A Good Week

When things have been going badly for a long time, you hold out hope for a good day, and hopefully a good week. Just one that reminds you that things will get better, that there really is something to believe in. I had one of those weeks this week. Things have just gone strangely well. I’m cautiously optimistic.

It’s funny that I had a good week, because I was actually sick for a good chunk of it. I have some digestive system issues (surgery only corrected some), and they were bad this week. But too many things went right for me to let it get me too down. I introduced a friend to my new favorite TV show, which we got to watch together. I loved watching her reactions to some of my favorite scenes. I also got my friend in another state to watch it, which made me pretty happy. I finally tackled the task of cleaning out my clothes, a task I have been avoiding because I knew it would take a lot of time and energy and I just haven’t had the energy. But this week I felt like I could do it, and so I did. I even cleaned up some other things and got rid of a lot of stuff (I have a slight tendency to hoard clothing because I’m always convinced I will miss it even though I usually don’t). A weight has been lifted. When things are messy like that, I obsess over the mess and the feeling that I am not being perfect because I am not taking care of things. Like literally can’t sleep because I feel the mess around me, and I know I need to do something about it, but I’m avoiding it, so it’s still there, and I know it’s still there, and I should really do something about it because everyone else would, and obviously I shouldn’t allow any clutter or mess because I need to be perfect, and why is being perfect so hard when everyone else makes it look so easy? Imagine trying to sleep with that thought process running through your brain every single night. Mess increases my anxiety. It’s good for me to live with some mess so my anxiety decreases over time, but I try to not live with mess too long to ensure a good balance. I think I also obsess about messiness because on some level I am aware I am using avoidance. So now that I’ve taken care of it, I feel like I can do other things better too, like I can refocus my efforts to not let OCD control me.

I went out for Easter brunch and spent the day out with friends, chatting and laughing. I had a great lunch with a friend. I chatted with my best friend who lives in another state. I have some fun weekend plans. I got good news from someone who was dealing with something that was potentially scary but thankfully turned out not to be. I pushed myself to go to a networking event I had signed up for, even though I wasn’t feeling well and had been nervous about going. I made some good connections. I was contacted for a potential job interview.

To most people, this probably just sounds like an average week. But since my OCD, anxiety, and depression have been so bad the past few months, it’s been incredible to have a week where so many things felt normal and happy. The positive feelings have decreased my anxiety, making it possible for me to start working on my excessive hand washing again. I have been washing my arms and hands, but in the past day I’ve been able to start just washing my hands–not my arms. And I’m not obsessing as much afterward, wondering if my hands are clean. This is a huge improvement for me.

I’m trying to not let myself get too excited. Not that I don’t want to be happy and hopeful. I just know that for me, I have a tendency to put too much on pressure on things to be perfect. I have to remember to take each day and each thing as it comes, and remember to be grateful for the good when faced with the bad. I really needed this week.

When you’re in the middle of everything bad, it’s really hard to believe that something good will ever happen to you again. I was definitely there. But this week has restored my hope and reminded me that good things will come. They rarely seem to come when you want them, but they will eventually come. As hard as it is, you just have to keep going, keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep pushing yourself to live when all you want to do is curl up in your bed and stay there in the dark forever. If you don’t try, you’ll miss that ray of hope. Keep trying.

30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge–Day 3

MIA challenge

Day 3: What treatment or coping skills are most effective for you?

Medication: I struggle to fight any of my illnesses with Prozac. Medication isn’t for everyone, but Prozac really helps me. I tried Luvox for my OCD, but it had horrible side effects and made my anxiety worse, so I was glad when a new doctor switched me back to my tried-and-true Prozac. Prozac helps me stay calm and blocks some of the obsessions and anxiety. This keeps me from engaging in compulsions and feeling so down all the time. Right now, I’m not taking my Prozac because I’m between school and jobs and have no medical insurance, thus rendering me unable to afford a visit to my psychiatrist. I’m out of refills on my meds. I stopped taking them before I ran out so I would have them on hand if I absolutely could not manage anymore. Thankfully, I’ve been staying better than the previous times I went off meds, but that’s because so far, nothing huge and dramatic has happened in my life to trigger the anxiety that throws my OCD into overdrive. I’m not doing as well as I was on the meds, but I’m doing okay.

I also occasionally take Klonopin for anxiety attacks. I’m terrified by all the things I’ve read about how easy it is to become addicted to that type of med, so I work really hard to only take it if other methods won’t calm a serious anxiety attack (read: hysterically crying and shaking, unable to concentrate, total freakout meltdown mode).

ERP (exposure and response prevention): This has been key to fighting my OCD. I previously tried talk therapy (it did nothing for me) and a combination of medication management and talk therapy (only the meds made much of a difference). Once I knew I had OCD, I knew I would need to use practical measures to get better. I’m just that kind of person: theory doesn’t do much for me, but practice makes a huge difference. For OCD, this is a highly effective treatment because it forces you to live with the obsession without engaging in the compulsion. As you are able to live with the obsession without the compulsion, the obsession’s hold on you weakens, until it becomes more of a whisper or nag than something you feel has taken control of you.

I used this for contamination, checking, and perfectionism. My therapist and I used the SUDS scale (subjective units of distress). I talk more about that in detail here. We set up a hierarchy, and I completed the tasks starting with what would cause the least amount of anxiety, increasing to tasks that caused more anxiety once I had a handle on the lower items. This made a huge difference, but I still have to work on some areas.

Exercise: I have a hard time relaxing. I often don’t feel like I have time to relax, and even when I do, it’s hard to shut my thoughts off. I always want to be thinking about something. Doing something. Exercise is one of the things that helps me relax. I do want to lose weight, but I use exercise to keep my mental health good. It really does work. I go out for a power walk (well, now I can jog for part of that, something I couldn’t do before) and turn on my music, or I do some dancing with my Dance Central game. When I walk, I’m able to just focus on what songs I’m listening to, the environment around me, and my body. Sometimes I use that time to think through an issue without the pressure of other people around. Exercise is sort of a natural medication–it helps regulate the chemicals in the brain. (Read more in this post.)

Talking about it: I didn’t always talk openly about OCD. I hid it for a long time. I felt ashamed and embarrassed and didn’t want anyone to think I was “crazy.” Trying to keep it secret caused me even more anxiety. My heart would race if someone walked into the public restroom while I was washing my hands, because I knew they might speak to me about my hand washing (and sometimes they did–hello, more anxiety). I was terrified coworkers thought I was doing icky things in the bathroom because I spent so much time in there, when in reality I was washing my hands about 10 times a go. I didn’t want to admit that the raw redness of my hands was caused by me, not some allergy. But when I finally just started telling everyone, I felt free of that anxiety. Not everyone understands OCD. Not everyone will be accepting. But it still helps me so much to just be open. It alleviates the pressure caused by trying to hide. The less anxiety I have, the better, because if I don’t have much anxiety, my OCD can’t be fed.