Saturday, August 4, 2007
The article did broaden my definition of OCD. The article outlined the most common expressions of OCD and listed two that I was unfamiliar with: Relationship Substantiation and Obsessive Hypochondria. (Time Magazine left out "checking" as a common expression of OCD, however.) Time indicates that Relationship Substantiation is "A compulsive search for tiny but disqualifying flaws in a partner or spouse." Also, Time writes that Obsessive Hypochondria goes beyond ordinary hypochondria in that the sufferers will have "what-if" worries about a doctor's misdiagnosis or other medical errors.
Time's discussion of managing OCD seemed to be heavily weighted on Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. Other than trying this myself, I've never had any therapist even mention this type of therapy. I don't know if this is an oversight on my therapists' part or on Time's part.
Time also mentioned some up-and-coming biological approaches to combating OCD such as new drugs that decrease secretion of glutamate (a brain chemical that stimulates signalling among neurons) and more invasive treatments with brain-embedded electrodes.
Even though the article was a bit lacking in information, it was worth the read and was a great jumping-off point for more personal research.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
I think that I can apply this theory to my life as well. There have been several things that have happened throughout my life that have caused my many fears and worries. Some occurances may have more weight than others, but "I" am the sum of my many experiences.
If I look back at the many experiences that may have contributed to my obsession with toilet snakes, then I can point to the following happenings as major culprits:
1. As a young child (0-5 years)I lived in a very rural setting on a dirt road. The only other house in the "neighborhood" was abandoned and resembled (in my mind) the spooky rundown mansion that is shown during the opening of Scooby Doo episodes. In my memory, this forsaken area was teaming (or so it seemed) with large black snakes. Every nook and cranny either harbored a slithering creature or threatened to. Even the inside of my house was not safe from intrusion. Snakes would appear in our washing machine, often in the basement, and at least once in my toy box. I used to scream at night for my father to come and rescue me from the imaginary snakes crawling under the covers on my bed.
2. In those early days described above, my grandparents house was between 1-2 miles away. It resided on 40 acres that had been owned by my family for three generations. While my father was growing up, the old things of the earlier generations (outdoor shower, outdoor toilets, oneroom school house, hand dug well, hand dug septic system) were still in existence and were still being used. Their property was crawling with snakes, too. I can remember stories of my father taking an outdoor shower and looking up to find a snake hanging from the shower head. I found a few snakes there myself, usually sunning themselves on rocks in the pasture.
3. After my family moved to the city, we would still visit my grandparents on the farm. The outhouse was no longer in use, but critters still prevailed. My grandfather found a bat in the toilet one day. I'm not really afraid of bats, though. However, if a bat could get into a toilet, my young mind told me that a snake could get in as well.
4. I have kind of a macbre facination with snakes overall. I love to see them when they are behind glass at a zoo or behind the glass of my TV screen. Therefore, I have induldged every opportunity to gawk at them and marvel at the shivers that they provoke in myself and most of our population.
While writing and looking through this list, one thing strikes me as being odd. I've never actually encountered a snake in my toilet. Yes, the thought of such an occurance is traumatic. The possibility of it happening is extremely slim. I've never had the pleasure and have never heard of anyone meeting a toilet snake. Yet, I've wasted emotion and energy on fear that will never be realized.
Even though my many experiences have added up to this particular fear....and the fear is real and has real effects....the possibility of the compenents of my fear ever becoming tangible is nearly ZERO.
Hmmm...this equation is not blanced.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Laying in bed at night, thinking about toilet snakes started to cause me to lose sleep. My toilet snake ritual of turning on the bathroom light and inspecting the toilet every time I used the bathroom at night was also an annoyance for my husband (even though I closed the bathroom door when I did it).
A few months before this obsession started to take control, I learned about Exposure Response Therapy as outlined in the article Treatments for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I was very skeptical of this therapy ever working for me, because I have a tendency to put a life-or-death spin on my obsessions.
I thought that I might be able to apply it here, though, because I was able to see a silly side to this obsession and compulsion. Because of my husband's annoyance, I have begun to use the bathroom with just the glow of the moon (moon in the sky and not the one on my behind), again. I just glance into the bowl before I sit down. With repeated exposure, I hope to dispel the thought of toilet snakes from my bathroom trips completely.
I also needed a way to put my worrying to sleep. (I have enough things going on in my life to keep me from sleeping already.) I decided to think about the idea of toilet snakes in the most humorous way possible. I imagined myself being a stand-up comic talking about what I would do with my toilet snake when it arrived in the toilet.
It goes a little like this...
"I received a toilet snake in the restroom yesterday. Lucky that! My son's been wanting a pet and now I've got one for free."
Wait for laughter.
"We didn't have any snake food handy, so we decided to feed him macaroni and cheese. On second thought, spaghetti might have been better...he's a little too lumpy now."
Wait for laughter.
"I don't know much about snakes and I'm a bit foggy on the proper sleeping arrangements for them. I decided to let the snake choose between my husband's underwear drawer, a tube sock and a Pringle's can. He chose pringles. He may be regretting his choice today, though. My son's been in a snacky mood lately."
Pretty bad, eh??? Well, it beats laying in bed at night calculating the odds of a snake making into my toilet. I will take barely humorous comedy over ritualized math any day!
Saturday, July 21, 2007
It is 3:19 AM and I am posting on my blog because I can't sleep. You see, about 30 minutes earlier, I had to make a pilgramage to the bathroom and was reminded of my fear of toilet snakes. It's the same old routine as always, really.
1. Get out of bed.
2. Walk to the bathroom.
3. Close the door.
4. Turn on the light.
5. Lift the toilet seat cover.
6. Search for toilet snake.
7. Discover no toilet snake.
8. Feel the relief of discovering no toilet snake.
9. Go back to bed and back to sleep.
This time, however, I can't seem to get back to sleep. My mind keeps thinking about toilet snakes and the possibility that I will ever find a toilet snake. I've designed a bit of plumbing in my engineering career so I decided to logically think out the scenerio that would introduce a snake into my own personal water closet. This was a big mistake!!!!
At first, my internal debate went pretty well because I thought of some really good reasons why I will never find a toilet snake in my water closet.
1. I live in an urban environment and I have never seen a snake at all, ever, on my property. Any snake siting, even on the ground, would be once-in-a-lifetime.
2. I know that usually, when animals get into a toilet it happens because they crawl down the vent pipe from the roof. I have no trees overhanging my roof and no way for the once-in-a-lifetime snake to ever crawl onto my roof or seek refuge in the vent pipe.
Pretty good reasons, eh? Then I began to think about the possibility of a snake making his or her way (I could never be sure) into my toilet from the sewer. (I've been to wastewater treatment plants and have seen dead snakes on wastewater plant equipment.) Beware! Now starts the "what if's"?
1. What if some local sadistic child decides to flush a snake down down his or her (I could never be sure) toilet in an attempt to terrorize his or her neighbors?
2. What if the snake survives the watery plunge into the sewer and beyond?
3. What if the snake makes his way into MY SEWAGE PIPES???
4. What if I open my toilet lid some night and see a toilet snake straining for freedom?
5. Worse, yet, what if I DON'T see the toilet snake straining for freedom?
Then the modern thought pops into my head "do a little research on toilet snakes on the world wide web".
I've stopped here. I'm afraid to do research really. I have a feeling that I will search and search until I find documented instances (could be false or true) of toilet snakes and some horrid photos of toilet snake sitings. (Because in the wretched instance of finding a snake in one's toilet, one must reach for one's camera!!! Sorry, I'm reaching for the flush handle instead!)
So, instead of researching, I will just talk about my fear on my blog. I hesitated to do this at first because I became afraid that some of my OCD blog buds may be alarmed by my posting and will begin obsessing about toilet snakes themselves. I prefer to be the only victim of my obsessions.
If you are wondering about the toilet photo above, I took the photo in a hotel in Sicily. I like to take photos of foreign plumbing fixtures. It's my "anti-drug".
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Caution: This post is off-topic a bit, possibly.
There have been a lot of images and reports recently in the media about the world of dog fighting for money or entertainment. This type of activity sickens me!!!
I know first-hand how dangerous and disturbing two fighting dogs can be. Unfortunately for my family, our two beloved corgis began to fight each other about a year ago. The occurrences started with a growl and a nip and ended (most recently) with blood and eye surgery. We decided to give away our female and keep our male (pictured above) for their safety and for my 4-year old son's safety.
Keep in mind that the dog fights I was witness to were between two household dogs that (for all other purposes) loved each other. The fights would only last a few seconds before we had to physically rip them apart amidst an unsavory spray of blood and saliva. Dogs can do a lot of damage to themselves and to others in a short period of time when their teeth and claws meet flesh. I suffered some severe (but not permanent) tissue damage from one dog bite that occurred when I tried to break my sweeties apart. (My vet says to never become mixed in a dog fight, but what can you do when you see your pets tearing each other apart and no other method is working?)
The thought that there are people that intentionally antagonize dogs to orchestrate a dog fight is a thought that victimizes me. When I hear about the incidents or see videos that precede a dog fighting ring being reported on the news, I want to vomit. The people that are involved in such an atrocious activity as dog fighting and derive some sort of pleasure from it are depraved. The pain that the act elicits is akin to torture. The individuals that take part in such psychotic acts are like the ancient Colosseum organizers that doomed Christians and gladiators, with the exception that these modern sadists lack creativity.
Monday, July 16, 2007
I was lucky. Even so, the accident made me think about my potential for bone breakage. I'm only 35, but I was diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure (POF) over 1-year ago. The condition leaves me prone to severe bone loss and fracture during my middle-aged years. For more information on POF, please see my Helium article "Premature Ovarian Failure Examined" http://www.helium.com/tm/91056/under-having-erratic-periods.
The fall also brought to mind a blog post that I had seen last month at Anxiety, Addiction and Depression Treatments http://www.treatmentonline.com/treatments.php?id=1399 citing a study that found that certian antidepressant medications can also cause bone loss for women over 50. The study was not conclusive, but I wonder if my generic Prozac will cause bone loss in addition to that lost due to my POF.
I have a 6-month old order from my doctor to get a bone density scan. Maybe it's time for me to finally get that done!
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
with colors truer than a photograph would tell.
I've been warned not to look at it,
for within it's image is hidden every color of my fear.
If I look at it too closely or for too long,
if I study it at all,
the fear colors will flow together into a powerful reaching hand
that will engulf me,
as my eyes roll inward.
This painting teases and tempts me.
It dances behind me and before.
My neck strains as I avert my eyes.
Why can't I slash this painting?
Why can't I annihilate the beast?
My fearful blindness is my only weapon
against the painting's stubborn frame.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Tools In My OCD Tool Box
- Anti-anxiety medication is my first and foremost method of managing my OCD. It gives my other tools the ability to do their jobs.
- Distraction often helps me overcome the urge to give into compulsions or to be overwhelmed by obsessions. Thinking about someone's needs instead of my own often helps me to leave my introspective state of obsessive consciousness. Other distractions include: thinking about a favorite book, song, TV show, or movie.
- Stopping to take a brisk walk is another great tool. Sometimes expending some adrenaline can help me focus more on what I really need to do rather than obsessing or stressing. If I happen upon someone to talk to about something completely unrelated to my stress or obsession it will allow me to step out of the panic and reorganize my brain. (I guess there's a little distraction in here, too.)
- When I find that my OCD is hindering my efficiency at work (because I've been focusing on one tidbit of a project for way too long), I write a to do list which is organized with my most critical tasks first. If I can start working on some other items in a logical order, then I can start to relax a little. Often stepping back to look at the big picture can help me to stop obsessing about just one aspect and will cut down on subsequent checking of my work.
- If the to do list (in item 4) starts to stress me out, I will try to distract myself and complete one little task. I'll start with the task I want to do the most.
- If my OCD is getting the better of me, I make an emergency appointment to see my psychologist or psychiatrist or I talk with a trusted friend. Just talking about my stressers and getting some sort of 3rd party feedback can help to calm me down. (The hideous aspect of this tool is that I am often tempted to abuse it. Sometimes I find myself going to people again and again for reassurance. The incessant need for reassurance is also a symptom of OCD.)
- When my OCD really gets me down, I will retreat into The OCD Workbook by Hyman and Pedrick. Reading excerpts from this book can help remind me when my actions have skipped past due diligence into obsessive compulsive behavior. Once I realize that what I am doing is textbook OCD, I can then readdress methods to combat my "bad" behavior.
I may be overlooking some of the tools in my box at this time. I will update this list with old, new, and improved tools as they become apparent.
Sunday, July 1, 2007
I try to keep as much of my "specialness" to myself as I can and I only let those very close to me know...on a need-to-know basis.
I was quite disheartened when I received some paperwork to complete after winning my dream job at my son's preschool for this coming school year. This particular paperwork came from the state health department and required a methodical recounting of all medications that I take and the reason that they are being taken. I do take generic Prozac to help manage my OCD and I stated this on the form...but reluctantly so. I am afraid of the fallout that might occur once the Christian preschool receives my completed form. Will they be knowledgeable about my condition or will they see me as a threat?
This business is rekindling memories of my application for a security clearance with the Department of Energy a year before my son was born. The clearance was required for a project I was doing with my corporation. The application required 10-years of regurgitation of names, dates, addresses, jobs, and therapy. Once it was discovered that I saw a therapist for something other than marital reasons, an army of interviewers and psychologists were dispatched to go over my case and determine if I was fit to work with secure materials.
The nonsense was a huge hassle for me as well as an emotional drain. I'm sure that thousands of dollars and over a year were spent determining that I wasn't a threat. All-in-all it became a humiliating experience when I was forced to talk to people (human resources and character witnesses) in my company to explain why a band of people were investigating me. Most of my peers received their clearance in only a few weeks, while it took me well over a year.
Ironically, I never did any work on the project.
Saturday, June 30, 2007
The theory that OCD is inherited can be no better proven than to sit at my Mom's and Dad's dining room table during a mealtime chat. My Mom is a checker (like me) and my youngest brother is a checker (like me) and a hoarder (not like me). OK! OK! My Mom says that I'm a hoarder, too, but I disagree. Unlike my brother, I really do need all of the junk I collect. Just kidding!
My brother is 12 years younger than I am which puts him at 23 years of age right now. Like me, he is also an engineer....so he has that working against him...eh...I mean going for him. He purchased a house a few months ago and Mom is pressuring him to move all of his hoarded belongings to his new home. If the move ever actually occurs, I think it may require several moving vans. My brother still has every toy, trading card, screw and fastener that he ever owned at any one time in his life. He has even purchased bags of smashed model car parts to store with his other toys and gadgets.
My family teases him a little about clutching all of these trinkets, but I feel sorry for him as well. I've finally entered a time in my life where I'm trying to unload some baggage (that at one time made me feel secure) and I hope he will be able to do the same in the future.
As far as inherited traits are concerned, this past week I found an uncanny resemblance in my family's obsession with checking locks. I had never personally witnessed my brother or my mother checking locks, but I'll be buggered if they don't report almost the same lock checking litany that I have performed in the past.
In my immediate family, I am the only one who has sought therapy. I am encouraging my family to encourage my brother to seek professional help now before his OCD becomes something worse than a nuisance.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
My most disturbing thoughts were extremely painful and I felt very victimized by them. One of my therapists told me that I really was a victim of sorts. He also reassured me of my sanity by telling me that these thoughts had nothing to do with ME or my wishes and desires.
My most disturbing reoccurring intrusive thoughts are as follows:
- Knives - My husband and I loved to cook and we had an assortment of fancy knives. One day while I was washing one by hand, I could see in my mind the knife stabbing into a loved one as if drawn to their flesh like a magnet. My loved one would look down at the wound and then up at me with a look of "Now, why did you do that?" I never had any desire to stab someone or hurt anyone in anyway (even when my mother-in-law would stand in the kitchen and talk to me for hours at a time). Thereafter, the dreadful thought would reoccur whenever I touched a knife. I began to loath the thought of using or touching a knife at all.
- When my son was born, I began to have intrusive thoughts whenever he would cry. His cries would bring about thoughts of him being tortured and me being forced to listen to it either in person or on a tape recorder. These thoughts made me nauseous and upset to the point that I wanted to cut out the portion of my brain thinking these thoughts. (Yes, I realize that I just wrote "cut" (as in knife) but that is the only way I can describe it other than saying sever or slice.) The most curious thing about these thoughts is that I could feel disgust and relief at the same time. I was discus ted by the images and also relieved that my son was in my arms being protected and not being tortured.
- As a 12-13 year old I began having disturbing thoughts about sex. When at church, I would have thoughts about having sex with my priest. When at my grandparents house, I would have thoughts about having sex with my grandfather. (Needless to say, I desired neither.) These thoughts caused me great embarrassment and dismay. I often felt that others could hear my thoughts and, therefore, they knew that I was a sick and twisted pervert. I'm not sure if these thoughts are really OCD related or just puberty related.
I am happy to report that I have found a way to manage my intrusive thoughts. My therapist told me to think of something else in order to distract me. (He originally told me to think about a sexual fantasy, but I really thought that thinking about a sexual fantasy while holding my child was inappropriate.) Whenever I had thoughts about my child being tortured, I would think about people in my life that needed prayers and healing. I started thinking about other people's pain and problems instead of my own and that helped immensely coupled with the medication that helps me to stop my unending thinking patterns.
Friday, June 15, 2007
One weapon that I developed during cognitive therapy was to determine what a "normal" amount of checking would be and then adhere to the norm. One day my therapist asked, "When normal people write a letter, how often do you think they re-read it for edits?"
I was somewhat put-off by the term "normal people". In actuality, I would check a letter and then recheck a letter more than once, even if I never found anything to edit in the first place. I answered with, "I don't know what "normal people" do. Maybe they will check once?"
I now strive to fulfill the norm, but I still catch myself re-reading twice or more sometimes. I find that I am most successful (in terms of cutting down the number of rechecks) when paying very close attention during my first edit. If I expend a lot of effort and attention on the first check, my brain seems to be satisfied enough with that effort that I will not give into the temptation to read and re-read again.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
In my last post, I covered in depth the ritual I developed with checking locks and alarm clocks. Over the years, these obsessions and compulsions changed to include checking my parking brake, reopening and checking sealed letters, reopening and checking e-mails, checking to make sure that I hadn't run over someone with my car, going over past conversations to make sure that I hadn't said anything offensive, mentally repeating phrases, obsessing about events and decisions at work, the list goes on and on. I won't even go into intrusive thoughts at this time.
I was able to live with these things, even though I didn't know that my problem was OCD at the time. Eventually, however, my obsessions and compulsions became so pronounced and disturbing that they took over my life. I stopped eating and sleeping and ceased to function in a normal sense. At that point, I finally decided to seek help from a professional.
My first therapist visits were free through a corporate mental health program. This therapist felt that I had generalized anxiety and panic issues. He felt that in my case, medication would be helpful and pointed me toward a psychiatrist. My psychiatrist indicated that I had OCD and finally the pieces of my jigsaw life began to fall into place.
My medication (Paxil at the time) and cognitive therapy did wonders to help me learn to manage my issues. I will go into both medication and cognitive therapy in future posts.
I want to end with this post with two of the many important things that I learned about OCD from my psychiatrist.
1. OCD is like pressurized water that will seek out a crack (stress or anxiety) and leak through.
2. Traditional anxiety and depression medications (Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac) can and will be used to treat OCD, but often in higher dosages.
And now...the moral of the story: If you feel that you may have OCD, please seek professional help even if it is not causing unmanageable distress. Tame the cat when it is still a kitten and before it becomes a full-grown lion.
Monday, June 11, 2007
As a young person (and as an adult), I was riddled with self-doubt. I had very few friends and my self-esteem and self-confidence were very low. Once I became old enough for important responsibility my basement low self-confidence would bar me from ever believing I could perform a task without error. I had to do and redo simple tasks such as locking the front door or setting my alarm clock in order to convince myself that I had done them correctly. When my Mom noticed me doing these things she would say "Just don't do it anymore!" Why not! Shouldn't not relocking a door or not resetting an alarm clock be easy? I guess for normal people, it is.
For instance, this sadly humorous account of a bedtime ritual speaks for doubter's everywhere:
10:30 PM Arrive home late from play practice.
10:31 PM Lock the front door.
10:35 PM Go upstairs and get ready for bed.
11:00 PM Lay in bed and wonder if the door is really locked.
11:02 PM Go back downstairs and check to see if the door is locked.
11:03 PM See that the door is locked and proceed back upstairs to bed.
11:10 PM Lay in bed and worry that I really just unlocked the door when I checked the door the first time.
11:20 PM Proceed back downstairs to double check that the door is locked.
11:21 PM Unlock the door. Relock the door. Step back from the door and see that the door is locked.
11:23 PM Proceed back upstairs to bed.
11:30 PM Lay in bed and worry that the lock didn't entirely engage when I locked it the last time. Curse myself. Laugh a little at my weirdness.
11:35 PM Proceed back downstairs to triple check the door to make sure that it is locked.
11:36 PM Bend down and look that lock square in the eye. Check the space between the door and the frame to make sure that the bolt part of the lock engaged fully. Lock and relock the door a few more times watching the bolt traverse the space between the door and the door frame. Step back from the door, stand up and say "The door is now locked."
11:40 PM Go back upstairs to go to sleep.
11:45 PM Lay in bed and wonder if my alarm clock is set.......
You get the picture, right?
There are some parts to this scenario and the wiring of the human brain that make the above a very vicious circle.
1. Ever, ever, ever finding the door to be unlocked on a recheck became proof that the compulsion/ritual was required to make sure that the door would be locked at night.
2. Finding the door locked was always pleasing and my brain then gave me a little endorphin shot that my body became dependent on.
3. Either way...I was screwed.
I was diagnosed as having OCD (primarily an anxiety disorder) in my 20's, but I began exhibiting symptoms in my teens. Unlike the extremely sexy compulsions that we see on TV (obsessive counting and cleaning), I have more subtle symptoms like checking locks, checking clocks, and intrusive thoughts.
As harmless as these compulsions seem, OCD can be debilitating in the extreme if not managed properly and/or medicated correctly. It is even helpful for the sufferer if (on a good day) he or she can step back and have a good laugh at the worries and the ticks.
The course of these posts will be aimed at exposing the disorder, sharing what I have learned in terms of managing the disorder and also logging my progress and setbacks. I hope to have some feedback from my fellow sufferers (and others) so that we can all learn and grow together. Last, but not least, let's laugh at ourselves and those darned intrusive thoughts and compulsions.