08
Apr
14

Backsliding

I’ve noticed that I’ve been washing my hands more lately, that things are triggering a need to wash my hands and that I’m giving in to those triggers more often. This scares me. I need to be careful and work on not giving in. But like today I washed my hands quite a few times that I probably didn’t really need to. But it really felt like I needed to in that moment. And just going ahead and washing seemed easier than waiting out the need.

I’ve been having such a difficult time lately with depression. Therapy is so hard. But I’ve been holding on to all the progress I made in OCD therapy, and that helps me keep working on depression stuff in therapy. I keep remind myself that I got better, that I got control of OCD.

I’ve known through the whole fight that I wouldn’t always be able to keep full control of OCD. I’ve known that someday, OCD with take over again, to some degree, and that I’d have to fight it off again. But I want that someday to be way far in the future, years away. I don’t want that someday to be now. So I have to nip this behavior in the bud.

I can do this. I know I can. This is so little compared to what I overcame before. So little.

But I’m still scared.

21
Mar
14

Raging Against Emotions

Three days ago, I got some of the best news of my life: my first publication acceptance. It’s something I’ve worked so hard for, and it’s so so so exciting. I’m finally about to be a published writer. A literary journal that I really love picked up one of my short stories. It’s a dream come true, and it made me overwhelmingly happy.

So then why did I end the day crying yesterday? Nothing bad happened to upset me. I actually had a really lovely day yesterday. Not only was I still reveling in the congratulations still flowing in from friends and loved ones, but my students were on fire with class discussion, making it an almost perfect teaching day. I went out with friends later in the day and had a good time.

But I ended the night crying for no reason. I got really mad at myself about it, which of course only made it worse. And I spent the entire day today in my pj’s watching TV and feeling sorry for myself. But sorry about what? What do I have to feel bad about? I’m supposed to be happy. The last few days have been great, so where the hell did this pity party come from? I’m still mad at myself about it.

I know. You can’t reason with mental illness. It’s irrational. But I can’t stand the fact that I’m supposed to be happy, that I want to badly to be happy, but I can’t feel anything but sad right now. And that seems really fucked up.

And I really don’t even want to talk about it because I feel like I sound so ungrateful and pathetic, and that’s not how I want to sound. That’s not how I want to be.

I’m trying to forgive myself for feeling down, for not being happy, but that’s hard. My therapist is trying to help me learn to let the sadness sit there instead of trying to fight it or focus on it, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet.  I don’t understand how that works yet. My first response has always been to beat myself up over things like this. Old habits are so hard to break.

07
Mar
14

Vulnerability

Didn’t think I’d be back here so soon. But I’m feeling weak (despite my last post), and this has proven to be a safe place for me to be just that—weak and also vulnerable.

I’ve come so far with OCD, and I’m still so very proud of that. I want you to be encouraged by that still. Hard work pays off. It really does. It gets better.

So OCD is fine right now, but other things aren’t. I’ve written a little about depression before. I’ve been struggling with that lately far more than with OCD. I’m in therapy again and am learning about depression. I’m learning what my triggers are, and I’m trying to learn to accept it—though this last part is proving to be difficult.

I’m learning that I can be grateful for all of the good things in my life while also feeling a deep sadness that I often can’t explain, even to myself. That I can feel happy while this sadness lingers in the background, sometimes pushing in, sometimes taking over. I’m learning that this dark cloud can be oppressive, so much more than I ever imagined. I’m learning that this is part of how my brain works—much like what I learned about OCD, that my brain functions in a specific way, that it makes certain connections other brains don’t, that it has weaknesses, that it sometimes betrays me.

I’ve always found a bit of irony in this betrayal. My mind, my intelligence, is something I value highly; it’s up near the top of the list, up there with integrity and compassion. It doesn’t top everyone’s list, I know, but it tops mine. And this part of me that I hold so dear, it’s also the part of me that causes me the most pain, the most struggle. I’ve tried for most of my life to figure out how that’s fair, how that even makes any sense; I’m not sure I’ll ever have an answer.

It’s not just depression that has a hold on me these days. There’s a lot of fear involved as well, and they’re tied up together. Fear is an enemy I know quite well, something I’ve been struggling against my whole life but only started truly fighting in the last few years.

The fears that are tangible are easier to go after: things like my contamination OCD fears and even more general phobias like needles and things that go bump in the night. There are concrete ways to go after those things, and I’ve done so successfully. But there are other fears that are harder to overcome, fears that don’t seem to diminish with the usual effort.

Lately, the fears oppressing me have been about writing. I am, primarily, a fiction writer, though also write nonfiction (obviously) and dabble in poetry. But fiction is my first love, and it’s the thing I want more than anything else, the thing I want so bad that it hurts—sometimes physically because I have a terrible body that also tends to betray me on a regular basis.

Anyway, I’m stuck in the middle of the worst case of writer’s block I’ve encountered thus far. I’m sure I’ll encounter much worse before it’s all said and done, but this is the worst so far. I haven’t really written any fiction since the fall, sometime in November, and that has become painful. And writer’s block is a real thing, make no mistake; it’s the state of being so far buried under self doubt that you can’t breathe, of being so paralyzed by fear that your mind shuts off, of feeling so utterly helpless to dig your way out.

That said, I don’t want your pity. I just want to be honest here. That’s what I’ve always tried to do here. That’s what I promised you and myself when I started this blog: honesty and openness. So this is me being honest about something that I’d really rather not talk about with anyone but those closest to me. But I feel like writing here, for this blog, because it’s safe, and right now safe writing is what I can handle—and I’ll take whatever writing I can get.

So this fear. It’s a problem. And I don’t know how to go after it this time. It’s a fear of failure, and that’s not concrete. How do you fight against a fear of failure? By succeeding? Because it takes a lot of work and struggle before you can succeed. So how do you bridge that gap between being terrified of failing and getting to the point where you succeed? I don’t know.

I’m trying to just be patient, something I’ve never been good at. I’m trying to forgive myself for not being perfect, something I’ve been working on for years but still find super hard. I’m trying. I don’t know if I’m succeeding. I don’t know if my trying will get me across the finish line. I don’t know if it’s enough.

I don’t have any answers right now. All I know is that I’m trying and that I hope with everything in me that it will be enough.

03
Mar
14

A Renewed Sense of Freedom

I miss you guys! I know I’ve said it before in posts, but grad school is a major time suck. But I really miss this blog and had a moment the other day that I wanted to share. Hopefully I’ll graduate soon and have time for this again because there’s so much I want to share with you guys about what I’ve been up to. I’ve been going after my fears—both OCD fears and general ones—and knocking them down. But that’s for another day.

Wednesday, February 26

One year ago, I traveled to a writing conference and, for the first time in years, didn’t have anxiety about staying in a hotel. I hadn’t done that since I was a kid. It was exhilarating.

Today, I’m sitting on a plane, going to the same conference, and I’m in a large amount of pain (I have chronic pain all the way down my spine). My neck is stiff and aches up into my head. I’ve got the tray table down, my elbows resting on it, my face in my hands, willing the pain away. Desperate and feeling very broken—in many ways, not just physically, though that’s the most immediate, at the moment.

But I’m sitting here with my face in my hands and just realized how amazing it is that I no longer notice when I touch my face, something I was also unable to do for many years. I could only touch it immediately after washing my hands.

I washed my hands earlier when I used the bathroom at the airport, but that was 4 hours ago. Since then, I’ve touched things on the plane, things my brain absolutely qualifies as dirty. But I don’t have hand sanitizer with me—haven’t used hand sanitizer since June, another feat I still can’t believe sometimes. So my hands are, by my standards, filthy.

But I’m okay. I’m not even a little bit afraid of them, these filthy hands. And I’m so floored by that. I feel like crying but don’t want to confuse or worry my fellow passengers.

I’m flying in the air, way about Utah, and I’m touching my face, and I’m not afraid, and, in some ways, it feels like a miracle. I don’t mean this happened magically or with divine intervention. I worked my ass off to get to this point. It was so difficult. It just feels miraculous because for so long I didn’t believe I could ever get to this point, that I could experience something as simple and beautiful as touching my face with my own hands and without fear.

This is all to say—I’m not trying to brag or ask for a pat on the back or anything like that. Yes, I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve done, and I should be. But that’s not my point. My point is that IT’S POSSIBLE. For years, I was paralyzed by OCD. I’m sure there will come a time when it paralyzes me again; that’s the nature of mental illness. But today, I’m free. It took so much work, but I made it.

I want to share that because I want those of you who also struggle to know that it can get better. It can get so so so much better. You have to work your ass off for it. You have to go through some really difficult times and face a lot of tough fears, but you can come out free on the other side. I hope this gives you courage in dark moments. I know there are so many dark moments, but there are also bright, beautiful ones, and those are worth all the struggle it takes to find them.

21
Aug
13

Just Depression

I’m not going to pretend to fully understand depression. I’ve written about it a little bit before. I know that it’s something that was always lurking in the shadows, something that, for years, I chose to ignore. For years, I chose to be happy while also being fully aware that depression was a mere step away, something that I could fall into too easily if I wasn’t careful. I knew that people with OCD frequently have depression. I knew that chronic pain often ended up paired with depression. I knew, on some level, that I’d always have to deal with it, but I believed that I could continue, indefinitely, to hold it off.

Every time it crept closer and tried to get a foothold, I refused to let it, and I was always really proud of myself for that. There was so much I couldn’t control—OCD, the constant physical pain, etc.—and being able to control depression felt really good.

But last summer, I lost ground to depression for the first time. I had a couple of really hard months and spent all of my time sleeping. But I was able to pull myself out of it and though that was the end of it.

Ever since, though, it has gotten harder to avoid it. That fall was my first semester of graduate school, and it was really rough. I struggled to keep up with everything. That October, my boyfriend (of 6 years) and I broke up, and I hit the lowest point of my adult life. The pain seemed unbearable and the hole I’d fallen into insurmountable.

I sat in that place for a few months, but eventually made my way out of the hole. In the meantime, OCD and anxiety were becoming increasingly easier to deal with. And when I realized I’d survived the trauma of my life being torn apart, I began to feel a lot better—stronger, more capable.

And I still feel strong sometimes. Intellectually, I know that I can survive all of the low points. I have learned that I’m made of tougher stuff than I realized before.

But I wasn’t able to fully get away from depression this time. Even though I got to a really positive place a few months ago, I’m still depressed. Some days are fine, but some days are really bad. Sometimes the bad is for no reason. Sometimes things that I feel shouldn’t faze me do so much more.

It’s been another really difficult summer, and the people who were my crutches before when I needed it aren’t around anymore, which has only contributed to the difficulty. I miss these people a lot. A whole, whole lot. I don’t know how to navigate this space without them.

Sad was never a super frequent emotion for me. I’ve never been a crier, not even as a little kid. I’ve always brushed that stuff off quickly and moved on. I’m used to happy and angry; I can work with those. Both allow me to get things done. Both motivate forward motion.

I’m trying to learn how just to be sad and be okay with it and keep pushing forward, but I haven’t figured it out yet. I’m trying to get used to crying. How do you stay awake when your entire body wants to sleep 16 hours a day? How do you maintain a healthy diet when every meal is an exercise in force feeding for lack of appetite? How do you function?

16
Jul
13

A (Slightly) Different Kind of Crazy

The Good(ish)

Being off meds is getting harder instead of easier in some ways. I feel like a crazy person again. OCD stuff is manageable. I almost bought a little thing of hand sanitizer at the store today but managed not to. I keep wanting to ask my boyfriend to wash his hands but haven’t yet. I keep managing to avoid washing mine most of the time. OCD is majorly in my head, but I’m doing an acceptable job, I think, of ignoring it—or at least I’m resisting acting upon it if not fully ignoring it.

The Bad

The dermatillomania is about the same as a week ago. My fingers are torn up, and it’s embarrassing. I’m trying to resist but mostly keep failing.

The Ugly

My emotions are all over the place now that Prozac isn’t regulating them. I keep having flashes of depression and rage that come out of nowhere. They’re really intense and then disappear. I’m just starting to recognize what’s happening when it happens. I’m trying to tell myself to ride it out and keep my mouth shut until it’s over.

But I’m not always good at keeping my mouth shut. I’m an impulsive sharer. I frequently decide—with little to no thought leading up to the decision—that I need someone to know something. And I always feel like they need to know right then. It can’t wait until I’ve thought about it for, I don’t know, more than five minutes.

When my head is clear, I can stop myself from being a moron more easily. But my mind fogs up when my emotions are being irrational. So I’ve been putting my foot in my mouth a LOT lately. I’m close to just not talking to anyone until I level out.

I hate saying something dumb and then feeling like a jerk. Then I obsess about what a jerk I am and start to feel like I just shouldn’t be around people.

So I guess OCD isn’t going as smoothly as I’ve been telling myself it has. I have a handle on the compulsions, but the obsessive thoughts are a problem. I keep getting stuck in my head. I keep mentally beating myself up. The self-hate is up and the self-forgiveness is nonexistent. That needs to reverse, but it’s going to take some work.

So those of you I see day to day, please be patient with me if/when I get snippy. I’m working really hard on identifying when I’m being irrational and keeping my mouth shut when that happens. Just know that if I act like a jerk, I will realize it later and apologize.

And if it’s obvious that I’m beating myself up over something, tell me to stop. Sometimes I have to be reminded that telling myself that I’m a piece of shit doesn’t actually help me in any way.

I really hope all of these ridiculous chemicals in my brain settle down soon so I can get back to normal. I’ve always been so in control of my emotions, if nothing else, and not having control freaks me out a bit.

Anyone else have this problem after getting off SSRIs? What helped you level out? I know I should work out, but I can’t go to the rec center because I’m not enrolled in school over the summer. I need to figure something else out that doesn’t involve being outside a lot in this awful Texas heat.

08
Jul
13

Off Meds

I’m off Prozac this week. Sometimes I feel like that’s a terrible idea, but most of the time I think I’m ready. It’ll still take it a little while to work its way completely out of my system, but no new Prozac is going into my system.  I’m very nervous.

Some OCD stuff has definitely come back. The things that have come back as problems have been interesting. While the major stuff I’ve done recently (cans, thrifting, etc.) still isn’t a big deal, smaller stuff is getting to be stressful again. Fighting the small stuff—the daily stuff—has always been hard. But I’ve already proven I can do it, so I just have to keep pushing forward and not accept these minor set-backs. And they’re barely set-backs because I’m trying my damnedest not to let them set me back.

I almost caved and got a new tiny bottle of hand sanitizer to keep in my purse. I can’t find the one I stashed in my bathroom cabinet. I was really about to start carrying it again this weekend. I wanted it.  But I must have thrown it into the back of the cabinet because it has disappeared.

I’ve had to actively resist buying a new little bottle. It’s been difficult, but I think it’s about to pay off. I’m still doing fine without it—on a rational level. I just keep having to remind myself of that.

The biggest struggle has been keeping my mouth shut around other people. I am so desperately determined not to let OCD affect those around me like it used to. I’m tired of other people having to put up with my OCD. It’s been nice having that giant elephant removed from the room. I want to keep it out.

But oh how I’ve wanted to ask people to wash their hands this past week or two. So many times.

All of that is definitely manageable, though. Just a little perseverance, and I’ll be on top of all of it again.

The bigger problem lately has been my dermatillomania. It’s out of control again. The increased stress of getting off meds and dealing with more OCD is wearing me out a bit, and my fingers are paying for it. In addition to the usual finger picking, I got a slew of mosquito bites recently that I couldn’t leave alone, so now I have scabs all over my feet and calves. It’s embarrassing.

Typing this, I’m painfully aware of what a problem it is. My fingers are sore. I went to town on them earlier while I was watching TV. Half of them were bleeding momentarily.

This is the one thing I’ve never made any kind of significant progress with. I tried a few different tactics for awhile with no success.

I’ve got to get a handle on it, though. It’s driving me insane.




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The Blog: A Journey to Sanity

Connecting with others who have OCD, sharing my struggle with the those who don’t understand it, refusing to suffer alone in secrecy

The Writer

My name is Elly. I’m a graduate student/creative writer living in DFW, Texas. I've struggled with OCD my whole life. Writing about it helps me make sense of the mess that is—sometimes—my life. Head over to the About page for more info.

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