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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Emotional Contamination in Marriage: When your spouse is your biggest trigger Part 1

Can a marriage survive where there is a severe case of emotional contamination?  I never really thought too much about emotional contamination before.  I always thought that I had "classic contamination" issues, and I do.  But, I believe that where my husband is concerned, there is the added component of emotional contamination.  Emotional contamination can encompass a lot of things, but I feel that the strong negative feelings I have against my husband make me feel like he is "dirty", even dirtier beyond classic contamination.  I don't like the way he makes me feel.  There are two sides to every story, and keep in mind that this is only one side. This is my story.  But they are my feelings, and I feel they are important for me to explore.  I feel lonely, disconnected, sad, upset, frustrated and angry when I am around him.  Just for some background information, we had a really good dating relationship and talked very openly.  Once we actually got married, the shift got taken off our marriage and put onto other things.  My husband has always been an on-the-go type, although I didn't realize that until after we got married.  We had spent almost every moment with each other during our dating relationship--talking openly about anything and everything hours and hours into the night.  So it seemingly came out of the blue when he started focusing on other things.  He went back to school (which was for the benefit of our family, and I'm not complaining about that), and started prioritizing hanging out with friends, doing odd jobs with his dad around the house, and other things to take up his time.  To be fair, maybe he wasn't intentionally prioritizing these things.  Maybe he didn't realize at the time how little attention our marriage was getting.  But the lack of time affected me deeply.  He went through phases--online poker, drinking, and staying out with friends.  I felt like I lost my husband during this time, and our relationship has never been the same since.  I feel like I have, in a sense, been grieving the loss of our marriage for 12 years.  Even though he is standing in front of me everyday at home.  When our daughter was born, we were struggling furthermore.  I was mostly taking care of her, and he was busy doing other things.  I remember keeping a journal during this time about my feelings and I minced no words in those pages about how badly I wanted out of that relationship.  Divorce.  Hate.  All sorts of nasty things were in that journal.  I got a call one day at work, and it was my husband.  He had found the journal.  I think there are lots of "defining moments" in life and in relationships, that can change the course of things.  I have a future post coming up soon about this too.  Our marriage certainly has had it's share of defining moments, where things would just never be the same again.  It was during this summer of 2005 that I started developing OCD symptoms, although at this time it didn't involve him directly.  It was more classic contamination with germs/illness, some checking behaviors and magical thinking that usually centered around my daughter.  I became desperately afraid of something happening to either my daughter or I, as we were feeling more like our own family of two with my husband gone much of the time.  Through the years, my OCD would change and grow.  I would say I went from mild to moderate OCD in about 2009.  There were some more changes that summer that even further drove my husband and I apart.  My father in law purchased some farmland, and my husband and him spent a lot of time out there.  We were really struggling even more at this time, as we were undergoing fertility problems and trying to conceive a second child at this time.  I think his absence from our family and being out at the farm must have triggered something deep inside of me--something so subconscious that I didn't even realize what was beginning.  I think it goes back to that feeling of being emotionally neglected by him again.  The state of our relationship paired with how my OCD was worsening in regard to him.  Every time he was out at the farm, I thought of him as extremely dirty when he came home.  All I could think about was the fertilizers he had been around, and the chemicals from spraying weeds or crops.  They also started to do some car/tractor restoration around this time.  He was spray painting cars and doing mechanical types of things, including painting vehicle parts.  A lot of this went on in our own garage or backyard.  One afternoon he came inside with green paint covering his hands, and went directly back to the shower, without even washing his hands at the sink.  That is one of my defining OCD moments that I will discuss in the future post I referred to above.  This is probably the biggest act I can trace back to, where he became forever contaminated to me.  All of these "dirty jobs" were causing his clothing to appear filthy with stains, grease, oil, and paint all over them.  Sometimes I wonder if it was the combination of his absence, of his seeming to prioritize these hobbies over our family that triggered something deep in my brain.  That perhaps subconsciously I was developing some type of "protection" against him.  Don't get me wrong--I definitely felt he was contaminated in the classic way.  I started fearing chemicals around this time, and his hands in particular bothered me.  But I believe that I was subconsciously developing a case of emotional contamination involving him too.  Maybe it was a means of self-protection, somehow distancing myself from him.  A lot of times I was angry at him for working with these chemicals, feeling like he was putting my daughter and I at risk.  My husband asked me recently if I ever thought this piece of the puzzle--meaning my feeling like he is contaminated--would ever go away.  I really didn't give him an answer.  In a nutshell though, if I am being honest, I really don't see that part going away.  I don't really foresee a time in the near future where he does not feel contaminated to me.  There is a lot of hurt between us.  There is a lot of unresolved conflict.  There has been a lot of bad words and arguments through the years.  There is the added component of him not trying to understand my OCD, and really having little to no concern about my well-being.  The lack of encouragement that he has been to me.  Not wanting to communicate with me.  His attitude towards my OCD is very overwhelming.  He is my biggest trigger, and that makes me sad.  Most of my "defining OCD" moments that I will post about shortly involve him.  Things I've seen him do that have changed my OCD path for the worse every time (and this next post will help explain a lot of them in further detail).  He does not want to be directly involved in my treatment, but prefers to "mentally bury my OCD" in his words.  Unfortunately I don't see any of this changing any time soon.  It's a bad cycle where we are in.  The disconnect feeds the OCD, and the OCD feeds the disconnect.  Even just being around his personal items in general, sets me off.  Most of his stuff feels dirty to me.  For example, if I see a dirty hat on the counter it will set me off.  If we are getting along better than usual though, it may not bother me as much.  If we are struggling at the time (which is usually the case) then I will find it even more contaminated.  I will be very mindful of the hat and make sure that I am not anywhere near it when walking by it.  Sometimes even retracing my steps in order to convince my brain that I didn't brush up against it.  It seems like I am repulsed by his stuff, even moreso when things are not well between us.  That is why I feel there is emotional contamination involved in this.  This makes things tricky.  Because I feel that the only way for me to get over this type of contamination is to repair our marriage, and I just don't know how that will happen at this time.  It just feels like a trap.  There is so much to write on this subject, that I am going to delve into this over my next several posts.  I think this is very important for me to explore right now.  This is just the beginning, so stay tuned for the next parts.  If you have any experience with emotional contamination in relationships, I would love to hear your story and how you have dealt with it.        

Monday, January 26, 2015

The OCD Bully in my brain/Ramblings of an OCD mind

OCD is truly a bully.  It wants nothing good for us.  It wants nothing more than to destroy us--our lives and our relationships.  I think it is difficult for non OCD sufferers to understand the thought processes that go through our heads.  I've heard this explained so many different ways, but basically everyone has thoughts, even the types of thoughts that OCD sufferers have.  It's just that those of with OCD are unable to move past them.  The chemistry of the brain, the abnormalities in the brain--those things that make up the disorder--they do not allow us to just move past these thoughts.  We place more importance on the thoughts than need be.  We hypermagnify the situation and turn a 1 in a million chance of something happening into a high probability....IF we don't do the ritual.  IF we don't do the compulsion.  Hence, we give into OCD for a moment's worth of peace.  And each time we give in we end up making the OCD worse.  But yet at the same time, we are unable to stop.  It is a vicious and horrible cycle.

My parents came over to my house 2 days ago, the first time they have been here since September.  I really don't like people coming in and entering my "safe zone".  Remember, I have never told my parents I have OCD.  I want to do a little something this different this post.  I want to purposely ramble on.....a chance to show the character of OCD.  How once OCD thoughts get started, it just feelings like rambling and complete chaos.  So many thoughts screaming out, so many things to remember.  It's important to remember that the OCD thoughts are not how we want to feel.  The OCD is a bully, but to find that peace, that comfort....we end up giving into that bully.  Time and time again.

I knew that it was going to be hard to have my parents over.  I avoid having anyone coming over, at all costs.  I knew it would be harder if my husband was here, because then if something became contaminated, I would have to try to fix that while my husband was here, which would really throw me off.  So, I asked them to come when I knew he would be gone.  This was actually our family get together for Christmas, and we exchanged gifts during this time.  I also debated whether or not to have my dog out when they got here, finally deciding it was best to have her out already because then they would be more distracted by the dog and less likely to come hug me.  I wore old clothes for this visit, so that in case they hugged me...nothing was ruined.  But wearing old clothes also means they weren't the cleanest....they were contaminated already from another time, although they had been washed.  This would mean I would have to change clothes, wash the couch and shower regarless.  I put my new laptop away because I didn't want them to ask to see it.  I didn't want anyone contaminating my laptop.  I hid the dogs ball, so no one would be tempted to play ball with her.  One wrong move with the ball and it could end up thrown on the couch or touch me somehow, which would further complicate the problem.  A lot went on before the visit, preparing and trying to minimize any problems.  This depicts how OCD is always thinking ahead.

My parents gifts to my daughter included a sweatshirt.  My mom asked her to try it on to see if it fit. 
OCD thoughts:  No way!  That thing is so dirty.  It has never been washed.  It has probably been tried on by a child.  There are probably chemicals in it from the manufacturing process.  It could have been thrown on the floor in a dressing room.  Multiple people have handled it.  Dirty hands on it.  Dirty.  No way is she trying this on.  Make an excuse up fast!

What I actually say:  No that's okay.  She will try it on later.  She is hot right now, that's why she is in shorts.  She doesn't like to wear stuff that makes her hot right now.

Really?!  Even I realize how totally lame that sounds.  But I will say what I need to, to get out of the situation.  I'm sure my mom thought it odd, but I didn't watch for a reaction.  I just said it matter-of-factly and moved on. 

Its amazing how our brains are always soaking up things, anticipating the next thing to happen.  Hyperawareness of the situation.  My dog was playing rough with my dad and actually scratched his arm real good.  He was bleeding from his arm, and my mind was already reeling with the "what if's" surrounding that.  What if he tries to hug one of us when he leaves?  What if he touches our clothes?  He is going to get blood on us.  Thankfully he did not touch us or hug us.

The OCD mind takes us out of the moment.  It is not enjoyable to have people over, when your mind is constantly wandering and obsessed on these things.  My mom often comments to me that I don't seem the same anymore and it doesn't even seem like I want to be with them.  I get all of this.  I am sorry I seem this way.  The OCD is more than anyone could ever understand. 

At one point my mom came over to the couch we were sitting on, to show us some pictures on her phone.  She knelt down next to us and as she was standing up, she pushed herself off the couch to stand up, and her hand was on the couch.  Then my mind starting going toward how I was going to clean that when they left.  OCD thoughts going off in my head....where did she touch?  What if she touched an area I didn't see?  I have to wash it off three times now, because that is the number it takes to restore it back to cleanliness.

Then when they left I thought everything was going to be okay.  There was going to be no body contact involved during the visit.  I was wrong.  My mom came over and touched my daughter square on the top of the head, to tell her goodbye, kind of ran her hand down here hair.  Then my mom put her hand square on my shoulder.  This was of course after she had played with our dog and touched her slobbery toys.  And been on her phone.  Dirty hands.  Remember to tell my daughter to triple wash her hair in the shower.  Shirt possibly ruined.

After they left, I knew I needed to decontaminate.  Which meant wiping the couch, changing clothes and showering.  I ran an errand first.  I can stay contaminated like that for awhile.  I don't have some sense of urgency to decontaminate quickly....I just need to decontaminate before I enter my safe zone.  So off to run my errand I went.  My daughter stood next to the couch until I got back.  Then I wiped the couch down so it would be "clean" again.  Then we both showered, put clean clothes, and resumed our spot on the clean couch again.  Thankfully, my husband did not come home during any of this.  He has no idea how bad this can be.  And it sucks the life out of me.  This is how a 35 minute visit from someone can cause OCD distress.  Why I, like so many others with OCD, avoid.  For a moments worth of peace.

The OCD mind will just not quit.  Once I'm decontaminated, everything seems okay.  For a positive end to this note, I did not throw away the clothing.  I do intend to wash it and wear it again as an exposure.  Because clothing contamination and safety zones....again are my two biggest problems right now.  This post shows exactly why I need to work on these things to the best of my ability this year.  I need and want this bully out of my life.     

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

When you start designing your life around OCD

Real short post and topic today.  This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately.  Many of you who read the title of this post will get this right away....."Designing your life around OCD".  Basically we are enabling ourselves to continue to live this way.  It's finding little detours around the OCD, rather than facing the fears head on.  I am very guilty of this.  Although I've made a lot of progress with many of my OCD issues, I have really started designing my life around OCD.  What does this mean, you ask?  I will give one good example.  I have the ability to work from home, so I do.  I don't think my job necessarily wants me to work from home, but I am allowed to because they are typically short staffed and my work status is "casual"--meaning less than part-time.  If they don't schedule me, then they don't have enough staff for the day, so they allow me to do my work from home.  I decided to do this last summer, with the intention of it only being for a few months...until my OCD got better in control.  But here we are in January, and I don't have any plan to stop this anytime soon.  The work place is a horrible contamination trigger for me.  Working in a pediatric office...sitting on office chairs, walking through hallways where people are coughing, wearing headset phones that other people wear, just being around a lot of people everyday.  So many things, that I find it easier to avoid.  I had to work in the office this weekend (because then they require me too) and I felt so dirty when I left each day.  Just wanted to get home, hop in the shower and relax.  I don't want to start feeling like that everyday again, going in to work.  It's easier to work from home, and I'm able to do I do.  But then I am enabling myself, to allow myself to feel more comfortable.  And that is not really helping me in the whole scheme of things, to get rid of this OCD.  I also design my work schedule, the hours that I work, around my OCD.  A little later start time, so that I have time to stop at the grocery store during non-peak time, after I drop my daughter off at school.  Lots of examples that I could give.  I suppose a good word for all this is still of the biggest OCD compulsions.  What do you all think?  Do you have any ways that you feel you design your life/routines around OCD? 

Friday, January 16, 2015

OCD and Winter

Somehow OCD seems more difficult in the winter.  I think it must be a combination of things, at least for me.  It's the cold weather, the cold/flu season, the sometimes lack of sunshine, and feeling more "holed up" among other things.  I sat down this morning and did an inventory of my OCD symptoms.  If I look at my rock bottom OCD, where I was last year at this time, I have had a reduction of symptoms by about 35% from then, is my best guess.  It honestly feels like the clothing contamination is my #1 issue right now.  I have managed to completely rid myself of many OCD things, but for some reason this one is difficult....and it never used to be a problem, until just over a year ago.  I consider myself severe OCD still. But it is leaps and bounds better than extreme,  debilitating OCD...which is where I was for about 9 months.  I feel like if I could get a grip on this clothing contamination and "safe zone" maintenance, that I would honestly probably be considered mild on the spectrum.  It is what I am working toward in 2015.  I had a great day yesterday, which is really something incredible when you have severe OCD.  I felt motivated, I felt more at peace with things.  The sun was shining outside and it was beautiful....which really helped!  I got 4 loads of laundry done, got to the grocery store, made dinner, and picked up most of the top story of my house.  My daughter has been sick the last few days with either cold or a respiratory flu bug.  She has missed 4 days of school this week.  Weirdly enough, my contamination is not horribly triggered when around her when she is sick.  She has good cough hygiene and I really have no problem being around her.  In fact she is home from school today still and sitting inches away from me on the couch when I type this--coughing and I don't really flinch.  I have a lot of issues around others when they are sick though...maybe it's somehow not knowing what they could have and imaging all sorts of possibilities, catastoprizing the worst case scenario.  The winter time is difficult for the whole flu season.  Influenza is something that really sets me off.  Being about in the winter when more people are out and about sick really triggers me.  I find myself more hyperaware of others around me.  I find myself not wanting to go out to the store (unless its non-peak times of the day).  I have to work this weekend in my pediatric office, which will be like entering a germ zone.  Thankfully I have no patient contact, but I will still feel disgusting when I leave work.  My hands seem more dry in the winter too.  The lack of sunshine does something to me....maybe I have Seasonal Affective Disorder?  I feel so much better when the sun is shining.  We have had a lot of influenza and whooping cough in my city right now.  Being a phone triage nurse, I hear all kinds of stories from parents every day.  Many of their kids are at school sick, and the parents will admit it!  This further declines my trust in the common sense of people.  Working as a pediatric nurse definitely does not help the OCD thoughts.  My husband and I have been having more difficult times too lately.  I plan on writing him a letter in a future post, even though I'll probably never give it to him.  Lots of thoughts going through my head on that right now.  His job situation is kind of up in the air at this point and he is feeling a lot of stress surrounding that.  I feel like he is taking a lot of this out on me, and its not really helping with the OCD either.  I am hoping for the good OCD days to outweight the bad OCD days this year, and I hope that for all of you too.  I have a lot of ideas swarming around in my head for future posts.  If anyone reading this has any ideas, bring 'em on!!!  I also look forward to connecting with more of you this year.  The Internet community is really a fantastic thing, and I am so thankful for it.  I have met some really incredible people through this blog, and I am thankful for each and every one of you!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Family Gathering, Round 2

So, I did it.  I was able to go to my in-laws house last night for  my husband's family Christmas celebration.  I knew that this was going to be much more difficult than last week, when my family got together.  All of the same reasons, plus the feeling that his family is more "contaminated" to me, specifically his dad.  This was pretty up there on my hierarchy.  As I mentioned in my last post, it's not "feeling contaminated", that is a problem to me's just finding a way to decontaminate myself and get back in my "clean safe zone" without spreading contamination.  That, and finding a way to deal with the clothes that I now feel are ruined.  It didn't go too bad last night, if I am being honest.  My daughter and I went separately, because I knew my husband would want to stay over there longer, and he did--to watch football.  I think my contaminated shoes and double socks are going to work well for me for awhile.  I know its a compulsion, but least it helps get me to gatherings and get me back socializing with at this point, I think it works.  I had a feeling that my clothes would be "ruined" after this gathering, and unfortunately I think some items are.  This is just way, way up on my hierarchy.  I haven't actually discarded anything yet, but my thoughts are heading that way.  I don't really have any plans of keeping them at this point.  I knew I would have an issue sitting on their furniture too, because my father-in-law does farming and painting.  All of his clothes can get ruined and filthy, as do my husbands for the same reason (which is why I only sit on one couch at our own house).  Of course I have no idea if his dad wears these dirty clothes on their furniture, but my mind ventures there.  Where else can it go with severe contamination concerns?  So all of their furniture seems dirty to me.  They have a small, almost decorative, sitting bench in their family room, and I would imagine that is the least used of all the furniture (especially not for adult male), but they do use it when company comes I quickly took the bench and pulled my daughter over there.  At least I would feel that our jeans might be salvageable.  If either of my in-laws hugged me though, that would be the end for our shirts.  Which did happen right before left--my mother-in-law gave a hug, and then I immediately felt I could never get my shirt clean enough again.  The washer would never be able to remove the dirty feeling I had associated with it.  I feel awful saying that, really I do.  But that is how OCD is. 

I was surprised that after our family gathering last week and after the hugs, I was able to wash the clothes and not really feel like they were dirty.  Again, this is higher up for me though with his parents.  I feel like I took a step forward going to the gathering, but a step backward with the clothing contamination.  But when I assess the situation better, I know I didn't really take a step back with the clothing contamination.  It's just too high up on my list right now.

Going to the gathering wasn't horrible.  It was really just the feeling of grossness that I had when I left, and figuring out how to deal with that when I got home.  Cleaning the carseat off with soap and water.  Not wearing my seatbelt home (so I didn't contaminate it).  Washing off in the shower and the addition of antibacterial soap on my body (which normally I don't ever use on my body anymore, except after I am feeling heavily contaminated).  Once I scrubbed the contamination and knew it hadn't "spread" anywhere, then I could put on clean house clothes and relax on the couch. 

I'm glad that is over though.  One of the things that honestly bothers me the most is that my husband showed no appreciation for me pushing myself to do this.  You'd have thought it was just normal run-of-the-mill family gathering.  Maybe I expect too much?  As long as I have avoided his family gatherings, I would think that on same level he would appreciate me pushing myself and going.  And staying there for almost 5 hours.  I don't think he understands how hard that was for me.  All of the decontamination stuff I have to do afterward is wearing too, and of course he didn't see any of that thankfully since he stayed there longer.  It would just be nice to have him say thank you.  Thanks for doing that.  I know it was hard for you, and I appreciate you doing that.  It helps move us forward to functioning better as a family.

I'm not sure I'll ever hear that from him though, and that makes me sad.  It doesn't motivate me much to want to keep pushing myself in certain areas. 

I was able to make quite a bit of good progress with my OCD in 2014 though.  I want to keep pushing forward in 2015 and am in the process of coming up with a plan to help improve my health in many areas this year.  I will probably share that soon.  This will involve physical, mental, emotional and spiritual improvement.  I want to feel better and not just "get through each day with OCD", but really live a full life.  One that is not riddled with anxiety and fear all the time. 

I hope that those of you with OCD were able to have enjoyable holidays.  Because I know how hard it is.  And to those with family members with OCD, remember that holidays can be extra tough on those with mental illnesses.

I hope that this year will find you on your way to improvement with OCD.  No matter how bad it is right now, there is hope that you can get better.  I was able to put some severe compulsions to rest in 2014, and have every intention of continuing to put more to rest this year.