Ebola/Handwashing Combo Post

Why haven’t I written here about OCD and Ebola yet?

The Ebola virus fright this year has become highly politicized. I would be the first to complain about media hype, sensationalism, and attempts to scare the public. We also must recognize that it should be perfectly reasonable to have discussions and disagreements about protocol without it becoming political, or overly emotional. It can be political, of course, but shouldn’t have to be.

Many people with OCD experience fears of illness, and these people (at times including myself) are particularly susceptible to this type of scare and media hype. Luckily, I have not been unreasonably worried about Ebola this year. It should be noted, however, that for someone with OCD, media hype isn’t even necessary. Those of us with OCD often develop fears based on stimuli which would hardly even affect normal people, let alone scare them.

Sometimes it seems people think it is necessary to over-state or exaggerate something to make an impression on others at all. Sometimes I wonder if this had to do with my childhood fear of germs, and hand washing compulsion. At school, teachers emphasized hand washing. They showed us videos about germs. The normal kids went on not washing their hands but I decided to, every day before lunch. It separated me from the other kids. It was a ritual no one else did. Yet I only washed my hands once — every single day, before lunch. (Not that that was the only time I washed my hands, but the only unusual time I washed my hands, at school.) Would I have been this way if teachers hadn’t treated me like every other kid, assuming I would not listen well enough, or take the concern of germs seriously? I don’t know. Would I have had other OCD fears and compulsions? Probably. But is it right to overstate what we say to kids, assuming they will only mind half of it?

The “30 Things” Post

Apparently there’s this thing going around now, where you post 30 things about your invisible illness that others may not know. What else may you not know? I’m up late, and very tired right now, but always very tired as I’m taking care of a newborn lately. Anyway, you can thank invisibleillnessweek.com for this post and here’s the beginning of this whole trend, also apparently.

Note: I could’ve made this about OCD, chronic tic disorder, OR hypothyroidism. Or idiopathic/immune (depending on which doctor you ask) thrombocytopenic purpura. But in the interest of simplicity, and not making anyone pronounce any new words, I picked OCD. Will I do others in the future? If I get bored, maybe.

30 Things About My Invisible Illness You May Not Know

1. The illness I live with is: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
2. I was diagnosed with it in the year: 2013
3. But I had symptoms since: As long as I can remember.
4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is: Realizing that my brain frequently tells me something is wrong when it’s not.
5. Most people assume: That OCD just means I like having things neat and am particular.
6. The hardest part about mornings are: That I often wake up immediately thinking about something that really bothered me from yesterday, which I had tried to stop thinking about.
7. My favorite medical TV show is: Um… I don’t really have one. I’ve seen a few episodes of House that I liked, but I doubt there is such a thing as a medically accurate medical TV show, unless it’s a documentary of some kind, in which case it’s probably not a show. This was a really long answer. Anyway, medicine is a strong interest of mine so I have a feeling the inaccuracies in popular dramas would frustrate me (though this would actually have nothing to do with my OCD). I just made the long answer even longer!
8. A gadget I couldn’t live without is: My iPad mini, but only because it’s the last present my dad got for me before he died.
9. The hardest part about nights are: Trying to stop thinking about everything that’s been bothering me.
10. Each day I take 2 pills & vitamins. (No comments, please)
10.5: I really really wanted to add a comment to #10. And that is, I take 0 pills & vitamins that have anything to do with treating my OCD.
11. Regarding alternative treatments I: This depends on what you mean by “alternative.” If you mean homeopathy or seeing a chiropractor, no. But I am open to lots of other things. I am a skeptic, and I believe in modern medicine and science.
12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose: Visible, because then I don’t have to explain to people what is wrong. As much. Maybe.
13. Regarding working and career: Fortunately, my OCD has not interfered much with this, except for sometimes making me tired from being up all night being upset about something for nights on end.
14. People would be surprised to know: That me being detail-oriented and meticulous is probably a completely different facet of my personality unrelated to my OCD.
15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality has been: Actually, being diagnosed was a big relief for me, and I think I faced more struggles when I didn’t know or tried to hide my problems. Since I’ve most likely had OCD my whole life, if this question means a contrast between life before OCD and life after, I really can’t answer that.
16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was: Um… stopped thinking about something that bothers me? Because that’s pretty much simultaneously the most stupid and simple-sounding accomplishment yet also the most difficult one. Raising children is pretty tough, though.
17. The commercials about my illness: I don’t really see any.
18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is: Worrying? No, I don’t miss worrying, plus I still do it anyway. Otherwise I do the same stuff.
19. It was really hard to have to give up: A feeling of trust in my poorly wired instincts.
20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is: Blogging about my diagnosis.
21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would: Since I’ve always had OCD, I always feel normal. 😦 But um… I would probably accomplish a LOT more if I didn’t have to spend so much energy trying to ignore my own thoughts. So I would probably just go out and do a lot of stuff.
22. My illness has taught me: That I have the power to ruin my life by creating problems because I’m worried that they will exist.
23. Want to know a secret? One thing people say that gets under my skin is: That I’m worrying about something “little” or “not a big deal.” If I felt like it wasn’t a big deal, why would I be worried about it? Oh, thanks, that thing I thought was a big deal is suddenly not a big deal just because you said so without stating any other reasons or even trying to find out why I think it’s important! Thanks!
24. But I love it when people: Help me restructure my own thoughts instead of rebuilding them for me. For example: “Do you REALLY think washing your hands again will make you feel finally sure that they are clean, or will you maybe just want to do it again in five minutes?” versus “You’re worrying too much! Stop washing your hands all the time! Why are you making a big deal out of nothing?!”
25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is: Um… I need to find one. I do think being able to laugh in the face of adversity is important, though. (Being able to laugh at yourself and your situation. Not like… laughing cruelly at your enemies. That’s not what I mean.)
26. When someone is diagnosed I’d like to tell them: To expect people to make a bunch of assumptions and give nonsense advice. Constantly. And just to be pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t happen.
27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is: I can’t really answer this because I’ve probably always had OCD.
28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was: Treated me as though my thoughts, feelings, and concerns were valid and important.
29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because: I have an invisible illness, I’m bored, and need to update my blog.
30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel: Special?

Coming Back (An Ego-Centric Post)

I love to be doing better, but going too long without writing is not a good thing, and I tend to only realize a problem is OCD after it’s too late. This means my mindfulness could use improvement. The more something bothers me, the more it gives me that “Something bad is about to happen if I don’t resolve this” feeling, and the more I feel compelled to think about it. It sounds simple to be aware of this basic cycle, but OCD is good at tricking us.

Here’s another problem: Should I still be open about my OCD? Will new people I meet judge me if they learn it too soon? I don’t force bringing it up, but I don’t hide it either. I figure this is the best approach. It’s an embarrassing but true part of who I am, and I feel that trying to hide it would be bad in the long run. I have to be honest with others and myself about who I am.

It’s been a while since I’ve regularly updated this blog. I need to take a good look at it and make sure I don’t write too much about things I’ve already covered. But then, isn’t that what OCD is all about?

OCD Desert

Lately I’ve been in a desert where I have few OCD symptoms, or the ones I have don’t bother me as much as they used to. And I’m grateful for that. Part of me is sad I haven’t had much to write about, but I’m glad that I don’t feel OCD is controlling my life. I feel more aware of the anxiety in my life, and more able to control it; I feel more aware of my own fears and worries, and that helps me cope with them a lot better. I still struggle with others assuming when I express concern that I have been over-worrying, and that’s probably something I’ll struggle with my whole life. Once a worrier, others will tend to naturally assume you are “just worrying too much.” But right now, that’s the worst part — I hope that one day, those close to me will trust when I express concern about something that yes, it is valid, and no, I’m not “just worrying too much.” At the very least, consideration that my concerns might be valid would be appreciated. I know we are all capable of error sometimes, but I would prefer it if the default assumption is no longer “she must just be stressing out over something silly.” I guess I will just have to work to get to that point.

What’s OCD and What Isn’t

To help people understand OCD a little better, here are some simple OCD and non-OCD examples.

Not OCD = washing your hands frequently.

OCD = washing your hands because you looked at a bottle of poison, and worry that poison particles might have floated onto your hands.

Not OCD = keeping a clean house, and being tidy to a fault.

OCD = cleaning your house even though you don’t want to, because of an object that touched something that touched something that touched something else that might have touched something dirty months ago that has since been cleaned, and now all of these objects are probably contaminated.

Not OCD = being conscious and careful about germs.

OCD = worrying that germs can travel in ways they actually don’t, or believing that certain numbers or colors are associated with the spread of germs (i.e. “If I looked at something blue/the number X, I’ll probably get sick”).

Not OCD = enjoying routines and following rules.

OCD = following routines and rules that you hate because you feel like if you don’t, something bad will happen.

Not OCD = keeping objects straight and neat.

OCD = readjusting an object even though you know it probably is straight, because it just doesn’t feel right.

It’s impossible to diagnose OCD based on one symptom alone and as you can see, the problem has less to do with being clean or orderly and more to do with being unable to tolerate even a small amount of uncertainty. People with OCD are more aware and afraid of uncertainty than other people. We obsess over something that might happen as though it probably will, or already has happened. We do this not because we’re uptight or even generally excessive worriers, but because our brains tell us something is wrong. It’s the same feeling we get when something actually is wrong, like when we get injured or make a serious mistake, so it’s the most difficult feeling in the world to ignore — but we must learn to ignore it. That’s why beating OCD is so difficult.

OCD isn’t something that inspires us to be cleaner, neater, and more efficient in our lives; it’s something that holds us back, because it means our brains are telling us we have to deal with problems that don’t even exist. Certainly, people with OCD can be more detail-oriented, good at focusing, and observant — and if so, we can learn to use those powers to our advantage. But those things are not the essence of OCD, and not the core of our problem.

Looking at Things

[Image of Eye]

Worried about looking at things?

For me, looking at things gives a sense of finality. With my obsessive-compulsive fear of staples, pins, and other sharp objects, there is a feeling that I can’t look at these objects while eating or swallowing, lest I somehow accidentally swallow one (?!?). This applies even if I’m looking at a book with staples that’s all the way across the room. But recently, I noticed this isn’t my only instance of ruminating about the act of looking at something. When I’m about to fall asleep, I feel like I have to look at something very blank and neutral like a wall. If the last thing I look at before I close my eyes is a person (no matter who that person is), I feel like I might not be able to stop thinking about that person. It’s similar with certain types of objects. But if I close my eyes looking at a blank wall, I can be relatively assured (for some strange reason) that my thoughts will not center on any one specific thing.

My explaining this doesn’t mean any of that logic actually connects to reality — I have a feeling if I did look at people or things like food before falling asleep, I probably would not get them “stuck” in my head as much as I fear I would. But for some reason, I get that feeling.

So sometimes, this appears to be a compulsion — looking at something bad (staples) and then “protecting” myself by looking at something “safe” (in the case of countering a staple, looking at pretty much anything that’s not sharp would help, but preferably something large, non-sharp, and not a choking hazard for small children). Other times, the obsession is actually that looking at something holds disproportionate importance. With the staples, it’s not so much about importance, but the idea that somehow I might accidentally come in contact with the object just from looking at it — nevermind that not making any real sense.

Out Of Hiding

After what feels like almost a lifetime of trying to hide my symptoms from others, it feels nice not only to admit having OCD and tics but to be open about this with others. That means sharing with people in a way that is meaningful. That being said, I’m still reluctant to tell every single person I meet that I have OCD right away; I have no way of knowing how they will react. In fact, I still wonder how many of those close to me are secretly ashamed of who I am after finding out. Would some people rather me hide my flaws, and pretend they don’t exist, than admit them? But also, some people just don’t take it that seriously — the casual, faux “I’m so OCD” type of people. And I don’t even want to judge or be rude to those — they just misunderstand, after all. So while I don’t necessarily announce to everyone, it’s nice to be comfortable with being open about who I am and why I am that way. I like not feeling like I have to hide anymore. I wish that I could trust everyone to be reasonably understanding. If I knew that, I would tell everyone right away.