Thursday, February 25, 2010


Oh I love thee!! I'm here....basking in the warmth!! :) Just landed a few minutes ago, all my bags made it, and I'm excitedly waiting for Theo and Jessie. :) LA traffic...there's nothing like it! iPhone....I love having my iPhone again! Oh...I'm just so happy to be "home." I feel free.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Making a splash before I leave.

Holy Moly! The humor!! The irony! The insanity!

My emotions have been ALL over the place the last few days!! My anxiety has physically felt unbearable at times. The stress of change, packing, planning, expectations....had my body all tied up in knots and my mind spinning faster than a tornado.

Tonight after dinner, I grabbed my phone and headed for the restroom. Planning to read and respond to my texts while "resting" I often do. After laying down my toilet paper barriers on the seat (yes....I still do that) and squirming out of my jeans while reading a text, I sat down and for some reason decided I wanted to set my phone down on the toilet tank so that I could fully relax during my pee. I set it down on the extra roll of TP sitting on the toilet tank, and as I turned my torso back around, I caught a glimpse of my pink phone slipping off the TP roll and falling. What seemed like a slow motion action move, I tried to remain seated, but flung my hands behind me to grab my phone, half hoping that my booty was completely sealing the toilet seat. Um...not so much!! PLOP!!! And I'm talking the biggest plop and splash I've ever seen! The splash was as big as if I had chucked my phone as hard as possible into the toilet bowl. REALLY? SERIOUSLY?? DID MY PHONE REALLY JUST FALL INTO THE TOILET?? And was there just a tidal wave that not only showered my booty, but also drenched my back and soaked my thighs. I am not even kidding! I don't know how it is even POSSIBLE for a tiny little phone to make such a huge splash!

I had NOT peed or done anything besides just sitting prior to all this chaos!! I promise! All the toilet paper is what I used to dry myself...seriously! Look at how soaked the TP is on the seat...literally, a tidal wave! Good bye, precious pink phone. :(

Of course...I let out some sort of audible noise....I honestly can't remember if it was just a loud screech or some explicative....likely both. I JUMPED up, turned around in mid-air to land facing the toilet and staring at the bright blue glow of my phone resting at the bottom of the toilet bowl. Lovely!!! Just lovely!!! Pants still down and literally toilet water dripping ALL the way down my leg, I reached in and grabbed my phone immediately yelling and screaming who knows what. With ONE hand, I awkwardly wiped up as much toilet water from my legs and back as possible. I managed to pull my pants up, but couldn't zip up my zipper or buckle my belt. As I flew out of the restroom, I almost ran into the gathering of staff and fellow residents as I was still trying to pull my shirt down to cover all necessary areas with my one hand, while staring at my OTHER hand in disbelief. I couldn't decided whether to laugh or cry. As I spewed my thoughts of utter disgust, staff was laughing so hard and interrupted with, "Well, you wanted fireworks when you left, Kristen!" :) Um...fireworks!! ...not a tsunami!!

I did wash my hands....probably more than necessary. Later, half laughing, I offered my phone to four of my peers sitting in the living room, three of which are here because of contamination issues. Needless to say, if looks could kill, I wouldn't be writing right now. :) Wow!

A lot of emotions have transpired since the incident which I will spare for another time; however, all humor aside, this whole thing speaks volumes to how far I've come. :) On January 3rd (the day of Theo and Jessie's wedding), Karyss and I were touching up our makeup just before the ceremony when my eyelash brush fell into the toilet. I had a mini-freak out just seeing it. My mini-freak out was cranked up quite a few notches when Karyss reached right into the toilet and grabbed it out and threw it in the trash. As I jumped up and down and expressed my anxiety by squawking and carrying on, Karyss just rolled her eyes, washed her hands ONCE and carried on with her make up!!! She probably hasn't thought about that since. Less than two months later, I DID THE SAME THING....not quite as calmly and nonchalantly as she did.....but nonetheless, I put my hand in toilet water!!

There are so many more details.....thoughts.....feelings....emotions.....blah, blah, blah.....running through my head right now, but I think this story is sufficiently long enough, so I'll end it here. Call me for coffee, and I'll fill you in on all the dirty details I left out. Bada bing! Haha! :)

God really does have a sense of humor! I would have never, in all my planning, asked for what happened tonight, but in soo many's the perfect ending, the perfect exposure, the perfect memory for my time in residential treatment. My hand STILL feels extremely dirty, but....I'll sit with it. :)

9:30AM tomorrow....I walk out the doors of Roger's Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. My struggle with OCD is far from over, but I feel more free than I've felt in years. Thank you, Roger's, for helping me....teaching to fight for my free spirit. I am forever grateful!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reality Check.

We still don't have internet access on the resident computers, so I write on a laptop another resident has so kindly allowed me to use and just transfer my posts when I do have the opportunity to use the internet at the other treatment house. On my walk down to the other house just now.....all I could think about was how much I want to run full-speed into a wall!!! Ahhh.....this day!!!

Before posting what I had written earlier today, I decided to read some posts of other blogs I follow. The first blog I read was my dear friend, Sarah's.... And whaddaya know....her most recent post was entitled: The Gratitude Experiment. She has given up her negative attitude for Lent. :) Her post was exactly what I needed to read this evening. I have soooo much to be grateful for! Being grateful doesn't take away anyone's pain, fear or suffering, but it sure does give a better, deeper, healthier, and ultimately more satisfying perspective on life and all its curve balls.

Another dear friend of mine, Florence, left a comment on an earlier post of mine that also encouraged me tremendously. She shared with me a verse from Isaiah.

Isaiah 42:16 "I will lead blind Israel down a new path, guiding them along an unfamiliar way. I will brighten the darkness before them and smooth out the road ahead of them. Yes, I will indeed do these things; I will not forsake them."

God is so good and so completely faithful. I have experienced Him in deeper, more intimate ways than I imagined possible these last four months.

My time is up on the internet, so I have to head back up to my house now. Hopefully I won't run full speed into any walls tonight, but if I do, I pray that God, with His grace and sense of humor, at least pads it for me. :)

Training to be a Kung-Fu Master.

I’m struggling today. Just a couple hours ago I was having a panic meltdown. It felt like I was going crazy.

I’m doing better now, but my anxiety is still high. All my muscles hurt, my mind is tired.

I have been looking forward to going home for sooo long, and the excitement was electrifying when my flight was officially booked and purchased on Thursday. However, the same afternoon my flight was purchased, I began to stress out….worry….panic. I would say I’ve done pretty well fighting off all the irrational thoughts for the last few days, but when I got back from church this morning, I just didn’t have the strength to keep fighting, and I broke down.

On Friday morning, I took a 5 minute, 55 second shower, no compulsions, with a full-body recontaminate. I let out an audible, emphatic “WHAT?!” when I pulled the shower curtain back and saw the timer. It was such a disbelieving moment for me, and I didn’t want to tell anyone. I was/am still scared that I will never be able to do that again, but that it will be expected of me; therefore, by sharing my accomplishment, I am setting myself up for failure. Yesterday, my shower was 11 minutes 30 seconds, and without even realizing what I was doing, I caught myself washing my hands vigorously. I felt soooo much shame… much guilt. “I knew I was going to fail. How did this happen? I’ve taken several 10 minute or faster showers in a row…more importantly, I’ve been taking compulsion free showers for over a month now….how did this happen? Stupid me. I should have been more in control. I should have been paying more attention. If I wouldn’t have washed my hands, my shower probably would have only been 10 minutes. One hand wash is going to turn into two, and then three, and then four, and before I know it I’m going to be stuck in a cycle of rituals that I can’t get out of again.”

I managed to stop those thoughts for most of yesterday, but it was exhausting and frustrating. Then last night I pulled out my suitcases and began to pack, in attempts of reducing the stress of packing during the week. The obsessions flooded my mind. Out of nowhere it seemed. The obsession of opening and placing my suitcase “just right”….touching my clothes “just right”… clothes because they weren’t perfect….the need to not only lay out my clothes for the next four days, but to hang them perfectly layered, the way that I will actually wear them….the need to know exactly which pair of underwear and socks I will be wearing on what day….organizing the remaining clothes in my drawers “just right”….standing back and studying my room repeatedly, just to barely….slightly…..readjust a random object like my laundry basket to subdue the anxiety I was feeling. After picking out what shoes I would wear over the next four days, I took all the other shoes out of my closet and lined them up just a few feet outside my closet. After placing them just so, I decided that I wanted them to be closer to my suitcases, so I moved all my shoes to the middle of the room, starting the process of lining them back up all over again. Picking out my four outfits and moving my shoes from the closet to near my suitcases in preparation of packing them took well over an hour. Close to mid-night, my anxiety was so high… muscles tense, my heart beating rapidly, and my body so warm that I was beginning to sweat…..that I half-ran out of my room to get a sleeping medication and just sat outside till I cooled down and I started to feel sleepy. Once back in my room, the temptation to just “fix” my shoes one last time was strong, but I crawled into bed as fast as possible and awaited sleep to rescue me.

When I walked in the door upon return from church this morning, I began to cry feeling as though the 71% of my hierarchy isn’t enough to carry me through days like yesterday and today. It’s just 71% of the 120 or so exposures on my hierarchy here….it’s not encompassing 71% of all my daily, life activities. I began to catastrophize and panic. Between the help of resident counselors (RCs) and calling my BT, I began to look at the day in more perspective, realizing that everyone has bad days, I’ll never escape the feeling of anxiety because it’s a “normal,” universal emotion, and fighting with all my might to resist compulsions to reduce my general anxiety today is just as much an accomplishment as completing multiple trials of planned exposures attacking specific areas of anxiety.

Sometimes I just don’t feel like I have enough kung-fu in me to fight all the evil villains attacking me from every direction all at once.

The treasure of words.

My mom and dad sent me a birthday card (that arrived ON my birthday…. :) yay!) that made me grasp my heart with my hand. Even though the poem on the card is written by someone else, I consider it a hidden treasure that my parents searched for and found specifically for me! :) I love it so much. They underlined the words that I have highlighted in pink below.

Thanks Mom and Dad for the treasure of the words you gifted me with on my birthday. I love you both so much!


If you can value truth above approval,
and friendship over beauty, wealth, or fame,
If you can share your gifts and talents wisely,
leaving someone better off than when you came,
If you find happiness in simple pleasures,
and see the rainbow, not the falling rain,
If you have faith to keep right on believing in miracles that no one can explain,
If you look until you see the good in others and keep your spirit honest, true, and free,
Then you’ll be, not just happy and successful, but the woman only you were meant to be.

-Emily Matthews

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Birthday

Written Thursday, February 18, 2010

My 29th Birthday! Ha, ha! :)

Ten MUSTS to having a free-spirited birthday. :)

(For girls)

1. You must wear a boa. The feathery fun just screams classic and party all in one breath.

2. You must smell fabulous. It doesn’t matter….a cheap Walgreen's body spray or an expensive French eau de toilette…douse yourself multiple times a day so that there is no denying that you smell fabulous.

3. You must do something adventurous and/or risky. Adventurous is in the heart of the doer….so sky dive, eat some vegetables, or…..touch a trash can.

Introducing……my wonderful, amazing therapist…..Heather!!! :) She surprised me and took me to McDonald’s for lunch on my birthday. I don’t think I’ll ever not love McDonald’s. :) But….once we got there and I asked to take a picture with her, she so kindly suggested the trash can. The expression on my face is perfect….sooo indicative of my anxiety….. “Trying to smile. Trying to look happy. Feeling stressed. Feeling fear.”

Round two. Still can’t believe I’m touching an outside trashcan!! Holy Moly. Still have that “I just got socked in the stomach” feeling. The “creepy crawlers” are running up my arms. But….I’m doing it….with a smile. :)

Round three….with Nicole, another staff member who helped me celebrate my birthday. Definitely feeling more comfortable :) but if you look at my left hand you can tell that there is some hesitation to touch my coat. Cross contaminating has been a crucial part of over coming my fear of germs, dirt, and feeling dirty.

And then eating my burger WITH MY HANDS that I did NOT wash since touching the trash can!!!! Quite a monumental moment for me. Definitely felt anxiety for a couple hours afterwards, ruminating about what I had touched and not having washed my hands.

4. You must wear your favorite party panties. Whether your idea of party panties are white granny-pannies or leopard printed laciness, just rock those panties and smile about your secret all day long!

5. You must dance when you’re sung to. Dance like you were born to get your groove on, because half the people singing sound more ridiculous than you look.

6. You must eat as though everything is fat-free and calorie-free. It IS your birthday….and the “f” word and “c” word don’t even exist. :)

7. You must have the same number of candles as your age. Own your age, ladies, own it.
This was the yummiest cake ever…..oh my! :)

8. You must dress up in costume. Go all out and be Marilyn Monroe for a day, or sip your latte with a fake mustache….whatever floats your boat….just dress up.

9. You must make someone else smile. Smiles are contagious….if you can make someone else smile, you’re gonna smile too.

10. You must have your cake and eat it too. Because what’s a birthday without a cake….and besides, it’s fat-free and calorie-free….so, indulge, Birthday Barbies, and enjoy. :)

Although I had much more fun and many more smiles yesterday than I had anticipated, I also had a myriad of small battles throughout the day that took intentional effort on my part to win. OCD and depression don’t really care what day of the year it is and certainly don’t pause for any sort of celebration. By mid-morning, I was wrestling with my inner demons. From all outside appearances, most would have thought I didn’t have a care in the world and loved the simplicity of living. I don’t know if that’s a blessing or a curse……I suppose it’s probably both. The roiling of my broken heart, my anxious mind, and my sensitive soul draw me to what I know soothes. I’ve made huge successes in the last four months, and I feel more free than I’ve felt in years; but when it feels like my world is falling apart for no logical reason at all, resistance of compulsions and acceptance of just being become a victory worthy of celebration all in their own.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Skipping in purple tights.

Ehhscuse me!!! Ehhscuse me!!! I just found out that I am 71% through my hierarchy!!!! Ahhhhhh! Holy Moly!!! I never thought this day would come…..the coveted 70s. My words have tumbled out in excitement all morning. I’m half skipping around the house, probably looking like I’m six, especially since I’m wearing my bright purple tights today, but I don’t care…..I’ve worked hard, I’m excited, I can’t believe I’ve actually reached 71% of my hierarchy!!!

Going Home.

Written Monday, February 15, 2010

There is so much I’ve wanted to write over the last several days, but the residents’ computers/internet are down again. :( I will only have sporadic and limited use of the internet from now until I leave. Speaking of which…..

I AM GOING HOME!!! My discharge date is Thursday, February 25th!!! Holy Moly!! 10 more days!!! Unbelievable. Amazing. Exciting. Scary. Already? Forever!

I am feeling much, much better. I have been continually amazed at the team of people….the team of professionals treating me here. When I came here, I thought it would only be for 3-4 weeks. I figured I could get my OCD under control in no time if I was working on it all day every day for a month. I quickly figured out how intricately my OCD was interwoven into every waking moment of my life. The way I processed and viewed life was through a set of jacked lenses that I had settled on as my “normal.” For weeks upon weeks, the treatment team didn’t give me a discharge date. They just made it clear that it was imperative that I get through at least 70% of my hierarchy, and preferably 80%. Each week my BT would tell me what percentage I was at, and each week I tried to be excited, but struggled with the slow progress. As of last Monday, a week ago today, I was 63% through my hierarchy!!! I didn’t get my updated percentage today, but will definitely ask tomorrow… guess is that I’m around 68%ish. Ahhhh…..I don’t know how I got this far!?!? It’s like a 12 year old looking at a picture of herself when she was 6 and not fully grasping how she went from a little girl to a blossoming pre-teen. Similarly, I look at who I was four months ago and who I am now, and can’t quite wrap my head around how it all happened. It seemed like every day I was having a meltdown as I faced fear after fear after fear. Seven days a week, I’ve attacked my OCD by doing Exposure and Response Prevention. Some days I thought I wouldn’t make it through the day. With each exposure that I cross off my hierarchy, it’s one more thing that will allow me to live as a free spirit….uninhibited by fears of germs and dirt and perfection.

I’ve fought so hard for my free spirit, and in so many simple, small ways I’ve seen it come to life…..seen ME come to life. Most recently, I’ve experienced my free spirit while running on the softly rolling road next to what looks like fields of glitter as the sun radiates and sparkles off the fresh layers of snow. It’s breathtaking, and I feel free. Being able to take a quick 10 minute shower after my run without the stress of giving into compulsions makes me feel free. The freedom to sit on furniture that has had shoes on it makes my spirit soar. To make full hand contact with a public door handle and not sanitize or isolate my hands is so freeing. Being the first to extend my hand in a gesture of salutation feels freeing rather than the shame and embarrassment of fumbling through my purse just long enough to avoid shaking hands. There literally are hundreds of things that I can do now that I could not, would not do 4 months ago. Every day I conquer another exposure, my spirit leaps with joy at one more mark of freedom.

My journey is definitely not over. I will probably be fighting for my free spirit the rest of my life…..and there’s something beautiful about that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The count down begins....

One more week or seven more days......



This is not exactly my preferred location for ringing in the last year of my 20s, but I've cried my allotted amount of tears about it, and now I'm going to get excited and bust out the birthday hats! :)

Teach a man to fish.

I was told by a staff tonight that I have two career choices: lawyer or comedian.....or both. His comment came directly after I enacted stepping off my soap box and said, "Okay, I'm done." :)

All anxiety issues aside, being in an adult, co-ed residential treatment home is interesting, trying, annoying, humorous, frustrating-as-all-get-out, and full of "are you serious?" moments. There are 16 "adults" living in this house, but at times I feel like I'm in kiddy-garden..... pee on the toilet seats, apple juice and milk boxes at every meal, and crayola markers scattered everywhere. On top of that, there are some "rules"....if you will....that are straight-up obnoxious. I have no problem with rules (I prefer guidelines though :) ) if they make sense. I want to understand so that I can get on board. And when I say "get on board" I don't mean so that I can like, love, or cheer for the rule....I mean, get on board in the sense that I understand the reasoning for the implementation of the rule. For example.... I find speed limits incredibly annoying at times; however, I understand the reasoning for speed limits, therefore, I'm willing to 1.) abide by the speed limit, or 2.) risk the consequences if I choose not to abide.

What spurred this lively discussion (well....speech is probably more accurate) behind the closed, but definitely not private staff office door, was my choice to sit in the living room and eat a bowl of fabulous goodness, when we have been specifically asked to only eat in the kitchen or kitchenette out of "courtesy." Oh boy.....this whole situation is WAY more detailed and "Kristen dramatic" than, I'm sure, most of you care to read about, so I'll try to summarize. Haha! :)

I am kind of opinionated....okay, a lot opinionated. :) Surprise! I generally don't hesitate to let you know how I feel about something, and in therapy this has been found to be very helpful as self-disclosure happens easily. And to be fair to myself, I'd say that a lot of times I am asserting myself rather than merely sharing my opinion. As was the case in the plastic bag situation....

Anytime we leave the house we have to check in with staff upon our return, at which time they look through our bags to ensure we don't take anything to our rooms that we aren't supposed to keep in there (i.e. food, razors, etc...). We were also not allowed to have plastic bags, so we would have to fumble our way to our rooms trying to balance all our hygiene products, or whatnot, in our arms because our plastic bags were immediately thrown away. However, right next to my bed is a large trash can with a 13-gallon plastic bag lining it. ???? Many of you are probably smirking right now and thinking to yourself....."Oh boy....I can see where this is going."

Within my first week here I asked for the logic behind our shopping bags being taken away from us. The answer I was given? "Because of safety reasons." With the most puzzled look, I cocked my head to the side and said, "Really?" I thought about it for a few days wondering what safety would be compromised by allowing us to keep our shopping bags if we had access to 13-gallon trash bags in every single bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen. Not only did we have free reign with all these large trash bags, there were also many unused spares on the bottom of each trash can, conducive for us folk struggling with contamination OCD as well. A little sadistic, I know....but seriously, who made that rule? So, without further ado, I began to question. And question and question and question I did....for weeks....until that rule was "reexamined" and "modified." We are now allowed to keep our shopping bags. :)

Now....back to my bowl of fabulous goodness. I was too full to eat dessert at lunch today, so I decided to save some for my evening snack, which I often do. Like I said earlier, we have been asked to eat our snacks in the dining room or kitchenette out of "courtesy." Courtesy for who exactly....that was never made super clear. This whole discussion and rule enforcement about snacks just came about recently and abruptly. I questioned...many of us questioned...and I agreed to abide by the rule only AFTER I was given "proof" or evidence to support their decision. (That's where I'm leaving out all the nitty-gritty, yadda-yadda-yadda details.) A couple days later, the word "rule" was replaced by "out of courtesy." Interesting.

My guess as to why this was brought up in the first place is: 1.) People were leaving their snack wrappers and dishes everywhere. Definitely a problem that needed to be addressed. And 2.) This particular facility is for people with anxiety or anxiety and eating disorders, therefore, it's my assumption that eating in designated areas is out of courtesy to those struggling through their anxiety surrounding food. bowl of fabulous goodness, take 3.... :) I took my bowl containing two slices of pound cake, heaped vanilla ice cream on top, poured an insane amount of strawberries over the ice cream and topped it all off with a whopping dollop of whipped cream. If that isn't fabulous goodness, I don't know what is. :) Excited to dig in, I notice that four of the five chairs at the kitchenette table are occupied by residents struggling with eating disorders, but the living room is completely empty. Let me ask YOU....what is more courteous....taking the fifth seat and attempting to enjoy my much anticipated dessert in front of individuals who wouldn't be here if they could do the same, or, eating my dessert in the living room? Tell me, which is more courteous?

Within minutes of digging into my fabulous goodness, a staff approached me and said, "You're not supposed to be eating in the living room." It was all I could do not to turn her face into a whipped cream carnival attraction. I pleasantly said, "Okay", finished and enjoyed every last bite of my fabulous goodness in the living room, put my dirty dishes where they belonged, then gathered all the staff and posed to them the same question, "Which is more courteous?"

Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.

Okay, I'm done. :)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Smile Therapy

There is a bathroom here that is designed in such a way that while sitting on the toilet I have a perfect mug-shot view of myself in the sink's mirror. I was drawn to this particular restroom from the beginning of my stay here mainly because of aesthetic reasons. However, I become more and more partial to this restroom with each passing day.

I don't remember when or why I decided to force a smile on my face for the entire length of my peeing session, but has induced many genuine smiles, even laughs, that I might not have experienced during my day had it not been for my brief escapes to the smile therapy retreat.

I've tried to share my extreme excitement about my discovery and the tremendously positive effect it has on my day, but all I get are blank stares and a couple courtesy laughs. But, I'd be willing to bet that more than one person in this house has awkwardly smiled at their reflection in the mirror while doing their business and is just too embarrassed to say they did....and even more embarrassed to admit that my "ridiculous" suggestion really does work! :)

I modified this smile therapy so that it would be more group other words, I asked people to join me in smile therapy around the kitchen table where we had 5, 30 second rounds of continuous smiling. In the two and a half months I've been here, I have only successfully rounded up two small groups of people to join me in smile therapy. My persuasive skills are really put to the test when I'm trying to get a house full of morbidly depressed, anxious souls to join me in such a ludicrous activity. But....I think it's fair to say that whether or not a formal smile therapy session happens or not, the people I am trying to convince are always smiling by the end just because of how outlandishly excited and animated I become.

I'm going to miss my smile therapy retreat.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Maya Blue

I caught myself day dreaming yesterday afternoon about my free spirit. I was doing an exposure in one of the vehicles here where I hold onto the steering wheel and shifter. It snowed earlier this week so the scenery is gorgeous. As I sat in the driver's seat, I got lost in my thoughts....happy thoughts, happy memories. I caught a vision of my future, fueled by freedom, understanding, and movement. It's like I'm learning to fall in love all over again with life.

When I backpacked up the East Coast of Australia by myself in 2004, towards the very end of my adventure, I traveled to a rugged paradise called Cape Tribulation. If I remember correctly, it was about 100 miles north of Cairns, and the furthest north I could travel at that point. I stayed at a hostel tucked beneath the vibrant leaves of the rain forest. It was a secret garden of sorts with modest hostel bungalows which all opened up to the outdoors. The cape was a calming, peaceful entanglement of the sea and the forest.

I met a little girl who left an impression on my heart that I never want to forget. She was a free spirit. The most beautiful free spirit I've ever met. She exuded innocence, freedom, curiosity, passion and love. My heart melts just thinking about her. Her name was Maya Blue (as in the month of May-ah). She was four. The first time I saw her, she was barefoot and beautiful. She was scurrying around the hostel grounds in her knee-length, flowy skirt and light colored tank top introducing herself to backpackers and asking questions that brought smiles to even the weariest of travelers. Everyone knew her. She had tangled, blond curls that fell uninhibited to the middle of her back and her eyes were captivating. When she saw me walking past the small hostel swimming pool, she ran to me, grabbed my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Maya Blue. Will you take me swimming?" Later that day she and I swam, and her giggles touched a part of my soul that inspired me to live as a free spirit the way she did. Over the next few days that I was there I spent quite a bit of time with Maya Blue. She showed me her favorite worn out tree swing, the river she liked to fish in, the beach where she played in the sand. She was beautiful. Her free spirit precious. She loved life.

I'm learning to fall in love with life all over again.

Exciting. Showers. Freedom. Celebration. Recovery.

***I started this post a week and a half ago and seriously have no idea why it took me so long to finish given the joyous content.***

I have some very, super exciting news!!! However, let me provide context because if I just told you, it's likely you would raise one eyebrow, pull your head back, and letting out an audible "Huh?" So stick with me so I can explain the depth of my excitement.

My showers used to be in between....I would say....20-45 minutes long. I know that's quite a range and not a tremendously long time, but the obsessions and compulsions during that time were exhausting. The time of my showers was largely attributed to the amount of stress or anxiety I was feeling at the time of the shower. When I was feeling really anxious or stressed out about something, I would often get "stuck" in a ritual during my showers. For example, my showers used to be VERY systematic and rigid. I felt it near impossible to wash "out of order" or heaven forbid, skip any part of my routine. My routine involved at minimum seven hand washes, and if any part of my body or hair touched the shower curtain or shower wall, I was absolutely compelled to wash, rewash, and scrub that particular area due to how dirty I felt. It's hard to put this all into perspective, but let me try....

Wash hands, wash hair, wash face, neck and ears, wash hands, wash armpits, wash hands, wash body, wash hands, wash um....ya know (I feel like I'll offend and make someone laugh with any term I'd use here), wash hands, wash legs, wash feet, wash hands, then wash hands one last time at the sink after turning shower off but before grabbing towel to dry off. If my hair happened to graze the shower wall while I was washing my legs, I would have to re-wash my hair, and depending on my overall level of anxiety, just start the whole process over again. Or, if I happened to lose my balance while washing my feet and my shoulder bumped the shower wall, I would scrub my shoulder, wash my hands, then re-wash all areas below my shoulder because the germs that I washed off my shoulder got the rest of my body dirty while it rinsed off. My showers were/are rarely relaxing. Even with a 25-30minute shower, I felt like I was on the move the whole time, hurrying as fast as possible, but the more I stressed about taking a quick shower, the easier I would get stuck ritualizing.

Within a few days of arriving here, I was given a list of "shower goals." It's a chart with three columns: Activity/Challenge/Anxiety (0-7). I have ten shower goals, which don't all take place in the shower, but are part of my shower process.

1. Setting towel down before shower.
2. Hand-washing before shower.
3. Wash hair.
4. Wash face, neck, and ears.
5. Wash armpits.
6. Wash booty area....(that's term I'm going with). :)
7. Wash feet.
8. Turning off shower.
9. Drying off.
10. Getting dressed.

Because my fingers would fall off trying to type out what is involved in each step or how each step came to be, I'm just going to explain the first one and the evolution of the challenge so you have an idea.

Setting my towel down before my shower. I am very particular as to where and how my towel is placed because of wanting to keep it "clean." When my anxiety was high, I used to inspect several areas in bathrooms before determining where the cleanest place was to put it. And by inspect I mean get eye-level with, examine Inspector-Gadget style, with such scrutiny that surfaces rarely passed my approval. To make myself believe that a surface was clean enough to lay my towel I would either use another clean towel as a barrier between the surface and the towel I was going to use to dry off with, or I would sanitize the surface until it felt sufficiently safe. I remember getting "stuck" sanitizing the towel bar in my own bathroom at home on several different occasions. I would use several Lysol sanitizing wipes (10ish), going back and forth, over and over the towel bar. Sanitizer would be foaming on the end corners of the bar, dripping onto the floor. I would then dry the towel bar with paper towels and spray the bar down with a sanitizer liquid. After drying the bar off again, I would still, at times, reluctantly drape my towel over the metal bar, nervous that I might have missed some germs. the beginning of my treatment here.....oh boy.....if I remember correctly, my first towel challenge (exposure) was to just tap a part of my towel on the unsanitized sink counter top that everyone in the house uses. That alone brought on significant anxiety. I habituated over time with repetition, and over the course of the last two and a half months, my BT has progressively cranked up the challenge. I am now dragging both sides of my towel....all of it....across the whole sink counter top with little anxiety. It bothers me, but I just kinda shrug it off in a "whatever" sort of fashion. Holy moly! I honestly can't believe what I'm writing, let alone actually doing! Ahhhh.....I'm really giddy! :) Anyway, that's one example of the Activity/Challenge/Anxiety progression I've made and the habituation I've experienced. Part of this whole process has been timing my showers as well, because not only was the goal to have a ritual free shower, which I did about a month ago, but to get to my goal of 10 minutes. the above to say that after literally years of my ridiculous shower routine non-sense, I TOOK MY FIRST 10 MINUTE, RITUAL-FREE SHOWER on Friday, January 22nd, 2010!!! Ahhhhh!!!! :) When I pulled the shower curtain back on that Friday morning my timer literally said 10:00min. My eyes almost popped out.....I thought I was dreaming. I got dressed as quickly as possible, and with the floppiest wet hair ever, found my BT and...half screaming and doing a jig, told him the news. The look on his face was an accolade to my accomplishment. He took me to Starbucks that afternoon to celebrate!!!

Ahhhh....I'm still much freedom and confidence has come from that milestone in my recovery. My spirit is alive and tasting freedom.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Rrrrrrrrrr!!! That's all I've got.

Ahhh.... I can't even think straight. Today's been one of the hardest days of my life....ever! Only people who know me well will pick up on the "humor" in that last statement. I sometimes have a tendency to exaggerate things because I love larger-than-life experiences, stories, etc....mostly referencing happy, exciting, good things. But when things are sad or bad, I usually feel and describe them as the worst ever, the saddest thing in the world, etc... Apparently it's called "catastrophizing." I'm starting to relax and feel a little better, but the last several hours have been very, very hard......that is the plain, simple truth. My face would prove it..... My eyes are swollen from crying, my mascara has replaced my blush, and my nose is so sore from the EcoSoft tissue that is anything but soft. It's made from "100% recycled paper products".....they aren't lying, cardboard is indeed a paper product.

My mind is racing. I wish it would stop. How do I make it stop? How do I live with thoughts that make me feel like I'm going crazy? With not a whole lot of warning, my thoughts spun out of control today....around 1 o'clock. They still don't seem in control. I feel like I'm going crazy. I started to cry because it feels like all is I've gone backwards and I'm never going to be stronger than my obsessions. My BT constantly tells me I'm not here to get rid of my intrusive thoughts, because that's impossible....I'm here to resist the compulsions. But it seems impossible to resist something that makes me instantly feel soooooo much better when I feel like my world is falling apart around me. It's as though intrusive thoughts ganged up on me to day, drug me behind an alley, and gave me a good a**-whooping. And they're not done.

My BT is relentless. For over an hour I sat on my bed sobbing and describing some of my thoughts as he sat on the floor taking every moment that I stopped talking to gasp for air to ask if I was ready to do some exposures. Are you serious? Are you being for real right now? Don't you see that I'm going crazy and my world is falling apart?

I stopped asking those kinds of questions a long time ago though, because this is how he answers: "Yes, I'm being serious. And no, you are not going crazy. If I thought you were going crazy, would I be sitting here calmly? There is no scientific proof between anxiety and a psychotic break. So, which exposure do you want to get started on?"

Intrusive thoughts even managed to wrap themselves around my desire to do exposures and push my OCD back today. In response to him asking me if I was ready to get started, my thoughts poured out. "That's the problem. I want to do exposures, and as hard as I try I never get them all done. Everybody else seems to get all their exposures done, but not me. Why can't I do this? Why am I not getting better? Am I ever going to get better? I want to be better, I want to go home, I want to be normal and calm, but I can't even do my exposures. And my taxes, I need to get my taxes done. And my car's late. And what about my job? I can't do this. What if someone in my family dies today? I won't be able to survive. I can't breathe. I'm crazy. I'm never going to get married. I need to wash my hands. My hands are dirty. I can't move, because if I move I'm going to get other things dirty. I just want to take a shower, put on clean pajamas and go to sleep. I want to do my exposures, but they seem impossible today. Sitting on the furniture seems impossible today. Everybody puts their shoes on the furniture!" And on and on the thoughts poured out, keeping tempo with my tears. After some time later, my BT and I did go through and complete one full touch list. However, mid-touch list, I was triggered by his sleeve accidentally touching the toilet seat, and fell apart again.

The panic has come in tidal waves today. The goal for the rest of the day/evening is self-care. He suggested I blog because he knows that it's one of my favorite, calming things to do. Even so, I was hit with two big waves while trying to write. But.....doing something I love even when I'm panicking has proved to be helpful. I feel much, much calmer. I'm not crying. And....hopefully after a little dinner and a couple hours of The Bachelor, I will muster up the strength to, at minimum, run through my touch list as a way of giving my OCD a good, swift kick in ITS a**.