Mindfulness Moment: Going Where My Trust Is Without Borders

I’ve heard and read a lot of folks with OCD talk about how they feel that, at it the core of this disorder for many sufferers, we have a maladaptive and atypical inability to deal with uncertainty (here are links to 3 posts about it for further reading: by Jeff Bell, Dr. Steven Seay, and Annabella Hagen – LCSW RPT-S).  The problem with OCD, I’ve noticed, is that in avoiding all possible threats to certainty, you pretty much avoid living life at all.

It’s very sneaky, the way obeying my need for certainty can slowly overtake my life. I realized at first, that I would avoid driving near the bike lane and the lane next to the sidewalk. Then I resolved to avoid driving during times when kids walk to school. OK, how about I avoid driving in the dark unless I absolutely must? And let’s  try to avoid evening commuter traffic too.  I’ll avoid parking garages, driveways, and compact parking while I’m at it. Actually, let’s also park as far away from people as possible. And let’s only do right turns on green. And don’t go down that street where you had an OCD episode. I realized today that if I always obeyed all my “rules” in order to optimize certainty that I won’t accidentally hurt someone with my car, I would leave very few hours in the day when I would be able to drive.

Tonight, my friend asked me to go the movies. I knew that if I said yes, I’d end up driving home in the dark. Hmmmm. That would increase the possibility of not seeing a pedestrian when I drive! That’s a huge OCD trigger for me, one that could turn my 30 minute drive home into a 60 minute one as my brain spins in it’s own web of imaginary tragedy.  A little voice inside me told me life would just be easier if I said no to the movie and comfortably drove home with the sun in the sky. Just be comfy! Just do what is easy! Why risk being triggered?

The good news is, I am getting better and better at dealing with being triggered! I decided to go the movies tonight. I drove home in the dark. I had obsessions and compulsions. I checked (a few times too many). BUT I didn’t let my need for certainty prune away at my social life. I want friends.  I want to go to the grocery store at night. I have to go to class in the morning and drive home  from class in the dark. I’m not back to my old driving yet, but I can start with this.  What can I say? Uncertainty is uncomfortable, but I have faith that I can deal with the uncertainty that abounds on this earth, no matter what my OCD makes me feel in the moment.

Speaking of uncertainty and hope, there is a BEAUTIFUL song by Hillsong UNITED called Oceans (Where Feet May Fail), which I have fallen in love with because singing it is an informal mindfulness moment for me which gives me courage.   When I sing it, I forget what makes me anxious and I feel nothing but overhwhelming hope.

In particular, I feel courage in these lyrics:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever You would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith would be made stronger, by the presence of my Savior

– Oceans by Hillsong UNITED

Wow. To ask God to take me where my trust is without borders? Where feet may fail? Nothing makes my OCD more upset than the thought of that :). I think I should strive to go there.

Here’s the song and lyric video for Oceans. Very soothing. I hope you enjoy it!

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.