Monday, November 30, 2009

Blue Buttons

It's been a few days since I've written. It seems like a month's worth of thoughts have run through my head. I'm quickly learning that weekends are very difficult for me here. All the therapists are gone and much less programming, so it is easy to become quickly overwhelmed by obsessions and emotions. I can't tell you how happy I was to see all the therapist walk through the door this morning. I feel like "it's on" again.....the strength and courage to fight.

There is a lot I want to write, but I just have a few minutes before lunch, so I will quickly write about my happy moment of the day so far...

We have "experiential therapy" a couple times a week, one of which was this morning from 10:45 to noon. I will explain experiential therapy in more detail later, but for the sake of time, this morning was "open art." Crafts have always been one of my favorite things to do, because it's a way for me to express my creativity and honestly, it's always been quite relaxing and therapeutic. My creativity is also one of the major things that I feel like my OCD has taken away from me. It's a sad loss. Doing things to express my creativity brings me a tremendous sense of value, and I feel free. My free spirit soars and my heart feels happy. As much as I love crafts and creative projects, over the years I've stopped doing them more and more because of the stressful, negative rabbit-trail of thoughts and compulsive behavior that started to become associated with something I once loved.

This morning I felt something different. The hour and 15 minutes seemed like seconds. I haven't felt so relaxed, so calm, so content in what seems like forever. The triggers didn't seem to exist. I escaped to a place I a feeling I love, instead of a place that temporarily soothes and ultimately hurts. I was making a card with blue buttons. It felt like I was escaping from what has been my reality, but in reality it was my free spirit stirring within me. It was a happy moment.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Simple Love - My responses to letters from friends who have encouraged me with their words, inspired me by sharing their journey, and loved me simply.

(I will occasionally post portions of my responses but will try my best not to disclose any identifying information about the recipient.)

Dear Friend,

Soo good to hear from you!! Your email brought tears. The "drugs" are different, but the effects are similar. It's been incredibly shameful to finally come out and be honest about my struggle. But I would have....could have....never guessed the liberation I'd feel because of it either! I've tried with all my might to make my life appear "put together" for the the world, but it has slowly corroded my spirit. I got to a point where my OCD was dibilitating for me. There was very little I could do, very few places I could go, where I wasn't struggling tremendously with ritualistic behavior. But even though I felt dibilitated and like a shell of a person, I was a master at hiding it. The ONLY reason I decided to make my journey of healing public was for the very reason of inspiring other people to not feel ashamed of their own struggles. I mean, lets be honest.....everyone is jacked. It's just that pride and shame get the better of us, and so we complicate our struggle by keeping it a secret.

I commend you in HUGE ways for taking the step to move away from your current environment. I assure won't be easy. In fact, it will probably be some of THE worst days, months, of your entire life. BUT....keep the bigger picture in mind. I'm going through it every day. Sometimes I have to literally write out on paper what the "bigger picture" is....sometimes I express what my "bigger picture" looks like through crafts.....but what has helped me keep fighting for my free spirit is the accountability and freedom I am experiencing from being open about my disorder.....and now my fight.

Please write me anytime you feel like it. I won't sugar-coat anything for you, but I will encourage you the best I know how to keep fighting for your life and for your future. I will be your biggest cheer-leader because I'll be going through it with you. I relapse every single day. I quit treatment in LA on my seventh day, but my family would not come pick me up, so I had to stay. You are going to need a support system to make it, so I'd encourage you to build that up as soon as possible....whatever that looks like for you.

I'm proud of you. You're not alone. You're gonna win.

Write me anytime. Thanks for your encouragement and means the world to me!!!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Who would've thought a door handle could induce a celebration?

Yesterday and today were somewhat discouraging for me. I've had a really hard time falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night, so I'm sure my lack of a good night's rest is not helping me throughout the day. I've also had an unusual amount of disturbing dreams...all of which have somehow been related to my OCD....dreaming about compulsions, fears, failing treatment, etc... I'm not opposed to medication, but my goal is to try to beat this without prescriptions. However, I did start taking a low dose of PM over the counter medication last night to see if that would help me sleep....and unfortunately I didn't notice a difference. Please pray that I begin sleeping better and for longer periods of time.

Sleep is the only time I experience true relief from my OCD (besides these last few nights when I've been dreaming about it), so waking up has become more and more difficult as my OCD became worse. Don't misunderstand, I've never been a "Peppy Patty" in the mornings, but the moment I'm welcomed back into reality by my alarm clock, I dread the battle that begins raging in my head. Yesterday morning, that dread just about got the best of me. I finally got out of bed in time to attend group at 9am in my pajamas, but shortly after began panicking and had a meltdown. My behavioral therapist (BT) spent a good portion of the rest of the day helping me learn and use healthy calming techniques, and then encouraging me through several exposures.

I wake up each morning determined to fight my OCD rather than surrender to it. My OCD is not dying easily and is, in fact, stirring up a lot of emotions to try to derail my efforts and discourage my spirit. It may seem weird that I refer to my OCD as its own entity, but this disorder does not define me, change my character, or restrict my being. As I learn to believe that myself, I hope that I will be able to communicate in a way to bring compassionate understanding to people who have the desire to learn. That being said, among the raging war of emotions, yesterday and today were filled with a new wave of embarrassment and shame. I wanted to make everything private again. I hated how "simple" my exposures must seem. I hate the knots in my back, my racing heart beat that jumps in my throat, the heat that runs through my body when I do something that seems ordinary to the general public. The doubts, the indignity, the humiliation began to speak loudly. It's been two very hard, very stress-filled days for me, but I am finally screaming louder again.

The victory I am most proud of today is: I made full hand contact with both sides of my bedroom door handle with no barrier, no washing, and no tears.....and very little anxiety. It was a very, very weird sensation. I did touch multiple door handles as exposures during my treatment in LA, but it was different today, very different. Treatment in LA was good, but was structured at an incredibly faster pace than how treatment is structured here. Because of the fast pace, I never really felt as though I was doing the same exposures enough times to really conquer my fear. Whereas here, take my bedroom door handle exposure for example, I have been working on that one, specific door handle for three days, and finally I feel as though I can make full hand contact with the door handle with significantly low anxiety and with confidence that I can fight off my urges to do any compulsions during or afterwards. I choose to celebrate that.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Simple Love - My responses to letters from friends who have encouraged me with their words, inspired me by sharing their journey, and loved me simply.

(I will occasionally post portions of my responses but will try my best not to disclose any identifying information about the recipient.)

Dear Friend,
Thank you so much for your encouraging email!'s been a whirlwind!! My treatment in LA was definitely one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I didn't realize how much my compulsions had become my drug until I wasn't allowed to do them anymore! The "withdrawals" were literally....and still are....physically painful. It's a crazy, crazy disorder....literally! :) It was such a shock to my system to go from trying with all my power to hide my compulsions everyday, to having all 500 or so of them noticed and analyzed for a month straight. The first two weeks I struggled through some of the most intense shame and embarrassment I've ever experienced! And there was no place I could really go to do my compulsions privately. It was definitely intense. The only way I really got through it was realizing that I can turn this into something positive by helping to bring awareness and understanding to a disorder that is so misunderstood and misjudged.

Thank you so much for praying for me. It's pretty amazing....I am experiencing first hand, and am very aware, that God truly doesn't allow us to go through anything He doesn't believe we can handle. I've struggled with depression nearly my entire life, and I have not struggled with depression hardly at all through this whole process. My second day in treatment in LA I felt pretty depressed, and that's about it. I feel discouraged sometimes, but I wouldn't say I feel depressed at all. I truly believe it's because people are praying for me, so thank you very much!

Thanks for your prayers and sweet words of encouragement! It really means so much!!

Love always,

Laughing at myself

Today was filled with highs and lows and even a moment of silly laughter. I started to smirk with embarrassment as I described to my behavioral specialist the physical sensation of “creepy crawlers” on my body when I come into contact with something that I perceive to be contaminated. When I smirked, he smirked and said, “It’s ok to laugh at yourself, you know.” So I did. We talked about the many silly beliefs that drive my compulsive behavior….and believe me I’ve had no shortage of humorous conversations trying to explain to people my obsessions and compulsions. People are intrigued, somewhat bewildered. People laugh, I laugh. I get it. Until now, I have only ever mentioned the funny side of my disorder because it was too risky to share my distress. I had a job to keep, an image to maintain, a family reputation to protect, friends I didn’t want to lose. The stakes were too high to admit that I needed help to battle a mental disorder that many, many people would probably discredit, and flippantly dismiss as made up or having “gone crazy.” Maybe I have gone crazy…crazy enough to realize that I didn’t like living that way anymore.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Anybody have an ancient phone?

If anybody has an old AT&T compatible cell phone with NO CAMERA that they wouldn't mind lending to me, I would GREATLY appreciate it! It would save me quite a bit of money if I could borrow someone's old phone rather than buy a new one just to use for a short time. If you do have one laying around somewhere and wouldn't mind sending it to me for a couple months, please email me at so I can send you my snail mail address.

Also, if anyone has left a comment on my blog or facebook and would like me to respond via email, please shoot me a quick email so I have your address to respond to.

That's it for tonight.....

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Learning to live without my drug

I woke up invigorated to begin tackling my assigned exposures this morning. I didn’t get started with them as soon as I would have liked, because I had to work through some unplanned, unexpected exposures first. Unexpected “exposures” are definitely more intense and require a ton of energy; however, life is unpredictable, so part of my fight is learning appropriate and healthy ways to deal with the unexpected.

As I walked through the living room this morning, I noticed another resident in the sun room taking a nap on the couch with his shoes on! Immediately my heart began to race, I was short of breath, my thoughts were unbridled. My chest tightened, my shoulders tensed and my stomach restricted. A sensation of heat ran from my neck down to my upper back. I felt panicky. I wanted to do something, anything, to make my anxiety go away. I felt awful. I was in physical pain. I wanted it all to go away. I had tremendous urges to give in to some sort of ritualized behavior. I wanted my drug. All of my energy was going into fighting off compulsions. Emotionally, I couldn’t hold up, and I began to cry. I went to my room, sat on my bed and cried until my head hurt. I wanted to be in my room because I felt embarrassed…ashamed that I was crying and angry about someone who unknowingly triggered me to such a state of mental chaos. I knew that isolating myself in my room helped me not feel so embarrassed but would not help the greater cause of reviving my free spirit. I grabbed a couple tissues and headed to the living room. I was still extremely stressed and upset, but I was going to fight this out. I continued to cry as I sat in the living room. I went on a walk outside and cried as I breathed in the crisp fall air. I began to calm down, and once inside again I felt exhausted from the last 75 minutes of emotional, mental, and physical pain I had experienced as I confronted one of my fears.

As I walked past the sun room again, the same resident was still relaxing with his shoes on the couch. My anxiety peaked again, but amazingly, at a slightly lower level. I knew I didn’t have the emotional strength to fight it out again, so I avoided the situation by leaving the room completely and calling my family. Avoidance can be just as destructive as compulsions as it can lead to isolation. I’m working on it…. One major knock-down, drag-out fight a day is all I can handle. The rest of my day I continued to face my fears, one “small” battle at a time.

The 5 “small” battles, or exposures, I am focusing on until I do them with such ease and calmness that they seem ridiculous to me are:
1.) Borrowing a pen from staff. No washing, rubbing, or cleaning afterwards.
2.) Touching the sink handles with two fingers, rather than using a barrier such as a paper towel or avoiding the touching by using my fingernails.
3.) Touching my makeup containers without sanitizing them first or washing my hands afterwards. (In my mind, my makeup got contaminated at my last treatment center when I was only allowed to use water for 5 minutes every 3 days.)
4.) Move one item out of place in my closet.
5.) Watch staff touch a door handle and then touch their own face. (I generally don’t feel triggered when I see people touch handles, but if someone touches a handle then touches their face or hair, I have tremendous anxiety, feeling as though they are “spreading germs” or “cross-contaminating.”

I fought hard today.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Rational people with irrational fears

One of the most difficult parts of getting help for my OCD is actually talking about it. The resounding response when I began telling people that I had OCD and that it was taking over my life was an emphatic, “Huh? Really? I would’ve never guessed!” The most amazing part of treatment has been the camaraderie….feeling validated for the first time in my life that I’m not alone with my daily struggle….that I’m not crazy. It’s embarrassing to talk about my obsessions because I realize they are irrational. Irrational is probably the most appropriate word for this entire disorder. It’s rational people trying to make sense of their irrational fears.

Here is a glimpse into my world…. There’s a tremendous amount of shame and guilt that floods my entire being when I’m supposed to be enjoying the company of a friend and instead I’m irately angry that their shoe is “too close” to my leg and therefore my jeans are getting contaminated. Because my jeans are now “dirty” I’m going to have to wash them, but then when I wash them, I can’t just use one cup of soap, I have to use at least one and a half, just to be safe. And after they are done drying, I have to carefully make sure they go into the “clean” laundry basket and make sure they don’t touch the floor because then I’ll have to wash them again if they do. Even though they have just been washed, I have to fold them “dirty side in” to ensure that they don’t get anything else dirty in my closet. They have to be hung on the hanger and ordered in a way that feels "just right." It started with two friends going to coffee, it ended with me going home exhausted from the rabbit-trail my thoughts went down, frustrated that I wasn’t engaged in the conversation, embarrassed and ashamed that I didn’t know how to explain my anxiety and wondering if I did a good enough job of covering it up, angry at the amount of work that awaits me at home in order to get to a place where I feel clean again, and conceding to the fact that going out just isn’t worth it anymore. It started with two friends going to coffee.

Gratitude and General Information

I just logged on to my email and my blog and was overwhelmed with the amount of encouragement that I received in such a short amount of time. It seems that my tears flow easily these days, and right now is no exception. Thank you so much for the emails, the comments, the words of encouragement….but especially, thank you for praying for me.

Today was another long, hard day. I had a lot of necessary, routine appointments being a new “fighter” in this place. I also met for several hours with a therapist, and together we began putting together my treatment plan, which essentially involves tracking my compulsions….how many times I submit or resist, and identifying exposures to start working on. An exposure is a situation in which I will “face my fear” until my anxiety reduces to at least half of my peak anxiety.

My main obsessions and compulsions revolve around contamination; however, I battle with compulsions in the following areas as well: repeating things until they feel “just right” and ordering and arranging. The task of tracking my obsessions and how many times I give in to them is exhausting in and of itself. Just about a month ago, a typical day for me involved upward of 500 obsessions a day, many of which turned into ritualized behavior (or compulsions) and the rest I handled by avoiding situations all together.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Round Two

Now fast forward to about a month ago….

At the end of October, I began a 3 week residential treatment program in Los Angeles to fight my OCD. Although I was being treated by an OCD specialist, those three weeks turned into some of the hardest days of my life. Toward the end of the treatment program in LA, it was strongly recommended to me that I continue my treatment in another residential setting in Wisconsin. Within 48 hours of being discharged from treatment in California, I was on a plane to the mid-west. My mom also flew into Wisconsin to be with me as I transitioned between treatment centers. This morning I checked in.

My secret struggle

I've decided to start a blog as a way of recording the journey I'm on, but more importantly, to give you the opportunity to journey with me.

My journey, or struggle, has been very private...very secretive. The earliest memories I have of my struggle are about 15 years ago when I began obsessing about whether or not I had really, actually closed and locked my bedroom door, and making sure my fingers turned the light switch off "just right." I don't remember having any other obsessions until years later when it literally felt like I woke up one day and I was obsessed with everything. My life began to feel like it was spinning out of control towards the end of 2003, and by the end of 2004, I couldn't necessarily put a name to how I was feeling, but I knew things weren't right. Irrational thoughts and overwhelming anxiety began taking over my life. As the years progressed, so did the obsessions. I quickly discovered that compulsive behaviors reduced my soothed me. That knowledge evoked a vicious cycle of giving my obsessions power that eventually strangled my free spirit, leaving me living within the rigid rules of a very lonely, angry world controlled by my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

This is my fight to break out of the vicious cycle and revive my free spirit.