Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Running Toward Discomfort, Part 2

A bunch of us have written about how important it is to choose the scary option, to run toward discomfort, to "whistle for that chasing dog."

Now I don't do it voluntarily as often as I should. But I find it helps when an exposure looms or jumps out and grabs me: then I can remember that this is good for me, that I should have done this on purpose as an exposure anyway.

It helps me go from fear to inspiration, and I love that. Does it chase all the fear away? No. And if it did, it would probably be its own compulsion.

But as I deal with my fears at work (moving day is tomorrow, unless it's not!), it's helping a lot.

Bring it on, OCD, bring it on.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


This summer I want to work on stopping avoidance. While I do a lot of exposures and avoid things less than I used to, it's so easy to avoid scary things without even realizing it. Or to rationalize: next week is really busy/important/stressful, so I'll just avoid this one thing this one time. Repeat to eternity.

This weekend I wanted to avoid attending a big rummage sale at my mom's church. I feared my mom had a cold, and I feared bed bugs. But I did go, I looked at all the furniture, and I bought a bag full of stuff.

There are a lot of bigger things I've been avoiding as well, including several medical appointments, and that massage I bought back in the spring.

This is something I really should make a hierarchy for, because jumping to some of the higher things seems overwhelming.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What a Difference 15 Years Makes

Somedays I feel like I haven't made much progress on my OCD in the last 15 years. But then Thursday happens, and I feel better.

Back in 1997, in my first full year of OCD, I was walking in downtown Seattle and stepped on something that I think was blood. It wasn't a lot, and it's not like I could even see it on the bottom of my shoe later in the day. But when I got home, I took those shoes off and I never wore them again. I kept them around for a while, but I could never bring myself to wear them. Years passed, and eventually I threw them away.

Fast forward to Thursday. It was a beautiful day, and I had an expiring REI gift certificate. So I decided to walk to REI after work; it's about a 30 minute walk from my office. About ten minutes into the walk, I looked down at my feet and saw what could only be blood. As someone with HIV fears, I often think red things may be blood, but lately I've become much more realistic in my blood versus red paint vs spilled red smoothie assessments. And this was blood. A fair amount, maybe 100 drops? It was still wet. And I was standing in the edge of it. My heart was racing. But I kept walking. In the same direction, apparently, as the bleeding person, because the drops continued when I did, growing heavier at the stoplight, then continuing along the path.

I didn't see a bleeding person anywhere, and I do hope they were okay.

So, what choice did I have but to keep walking? I thought back to 1997 and remembered the shoes. I looked down at these shoes. I love these shoes. I kept walking. I made my purchase at REI, walked back to the office. Walked through my cubicle in my shoes. Rode my bike home, parked my shoes in their normal space.

The next morning, oh, did I want to wear a different pair. Let these get "decontaminated" for a few days. That's the road to throwing out a perfectly good pair of shoes. So I wore them again on Friday. And didn't think about them again all day. Awesome!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Vacations Are Fun

Why do I never remember that? I fret so much before every one. Although I do have to admit that by Friday, I had moved on to 70% excited, 30% scared.

I went to Seattle this weekend. It was fun! I should go more often than every 4 years!

I stayed at a hotel and didn't tear apart the room looking for bedbugs. I did wash my hands more often than I probably should have, but I felt okay about it. There were still plenty of exposures.

Here's my view at today's Giants/Mariners game. Giants lost :( but it was still fun:

Here's the view while walking to the game:

I'd forgotten how hilly Seattle is. The walk back to my car nearly killed me. Then waiting on a ridiculously large hill through seven (yes seven!) cycles of a light in after game traffic nearly killed my brakes.

And finally, here's my first house, in the Seattle suburbs:

It looks pretty amazingly just like it did when I lived there. A few less flowers, slightly scruffier roof, and they cut down the tree that someone planted way too close the house. What amazes me about this picture is that GIGANTIC power line tower behind the house. It's in an easement directly beyond the back yard. I don't remember ever having OCD stress about those power lines in the 6 years I lived in this house, but whenever I look at pictures of it I wonder how that could be. For the best, though.

Anyway, I made it!

Friday, June 15, 2012

When Exposures Make Life Easier

The vending machine just ate my dollar. Since I don’t have any snack to eat, I figured I’d spend lunch posting on the blog (and really, that snack wasn’t very healthy anyway).

Yesterday I spent the day working with my soon-to-be-retiring coworker. She’d just come back from a conference, via airplane. I’m always sure that any airplane trip results in illness, and for her, it’s actually true about half the time. But I was brave! I touched a bunch of her paperwork and didn’t wash. By the afternoon, I’d forgotten all about it.

Then she came over to my desk a little later and told me about how her sister, who recently had surgery and was staying at her house, has a staph infection. In this situation, I think MRSA! Death! immediately. She then proceeded to lean her elbows on my desk.

Now my instinct in that situation is to avoid touching that corner of my desk for at least the rest of the day. BUT! I looked up and saw all the paperwork that she and I had both touched already. No point in avoidance now. So I went about my day. And I wasn’t stressed at all. Exposures rock!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Running in the Family

My sister does not have OCD. But she is a worrier. She worries mostly about her children. Yesterday she called me. She'd checked in with the special ed teacher at her older daughter's school and found out that my niece and her best friend were not in the same class next year. She asked if one of them could be switched, and so my niece was switched into the friend's class. But the special ed teacher did not tell her which teacher's class my niece been switched out of or into.

So of course my sister was ruminating: what if she was in a great teacher's class and now she'll be in a less great teacher's class? Ack, maybe I should tell them to undo it! But she didn't. (and this all ignored the fact that as far as I can tell, all of the possible teachers are actually pretty good).

As I often do, I took on her worry for a bit. I do this all the time when people share worries with me, but I was able to let it go pretty easily.

But I do often find that when I make a decision I worry that I made the wrong one. What if because of this decision I end up dead! But I can't change it, because maybe it's the OTHER option that that ends up with me dead! Which ignores the fact that very few of the options are likely to leave me dead. Not anytime soon anyway.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Living in Uncertainty

About 6 weeks ago, our boss told three of us that we'd be moving to new cubicles in July. No one was pleased. My two coworkers because they currently work in offices. Me, because it's something NEW and UNKNOWN! I've mostly just been ignoring it since then. Today, the people one row over started packing up. It's something of a domino process, this move, and they're first. So of course, I couldn't continue to ignore it.

I stopped by and asked my sort of boss when I was moving. And he said, oh, I don't even see you on this list. Hmmm. My boss was out today, so she couldn't confirm. I'm 90% sure I'll still be moving. But hooray! Some new and different uncertainty! I'm doing okay with it. There are plusses and minuses to both moving or not (if I don't, my new neighbor will be my least favorite person in our department and it will be especially annoying because she's just whined her way into a nice big window spot, but I digress), so I'm trying to find my zen place, and just go with the flow. Not my strong suit, but I'm working on it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Pure O Canuck recently posted about her realization that she needs to be willing to sit through difficult feelings and how she has long worked to avoid having to face those feelings.

By coincidence, I'd just read a book that addressed this very issue. Most books about ERP do, I suppose, but for some reason this particular approach really spoke to me. It was a book about hoarding, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. Most of it addresses hoarding in a pretty general way: different types of hoarding, what might cause it, and then a bit about getting over it.

Hoarding has long been considered, if not a kind of OCD, then at least related. New thinking is challenging that idea. One big difference seems to be that many hoarders have little to no insight into their faulty thinking, actually enjoy the process of collecting, and have no interest in "getting better." However, when hoarders DO want to get better, it appears that cognitive therapy and exposure therapy are the best approaches, just as with OCD.

Which leads me to the idea of distress. The book talks about the distress that the hoarders feel when they try to get rid of a prized possession (even if that treasure is something as unspecial as a piece of junk mail). The authors suggest that hoarding gets so bad because the hoarder is totally unwilling to EVER feel the distress caused by tossing, or not buying something.

But in several examples, when the hoarder takes that first step and lets the distress happen, it dissipates, and often very quickly. Sounds like OCD treatment to me. For many hoarders, realizing they can handle the distress leads to a breakthrough in recovery. Others who are unwilling to take the chance continue to hoard.

Intellectually, I know this is true with my OCD. But in practical terms, I still have so much trouble facing the distress I feel. There have been many times when I'll get inspired: I can BEAT this! And it's as though I think just by having this feeling and knowing what I SHOULD do, that I've actually moved closer to beating OCD. It isn't really true. You have to be willing to put up with the discomfort. The hoarders in this book have inspired me, but I know that being inspired by others is not enough.

When I think about my trip to Seattle, I get scared. But I keep planning, because that's the only way to get to the other side.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

When the Fear Comes True

This isn't a complete accurate title, but it's close, so I'm using it anyway.

Last Saturday, I started planning for my trip to Seattle. As soon as I did that, I started ruminating about the car. It definitely needed a "check up" before driving the 3 hours to Seattle and back. When should I do it? Where should I take it? I was having some issues with my regular mechanic. On and on my brain went. Midmorning I started to think I should take it to a new place that very day and be done with it. I even had a coupon.

But I was able to remind myself that this was the OCD talking, and I should not give in to my sense of "needing it now." So I waited. Then on Monday, I got into the car to go to a Memorial Day BBQ, and the car wouldn't start. (So this is my fear sort of coming true as in the title, but not really).

Anyway, what amazes me is that it didn't even occur to me until about 4 days later to think, if you'd taken the car in like your OCD wanted, you wouldn't have been stranded. Weird! (And to be honest it may not even be true. It was a bad starter, but the starter actually tested just fine on Tuesday at the shop, so if I'd taken it in on Saturday, they may have missed the problem and I STILL would have been stranded on Monday or later at some less convenient location).

In the end, the "bad" event of having my car die was no big deal; the things I worry about usually turn out that way. And in fact, it was mostly good, except for the money I had to shell out to fix it. It resolved my worry about when and where to take the car, and now the car's trip ready. Funny how these things work out.

Now to plan the rest of the trip. I'm working my way there.