next 2 weeks, I've got 7 social events on the agenda, with a few more possible. They are all things I'm actually really excited to do, but I'm still a little edgy about it all. That's what this is all about, though.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Back on Track

Well, I was going to post a cool picture of my cat bite. He got me with 4 different teeth. But my camera is terrible, so you can't really see it.

Anyway, my rabies anxiety has waned.

And I'm getting back on track with my exposures. For a while I've felt like the floors in my house are contaminated. So I've been lying down on them sometimes. And at least once a day touching all the floors (except the bathroom) without washing my hands afterwards. Sometimes it's easier than other times, but I always forget I've even done it within a few hours.

This week my assignment is to add touching the bathroom floor to the mix.

Haha, the trouble with OCD is you can't really celebrate your victories with "normal" people: "Hey guess what, I touched the bathroom floor this morning!" Well, I'll be happy anyway.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Oh, Man

Today's exposure was not recommended. The neighbor's cat bit me. Now I'm sure I going to get rabies. I used to volunteer at the local shelter, and several cats bit me there. We were always supposed to tell a staff member, because they were required to quarantine the cat for 10 days. I never told, because that just seemed harsh, when the cat usually had given me some "warning" that I ignored (the cat did today, too. I guess I'm just stupid). For some reason I never worried about rabies at the shelter, and the wounds never got infected, either. But today, I'm worried. Chalk it up to the inconsistent nature of OCD, I guess.

In any case, the recommended approach is 10 days of observation; outside of observing, I think I'll be avoiding that cat from now on.

Monday, July 20, 2009

43 days a year?!!

So today at work I learned that tomorrow I'm getting new computer. As I sat and worried about the tech guys touching my keyboard with their "dirty" hands, I looked at my adding machine. And I did a calculation. I estimated how much time I waste worrying, or not sleeping well, or looking up stuff on the internet to reassure myself. When I added it all up (it's pretty rough, but I don't think it's too high), I estimated that I spent more than 43 full 24-hour days worrying every year. Think of how much I could get done, or how much fun I could have, or how much extra sleep I'd get if I could give my worry up. I figure the illnesses I'm so worried about probably make me miserable about 6 days in a typical year. That's 7 times less than I currently make myself miserable. It's an eye-opener for sure.