Life With OCD in the Winter

Yes, this is similar to this post.  The difference is that this post deals with how winter effects my OCD.  How is that different?  Well, simply put, because more people are sick in the winter.  Since I have contamination OCD, the months of December, January, February and even half of March are brutal for me.

I’m dishing up some honesty today.  I have to say, OCD is harder for me to talk about, because it may seem like I’m not working hard enough or fast enough to work through it.  The problem is that I’ve had it for 6 years and it hit hard and fast, like most anxiety disorders.  I didn’t try therapy until 2015 and it was not the best experience.  Maybe it’s because it was my first experience with therapy, ever?  Maybe it was because my therapist and I just didn’t “mesh well”?  I dont know, but it wasn’t a great experience.  During the 9 months I was seeing her, she told me on several occasions I was too fragile to really work on the OCD.  I mean?  What had I been paying her for, for 9 months, once a week?  Then I didn’t try therapy again until this past summer (and PS, my therapist now ROCKS).  So basically, I’ve had to start from scratch, 6 years in.  So, it’s going to be harder to get over and take more time.

Every week my therapist gives me a teeny tiny task to conquer and take on.  I’m pretty competitive, so this works for me.  But when I say teeny tiny task, I legit mean tiny.

Background:  I work full time away from home, our kids are in 4th grade and Pre-K, and both in sports.  I’m an extrovert.  I’m built to be out socializing….THIS has put a damper on all of that, as you can imagine.

Typically the hardest thing for me is not being able to control my environment.  Obviously anxiety stems from not feeling safe or out of control.  Basically, it’s me in a nutshell, just worse in the winter.

This is how contamination OCD feels in the winter:

If someone is sick at work and I find out, I’ll ask a friend what it is, or how long they have been out etc.  Why?  Because that tells me to stay away from the bathroom, depending on what they have.  Asking anything about anyone’s business makes me feel ridiculous, I won’t lie.  But until I know something, my brain won’t shut off, my heart rate just keeps climbing and I start to go into early phases of panic.  We USED to have an amazing cleaning service at our office.  Now, they have cut our cleaning service down to 3 days a week and the service we have now really really, well, it’s not great at all.  This is not so much an issue I look at in the spring and summer, but is more of an issue in the winter.  Our building is of decent size and typically if someone is sick, there’s enough “room” that I still feel like I can have a little control.  We have 2 bathrooms.  For about 20 people.  Also, we have training in our building that is held several times a month, which brings in another 10-25 people that I feel like I have to worry about, since people tend to come to training sick because they feel like they can’t miss it.

What’s been happening the past couple weeks is that when someone gets sick…I tell myself “it’s OK, it’s probably nothing, just Lysol the bathroom and the printers, copiers etc.”  But once I start hearing the rumors about any type of stomach stuff happening, (stomach issues are my BIGGEST trigger) I just stay in my office, working, not drinking hardly anything until I can go home for lunch to avoid using bathrooms at work.  Extreme?  You bet.  I get it and I know what you’re thinking.  I could be at the mall and use a restroom and not think twice about it and who knows who has used that restroom 50 times before me.  Also, I’m sure I’m probably getting dehydrated, as I’m supposed to be drinking half my weight in water because of the anxiety medicine I take.  So what do I do?  I chug water at lunch and I chug water when I get home.  It’s horrible, I know.  But my brain LITERALLY has a giant red flag with flashing red lights that goes up telling me to steer clear of the work bathroom at all costs.  If we are talking bad colds or sinus infections, I’ll go in there with my wipes and not worry.  Stomach issues….nope.  I’ll do whatever it takes to try to avoid (aka control) the situation.

And let me be clear…it’s NOT work (even though regular cleaning would be a little burden lifter), it’s the OCD rearing it’s ugly head, making me think things are all epic catastrophes when the truth of the matter is that it probably would be OK to use the darn restroom.

Another thing that’s hard for me in the winter?  School for the kids.  I love their schools, teachers and friends dearly, but to me it’s one giant petri dish that I don’t generally worry about until the end of November, when I start seeing and hearing moms talking about the stomach bug invading their households.  Then again usually around Christmas it makes another big comeback….then typically there’s a few weeks after Christmas (probably because kids aren’t at school) when everything is calm again, then mid January it rears it’s ugly head until early March.  I learned early on that school is definitely something I cannot control.  The kids HAVE to go.  But, I do get all kinds of panicked when the kiddos come home saying their best friends went home sick or are sick with stomach issues or the actual flu.  My brain:  wash their coats, make them take showers, Lysol their book bag, ask them if they used the same school supplies or ate after each other… Speaking of questions; I also don’t want to ask them too many questions to get their minds worried.  It’s a fine line because I know some people are more prone to anxiety than others and I do NOT want to see our kids get OCD.

It-is-exhausting.  My brain is so physically and mentally exhausted when something like this happens.  Normal logic is that all kids get sick.  It happens.  Mine have been sick this winter, with some random cold-digestive virus that felt like it lasted an eternity for Brayden. I mean, I get that everyone can get, and is allowed to be sick.  What people have to understand is that my brain sends out panic signals to my body when it is someone close to us, because typically when I find out about it, you might as well list it under “categories you can no longer control since they’ve already been exposed.”  :-/.  Most would say “why worry about it now?  If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”  Well, it would be really nice if I could think of things that way, trust me.  Instead I sit and overthink, and text my therapist for validation and text my friends just to get the thoughts out of my brain.  I mean, I’m amazingly fortunate that my friends will listen to me and try to talk me down.  That’s such a blessing.  I’m so thankful for them!!!

In general this time of year I’m just astoundingly aware more than anyone, of what my surroundings consist of.  At the grocery store, I look to see what people in front of me have on the belt….if it’s Gatorade, Sprite, Pedialyte, ginger ale or saltines—I find another lane.  Let’s break this thought process down:  all kids love Gatorade and most of them love Sprite, so why does it bother me?  Brayden drinks Gatorade all the time and it’s OK when I buy it.  But, when someone else does, along with other items like the crackers…I immediately think, stomach virus!  At the gas station, I try to use my hands as little as possible, and use antibacterial wipes afterwords.  At restaurants, I will never drink directly out of a glass.  I have to have a straw.  I also use antibacterial wipes after looking at the menu and I’m aware of everyone sitting close to me (no, not the people I’m dining with, but the table next to us or behind us) .  Are they hacking?  Are they talking about being sick?  Even when I go to my therapist’s office, I always ask her if anyone prior to me had been sick.

Family gatherings and birthday parties in the winter are also really hard for me.  I love my family and our kids’ friends dearly and I always love to see them.  We have some amazing people in our lives.  But my brain doesn’t trust that people will stay home if they are sick, and 99% of the time, it’s never our family or friends having the party, it’s other people that come to the gathering, which obviously I can’t control in any way.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been at a family function or party of some kind in the winter and good ol’ Debbie (not a real person), a mom of a kiddo who is at the party casually just throws out there that little Jenny (again, just another example) was throwing up all night, but she’s sure glad she woke up “better” this morning so she could come to the party.  Newsflash Debbie.  If your kid was throwing up 10 hours ago, they are still contagious, so thank you for bringing her here to spread it to 15 other kids who can go home and keep the gift that keeps giving alive, because we all know that 4 year olds always wash their hands and never put their fingers up their noses or in their mouths.  Or, another favorite is after your kids have been playing with a group for 2 hours, all on the same equipment by the way, one of the parents slides into the conversation and says “ya, Bobby (again, not a real person) was put on TamiFlu 2 days ago…and it made him so much better!  I’m so glad we could come today, we both needed to get out of the house.”  Are you freaking kidding me?  Your kid just tested positive for the actual flu.  Yea, TamiFlu is going to help with symptoms, but for the love of everything good and pure….why is Bobby here at Sky Zone–and also, thanks for being selfish and thinking only of yourself and how you needed to get out.  None of us had anything else going on the next 2 weeks and our schedules are wide open to be home with sick kids.  (Eye roll)  But the one that wins the most awards and literally makes me fall into an immediate panic attack is being at someone’s home for a gathering and after being there for a while, the host says “I really didn’t think we were going to be able to pull Cindy’s (another example) birthday party off, we’ve all had the stomach flu this week.  It went through the entire house and got every one of us and little Cindy just got over it last night.”  What the actual hell.  You invited 40 people to your house and you’ve all been sick for over a week and thought that was OK?  Listen, I completely get that people are really way too busy these days.  When baseball season starts, we will be living out of our cars as much as we are home, so I get it.  It’s gets worse with multiple kids in sports and activities….I get that too.  But don’t contaminate 40 people because you didn’t want to reschedule to the following weekend because your other kid had a tournament of some kind.  It should be common sense, right?  I mean, you make the best out of the situation.  You do something special at home and give your birthday kiddo his/her presents and whatever else you can do to make their night enjoyable, and you promise them a make up date.  If a make up date cant happen for some reason, then take them out for some one on one time and have a bigger party next year.

Does this sound judge-y?  Maybe.  To me, it’s common sense and being considerate to other people.  If our boys dont feel well, I make it a point to text who ever is hosting the event and tell them what’s going on.  Also, if our kids have a fever or have had any stomach issues….they don’t go anywhere.  At all.  Brock and I both work outside the home, so is it a pain when they have to be home….yes.  But ya know what, we took on the responsibility of having kids……soooooooooo….you do what needs to be done.  My parents are close and watch Mason when he’s not in Pre-K, BUT, if the kids are sick, it’s me that has to take off work 90% of the time, because I really don’t want my parents to get whatever it is that they have.

Anyways, I’m going to hop off that soap box…..but now your eyes are opened up (maybe) to how I feel when I’m at these events/places if they fall during flu season.  As bad as I want to be there celebrating…..as bad as I want to be around my friends at the party, this is what runs through my mind.

You guys have NO idea how badly I want to be the mom who just doesn’t care about what might be around the corner and let the kids go do their thing.  Don’t take it wrong though, our kids get to do what they want for the most part, I’m just leery of these types of things during flu season.

So what’s the “cure”?  How do I “get over” this?  Well for starters, with as much as I’ve put up with over the past 6 years, if you say something to me along the lines of “you’ll be fine”, or “just get over it”, I legit may slap you.  Don’t you think if it was that simple, I would have done it by now?  The real answer here is a combination of things.  Like other types of anxiety, the first line of defense (at least for me) is therapy and anxiety medication.  In my experience, having the tools from a therapist has helped the most, along with getting the right types of medicines for my body.  Not all anxiety medicine is created equal, trust me.  I feel like I’ve tried just about everything to get some relief, and the simple and true fact is that it will take a while to control.  Control is the key word here.  As I’ve mentioned before, anxiety happens when you feel like you can’t control your situation, so, if you can learn how to control your thoughts, body functions and feelings in the particular situation, you can control your anxiety and not let it control you.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Nope!  Our brains are the smartest, yet dumbest organ in our bodies.  I’m not a doctor, so that may be an exaggeration haha.  But, as powerful as the brain is, and as much as it controls in our body everyday and as much as we cannot live without it…..you can retrain your thought processes.

It takes A LOT of time and effort to change a thought pattern, but it can be done.  This is why it’s so important to see a therapist.  They basically can give you a toolbox full of tools to help in certain situations.  Whether that tool is mindfulness (a practice of being present that is a lot harder to grasp than most think), counting backwards, rephrasing the thought, meditation, distracting yourself or a plethora of other tools, it’s good to have a plan of when to use what tool and how to practice getting good at the tool of your choice.  This stuff (for lack of a better word) doesn’t just magically come to someone after trying once.  Meditation takes time to learn.  Mindfulness was one of the key tools in helping me through panic disorder this past summer.  I thought “I’ve got this, it’s a piece of cake, I listen to these videos and learn how to do it and once I know what to do, I’ll whip it out when I feel panicked somewhere.”  I can tell you that did NOT happen that way.  It took me TWO MONTHS to learn how to literally put everything in my brain aside and focus on the speaker and what they were trying to teach.  Like anything else, you have to get good at it and yes, it takes time.  I’ve said it 50 bazillion times….how everything takes time.

That being said, that’s where I’m at.  Better than last year, but definitely not out of the woods.  Actively working on retraining my brain.  Every.  Single.  Day.  I would guess I probably have another year of hard work to get through to learn how to really control the OCD thoughts.  I’m good with that.  Really.  As long as my friends and family closest to me know I may ask weird health questions during flu season, without taking offense, we can all get through this together.  And I mean, there may be a time when these panicked thoughts are completely gone and then all of a sudden 2 years from now come back.  In fact, I’ve heard it happens more often than not.  The difference between now and then is that I’ll be able to use what I’ve learned to completely transform/reshape the situation and think about it differently.

It’s important to me to be brutally honest on this blog.  I want people to empathize with the struggle.  I want people to know that even outgoing, social people like myself can be affected, as badly as they do not want to be affected.  As much as they want to be at events with their friends in January having a blast, they are instead thinking that there may be sick people there and be home upset with themselves, for thinking these things and not going.  I want people to know if you are in the same boat, you aren’t alone.  Lastly, I want people to know it’s something you can get a hold of in due time with hard work.  You will always have an ear ready to listen with me.

Friends, be kind to everyone.  I say it all the time.  You never know what they are walking through.

xoxo

Mary

 

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Anxiety Series, Post #3: Things That Help Me (Coping Strategies)

**I am not a doctor and do not have the skills to tell someone what medications or supplements/hormones to take**  (Like you didn’t already know….but just in case haha)

As many of you know all too well, having anxiety certainly is a rough road.  Some days are rougher than others.  I think once you accept that you have really bad anxiety, you can focus on what a plan of attack would look like. Though I’ve had anxiety since 4th grade that has progressively gotten worse over the years and turned into OCD and panic disorder (read the whole story HERE), it wasn’t until this year that I really accepted that I had some pretty bad anxiety and only I could take control of it.  Yes, the past couple years, I would tell people that I had OCD/anxiety in hopes they would listen.  I would try my hardest to tell people I had these things and felt these feelings and how they negatively impacted my life, because I so badly wanted people to understand what I was going through.

What I realized this year, was that I was going about it the wrong way.  I have truly accepted I have these things; these panic episodes, the contamination OCD, the general anxiety….but I have not truly pushed through to find and share my voice, my opinion and my story.  The fact is, there’s literally NOTHING to feel bad about, and I shouldn’t feel like I have to get acceptance from others or be ashamed of anything.  Anxiety is all around us.  It affects so many people, on different levels, every second of the day.  This realization of knowing and sharing my own story has actually become a blessing to me, how crazy is that? To be able to talk about these things feels so refreshing.  To share what has worked for me, to share my struggles and to receive the feedback from all of you, has made me so happy.  I feel like I get to use the TEENY TINY platform that I do have (seriously, it’s small), to talk about something that so many people struggle with!

So today, I wanted to share some things that have helped me work through some of this anxiety.  Beware:  they are random and glorious at the same time.  And also, I just want to say, dealing with anxiety isn’t something that you can magically get great at over night.  I know I personally have a long way to go, but I feel in my heart of hearts that some of it has gotten better, which is why I want to share.  I was always on the search for “something”…for years, that I could relate to, or someone I could relate to, that would fill my brain with positivity, so basically I want to be a friend and let you in on what I’m doing.  Some of these may work for you, some may not.  We are all unique!  If these methods don’t work for you, keep trying to find your own!

Here are some things that have worked for me (in no specific order):

**Therapy:  I can’t say it enough.  YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE BROKEN (or feel broken) TO GO TO THERAPY!  It doesn’t mean you are weak, it doesn’t mean you don’t love Jesus enough to depend on prayer alone (trust me, I love me some Jesus and I pray all the time), it doesn’t mean you are a crazy person.  There are tons of benefits of talking with a therapist.  I really think everyone….that’s right, everyone, could benefit from seeing a therapist regularly.  Here’s the main thing you have to keep in mind while considering therapy:  you have to finding the right therapist for you.  In 2013 when I was diagnosed with OCD, I didn’t see a therapist until 2015.  I had no idea how to find one or what to look for.  All I wanted was someone close to my house or my work, and an actual psychologist, not a counselor.  I had no idea what to expect, and let’s just say, I hated it. I felt like nothing was getting any better and I was paying this lady 130.00 a week to sit and talk about things that weren’t even useful tools to overcome my anxiety.  I stopped going after 7 or 8 months and was completely turned off by the idea of a therapist because I had such a negative experience.  It wasn’t that the therapist I went to was bad at her job, she just wasn’t a good fit for me.

This past (late) winter when I was diagnosed with panic disorder, I knew I had to start my search all over again for a therapist. It took 3 months to narrow options down and get suggestions and recommendations from others, but I hit the jackpot!  I finally found a therapist that was able to target the issue, hit the ground running really hard and actually give me tangible skills that helped me overcome some of the anxiety battles I was facing.  When I started seeing her, I was going twice a week, and am now going once a week, and feeling like there are some weeks I may skip as I continue to progress.  It literally just feels like the weight of the world has been taken off your shoulders when you go to talk to someone who can give you helpful tools to achieve your end goal.

**Medication:  Everyone says this is such a touchy subject, but honestly….why?  If you have a sinus infection, you take an antibiotic to get better right?  So, what’s the difference between that, and having severe anxiety and needing medicine to help regulate some of the levels in your brain that cause the anxiety?  There is no difference.  What helped me the most was getting a genetic test done, that showed what medications would work the best for me, based on my cellular make up.  There are a blue million anxiety medications out there and I think I’ve tried 7 or 8 of them over the past 16 years, but after having the genetic test done, my doctor was able to narrow the playing field a bit and switch up my medicine to something my body would respond to better.  In my case, the test showed I had a receptor block on all SSRI’s, which make up about 70% of all anxiety medicines.  Which, also explains why I showed no improvement with some of the medicines I had been on in the past.  I also had a test done at my hormone replacement doctor’s office that would measure my levels of dopamine, serotonin and nor-epinephrine.  As my doctor suspected, I had extremely high levels of nor-epinephrine, which meant my body was constantly in fight or flight mode.   So, to those out there that say “oh you can heal anxiety naturally, you dont need medicine.”  Cool.  But I DO.  I can’t just use lavender essential oil or some combo of anti stress oils (side note: I love my oils…thieves oil is used every night on our kiddos) or CBD oil, or some natural anxiety supplement and have it all magically go away.  My brain actually produces too much nor-epinephrine and not ENOUGH of the chemical (excuse my lack of medical terminology) that calms my brain down.  So I do take the medicine, and it does help.  But, you should also know that you cannot rely on medicine alone.  To TRULY OVERCOME anxiety, and by overcome, I mean learn which tools help you battle through it, you have to do more than just rely on a pill.

**Meditation and Mindfulness:  Meditation is something that completely took me by surprise.  My therapist suggested it when I first started seeing her, as a way to practice slow breathing and to try and calm my thoughts.  I thought “oh great, how the heck am I going to navigate this one.”  I looked on You Tube and watched a few and wasn’t really impressed.  For whatever reason (because I usually don’t turn to the good ol’ iTunes app store), I found 2 apps that looked like they would be promising.  On the way home from North Carolina this summer, we were at a rest area in West Virginia and I started listening to the free meditations on the Calm app.  I kinda toyed around with it for a few days, trying to start this meditation habit and finding which ones I liked and which ones worked.  There’s a lot to choose from, and honestly, I ended up purchasing the full expanded version of the Calm app.  Meditation was CRUCIAL for me the first 2 months in my journey of battling panic disorder.  Every morning, I would do a quick 10 minute meditation.  I get it now, there’s a reason why people think meditation is all the rage.  You guys, it feels like you are wrapped in a fuzzy blanket, sitting by a place you love the most, thinking CLEAR thoughts.  Meditation puts you in a state of mindfulness.  You are sitting in the here and now and it just feels so great.  No worries, just what’s around you at the time.  It just feels good to start your day with such a positive vibe.  On harder days, I would also do them at lunch.  Just a quick 10 minutes on my lunch break….to reset.  For those of you that don’t know much about meditation, there are meditations for literally everything; self esteem, mindful eating, relationships, health issues, kids, creativity, dreams etc.  You can even fall asleep to nightly meditations.  My psychiatrist was pumped when I told him I was trying to meditate and figure it out.  He and my therapist both kept telling me I had to “get good at it” before I noticed the benefits and had the tools in my pocket.  It’s true.  I did this almost every day, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day, for maybe 3 months and I felt like I was finally getting the hang of it about a month into the practice.  Mindfulness is a key tool in overcoming anxiety and meditation can get you there.  Try it!

**Books that helped me:

~~The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Anxiety by Alexander L Chapman, PHD.  My therapist suggested I order this on Amazon before I even began my first session with her.  It “teaches” mindfulness and relaxation techniques.

~~Dare by Barry McDonagh.  I haven’t finished this one yet, but the first 5 chapters introduce the method.  It’s pretty awesome!  It’s a great resource to have handy!

~~Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis.  Yes, it’s a self help/motivational book.  But hear me out, this book led me down a rabbit hole I am so glad I fell down.  Everyone around me was raving about this book.  How great it was, how motivational it was.  The truth is, I don’t have a ton of time to read and I was focused on doing “all the things” to try and get myself out of the panic disorder cycle my body was in.  I ordered the book on Amazon mainly because everyone else did.  Peer pressure haha, jk.  After reading the first couple chapters, I was thinking “man, this chick is pretty cool, I feel like I need to know more, because there are some eerie similarities here; maybe I should check out the podcast everyone ALSO keeps raving about.”  That’s when it happened.  I found Rachel’s podcast (her podcast is titled Rise, btw) on how she handled her debilitating anxiety.  It was all over after that.  Everyone finds a message that speaks to them….that podcast was LIFE CHANGING for me.  Every word out of her mouth, I was nodding my head “yes, that’s me, uh huh, yep, so true, holy cow that happened to her too?!?”  I could have cried after listening to this.  FINALLY, there was someone I could relate to, someone my age, that wanted “all the things” and knew they were made for more, but had to overcome this freaking mess called anxiety.  FINALLY.  Someone who powered through and made the best freaking lemonade life could make out of crappy lemons.  Then I started listening to Dave and Rachel’s daily live streams.  If you don’t watch them, you should.  These live streams replaced the morning meditation for me.  They are typically 20-30 minutes and inspirational as a motha.  So the moral to this story:  for me personally, the best thing I have done for myself in this anxiety relief journey, along with my kick ass therapist, was finding the wonderful Rachel Hollis.

The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins.  Ok, I can’t comment too much on this since I’m only on page 30, haha.  BUT, if you purchase the book, it comes with a free 31 day mentoring session.  Pretty cool huh!  Mel has battled her crippling anxiety by using her method (5, 4, 3, 2, 1) and fought lots of other battles using the same concept.  I can’t wait to dive in and read the rest of this book.  Also, she does a coffee chat in the mornings that always are about an interesting topic.  These are usually at 9:30 am, so I have to watch them on my lunch hour, or after work.

**Moving Your Body:  It’s true.  Get up.  Move your body.  Walk, do jumping jacks, wall sits, push ups, shake your arms and hands, stretch.  Moving your body makes your brain think about something else.  If you are home, go for a walk outside while blaring some rap or alternative music, get on the treadmill, run up and down some stairs or lift weights!  If you are at work, get up and stretch while taking deep breaths, walk/pace your office or the hallway for a minute or two, do 10 lunges or just shake your body from head to toe for 30 seconds.  Anything that requires a different movement than the normal routine is going to lead your brain down a different path, and some of the anxiety should dissipate.

**Miscellaneous Tools: Find music that brings back amazing memories and listen to it in times of stress or panic.  Journal your struggles and the steps you took to help conquer them.  Journal 5-10 things you are grateful for, because, as my therapist has told me since day one…a grateful soul cannot be both anxious and grateful at the same time.  Pray.  Get your hormones tested and if need be, be open to taking non synthetic hormones to help gain some balance in your body.  Call or text old friends and reconnect with them over coffee or wine.  Find an online community that may be struggling with what you struggle with and look through their suggestions or go do something special for someone.

These are some of the things that have helped me.  Some of these things may work for you, some of them may not.  But, I thought it was important to share the combination of things that worked for me.  Like I mentioned above, just taking medicine, or just meditation is not going to “cure” severe anxiety.  You have to find a combination of things that work for you, and use all of those tools together, to power through.  You know the saying “it takes a village”?  Imagine a village with 30 houses, and each house is a different tool.  You are in control of the tools you use, but it takes the entire village, not just one house.  As I learn and evolve more into my journey, I’m sure my village will get bigger and that’s the hope!

I hope this helps some of you, or leads you in a direction of what different options are available out there to try.  And also, when I say try, I mean really try.  Give them a solid 2-4 weeks to work and for you to master the skill.   Powering through the traffic jam of anxiety is not easy.  If it were easy, no one would have anxiety.  Be patient with yourself and accept that you need a change of habit to change the way you think and to acquire the skills you may need to help you through your own journey.

Xoxoxo

Mary

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

 

 

 

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