Thursday, December 9, 2010

A New Chapter

Wow! Seems I've been away from the OCD blogging for quite a while. Honestly, it is a sign that my OCD has not been bothering me. Also, that I've been swept up into a bit of a whirlwind.

First, all my medical results came back fine. I still have not gotten my mammogram, which I am late for. For some reason, I feel I will not get breast cancer. Too common and curable. I go for things like ALS and other rare, less hopeful maladies. In the meantime my 51 year old cousin was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Still, even on 20 mg of SSRI, it isn't penetrating. I do need that mammo, though. I need to take care in a responsible way to prevent obsessions about my health.

The new chapter is about my professional life. Many of you are aware that I am a physician. I worked as a pediatrician for 11 years after residency. All together, the education, training and work, was a 20 year segment of my life. The last few years I was feeling pulled away from medicine and more towards my creative life. A year and half ago I stopped practicing and dedicated myself to my art - intricate stitched beaded jewelry using the tiniest of glass beads. In early November, my seed bead teacher and bead store owner decided to close her store. I made a spur of the moment decision to buy the store and revamp it. That's what I've been working on during my absence. It it has been a busy busy time. More details about how I've been "dealing" with all the changes in my next post.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Medication Update

Thanks for all your support, fellow bloggers. I am still on my lower dose of SSRI, and all is well. I feel I have a slightly thinner skin when it comes to some of my usual triggers like cat food in the sink, raw meat, expired food. But, I've been able to take a deep breath and just "act as if" it is ok -- ignore my brain, and know it is the OCD.

I did see my PCP and she did some lab work. I don't have the results yet. I made a decision not to put any energy on obsessing about them. If a doom and gloom thought comes up, I just let it sit on the sidelines. I don't join in. The good news is that although my GYN isn't scheduling pap smears until April, my PCP will do one, and I got an appointment with her for early next month. So I will have that taken care of. I will also get my mammogram.

Looks like I am working that fine line between taking care of my health needs and obsessing about my health. It feels good to hold myself to the normal standard. Perhaps if I do this I will have less obsessions of the "you have a fatal illness" which is really my better brain saying "get your ass in gear about your health maintenance appointments."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Living In The Gift

Sometimes everything seems hard. I was at an Al Anon meeting today where some people were sharing about feeling awkward, ungrounded and out of sorts. I've learned that in my life of recovery, the hard times are when growth and change have their opportunity. If I allow myself to stay with the discomfort I will learn something. This is true for staying with the pain of not doing a ritual, as well as not masking or numbing out through distraction, food, alcohol, etc. What I've found these past 5 - 8 years in recovery (for alcohol and OCD, respectively) is that I inevitably emerge on the other side of the distress. Something shifts. There is a resettling and then relief and respite. That is the gift. Today I am living in the gift.

Medication Change

Sixteen days ago I decided to try to wean down my citalopram (Celexa). At one time I took as much as 60 mgs, synergized with clomipramine (Anafranil). For about 2 years I've taken 30 mgs, which is a pill and a half. Twice in the past, I had tried to wean down to 20 mgs. But, I would start having powerful and disturbing obsessions. I didn't want to tolerate them, so I went back up to 30 mgs, and they went away. Yesterday, was day #1 of symptom "pop thru". I've been worried about accidentally contaminating my food. I have felt "not clean enough" after washing. Last night I felt bloated and my mind brought me to ovarian cancer, stage IV, of course. I was already planning my goodbyes.

Here's the gift, the fruits of doggedly trudging my cobblestoned paths of recovery. I told myself
1. It is probably your OCD and not cancer. 2. There are many reasons to be bloated, and all are more likely than ovarian cancer. 2. I am late with my gyn annual exam and mammogram, and cholesterol screening. Perhaps it is me telling myself to get on the ball with that and stop procrastinating. 3 - and here's the real change in me, the spiritual recovery - Even if I do have ovarian cancer, i will make the most of it. If this is the place my higher power has put me, then it where the gifts are for me. I will suck the marrow out of whatever life I have been given.

With my head on my pillow and my arms wrapped around my sleeping beloved, I felt at peace, despite my concern. I know I am loved by my partner, my parents, my children, and the Great Spirit. I know that everyday people face, accept, and shine under conditions of great duress. Somehow, somewhere, deep within me is a peaceful core. Last night I tapped into it and drifted off to sleep.

This morning I know in a "non-OCD way" that I need to make those appointments to take care of my health. I know that I probably don't have ovarian cancer. I also know that one day I will face a health crisis, I will face my mortality, and I will pass on, leaving loved ones behind me. It is not something I need to ward off with rituals. It is a reality I can accept and live with.

For someone like me, with a history of years of ferocious hypochondriasis and an intense fear of death, it shocks me that this is my reaction. I think I may make it through this med change.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sometimes It All Just Gets To Me

I had a fabulous weekend. I felt great this morning....and then, over the course of the day I became deflated and demoralized by a situation with my ex husband regarding my children. I feel very helpless about the situation, and fearful for my children's emotional well being. I felt sad and scared. I decided not to stuff those unpleasant feelings, and not to mask them with any addictive behavior. I just let them be, alongside me. I let myself acknowledge how difficult the situation is for me. I felt compassion for myself. I decided not to add to my struggles with unnecessary self-denigration. And, I went about my day and did the best I could.

And then the OCD hit. I just KNOW, it is because of the fear that I am in about my kids and my utter lack of control about their irrational dad. It is almost like a genie that pops the cork out of the bottle and goes a little nuts casting spells on me.

Here's the obsession: I took my daughter to the pet shop and we were holding rabbits. One of them scratched me. Then later, while I was feeding my snake, the prey (a mouse) peed on my hand. Some of the urine got on the scratch. It took just an instance for me to KNOW that I was going to die from some "mouse urine disease". I started to get that swirl of anxiety. The one that lifts me off my feet, unhinges me, and threatens to blow me out the window.

I am sorry if this is gross for some of you. But, hey, think of it as an exposure. In any case, a few years ago I could not even pet a dog or even be in the room with an animal, for fear that I would catch some horrible disease. Now I own 2 snakes, a frog, 2 cats, and have a fish tank. I clean up after all those critters. I deal with rodents to feed the snakes and frog. Clearly, I have come far. I love my animals. Plus they are an ongoing exposure for me. Nonetheless, that OCD gremlin is waiting for me... and is happy to seize upon my insecure moments.

I washed the urine off my hand. I told my partner about it and he gave me reassurance. And then, just like I did earlier in the day, I gave myself a break. I silently acknowledged my tough situation, my OCD, and my belief that I am good enough, just as I am today. I forgave myself for all of it. And then, I went on making dinner and being a mom. Right now I feel a little better. It has been a hard day. Sometimes, it all just gets to me. Thanks for being there, my OCD peeps!

Monday, September 20, 2010

An Anniversary of Sorts

Today is the 13th anniversary of my wedding. I've been divorced for 5 years, or is it 6? Every year on this date, I want to do something special. But what? My ex-husband is the sand in my oyster - A constant irritant that helps me grow into a pearl. So, in a buddhist way - I am grateful for our union. The truth is, our wedding led to the birth of my 2 children. That is something to truly celebrate. And because of them, I do have a sacred bond with my ex.

Truth be told, it was a very destructive marriage that replicated a very destructive dynamic that I grew up with. In this marriage my OCD got very very intense. I had the constant obsession that my husband was going to give me AIDS. Today, I believe this was my OCD letting me know that he was unhealthy for me (see my previous post).

When I was well enough (mentally) to leave the marriage, I became very resentful for the way my ex had treated me and the things that I felt he put me through, both in the marriage and afterwards. When I finally got into recovery in 12 step programs, I heard the expression "If you don't want to be a door mat, get up off the floor!" That was mind blowing. It implied that I had a part in being abused.

Today, in honor of my anniversary, I led an Al Anon meeting. The theme I chose was "If you don't want to be a door mat, get up off the floor."
I am proud to say, that today, despite my ongoing struggles with my ex husband, I've forgiven him for all that I let him do to me. I am still working on forgiving myself. I have forgiven myself for a lot, but not everything. There's always more "work" and more growth. Today, I am a lot better about healthy boundaries. It is scary for me to set them. But I get a lot of good direction and support from AA and Al Anon, and from my sponsor. Today I have choices about who I get close to. I don't have to choose people who trample my boundaries. I don't have to let people abuse me.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Speaking To Myself Through OCD

I have found that sometimes my OCD is actually trying to get my attention. It is an unhealthy response to me ignoring my better self. It is complicated to sort out and I can only do it when my OCD is at a low level. Otherwise there is too much OCD noise and not all of it has meaning behind it. Here are 2 examples.

I adopted a cat that was put out on the street by her owner. It happened gradually. First just feeding her outside, then letting her sleep in the house when it was cold. Eventually I got a litter box. I knew who her owner was, but I had never talked with him. I was afraid to go over to his home and discuss adopting the cat. I guess I felt guilty for how far things had gone, and I was also afraid he'd say no. Then I started to obsess that the cat had rabies. I really thought I had contracted rabies. It was my OCD telling me to "take care of business". Talk to the owner, then take the cat to the vet. As soon as I spoke to the owner, who was happy to see her go to a good home, my obsession went away.

Another example is this nose piercing. I am supposed to use cotton balls to soak it in salt water 10 minutes everyday. That is not happening. I even skipped a few days. Then I developed an obsession that I had a life threatening facial infection. It is NOT infected at all. I committed to myself to do the salt water for a few minutes everyday, no matter what. As soon as I did that, the obsession went away.

It is tricky, because I don't want to give the OCD a foothold by giving credence to the obsessions. But, what I find is that while the obsession itself is irrational, there may be something real fueling it. Sometimes my better brain is trying to get my attention. While I need to extinguish the obsession through ERP, I need to try to understand why it popped up in the first place.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


I am so grateful today. To all of you who commented about my recent struggle about my nose piercing -THANK YOU! Your support helped me tremendously.

As expected, my parents are disgusted by my piercing. But they still love and accept ME. It is like I am an adolescent - learning how to be myself within my family of origin. Finally, after all these years of therapy, recovery, and hard work on understanding myself, I am finding some strength to do this at the core level. It is hard, but it's the best.

My parents went grocery shopping while I was at my therapist. My mom and I cooked all day for our holiday dinner in the evening. My dad picked up my daughter from her school and took her to the aquarium for the afternoon. All of it happened with smiles. Is that not love? My invited guests were 2 single moms with family far away, and their kids. We were 13 in all. We said blessings, ate apples dipped in honey to symbolize a sweet year, and shared good food.

Eight years ago my parents were in my home on the Jewish New Year. I was so ill with OCD that my mother cried while lighting the holiday candles. I was in bed, obsessing and delusional. There was no holiday dinner.

A cure is not important. What we have is the potential to heal. Without the support of other wounded healers, I am not sure I would have the fortitude to stay on the path. My kids took it all for granted - friends, family, a holiday dinner, a smiling mom, love. They don't have a clue about what a miracle last night truly was. But I do. And for both those facts, I am truly grateful.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Nose Piercing and Fear of Being ME

I am in the throes of OCD anxiety. I got my nostril pierced 2 days ago. I've wanted to do this for a while. I went to a very clean, reputable place. I got a tiny silver ball and I really like the way it looks. Now I am worried I have contracted HIV. Last night I started feeling a sore throat coming on. That's all it took.

I don't obsess in this way often anymore. So when I do, there is usually an underlying psychological conflict that is manifesting through my OCD. I know this obsession is related to fears about what others think of me, particularly my mother. My parents are coming to visit tomorrow to celebrate the Jewish New Year with me. They will absolutely HATE the piercing. When I was in high school (30 years ago) I got a few piercings up my ear. My mother hated it. She was always saying "Just don't get your nose pierced."

So perhaps I am a 45 year old woman who moved 2000 miles away, has her own family, her own lifestyle, and is still struggling to individuate from her mother. This has been a BIG issue all my life. I felt unloved and fearful starting at age 4. I was not allowed to express my feelings growing up. I tried very hard to please my mom in order to win her love. I also spent a lot of energy dissociating from my feelings. As an adult, I married a man who was mean to me. I relived the dynamic with him. I finally did leave him. This winter will be 7 years that we are apart - though we are still connected through our children. I am also still trying to individuate from him.

Through my recovery and ongoing therapy I've worked through a lot about my relationship with my mom. We do well together today. My biggest issues have been finding my voice with her, being honest about my feelings, and accepting her limitations. I can never "get" the love that I wanted as a child. But I can enjoy the love that she does have for me as an adult. My ex husband is another matter, but I am making progress there, too.

I do believe my fear about HIV - in my mind, a death sentence brought on by recklessness and self expression - is all about this historical baggage with my mother. I've been through it before in my life when I was going through changes and "breaking away" from her expectations of me.

I must say that sharing this with you compassionate OCD'ers (my peeps!) has helped take away some of the intensity. I still feel the obsession. But I also feel the healing potential from letting it just be OCD and not the truth. I also have compassion for the little girl that I was who struggled so much and who is still here struggling. Perhaps, this is an opportunity for her to grow up and let go a bit.

Happy New Year y'all - Shana Tova V'Mtukah ( A good and sweet year). And thanks for "listening". I really need you.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Overwhelmed By Obsessed

I have very mixed feelings about the TV show "Obsessed" that profiles people dealing with OCD. I tried to watch last night, but ended up crying and turning it off. Once, I was as sick as those extreme cases. The pain of full-time, all consuming OCD is unimaginable. I feel so much compassion for fellow sufferers. It overwhelms me, and angers me, to think of the huge number of people who are homebound or living in terror, shut off from the world. I literally 'cannot watch'.

I wonder what people who've never experienced OCD get from watching the show. Is it a form of voyeurism? Are they thinking how "together" they are by comparison? I am sure there are some people who have OCD and finally see themselves reflected here. Perhaps they will be inspired to get help. Perhaps some viewers are educated by the show and will respond to OCD'ers with more compassion and understanding.

Finally, I wonder, why are these individuals agreeing to go on the show? Is it that they are desperate for help, but can't afford it, otherwise. If that is the case, it's an example of exploitation. I had so much shame about my disease and the thoughts it put in my head. I can't imagine having to reveal myself at my most vulnerable moments in order to satisfy a probing director.

Interestingly, I don't have this reaction to Intervention, even though I am also a recovering alcoholic.

So, my fellow OCD companions - How do you feel about this show?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I'd Rather Have Worms

I am glad to be back in the blogosphere. It has been a busy time here with adjusting to the "back to school" routine. I also had to deal with ex-husband nastiness. It was emotionally consuming.

Shana recently posted about the lengths people will go to survive. It brought me back to my early days of OCD recovery. My daughter just celebrated her eighth birthday. After her birth I was catapulted into an escalation of OCD that reached psychotic proportions. That doesn't generally happen with OCD. Although we may feel crazy, we generally don't completely lose touch with reality. But in the post-partum period, anything is possible.

Losing my facilities was an unimaginable ordeal. One month after the birth, I was ready to end my life in order to relieve the suffering. I didn't want to leave my children, who I knew needed me. So I asked to be brought to a local ER. I was so weak and distressed that I could hardly walk. But I made my way to the window, and told the receptionist that I have post-partum depression and I need help. I am pretty sure I looked awful. I was up-triaged and they took me right in, without making me wait in the busy waiting room.

Asking that woman at the window for help was my first surrender -- an expression of hope. I had no idea what would come next. I spent 7 days as an inpatient on a locked psychiatric ward. I received tremendous compassion. I got my label (You have OCD) and started to learn about my illness. When I was well enough to read, my doctor handed me a Y-BOCS with a list of all the varieties of obsessions. In that moment, my whole life made sense. I had been dealing with OCD for 28 years, thinking it was "just me". This was the start of my healing. In the end, being that ill was a blessing. The extreme disease I experienced motivated me to take my recovery with the utmost seriousness.

Exposure and response prevention is painful and just plain hard. But, for me, it has been the key to my recovery. Sometimes it is hard to know how far to take an exposure. I remember being fearful of eating spaghetti, because I had the notion that the sauce was dangerous. I remember thinking, "I am going to eat this, even it if it kills me." I did, and as usual, nothing happened.

I tackled my handwashing early on. I made the decision that while doctoring I would wash once before and once after each patient. This is the standard. No re-washing, because they still "seemed germy." However, when I was not at work, I decided to stop washing my hands under all circumstances (except when dealing with my children's food and bottles). It may seem a little extreme, but it took the guess work out. I knew that I could "catch something." But, I felt an urgent need to get well and be able to be a good mother. I had been so impaired that I was willing do anything to survive and beat the OCD.

I didn't die. But I did catch pinworms. It took about a month for those critters to take up residence in my lower GI tract. I called my doctor, got a prescription, and got rid of it with a pill. I started washing my hands after using the restroom and before eating. Once. No re-washing. By that time the obsession was extinguished 99%. I could wash normally without worrying. Was it worth it? Definitely! OCD or pinworms. That's easy. I'd rather have worms.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Making Peace With Water Fountains

Does anyone with contamination obsessions use water fountains? Do you let your children? The pediatric infectious disease specialist at the hospital where I trained dropped this seed in the fertile soil of my OCD brain. Ever since she talked about how germy they are, I've avoided them and wanted my children to avoid them also.

As a mom with a lot of OCD recovery, I try hard to make peace with some of my obsessions so that I don't pass on this kind of neurosis to my children. I figure they are already genetically primed, let's not make it more likely. I realized however, that every time my daughter went to drink from a water fountain, I cautioned her against it. She didn't like that, and would sneak away to drink, despite how I felt. I don't want to argue with my kids about things like this.

When we were flying home from our recent trip she snuck off to a water fountain right after I told her not to. I was through. I decided to make peace with my daughter's decision to drink from them. I explained to her that I was going to let her make her own decisions about them. I explained why I don't like them, but that I was backing off. If she wants to drink from them, it is up to her (she is eight years old).

I decided to use my AA training of "not running the show"and take a spiritual approach to "Let Go and Let God". My daughter has her own "Higher Power" and I am not it. These are common 12 Step approaches to accepting things we cannot control. On a cognitive level I realized that as my children get older, I need to relinquish control over their exposure to "risks" in the environment. I'd rather they get some community illnesses than grow up with a neurotic mother.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mayonnaise and Acceptance

I'd rather never eat mayonnaise. When I was young one of my teachers warned the class about picnics, mayonnaise, and food poisoning. My OCD was a special force in my life by then. After that comment I did avoid it completely, and even tried not to think about it. If mayonnaise ended up on my plate, the meal was over, sometimes before the first bite.

I've been able to extinguish a lot of my obsessions through intensive cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) / exposure and response prevention (ERP) and the use of medication. Many previously "charged" foods no longer give me pause. However, some linger. Mayo is one of them. I doubt it will ever be a neutral food for me. I do eat it, but I don't like to, and it is always an effort.

While on this trip to visit my family we stopped to pick up groceries. Cole slaw and potato salad were on the list. Somehow, one bag did not make it from the car into the house. It had to be that one! The cole slaw and potato salad stayed in the hot car for 2 hours before their discovery. As part of my recovery, I try not to throw out food because of a "bad feeling". The containers were sweating condensation, but still felt cool to the touch. I dutifully put them in the refrigerator and went about my business. The next day, my mom put some on her plate, only to find the first forkful disgusting. It had gone bad.

Wow! I got so close to food poisoning. I actually put bad food into the fridge. And yet, even without my vigilance, no one got sick. I do consider it a "near miss" because sometimes bad mayo cannot be detected. I know there is an OCD victory here because none of this made me anxious. However, I am also aware that now I am not going to eat cole slaw or potato salad for a while. So it is a step back. In the grand scheme of life, it isn't such a big deal. But I do need to be careful not to let this grow. My avoidance sometimes spreads out like an expanding stain leaving me less to eat that feels safe.

I think the best way to deal with this is to limit my avoidance to just mayo salads in stores and restaurants. I will also remember that this is my OCD and there is nothing actually wrong with these salads. People are eating them everyday with no ill effects. When I am ready I may expose myself and try it again. But for now, I am just going to accept that this is where I am today.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fear of Flying

I am flying 2000 miles tomorrow with my partner and my children to visit my family for 10 days.
These days every time I fly it is a reminder how far I've come with my disease. I had a horrible fear of flying for many years. I approached each flight as if it were destined to crash. Every landing felt like I had just escaped death. Do all OCD'ers have a fear of flying?

Five months after my breakdown in 2002 I took a trip to Las Vegas to visit my sister. I was on zyprexa and other meds at the time. It was the best I'd ever been. I did have to make a conscious decision to let go of the fear. The old habit was there. The one that said that worrying would keep the plane in flight. It felt risky and dangerous to stop being afraid. Mischievous and reckless to just fly and enjoy it. But, in my commitment to recovery, I surrendered and dared the plane to crash.

I've flown many times since then. Each success feeds the next. I am always a bit nervous. I do tip my hat to God. I acknowledge that I have no business hanging around in the clouds. And then I just do it, come what may. Writing this is making me nervous, as if by typing the words I am tempting fate. Traveling is full of unknowns and lack of control. Sometimes, living is tough, even when it is good.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Raw Physiology

One of the side effects of my OCD coming under control (through meds and ERP) is that my drinking got out of control. It is more complex than that. But, without some of my OCD fears, I was able to take more risks. My OCD thoughts had curbed my drinking. During the hard OCD years I was terrified of putting anything into my body. Even eating was a challenge because I was worried that it was spoiled, or poisoned. I was hypersensitive to any bodily changes or sensations. The warmth of alcohol was more than I could tolerate. For a few years I didn't drink at all.

When I was able to drink, I did so with gusto. After my downward spiral with alcohol was complete, I was ready to quit. Then life got interesting. Without alcohol, I started to discover my 'raw physiology'. It has been a ride.

I drank to quiet myself, to stop a burning flame dancing inside me. It is a flame of energy, creativity, motion, and connection. I am experiencing it now, which is how I even got this blog going. But, there's an uncomfortable side to it, an agitation. It would be nice if it came with a key like a kerosene lantern, so I could turn it down just a tad. I wish I could keep the creativity, the productivity and the confidence, but douse the agitation, distraction, and restlessness. There is no key. It's just me. Me and my raw physiology.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Choosing Anonymity

I blog elsewhere under my name. I write about art, life, and healing. Sometimes I mention my OCD and alcoholism in my blog or when talking with people. Being able to be honest about who I am, and about my life is part of my healing process. Sometimes, it is relevant and I don't want to edit it out, as a shameful secret. It isn't shameful. My recovery from these incurable illnesses is something to share not hide. Gloria Steinem, the feminist, once responded to the comment, "You don't look 50 years old" with "This is what 50 looks like." It was an era when women did not tell their ages. People have wrong ideas about mental illness and addiction. Most of us are out there living successfully in the world - raising children, thriving in the work place, and maintaining loving relationships, despite our challenges. The stigma of these illnesses is a vestige of the shame and ignorance that has surrounded them. Although I don't advertise, when it is the right time to share, I do, because, like Gloria Steinem, I look pretty good. I want people to know that, "This is what OCD and alcoholism look like."

So why the anonymity here? One reason is that in order to stop drinking and heal the wounds that led to my alcoholism, I became a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. The anonymity of AA is based on humility, not shame. I find that when I start making exceptions for myself, such as "that's good for the others, but I don't need anonymity," I am taking a step backward in my recovery.

The other reason for anonymity comes from the wonderful OCD blogging community I've been following. I want to be part of the conversation and share about the nitty gritty of life with OCD. That is not for sissies. I kid, but seriously, it isn't really appropriate for the audiences of my other blogs. Plus I may be looking for a job someday. Some of our OCD thinking is pretty distorted. Not the kind of thing the bosses need to know.