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Friday, October 24, 2014

OCD and "the unknown"

I am about 5 months into my self-guided ERP program.  I can honestly say that I did not expect I would come this far without professional help.  I still have a long ways to go, but I like being able to take this at my own pace.  There is a quote that says you never really know how strong you are, until you have to be.  That definitely applies here.  In order to overcome OCD, you have to be motivated.  It is so scary to think about facing the precise things that you have been trying to avoid for so long.  I have probably had a 25-30% reduction in my symptoms in the last 5 months, and I am happy with that.  It's really odd, because I almost feel like I'm coming out of OCD the opposite way that I came into it.  For instance, if you looked at a time line of all of my symptoms throughout the years, I'm going backwards and taking out the ones that haven't been ingrained for so long.  I'm at a much higher level of functioning than I was last year at this time.  The better you get, the more motivated you become, and you kind of start reversing the cycle.  As opposed to the "I'm so deep into OCD and so depressed, that everyday I keep getting worse" cycle that I was in last year.  I'm really trying not to listen to my OCD all the time, which is definitely a work in progress.  One of my most time consuming problems up to this point has been the manner in which I've handled doing laundry--all kinds of rituals and rules....the highest fear is that somehow the sewage water will get into the washing machine, so I don't flush toilets while the laundry is going, and I turn off the water supply to a couple of them before I do the laundry (because I think there is a venting problem with those 2 toilets and they randomly flush on their own.  Freaks me out).  I KNOW it's irrational, I KNOW it doesn't make sense, but it has greatly affected how I do my laundry.  A couple of days ago, when I was finished with 3 loads of laundry, I went downstairs to turn back on the water supply to the downstairs toilet and found that it was already on.  When I turn the crank, I can hear the water supply return and it didn't that time.  So one of two things happened:  either I forgot entirely to turn it off in the morning, OR I maybe just didn't flush the toilet after turning the supply off (to clear the line).  In either case, it drove me absolutely crazy because I just didn't know which one it was.  If I forgot to turn it off, then all of my laundry could possibly be "contaminated".  If it was that I had turned it off, but forgotten to "clear the line" by flushing, then the first load I did would be contaminated, but none of the rest.  In the past, I would have responded to this by redoing all the laundry again, because I just wouldn't be able to take the "what-if"s, even if that "what-if" was only a .01% chance.  I am proud to say though  that I didn't rewash the laundry.  I just put it away and actually am wearing one of the shirts today, and slept in the sheets.  I can honestly say it is not even bothering me today.  Now, of course I'm not ready to purposely wash my clothes with those toilets not turned off and do my laundry, but I was able to tolerate the uncertainty of it without it causing me really anxiety at all today;.  So that is what I call progress.  And really, that is what OCD is, is unable to tolerate the uncertainty of things.  Constantly obsessing over "did this happen, did that happen?  Well I better do this just in case". And then pretty soon you've got yourself a whole list of rituals and a way of doing things that is not necessary.  And you start avoiding things, and things spiral out of control.  As far as the other 70-75% of my symptoms, I will eventually get to those too.  I am taking things one step at a time, and so far it is working well for me. This laundry is just one example in so many things that I have been working on.  It is solely to give an example of the lengths one with OCD will go to avoid the "what-ifs".  I am starting to feel myself have a little more control over this disorder.  Every exposure I do, and every time I face a fear or face "the unknown", I get one step closer to getting my life back free of OCD.  And that may take awhile, but I am closer than I was before.  Many steps closer to breaking free of this.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Anticipation of the Exposure

Today I contaminated myself.  On purpose.  I have to be honest that touching my clothes without washing my hands is a huge problem for me.  For some reason, I don't want to contaminate myself.  I find myself washing my hands a lot during the day, especially around my dog, when I'm doing laundry, cooking, or cleaning.  If I'm just sitting there on the couch it's easy to avoid (as long as my dog is in the kennel), but if I'm up and about the house doing seems I'm always washing.  A classic case of not wanting to spread the contamination around the house.  I've had a problem that has gotten quite of our hand, evidenced by some nasty looking warts that are appearing on my hands.  It has come to the point where it's critical for me to address my handwashing.  Over the past few months, I have developed many small warts on my hands and fingers.  It disgusts me, it is gross.  I have about 40 small warts now total on both hands and I don't know how to get rid of them.  I was seen at a dermatology office a couple of weeks ago.  Since I'm a pediatric nurse, I blamed my frequent handwashing on my job.  What I didn't tell her is that I work from home and wash my hands 150 times a day due to contamination fears.  She told me that I had to get my "hand eczema" under control and recommended steroid cream on my hands, and lots of moisturizing...then she will treat the warts when that cleared up.  The crazy thing is that my hands actually look better now than they have in years.  My husband noticed that recently too.  They are actually a normal color again, and I don't have any cracking or bleeding.  I have spent the last couple of months really trying to cut back on antibacterial soap. And I have actually done a pretty good job.  So that is why I'm frustrated.  I know I've obviously had this wart virus for awhile, but I'm afraid I waited too long to work on the handwashing.  Now I've damaged my skin, and I feel like this is a catch 22.  The warts aren't going to go away until I get control of the handwashing.  But I can't get control of the handwashing until I get rid of the warts. Because of the warts, I don't eat anything with my hands.  I use silverware for everything, even chips, candy, burgers. Everything.  I dont want to use my hands in the shower to apply body wash, so I squirt it on a kleenex and lather up that way.  My left hand used to be wart free, so I would shampoo with that hand.  But now I've got a few starting on that hand, and I'm not sure what to do if they start spreading there.  I don't want to develop new compulsions to get around more stuff.  If I could get rid of the warts, I think I could start eating and showering normally again.  I get so discouraged because it seems like  almost everyday super tiny ones are popping up and it makes me wonder how many more are really there, that I just can't see?  I have, for a nanosecond, considered stopping all handwashing immediately, other than the "normal times" but I don't think I can do that.  I need a baby step approach, but I don't think that is smart choice right now either.  I think if I didn't wash my hands, then I'd start using paper towels or baggies as a barrier...and I don't want to do that either.  If I honestly think about the times I do wash at home, the place where I really should back off, it's usually centered around not wanting to contaminate my clothes.  I wash before I put laundry in, before I take it out.  As long as I'm not touching my clothes I am okay.  But if I need to change clothes, go to the bathroom, I must have clean hands before I touch my clothes.  This is what I am going to work on this week, because I feel like I have to.   I am terrified that through the use of years of overdoing it with antibacterial soap, I've quite possibly screwed up my immune system to where it is not fighting off this virus.  I know there won't be a quick fix to this problem, but it can't keep getting worse.  I need to tackle this now.  I don't want to contaminate myself, but I fear if I don't address this now, it will keep spiraling more and more out of control.  Sometimes I try to look to others around me, and notice things they are doing....and I think wow!  They can do these things without even thinking twice about them....and they are probably all okay.  For instance I saw a guy filling up at the gas station last week and he was touching the gas pump handle and then he was scratching his stomach and adjusting his clothes.  I saw the kid across the street climb up on their giant trash can.  I see kids on our street literally rolling around in their grass.  I see people throwing away garbage in dumpsters and then rubbing their hands on their faces, probably not even giving it a second thought.  I see my husband picking up my dogs rawhide bone that is all chewed up and nasty, and then he goes right back on his ipad.  When I think back to a time that I didn't have OCD, I was obviously much happier.  When I wasn't consumed by these thoughts, I didn't pay attention to these things either.  But now I am to the point where I feel like EVERYTHING is dirty.  Of course, outside the home is worse than inside.  But today I did contaminate myself.  I touched our remote, my Nook tablet, the microwave, computer keyboard, pen/paper that I was working with, phone, washing machine knobs and a dusty door in our entryway...and I made myself not wash my hands each time.  The items themselves don't concern me, it's just touching my clothes afterward.  But today I just went about my business, and then when I needed to use the restroom I didn't wash before.  (Who the heck washes their hands BEFORE they use the restroom???  Anyone else besides me??!!  :))  I also purposely rubbed my hands over my clothes to really immerse myself in it....that is a technique that Jonathan Grayson refers to, and I don't like it...but I think it does work.  So although this (again) sounds ridiculous, it is a step in the right direction for me.  I need to purposely start contaminating myself with lower anxiety objects.  And as to the title of this post....the anticipation of the exposure is almost ALWAYS worse than the actual exposure itself.  You see, my brain has convinced me that I absolutely must do things a certain way...and I have to just tell my brain that I'm not going to listen anymore to the OCD.  I truly am so sick of this OCD, and I am ready to do whatever I need to do to get out of it  (well, no level 10's yet though!)  I have honestly found that most everytime I do an exposure I always think I can't do it, but then as soon as I do, it wasn't even that bad....I didn't even feel that anxious after I contaminated myself.  So whatever you are facing today and whatever exposure you just think you can't do....let me tell you that YOU CAN DO IT!!!!  You absolutely can!!!!  And you MUST do it, to overcome this disorder!!