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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

OCD/Anxiety and COVID-19 Part 3: Job loss and continued lockdown

     My family has been in lockdown, staying home now, for 4 1/2 weeks.  Everyone in my family has been home together 24/7 with the exception of  I go to get our grocery store pick up once per week, and my husband goes out occasionally to the farm  just for a change of pace.  I am starting to feel much more anxious this past week.  Last Monday on 3/30, I was laid off from my job where I worked as a nurse for the past 19 1/2 years.  It was a complete surprise.  The president of our clinic held a virtual meeting at 5:00 reporting that "tremendous cuts would be made in staff", and we each got our individual letter (yes, letter, how inappropriate) around 8pm.  I was blindsided to open mine and see that my position had been cut.  In fairness, all part time and casual employees were cut, but it was still quite a shock.  So, I had to report to work the next day (which was very difficult after getting no sleep the night before), and now I have been off work for the past week.  I filed for unemployment, which I never thought in a million years I would have to do as a nurse.  It looks like we'll be okay money wise.  There are a lot of good policies/laws in place right now for the unemployed laid off as a result of COVID.  It is possible, actually quite realistic, that I could recover all of my income (possibly even make more than I did weekly) over at least the next 4 months.  That gives time for my clinic to recover, and hopefully I can be re-hired back there by the end of the summer.  I was very angry and frustrated at first, but now I'm feeling much more at peace.  This pandemic has really done a number on my mental/emotional health, and maybe me not working right now is exactly what I need.  Maybe I just need to be the person in my home that takes care of picking up the groceries, ordering supplies, cooking all 3 meals every day.  It also opens up many hours during the day to take care of myself, which I have neglected to do for a long time.  I have been able to start exercising and having much more down time, which really helps.  The downside to having more free time on my hands, is that every time I turn on the TV or open up Facebook, that is all I see is COVID coverage/news.  I have to be careful how much I read/watch, as this increases my anxiety immensely.
     This week is projected to be the worst week for the city of New York.  The deaths keep rising.   I keep seeing videos/pictures of bogged down hospitals, and infected people.  They seem to keep focusing on the worst part of it.  But occasionally I do see some survivor stories, and it is refreshing to see the stories of people pulling together in their community.  Those at home making masks for those on the front line.  People recognizing that grocery store workers, for one example, are incredible heroes right now too.  Putting themselves at risk every day to be around the general public, and ensure that people get their food/supplies.  Truck workers, that work night/day to deliver those items to the stores.  People offering to strangers to go get groceries for them (especially elderly and high risk people). 
      And it never stops amazing me, how much more contaminated the world is becoming to everyone now.  The public is becoming just like us with OCD.  The things that we have done for years (which others find irrational and extreme, and to be fair/honest, usually are), but now the general public is participating in these things with us.  And no one finds them extreme.  The government/experts are even recommending many of these things.  There are so many videos on how to properly disinfect groceries.  Some new things happening this week:  the CDC has now recommended masks or face coverings for the public.  Grocery stores are putting in one way arrows down each aisle to help promote social distancing.  Several big-box stores are liming the amount of people that can be in a store at a given time.  Some cities in France are no longer allowing people to walk outside from 10am-7pm.  And the comments on Facebook as to how people are dealing with this:  one lady writes that she sprays her shoes with disinfectant, throws all of her clothes along with her mask in the washer, then goes and washes her hands.  Another person dipping their shoes in bleach, wipes off all their doorknobs that they used to get through the house.  Another person brushing their teeth after they are out in public.  Disinfecting their eyeglasses after they were out at the grocery store.  Our daily normal has now become society's normal (and furthermore, the encouraged normal).  Which begs the question, how are those of us with OCD able to differentiate how this works, how is this stuff considered okay at this point in time but it is irrational in our daily lives?  Because all of this decontaminating behavior that everyone is doing now is directly related to a threat.  A very serious threat.  It is trying to do everything in our power to control not getting this virus.  It is the fear/anxiety of getting this virus that is controlling how people behave.
     I am concerned how people in the midst of ERP (exposure and response prevention) therapy are supposed to continue treatment during this time.  We can't suddenly not wash our hands.  We can't suddenly not decontaminate things.  Especially when the world is now doing these things.  I am still managing pretty similar at home right now, to how I usually manage my OCD.  Other than the fact that I am handwashing quite a bit more still, especially after handling items in my pantry/fridge.  I'm still very isolated staying at home, so the threat of actually being exposed to someone with the virus is very low.  Since masks are being recommended now for the general public, I do plan on wearing one when I do my next grocery pick up order tomorrow.  I have not worn one, up to this point.  I have had no contact with anyone in the general public (outside my own immediate family), other than grocery store pick up.      
     This quarantined lockdown is really starting to become taxing.  I need to start finding some sort of daily schedule, so that I'm not just looking over my newsfeed and refreshing it constantly.  As I've said before numerous times on this blog it is very ,very difficult for me to be around my husband in a "normal situation" (whatever that is anymore).  Being around him 24/7 for one month now has become almost unbearable at times.  I will say that he has been very supportive of my losing my job.  It has been other things, that have been difficult.  I am used to being here in the house by myself during the week, and now I'm trying to manage cooking/laundry/house cleaning all while he is downstairs.  He comes up frequently during the course of each day, and many times I've been in the middle of doing something to realize he is upstairs.  My OCD has never trusted him in the house and I am always worried he will get into my "safe zones", so I've basically been having to plant myself on the couch all of the time while he is here, just so I know what he's doing/where he's going.  When he takes off for the farm a couple of hours each day, is when I have a little freedom to do what I want (go sit on our deck is usually what I do).  
     In summary, I am feeling much more anxious and down this week.  I am starting to really worry how long it is going to be before we find "normal" again.  Most experts believe we will never be back to normal until a vaccine is available to the public.  With my OCD, will I feel comfortable taking a vaccine?  Probably not one like this that was mass produced and developed rather quickly, and has no long term studies.  Will I be holed up here for the rest of my life?  Will this be our new normal for the next few months?  years?  As introverted as I am, I have found I really do enjoy some socialization with the public.  I like going down my street and chatting a few minutes with a few of my neighbors.  I like being out at the store and just browsing and not having to worry about a pandemic.  
     I think that the general public may be able finally understand what people with OCD/anxiety live with every day.  Sometimes I'm not even sure that my OCD/anxiety feels as high right now, as someone that previously hasn't dealt with these issues.  I think a lot of this is because I am still in major self isolation mode and "protected" from the world.  I think my OCD will either take one drastic turn or another, when this is over.  Either it's going to draw me further into OCD and isolation, feeling that my obsessions/compulsions really are necessary and keeping me safe.  OR....what I'm hoping will happen is the second option.  Maybe, just maybe, I will find that the world we lived in prior to COVID-19, wasn't really that contaminated.  Maybe the stuff I was doing wasn't necessary.  Maybe there wasn't harm in every day life.  Prayers to you all as this continues to unfold.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Anxiety/OCD and COVID-19 Part 2: A new "normal"

     So it's been almost 10 days since my last post, and the COVID pandemic continues to grow.  This is a scary time.  I last left my house 7 days ago to get groceries, and have been worried how I was going to keep a food supply going at my house.  Most of the pick up options at the grocery store were full until I fortunately figured out their system, one must put in order in before about 6am to secure a lot.  So...now I did secure a slot and will be able to do a pick up order this week, which was a huge relief.  I felt like I hit the jackpot when I was able to make that reservation!
     This virus has been causing anxiety amongst many of the general public, but for those of us with OCD it does present many additional challenges, and much extra stress.  For one, with the groceries, I I do not like the thought of people handling my stuff.  For me it came down to 2 options:  either have more people involved in the touching of my groceries (during a very germy scary time) but not to have go into the store and be directly around people OR go in the store, touch/collect my own groceries, but forced to be in contact with many people at once that do not social distance and potentially be breathing in the virus at the store (as I've heard it can live in the air for 3 hours!!).  So, I decided I can be extra diligent about handwashing (and probably incorporating things into my routine that I normally don't do such as extra handwashing after handling food in my pantry), thus exposing my airborne risk of the disease.  Because those of us with OCD are already great at handwashing.
     I am still finding things that people post on social media very interesting.  It feels like the world is quickly becoming more concerned about contamination.  To many non-OCD folks, everything in the world is contaminated now.  I've seen people suggesting that others wear gloves when they pump gas, to change their shoes when they come in the house (someone said they were keeping their shoes in a plastic bin in the garage and changing into flip flops to walk into the house).  Some people were discussing stripping out of their clothes when they got home from being outside and immediately washing their clothes in the hottest water possible.  People are starting to notice when other people contaminate things--paying attention to food workers wearing gloves and what they are touching with the gloves on and becoming worried about that.  Things that we see every day with our OCD, but that most people haven't paid attention to until now.  I've read articles suggesting that people decontaminate their groceries when they get home (wiping down all non-porous containers with disinfectant wipes).  I have never wiped my groceries down with disinfectant wipes throughout my OCD, and I do not plan to start now.  I have even become worried what if the grocery stores are starting to do this?  Part of my contamination OCD is chemicals, and I don't want to substitute germs for chemicals.  Most of myself feels this can not possibly be deemed safe through the FDA, but people are going to extreme measures to ensure their stuff is "safe".  Sounds like us in everyday life right?  It is not an easy time to have OCD right now.  There are some decisions we have to make that are not in line with our routine way of doing things.
     The other scary part of all of this is that many of the items that we rely on in every day life with OCD (hand sanitizer, paper products, soap, disposable items) are almost impossible to find.  I would imagine the supply will balance out after a period of time, but thinking about not having access to these things is almost unthinkable with OCD.  I go through soap like water in my house.  I have a decent supply of soap in my house, but most of it is not anti-bacterial.  I know that antibacterial soap is not any better than regular old soap, but let's face it--for those of us with OCD, antibacterial just feels better...cleaner.  Even though I don't think I'll run out of soap before they can get it back in stock,  I've already found myself trying to ration it because I really don't think I could function without soap.  I have also been rationing other things such as paper products (I go through lots of tissues and paper towels for various things) as well as gloves--because I'm literally terrified of running out of them.  In a way, it's forced me to decide do I REALLY need to use soap or a glove right now?
     My  husband, surprisingly, is becoming very germ-conscious throughout this pandemic as well.  He wanted to go out on a beer run the other day and thought about going first thing in the morning before the store got too busy.  He told me his plan was to go to the store, use hand sanitizer in the car, wash his hands right when he got home and take a shower.  He asked me if I thought this would help reduce his changes of getting the virus.  He ended up not going to the store, as he was able to find a liquor store in our city that is doing car side pickups.  He went to get his supply last night and the employee came out to his truck with gloves on, wiped off his 3 beer cases with disinfectant wipes, put them in his truck, and wiped his door handle.  The employee actually did this.  Now, my husband had coincidentally put some disinfect wipes in his truck before going, as his plan was to wipe the cases down, but the employee beat him to it.  My husband also was out at our farm the other night selling some hay to a stranger.  He told the stranger that he wasn't getting closer than 20 feet away from him, and made the stranger put the cash down far away from him, so he had no close interaction.  When the man left, my  husband took a glove from the farm shop, picked up the cash, took the glove off his hand inside out (keeping the cash contained there), and put it somewhere inside where he planned on letting it sit for 7-10 days until the virus would be killed if it were potentially on there.
     As I said in my previous post, it is weird to see the world behaving as if the world is contaminated.  To those of us with OCD, the world is contaminated every day.  Seeing everything happening in the world to maintain social distance, is an ideal world for those of us with OCD, if we could just take the actual virus out of the equation.  To order your take out and have them deliver it to your car, so you didn't have to be around people.  To order your clothes from the retail store, and again have them bring it out to you.  To have no contact deliveries, where you don't have to be around anyone.  To take your pet to the vet, and they will come get your pet and bring them back out to your car (again avoiding people).  My grocery store is supposedly setting up plastic windows/barriers around the cashiers.  Social distancing and good hygiene is what we dream of everyday in the general public.  But not the virus.  That is the scary part.  I am planning to update weekly on this situation, as this is kind of my personal focus right now in life.  This is my new normal.  Staying home, hoping I get fortunate enough to get the grocery pick up time weekly, checking Amazon daily for soap/paper towels (even though I know I'm not going to find any for awhile), seeing the endless videos/news conferences/articles on COVID.  Working my 9 hour nursing shifts doing triage, speaking to patients about COVID.  Socially quarantining myself with my family.  Scared to go outside in my front yard because we have so many neighbors that don't understand the concept of social distancing.  Scared to take a walk, because I don't want random strangers coming up talking to me/petting my dogs.  Worrying about our country and the world.  Worrying about the food and supply chain.  Worried I will have to go to the store to get food.  Worrying if this pandemic is going to make my OCD worse, or possibly force me to learn to live a life without the soap and paper products I rely on.  Being stuck inside the house (but knowing at the same time that is the only way to really stay safe, so I'll gladly do it), things are getting very, very tense with my husband.  It is a challenge for me even when he works at home an occasional day, so 2 weeks of him working at home with no end in sight is becoming extremely taxing on me.  We do not do well at all when we are together 24/7.  I am used to being here alone during the day, which makes cooking/laundry/cleaning much easier to do when I don't have an audience.  Now he is around all the time, and this has been very difficult.  Worrying about being cooped up all summer too, when ordinarily that is the one time of the year where I do better mentally and can be out and do social things and have fun.  None of us know how long this pandemic is going to last.  I will keep posting regularly.  Hope you all are doing well, and staying safe.

Friday, March 13, 2020

OCD/Anxiety and COVID-19

     Our nation, is currently in the middle of a health pandemic--COVID-19 (Coronavirus). I think it is important to discuss this, as I know there are many people out in the world that are in a state of panic about this virus and what it means. My heart goes out to anyone who has had this virus, and especially those whose lives have been lost (or family members who have lost a loved one due to this). Many "normal" people are experiencing anxiety about what this outbreak will bring over the next several months. For those of us with OCD or anxiety, our already anxious state of mind is probably going further into overdrive. I don't know if this virus has been detected where you live. For me, we have about 12 confirmed cases in the next city over from where I live (but these are the two biggest cities in Nebraska, so many people go back and forth daily commuting). Nothing has been confirmed here in my city (of almost 300,000 people) yet, but today we just found out that our public school system will be closing next week, while they develop a plan that may possibly include instituting remote learning for the remainder of the semester. I have been looking on Amazon daily for supplies such as paper towels, soap, hand sanitizer, and masks, many of which can not be found. An N95 respirator is nowhere to be found, unless you want to pay $50 for a single use disposable mask on Amazon. The nitrile gloves that I buy for myself (for daily food handling, and cleaning--a very valuable, yet taken for granted item) were out of stock through my normal vendor and I had to pay a much higher price somewhere else. I have looked at online medical supply stores for surgical/procedure masks, and every single one of those items is on backorder, probably not available for 1-2 months. I went to get groceries 3 days ago and the shelves were pretty well stocked, other than bottled water which there was only one case left that I snatched. My mother went to the same store today and said she had never seen anything like it in her life. Almost every shelf (at a huge chain grocery store) was emptied of food. Entire freezer sections, canned goods etc. Completely sold out. PANIC BUYING from people. I have read articles about hospitals where patients are stealing boxes of masks and medical supplies. My own medical clinic I work for is now rationing out masks to the nurses, saying that they have to re-use them for several days, because eventually they are going to run out. This isn't even sanitary on any level. I am so thankful I am able to work from home, as there is literally no way I would be able to mentally deal with that. My husband is now working from home for his company, and they will be re-assessing the situation every 2 weeks to determine when their employees can come back to work. I don't do well at all with my husband at home all the time, so this is going to be a huge source of added stress. Amazon Prime has been my best friend these past 2 weeks, as I've been buying "big items" to have shipped to me (paper towels specifically), so that when I go to the store I have more room in my cart for food. I've been cleaning out my pantry and fridge, trying to create good space and organizing well to accommodate all the extras. My goal is to have enough on hand that we could all be in the house for 4 weeks without leaving. Period. And then just 1 N95 respirator that I could wear to do another stock up when that ran out. But for now, I'm really trying to just carry on with business as usual. I'm honestly not too worried about the illness itself coming here, but that is changing with all the constant news posts and social media. I think my local community is being very diligent, as well as the whole U.S. in trying to defeat this virus. Trying to be proactive, to stop the spread immediately. Of course all of this happens right in the middle of flu season. I normally have a lot of issues anyway during flu season. My usual pattern is to grocery shop every 1-2 weeks, and make no unnecessary appointments until flu season is done. Over the past few weeks, I have had to make the decision of being out and about in flu season more in order to stock up for a bigger threat...Coronavirus. I have made multiple trips to the store, stocking up on food and supplies. This is only out of caution and wanting to be prepared, should it start popping up in my community. Because if it does pop up in my town, I know at that point I would just want to stay home. At that point, I would panic if I did not have the supplies/food at home. One thing that I personally am very anxious about is how long this pandemic will last. I typically do very poorly, as I said, through the winter months, due to a combination of Seasonal Affective Disorder, lack of sun, and struggling mentally through the flu season as I worry through that every year until it has passed. When April hits, I usually do a big turn and my mood shifts. I feel more positive, I get out more after being cooped up, and the sun finally comes out. I had put in a request with my job and am (still) planning on working very minimal hours this summer. I had lots of plans to go all sorts of places this summer, even possibly a couple of vacations. Mostly I just wanted to relax and be able to go wherever we wanted to go any given day. The threat of this Coronavirus and how problematic it could potentially get over the months, has been very depressing to think about. To think about being cooped up inside the entire summer, and worrying about this constantly over what should be fun summer months, has been very depressing.

     To touch on all of the rapidly emerging closings and cancellations across the country: schools, concerts, church, sporting events (basketball, College world series, Masters tournaments), Disneyworld, Disneyland. People being encouraged to work from home if at all possible. Travel bans. There has been word that the summer Olympics maybe postponed as well. Now we are even starting to see movie theaters shut down, as well as gyms and daycares. Restaurants are closing down for dine-in purposes, and people are only being allowed take out. Fast food restaurants are only offering drive thru services. Restaurant delivery services are offering "no contact deliveries" where they will just set your food on your driveway for you. Nursing homes are not allowing any visitors (even family) into their facilities. It seems like the world is slowly shutting down and people are being encouraged to practice social distancing when out in public. The governor of my state has just issued restrictions on all public gatherings be 10 or less people. This means weddings and funerals will be held to this standard. This is so frightening, and so sad. This is enough to evoke fear in anyone! Most of us have never seen anything like this in our lives. I think a lot of this fear generates from the fact that the effects of this new virus are unknown. It is uncertainty to it's highest extent. And what is the thing that amps up our anxiety/OCD....you got it, uncertainty!

     I have been reading so many posts/articles on social media, and people's responses are varying in high degrees with their fear regarding this virus. For many people, it is business as usual. Three of my neighbors went on vacations this week, as it is Spring break here for schools this week. Two families traveled by plane. One even went on a cruise! You couldn't even pay me a million dollars right now to get on a plane or cruise ship in light of what is going on. Some people are exercising a rational degree of caution, which I honestly think is the healthiest approach. Not panic buying, but being careful and making preparations. Then there are people who really are making changes (big changes!). One of the news stations in my city posted a question on their Facebook page, asking how the concern over Coronavirus has affected their every day life, and here are some of the comments that people made: I want to go buy bulk in everything I use, I'm pulling my kids out of school and homeschooling them (I saw that multiple times, and trust me I've had that exact thought myself), I'm going to start wiping down my steering wheel, door handles, maybe I should start wiping my phone off when I get home from work, I don't want to eat at restaurants anymore, I'm only stepping out of my house to let my dogs out, I started using sanitizer after I signed for packages delivered to my door, I started washing my hands more. These were all things that people said even before we started having restrictions (which just started over the past week). The thing is that with many of these things, those of us with OCD do them anyway. It is part of our normal routine. We disinfect as we go, we clean, we wipe, we fear that everything is contaminated. The rest of the world is starting to act like we do. And that is scary in a way, because it further escalates the fear that this really is something to panic about! I think pandemics like this can actually cause people to develop OCD. I sure know it did for me. My OCD flipped on to a whole new level with germs when H1N1 came out in 2009. To further illustrate my point, one lady on Facebook said that she had started decontaminating herself after being out in public, since the Coronavirus started. She puts a towel over her carseat, so she doesn't contaminate her carseat. Then she takes it off the seat, brings it inside, strips out of her clothes, keeps everything in the laundry room, and heads straight to the shower. Now, I don't even do that with OCD. But the fear of this virus and the fear or this woman getting it, she developed a ritual that she thought might keep her safe. So, I do think this is OCD possibly developing, and this is really sad. In other ways, to see people's changed behavior--it's almost refreshing?? Is that even the right word? To see other people actually concerned about hygiene, and to feel like I fit in a little bit more, and maybe some of the things I do aren't so irrational to others now. If I wanted to wear a mask in public, I certainly wouldn't be the only one. To see others whipping out their hand sanitizer, Clorox wiping their steering wheels, wiping down their phone. To see restaurants wiping down their menus, their door handles. To see others concerned and wanting to make sure other people stay home when they're sick. To see so much soap being bought, that you know that people actually have to be washing their hands. To see people practicing "social distancing" and learning the importance of staying 6 feet away from other people to help prevent illness. To think that this is a new concept for many people, although for us with OCD it is daily way of life. To see/hear countless reminders about "covering your cough" and feeling hopeful that finally some people are going to understand the importance of this, not just with Coronavirus, but with colds/flu in general. It almost gives me a sense of security in a weird way, knowing that the world is trying to be cleaner, and hoping that maybe, just maybe, these new habits will stick for a lot of people. It's weird to see these behaviors, as they make us more comfortable, and without the Coronavirus (and it's added threats), this is really the kind of ideal clean world we would want to live in. How much easier would it be for us to function in a world where every single person became obsessed with cleanliness? But it would also be a sad world, because then truly everyone would be dealing with OCD, and I would never wish that upon anyone.

     One big change that I have noticed is that for the first time really ever with my husband, I have seen him washing his hands more, not wanting to eat out, staying home and not going to events that he normally would. So obviously he is concerned about this. I've tried to explain to him that this is how OCD feels every day in life. Every day for those of us with OCD is a struggle about "what if" something is out there, "what if" something is contaminated, "what if" I come into contact with someone that is sick. But now, with COVID-19 out there, the "what if" stakes just got higher. What if COVID hits my city? What if I or someone in my family gets sick? What if someone I know dies from this? What if I'm too scared to go out and get food/supplies? What if I'm too scared to have them delivered to my home (because I feel they're contaminated from the grocery store workers)? What if the schools don't close, how will I send my daughter to school in this everyday? What if the grocery stores run out of food?  What if soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, gloves, paper towels (all of the supplies that we need everyday with our OCD) eventually run out?  The way that people are hoarding those things, that is a real fear.  The what-ifs just keep going on and on.

     Back to the more hygienic behaviors being practiced now across the world--is that what differentiates rational from irrational behavior? The probability of an event? Maybe some of the fear that we have with our every day OCD isn't all that irrational. Certainly when it comes to the compulsive way we might do our laundry, wearing inside vs. outside clothes, and some of the other compulsions that we carry--yes those probably are irrational. But when it comes to legitimate illness, whether it's COVID-19, Influenza, or the common cold--what exactly constitutes when a person moves from rational to irrational behavior? Germaphobia is a tough one. There is always a threat of being exposed to illness. We also don't have COVID-19 to worry about every day. I'm not really sure there is a real answer for my question above. I think everybody needs to do what they need to do to get through this time. And we all need to look out for each other. There are probably a lot of people really struggling with this right now. I hope that you are all doing okay with all that is going on. I hope you and your loved ones all stay healthy. I hope this is not creating more anxiety in your lives (although I am sure for the vast majority of us, it is). I hope and pray that you will find peace in this situation. Take care of yourselves, and make sure that you do what you need to do for yourselves and your families. Practice self care daily, and please PRAY for our world and country. Pandemics like this can create immense anxiety and depression. We start to feel alone and isolated. We may begin to be consumed with worry. Take time everyday to practice deep breathing and do something that you enjoy--whether it's reading, writing in a journal, baking, listening to music, or watching TV/movies. If anyone needs to talk to, please please send me an e-mail to connectwithmyocdstory@gmail.com. If you are deeply struggling and don't have anyone to talk to about your concerns, I am more than happy to chat with you. I would love to hear from any of you. Is the virus in your community? How is it affecting your daily life? How is it affecting your anxiety or OCD? I will probably be updating my blog more frequently as this situation evolves. Stay well, friends.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Husband Post--The debate whether to stay or go

     This post has been a long time coming.  Truth be told, I don't even know where to start with this post or how to even possibly put this all into one post--but I'm going to try.  This may be a little different format to how I typically write.  This will probably be just more of a journal type entry, as this subject is something I'm not even sure can be organized or put into words.  There are so many added layers of complexity with my OCD when it comes to my husband.  It may be easier to revisit some of my old blog posts to learn how my OCD got started, why living with your spouse with OCD is difficultwhen your spouse doesn't seem to care about your OCD, and when your spouse is your biggest OCD trigger.  These are all important posts I've done in the past which will give a lot of background information rather than revisit all of that here in great detail again.  To summarize briefly, I believe I started showing signs of OCD in 2005.  Our marriage was suffering greatly that year, I felt worlds apart from my husband, and was mostly a single mom to our then 2 year old daughter.  Everything came to a head one day when I was driving to work--I had a full fledged panic attack.  Not just minor-moderate anxiety.  A full fledged I truly thought I was going to die that day panic attack.  Another very significant panic attack occurred the following week, which landed me in an ambulance and in the ER.  These preceded a bout of major depressive disorder which lasted throughout that entire summer.  I remember making journal entries about our relationship that summer and how I truly wanted to divorce my husband (side note of probable importance--he actually found that journal hidden between the mattresses that summer and unfortunately I minced no words in my journal entries.  He still brings that up periodically in arguments).  I wanted out of the relationship desperately though.  I could feel myself sinking farther and farther into depression and anxiety.  I believe that summer, in a sense, "triggered" or turned on my OCD.  I've done a lot of reading about OCD through the years, and one thing most people are in agreement with regarding it's onset is the fact that it is both genetic and environmental.  You must have an underlying genetic tendency to the disorder, and there must also be an environmental factor that "turns on the OCD".  So if we have OCD we are genetically disposed regardless, but we also must have a stressor/environmental factor that puts it into motion.  I wholeheartedly believe the summer of 2005 was my trigger.  Unfortunately so much happened that summer, and I don't feel my husband was there for me emotionally through any of it.  He did not seem to care about my anxiety or depression, or even really notice how bad things were.  We continued to grow more apart, and deep resentment began to set in.  It was shortly after that, that I began to see OCD tendencies in myself.  It began with a lot of "magical thinking" (thinking if I didn't do things a certain way, that something bad would happen).  For example, I might be folding laundry and have to make sure all the tags were folded in properly to the shirts, so that something bad wouldn't happen to my daughter.  Of course I knew these things were irrational, but in order to get some peace from the thoughts I would keep doing them, and the obsessive compulsive cycle just grew stronger every day.  More and more things were being added each day.  I started doing a lot of extra cleaning/wiping during this time--wiping off library books that came home (covers and all of the pages), scrubbing my daughters lips and skin around her mouth every time she went out in public (because I was worried germs were entering her mouth and somehow I felt that had to lessen her chance of getting sick).  Handwashing became a constant thing.  When her friends came over, I would make them wash their hands even before they played with her toys.  If you kept narrowing down the reason why I was doing these things, most of the time it came back to the thought that I was trying to protect my daughter by doing these rituals.  I was scared of something bad happening to her.  Because my marriage was strained, I was deathly scared of something bad happening to her.  My daughter was/is my person in this world.  My husband was gone a lot.  Our marriage was disconnected.  My daughter and I had each other in this world, and I needed to make sure we were safe, that nothing bad happened to either one of us.  My general OCD/contamination OCD became mild-moderate over the course of about 3-4 years.  I continued to struggle with severe anxiety, but the major depression had lifted a little by then.  We started trying to conceive another child and went through several years of infertility and a miscarriage.  Things between us still were not great at all.  Our marriage is general was still very strained, and the OCD wasn't even specific to him at that time.  Meaning, I found him no more contaminated than anything else was.  We had terrible communication.  I also found out I was allergic to nuts around this time, and found out he would still eat them (even before we were to be intimate since we were trying to get pregnant).  It is possible for someone with a severe nut allergy to have a life threatening reaction by kissing someone who has recently eaten nuts.  I would ask him if he had eaten nuts before were intimate, and he would get irritated.  But I would ask only because I had found empty granola bar wrappers in his pockets and was trying to keep myself safe.  It didn't really seem like he was worried about my safety at all.  So, that became a source of contention.  It was also around this time that I began to notice my husband was not a very hygienic person.  He had probably always been this way, I just hadn't noticed or paid attention before.  My non-OCD mind back then was able to filter all of this out (as a neurotypical mind is able to do), but once I developed OCD I began to notice things and fixate on them.  I think the more disconnected we became and the less we felt like a couple, I began to feel like I was putting my health at risk being with him, and that created a lot of resentment.  In the spring of 2009, he became contaminated to me, and really has been ever since.  What happened is that he spent a lot of time restoring farm equipment that summer and painting cars (a hobby), and would spray these things in our backyard (where our daughter and I spent a lot of time).  One time he came in with with his hands and the front of his jeans both covered in green spray paint.  He didn't stop at the sink that day to wash his hands, he just walked back to the bathroom and got in the shower.  That is the exact moment he actually became contaminated to me.  All I could picture at that time was paint/chemicals on his hands, moving to his whole body as he washed himself.  Sorry if TMI here, but I became fixated on his that paint contaminating his genitals.  Which again since we were trying to conceive, became a very huge problem.  That summer, some very strange things happened.  Before we were intimate, I would have to get in the shower with him and wash off his genitals.  That is the only way I could feel comfortable with the act of having sex, knowing my clean hands had washed his genitals.  Since we dealt with infertility, this resulted in some very long awkward months of this happening.  Add that to the no kissing (with him eating nuts), and the still very dysfunctional cycle of our relationship...and it just was not good.  It was also around this time that I would take note of things that probably had always happened...I just was noticing more, and becoming increasingly bothered by them.  For example he might come in and throw his dirty hunting clothes over our shoes in the entryway.  One time he took a makeup/eyeshadow compact out of my makeup drawer and used it as mirror to look at something in his truck engine when he was working with dirty/greasy hands, and I found the compact sitting in the kitchen after the fact.  Fortunately I was able to figure out what happened before he had a chance to return it to my makeup drawer.  Many ,many examples happened, too many to list.  It was then that I realized I didn't trust him to be clean with my stuff.  I didn't want him using or touching my things.  I started putting all of my things in safe places.  I moved my clothes to my daughters closet.  I moved my makeup and toiletries and towels to a linen closet he never used.  I started putting open food (boxes or bags of cereal, candy, etc) in a special cupboard (so I could keep track of what was opened and not opened).  I put my shoes in a different area.  Eventually through the years this grew into keeping separate dishes in separate cupboards (which he still doesn't know I do), sleeping in separate bedrooms, and really just living as separately as possible.      
     Most of these things wouldn't even bother a neurotypical person, but I can about guarantee if you have contamination OCD--you will understand how these things become bothersome.  Most of these things people would say...yes you are being totally ridiculous and irrational, and I get that.  I am.  But that is the unfortunate thing about OCD.  Some of the things he does though are over the top, and I've talked to a counselor about many of these things--and she has said they are abnormal on his end.  Regardless, all of these things create barriers to our relationship and make it really hard to live together or function normally as a couple.  Therefore, we really haven't been a couple for quite some time.  It feels more like a strained roommate situation that is just constantly stressful.  First for the "so-so stuff"--his room looks like a teenage boy lives there.  All of his clothes are littered all over his floor, and I'm talking hundreds of clothes.  Things he doesn't even wear.  Stuff he doesn't just pick up and donate or throw away.  He doesn't pay attention to whether or not things are clean.  He just picks them up off the floor and wears them.  He could put on socks that haven't been washed in months, that have been worn multiple times.  In fact, I know he has about 3-4 pairs of socks currently, and I don't know what happens to the rest of them.  He just keeps re-wearing them day after day dirty.  He could put on a pair of jeans to go hunting in that hasn't been washed in 4 years (that he has hunted in multiple times).  He will then of course sit in these clothes in his truck, at our kitchen table, and on our furniture **correction HIS furniture**.  Yes, we have separate furniture, it's just sort of a normal thing around our house now for the last several years.  There is no way I would be able to function in my house if I did not have separate areas from him.  I keep my safe zones clean and free of him, and that is how I can deal with his spaces looking the way they do and not let the trail of contamination spread.  For some examples of the really gross unhygienic stuff--he has his own bathroom, and it never gets cleaned unless I clean it.  I try to clean it before it gets really out of hand, but there have been times I didn't know how bad it looked--and I've had to go in there and literally clean black mold off the shower/shower curtain.
  




Yes, these are a couple of actual pictures I took at the time that are mortifying for me to look at.  He told me that 9/10 men wouldn't have a problem showering in this shower.  That was his response when we talked about how filthy and unsanitary this is.  How unhealthy this is for him to shower and breathe in mold spores every time he stands in there when the hot water gets going.  To add another layer of complexity, I have a very severe mold allergy (I have several environmental allergies confirmed via skin testing), and mild asthma (usually flared up during allergies or colds) and I have had to be the one to go in and clean these messes multiple times.  How am I supposed to feel like he cares about my well being again (back to the whole nut thing) when he allows and is okay with me cleaning this mess up, exposing myself to something I am highly allergic to.  How could I ever feel like he is clean, when this is where he takes his shower?  He also lays his towel over the toilet and reuses it for days on end (probably sometimes weeks).  It was also around this time that I found out his night mouthguard (that he wears for tooth grinding) was growing mold on it as well.  I could see an orange residue film on his nightguard, along with some black mold spots.  Something that goes in his mouth every night.  How could I ever possibly be comfortable kissing him thinking about that?  Please, I am begging anyone to chime in here and comment.  Is this stuff over the top?  I feel like it is.  I feel like this is not normal.  I feel like it makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible to have any type of physical relationship with him.  I talked with a therapist last summer who told me (and I am not trying to be demeaning or insulting to my husband in any way here.  I'm just trying to be real and try to figure out if there is a way through this mess or not) that there is likely something mental going on with him to allow him to live this way.  But here's the kicker...because I have OCD, he somehow justifies his lack of hygiene and turns it into my problem.  It's always my problem.  He doesn't really see a problem with any of this stuff (even the moldy bathroom and nightguard), and just throws it back at me...like I'm the one with the issue.  There are so many things that seem so wrong about our relationship.  I feel so angry all the time because I can't live freely in my home, because I feel he is dirty/contaminated.  I feel like I am a prisoner in my own home, like I can't go anywhere because I have to sit here and watch what he is doing to make sure he doesn't contaminate anything (specifically my safe zones) because I've literally seen what he's done before to my stuff.  I feel like the idea of any type of physical relationship with him is impossible.  Even going on dates or spending time together alone is not possible because it would either require me to ride in his truck (which isn't going to happen, I feel its contaminated) or for him to ride in my passenger seat (which isn't going to happen either because I don't want him contaminating my car with his dirty clothes).  So, we pretty much could never go out together the two of us (unless I made him ride in my back seat which seems ridiculous).  Which means we don't really spend time together either.  We haven't slept in the same bedroom for about 16 years (no way could I sleep in his bed.  He doesn't even have sheets on his bed anymore.  Just a mattress pad which has some blood spots and some giant orange stain in the middle of it).  The thought never seems to occur to him to clean anything when it gets visibly dirty.  The thought of sleeping in that bed is sickening to me.  Sometimes he will go 3-4 days without a shower (he won't do that when he works at his office job, but if its a long weekend or he has time off it's not unusual to see him go that long of a stretch).  I do remember a time when he went 3-4 days over a long weekend without brushing his teeth (I only know this because he had just got back from traveling and the toothbrush was still in his suitcase 3-4 days later).  And it's not just the OCD.  It's so many other things too.  It always has been.  We've always had a strange relationship.  We don't even really talk when we're home together.  It honestly feels like we're strangers.  It's felt this way for about 14 years.  There are some days when we really don't say much of anything to each other.  Anything we do talk about is superficial and not really important.  There is a major disconnection in our relationship.  He spends most of his time looking at the Internet when he is home.  Sometimes I feel such rage at him looking at Craigstlist for hours on end every night, I truly think I'm going to explode.  The internet addiction has been an issue for him since very early on in our marriage, before my OCD ever started.  He would spend hours late into the night looking up anything and everything on Craiglist, playing online poker.  I would check his internet history and it just went on and on.  I feel so resentful and bitter toward him when I think about the toxic dysfunction that our relationship is.  And the fact that we've never really had a marriage.  I do feel that he has ADD--that has never been confirmed by a doctor, but I strongly suspect it.  And he's even admitted to me that he thinks he might have it.  My counselor also thought he probably has ADD based on his inattention and being in his own world most of the time.  She thought it also might account for the condition he keeps his room/bathroom in, and some of the other odd things he does.  On top of that, he is very angry and irritable in general, yells a lot, rarely apologizes to me, doesn't like to talk about serious issues that really need to be talked about.  There is rarely resolution to our conflict (which is pretty much all the time anymore).  He doesn't really help me at all with our daughter or our two dogs.  I get up and let the dogs out every single day first thing in the morning and walk them most days, and pretty much are their main caretakers.  He goes out with friends on the weekends, or hunts, goes out to his family farm to mess around, goes downstairs and watches TV or takes naps while I take care of our daughter, our dogs and our home.  He makes large financial decisions without me.  He sleeps in often on the weekends, while I am taking care of everything/everyone.  I truly think he is addicted to the internet and is iPhone.  He doesn't pick up after himself in general.  Just leaves things wherever he wants and I have to clean up after him.  He gives me the silent treatment rather than communicate about our issues, and deflects all of our marital issues back on me.  He rarely hanks for me for anything I do around the home.  I work 3 days per week, and take care of all the housework, laundry, cleaning, groceries, bills, etc.  I make nice meals most evenings for our family and he rarely compliments me or makes any positive comments about the food I make.  I feel completely unappreciated for what I do.  I do not enjoy being around him anymore.  Often I feel physically ill when I am around him.  Theres been many times throughout our relationship that I've been so upset by our interactions that I literally start shaking in my hands (sometimes my whole body has shaken horribly, almost like someone with Parkinsons' disease) and I have even vomited at times because my stomach gets in such a knot.  I am unhappy and depressed being with him.  He has said some horribly awful things to me through the years in relation to my OCD.  He has never tried to understand my OCD.  I invited him to come talk to my therapist years ago about it a few times and he went one time and declined to go back.  He has never really been there for me emotionally, or seemed to ever care about what I am going through.  In the deepest, darkest, worst days of my OCD (which spanned 2013-2015), he spent most of that time irritated and mad at me.  I was literally in quicksand those 2 years, absolutely drowing, trying to keep my head above water.  Trying to hold things down around the house, juggle a job, and deal with debilitating OCD and once again...major depression.  There were days I didn't even know how I would ever possibly make it through each day.  Life was extremely difficult/impossible at that point.  Looking back on things, he had to know how bad things were.  But never once did I ever feel an ounce of support from him.  It was another devestating blow to our relationship.  But coming back around to his possible ADD again...was just he unware because he wasn't capable of noticing things?  Or did he just not care about me period?  Also just another example of how disconnected we were back then....I had surgery in the fall of 2015.  My first surgery ever, and the first time I had ever been put under general anesthesia.  I truly had horrible anxiety surrounding the surgery.  I thought I was going to die, and never wake up from anesthesia.  It was very irrational thoughts and likely ruminating caused by my OCD.  I remember he was traveling that week (I actually scheduled the surgery that week on purpose because I just wanted my mom with me during surgery, I knew she would be supportive and caring, and I was worried being with my unsupportive husband would just make it harder), and he came home late the night of my surgery (it was just outpatient so I came home the same day), and all he said to me as he walked in trough the garage door before he disappeared back to bed immediately, was "You're still alive?".  He didn't even sit down to ask me how things went, or act like he cared at all.  He didn't even ask what they found during surgery, or if I was okay.  These types of situations have been deep, deep cuts in the foundation of our relationship.  I really don't want this to turn into a bash post against my  husband, I've just always tried to keep this blog very real.  It's how I process things.  This is just about how I experience the relationship and the issues that I see surface.  The truth is, and has been for almost 14 years now, I really don't want to be with my husband.  There, I said it.  So, is this OCD some weird type of subconscious way to keep my distance and not get too close to him?  Or is the OCD really just a result (and growing and morphing through the year) of the chronic stress I feel.  I have been better able to handle most types of contamination situations over the past few years as I've been working on my OCD.  In fact if you look through my blog over the past several years, I have come quite far since 2013.  I am pretty proud of myself in regard to that.  I am leaps and bounds better than I was 6 years ago.  But with my husband specifically, I'm not going to lie.  There have been some really odd dynamics to all of this.  I'm not willing to contaminate myself with him.  Other than 2 years ago we resumed our sexual relationship for a few short months (I did want to prove to myself that I could allow myself to be contaminated by him).  During that time we got our second dog, and a new puppy is kind of like a second baby, so the sex dwindled again and hasn't returned since.  It's not even about the OCD so much anymore.  I have no desire to be intimate with him.
     As the years go by, I'm trying to be realistic about things and be able to accept the situation for what it is.  If my husband is always going to feel contaminated to me, regardless, then do we ever really have a chance of having a normal relationship?  I know that I don't want things to go on like this forever.  They just can't.  I have developed so many stress related health issues throughout the years.  Every time I see my primary doctor she warns me that this marriage stress is really affecting my health greatly.  I have developed both Hashimoto's thyroiditis, and fibromyalgia and feel like general crap most days.  I feel achy, sore and tired--I feel flu-like most days.  I feel cold to the bones most days.  I have horrible TMJ and experience severe facial/jaw pain daily.  I clench my teeth every night.  I wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety.  I have nightmares and dreams about my  husband (sometimes about our bad relationship, sometimes weirdly about him contaminating things).  I've dealt with IBS, migraine headaches, strange neurological symptoms (weird twitches under my eyes), arthritic discs in my back and neck, overactive bladder, and an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder that my doctor keeps following me for, telling me "you have something...I just doesn't know what exactly yet".  I have some other health conditions, but these specific ones I mentioned have likely all been brought on by chronic stress.  I feel like I will live a life ruled by depression, OCD, and anxiety as long as I am with him.  That's a really depressing reality.  Every day I'm just trying to get through each day with him.  Most nights I go to bed knowing that I can't keep doing this forever.  My mood plummets to extreme lows as soon as I hear him come home from work.  Sometimes I watch him sit on the couch looking at Craigslist, and I literally am seething inside.  He has been working from home more recently with his job, and those days have been awful.  I just sit and stew all day about the fact that he's there.  First for the fact that it's hard to be around him an additional 8-9 hours each day, and second of all for the fact that again with the OCD it ruins my plans for the day.  I'm stuck at home doing nothing.  I don't feel comfortable running errands or leaving the home when he's here by himself.  We've also entered hunting season again for the year, which always kicks things up a notch.  If he is even 5 feet away from me walking through the kitchen, my OCD tells me "he got you, he brushed against you, he contaminated you, change your clothes, throw your clothes away, do something!"  I've been throwing away a few more things recently than I'd like to admit.  This is a problem I've had severely in the past that I'd been doing much better with recently, but with 2 dogs now in the home it has complicated things.  And for some reason this last month has been terrible with him.  I'm feeling myself worried about his things all the time again.  If I see his hat laying on the counter, I'm worried somehow my clothes brushed against it.  The dogs climb all over him on the couch, and then I feel like the dogs become contaminated with his dirty clothes.  So if the dogs come by and swish their tail against my clothes, I start feeling like his contamination is spreading onto my clothes through the dogs.  It is really becoming difficult again.  I don't think I've ever had a period where I've felt happy with my husband recently.  Like I stated earlier, mostly its just getting through each day.  It's looking forward to when he goes to work, when he has plans with his friends, when he goes on a work trip, etc.  Because then somehow I can feel free and I can feel comfortable.  
     I'm worried that this post doesn't cover everything.  In fact, I know it doesn't.  I know there are about 10,000 pieces to this puzzle, and I've given maybe 100 here.  Some of you will read this and think "wow, this girl is crazy, no wonder her husband is disconnected".  Some of you will read it and probably think "wow, they have both have issues".  Some may think "I can totally understand why she is having such a hard time, I would too".  Some may think that our marriage problems are all a result of my OCD, but I assure you it's not.  My OCD never saw him specifically as contaminated until well into our marriage, long after we were having problems.  I don't know if I should stay or go.  So much of me wants to go.  But a small part of me wants to stay.  I understand fully that living with someone with OCD is very difficult.  I feel for him in that way, I really do.  I wish that I could be the normal spouse, that doesn't worry about those things.  But that is not reality for me.  That is not where I am right now, and probably never will be.  I think if he has to deal with my OCD stuff, then maybe I just need to deal with his ADD/disconnection stuff.  Both of our conditions seem to be feeding off the other, and it is just a horrible cycle to be in.  It just doesn't seem like there is a way out.  I have set in my mind that if our relationship is not better by the time our daughter graduates from high school (only about 18 months away now), that I feel like it would be best to leave then.  At least we would have some chance of a more normal life alone.  The strangest part about all of this, is he tells me he doesn't think our relationship is that bad.  He tells me I'm the one who thinks it is bad.  That is another frustrating thing about him is that he tends to minimize my feelings, or make me feel like I'm in the wrong for wanting more out of our relationship.  The bottom line is we don't have a relationship, we never really have.  There is no friendship, no time spent time together, no support, no physical relationship.  The emotional, physical and mental aspects of our marriage are all missing.  We live together in the same house.  We are roommates.  But we made a promise before God 18 years ago when we said our vows.  There has been no infidelity in our relationship, which is really the only biblical excuse for leaving the marriage.  But I do believe there has been emotional abandonment, and neglect.  I think there have been abusive behaviors and words (on both sides).  And there is a very obvious contempt and disdain between both of us in almost all of our interactions.  I don't think that is healthy.  I can't fix a marriage alone.  I don't feel like I can leave the marriage, but I don't feel like I can stay.  I don't know what to do.  If you stuck with me to the end of this post, thank you!  This was a hard one to write.  Lots of feelings and emotions to dredge up, stuff that sits with me everyday and probably affects my interactions with my husband everyday, even in subconscious ways.    If anyone has any thoughts/ideas, I would greatly appreciate any advice.  If you are in a similar situation, my heart goes out to you.  I write this blog in hopes that I can just reach at least one person with each post, where my story and words hit home for them.  Because if I can reach at least one person, then all of this writing was well worth it.  
  

Friday, March 22, 2019

Another winter...come and gone!

     Oh my word!  I can not believe my last post was in September.  This was a terrible winter, for many reasons, and I am so glad that it is *hopefully* over, and now bring on spring!  Winter always brings it with some additional problems for my OCD, as I'm sure it does for a lot of yours too.  I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, and just generally feel more down and depressed during the winter months.  This makes it difficult with the OCD, as the depression/OCD cycle is a vicious one.  Also the dreaded cold/flu season makes it very difficult be out in public as I'm very in tune to every cough/sneeze that I hear, and generally try to hunker down at home as much as possible.  This compounds the depression, because I'm not getting out and socializing and having fun, but rather just hibernating in my home and looking at all the same walls every single day.  Sure, I make my grocery store trips, but that is honestly about it.  We had another terrible year for flu season here, and I am so thankful that the levels we are seeing are much lower now, so I have been able to get out more and do things.  And...the weather has turned here!  Most winters here in the Midwest are cold, that is just a given.  But honestly through the entire months of January and February, we had below zero wind chills almost daily, and constant snow/ice on the grounds. It was no fun.  Even my dogs didn't get out much, and they were very keyed up most days and going stir crazy, which just added to the stress.  My fibromyalgia also tends to act up in the winter, with the cold.  This year was no exception, sadly.  I had many flare-ups and just felt flu-like many days.  But....I'm going to put this winter behind me.  It's spring, and time to move forward again in many ways!!
     I was looking through my blog statistics this morning out of curiousity.  I'm getting close to 100,00 views.  That's pretty amazing to think of, considering when I started this blog, I really wasn't sure if I would get any traffic.  It's pretty interesting that blogger breaks down your audience and post views, so I can see what posts are getting the most traffic.  My top 3 posts were regarding laundry routines, "the trail of contamination", and lack of spousal support.  Wow!  This resonates so strongly with me on many levels.  First of all, my laundry routines were some of my darkest days, where my day truly centered around cleaning my clothes and making sure everything was properly rinsed afterward, sometimes taking up to 6-8 hours for a single load of laundry.  I was triple washing many loads.  Multiply this by 10-15 loads of laundry per week, and this was my life for a good year.  I am so glad I was able to get myself out of that.  It was truly miserable, and it honestly shocked me to see how many people viewed this post.  It is heartbreaking to think that so many other people must deal with this same issue.  Maybe not in the exact ways I did, but developing their own routines and trying to feel a bit more comfortable, meanwhile plummeting down into OCD quicksand.  The "trail of contamination" was actually my #1 viewed post.  After all, isn't this the whole crux of OCD.  Developing safe zones, and making sure that the contamination we perceive doesn't spread.  Jumping in with our cleaning/wiping compulsions, to make sure that everything stays safe, clean and comfortable.  It is life-consuming as well.  Although I am much better than I was in the past, I still have my safe zones.  I probably always will.  If I were able to eliminate my safe zones, my OCD would be gone.  Lastly, I want to touch base on my lack of spousal support post.   This one, I also couldn't believe how many views it received.  It truly breaks me heart, that for most people with OCD, they absolutely do not have the support or understanding of their spouse.  Sure, there are exceptions to that.  And I firmly believe that for those that have spousal support, their outcome is likely better.  But what do you do when you don't have spousal support?  I have a huge post planned coming up for that, so stay tuned.  I am all to well familiar with navigating OCD with absolutely no concern from your spouse.  I am living that, and have, every day since I first developed this disorder.  But I want you to know, it can be done. You are stronger than you think you are.  I was able to start overcoming severe depression and almost debilitating OCD, by myself.  Without any guidance from a therapist.  Start reading about OCD, start reading about ERP therapy, get connected with someone else that has OCD (a support group, Facebook group, blog) that can help you and offer you support.  I will be that person for any of you, you can always e-mail me at connectwithmyocdstory@gmail.com.  It is truly my honor and privilege to talk to anyone that is struggling with this disorder.
     Just kind of a wrap-up, since I haven't posted for awhile.  I've got a few posts "in the works" coming up, and will try to be better about posting.  Now that the weather is warming up and hopefully flu season is on it's way out the door soon, I will need to start planning some more exposures and getting myself back out there again.  Hope you're all doing well!  

   

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The social stigma of OCD

   

     Today I want to talk about the social stigma that surrounds mental health issues in general, but for those of you reading and myself....specifically OCD.  We all have struggles in this life that we have to deal with.  That's just the truth.  For some of us, those are physical health issues.  For some, they are mental.  Some are emotional or relational.  Maybe financial.  And most of us deal with several things over the course of our lifetime.  I don't want to say that OCD is one of the worst things in the world to have, because I believe there are so many people out there that experience far worse.  And OCD itself, even, can range in severity from mild to debilitating.  But this is an OCD blog, and so my hope is to help others that are struggling with OCD.  To even just let me know they're not alone (because that is the common comment I get on my blog.  Someone just thanking me for writing, and realizing that they are not alone in their struggle).  The truth is that OCD ranks as one of the top disabilites according to the WHO (World Health Organization).  So it is a big deal.  It is a problem.  And it majorly affects a lot of us that have this.  Everything in our lives.  One of the things I really struggle with in this battle, is the fact that there aren't too many people to talk to that really understand what it's like to have OCD.  Fortunately I met a great friend through this blog and we have message conversations and give each other updates frequently, so that support has been excellent to have.  It's mostly the reason I started this blog back in 2013, because I was at a low point and just needed someone to talk to.  I deeply needed to connect with someone that experienced this too on a daily basis.  I also wanted to document my journey, because sometimes we forget where we've been and how much progress we have made (it is progress to us, even though non OCD suffers could never understand it).  I have a couple of friends currently that are battling cancer and they have Facebook or Caring Bridge pages to update their friends and family on their illness.  I think these pages are great.  People are able to get updates without being nosy and asking the person questions.  The person can divulge as much, or as little, information as they want.  They are able to derive support from people and a sense of community. They have people that care about them, that want to know about their struggle, and are there for them.  They can be open about their health issue--and without judgment from others.  Because they  have a PHYSICAL problem.  But what about MENTAL problems?  Where is the community for those of us with mental health issues?   It's behind the scenes.  Its an internet community that only those of us with these issues belong to.  For OCD, It's googling things that most normal people wouldn't even think about, like 'emotional contamination", "clothing contamination", "showering OCD" and "husband contamination", and hoping that we find something on the internet.  Some magical advice to give us.  Someone that is struggling like we are.  That's why my blog is anonymous.  Because I've admitted it before, and I'll admit it again.  I didn't ask for this disease.  Neither did you.  But I'm embarrassed that I have it.  I don't want people to know about it.  If they knew the things I've done or avoided because of my OCD or how much it has affected everything about me...they would think I was crazy.  There's a deep sense of shame in having this illness.  That is why we suffer alone.  That is why pretty much everybody, including my parents, don't know my diagnosis.  Only my daughter, my husband, a couple of my medical providers, and a couple of friends that I've met here on my blog.  Along with all of you that read my blog.  I know that you all understand, as you experience the same thing likely.  Hopefully many of you have confided with others though and have a sense of support outside the internet.  But many don't.  Can I imagine posting the things I write about on this blog for all of my Facebook friends to see?  NO!!!  Especially when I was in the worst of my symptoms and I was doing the absolute craziest things--such as shutting off the water supply to the toilets before I started my laundry for the day.  I spent almost a year doing this.  Insanity as I look back on it.  Or how about the fact that I would throw clothes away just because they felt contaminated after being out in public?  Just because I was walking around and it was windy and sawdust came my way.  That I threw my ENTIRE outfit in the garbage that day.  That I would throw away food, entire meals sometimes, because something "might" have happened to them when I was cooking (like I saw an ant on my counter and it "might" have gotten in the batter.  That I would throw away dishes that my dog licked when they were on the counter.  That I once took 5 tries to buy a purse because something kept happening to it with the cashier at each store I went to.  That for MONTHS I was unable to shower normally or use my  hands to wash my hair because gasoline dripped on my  hand at the gas station.  That I combed, yes combed, shampoo through my hair  and tried to rinse it away the best I could it because I couldn't shake the feeling that gasoline was trapped in my hands.  And this all led to an accumulation of dried up shampoo and orange residue on my scalp that is horrifying to think back on now.  But really--can you imagine?  Can you imagine a Facebook page called "My journey through OCD" that was made public to all of your friends.  Where you documented your concerns and your exposures.  "Today was a rough day, I went to the mechanic to have my car fixed and spent 2 hours cleaning my car out.  Wiping the seatbelts, the dash and the seats themselves off with soapy water three times.  Yes, it had to be three, because that would make it feel clean".  Or how about "today for the first time in 18 months I double washed a load of clothing instead of triple washing it".  Or "today I ate with my hands for the first time in a year, instead of using a fork to pick up chips or other finger foods".  Or...showing a picture of myself at the worst of my OCD (when my hair was halfway down my back because I didn't want to contaminate myself by sitting in a stylists chair, when I hadn't had it colored for a year because I didn't want chemicals in my hair.  When I hadn't worn makeup for a year for the same reason--didn't want chemicals on my face.  When I look at that picture and cringe because it looks like someone mentally ill.  There is a distinct unwell look to me.  In fact, we moved into our current house shortly before I hit the worst of my OCD.  Most other women on the street forged friendships, and I was too ashamed of myself to even face these other women.  I stayed inside, didn't socially interact and I think they all thought I was extremely rude.  This was all stuff from a few years ago, but all true things and just a few examples of a thousand more that I could give.  You would have to revisit about November 2013-May 2015 to read the worst of my OCD posts.  Thankfully I have come a long way since then.  Fast forward several years now and thankfully none of these things are issues for me.  I look better, I feel better.  I take care of myself and I am happy to get myself ready each day.  In fact I do better when I do.  I put on my makeup, do my hair, use my hairspray and color my hair regularly.  Not in a sort of vain way, but a health way.  As I'm going to try to look my best today and go out in the world and do what I can to fight this OCD another day.    Although I still have my OCD issues that, yes, I am embarrassed about.  I can't ride in my husband's car--too contaminated.  I still separate my clothes into outside and inside clothes (as far as separating what I can wear in my car vs my couch inside).  I won't use restaurant silverware.  I still feel a chronic, mild depression, although it is manageable.  But I still feel like I am missing out on so much in life and still could improve so much.  In fact, that is another post I am working on--coming up with the issues I still have and how to tackle those.  Because I've been thinking down the road, toward things that are going to become more problematic for me, and I want to tackle some more issues before that.  Huge post coming up about that soon!
     But this has been heavy on my mind lately, so I just wanted to let you know that if you're reading this, you are not alone.  Furthermore, those of you that have OCD, you are some of the bravest people I know.  You have no choice but to go out and fight this disorder every day.  Just like I do.  We are good at putting our "normal faces" on while out in public.  Appearing normal to those around us, and pretending like we are normal just like everyone else.  I know I am.  None of my friends would understand what goes on behind my closed doors, or in the deepest recesses of my mind.  But inside we are struggling with something that sometimes we don't even understand.  Why we have this?  Why is it so hard to stop doing what we do?  Why can't we just be NORMAL?   Why do we have to be bogged down with these worries, that most people don't have?  I don't understand why I have OCD (or why you do either) but I do trust God and know there must be a reason or purpose for it.  There has to be.  As the picture states above, God gives his hardest battles to his toughest soldiers.  And OCD is a hard battle.  And we are pretty tough people.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Climbing my "mental" mountain...

     Happy Summer!  This is a big blog post for me, so I apologize up front as there will be lots of details here.  I haven't been posting for awhile, because truthfully nothing "big" with my OCD has happened, in a good or bad sense.  Several months elapse between my blog posts now which is good in some ways, because it means nothing significant has happened that I need to process or work through.  But it is also bad, because it means I haven't been exposing or pushing myself or really doing anything different with my OCD.  I've just been maintaining my current level of OCD, which truthfully isn't too bad these days.  It's manageable.  But last week my family took a summer vacation to the Colorado mountains/Rocky Mountain National Park.  We have not taken a family vacation in 7 years.  If I'm being completely honest (which I always keep it real here), a lot of that has been because of my OCD.  I avoid, avoid, avoid what I am uncomfortable with.  It has been my biggest downfall in battling this disorder.  The last time we vacationed in 2011, it was difficult for me (and that was way before I even entered the worst of my OCD, which spanned 2014-2015).  Going on a vacation during that time period would have been absolutely impossible.  Even leaving my house or going to a family function or an appointment was extremely difficult at that point.  If you'd told me in 2014-2015 that I would be able to vacation again a few years later (albeit having some definite interesting way around things to help with the contamination) I wouldn't have believed you.  But it was possible.  And it did happen.  And it was a HUGE step in the right direction for me.
     When we first broached the subject of taking a vacation earlier this summer, I didn't really expect that it would happen.  I knew I was close to being able to go (as in, maybe next year), but I was scared to push myself that far out of my comfort zone.  But if I've learned anything from dealing with this disorder for 12'ish years, it's this:  You have to expose yourself before you're ready.  You will NEVER be ready to do what makes you uncomfortable.  You will always find a way to talk yourself out of it.  You will always let the anxiety win, unless you purposely face it head-on.  In addition to the contamination OCD, I also deal with a lot of generalized anxiety and so there were some other concerns I had about this trip too.  After wavering back and forth for weeks, where I literally was absolutely not going one second, then talking myself into it the next second---I just finally said "let's do it".  Now if only I could have just gone into this and pretended I didn't have OCD for 5 days....but we all know that's not how it works.  Maybe in a few years I can have a normal vacation and not have to bring my own bedding/towels, and some other things that were necessary for this trip, but alas....I went.  And that is what matters.  And for the most part, I had a great time!
     Because of the contamination issues, I have always had problems with vehicles that aren't my own.  My own personal vehicle I keep clean.  For the most part I don't do anything with it.  But if I have to sit in a public place (like a restaurant, doctor appointment) which doesn't happen super often, it "contaminates" my car seat, and I always wipe off the leather seat afterward with soap/water.  Or more lately I have been using a car seat cover, and then just remove it after the outing so I have a clean seat to sit on moving forward.  We took my husband's car on this trip which is absolutely contaminated to me.  I put a car seat cover down over that.  I wanted to put some type of cover over the seat belt but I refrained from doing that.  We ended up staying in a vacation rental home (townhouse), which ended up working well for the most part.  He actually wanted to do this, as he doesn't like hotels.  It worked great, so I am glad about this.  I was able to have a separate bedroom from him (he is one of my biggest triggers, if you're not familiar with my blog), which allowed me to keep my luggage and all of my things in a separate room.  My daughter and I stayed in the second room.  Because I am fearful of sleeping on a bed/sheets that aren't mine, as soon as we arrived, I stripped the entire bed of its comforter blanket and pillows and the only thing I left on was the top sheet.  I did inspect things briefly (but did not spend a lot of time doing this) for signs of bugs or anything strange, and did not find anything.  I brought a big king sized blanket that covered the entire bed, so I wouldn't have to lay on the top sheet (and it provided a layer of what I felt was clean).  I brought our own pillows and pillow cases and a sheet to cover ourselves with.  So we didn't really touch anything directly on their bed.  I brought our own bath towels, and used those instead of the townhouse provided ones.  The townhouse was actually very clean overall though, and I was thankful for that.  It was fully stocked with a washer/dryer, full kitchen, furniture, and dishes.  For someone without OCD, it would have been great.  But of course I wouldn't be able to use any of those dishes (not knowing how they were cleaned, etc.).  There was a grocery store close by, so I did stock up on bottled water so we would have something to drink.  We ended up not spending a lot of time in the townhouse anyway other than to sleep, shower, and occasionally relax.  We did a lot of activities while there, most of them very dirty.  Yes I contaminated myself beyond belief a few times, to even where I was surprised.  But I so badly wanted to have fun on this trip and I was motivated to just do the activities, have the fun, be in the midst of the filth and not look back.  We went to "Fun City" where they  have mini-golf, Go-Karts, bumper boats, and giant slides among other activities.  I also got on a bungee trampoline and had to wear a harness (worn by multiple other people and visibly dirty).  My daughter got inside of some water balls that were absolutely filthy.  Her socks were stained black on the bottom it was so dirty.  We also did a horseback ride through the mountains one evening, which was actually pretty dirty, if you can imagine.  All of the horses stopping to pee and poop on the trail, some of them a foot in front of you.  There was a TON of dust/dirt flying up in the air as we moved through the trail (even our trail guide commented it was dusty ride) and when I got off the horse the inside of my jeans were visibly caked with dirt).  There was also a lot of bugs flying around us on the ride.  Most of this stuff in and of itself wasn't too bad for me, because I've been working on contaminating myself in public for 3 years now.  The one difference I did find, is that had I done this in my own town at home, it would have caused me problems, feeling like I was contaminating my car after sitting in all these dirty places that so many people sit.  I would have come home and showered right away after being at a place like this for 5 hours, and put on my "indoor clothes" before sitting down on my own couch.  Then those clothes would have been washed separately from everything else, so as not to "contaminate" the rest of my laundry.  But....I found that there are some easier things with your OCD about being away from home.  There is nothing to keep safe anymore.  You are in the contaminated world for several days in a row, so you can't keep your clean/dirty worlds separate.  Or there is, at least, no need to for this time (for the most part).   There is no clean home to go to.  No clean car seat to keep.  No clean vs. contaminated clothes.  On vacation, I was able to contaminate myself, stay contaminated the entire day, come back to the townhouse  and contaminate the furniture, go contaminate his car, etc.  You get the point.  I was able to move freely about, from place to place, without worry of spreading the contamination.   The only thing I did keep safe while there was the bed.  Only when I was in my pajamas for the night, would I sit on the bed.  And no other clothes were worn on the bed.  Why is the bed always have to be the safest of the safe places???
     I was worried about sharing a bathroom with my husband while we were there.  Thankfully it was 2 bathrooms, but only 1 shower.  So for the most part we were able to stay separated, other than sharing the shower.  I was so thankful for that.  And so thankful that we chose the townhouse over the hotel.  I have a feeling I would have had a lot of problems in a hotel.  I didn't really do much other than Lysol off the shower floor and handle right before I showered at night (he showered in the mornings), so this actually worked pretty well.
     As I mentioned before, I have a lot of generalized anxiety in addition to the OCD.  I tend to catastrophize things when I get worried and convince myself that the worst case scenario is going to happen.  Prior to leaving, I had convinced myself of many things:  that we would catch lice or bed bugs from the townhouse, that we would get in a car accident on the interstate (I was googling statistics about the chance of a fatal car accident on an interstate), that we would fall off the edge of a cliff driving through the mountains, that we would pick up a virus/cold from being around so many people at the resort, that I would have an allergic reaction to something I ate there (because I do have a peanut allergy, so understandably that is an actual rational concern especially with breads/bakeries), that we would get sick from eating at an unfamiliar restaurant, that the cable would break on the tram up the mountain and that we would fall to our death 12,000 feet, that we would suffer from altitude sickness (I also googled statistics about heart attacks/elevation), and finally that we would get attacked by an animal while walking the trails at the Rocky Mountain National Park (my fear was a mountain lion).  Not only did I think that one of these might possibly happen, I had scenarios in my head where every single one of these things happened.  Can you imagine the odds of any of these things happening themeselves?  Let alone all of them together on the same trip?  Anxiety is truly horrible.  All you can think about is the dreadful possibility that something bad might happen.  As I prepared for this trip, after committing to going, I started doing some of my old "magical thinking" compulsions.  Such as, I need to do things a certain way so that we don't get in a car accident.  Luckily I've learned when my mind is going in that non-productive direction, so though I started having some trailing thoughts, I knew how to nip that right in the bud.
     I am pleased to say that nothing bad happened on our trip.  We drove up 12,000 feet to the top of a mountain and did not drive off the edge (although it was definitely nerve-wracking at a few points).  As far as I know, we did not contract bed bugs or lice (although trust me, we did some head checks and I left the clothes we wore on the trip outside in a large garbage bag for a few days).  None of us got sick (and there was even a young boy on the shuttle bus at the park 2 rows ahead of us who was coughing and whose mom was feeling his forehead and kept saying "you're so hot/feverish").  We did not have any significant breathing issues or resulting heart issues with the altitude.  We did not get attacked by a mountain lion.  We were not able to ride the tram, due to my peanut allergy. The tram ride warned of heavy peanut dust in the tram cars, so I elected to not ride that.  I'll admit, I was a little relieved to have a legitimate excuse here.  But no tram cars fell out of the sky that day.  We did have a brush with a potential disaster on the way home from our trip.  40 miles from home a semi truck did not see us in their blind spot and started getting over and honestly almost pushed our car into a ditch.  It was horrifying and scary.  I am so thankful to God, he was certainly looking over our family that day.
    I also brought my own silverware on the trip, and kept a plastic Ziploc bag of them in my purse.  I do not use restaurant silverware (and haven't for several years).  Most of the restaurants I ate burgers, pizza or sandwiches so I was able to go wash my hands before eating, just like I would do if I were at home.  But a couple of meals required silverware.  Luckily my husband used the restroom before eating both of these times, so I was able to swap out the silverware without him knowing any different.  It really lined up very well each time.  The other thing that I had not prepared myself for, which I found absolutely disgusting (but surprisingly did pretty well with) was the fact that I had to use outhouses at the national park.  And there were no sinks in these bathrooms.  Just a hand sanitizer dispenser on the wall.  I'll use hand sanitizer in a bind, as it is better than nothing...but in a restroom?  Out house?  No way.  But I had no choice, so I had to do it.  And then of course my phone felt contaminated as I was using it to take pictures, without having had washed my hands.  But...again I dealt with all of this surprisingly very well.  I think it keeps going back to the fact that everything was contaminated at that time, so I knew it was okay to keep things like that, as when we returned from the vacation I would shower, wipe phone down, etc. before entering my clean zones of my house..  s
     So, to recap, I did expose myself in several ways during this trip:  riding in hubby's car, staying in a rental townhouse, sleeping in the townhouse bed (albeit with my own bedding), sharing a shower with my  husband for 4 days,  driving on the Interstate for a long period of time (16 hour round trip)gemstone panning (which included running pans through filthy brown water), riding down giant slides in canvas bags that others used and had their shoes all over, bungee trampoline using harness that others wore, being without shoes on the trampoline, riding in Go-Karts and wearing those seatbelts, riding in Bumper which were wet and dirty looking on the seats, eating at restaurants that I've never been to, riding a horse where there was lots of bugs and dust/dirt flying around everywhere (the insides of my jeans were caked with visible dirt after this), riding in a public shuttle bus, using  outhouses where there was no soap/water, and driving up a huge mountain to 12,000 feet elevation (when I had convinced myself we were going to fall of the edge).  also, we had to board our two dogs for this trip, which invoked anxiety as well.  It scared me being separated from them for that long.  I was worried something would happen to them, and we wouldn't be there.  I was worried something would happen to us (such as an accident), and our dogs would be left without a family.  I was also worried about them having an accident in their kennel from not being let out as frequently as they would be at home, and them coming home with urine on their fur.  My husband gave them baths when they got home, so that took care of that.  Our little pup did come home with a UTI from the kennel, so I'm not sure if that was random or related.  The vet told me that stress can cause UTI's in dogs, and the kennel situation may have stressed her out.  Guilty dog mom, right here.  
     Whew!  That was a lot of stuff packed into 4 days.  There were some other issues too, such as my husbands irritability on the trip that bothered me.  Stuff not even related to the OCD, but that wore me down.  Was the trip difficult?  Certain aspects, but not horribly.  Was it easier than I thought it would be?  Yes, for sure.  Am I glad I went?  Yes.  It allowed me a chance to be normal, or at least semi-normal for a few days which was actually a really good feeling.  Do I think I can do this again next year?  Yes!  I'm hopeful that I can do it with a few less quirks than I did this year.  I'm getting to the point with my OCD, where sometimes I feel this is "as good as it gets" (just like the movie, LOL!)  When I look back on my life 3-4 years ago I was horribly consumed with OCD, and now I can function pretty normal, as long as I have some barriers and can separate things dirty from clean.  I know that is ultimately the crux of this disease and without eliminating that barrier, this disorder will never be gone.  But I am leaps and bounds better than before, and we have to take pride in our success.  Because this disorder is so difficult to live with.  Little things throw us off, that other people don't even think about it.  It is so mentally exhausting how much we overthink things, compared to other people.  So although I did not do any physical climbing of a mountain while on my trip, I certainly climbed one mentally and metaphorically.  And I have to say that getting to the top of that mountain felt pretty good.  If this is as good as my OCD gets, I can be okay with that.  I have a lot of other updates for the summer which I will post about soon too.  Hope you are all having a great summer (can't believe it's almost over), and just know that if I can conquer this with my OCD, I know that you can conquer your mental mountain too, whatever that may be for you.  Even if you feel you are not ready for whatever exposure you need to do, JUST DO IT!!!!!!  Just like Nike says :)   You take a piece of your life back each time you do an exposure and push  yourself.  And you stop missing out on the stuff that you've been missing out on for so long.  If I hadn't pushed myself, it would have been a whole year again before I would have even had the chance to take a vacation.  Don't let OCD take your life from you.  It is a scary ride to get out,  but it is oh so worth it.