Archive for ‘Anxiety’

20 June, 2011

Three Weeks

Three Weeks.

The two scariest words in my world right now.

Lately, I’ve been lying awake at night. I toss. I turn. Sometimes I give up completely and watch Bones.

Because there’s no anxiety that a little grizzly murder can’t cure. Right?

And why can’t I sleep?

Three Weeks.

In the silence of my bedroom, these two words haunt me. As soon as I stop moving — as soon as I give my mind a chance to rest, the anxiety comes.

Three Weeks. In three weeks, I will be going to Russia.

Honestly, that statement is unfathomable to me. I distinctly remember a time only six months ago when I wasn’t even a Russian major. I remember sitting in Russian class the first week, when study abroad in Moscow was brought up, and thinking that it was an interesting idea… but one that I probably wouldn’t take part in. I remember deciding to go and then telling everyone I met that I was going to Russia. But that was then. Russia was a long way away.

Three weeks is barely an eye blink.

And about four days ago, it suddenly dawned on me that I am terrified.

Excited? You bet. For the first time since I took up this unusual major, I’ll be in a place where no one tells me to shut up because I’ve been speaking Russian for two hours. I’ll be able to make huge gains towards my FSI Language Level 2. It’s a photographer’s dream. This trip is going to be forever planted in my memory as my first trip to my area of specialty.

Oh yes, I am excited.

But right now, I’m more terrified. Because I was blessed with a mind that is supremely capable of imagining myriad possibilities of disaster.

I’m afraid of the flight. I do NOT fly well.

I’m afraid that I’m going to arrive in Russia and realize that I don’t understand anything.

I’m afraid that speech paralysis is going to hit and I’m going to open my mouth to speak Russian and nothing will come out.

I’m afraid that I actually suck at Russian and no one is telling me.

I’m afraid that I’m going to hate the food and starve.

I’m afraid of the flight. I’m claustrophobic.

I’m afraid that I’m going to say something inappropriate to someone.

I’m afraid of the flight. Being out of control is extremely hard for me.

I’m afraid that I’m going to fail my classes because I don’t understand anything.

I’m afraid that I’m not going to get everything packed.

I’m afraid that I’m not going to have time in the next three weeks to get everything in order here.

When I lie in bed at night, these thoughts circle my head. Then the OCD Badger grabs them and suddenly my plane is crashing and I’m landing in Russian prison because I’ve misunderstood a policeman and said something I shouldn’t have.

I know it’s irrational. I know that I’m going to have a blast. I know that I’m excited. Really. And I know how to deal with all of these fears.

But if I don’t pay a little homage to this terror, I’m not being honest with myself or anybody else.

Sometimes, just acknowledging that the fears exist is enough.

And if it isn’t?

I still have three weeks.



16 June, 2011

OCD and the Well-Meaners

So yesterday, I posted about undertaking what we’ll call a “summer cleaning” project.

I talked about some of my more endearing cleaning eccentricities. I did so while generally chuckling at myself, albeit, while trying not to look at the giant pile of stuff on my living room floor. Because, let’s face it, nobody likes to look at a giant pile of stuff on his or her living room floor.

And then, something strange happened.

I got pelted by well-meaners. I say that gratefully, but also, with frustration. Make no mistake— I know how lucky I am to have a support system so ready to pounce upon any indication of OCD. As a facilitator, I see people who have no support and I’m sad for them, because I have people who are more than willing to beat me over the head with my all-powerful broom if that’s what I need from them. And sometimes, I do.

Sstill, by the time that I got my fourth message of concern, I was annoyed. I may have told my best friend that she was pissing me off and needed to leave me the frak alone. Without the sci-fi cursing.


Because even though my friends meant well, I didn’t actually need help. And though I said this in what I thought was a perfectly rational way, nobody believed me. They all meant well, and they all thought they were doing me a favor by trying to put at stop to my compulsive behaviors, but all they accomplished was to make me feel invalidated. As if, despite five years of my own treatment, having read every book I could get my hands on, my position facilitating, my work with OCD TEXAS, and the fact that I am the go-to person for peer support here — despite everything — I was suddenly somehow incapable of determining when I was being overly obsessive.

I am lucky. Two or three years ago, that thought would have terrified me. What if I don’t know when I’m being obsessive? Doesn’t that mean I’m crazy? I can still hear the Badger tossing those thoughts at me, but they don’t scare me now. I know better, but I remember what it was like then. When shaking the delicate sense of understanding and control I had over my OCD was enough to send me into a loop.

Here’s the thing.

If you have OCD, chances are, you’ve spent some time dealing with a well-meaner. It might be a one-time occurrence or an ongoing issue. It might be a person who is usually so spot on that you’d give him or her an honorary OCD status (you know who you are) or it might be someone who is so ill-informed that he or she just doesn’t know any better.

And while we’re being honest here, if you’re a support person, you’re GOING to fall into this category at some point. I certainly have. I’ve made assumptions and said and done things that I thought were good, but ended up being hurtful. I’ve made choices that might not always have been the right ones. Do I force an exposure on someone who doesn’t seem ready or do I capitulate to the obsession again? Nine times out of ten I will pick exposure.  Sometimes it works. Sometimes it blows up in my face.

So I want to be very clear here when I say that I completely understand from BOTH sides. Regardless of my frustration tonight, I get it. You make the decision you think is the best one at the time, because sometimes dealing with obsessions and compulsions is time-sensitive. You get in early enough, you can stop it from becoming a meltdown. Seeing that there might be a problem and trying to do something about it is what makes you a good support person, because it shows that you care enough pay attention.

But. Big but. There are a few things that should always be remembered.

1. Make No Assumptions. 

Not everything in the life of a person with OCD is necessarily OCD related. I, for example, actually enjoy organizing. In the way that some people like to garden. I enjoy having order in my world.

Note that I did not say “I need to have order in my world to prevent car crashes.” I’ve been there too. But the thing about OCD is that it tends to take good traits and magnify them into problems. Compassionate people worry endlessly that they’ve hurt others. Imaginative people create scenes in their head. And organized people may organize compulsively.

I cleaned yesterday. I also watched about six episodes of Bones, ordered a pizza, went to Wal-Mart, chatted online with several friends, listened to a dozen Grammar Girl podcasts, researched iPhones, and blogged. I also had fun. If you assume that cleaning means I’m scrubbing my floor with a toothbrush because my world will end if I don’t… what that says is that you don’t trust that I’ll recognize my symptoms.

2. Just because something looks like OCD doesn’t mean that it is. I wash my hands about every five minutes when I’m cooking. I do it because it’s just how I prefer it. It prevents cross-contamination. And if I go six minutes instead of five, my world doesn’t end. I also like systems and schedules. And I like to organize. Yes, that sometimes means I dump everything out and start from scratch. It means that my closet is very pretty when it’s clean. It means that I like things in a certain way.

And THAT is okay. Who isn’t particular about something or another? Maybe it’s the temperature of your food. If you food isn’t at the perfect temperature, you deem it unacceptable. That doesn’t mean you have OCD. It means you want things the way you want them. Maybe you don’t let people wear shoes in your house. Maybe you have a DVD organization system that would put mine to shame. (Wouldn’t take much.) The point is that it’s okay for you to be particular, and it is equally okay for me to be particular, so long as I’m not doing it out of anxiety.

3. Trust the person with OCD. My best friend absolutely refuses to believe me when I say I’m fine. Even if I am perfectly fine. Because I tend to have a certain tone about me and throw that word, fine, out there when I’m NOT fine as well, this is understandable, but also annoying as hell. It becomes a bit of a catch-22. Either I tell you I’m fine and you don’t believe me because I’m using the word you’ve deemed ‘not fine,’ or I tell you I’m not fine and you do believe me.

Then there’s the third option. The one that I hate the most. The one where I have to defend my actions and CONVINCE someone that I’m not being obsessive-compulsive. I could do that, of course, but why should I? After all, I am more equipped to know what’s going on in my head than anyone else. Even my therapist can’t read my mind, and I pay her.

We know when we’re anxious. We also know when we’re being irrational. It’s the beauty of OCD. We completely understand that our thoughts are crazy, thus, we aren’t crazy. By that same token, we are equally capable of telling when our thoughts are perfectly happy.

It is absolutely true, of course, that we won’t always admit to being obsessive or anxious. But ultimately, you have to trust the person with OCD. Here’s why: If you’ve asked three times and they’re still saying, ‘nope, I’m good, thanks,” then either your friend/spouse/relative is really okay, and you’re pushing OCD when it isn’t there, or your friend/spouse/relative IS being obsessive, but isn’t ready to deal with it.

We’re stubborn as all get out. You can talk all day at a person who doesn’t want to hear you and it won’t do any good.

4. Give credit for past experience. My friends with OCD… I know they know what to do. I also know that they’ll call me if they need help. And I try never to assume that they’ll need help from me unless they ask or it is blatantly obvious. I mean, if my dear friend Armando is making his hands BLEED in the sink, it might be time to step in and say, “Hey, Armando, what’s going on there?” If someone is new to treatment and exposures, I’m more ready to jump in and point things out, if I know in advance that it’s welcome. But if Franz, who has been working on his OCD for 6 years, starts folding his napkin into little squares in front of me, I’m not going to say, “Hey, Franz, you shouldn’t fold that napkin. Why don’t you try leaving it like it is,” unless Franz has asked me for help with his napkin folding compulsion.

The BEST thing that you can say, if you think one of your friends with OCD is having a problem is this: I know you know how to manage your OCD. If you’re having a problem and you need help, I’m here.

5. Be nice.  This one isn’t for the well-meaners. This one is for me. For the rest of us with OCD who have been driven to frustration and said things we regretted. Remember: you know what’s going on in your head. Your friends and family don’t. If you’ve made it clear that you appreciate help, you can’t expect people to sit in silence when they think you might need it.

Get angry. Write a blog post. Walk away from the conversation.

But never forget that your support people are precious, that they do an awful lot of good, that you love them, and that they mean well.

At the end of the day, it’s all anyone can ask for.


P.S. I will be cleaning today too. But only because I want to. If any of you get the urge to clean, please feel free to join me. I have enough laundry to last me weeks. And I’m doing it because I want clean clothes. That is all.

21 May, 2011

I Hate Fundamentalist Fear Mongers

I would much rather be writing about something else.

I would much rather be thinking about something else.

Anything else.

But because I am an obsessive-compulsive with a background in scrupulosity, or religious obsession, there is only one thing consuming my mind right now. The world is supposed to end tomorrow, according to a certain fundamentalist. And this… this, I can’t get out of my mind.

I could try to distract myself from it. I could go ahead and write about my awesome night playing poker, trying all the while to pretend that the thoughts running through my mind aren’t there, aren’t terrifying, aren’t making my hands shake and my heart race. But I won’t. Because in the long run, that isn’t going to help anyone. Least of all, me.

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m a Christian. Not the beat-you-over-the-head-with-my-engraved-Bible kind of Christian, but a Christian all the same. The faith I’ve come to have is, perhaps, not orthodox — but it is mine, and I love it. It is my personal belief system; one that has room for homosexuality, feminism, and yes, other religions. My personal relationship with my God, and I’ve never had any inclination to force it on anyone else.

That being said, I hope I’m not offending too many people with this next statement. I HATE fundamentalist Christian crackpot fear mongers.

Don’t get me wrong. If you want to me a militant fundamentalist, more power to you. Your life. But when your beliefs start leaking out into my world, and screwing with the obsessive-compulsive in me, I have a problem. When you start using your beliefs to scare the living hell (literally) out of people, so that they will believe like you? I wouldn’t be okay with that if I didn’t have a disorder that sunk its claws into me every time I heard the word “rapture.”

The thing is, I know that this whole “end of the world” thing is bullshit. Some crackpot pulled a few numbers out of a hat and stuck them together in an arbitrary manner. He’s done this whole prediction thing before, and he sucked at it then.

May the 21st? That seems an awfully silly date. It’s not a very round number. It doesn’t even add up to 7. It’s like he opened a calendar and then threw a dart, blindfolded.

The “non-believers” he’s trying to “reach” don’t give a damn about what he says, except for its comical value. Those who subscribe to different religions don’t give a damn about what he says because it’s irrelevant to them. Most “normal” Christians look at him and think, “gee, you contradict yourself an awful lot buddy,” and then dismiss him as annoying. So the only people he’s really getting to? The ones who already subscribe to his beliefs. And those of us who lack proper filtering mechanisms in our minds to be able to completely dismiss the bull for what it is. This category includes children and the mentally ill. And if anything, he isn’t making us want to jump on the bandwagon for his belief system – he’s just… scaring us senseless.

In short: He’s a bully preying on the vulnerable and using a religion that I love to scare people into listening to him. He’s making Christians look bad.

And even though I know this objectively, the OCD Badger in my head is what-iffing me to death.

Because my filters don’t work.

And let’s face it – my life leaves a lot for the Badger to what if over. I mean, in the past 48 hours alone, I’ve drunk alcohol, I’ve gambled, I’ve lied (you can’t really play poker without doing this, but I’m not sure where “lying while gambling” falls on the spectrum), I’ve worn makeup, I’ve dropped the f-bomb approximately seventeen thousand times, and I’ve made fun of fundamentalist Christian crackpot fear mongers.

If the world ends tomorrow, I may be screwed.

I still have dirty dishes in the sink. And my bed is unmade. And I need to buy dog food.

I’m trying to laugh. I really am. This is the strategy I’ve adopted for dealing with obsessions – I call it the Harry Potter Method. It’s like dealing with a Boggart. If I just point my wand at the Badger and say ‘RIDIKULUS!” and try to make the whole thing as funny as humanly possible, I might be able to survive it. (To be fair, Kelly’s been using this method with me for years. She’s in Iowa right now. I hate Iowa.)

I don’t like to get political here. I usually make it a point to not be insulting to anyone in writing. But quite honestly, I’m fed up with the fear mongering. I’m almost as much pissed off as I am scared. So as far as I’m concerned, this guy who is using my faith for his own personal agenda, feeding off my fear, making a mockery of Christianity…

well, if he thinks real hard about it, I’m sure he can figure out where I would like to tell him to go.


2 April, 2011

Saturday Seven: I’m Not Afraid…Much…


List the things you’d do if you weren’t so afraid.

Oh Lizz, how appropriate. How did you know that I was afraid of things?

I try to pretend that I’m not really afraid. And I seek out things to do to prove it. Yesterday, for the first time ever, I gave blood. I’m TERRIFIED of needles, but I did it as part of a bargain I made with myself. The letter of recommendation I so desperately needed went through – and so, I gave back. I am on my way out the door as we speak, to stand up in front of a crowd of people and speak. I like to climb things.

But the truth is, as you all know, that I am afraid of a lot of things. Maybe not heights or public speaking, but other things.

If I weren’t so afraid, I would…

1. Give Myself Permission to Fail. Because cognitively, I know that we learn as much from our failures as from our successes. Because I spend so much time worrying about what might happen if I fail, that I sometimes forget to enjoy the process. And chances are, failure wouldn’t happen. But if I could just give myself the permission to do it? That would be golden.

2. Write a Novel. SO MANY times I’ve started. So many. And I get halfway through, start hating everything I’ve done, questioning my plot, my characters, my story… and then I either stop, or start over from scratch. It would be nice to actually finish one of my stories, without being so afraid that I’m not doing a good job at it.

3. Go out Dancing. Kelly wishes I’d do this. I’ve done it… once. But crowds scare me. I’m claustrophobic as hell, and being stuck in the middle of a crowd of people, unable to move, with their sweaty bodies all over mine? Panic attack waiting to happen.

4. Ride Rollercoasters. I don’t know if this really counts. I hate them. I hate rides. I hate the feeling of sickness and anticipation. I have drugs for that feeling, dammit, and I don’t go out of my way to seek it out. But I see other people having fun on them, and I’m jealous. I wish I liked them. I wish that they didn’t scare me so much.

5. Eat Healthier. I think this one is a combination of the OCD and the Sensory Processing issues I have (certain textures are just intolerable to me). I have a confession. I don’t like vegetables. Or many fruits. Or anything whole grain. And trying new foods for me is scary – I don’t know why. I’ll get a forkfull of something in front of my mouth and just…can’t…open… because it might be nasty. As if eating nasty things is the worst thing in the world. I know my diet is lacking. And if I weren’t so afraid, I would try new things. For now, I stick to my meat, cheese, bread, and potatoes.

6. Throw Away the Boxes of Rubber Gloves that are stored in my apartment. Boxes. In all shapes and sizes. Latex and vinyl – just in case. The OCD hasn’t been bad enough for me to wear gloves in public in almost a year, but I still use them to clean out my refrigerator, take out garbage, and do other things that are, well… scary… because I’m afraid if I get anything on my hands, I’ll go off in a washing fit and scrub myself raw. They take up room I could be using for something else. And I really wish I wasn’t so afraid to be without them.

7. Tell the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth. I usually do that here. But out in the real world, I still falter sometimes when people ask me how I’m doing. I still hesitate to tell people when I’m struggling with my OCD. I still hide when I have panic attacks – afraid of what people will think of me… ME, the successful, on the ball, all put together one… if they see me in a moment of weakness. As an advocate, I try to speak as much as possible. As a human being, I’m still self conscious about other people’s perceptions of me.

For me, things like riding motorcycles or singing in public are scary, but in a good way. Those are the fears I’ll face head on. Hang-gliding? Deep sea diving? I can do extreme if I must, and will seldom let fears stand in my way. It’s the little things, the small what-ifs, the day-t0-day challenges that get me. And I’m working on them… one plate of broccoli at a time.



The Saturday Seven was created by Lizz over at Am I a Funny Girl. It is inspired by the ever-popular book List Yourself: List Making as a Way to Self Discovery. I’m playing because it’s fun. I encourage you all to play too!