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Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Breakthrough Exposure

    This past weekend I attended my 20 year high school reunion.  When the information first started coming out last summer, those initial attempts to start gathering addresses and information on all the classmates, I probably would have laughed out loud in disbelief if someone told me I would actually be able to attend this event.  And through the course of the past year I never really thought about attending, because I figured there was just no way I was going to be able to go.  If I couldn't make it to other social things, why did I think a reunion would be any different?  I was wrong.  All of the stuff that I have been working on these past several months has actually led me up to be able to do this exposure, and I never really planned it that way.  Getting out to some events here and there, being able to rewash "contaminated" clothes and just feeling better altogether, led me to start mentally preparing for this reunion about a month ago, when I decided that yes...I was going to go.
     I believe that part of my mental preparation with this exposure, was knowing that there was no way to protect my clothes during this event.  When I go out socially normally, I am so worried that there might be a chance someone might hug me or touch my clothes with their hands, and I want so badly to "protect" my clothes.  If someone hugged me, then I would have to clean my carseat, wash that laundry separately a couple of times (or even toss out), and so I would avoid the whole ordeal and skip out on social events because it was easier that way.  But it was making me worse in the meantime.  Isolating me too.  Avoidance is one of the worst things you can do to get further drawn into  OCD's web.   I knew that because I graduated in a class of about 275 people, that I was definitely going to be hugged and touched by many people that night, and there wasn't going to be one darn thing I could do about.  So, I went.  I didn't give in, because I knew this could potentially be a wonderful chance at exposure.  And I am SO glad I did.  I truly believe this could be a breakthrough for me
    They had a photo both there, and one of my old friends grabbed me immediately and took me right over.  Of course they have an assortment of things you can "wear", that have been worn by all kinds of other people.  Hats, scarves, eyewear.  Stuff I would never normally wear.  But I figured I was there, and I was going to expose myself, and I was just going to pretend I didn't have OCD for the night, the best that I could.  My friend immediately put on a police helmet and handed me one too, so we could match.  So, I just slipped it right on and tried not to think about it.  As I thought would happen, I hugged multiple people that night.  It was very crowded in the private room, so people were sliding by constantly and I was in very close quarters with everyone.  I was surprised by how little these things bothered me.  By the end of the night I was even touching my own clothes, to adjust my shirt, or fluff up my hair a little bit.  And I don't EVER touch my own clothes normally, especially when I have been touching things out in public--doorknobs, etc.
     As far as how did I wash my clothing when I got home?  A few days later, I washed the outfit I wore in a sanitary washing setting--just one time through--and all the clothes are currently back in my closet ready to be incorporated back into my normal wardrobe.  No need to consider them contaminated anymore.
    All in all, it was really a success.  They  key here is that I need to continue to go out to social events.  I have proven to myself that I can do it.  My hope is that I continue to do it, that all of my outside clothes will eventually be contaminated, and that there will be nothing to protect anymore. I am thinking that the way to keep going about this is to work on contaminating myself in the outside world, and then eventually moving to my own home/safe spaces.
    This event made me realize how truly important it is to be involved socially.  I have not been out with friends in years.  I actually had a lot of fun.  I smiled, I laughed, I had a great time.  I even stayed longer than I anticipated.  And I kind of wished I had bought tickets for the entire reunion (that went on the whole weekend).
     This just goes to show, as the picture above portrays, that you do have to be willing to be uncomfortable to change.  If we stay in our "comfort zone" in OCD, we will never truly get better.  It is when we take those big steps and let ourselves feel the discomfort, that we truly create change...and start getting our lives back.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Health Triangle & Turning the OCD cycle around

     This triangle.  This is important stuff.  Between about November of 2013 and June of 2014, I was at my absolute lowest point with my OCD.  My most severe and debilitating time.  That summer of 2014 was not much better, although there was some improvement.  Starting last fall and especially this past winter and spring, I have really been pushing myself toward better health in ALL of these areas.  All of them are so important, and all of them affect each other. When OCD gets to an extreme level, you are in a mental torture chamber.  Trapped in a prison that you've essentially created for yourself.   I started avoiding everything and everyone.  I lost my social life and in a sense I lost myself.  I wasn't taking care of myself physically and it showed.  I was a mental, emotional and physical wreck.  It is a place that I don't ever want to be again. 
     For awhile, the OCD affected everything.  As far as physical aspects, I let myself go.  I stopped cutting my hair, stopped highlighting my hair, stopped wearing makeup, stopped wearing hairspray--all because somehow I would be contaminated by it or come into contact with chemicals.  I recently looked at a picture of myself just from last winter, and I don't even look like myself.  It is truly a person I don't even recognize.  I wasn't sleeping well at all (and to be totally honest, I'm still not sleeping the greatest).   I was waking up feeling utterly exhausted, like I'd been up for days straight, walking around like a zombie, feeling like I could collapse.  I was having increased headaches, nausea and just a strange assortment of symptoms.  Bad panic attacks, anxiety reactions, and shortness of breath.  Severe teeth clenching (still have that too).  I would be too exhausted to take care of my teeth, sometimes not even brushing them every day.  Not eating properly, not exercising, not getting sunshine or fresh air.  Cooping myself up.  I felt numb, flat and detached.  I was struggling to keep my head above the water.  I felt like someone was holding me down and I was drowning at the time.
    From a social standpoint, I isolated myself completely.  Stopped going to all events.  Made up excuses for every single social family gathering.  I started only working from home (and still do this for the most part).  I was too exhausted.  Every day was a battle to get through.  And then it started all over again the next day. 
    Mentally, my mind was consumed 24/7 with OCD thoughts or compulsions.  Even in my dreams, it seemed I could not escape some of the stuff (and I will still even have OCD related dreams about certain obsessions, usually ones of my husband invading my "safe spaces").  I was not productive, I was more forgetful.  I  got to the point where I was just trying to get through each day.  To survive the OCD each day.
    Emotionally, I was a mess.  The OCD was wreaking havoc on me, but also my marriage and the relationship with my husband was (and still is) extremely wearing on me.   The marriage stress makes me more anxious, which makes the OCD worse, and thus the cycle continues in both directions.  Never-ending.  Sometimes it felt like there was no way out of it.
    Slowly, as I started working on my OCD, I began to see that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.  It is hard to become motivated to work on your OCD though, when you don't feel physically or emotionally feel.  But when you don't work on your OCD, and it consumes you, you dive deeper and deeper into depression and the OCD cycle.  I truly believe one of the biggest reasons why I slid so far down into the depths of OCD was because it became so depressing, that I literally just could not fight it off anymore.  As I started working on all 3 of these aspects of the triangle at the same time, I saw myself improve in all areas.  I felt less depressed, more "alive", and then I became more motivated.  But it has taken a long time to really get to this point, where I truly can see results in my progress.  
     I am making it my mission to improve my health.  My marriage is one of the most frustrating things I deal with.   Probably even moreso now than the OCD, to be completely honest.  I'm able to function much better right now, but I am still very much trapped by the OCD in a lot of ways.  I am able to get out and socialize (although I still engage in certain "decontamination" compulsions when I get home).  They do not affect my life as much as they used to.  BUT....they still do affect me, and ultimately I don't want them to.   I am trying to get more sleep at night.  I am trying to take naps on the weekends if able.  I am trying to eat 3 meals per day, and I actually have gained about 5-10 pounds over the last several months, which is a good thing for me.  I am walking my dog several times/week, and trying to get outside and enjoy the sun as much as I can this summer.  I am trying to push myself to get to family gatherings, and do things I wouldn't ordinarily do.  I am trying to do the opposite of what my OCD tells me, and I've actually been doing fairly well at that part.  I've been back to getting my hair cut now since early this year (and highlighted too), I've been wearing hairspray and putting on eye make up, and am getting myself ready when I go out to run errands or go somewhere.  I look more like myself, and that is a good start.  I feel somewhat better emotionally.  And that is important.  As much anger as I have toward my husband, it is ironically a good motivator for me.  I have made the choice to keep pushing myself harder to get further out of this.  I will NOT go back to the point I was at, at my lowest.  I have seen my lowest OCD point, so I can only get better from this point on.  The choice is to either be sucked in deeper, or suck it up and truck forward in the fight.  Seeing where I've been, and seeing how far I've come is the motivation that I need.  I am very aware of the fact that I can not let myself become depressed again.  I need to continue improving my health physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially.  When I feel better physically, I feel like I can cope with things better emotionally and mentally.  When I can cope better, I can deal with the mental stress of OCD better.  When I'm fighting off the OCD, I feel emotionally better.  They are all interlaced and very important.  So, wherever you are in the fight against this monster, please know that it CAN get better.  And it just have to keep working in the right direction.  So choose something today.  Choose something to get the ball rolling.  Every step you take is so worth it.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Week 1 Progress

     So, I just wanted to update on my progress this past week with my planned exposures (see my last post).  I've done pretty good actually!  I have eaten some new foods--things that I haven't eaten for a long time due to fear of allergic reaction.  I have continued to buy donuts from behind the bakery counter.  One thing that really bothers me about that, is that sometimes they use the bakery tissue to grab the donuts from the case and I worry that their fingers might actually touch the donut.  Other times, they are already wearing a glove when I get there, and they use their gloved hand to directly put the donut in the bag/box.  This bothers me, because I don't know where their gloved hands have been, BUT....I've actually been doing really good with this for weeks now.  I've kept the donuts and ate them, and so far it's been okay.  I have not worked on handwashing this week, as I was supposed to.  Not because I don't think I can do this, it just doesn't come I really need to work on this next week.  I did combine a couple types of clothes in the washer that I normally wouldn't.  I have been flushing our main bathroom toilet during most loads of laundry.
    Also, I had an excellent time this past weekend--My husband was out of town all day Saturday, so my daughter and I did a "fun day".  It was awesome.  We went out mini-golfing, got lunch, took our dog on a couple of walks, ran some errands--got some new books and some clothing at a couple different stores.  I have been buying most of my clothing online anymore, because somehow it feels that people might not try those on so much as they would in a store.  But we did each buy some shirts from a store, and to my surprise I wasn't even as fanatic about the employee handling them as I have been in the past.  I suppose this is because I am getting more used to "contaminating" my clothes and it feels a little more comfortable to have people touch them.  We also went OUT to eat...yes OUT, at a restaurant.  It was so fun!  Yes, I did bring my own silverware, but surprisingly I didn't have any other issues while there.  I did end up washing my car seat (just the part you sit on, not the whole thing) after we ate out, but that was only because I wore shorts to the restaurant, and that was not my intention.  But..I was able to wash those shorts (even though had worn them out publicly) with some other that was good.  I can't tell if the reason I felt so comfortable going out to eat was because I am doing so much better or because my husband wasn't there (which makes me uncomfortable, because I feel like he watches me to do OCD related stuff).
    Some other surprising things I've been able to do recently is visit my newborn nephew.  They were in town at my sister in laws house and although it is somewhat easier for me to sit in other people houses or public chairs now, I still feel like I have to double wash those particular clothes to make them feel clean again.  I wanted to hold the baby, but my OCD did not want me to, because it knew it would raise the discomfort up a notch.  Driving over there, I was pretty sure I was not going to be able to hold the baby.  It just made me think of the birth process, dirty and wet diapers, and spit up.  Those were the thoughts going through my head.  As soon as we got there my brother in law asked if we wanted to hold him.  My husband said "no", but deferred that I would probably want to.  The baby was kind of put in my arms at that point, so I knew there was no turning back.  But in hindsight, I'm glad it happened the way it did.  I held the baby a couple of times for a very long period of time.  Even at one point I felt like he was wet on the back of his clothes, but I'm pretty sure that was just the OCD trying to taunt me.  I did come home and get out of the clothes right away, I washed my arms up to where my T-shirt ended, but then did not shower until that night, (which is my normal time to shower) this is good too.  Progress.
   I also find it is getting easier to wash clothing that I would have deemed "unwearable" in the past.  For instance, 2 examples recently were my nose started bleeding last week and I got blood on my shirt.  Another time I was holding my tablet and it became wet which I thought was strange, it might have just been sweat accumulation, but somehow my OCD managed to make me think it was battery acid from my tablet.  I double washed each set of clothes separately and incorporated them back into my regular wardrobe, but in the past I probably would have pitched them.  I think back when my OCD was it's worst, I simply felt so overwhelmed when something became "contaminated".  The laundry rituals were so time consuming, that it was easier to throw away clothes here or there, rather than spend hours washing them.  Now that my laundry rituals don't take as much time, it doesn't seem as overwhelming to have to wash something separately if needed.  I've still got a ways to go there, but I am getting there!
     I was able to flush our main bathroom toilet during most of loads of laundry, so this process is started too.
   I also went to my 20 high year high school reunion yesterday.  Crazy!  I will have a huge post about this and how things went coming up shortly, but this is incredibly miraculous that I was able to go to this...more to come later!!  It went VERY well though!  I think a lot of the exposures that I have been doing over the past few months have really helped set the stage for when I did something big like this.  It was potentially a breakthrough for me in the clothing contamination area.
   One thing that I really struggled with this past week and just could not resist was washing the couch off each morning.  It is such a pain, and I truly hate doing it.  I know I don't need to be doing it, but for some reason I cave every time.  I would really like to kick this soon and am going to make a stronger effort to reduce that this week.  I really struggle with my safe spaces in general still.
     So, this brings me to exposures for this next week:  The next step in my laundry issues is to start purposely flushing my husband toilet (which sits directly on the other side of the wall of our washer/dyer.  I don't think I can do this completely this week, but logically it is the thing that makes the most sense to do.  If I could do this, it would make it possible for me to do laundry whenever I wanted.  In order for this to happen, I have to feel comfortable if he flushes that particular toilet, or I will never be able to laundry when he is home.  I am going to try to reduce the number of times I am washing the couch off in the morning.  I would like to start reverting back to some non AB soap instead of always using AB soap.  I am also going to keep working on my exposures from last week.
     Just one last random thought to wrap up.  I think the more you prove to yourself that you can fight back against OCD, you truly become more and more motivated to keep moving forward.  When you see yourself really starting to make some life changing progress, it's a really good feeling.  And it gives you the "oomph" that you need to face some of the harder stuff.  More on this later too!


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Where I Am and Where I'm Going...

     Wow, it's been about 1 1/2 months since I posted.  Mostly, I've been trying to enjoy the summer. I've been doing fairly well with my OCD lately, really trying to push myself many time to do the opposite of what my OCD is telling me.  I'm still trucking along with my self guided program.  I thought it would be a good idea to put it all out here and figure out "where I am" with the OCD" and really get a good plan going for moving forward.  I apologize in advance for the length of this post, it's going to be a long one!  From this point on for awhile, my plan is make weekly updates on how I"m doing with my planned exposures, and also use it as a resource to plan the next week's set of exposures.  I really want to knock a lot of this stuff out before the end of the year.  Below are each of my "subcategories" and a little background on where I am CURRENTLY with them.  Also following each category is a list of some small and large exposure ideas...they key being to work on a few things each week, and keep practicing those while I add in newer exposures each week.  Sometimes I will do a bunch of "smaller" stuff, other times I may do a really big exposure.  Keep in mind, as you go through previous posts, that I've been in a lot worse places with most of these things.  Sometimes I have really remember how far I have come--it is definitely motivation to keep going.  Also, the below exposure ideas are just that--"ideas"--it is a brainstorming of some possible things I can do to start really tackling these areas.  I'm sure there are a thousand exposures I could do, and if anyone has any good ideas I would love to hear them!  

Laundry:  I need to learn how to do laundry at any time I want to do it.  I need to be able to know that toilets are flushing and feel comfortable with that, that somehow toilet water isn't contaminating the washer.  I know it sounds incredibly ridiculous.  I need to combine more types of clothes, to make larger loads of clothes so that I'm not washing 1 or 2 things by themselves.  I need to have less detergent in the washer so that the clothes rinse out better and it only takes 1 hour or so per load, as compared to 2 hours due to extra rinse cycles.  I need to lessen the # of cycles to "clean out" the washer after I wash my husbands stuff, which I feel is contaminated.
**Little exposure ideas:  combine sheets with towels, combine my daughter and my "outdoor clothing" (instead of washing separately), work with detergent so I am using less each time, each week take out 1 of the cycles to "clean out" the washer after I wash my husbands stuff (currently I run about 6 empty cycles after I wash his stuff)./
**Big exposure ideas:  Combine whatever needs to be washed into one load, purposely flush toilets while laundry is going (similar to how I worked with things when I stopped turning the toilets off earlier this spring), do laundry while my husband is here.

Clothing Contamination:  It's hard to break this down.  I feel like this obsession spreads to everything.  Because I feel uncomfortable having my clothing contaminated, that is why I avoid things and why I create safe zones.  Why I have laundry rituals too.  This seems to me the absolute biggest OCD issue I have and if I could get rid of this I think it cut out a massive chunk of my OCD.   I'm really at a loss how to describe this category right now.  As I knock out other stuff, some of this stuff will resolve on it's own.  Back to this one later.

My husband:  I need to feel more comfortable just being in close proximity to him.  It would help if he would start cleaning out his room (taking all of his old clothes he doesn't wear and donating them).  Doing something with his bed.  Then if I could get in again and start cleaning his room weekly (vaccuming, doing his laundry, cleaning his bathroom), I think this would help.  Right now I am repulsed by his clothing or even going in his room.  At this point I don't see how our physical relationship will improve unless he is willing to make some changes on his end with his hygiene/room.  Ideally, I would like to get to the point where we can sit on the same couch, hold hands, hug him, kiss him, etc. .  Also, a big key to this category is working on the emotional aspect of our relationship, as a lot of these issues are "emotional contamination".  I feel negative thoughts when I'm around him because I feel unappreciated and unloved, oftentimes.  Somehow I correlate that in my mind with him being dirty and I avoid, avoid, avoid him.
**Little exposure ideas:  handling his clean clothes without wearing gloves, standing in closer proximity to him on purpose, going on more outings with him, having him be in my car more often, touching his hands, touching him.
**Big exposure ideas:  Sitting on his couch, sitting in his truck, handling his dirty clothes without gloves, putting his dirty clothes against mine, hugging him, allowing myself to be intimate with him.

Our dog:  I need to get to the point where I'm not constantly watching out for where she is or what she is doing.  I am always concerned her nose or mouth is going to touch my clothing.  I have a hard time walking her too because I am afraid she will brush up against my clothes.  She tugs on her leash with her mouth and then I'm mindful of making sure her leash does not touch my clothing or skin.
**Little exposures ideas:  Letting her mouth/nose touch my skin 
**Big exposure ideas:  Hugging her completely around her body, putting her rawhide bone on my clothes, letting her lick my skin.

Safe Zones:  I still maintain safe zones in regard to kitchen chair, car seat, couch, bed and "safety rooms".  I don't want anyone using the main bathroom (other than my daughter and I).  I wash the couch off almost every morning (unless my husband is out of town).  I wash the kitchen chairs off before we eat at the table, so often we eat on the couch.  I've been better at not cleaning my car seat as much.  I need to try to let all of my "outside pants" become contaminated so that I don't feel the need to keep the carseat clean.  This would also allow me more freedom to get out and about where I need to sit on public seats.  As I read in a book once, "if everything is contaminated, then nothing is contaminated".  Also I don't want contamination to occur when I can't see what is going on, so I feel tied to the house.  Unable to leave the house if my husband is here.  There is also something even more crazy that I do to protect these areas, but I don't even want to bring it up in this blog.  It's kind of been my safety net for awhile though and it's become a big compulsion.
**Little exposure ideas:  All "outside pants" become contaminated.  All pants can be worn anywhere, so there are no pants left to keep "clean" (unless going to a doctors office waiting room, car mechanic or somewhere I have deemed very contaminated).  Stop washing the couch off in the morning (unless I have a valid reason to do so). 
**Big exposure ideas:  Stop my "even crazier compulsion: eventually, allow people to sit in my safe spots, wear outdoor clothing in my safe spots 

Work:  This is honestly the one main area that I don't have many problems in at all now.  Hooray!!! I have almost completely managed to get rid of these problems.  My productivity is much higher, I'm not charting "the right way" anymore, but just typing out what comes naturally and being done.  I just need to keep sticking with it!!!!

Handwashing:  I need to keep trying to handwash less often, especially at home.  I need to back off the antibacterial soap, and use regular soap instead.  My warts are looking better which is great.  That will help me in eating/showering areas eventually.  I have been using gloves and paper towels more for barriers instead now.  That was supposed to be a temporary measure to use until the warts started going away.  Now that they are almost gone, I need to start working on this again and reducing barrier methods to contamination. 
**Little exposure ideas:  only use antibacterial soap before eating, after having a stool, after coming home from being in public outside, after dealing with my husband, our dog, or raw meat.  The rest of the time I should be trying to use regular soap.  Start finding things that I can allow myself to be contaminated by (tablet, computer, remote) without washing my hands before using the restroom.  Start applying lotion throughout the day (without washing hands before). 
**Big exposure ideas:  Stop using paper towel to open the back door, eventually get to mostly all regular soap, try to touch things purposely (especially clean clothing) without washing hands first

Eating:  I still need to continue to try new drive thrus/restaurants/grocery foods.  I have found that I have limited my diet so much due to fear of being allergic to something, which stems back to when my OCD first started and I thought I had some food allergies.  I find that when I do try something new, I often feel panicky and nervous that I am going to react.  I am scared of anaphylaxis.  I also am just concerned about contamination in general when someone else prepares the food.  I have branched out and tried some different foods and I need to continue to do this.  Need to start introducing more fruits again into my diet and trying new foods at restaurants.  Eventually would like to start eating out together as a family.  Need to eventually try to use silverware at restaurants again and drink from glasses.
**Little exposure ideas:  Keep trying something new every few days . Also need to keep doing mini exposures such as getting donuts behind the counter at the bakery, eating the sandwich even when the employee touched their glove to their hat while making it, etc..  Don't be afraid to try different places.  Go to restaurant and bring own silverware.
**Big exposure ideas:  Eat at a restaurant.  All of us order what we want (even letting my daughter get what she wants to eat, doesn't have to be the same thing I get--for some reason I am concerned with getting different foods, in case one our meals is contamianted with germs).  Use the restaurant silverware.  Use the restaurant glass/straw.

How does this breakdown for me on a daily basis?  What order of obsessions is affecting me from most to least on a daily basis?
Laundry, Safe Zones, My Husband, Our Dog, Clothing Contamination , Handwashing, Eating, Work

How does this breakdown for me in general?  What order of obsessions is affecting me from most to least in general?
It's hard to break this one down.  I think clothing contamination is the biggest problem I have.  I think if my clothes didn't feel contaminated and I could successfully wash them and they would feel clean, then I wouldn't feel uncomfortable around my husband.  I think I could be around him easier.  I think I could be around our dog easier without feeling contaminated.  I think I could do laundry more efficiently and not break my laundry down into levels of contamination...but everything would go in dirty and everything would come out clean.  I think I would not feel the need to create a safe zone.

Where do I go from here:
It makes most sense to really tackle the clothing contamination/husband/laundry for now as the biggest goals.

What I've decided to work on this week: 
Eating:  Keep trying new foods.  Eat a banana (as I'm concerned I will react to those).  Keep getting donuts from behind the counter at the bakery (because I'm worried that they will touch their finger to the donut as they're taking it out).  **Side note--I've done the bakery thing pretty often recently.  Too recently often, and I may be developing a slight addiction to donuts :)
Handwashing:  Use above guidelines for use of AB vs. regular soap.  Put lotion on without washing hands first.  Once I am successful at weaning off AB soap, then the next step is to try using the restroom without washing hands first.
Safe zones:  Do not wash car seat per above guidelines.  All outdoor pants are now considered same level of contamination and can be washed together.  Reduce days that I am washing the couch off.
Laundry:  Start flushing main BR toilet during loads of laundry (yeah--so far I'm being successful at this too), combine something I wouldn't ordinarily combine together.
Clothing Contamination:  Use mindfulness when talking through if something is "contaminated"
My husband:  touch his hands, his clothes or his body directly )
Go out to eat and go to church this weekend

At the time of this post I am actually doing pretty well on the above exposures, as I've been working on writing this post for quite some time.  I plan on updating early next week as to how things are going, and what my next step is.

To those of you that are fighting your own battle with this, keep on trucking forward.  I promise you, every step you take is worth it.  Keep on fighting!!  You can do it!