Handling Situations with OCD

The first thing I wanted to talk about is how I deal with contamination OCD in everyday situations.  After all, this was the first anxiety disorder I was diagnosed with that has totally changed the way I think about simple things.  I was going to make the focus of this post of what a “typical” day looks like for someone with contamination OCD, but after writing it, I scrapped it.  Because, to be honest, every day and every situation the day brings is handled different; however, there are definitely some situations that happen frequently that I can write adequately about. So I’m going to write about situations that arise; whether daily, weekly, monthly or yearly and how I handle them, living with contamination OCD.

I’ve accepted the fact that I have OCD.  I’ve accepted that one day it will be much easier for me.  I’ve also accepted it’s a long bumpy road.  I’ve acknowledged I won’t be stuck with this forever, and it will pass one day with hard, continued work.  It’s been 5 years and hasn’t been an easy road at all, but I know it will.

*As a disclaimer, I don’t want anyone to get upset by what I’m about to type here.  The thing about OCD is that it makes you think about situations differently than you normally would.  For example, I may hear a kiddo coughing up a lung in the grocery store or in Target.  My brain immediately goes on a strong defense.  I will change aisles, I won’t go down that aisle again, and I will over think the situation half the day.  “Was I close enough to them to be around the germs?  Did that child cough in my space?  How long do the germs float around actively in the air?  Did they use the same check out lane I did?”  I will do this until I usually find myself just taking a shower.  Then the guilt kicks in, “that poor mom, I hope her kiddo is better soon, I can’t believe I just ran out of that aisle!  I hope that cutie is OK, why do I immediately think of the bad?”  Then the rationalization kicks in.  “Mary, you DO have an immune system.  You will be OK.  Do you know how many people may have been in the store earlier that you didn’t even see, that could have been sicker?”  So, like I said, I hope I don’t offend anyone with how I think through and handle situations.  Trust me when I say this: I NEVER intentionally want to make anyone feel like I’m avoiding them.  NEVER, EVER.  But, rationally, I can see where it does come across like that because in reality, I am avoiding.  My brain is just trying to avoid the SITUATION, not the person, on a personal level.  Please understand that. 

So, let’s get to it, shall we.

First up, I want to talk about work.  Let’s face it, we spend more time at work sometimes than we do at home.  It’s a necessary part of life.  We have to go to work and get our jobs done.  I like my job and as I mentioned in my previous post, I’m immeasurably grateful I’m back in my “home” office, 7 miles from my house.  It has made a world of difference in my anxiety levels there.  But how do I handle every day tasks?  Well, for starters, I use an antibacterial wipe to open the outside door in the morning when I come in.  Then I use hand sanitizer when I get to my desk.  If I have to make copies or fax something, I use a pencil eraser to punch the buttons on the printer.  If I have to bundle a package, I wash my hands afterwards with HOT water.  And speaking of washing my hands, after I wash them in the bathroom, I always use 3 paper towels to open the bathroom door upon leaving.  I never ever use the kitchen, or anything like the fridge or microwave, ice dispenser or water cooler.  Ever.  When I know we are going to have a birthday celebration and may have cake, I bring a plastic silverware set from home.  Actually I have a few in my desk drawer, just in case.  In the circumstance that someone is sick there, I bring a mini bottle of lysol with me to the bathroom and spray down what I know I’ll be touching, or I use a completely different bathroom if it’s available.  I will also use a different printer/copier.  And yes, there are times depending on how bad the sickness is and how many people have it, that I will spray myself with Thieves antibacterial spray when I get back to my office.  I don’t douse myself with it, but I will spray it a few times and walk into it, kinda like putting on perfume.  Bonus: it smells like cinnamon. 🙂

Shopping:  Usually this isn’t a big issue for me.  Most of the time when I’m out and about, I’m not in a store a really long time, especially lately with the panic disorder issue.  I will admit that I do go out  a lot more in spring, summer and fall than in winter.  I avoid going out in the wintertime.  Partially because it’s disgusting outside and bitterly cold, but also because I don’t trust anyone to stay home when they are sick.  People need medicine, groceries and gas when they are sick….so out they go.  I realize that’s normal, but all the more reason for me to order groceries online, use Target 2 day delivery for house items and wear plastic gloves while getting gas.  Anyways, we kinda got off topic there.  I won’t open doors with an antibacterial wipe when I’m out shopping, but after I’m in the store I’ll use a wipe, or Thieves spray, or hand sanitizer if I have it.  If someone is coughing or grabbing their stomach, talking about being sick (if they mention the word sick, I swear my radar picks it up from great distances) or just looks sick, I will literally turn around and leave, or check out early without getting everything I needed…to me, nothing I need is important enough to risk getting sick or bringing a sickness home.  That’s what Amazon is for.  I know what you’re thinking…do I really see people clutching their stomach while I’m at Target or Kroger, or the mall?  The answer is yes.  Now, maybe they just had surgery, or there’s something else going on, but I’m not typically gonna stick around to find out.

Doctor’s Offices:  I mean, could there be anything worse to have to live through when you have contamination OCD?  I schedule all our yearly appointments in the summertime.  All of them!  Physicals, blood work, the kids’ yearly appointments (convenient they both have summer birthdays anyways), dermatologist appointments, dentist appointments, OB appointments and even eye doctor appointments for Brock.  With all of my anxiety, I have a lot of appointments and follow ups with my psychiatrist, therapist and hormone replacement doctor.  Thank goodness they don’t typically see sick patients.  My hormone replacement therapy doctor is a nurse practitioner, so technically she can see sick patients, but most of the time, she doesn’t.  Even so, I try to get everything out of the way before November, if I can, when it comes to seeing her.  Thankfully my doctors, like the psychiatrist and therapist’s offices, aren’t intimidating to me, because like I said, they shouldn’t be seeing sick patients.  And, their offices are not in medical buildings, so there’s no threat of sick patients going to see other doctor’s in the building they practice in.  There usually comes a time when I do unfortunately have to take a sick kiddo to the doctor.  I feel too guilty having Brock or my mom do it, so I will go, but I will have my mom go with me since Brock can’t get off work as easily.  I don’t touch the door handles at all (thank goodness for the handicap buttons that open doors!) and I sign in with my own pen.  I don’t bring my purse in or my phone (less to sanitize later) so basically I cram a pen, hand sanitizer and my insurance card into my pockets.  Honestly, I don’t care what anyone thinks when I’m at the doctor.   In the room, I don’t let the kids touch anything.  They literally sit on the exam table and we just chat about our day until the doctor comes in.  Thankfully, my insurance doesn’t require a co-pay, so when we go to “checkout” after the appointment, I never have to give them anything.  When it comes to myself and going to the doctor….ugh, it has to be BAD before I go.  Last year, late in the fall, I had a killer sinus infection.  My ears hurt so bad I couldn’t lay my head on a pillow and the left side of my face felt like it was going to fall off. (I have a deviated septum and when I get a sinus infection, the left side of my face and left ear suffer the worst…like you really wanted to know that, but now you do.  You’re welcome.  Also, on a side note, I need the sinus surgery.  I’m sure it will go exactly like it did for Jennifer Aniston….and I will magically sleep better, get less sinus infections and be gifted with a slimmer nose.)  So back to the story.  I had to make an appointment and go to the doctor, during what was ramping up to be the worst flu season in history.  I walked into the office and immediately, another person walks in behind me wearing a mask.  I think a part of me died inside.  I didn’t know if they were wearing the mask to avoid giving everyone else their sickness, or they were wearing it to avoid sickness.  Either way, I got up, walked to the furthest corner of the room and prayed I would get called back next and I’m pretty sure I was holding my breath.  It was brutal.  Also, my doctor’s office has a finger device to measure heartbeat.  Listen, the LAST thing I want to do is use devices like this, and the blood pressure cuff, that sick people have used before me.  Sinus infections aren’t contagious, but the flu is.  I left there, went home and took a shower, then sprayed Lysol in my car, and on my purse, because even though it wasn’t in the office with me….I felt like I needed to.   So this is how I handle doctor’s offices.  Ya, I know.  So well, right?

Kids’ activities at school:  Let me be honest.  You can’t control school.  Kids have to go.  I just try not to think about how many times they pick their noses and eat their boogers a day after not washing their hands.  OK now that that’s been said, when Brayden started kindergarten, I was totally the mom that made sure I was at every single event, field trip and picnic.  1st grade was the same.  In 2nd grade I started realizing it was harder and harder for me to play room mom, especially in the winter months.  So, I just decided I would do what I could, which usually meant a fall field trip, Halloween party, spring field trip and then all the events at the end of the school year.  It made me feel horribly awful not being there for his Christmas and Valentine’s day parties.  Like, to the point that I cried one night thinking about it.  But….I – just – couldn’t…..  I remember asking Brayden how his 2nd grade Christmas party went and he said to me that one of the girls he was in a group with didn’t make it to the bathroom before throwing up.  And this, my friends, is why I shy away from winter events!  Last year when he was in 3rd grade I went on the fall field trip and couldn’t help with the Halloween party because of a work commitment.  That was pretty much it until the end of the school year, but of course by that time, my panic disorder had kicked in, so it made it even harder.  I made my mom go with me to his wax museum & speech and skipped field day and the walk-a-thon, which I always looked forward to.  I also try to volunteer for one holiday party at Mason’s school (Pre-K) as well.  Last year I volunteered for the Thanksgiving feast and it was one of the cutest things ever!  But this year….I’m reluctant to volunteer for anything with the onset of this panic disorder in addition to the OCD.  I know I need to make myself though!  I have learned this much, younger kids put more in their mouths, which means they usually get sick more.  Therefore, as extremely adorable as they are and as much as I love to see 3 year olds line up patiently to toss bean bags into pumpkins or pin the star on the manger…I just can’t handle it as much (especially in the winter) as I would love, or as much as I used to be able to!  I’ve made peace with my mom guilt and just do the best I can in these situations.

Sports: This one used to be tougher on me than it is now.  In my mind, the older Brayden gets, the more responsible he becomes and the less he puts dirty/germy things near his mouth, eyes and nose.  Baseball has always been his #1 sport.  Baseball is a spring/summer outdoor sport (thank you, Brayden…thank you!!) so thankfully we haven’t typically had to deal with much sickness on spring sports teams.  But, in typical fashion, if someone is sick…immediately I try to remember the last time Brayden was around them, or ask Brayden if they sat by each other or (gosh, please let this answer always be “no”) if he accidentally drank this kid’s Gatorade instead of his own.  It will bother me for a day or two, then rational thought comes into play.  Then 2 years ago he started playing basketball.  Oh sweet mother a winter sport.  An indoor sport.  A sport where sweaty kids run into each other and all touch the same sweat covered ball.  I mean….it was harder for me.  But, at the same time, if Brayden truly loves something, I’m not going to be the one standing in his way.  Last year he played on a travel team.  It was a wonderful experience for him.  He learned a tremendous amount of skill and I’m forever thankful for his coaches.  For me personally (selfishly), it was hard.  Mainly because it fell right smack dab in the middle of the worst flu season we’ve had in a million billion years.  For the most part, our team stayed pretty healthy–which was comforting.  But it was hard to go to these gyms with TONS of people all crowded around watching the games.  All I could think about when I saw the opposing team was “I don’t know these kids-they don’t go to our schools, what if their parents brought them sick because they wanted to play that bad!”  At the same time, I would also think “I wish I could be the one sitting with all our team’s moms, making new friends.”  But, I kept myself guarded because so many times in the past, I would open up, let that wall down and a day later see where they were sick or had a sick kiddo on social media, which then scared me for letting my guard down for future occurrences.  Sometimes OCD is so isolating.  I LOVE being around people.  I know I’m an outgoing person, but people that don’t really know me well, wouldn’t think that because I always have this “they may be sick, their kids may be sick” wall built so thick around me.  Sorry for all the side notes.  We got through basketball season….successfully haha.  I’d do it all over again because I know how much Brayden enjoyed it.  But, let me just say this…I’m much calmer during baseball season when the weather has broken and the worst of cold and flu season is behind us.

Cookouts and family gatherings/Group events:  Yikes this is a hard one for me.  I should preface this and say I come from a large family and so does Brock.  We’ve had our traditional family gatherings for years and I would be extremely sad if we stopped having them because family is everything.  I would say 2 things make these gatherings hard now.  1–the season they fall under….for example, Easter gatherings are fine…4th of July, Memorial Day…all good!  Thanksgiving and Christmas?  Not so much.  And 2–the type of gathering it is.  Brock and I host Thanksgiving every year and after every one leaves, I Lysol everything–and not because someone was sick, but just because it’s during cold/flu season and there’s 30 + people crammed in our house.  It gives me piece of mind, if you will.  Having large groups of people in our house makes me extremely uncomfortable when there are a lot of younger kids involved.  That’s the sad truth.  I say sad because I HATE that I can’t get comfortable with having all my friends and their kids over.  Brock and I used to live for couples game nights and double dates with our friends before kids, but OCD came into the picture and pretty much ruined it for me now that we are all parents.  I mean, I handle it OK if one couple brings their kids over for game night during the spring or summer.  But, more than that just makes my OCD throw all kinds of red flags.  This is also why we have our boys’ birthday party somewhere other than our home.  There’s nothing that makes boys happier than being outside playing a sport and running around.  So it’s a win win for me, thank goodness.  No big groups at our house, plus our summer birthday boys get to be outside with 20 of their friends playing.  An example of what type of event causes the OCD to rear it’s ugly head would be…anything in the winter with lots of people, and usually anything in the winter involving younger kids.  A winter birthday party, a super bowl party with families, and even some cookouts where I don’t know most of the people going.  Remember at the beginning of this post, I said I was worried people would take this kind of talk personal?  You have to know it’s NOT personal.  It’s not about THE kids, it’s about the fact that I cannot tell you how many gatherings I’ve been to where it casually gets brought up by a mom how little Johnny just got over the flu and little Susie just got over it the night before (this is an example obviously)…and I happen to look over and Mason is playing with little Susie.  I cannot tell you what kind of panic that brings to me.  That’s about the time I make Brock leave because I’m in the corner taking Valium trying to calm myself down and mentally preparing for how I’m going to “sanitize” Mason when we get home…then the car….then wash the clothes he had on separately.  I don’t remember before kids ever going out somewhere or to a cookout and our friends saying “ya, I just got over the flu last night.”  It’s certainly not impossible…it’s just much more likely when you bring a room full of kids into the picture.  I don’t want anyone to get the wrong picture and I’ll probably be explaining this until my fingers fall off, but I LOVE KIDS.  I love my kids’ friends.  My nieces and nephews are THE best!  I want my kids to hang with their friends.  I’m just simply stating that to someone such as myself, with an extreme fear of germs, being in a room full of kids during cold and flu season may be ranked right up there with going to the doctor during cold and flu season.  My brain does NOT handle it well.  It goes straight to the most extreme “what if” situation.  The older Brayden gets, I feel more of an ease about the situation in general.  Maybe that is a false sensation, but we will just let my brain think that to give me a break, OK?  Also, I will say cookouts and birthday parties were a breeze when all our friends were just starting to have kids.  We would have like 5 kids in a room, none of which were old enough to go to school and didn’t even go to a daycare because grandparents watched them.  We would all ohhh and ahhh over their development and sleep patterns and talk about clothes and toys for them. It was so awesome to me.  Then we all started having more kids and I was diagnosed with OCD.  It changed things.  Here are some more examples of events and how I would handle them:  A winter movie night at Mason’s school–not going.  A spring birthday party–sure!  A winter girls night with a handful of my closest friends–yup, totally fine!  The Christmas event the Children’s Museum has every year–not going!  A summer pool party for the kids–totally yes!  A Holiday work event–I’ll go but I will not shake hands with anyone and excuse myself a few times to go wash my hands and never eat anything unless there are forks available.  A trip to Chuck E Cheese at any time of the year—not happening! Haha.  Sorry kids!  An Indian’s game with friends–sure!  A winter birthday party at Sky Zone—for Mason, no.  For Brayden, uhm lets just say I would grit my teeth, say yes, worry about it half the day and make the kids get a bath/shower as soon as they got home.  A late fall cookout–when I know everyone, yes I’ll go.  When 10 people I don’t know bring all their little kids, I panic and don’t want to go.  I think you all kind of get the point here.  The time of year plays a huge part in most of this.

Kids and their friends:  For the most part, this only applies to Brayden since Mason just turned 5 and doesn’t really spend the night with anyone but my parents yet haha.  Over the years I’ve had to let go of some of the control I felt I needed to have over this.  You know why?  Because Brayden loves his friends.  I love that he loves his friends.  You know what else?  I remember how important my friends were to me when I was his age, and how at the age of 10 I never would have understood if my parents told me I couldn’t go because my mom was worried about germs.  This is why I let him go, no matter the panic it puts me through.  This is important to me.  However, just because it’s important to me, doesn’t make it any easier on me.  OCD is OCD.  The symptoms just don’t “go away”.  They’re there.  Period.  All I can do is try to “let go” a little and let be what’s going to be.  I’m very comfortable with Brayden staying the night with one of his best friends, because he also happens to be one of our neighbors and I think of him as a 3rd child.  He means so much to our family and it’s very easy for me to let Brayden go over there whenever he’s invited and to stay the night when invited….even in the winter (Gasp!  I told you this kiddo is like family to us).  When Brayden started staying with other friends, I won’t lie, it made me uncomfortable at first.  Not because I was uncomfortable with the family, because that couldn’t be further from the truth.  We love Brayden’s friends and their families are awesome people.  It was just a “new” experience for me to let him start staying with other friends and I would find myself wondering “I hope he’s being kind, I hope he’s being polite, I hope no one in the house is getting over something, I hope no one literally just got over something the night before…because that’s too soon, Brayden could still catch it.”  Yes friends, that may sound insane to you, but these were my honest thoughts.  Then Brock would say “Mary, they wouldn’t have him over if someone didn’t feel good, it’s OK, let him go be a kid, let him have fun.”  Brock is usually the one to diffuse my panic when it comes to being rational about certain situations.  And my dad, because he has a solution to everything.  Or, he’s just really good at BS’ing, but it’s worked since 4th grade, so I’m not going to question it.  My point is, the more Brayden started staying with other friends, the more comfortable I was with the situation.  But, I don’t think I’ll ever drop him off somewhere and not have the thought pass through my mind that I hope everyone is healthy where he’s going.  It is what it is.

Last but certainly not least……

The one, the only, the good and equally bad.. Social Media:  I think it goes without saying that social media can be our best friend and worst enemy at the same time.  I use social media a lot.  I promote this blog on it, it’s my entire platform for running my Rodan & Fields business.  So it has many upsides!  Plus, I think we all love following friends, family and celebrities for fun.   We all want to see our friends and family succeed, or at least I would hope you do.  Therefore, social media is a great tool.  I can tell my nephew congratulations on his home run, or tell my friends from high school happy anniversary.  I think you see my point.  However, for me…..social media can be detrimental for my OCD.  Along with all the good comes plenty of crap.  Around October usually, the posts start.  Posts of a kiddo laying on a couch or bed, and a caption to follow explaining how he/she has a fever, has been throwing up, has been to the doctor, has strep etc.  We all have seen these.  The normal response is to think “aww, I hope they feel better soon” and to move right along with your day.  Not me.  I see it and immediately think “is this someone in Brayden’s class?  In Mason’s class?  Do they have recess together, eat lunch together?  All irrational thought.  Right?  I mean, I know that!  Unfortunately this is where my brain immediately goes.  Then after I process the information (sometimes it takes longer than normal)—then like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I start to have a normal reaction….they “oh my gosh, I hope their kiddo feels much better soon!!”  You guys, it’s not personal.  I’m just being extremely honest about how the anxiety side of my brain processes these situations.  Also, with social media, in the winter, the more of these “I’m so sick” posts I see, the more I generalize and basically think everyone around me is sick, and that makes me want to stay home and I’m not the type of person to want to stay home.  I go stir crazy.  Finally, with social media, I will see my biggest pet peeve in life become a reality.  I know it doesn’t shock you that my biggest pet peeve in life has to do with sickness.  {Eye roll}  People will post about their kids being sick, then post 4 hours later of their child out and about with other kids, or at an event.  I don’t see it happen only with kids.  I see it with adults just as much.  “I’m so sick, but I have to go to work anyways, I hope I don’t give it to anyone!”  You guys….if you are sick, STAY THE F HOME.  Keep your kids home!  Yes, it’s completely inconvenient when we don’t feel good or our kids don’t feel good, but please, for the love of everything good and pure, think of other people instead of yourself and miss the event, take the day off work, miss the play date, and don’t wander around Target with your child running a 102 temp, just so you can get out of the house.  And parents that send their kids to school dosed up on Tylenol because their day can’t be interrupted?  Oh my word!  You are just contributing to lots more people getting sick and keeping the cycle going.  Listen, I get it.  Life happens.  Not everyone has a job that has built in sick days (though everyone should…let’s get it together America).  Not everyone has back up baby sitters.  Not everyone has family close.  All I ask is this; think of the newborn babies that are at the doctor getting their weekly checkup and can’t be exposed to the flu, or at Target with their moms because the mom needs to buy formula.  Think of the elderly that may only have 1 lung or just had open heart surgery and can’t afford to get sick, but desperately need groceries and don’t have family to bring it to them, think of chemo patients that still would like to continue going to church.  Just think about it.   I’m stepping off my soap box about this now.

Re-reading this post just now, I think this one by far makes me feel more vulnerable than the last one explaining the history of my anxiety.  Plus, I’ve picked my entire face off, so I know just typing about this gets under my skin.  I can’t tell you how to feel about how I handle these situations, because you are entitled to your own feelings, but I will not be ashamed of it.  I literally can’t help for starters, and also, it’s something that has to be worked through.  The thing I try to focus on is that even when situations make me uncomfortable, I try to push through them.  We still host Thanksgiving, we still let Brayden be a kid, he still plays any sport he wants, the kids aren’t home schooled (bless all the teachers out there, for real!) and I still am out and about every day.  I could easily let this get the best of me, but I refuse to live my life like that.  I choose to focus on what I can get through and continue to work on the rest.  This does not rule my life.  Sure, it makes certain circumstances more challenging, but I have faith that it will get better as time passes.  Anxiety is treatable.  This is all treatable, but those of us with anxiety know it doesn’t happen overnight, or even in a month, a year, or 5 years sometimes.  My biggest wish is that everyone would just understand it and know that I mean well and have the best intentions.  However, that’s like the biggest long shot ever.  So therefore, I’ll leave you with this, and I tell myself this every day.  Always remember, someone is always going through something.  Be empathetic.  Just because you may not personally struggle with it doesn’t mean you can’t still be a friend that listens.  It means more than you can imagine!  To everyone.

xoxox

 

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Anxiety Series #1: Let’s Talk Background & How I Got To Where I Am Now

How do you post about something that makes you uncomfortable?  Wait, WHY would you post about something that makes you uncomfortable?  I really have no idea how to start this post or what I could use as a catchy opening paragraph that would lure you into reading what’s to follow, because really, it’s a scary topic for me.  Wait, not scary, but just HARD to convey.

The answer to that question above is simple really; I like to talk about it and I’m pretty open about most things in life, and I honestly feel that it’s healthy to talk about.  And also–maybe there’s someone else out there that can’t put into words how they feel, or what they feel, and maybe this will help them to feel validated.

You all should know that anxiety comes in MANY forms.  It’s not just being “nervous” or “worried”, it goes much, much deeper than that.  Many people suffer from this, and I say suffer, because it’s the honest truth.  You SUFFER.  I used to think anxiety was just a “thing”, a “thing” that everyone had touch of, which everyone battled from time to time, myself included.  What I’ve come to learn the past 5 years is that it’s truly a battle, and it’s a BIG deal.  It can absolutely be debilitating and you can’t “cure” it yourself most of the time.

My anxiety started in the 4th grade.  I distinctly remember getting up in the middle of the night and sneaking into my parents bedroom, crying because I couldn’t remember if I turned my homework into the tray on Mrs. Terry’s desk.  I think my brain knew I turned it in, but for some reason, it sent me into a frenzy several nights a week.  Is the homework in my book bag?  No….what if I left it in my desk?  What if I turned it into the wrong tray (there was only one tray)?  It was ALWAYS where it was supposed to be, in the right (and only) homework tray on Mrs. Terry’s desk, and it was always on time.  Why I doubted myself over and over, I will never know.  5th grade didn’t seem as bad, I don’t remember being as anxious about homework, but 6th grade was a whole new ballgame.  On top of the hell that every middle schooler goes through, I again, was always worried about getting my assignments in on time and to the right place.  We switched classes a lot, we had different teachers and different expectations from each of them.  We were introduced to the handy-dandy agenda and we were told to write down our homework assignments.  Also, there was a “homework hotline” that we could call, in which teachers could leave a recording of homework assignments that were due.  I called this hotline every night and checked my agenda assignments to the assignment recordings the teachers left.  Then I would check my notebooks and folders to make sure I was prepared for everything the next day.

I was terrified I would miss an assignment and get in trouble.  I couldn’t get in trouble, that would be embarrassing and I didn’t want to know what getting in trouble was like.  Now, ironically, I wasn’t too worried about the actual grades I was getting; I knew I would get an A or B.  I was more concerned about getting them to where they were supposed to be and on time.  This continued all through middle school.  My mom finally asked the doctor at one of my school physicals what to do to calm my mind down a little.  His solution (he was totally an old school doctor but we loved him):  run….play tennis, do gymnastics.  Run up and down the stairs in the house 20 times to wear myself out, learn gymnastics and tennis because he told me I had the right body type for it and I needed to do these things often.  You know what I did….I went right out and continued to play….softball.  Face palm.  Why?  I didn’t listen to him for the most part, but I did find myself running the stairs in our house more than a few times.  To this day, I’ve always wanted to learn how to play tennis.  So if anyone would like to teach me….I even have my own racket.  I mean, since Dr. Liebschutz told me I would be good at it, just call me Serena Williams.

This need to make sure everything was on time continued all throughout my high school and college career.  I never once got in trouble, never once received a detention, never once had my parents called, and never once went to the principal.  Listen guys, I feel that I need to clarify because I know what you’re probably thinking.  I wasn’t a total goody-goody.  I had plenty of moments in high school, being a high schooler if you know what I mean, especially my senior year (ahhh senior year…so much fun).  I just had this thing with not getting in trouble at school.  And it wasn’t because of pressure my parents were putting on me, it was just completely the pressure I was putting on myself.

My sophomore year of college I started getting really really anxious on campus.  Not for any particular reason, but I just basically spent my days in a constant ball of anxiety and worry.  I finally went to the doctor to ask what I could do and he put me on my first anti-anxiety medicine.  It was the lowest dose that could be prescribed.  I just remember it making me feel tired and zombie like.  I didn’t feel bad, but I didn’t feel like I had any energy either.  Anyways, I ended up switching to a different anxiety medicine a few months later and I was on that until 2007 when Brock and I decided to start a family.  In that time span from 2002-2007, I think I had maybe a handful of panic attacks; of course I don’t remember everything, but I don’t remember it being unmanageable or horribly bad.  Looking back, I would guess during that period of my life I probably had what is called general anxiety disorder, which is really really common and what most people with anxiety have.

In July of 2013, Mason was born.  When he was 7 days old, we were getting ready to head to his 1 week appointment at the pediatrician and I heard this horrible coughing upstairs.  It was Brayden.  Somehow he had picked up a nasty summer virus.  The pediatrician also looked at Brayden that day and suggested that he stay with my parents until his fever and the worst of the symptoms went away.  If Mason were to have caught it, and had a fever of 100.6 of higher, he would have to have been admitted to the hospital and have had a spinal tap.  I didn’t blow this off, because the exact thing had happened to my niece 8 months prior.  She was around 1 week old, and one of her older brothers had a simple ear infection (which is obviously very common) and she ended up in the hospital for a few days.  Upon hearing he would have to stay with my parents until he was basically symptom free, I felt like this perfect little world I couldn’t wait to live in, shattered.  I had NEVER been away from Brayden for more than one day and NEVER overnight.  Brayden was still adjusting to being a big brother and I was extremely upset that he would feel like I was just pushing him away now that a new family member had come along.  He ended up at my parent’s house for 6 days.  You guys…..I cried.  I cried everyday, I called my parent’s house everyday to check on him, several times a day and I felt awful.  The mom guilt was absolutely suffocating.  On top of all this, I was recovering from a C-section and couldn’t really walk upstairs to clean well.

All I could think about was disinfecting everything upstairs where Brayden had been because I couldn’t have Mason going to the hospital.  Then the mom guilt set in again that I was thinking about disinfecting when I felt like I should have been taking care of my sick kiddo, but I knew my parents were taking good care of him.  It was the most horrible feeling in the world being away from Brayden for 6 days.  And when he came home, I felt like I couldn’t hug and kiss on him as much because “maybe some of the virus was still lingering” and Mason was in my face 24/7 and I didn’t want to risk it.  I was miserable.  I think I was about 3 or 4 weeks into my maternity leave when my dad and I were talking on the phone one night and he said “Mary, have you ever considered you may have inherited grandpa’s OCD?”  I know I’ve written about my grandpa’s contamination OCD before, but just as a quick refresher, he had an extreme case of it.  He basically only went to work, church and the grocery store.  He would stand over the sink for over an hour every day, several times a day and wash his hands.  He opened everything with a stack of about 10 paper towels (even in his own house) and he would pour dish soap in the laundry machine because he thought it would sanitize his clothes better.  He would blow on his food and his silverware before eating and if he tried to open a medicine bottle and the pills spilled, he would throw away all the medicine.  I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

It had never dawned on me that I could have inherited his OCD.  I spent my entire life kind of lightly making fun of him for how long he spent in the bathroom every time they came to visit.  I also always had to tell my friends that were staying the night, that if we didn’t get in the bathroom before he did, we wouldn’t see it for over an hour.  So I took my dad’s question serious and started googling symptoms of contamination OCD.  I think I was able to diagnose myself in about 30 seconds.  I had almost every symptom.  It was hard to grasp.  After my maternity leave was over, I went back to the doctor, a new GP I had just started seeing and she officially diagnosed me with contamination OCD.

Then in 2014, two big events happened that made my OCD (that I was managing “ok” at the time) just become 10 times worse.  I was moved for work, from my office, that I had been in for 12 years, 7 minutes from my house, to a city 50 minutes away.  I was devastated.  On top of the move, it was a MUCH bigger office with MANY more people.  My brain was never out of “high alert” mode.  I was basically a walking time bomb; I would shake  24-7, my hair was falling out, I never wanted to talk to anyone (which is soooooo not me) “because they may be sick” and I think I went through a bottle of hand sanitizer a week.  My anxiety went through the roof and OCD became much harder for me to hide from my co-workers, friends and family.  The second thing that made it worse was the Ebola outbreak.  Don’t laugh, I get that it was probably irrational to worry about, but when you have an extreme fear of germs and people are dying in the next state over, it affects you.

The anxiety continued to get worse and finally my GP told me I needed to see a therapist to help work through some of the OCD.  I had NO idea what to look for in a therapist.  I had never been to one before.  I had this notion that things had to be REALLY bad before seeing a therapist. {Wrong, by the way}  I didn’t know where to start in the search process and it was honestly very overwhelming.  I finally found one that I thought seemed to be an ok fit.  I went for about 8 months.  We talked about a lot of stuff, but never really dove into the tools I needed to be taught to beat the OCD.  Through my time there, she referred me to a psychiatrist to get on the right anxiety medicine.  Again, this was something completely new to me.  I had no idea what to expect.  I was going through all these new motions but nothing was really getting better.  I even considered getting hypnotized!

I think I lost 12 pounds in 2 weeks at one point in time.  About a year later, I applied for a new position at a smaller office of ours and got it, thank goodness.  This helped a little, but it was still far from home and at the time, by the time I got home at night, I had about an hour to spend with Mason before he went to bed, since he was only about 20 months old at the time.  I had stopped going to the therapist because she told me I was too “fragile” to start Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to beat the OCD thoughts and to be honest, I wasn’t getting what I felt I should be getting from the sessions.  Like I had mentioned, nothing was getting better.  In the meantime, the psychiatrist put me on all new anxiety medicine and adjusting to new medicine is never a fun process.  We had already been through 2 anxiety medicines and neither of them had worked.

In the summer of 2016 my psychiatrist suggested having a genetic test done, to see which medications would respond best with my body.  It couldn’t have hurt.  It ended up being one of the most beneficial things I have done to date.  The results blew me away.  Apparently I have receptor blocks to all the traditional SSRI medications, which was why nothing was working for me.  I also have these same receptor blocks to most pain medicine.  My body metabolizes it so fast, it burns off before it can really work.  Which makes sense considering I went through 3 epidurals during labor with Brayden and could feel the spinal block being put in before my C-section with Mason.  If only my food metabolized that fast!  Ha!

With this newfound medicine information, my psychiatrist was able to use the genetic test to try more new medicine.  It wasn’t a quick fix, but by June 2017, he started me on one that seemed to help calm the OCD thoughts just a tiny bit.  However, work was becoming the worst struggle for me.  I was scared of using the bathrooms, didn’t want to use public copy machines (I would use pencil erasers and paperclips to push the buttons to copy and fax), and was scared when people came into my office to talk because I always felt like I would have the one person who was sick, come into my office.  Truth:  that wasn’t always the case, but it did happen a few times.  At this point, only 2 co-workers knew about the OCD and knew how bad I had it.  I’m so completely grateful for their help….their daily help with small things helped me cope.  It got so bad that even with the new medicine, I had to do something, the shaking uncontrollably was back, my blood pressure was high (it’s usually very low) and my hair was falling out again.  Both my psychiatrist and GP both told me that I needed to move back to the office close to home, to help with the anxiety because my body was under an insane amount of stress and they were starting to get worried about me.  In October of last year, that happened.  Praise Jesus.  I mean it.  Praise HIM (& I’m so grateful for my company).  I was able to move back to my old office, close to home.

I can’t even tell everyone what a weight was lifted off my shoulders.  In my “comfort zone” I was able to preform so much better, with less stress.  Everything was amazing.  I looked forward to going to my office everyday and my psychiatrist said that because some stress had been lifted off my body, the medicine would work better.  It was working better and everything was running much smoother for me.  Don’t get the wrong idea though; the OCD was still very much there and very much rearing its ugly head, especially since cold and flu season was on its way, but since I was in a comfortable place, it didn’t put as much stress on my body, I could relax more.

In January, I started feeling “weird”.  I can’t explain it perfectly, but I felt like, at times, I was on the verge of a panic attack.  I hadn’t had a panic attack since 2012, so they weren’t really common anymore, and definitely not something I was expecting.  I never HAD a panic attack in January, I just felt like it could have happened.  It caught me off guard.  Everything had been going so well….work was awesome, Brayden was having a blast playing travel basketball and we were making some updates to our house and planning an amazing vacation.  I called my psychiatrist and told him about the feelings I was having.  I should mention that 3 months prior he had suggested that I double my anxiety medicine because I needed something stronger.  I told him that when I tried to do this, it made me pretty dizzy (as I mentioned, I have really low blood pressure and that alone makes me dizzy).  So when I called him in January to tell him what was going on, he asked if I had doubled the dose.  I told him no because it was making me dizzy.  He told me I needed stronger medicine and that it was hard to get the right dosage for me since my body didn’t tolerate a lot of side effects.   He gave me some “as needed” medicine to take if I felt like a panic attack was brewing and that was the end of that conversation.

The first week of February I had a full on panic attack, while 45 minutes from home, with Brayden, at hitting lessons.  I spent 25 minutes in a Starbucks bathroom trying to de-stress and had to take one of those “as needed” pills, which by the way, didn’t work.  I tried to call my mother in law since she lived down the street, but she was vacuuming upstairs and didn’t hear her phone.  I tried to call my parents, but they had friends over and didn’t answer.  Brock was at home working on our remodel project and had power tools going and didn’t hear the phone.  It was horrible.  I’m pretty sure I looked like a zombie when I went to pick Brayden up from hitting lessons.  I finally talked to Brock on the way home and told him everything that had happened.  I was a mess.  The next day, I called my psychiatrist again and told him I had actually had a full on panic attack.  He told me to keep doing what I was doing and we would look at different medicines the next time I came in to see him, which was in a few weeks, because my body wasn’t tolerating the medicine I was on anymore.

I couldn’t think of any changes that would have spurred the panic attack on.  The only thing that was really putting a huge stress on my body was flu season, since it was so awful and it seemed like everyone around us was coming down with it.  I was constantly on the defense.  The kids and I were on so many vitamins and I was trying as hard as I could to keep everything sanitized.  Brock, my dad and Mason did end up catching something, and I spent a week cleaning and sanitizing our house top to bottom.  I wasn’t eating much and my hands were cracked and bleeding from all the cleaning products and hand washing.  Obviously I was more stressed out than I seemed?  Then the first weekend of March I woke up one morning, turned the corner to head to the bathroom and passed out.  I fell backwards into the hallway closet doors….scratched the hell out of my back and scared myself to death.  The doctor said it was most likely from my blood pressure being so low and how fast I shot out of bed that morning, and not to be concerned.

All I can say is that weird stuff started happening after that.  Suddenly my heart rate was completely jacked up.  My resting heart rate was 110, sometimes 120 and I was dizzy more often.  I would go to Target, get halfway through the store and get dizzy and start panicking because I felt like I was going to pass out.  And guys….let’s be honest, Target is my happy place, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt bad being in any Target store.  I would rush to the checkout and pray I could find one with no wait.  I would go out with my friends and have small panic attacks in the movie theater and my heart rate would go up to the 150’s and I would start sweating bullets and the dizzy feeling would return.  I told myself I wasn’t going to let it get the best of me and it would pass, so I continued to go back to Target and other places around town and push through the feeling of the panic.  The more the dizziness happened, the more anxious I would get, then panic attacks would happen.  Then I would get nervous a panic attack was going to happen while out and about by myself, and it would start the cycle of feeling anxious and dizzy all over again.

In April I saw my hormone replacement doctor (she had helped me with some anxiety and hormone stuff a few years earlier) and she did a complete blood work panel.  By this, I mean you feel like you may as well be donating blood to the American Red Cross.  Think 8-10 large tubes.  I also had another test I had to take that was going to measure the levels of GABA, serotonin, nor-epinephrine and dopamine.  In layman’s terms….stress levels and neurotransmitters in the brain.   The tests showed I had extremely low iron levels, some very low hormone levels and some very very low GABA levels and very very high nor-epinephrine levels.  Basically, my brain was stressed beyond max levels.  I was living life in constant fight or flight syndrome and the low iron levels were bringing on some of the hair loss and dizziness.  Enter all kinds of medicine and supplements for these issues.  Also in April, I met with my psychiatrist again, who told me to stay on the medicine I was on and to also take a secondary medicine daily that would help calm me down and help my heart rate find its normal rhythm, also known as a beta blocker.  He also changed my “as needed” medicine to something I had used in the past and felt better about taking, and finally, he told me I needed to find a new therapist and start going regularly again because the anxiety had developed into full on panic disorder.

Unfortunately by this point, I was now scared to go places alone.  I had been through too many panic attacks while out and about and it scared the crap out of me, which just produced more panic attacks.  It had already reached a vicious cycle.  Rationally, I knew I needed to keep making myself do things.  So I would still go out to eat and run little errands here and there….quickly.  In and out in less than 15 minutes was my style.  Then one Friday at the end of April, Brock went out of town on a golf trip and I had the boys with me in my car on our way to get dinner at Panera Bread.  As I drove to Panera, I had a panic attack.  In-the-car!  With my kids in the car.  I don’t know which one of those last 2 sentences freaked me out more.  Not my car!  My car was my “safe place”, my “go to” when I was out and about that I could always retreat to and feel safe and comfortable.  It was my feeling of control over a bad situation and NOW the panic was entering that safe zone….my go to, that always made me feel comfortable.  I just remember being very scared.  I couldn’t believe it happened with the kids in the car….not that it impaired my driving by any means, but the kids make me comfortable….so again…why???  I remember thanking the Lord that there was only one car in front of me at Panera that night and then of course Brayden wanted Wendy’s, so down the road I went for that.  Having to wait in line for that was making the anxiety even worse.  I made it through it, but it had already scared me to the point of damage.

That next week I found myself hunting for a therapist again.  It may be the worst task ever.  You can ask friends, but the therapist that works for them may not be a fit for you, you can ask doctors for referrals, but I tried that and my psychiatrist only knew of Carmel and Westfield therapists and I wasn’t driving an hour for therapy.  After a lot of asking around and a lot of research, I found one, and she specialized in panic disorders.

Then things started escalating quickly.  Let me recap my first week of May.  I had to go back to the psychiatrist for an anxiety medicine check, he realized (finally!) I needed to change my anxiety medicine again and started me on a lower dose of something new so I wouldn’t get dizzy.  I also went to my hormone replacement therapy doctor and had a hormone pellet implanted….yes, implanted in my hip.  My levels were so low that I needed major help and part of the benefit of the pellet was that it was supposed to help a little with anxiety and energy.  Then at the end of the week I started seeing my new therapist.  All while not feeling comfortable driving by myself within 15 minutes of my house and work.  We had a vacation coming up the first week of June that I had already decided I was NOT MISSING.  It was a vacation to my future residence (I’m kind of kidding, but not really)….I had been wanting to go for years and I wanted to feel less anxious and ready to enjoy the break.  Plus, let’s be really honest here.  I needed a damn break.

The next couple of weeks before vacation I tried to take it easy on myself and give myself a little grace.  All I really did was get ready for our trip and focus on the anxiety calming techniques my therapist was teaching me at our twice a week sessions.  I didn’t try to do a lot because I know the pressure I always put on myself and all I was focused on was that vacation.  Vacation by the way was amazing.  I’m not going to lie…the drive down and back was rough because I was scared to death of getting stuck in traffic because I knew that would be a situation I wouldn’t handle well.  But the actual vacation…..completely what I needed.  You can read about the vacation here!  I was with my mom and the boys, so I was comfortable (Brock had to stay behind to coach baseball and work on our remodel) and there was never a fear about being out somewhere alone having a panic attack because we were all together the entire time.  I also used the time to look into meditation.  You can laugh, because I totally laughed when my therapist mentioned I needed to learn how to get really good at it.  But, it actually CAN make a difference.  Also, bottom line….the vacation was amazing and much needed!

After vacation, my focus was solely on driving and going places alone.  I could beat this.  I knew I could.  I would have moments where I felt brave and I would go to Target and get as far as I could in the store until I started feeling dizzy from the anxiety, then I would leave.  Then usually I would end up going somewhere else too, because I would tell myself if I got through even 15 minutes in Target, I could get through that amount of time somewhere else too.  I also would randomly just drive around on the weekends, desperately trying to make the connection with myself that my car was actually OK and not a source of panic or anxiety.  These were just thoughts, I would tell myself several times a day.  I was stronger than the intrusive thoughts.  But, there were also days I would drive to Kroger or the mall and just sit in the parking lot and would end up leaving.  My therapist would tell me it was OK because I still went with the intention to go in, but I just don’t see things like that.  To me, it was failure.  During this time, Brayden was playing baseball….a lot of baseball.  Since I had also had small panic attacks at the baseball diamonds earlier in the season, I refused to go to the games alone, and Brock was the head coach and couldn’t sit with me, so I enlisted my parents.  I mean, they normally go to all Brayden’s games anyways, but I felt so child-like having them with me because I needed them there, not because I just thought it was great they could make it to his game.

No one can really truly understand how this all made me feel.  I will try to sum it up in 2 points.  1–I’ve always been an extremely independent person.  I used to have a job where I had to travel all over the state for events and meetings and it was no big deal.  I’ve driven out of state by myself before and it wasn’t an issue, if I wanted to go somewhere new and my friends couldn’t go with me, I would still go.   I was very used to having a busy schedule, full of friends and sports and family.  I’m one of those people who can’t stand to waste a weekend at home.  I like to be out exploring new things.  I love meeting friends at new restaurants or places.  That was me summed up in a nutshell before this spring.  Having that independence “taken away” made me probably the maddest and most frustrated I’ve ever been and trust me, anxiety has made me plenty mad before.  The fact it wasn’t going to be a quick fix just floored me.  Why did it happen?  Like I really needed to have another form of anxiety come into my life.  Point number 2–This panic disorder literally couldn’t have come at a worse time.  Summer time is the ONE season of the year that my OCD calms down a little and I’m not constantly worried about germs and sickness.  Why was my “grace season” taken from me and replaced with another anxiety disorder?  None of this ever made me sad, know that.  It downright pissed me off.  Let me clarify, it still very much pisses me off.  More and more everyday.  I refuse to let this get worse.

Now here we are, in August.  Basically 5 months in with “treating” this panic disorder, and 3 months into therapy.  I can tell you it’s getting better, but its most definitely a struggle every day still.  I’m still getting dizzy if I drive too far, alone.  If someone is in the car with me, I’m fine.  I still struggle being in the back of a store, if it’s a large store, because it’s further from the entrance (aka, an escape).  I’m also now on two anxiety medicines, plus an as needed anxiety medicine that I always have on hand.  I cannot tell all of you how much I absolutely loathe taking lots of medicine.  I should mention the long term goal is to stop the one medicine and take a stronger dose of the other.  I do 12-15 minute meditations a few times a week and I’m still pushing myself to drive further and further, but so far I’m only to about 20 minutes outside home/work.  I miss going out with my friends, which I plan on starting to do again, even if I get dizzy because of the anxiety and they have to take me home.  I’m going to just assume that won’t happen…and that’s how I’m going to play that, because I miss them terribly.  I’m really really stubborn and hard headed.  Dealing with anxiety doesn’t change this.  I literally fight it every single freaking day.  Maybe I should have sought out more help with the OCD in those couple of years I didn’t see a therapist and maybe it wouldn’t have spun into another anxiety disorder.  I can’t go back, so all I can do is move forward.

I wanted to write this because it’s very important to me to speak out about it.  It’s very important for me to speak my truth and the hardships that go along with it.  Also, talking about it is extremely therapeutic.  I can 100% guarantee you that there are people I’m friends with, that will read this and have no idea this has all been going on.  I can also 100% guarantee you that no one would ever guess I’ve been going through this for the past 5 years because it doesn’t change who I am.  It just changes how I handle and think about certain situations.

It’s my hope that you’ve stayed with me through this long post and will continue to read the other posts in this series.  It’s so important for me to put this out there.  Maybe someone else will relate, maybe someone will reach out to one of their friends going through a similar situation, or maybe someone who doesn’t deal with anxiety can understand just how bad it can get and how it can alter a perfectly healthy person’s lifestyle.  If that you, I hope you can learn empathy.  None of us know what’s going on behind the eyes of those that we work with, go to school with, see in the grocery store or eat dinner next to in a restaurant.  All I can say is try to think about these things.  We all have our struggles.  Let’s help each other out, shall we?  Let’s be forgiving, let’s be empathetic, let’s be open that someone may need us for an issue we may not understand. It’s not important that you may not understand the issue, the important thing is that you are there.

Go out and be kind today, we all deserve it.

Next up:  A typical day with OCD.

xoxo

 

 

 

North Carolina Has My Heart

Before we really begin the story, there are some things you need to know about me.  When I was 12 and in 7th grade, I suddenly fell in love with all things North Carolina.  That was also one of the years UNC went to the championship game for college basketball.  I’ve never been a huge […]

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Home Projects and Inspiration

Hello lovelies! The hubs and I are getting ready to embark on making some changes to our home this year.  I mean, we’ve put it off for like 3 years and it’s just one of those things we need to bite the bullet on and finish….well not finish, but at least complete these couple of […]

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Update Time!!

It’s time for an update!  It’s been about a month since I last gave one…..so here we are. Things you should know before I mention anything about weight or inches lost: –I never measured myself. Every time I do, I lose motivation, so I just didn’t even go down that road this time. –I didn’t […]

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Inspired, Natural and Creative

Inspiration is Natural.

ModMommyMK

Mommy in the modern world!

queenjarrell

Journey to Better Health and Living

Project Light to Life

A bucket list blog: exploring happiness, growth, and the world.

Happily Oiled After

Journey into healthier living and essential oils

mandy odle

stories from a mommy + makeup artist

Little Miss Momma

Mommy in the modern world!

Eat Yourself Skinny

Mommy in the modern world!

Skinnytaste

Mommy in the modern world!

a is for abs

Mommy in the modern world!

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