Sunday, August 30, 2015

My Prescription: Meditation for OCD

I first tried meditation when I was around 8. My mom brought me to a meditation guru who assigned me a mantra. What's a mantra, you ask? He advised it was a word to focus on while meditating. It was meant just for me but in the spirit of challenging magical thinking, I'll let you in on the secret: eng. The sound "eng" said in a slow and ceremonial way.

I didn't like meditating. But I did it for my mom. I was a  responsible child. My mom tells me stories of how I'd unpack my backpack upon returning from school to get started on my assignments. Never once did she have to ask whether my homework was completed. It was done before dinner.

I meditated as the responsible 8-year-old I was but I hated when she meditated. When she meditated when I had friends over, that is. If my friends and I had to maneuver through our home, it often involved walking by my meditating mother. I felt mortified that they would get a glimpse of her in an upright, stoic position, eyes closed. 

"What is she doing?"

Clearly not napping. I could deal with napping. 

And now, 20 years later, I'm choosing to meditate. I didn't check out Yelp for meditation gurus or whip out the old mantra. I was recommended the app, Headspace as a homework assignment for my OCD.

My inner 8-year-old still feels like it's a chore. That is until I'm about halfway into the experience. Sometimes I'm annoyed by the guy's voice. Yeah, yeah, let the annoyance be there and refocus on breathing. Sometimes I find myself in the moment and it's a welcomed change from being bound by the past and future. And if nothing else, I committed to the free, 10-day trial. This was homework, and homework needs to be done before dinner.

Speaking of dinner, I just finished eating spaghetti while pausing to blow my nose fifty-some times. Appetizing, I know. 

I recently came down with a cold. This happened after a week of doing exposures for my contamination OCD: I touched public doorknobs, turned light switches on and off, shook hands and eliminated my use hand sanitizer. And that's just a sampling!

And now here I am with a cold, whether by coincidence or not, I'm not going to analyze. What I am going to do is recognize that it's an opportunity to continue with more contamination exposures. I'm not washing the bedding nightly; I'm not disinfecting my toothbrush; I'm not using Lysol wipes on everything I touch. 

Part of me worries that this means I'm going to keep getting colds but I'm then reminded of what I would do while meditating.

I would let the thought be there; I would refocus on my breathing, or the feeling of my feet on the floor, or the hum of the fridge. 

And so I sneeze, blow my nose, and put what I'm learning through meditation to practice.

Plus I got through the ten day trial! When it came time to choose which subscription (or prescription) I wanted to purchase, I checked out the price options outlined in the App Store:

The price blip is something that deserves to be sent to a late night talk show. But for now, in the spirit of homework, it's time to go classroom style with a discussion question:
  • What meditation apps do you recommend?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Uncertainty: OCD's Kryptonite

Beyond the Doubt, a Facebook page, recently posted quite the gem of an article which you can find by clicking here

But I've summarized the meat and potatoes:

The Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale was created back in the nineties by a Canadian psychologist who refers to a higher score as a "cognitive vulnerability."

This, more specifically, was my favourite quote from the article:
[The psychologist] compares extreme intolerance of uncertainty to an allergic reaction. "If you’re allergic to nuts, and you have a piece of birthday cake that has a drop of almonds in it, you have a violent physical reaction to it,” he says. “A small amount of a substance that’s not harmful to most people provokes a violent reaction in you. It’s like a psychological allergy.
What a find! Like mining for metaphors!

I recently had allergy testing and watched as hives transpired across my forearms (please excuse the veins.) 

Side note: I posted this photo on my Instagram account and, without having read the caption, my friend thought I was proudly displaying my new tattoo.

My emotional experience is like the picture. Different pen marks to represent different vulnerabilities. I don't burst into psychological hives when opening a gift. The uncertainty of what's inside is exciting. But throw in some pen marks for my future state of health, my loved ones future states of health, and I'm swollen. 

This is why I don't watch the news. There are too many stories of what could happen, what has happened. The tragedies become imprinted in my mind and the world becomes a dangerous place. For all I know, there's also a "Good News Only" station that reports on births of babies, job promotions and thriving vegetable gardens. But the good doesn't matter when it comes to OCD. The fact that something bad happened once is terrifying. 

Show me the stats, the data, whatever you've got to demonstrate how rare something may be. Rationally, I can appreciate what you're trying to do. But my allergy to uncertainty has me breaking out.
Valid point, Voltaire. Feel the fear and do it anyway, right? But these hives, the itching, the scratching, the swelling. Uncomfortable is an understatement.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Health OCD: To Google or not to Google

Disclaimer: This is a reassurance-free zone.

After recently being subjected to a high-pitched alarm in an airport, I was concerned some hearing damage may have occurred. After all, I'm the person who is afraid of food processors (are there others out there?) 

There was no time to determine if there were any initial symptoms to strengthen my hypothesis. My connecting flight was cancelled due to the radar being purple. Purple radar is not good. Definitely not cloudy with a chance of meatballs. 

I cried out of fatigue; I cried because I hadn't eaten in 10 hours (and if you know me, you know I like to eat); I cried out of frustration. The staff behind the counter paused, "ma'am, are you going to be okay?"

He went on to tell me the hotel they're putting us up in is where the queen stayed. I have to admit, it was a comforting tidbit. I asked how the ferry system to the city works and learned that I was "lucky, the tunnel was built two days ago." Like finished building as of two days ago or built in two days? Either way, I was going under. 

I then proceeded to cram into the shuttle bus which gave new meaning to a can of sardines. I had to position myself like a contortionist so the bus driver could see his mirrors. 

Upon arriving at the queen's Canadian abode, I saw a flight of stairs and began to cry (remember, my blood sugar was shot so some slack for all the tears is appreciated.) I asked the first person who walked in behind me if they could assist lifting my carry-on due to my back injury. 

We set up shop at the long queue at the registration desk. Various ladies ahead of us asked if I was okay, if it was my first time travelling alone. I was ready to tell them I was 21 if asked. I don't know that a crying 30-year-old would get as much sympathy. But I didn't need to lie. They were more curious about where I had flown in from.

"The OCD conference."

"Me too!" 

Wait, what? I turned around and the man who had assisted with my carry-on had been at the conference!

While heading to the elevator, my fellow conference attendee yelled my name. I turned around and he pointed to my carry-on I had absentmindedly left in the lobby. 

I called my husband who insisted I get food. Entering the elevator, I could have sworn I pressed L for Lobby but somehow ended up on a floor with a wedding reception, bride strutting by and all. Okay so not the lobby. 

A security guard provided me directions to the nearest Tim Horton's. Ten minutes later, he found me in another area of the hotel. He chuckled and escorted me to the coffee shop. 

This is why I don't remember when the symptoms started. The symptoms of hypersensitivity to sound, ear popping and intermittent faint ringing in my ears. I wasn't in a state to remember any of this, to notice any of this. After all, I had just about joined in on wedding festivities  

When you have OCD, making the decision to go to the doctor is difficult. I gave myself a few days then caved. My prescription was to see a hearing doctor if it doesn't go away or worsens. 

I later reflected how long exactly is "if it doesn't go away?" What are we working with here? I called a hearing clinic hoping to find the answer to the elusive timeframe and was informed what I'm experiencing is "not normal" and that I should have been seen after 24 hours. My response? 

"Am I going deaf?"

"You might be."

I MIGHT be? 

The health OCD latched. And it latched hard. 

To complicate matters, I had increased my Zoloft as planned on my second day home, right after the siren situation. Doubt came flooding in: maybe the siren had nothing to do with your ear symptoms; maybe Zoloft is causing your hearing loss. 

It was imperative I saw an audiologist. Stat.

I was ready to fail. 

I passed with perfect hearing. 

It was explained to me that my ears were "bruised" from the siren. But to check with my psychiatrist about the ringing. 

I then did what is the worst thing to do when you have health OCD. I googled. I learned that SSRI's can cause ototoxicity. What a horrifying word! That was it, I was going deaf. 

I realized I was in over my head. I realized I needed help. I realized a missing puzzle piece from my treatment history: never had I received one-on-one individualized treatment with an OCD specialist where I stuck it out. 

It was time...

But for now, here's the surprising "view" from my room.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

What's the Rebuttal to "I'm so OCD"?

I recently had a fantastic interaction with a customer service representative. Mid-conversation, she commented that she is so OCD. I smiled politely, while feeling like I was doing an injustice to the blog I created less than 24 hours prior.

But what are you supposed to say? Especially when you're not sensing ill intent. I'm not about to start policing the English language. I recognize that our culture has misguided people. I recognize that it's said in passing.

Plus she was a really great employee!

So I did some research when I got home. How would one broach the subject?

I tried: How to respond when someone says they are so OCD.

Too wordy.

Next up: I'm so OCD rebuttal.

Too specific.

But what I did find were various articles posing the same questions: Is standing in line at the grocery store really the best place to educate others? Will my choice of wording put the person on the defensive? Can my level of passion be portrayed in a couple of minutes? Will the person appreciate the magnitude of what I'm advocating for?

My husband suggested, "Hand out business cards."

Is he onto something? Would it be viewed as spam? Something that ends up in the nearest trash can (or recycling bin for the environmentally friendly.)

It reminded me of years ago when a friend and I decorated our city with whimsical notes of hope, taped onto the drive through speakers at fast food joints and in bathroom stalls. They were intended as unexpected tidbits of inspiration (that for all we knew ended up in the trash/recycling bin).

Do I decorate the city with OCD awareness notes?  

Nile Cappello from The Huffington Post shares my frustration, 

It's insensitive to diminish OCD to the one, slightly obsessive or compulsive behavior you have. It shows a serious lack of understanding of what OCD is and does, and is a subtle yet powerful way of saying 'Oh, we all have that! It's not that big of a deal.'"

Jackie Lea Sommers hits it home on her blog, 
if it doesn’t hurt, it’s not OCD.”

Writer for CosmopolitanTaffy Brodesser-Akner, shares an example:
"'I am so OCD about cooking,' says a friend. What she means. . .is that she's meticulous, that she's upset when she puts in a pinch of salt when the recipe calls for a dash. Sure, she would have preferred to get the recipe right, but when she didn't, she didn't throw out her batter. She didn't wash the dish and start over. She didn't go into a set of completely unrelated rituals that took up time and peace of mind from her already fraught day. To associate OCD with a sort of anal-retentive behavior pattern is to totally miss the point.”

Writer, Brittany Fichter illustrates her point with this comparison: 

We’re all on the same page. But how do we address it in the moment?

She suggests the rebuttal, 
"you may not have a mental illness, but you are, in fact, quite meticulous!”
A solid suggestion! But would I have the guts to say it?

For now, I am comfortable blogging as my way of being an OCDvocate.

There was a time where writing about my OCD was out of the question. I now have attached my name to the illness. And maybe that's what raising awareness is all about. Learning to first feel okay in your own skin by strengthening your own awareness and then choosing the path that works for you.
If nothing else, I'll let my husband try the business card approach..
Or, you know, make a new episode of Cooking with Melanie. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Debunking the "I'm so OCD" Myth

When it comes to OCD, I've done my homework. I've read OCD workbooks, perused online articles, chatted with professionals, worked on exposure and response prevention therapy, attended two OCD conferences hosted by the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) and I’m still learning the nuances of what it means to have OCD and how to treat it. 

This makes the IOCDF's new OCDvocate initiative all the more dear to my heart. No, that's not a typo. We just commandeered the word advocate. 

And we needed to. 

If I'm still stumbling as I navigate this illness, how can I expect others to know that OCD is not an affinity for having things in order? 

Maybe we can start with kiboshing the phrase "I'm so OCD." OCD is an illness. Would you say, "I'm so cancer" or "I'm so hypothyroidism"?

OCD involves obsessions, which are intrusive thoughts, images or impulses that happen over and over against the person's will. Maybe it's the obsession of feeling responsible for any potentially hazardous items on the sidewalk while you're out for a walk. 

Compulsions are repetitive thoughts or behaviours in an attempt to reduce the distress. Maybe the compulsion is picking up those potentially hazardous items from that sidewalk. A rusty nail, shards of glass, you name it. 

Yet you often hear people proclaiming that they are so OCD. 

When I'm driving and think I accidentally hit a pedestrian (known as hit-and-run OCD), I don't stroll into the office and chuckle to my coworkers saying, "Morning guys. Man my ride here was so OCD."

There was a time where I didn't leave my city for a full year because I thought I was the magical force keeping my place from catching fire and my cats from burning to a crisp. If someone were to ask, "so why didn't you go out of town with your husband for Christmas?" I wouldn't respond with, "I'm just so OCD!"

I'm not so OCD. I have a diagnosis that at times can feel devastating. 

But I'll cut the public some slack. It's not like OCDvocate programs are running rampant. But this one has started and I'm christening it with this blog. 


Get the full lowdown at The International OCD Foundation's Blog