Sunday, August 28, 2011

Book Review: Zelah Green by Vanessa Curtis

A couple of times in the last few months, I've been offered review copies of OCD related books to read and potentially review. I'm not good at being critical, so if I don't like a book, I just don't review it at all.

But recently I read one I liked, so here I go. Zelah Green: Queen of Clean is a young adult novel by Vanessa Curtis. It was released in England a while back, but it's coming to the U.S. this fall. Zelah Green, 14, has OCD of the germ, symmetry and "good numbers" variety. She's sent to a residential treatment facility by her evil stepmother. It's not an OCD-based facility so she meets other teens with varying mental health issues, including self-harm, depression and anorexia. The other characters are developed to varying degrees and we grow to care about them, too. (I have to add that frankly, if this were the real world, I might consider the place a little sketchy, but since it's not, we'll call it charming.) Zelah is treated with exposure and response prevention, so that's good news. The ERP's not quite perfect- at several points her therapist actually promises her that nothing bad will happen if she does her exposures- but it's sure better than talk therapy.

For good or bad, this book is part of series. Book two is already published. What this means, unfortunately, is that Zelah can't get too well in book one, or what would we have to talk about in the remaining books? So when she leaves the facility, she's done some exposures, but she still exists in a world full of compulsions and rituals.

The good: The characters are well developed and likable (or unlikable, as needed). The OCD is presented in a fairly realistic way. The treatment scenes, while not perfect, are pretty good. It's just plain well written, with some turns of phrase that were so nice that I highlighted them on my computer screen. Overall, I enjoyed the book, and I plan to read the next one soon.

The bad: To some extent the supporting characters are more interesting than Zelah herself, partly because we only get some of their stories and are left wanting more. I don't know if the book is being "translated" from the British English to American, but there were a few words in there that even I, a longtime reader of British chicklit, had never come across before. plimsolls? stroppy? And my most important complaint, of course, that the ERP isn't implemented as well as I'd like. But heck, that reflects real life, right?

So, I'd recommend it. It's aimed at teens and is fairly short and a quick read but fine for adults I'd say. It features some graphic scenes of the residents' issues, cutting in particular. So not for young kids. You can find the book at

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Washing My Hands, Or Not

The other day I was making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and I stopped to contemplate if I'd washed my hands first. My first thought was, of course I did. I always do. Then I realized that no, I hadn't. This is not the first time that has happened in the last few weeks. It's fascinating to me how habits can change. Something that was completely ingrained in me, now un-ingrained. [edited to add that yes, I did eat the sandwich.]

In other news, my mom and I canned peaches today. Always an adventure. Food safety mostly maintained.

In other other news, someone recently found my blog via the search term "bathroom adventures." I don't think I even want to know.

Friday, August 26, 2011

OCD Treatment in a Nutshell

I went to the movie. It was really good, and I was so glad I went. I walked there and back. Last night was the monthly "Last Thursday" art/craft/debauchery fair in my neighborhood. On the walk home, I saw a young woman peeing in a neighbor's yard. I think I was just a normal amount grossed out, but ewwww!

But here's the main part of my post: Recently on the yahoo OCD board, therapist Jon Hershfield from the OCD Center of LA, who as far as I can see is totally awesome, and sometimes blogs here, posted a really excellent summary of the three approaches to dealing with OCD. So I'm reposting it here, hoping that's okay.

To me this information is just PERFECT (with a few teeny tiny edits for clarity or typos):

Option 1 (mindful acceptance): I'm having a thought about being contaminated and it's making me feel uncomfortable. So be it. I have lots of thoughts and feelings and they're not always important. I'll just go about my business accepting that I don't know if I'm dirty or not.

Option 2 (cognitive restructuring): In my experience touching garbage cans hasn't resulted in imminent death. Though I think of it as "dirty" I don't have any actual evidence that it is something to be concerned about. Instead of saying "I'm contaminated," I'll just go with, "If I am contaminated, I'll deal with it when it appears to be an actual problem instead of trying to do something about it now."

Option 3 (flooding): I touched the dustbin and it is covered in disease-causing microbes that I definitely got on myself which I will then transmit to unsuspecting babies whose immune systems are so tiny it will kill them on the spot and I will forever live with the guilt of knowing that if only I had washed my hands 1001 times instead of 1000, the world would have less dead babies in it.

Option 3 will make you jump back from the ocd for a bit and then you can go back to Option 1.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Making the Right Choice Is Still Hard

Tomorrow there's a special movie showing that I really want to see. It will probably go straight to DVD, plus it won't be out until the fall. So I really should go. But it's showing as part of a convention, which totally pings my "all travelers get bedbugs" issue. Plus I'd be going alone, which will ping my "social anxiety" issue. I tried to convince myself I'll be tired tomorrow after work, that I can see it on DVD, that I might run into an annoying ex, that I don't really want to go. Fact is, I do. It's only a mile from my house, and it's only $5. It's been on my calendar for a month.

So I bought a ticket. I'm pretty sure I'm going to go. I'd be up to Scary Social Event #29 for 2011 if I do go. Update on Friday I guess!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I Have a New Roof

It's beautiful. And no workers fell off the roof! Best of all, I have a skylight in my finished attic. I cannot tell you (although I will try) how happy the skylight makes me. The room is SO bright now. I almost didn't have them do it, for purely OCD reasons. They only do the outside work, so on Friday night as I opened the hole to the inside, and stared up at the moon and the stars, I actually cried from happiness. Take THAT, OCD.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dare to Believe, new OCD Foundation campaign

The International OCD Foundation just sent me this press release, so I'm passing it along. It's about their new campaign, OCD awareness week in October, and a contest they're having. They misprinted their website address in the press release. Oops. Bunch of people with OCD will probably correct it, though. I know I did. The deadline for the contest is August 31.

BOSTON | The International OCD Foundation has launched “Dare to Believe,” a new campaign to challenge the stereotypes of mental illness and encourage OCD sufferers to commit to overcoming the disorder.

“Dare to Believe...together we can beat OCD” is one of the campaign’s signature messages that will be featured prominently during OCD Awareness Week, to be celebrated October 10 through 16, with events across the United States and Canada.

The campaign encourages OCD suffers to “Dare to Believe…there is hope” and “Dare to Believe…treatment works.”

The International OCD Foundation is the nation’s leading resource and advocacy group for sufferers of obsessive compulsive disorder, their families, and medical professionals. The IOCDF funds research, provides access to treatment, educates professionals to treat OCD and annually presents the country’s largest national event dedicated to OCD and related disorders.

Some 4 million Americans suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. There is no cure for OCD, though its symptoms can be effectively managed through treatment including therapy and medication.

OCD sufferers, their families, and professionals who treat OCD are invited to submit art, poetry, short stories, videos or music for the 2011 OCD Awareness Week live event in Boston on Oct. 15, which will also be streamed on-line. All submissions should reflect the “Dare to Believe” theme. Winners will receive a free trip to the Boston event to showcase their work.

“OCD is the doubting disease; patients find themselves in compulsive rituals because of the doubts in their minds,” said Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the International OCD Foundation. “Through our ‘Dare to Believe’ campaign we want OCD sufferers to confront and overcome those doubts, knowing that there is a larger community supporting them throughout their journeys.”

For more information on OCD Awareness Week and the Dare to Believe challenge visit Entries into the Dare to Believe contest accepted until Aug. 31.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Halfway There

The roofers started today. As always, once I'm in the middle of the feared event, I tend to do just fine. So I am doing just fine. I'm not thrilled with my reactions to stress during the lead up to today, but I had a few points where I really let myself sit with anxiety, so I will focus on that and chose to feel okay about it all.

I went on a second date this week. It seemed to go well. The first month of dating is always good for me, because the OCD is not usually a problem then. So I guess I should just bask in this time.

Having said that, on our first date, he used a porta-potty. One without any hand sanitizer. I thought I might hyperventilate, but I did not. My mind went blank for about two minutes, during one of which he was otherwise occupied in said porta-potty. So I think all things considered, I did okay.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

OCD Irony

Funny how I go out of my way to avoid exposures that most people wouldn't even consider exposures (say, touching a door handle) and then I go and get an actual exposure because I'm just not that careful. As part of the precursor to my roofing project, today I installed soffit vents in my house. (not recommended by the way. It didn't take that long, but I'm exhausted!) Anyway, in two corners of the house, either a bird had built a nest, or random crap had just settled over the years. When I opened up the hole to add the vent, a massive amount of junk came out: sticks, insulation, roofing materials, wood, dirt and dust. Just a mess. And during the first one, I wasn't wearing even a minimal face mask. No eye protection either. Probably took 5 years off my life breathing all that in. Oops.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I know someone else blogged about this recently. I don't think it was me, but it blurs after a while.

OCD generally does not infiltrate my dreams. Last night, however, I dreamed about people sneezing on me; I got sick. I woke up and thought, hey, where'd my sore throat go?!

I don't remember that ever happening to me before (which means it probably wasn't me who blogged about it). There was another OCD component to the dream, but as often happens once you're fully awake, I can't remember it.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Nothing noteworthy going on right now. Summer is a great time. I've gotten links to some interesting OCD-related stuff in my inbox lately, and when I get a little more organized, I'll post some of it.

I'm probably getting a new roof soon. I'm trying not to let the process turn into an OCD-fest. Never easy.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Not Quite Out

I seriously considered attending last weekend's OCD conference in San Diego. I'm getting jealous reading the accounts of those who did go. And it would have been great to put faces to some of your blogs out there. Ultimately, three things kept me from attending (and fear of hotels was not even one of them, so that's cool). One, it's kinda pricy to fly large distances and stay in hotels. Two, late July is one of the few times that Portland's weather is likely to rival San Diego's. Sure enough, last weekend was simply gorgeous here, and it's hard to lose out on some of the rare decent weather we get.

Third, and by far the most important, is that I have a close friend in San Diego. I'd love to visit her, and I couldn't see visiting San Diego without letting her know I was there. But I also couldn't see letting her know WHY I was there. Conundrum. Despite being a close friend, I've never told her about my OCD. I don't ever find it shocking when someone I know discloses mental illness issues, but I'm not very open with my own. Maybe that will change, but as yet, it has not.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Score One For Sitting With Anxiety

My neighbor has bamboo. While I worry about its invasive nature at times, I've grown to really enjoy that bamboo: the rustling of the leaves is quite lovely. So yeah, my neighbor has bamboo. And a wood fence. Despite its loveliness, sometimes when the bamboo meets the wood fence, a horrible horrible whining noise ensues. A "sets my teeth on edge" noise. It was only when I recently painted my house that I identified the source of this noise that's been going on for months. Knowing what it was somehow made it worse. "The bamboo. The bamboo!!!" There's a reasonably simple solution- well, turns out there are several. My neighbor regularly thins the bamboo. So all I needed to do was ask if she could thin the offending pieces. But once I decided to do that, I felt I HAD to ask her as soon as possible, despite having survived months of the noise. If I didn't ask right away, I might never get to. And she might move, and the new neighbors might not want to thin the bamboo. And I might have to live with the noise forever, and I might never sleep again due to the noise. Really, I thought all this, despite not having lost any sleep to speak of in the months the noise had occurred.

So of course my neighbor, who's always out in her yard, was nowhere to be found for more than 48 hours. I stewed and stressed during those hours. Actually, once in the middle of the 48 hours, I did see her on the porch. But by this point, I had realized that the waiting was really good for me. So I waited some more. My sense of urgency waned.

And then I learned that another solution involved me just pushing the offending bamboo behind other pieces, so they could no longer hit the fence. The bushy leaves at the top keep the stems anchored in the new spot. Ah, silence! So, yeah, having solved the problem, I can't tell what I would have done otherwise, but I really did experience that decrease in anxiety even before the fix, and I really really love it when that happens.