But What If I’m Right?

It feels like fear. Not natural reasonable fear in the face of a visible threat. It’s just this stupid nagging voice at the back of my mind, in the pit of my stomach. Sometimes, I know it is OCD and anxiety. Other times, I really don’t know! That drives me nuts, when I can’t tell what is OCD and what truly requires my attention. Why can’t I be a bit more devil-may-care!?? I admire those people. They know they are going to be alright at the end of it.

And it strikes me out of nowhere at the worst possible times. Like right now, when I am trying to study for an exam that promises to do injury to the best of students.

I can’t shake the fact that this little nagging voice ends up being my true intuition 50% of the time and OCD-related monkey business with no foundation in reality the other 50% of the time. To make matters worse, I  think that even when it is correct, that some mistake I fear I have made really happened, I can’t tell if my OCD still distorted things because the crazy devastating consequence of that mistake is nowhere to be seen. Yes, the mistake happened. Was it a horrible ending? Not at all. The event I dreaded was real, but none of the consequences appeared to be. In fact, I don’t think anybody noticed or cared but me.

Let me give you an example:

I recently noticed a new employee at work completing on online learning module that I didn’t recognize. I knew it was required of everyone within 30 days of hire, and so I assumed I had done it, but that little voice inside of me said something wasn’t quite right and I’d better check it out. But I’ve been working here for almost a year! If my fears are right, someone would have told me. So I moved on. It must be OCD, making up some reason for me to get in trouble and be fired. 3 months later, I log in to my account and see that though I have no outstanding training, I totally did NOT do that required module! I was right!!! I had done a different one. No one noticed, but I panicked. It wasn’t my fault, it was all HR, but I panicked. So after 8 hours at the office, I came home and spent 2 more hours on  Friday night finishing that training and one more just to be safe. Who does that?

Sometimes, however, I am wrong. Like the time I thought maybe it was quite possible that my scantron for the final had slipped out of my professor’s pile and she would give me an F, so I emailed her. Of course, my scantron was safe and sound.

This morning, this beautiful Sunday morning, when I have to study  and run errands and go to church, I wake up and BAM! Suddenly I remember that about 3 or 4 years ago when I was a young undergrad,  I and an ex-boyfriend had tried to set up a webpage and paypal to collect donations and raise awareness for an endangered organization in our community. I recall being very wary of the idea suddenly and then being too busy; I wanted to leave fundraising in the hands of a separate group who clearly had a better handle on the issue. I also recall before hand trying to make a donation myself and the paypal link I made not working. Finally, I recall leaving the website in my ex’s very incapable hands after deleting the link to the paypal, etc. But he wanted me to leave the account open, as he still believed it could make a difference, so I left everything with him.

Cut to the present, and my big fear is that my bank account had somehow been linked to that paypal, the the ex idiot used it unknowingly (because he would do that), forgot about it, and then when our campaign to save that organization failed and all the separate efforts in our community shutdown, that somehow some donation money was left sitting in my account or in his paypal and we all didn’t notice. Because the details are so fuzzy from time passing, I can’t be certain. I want to scan every bank statement from that year, but those statements from years ago are no longer available. I even asked my mom, who when I was an undergraduate student, monitored my bank statements as a condition for helping me through  my undergraduate education financially, & she assured me she would have noticed.  I have called Paypal and they assure me that my bank account is not associated with the paypal of my ex.  I recall a big $0 and faulty donation link. I remember tying up loose ends. But what ifs abound.  Freak accidents happen. I knew I was thorough, but…what if, what if, what if…and I go to burn at the stake. Because that is how all OCD or not OCD-related fears end in my head. I must ensure nothing bad happened.  How unjust if someone donated money and it didn’t go where it was supposed to go?! My brain can’t bear the idea. What would people think of me?! I would need to fix it. Check and fix. Check and fix.

Wow. I feel loads better writing that out. The “what if I’m right” remains, but I kind of feel like I can move on with my life today. Let’s say, worst case scenario, the odds were defied and my worst fears are true. I was a very young individual with the best intentions; my guess is I probably won’t burn at the stake for something so small and unlikely from so long ago. I have no choice but to move on. I have done all I can to satisfy my anxiety. I could go order those ancient bank statements right now & scan every line, “just to check” & satisfy OCD , but life is moving forward and I need to as well.


Mental Health Still Isn’t Real Yet: A Rant

Mental health is not real yet.

People at my university still think OCD means I am simply a clean, efficient, over-achiever who is very particular about the way I like my things and that everyone in our major has OCD.  And for your information, occasional test anxiety is not really the same thing as clinical anxiety.  Clinically anxious and depressed people are not emo wimps who need to simply stay positive and stay strong.  Try simply “staying positive” when your neurotransmitters are misbehaving. They make meds for us for a reason.

I know it’s not real enough yet when an educated, smart, and caring friend can still be someone who tells me that because my life and childhood could not have been as hard as hers, there is no way I have real problems. “Honey, why are you in therapy”.

Something is still wrong when there is an unspoken rule that dictates that my coworkers and classmates can speak openly about the Vicodin they have to take for their back pain, this or that surgery,  about their diabetes, their thyroid, their CT scan for their migraines, their method of birth control, but we still have to whisper to a trusted few about the simple admittance that we have something you can find in the DSM-5. I mean, I think your NuvaRing, your pain meds, and your migraines are very personal pieces of health information which may all effect your functioning in some way visible to the rest of us; couldn’t we say the same about anxiety, depression, being bi-polar etc? Probably because you might think I’m “crazy”, but I wouldn’t dare call you that. Maybe because seeing an MD in psychiatry just isn’t the same? Really though, when it comes down to it, all health problems have biological and behavioral components. That doesn’t change when you go from your bladder or your thyroid to your brain.  I don’t think less of you for telling me you have this or that syndrome; you are no less professional in my eyes.

I still feel fear in even telling a friend about it; why do I need to feel fear? Why do I need to feel ashamed? Why do I recognize the  need to be anonymous on this blog? Did I do something wrong in having an anxiety disorder?  I don’t think so.

Down the Rabbit Hole with Pure O:Pure Obsessional OCD

2013-04-08 17.59.37

This post starts out gloomy, but it ends well! I promise 🙂

The last few days have been Pure O days.  Pure O days are the days when I don’t get out of bed because I want my brain OFF. I call it “going down the rabbit hole” or “through the looking glass” because it’s all nonsense.  I missed my first class of the day this morning because I got stuck in the nonsense.

Pure O is a lesser known manifestation of OCD (explained in detail here by Steven Seay, PhD and in this hilarious blog post by Fletcher Wortmann, for those of you unfamiliar with it). This excerpt from Fletcher Wortmann’s blog post  explains “Pure O” WAY better than I ever could:

 Some of the most distressing forms of OCD have no visible signs, no tangible compulsions. I happen to manage a variant of the disorder referred to as “Pure O,” or purely obsessional OCD, characterized by runaway intrusive thoughts. With Pure O, the mind is held captive by its worst nightmares: fears that the world is about to end, for instance, or that the sufferer is a murderer or a sexual deviant who could succumb to uncontrollable violent urges at any moment.

With Pure O, these problems cannot be put to rest through physical rituals like hand-washing or counting. Instead, the sufferer is left obsessing, silently and almost continuously, incapable of finding conclusive proof that these hideous scenarios will not occur. We cannot tell anyone, for fear of being labeled paranoid or psychotic, and because our symptoms are internal, we are rarely offered aid.”

Fletcher Wortmann, The Real Experience of Obsession

My own brand of Pure O (that sounds like a drug or something) from obsessions past have included themes of the fear that I was capable of running over pedestrians on purpose, the fear that I was capable of stealing/shoplifting (that’s a fun story), the fear I was capable of being a murderer (thanks a lot CSI)  & the list goes on. If I think it’s horrible, I’ve had a Pure O episode about it. My longest Pure O episode lasted 3 months and was the thing that made me finally go to the doctor.

What stands out to me right now about Pure O (and OCD in general) is that if I stay in the OCD loop long enough, I feel I can’t tell what’s right, what’s left, what’s reasonable, and up from down. It makes you doubt every good thing you have and are. It might even make you punish yourself needlessly. My logic has been at odds with my sympathetic nervous system for so long that my brain is overwhelmed.  Underneath it all is this feeling that I’m absurdly frittering away my precious life, but can I be sure?  There is a quote from Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland which I feel captures the how my brain feels when it’s’ muddled from wrestling with the Pure O, trying to tease apart the false messages from reality:

Be what you would seem to be — or, if you’d like it put more simply — Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.” – The Duchess,  Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland

Thanks a lot brain. I’m glad you were able to sort that out. Not.

This current Pure O is  not as bad as it once was, which is encouraging! I am not as far down the rabbit hole as I could be.  It has the power to go from mole-hill to mountain, but I won’t let it. I refuse to follow through with “checking” on it.

Dear OCD,

You made me miss class this morning, but you really don’t deserve my time. So I’m going to go live my life now and stick my tongue out at you, because instead of getting stuck, I turned this into a blog post that can spread awareness about Pure O. I deserve good things.

Take that,

Serendipitous Sally


Blog for Mental Health 2013: I Finally Did It!

Blog For Mental Health 2013

Yay! I’m taking the pledge to join this awesome blogging campaign, started by blogger Lulu! There are four five parts to the pledge, so here we go:

1) I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project.  I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others.  By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health.  I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

2) I’ve joined in, thanks to an open pledge by A Canvas of the Minds.
3) My Bio: For those of who have been with me from post 1, you’ll know that I was diagnosed a year ago with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. My symptoms first began when I was an undergraduate student, 4 years ago, but did not reach the point of impairing my functioning until last year. I have always been a “checker”, since I was 17, but in the past 2 years, my obsessions and compulsions have been steadily spreading & growing until I could check off nearly half of an OCD symptoms checklist.  I remember crying in the doctor’s office, fearing that I had gone insane and experiencing, for the first time in  my life, the wish that I was not alive; I just wanted my brain to stop. A good chunk of 2012 was consumed by my growing anxiety, compulsions that took hours of my day, and eventually my preferred activity,  sleep (the only time I wasn’t engaged in a battle with my OCD). OCD has almost taken driving, school, work,  my dreams, and relationships from me. The past year has been a year of therapy and making my mental health a priority. Also, a year of relying on loyal friends, loving family, and some really dedicated psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers.   I’m not even close to where I would like to be with my OCD, but I’ve made so much progress that I feel like the ghost of a girl from last summer was from lifetimes ago. I feel very alive and very optimistic, and finally willing to share the truth.  🙂
 I’m taking this pledge because my search to figure out  what was happening to me  and my path towards getting proper care was filled with confusion, shame, and extreme misunderstanding. Mental health is still marred by stigma, myths, and harmful misconceptions. I’m excited to participate in a community of bloggers who can change that with their vulnerability and their stories.
4) Now let me see… I must pledge 5 others who are also blogging about mental health (and let them know!). Here are some blogs I have stumbled upon that I have enjoyed very much! Please check them out!

1) The War In My Brain: A Personal Struggle With OCD

2) OCDTalk

3) It’s Not Me: It’s My OCD

4) Exposing OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Exposure Therapy, And the Hope of Getting Better

5) Leaving OCD Behind

And last but not least (eep I forgot step 5):  Enroll yourself in the  Blog For Mental Health 2013 Official Blogroll!! You can do so by leaving a comment on the blogroll page at A Canvas of the Minds ( they’ve requested you include a link to your post). OK! Off I go to do that right now.


Sitting in the Glue: Bravely Facing My OCD

This photo, “Glue” is copyright (c) 2009 wonderfully complex  and made available under an Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.
This photo, “Glue” is copyright (c) 2009 wonderfully complex and made available under an Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.

So I am supposed to be off doing homework but I HAD to blog (yay for taking time for myself!) about my wonderful counseling session today and a little something called “sitting in the glue”.

My counselor, a wonderful person who has helped me make amazing progress with my OCD this semester (let’s call her Kiki because I think that name is cute and bubbly, much like my counselor) talked to me today about “sitting in the glue”. I revealed to her that I had started this blog in an attempt to make time for myself and to find the silver lining in my experiences with OCD, but that posting the ugly truth about the content of my OCD (fears about toasters catching fire and hitting people with my car, etc) was a trigger for me. My last post took me a full week to finally post; the words “hit”, “car”, “fire”, “hurt” , “pedestrian”, “accident”, “kill” would all jump out at me and I’d worry that someone might think I was crazy. Scratch that: my OCD falsely sent me the message that the whole world would be alarmed by my blog and would come after me.  I edited that blog to minimize and eliminate my trigger words; maybe next time I will be braver.

I feel anxious even now, just typing such words. Anyways…

Kiki then told me a story from her days working in ABA. There was a kiddo who had a maladaptive tendency to perseverate on glue. He ate enormous amounts of glue while at school. One day, his therapist decided to let him sit on a tarp in a tub of glue. Glue galore! He was allowed to eat and play with the glue without any interference. The next day, he was no longer eating glue.  His glue obsession was “satiated”, as she said.

Now unlike strange glue child, I am not enamored with my OCD, but maybe it would help me “satiate” the fear, as she put it. Kiki wants me to try sitting in my glue.  To expose myself to the thing which needlessly terrifies me until it terrifies me no more. Hence, I came home and posted that seemingly sinister blog-post about my OCD around cars and driving and pedestrians.

There really isn’t a reason for those words themselves, the ones I so carefully edit out of my blog because of all the anxiety now associated with them, to  have that kind of influence over me. They are just words, which over time, thanks to Jiminy/OCD, now have the power to set my heart racing and make me retreat to safety just when I hear them on the news or see them on my blog. Those words have the power to make me hide the truth about my OCD when I know sharing helps me and could help someone else who is tormented by the same kinds of obsessions and compulsions.

Kiki actually wants me to take it a step up and soak myself in glue, typing over and over again the very words and phrases which trigger my anxiety. It’s a challenge I have accepted, but I’ll start with baby steps. I think the 7 words I typed in this post is a good start.

I guess this homework I was given is kind of like a little exposure therapy. Fletcher Wortmann, a blogger for Psychology Today who also suffers from OCD and is excellent at sharing his experiences, wrote a very interesting article about Exposure Response Therapy called Full Exposure: The Sickening Treatment For OCD

I’ll let you know how it goes! Wish me luck 🙂

A Not So Mindful Moment: Mornings With OCD

A few weeks ago, I wrote in my journal about a particularly difficult OCD morning. In retrospect, it felt so ridiculous that I now think it was comical. I also think it’s very revealing about how my OCD, which I have personified as Jiminy Cricket from an evil parallel universe, has grown to occasionally derail my life.  I think it might be good to post and share some of my worst OCD days, especially for the few loved ones who have been clued in to my other life.

It was a school day. Before I leave my house, I must check that my candle is not burning and the lid is on, that my window is closed and locked, that my power strip is off, nothing in my room is plugged in, the oven or stove is not on, the dryer is not on, the garage door is locked, and the microwave does not have anything in it. Then I need to check that the front door is locked as I leave. Sometimes I only check once. I usually need to do these things more than once while counting “One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand” and looking at them a certain way. Sometimes I need to write them in a notebook or take pictures or record me counting on my cell phone and saying “Nothing is on fire”.  I stare at things very hard while checking and even while I can know that I just checked it, I feel the need to check again and again. If my roommate is still home as I am leaving, leaving will be even harder because I will fear that while she is still there, I will have somehow unconsciously left my candle burning on accident or on purpose (what if I have a split personality that leaves things burning and I am not aware of her).  As I leave my house, I imagine that something catches fire and her being very upset at me for being stupid enough to leave a candle burning to the curling iron on or even worse, that she is hurt. Now I must go back and check the candle.  At least I didn’t take the candle/toaster/curling iron with me that day, like I have done before.
 When I get to my car, I must check that there are no pedestrians on the street. I no longer park in the driveway because I don’t like to back out into the street for fear of hitting a pedestrian; now I just park on the street so I can pull forward and away.  I walk around my car, I check all my mirrors, I get out of my car and check, and then start driving. I drive 5 to 10 miles under the speed limit. That day, I was drinking tea and took a sip while driving 20 mph on an abandoned road. I became overwhelmed by the fear/obsession that for the second that I was sipping the tea, my view was obstructed, a pedestrian suddenly materialized and tried to cross the street, and I did not notice that my car hit them. I tell myself it’s just my OCD and keep driving. One block later, the panic and fear is so strong that even though I know I will be late to class, I retrace my route to check the spot. I drive past it. I pull over, get out of my car, and look at it. I drive past it one more time. Of course, I see nothing, because there was no pedestrian. But “you see, if I did not check, then I would never been certain”, my OCD says.  
 As I retrace, now I see I am passing kids walking to school. I tell myself to keep going, I saw them safely and happily walking. Then, I pass a cyclist. Now a woman waits to cross the intersection. I am almost there, just a few miles from the university I attend. I am so close, but I can’t stop thinking about each person I have passed on the drive here. The world goes on, each driver around and behind me drives onward as if nothing has happened, because I know in real life nothing has happened. But why is my body and brain sounding the alarm? My heart is pounding, my head feels like it is pressed between two cement blocks, and I feel so tired even though I just started my day. I can’t stop thinking about every person I passed. I must make sure they are OK. So I turned into the Home Depot parking lot just minutes from the university  turned my car around, and retraced my entire route. I knew what I would find as I retraced my route; nothing. I knew everything was OK, that you can’t hit people with your car without noticing, and yet I NEEDED to go back and check.  When the compulsion was done,  I sat in my car for 15 minutes until I was calm. Finally, I drove to school.
 The parking lot is difficult too. I need to pull into a spot where I am certain I will have the least anxiety around having to back out of it. I pick one, but have an obsession  around whether I accidentally bumped the cars around me without my car without noticing. So I walk around my car and their cars to inspect. Of course, nothing happened.

 Everyday, I have all of the same thoughts and rituals, but I still make it to class on time. Most mornings now, I can use what I have learned in therapy to be prepared for the thoughts, fighting them as they come.It feels surprisingly good to just post that on the world wide web for all to see.

What does your OCD look like?

I Am Nothing Like Monk or David Beckham: The Many Forms of OCD

There are many reasons why I love science. First and foremost is the power of good science to overcome suffering, stereotypes, and empower individuals.

I just started reading the book Brain Lock: Free Yourself From Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior by Jeffrey M.Schwartz, M.D, neuroscientist and researcher at the UCLA  School of Medicine (I freaking love their Mindful Awareness Research Center where you can find free guided meditations). I was skeptical due to my pessimism  at first, but the book had been recommended to me several times. And of course, UCLA School of Medicine screams of excellence in science and research. And then one day I walked into therapy and was a given a handout summarizing the four steps Dr.Schwartz outlines in his book.

So when the book finally made it’s way to me last week (I had it on reserve at the library), I was very excited to dive in and see what Dr.Schwartz had to offer me. I’ve only made it through the introduction and to page 16 and I already feel the need to blog about it 🙂

The book does a great job of capturing the menagerie of symptoms Dr.Schwartz has seen in his patients. I wince whenever I see the media  comically featuring the classic, quirky, germaphobe or the neurotic character who has to have items arranged in a certain way. First of all, OCD is more than a personality quirk and it’s not enjoyable or funny. Second, although I have heard that contamination and symmetry/order/perfection themes are very common in OCD,  it’s not the ONLY form of OCD.  It’s not even close to what my OCD looks like . So when I try to share with a close friend or a loved one how OCD impacts me, I often get confused looks and comments that usually involve statements such as “But you don’t care about germs or washing or your hands or having everything arranged a certain way! Are you sure it’s OCD? Maybe you are just stressed.”  Dr.Schwartz does an excellent job of sharing case studies that illustrate the many themes that OCD can take, including quite a few that are similar to my own personal demons. What a relief!

Now if only I could somehow motivate all of my loved ones who have to deal with my OCD to read the book, they might have some understanding of the many forms of OCD and would stop pointing out that I am nothing like Monk or David Beckham.