Be In the (Broken) Moment

be where you areIn my old boss’s office hung a framed picture that said: “Be where you are.”

It’s funny that one would need reminding to be where they are, right? How could one do anything other than “be where they are”? In fact, when people demand too much of us, we often say, “I can’t be in two places at once!” But ironically, we are rarely actually “where we are,” at least mentally speaking. We live our mental lives in the past or the future, in the to-do list or the frustration at a friend, in the what-if and the someday-I’ll…Can you even remember the last time you were fully in the moment?

Having a mental illness only makes us less likely to be in the moment. I recently underwent two brain scans at a place called the Amen Clinic (not the religious “amen, hallelujah!” but someone’s last name, pronounced like a hick saying, “I’m aimin’ fer that there buck over yonder!”). My brain activity showed five different areas where the function/blood flow is off kilter. This is why friends, family, and doctors always eventually call me “complex” (which I think is sort of like calling a girl “big boned”…it’s certainly not a compliment, but at least the person is trying not to say what they’re thinking: “Damn, Tim, you’re so annoying!” or “She’s fat). All this is to say that, when your brain tends to torture you in some way, being in the moment is the last thing you really want to do. Thanks to my OCD, I’ve spent roughly 98.43256% of my life very much outside of the moment, usually trying to solve some unsolvable “what if” question.



Enter mindfulness, which is the practice of being “in the moment without judgment.” I’ve been “practicing” mindful meditation for the past couple of months – by which I simply mean forcing myself to sit down for 10-20 minutes once or twice a day to “meditate” on what I’m thinking and feeling at that moment…forcing myself to live in the moment for at least 10-20 minutes each day. Last Sunday, I decided to give the nearby Buddhist temple a try last Sunday for a “compassion meditation” session. It was awesome. I highly recommend it! The monk who spoke looked like a younger version of the Dalai Lama, and I swear he must’ve done Yoda’s voice in the Star Wars movies. But what was really helpful was that he addressed the topic of meditation in such a practical way. He said that meditation is nothing more than training your mind to do what it’s not very good at doing – just like you train your body to do new things like swing a golf club or run a marathon. During the actual “compassion meditation,” we brought to mind a variety of people, from loved ones all the way to enemies and even “all sentient beings.” The purpose was simply to practice feeling compassion rather than anger, jealousy, or frustration, which, as he said, we’re very skilled at…no practice needed at feeling jealous! Most of us are pros at that from about age 7.

Having never done a compassion meditation before, I didn’t really expect much in the way of change, certainly not after one 20 minute session. But oddly enough, it was like it became a “mini-habit” for about 4 hours. Without even trying, I found my mind drifting toward compassionate thoughts toward anyone in my path. (This wore off around 4:15 when the Falcons blew yet another game in a comically pathetic way, and I started thinking truly terrible things about the players, coaches, and even the actual birds (falcons) themselves! I mean, I wanted to hunt down a falcon, or Mike Smith, and really let them have it.) I didn’t do either, but the compassionate feelings were gone for the day. Oh well! They made me feel uncomfortable anyway. I mean, I sort of like my anger and jealousy and petty irritations. Thankfully, having only been out of practice for a few hours, anger, jealousy, and general irritation came back just like riding a bicycle. Phew!

Man oh man, do I get off the subject! Anyway, what I was trying to get at before talking about Yoda and the Falcons is that my recent practice of mindfulness is actually lasting for more than a few hours. After a couple of weeks of forcing myself to sit down for 10-20 minutes (1-2 sessions) a day, something clicked and my brain started to remind me to “be in the moment” on its own. The “non-judging” part is actually the harder part because I’m so used to evaluating how I feel internally every single moment of my life thanks to usually feeling anxious or depressed and trying to figure out how I could feel better NOW. But not judging the moment means that it doesn’t have to be a perfect moment for you to embrace it and be in it. How many moments are really perfect anyway? Over the course of a lifetime, I’d venture to guess that the “perfect” moments can be counted on your fingers and toes (unless you’ve had some of them chopped off, in which case I’m sorry for this reference). Most (all?) moments are broken in ways big and/or small. The practice of mindfulness meditation isn’t to teach you how to “transcend the moment” in some mystical way. Just the opposite, actually: It’s training to be exactly where you are, even if you’d rather be somewhere else.

One of the phrases that a lot of the mindfulness meditation guides use is, see if you can “make space” for X, Y, or Z, even if X, Y, or Z aren’t what you want to be feeling or thinking. For me, the aha moment came a few weeks ago when I was feeling the tidal wave of depression starting to drown me yet again one morning. I wasn’t trying to do anything other than what I had been doing, which was sinking into the hole of “why me?” or “the world is such a shitty place?” But like any new physical muscle memory that finally clicks, the mindful approach suddenly clicked for me. My brain responded to the depression differently. I didn’t try to wriggle out of it this time; I just said, “Ok, I feel depressed. I wonder if I can make space for it today. Let’s examine what depression feels like in my body with an attitude of curiosity and non-judgment. Just examine it and allow it to be present. It’s what this moment has to offer. Sure it’s a sign that something’s broken, but I only get to live this broken moment one time. Might as well sink my teeth into it.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could tell you that my problems were solved and I haven’t felt depressed or anxious since then? Quite the contrary; I’ve felt both of them a lot. But something’s definitely different inside of me in my response to the negative feelings. Their power to ruin my broken moments of life are waning. Not gone, mind you, but waning for sure. I’m under absolutely no illusion that my brain will quit being a mess, but since this mess of a brain/day/life is the only one I’ll ever have, I should probably quit wishing moments away and just accept them as the hand I’ve been dealt.

If you’re thinking you should give this mindfulness meditation a try, I definitely recommend it. But here’s the thing: you have to actually PRACTICE it, as in sit down and do it even if you don’t want to. I have known of the concepts of mindfulness for years, but I’ve never taken the time to do the exercise itself. At first, it feels like a waste of time, honestly. But remember the last time you learned a new sport, and think how much effort it took for quite a while. If you’re into golf (or rampant sex with virtually anyone), Tiger Woods makes a good example: He’s changed his swing a few times, and every time he does it, it takes him between one and two YEARS before he becomes the old Tiger who once again dominates (he actually just hired yet another new swing coach because it’s been more than one or two years without returning to the old Tiger this time). This is the guy who’s by far the best golfer in the world over the past 20 years, but it takes him MORE THAN A FULL YEAR before imperceptible changes to his golf swing become engrained enough that the ball goes where he wants it to.

Or watch a child learn to write. My kids are both in various stages of learning that skill. My 4-year-old son’s letters are often backwards and usually hard to decipher. So were my 7-year-old daughter’s a few years ago, but now her handwriting is far better than mine (though admittedly, mine sucks). It’s a cool thing to watch someone learn something new, but it can be very hard to be the one learning.

So, if you’re up for it, challenge yourself to practice mindful meditation for a full month, at least 10 minutes per day. If nothing’s changed for you, I’ll happily refund your time at no additional charge.

But really, whatever you do, try to be more “in the (broken) moment.”

PS. As I’ve been doing lately, I’d like to encourage you to think of someone who might need a hug or a pat on the back or to read this post and reach out to them. The purpose of this blog is for you to know you’re not alone in your struggles. If this has done that for you, please share the love and let someone who might be suffering in any way, shape, or form know that they are not alone. How you express it doesn’t really matter…just do it. (Sorry, Nike!)

And one final plea for your help: If you find this blog helpful, you’d be doing me a big favor if you’d “follow” it by entering your email address on the home page rather than relying on Facebook or Twitter to get these updates. I’m trying to develop this blog into something that broadens beyond my immediate circle of friends, and the more people who follow the blog, the more likely that is to happen via search engines, etc. You’ll get an email when I post…otherwise, nothing will change. And I certainly won’t ever do anything with your email like sell it to cats.com so you can get cute cat quotes and pix (though, who wouldn’t want that?!). But really, it would help me out if you’re so inclined. Thanks!



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Antidepressant Side Effects: Weight Gain and Hurt Feelings
This isn't actually me, but I do like the t-shirt.

Antidepressant Side Effects: Weight Gain and Hurt Feelings

I stand an imposing 5’9″ with an average build, so I should probably weight 160 to 170-ish. But ever since starting bi-polar medication (Seroquel to be exact) I can’t lose weight. I spent all of last summer exercising diligently 4 times a week for 45 minutes at a time…and doing the “fat burn” session to boot…only to lose exactly 0.0 pounds. Nothing, zip, nada. Still feel like the guy in the picture below after all that hard work!

In reality, I only weigh 196.6, so I think it’s fair to say that I’m still pretty normal insofar as Americans go, but sometimes I feel like I should go on Biggest Loser. Other times, it feels nice to have some heft – a sort of way to mark my territory in the world around me. But unless I want to go off of Seroquel, it’s probably there to stay, joining whatever future pounds find their way to my mid-section.

This past Sunday my wife and I were packing to return from a trip to visit extended family. I pulled out the electric scale from the bathroom in order to weigh our duffel bags so as not to exceed the 50 pound airline limit. The relative in question, who shall remain anonymous, stood looking over my shoulder at the scale, apparently unaware that most people’s weight is a matter of some sensitivity.

There it was: 196.6 lbs.

Not only did said relative stand there staring at the scale as I weighed in, s/he was also kind enough to comment: “Woah, 196, geeeeeeez!” s/he said with genuine shock at the number (I guess I carry my extreme fat well, right?!).

Time for Biggest Loser, I guess.

Perhaps I’m just looking for an excuse, but anti-psychotics like Seroquel are notorious for making the battle of the bulge quite difficult. I suspect it is at least somewhat to blame for my inability to lose weight. Even if it’s not, I was annoyed the the general oblivion this person was demonstrating toward other people’s struggles. Maybe I seem like someone who can take it, but the truth is, I’m not. I’m one of those terrible sorts, unfortunately, who can dish it out but can’t take it. I suck at taking it!

Here’s another example: At a recent dinner, some other anonymous relatives noticed my bleeding fingers – thank you incessant anxiety that prohibits me from sitting still. After allowing them to examine them more closely, one of them asked if my fingers hurt. “Hell yes they hurt,” I said. The response: “So why don’t you stop?”

There it was after 38 years of picking at myself…THE SOLUTION! Just stop. I immediately took the advice, quit being anxious, quit picking my fingers, and I’ve never been anxious again.

Actually, I shot this person an internal bird and went on picking my fingers…and went on wishing that these people who genuinely love me and care about me would do their part to be sensitive to the battles that rage inside of me.

To be entirely honest, I’m probably more guilty of these sorts of insensitive comments to others than either of the offenders above. As a teacher, it’s rare that I make it through a day without regretting some jab or joke I make in class (I’m well known for my filter-less mouth). Nevertheless, both of these episodes really pissed me off, and if I could have a do-over, here’s what I’d like to say in response to my recently hurt feelings:

“Listen, I’m doing my best here! Every day is a roller coaster of my own bad brain chemistry mixed with the medication side effects that I HATE but that are better than the alternative. Cut me some slack! If you’ve known me for more than a week, you should know that I’m not playing with an ordinary deck of cards. I know my charm and brilliance mask my inordinately screwed-up brain chemistry, but news flash: I’m messed waaaaaaay up! So back off and let me pick my fingers and struggle with my weight in my own way.”

Did I say any of that? Nope. As usual, I sunk inside my head, thinking about how no one understands and how lonely I feel and started telling myself that maybe I’m just making a bunch of excuses for my problems when really I could easily fix them all. Maybe what I call antidepressant side effects are cleverly masked crutches meant to prove that I really have a problem when I actually don’t.

But seriously, people, I do.

anorexia

 

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Smoke ‘Em if You’ve Got ‘Em! – My temporary cure for anxiety

cure for anxiety
My temporary, and somewhat unhealthy, cure for anxiety. Man does it work!

Until I find the cure for anxiety, cigars are my home remedy. I am simply incapable of relaxing. I pick my fingers until they’re bleeding; I fidget incessantly; the only time I’m at rest is when I’m asleep (well, some nights that’s not even true!). If you want to see me at my worst, just make me sit still for an indefinite amount of time. It’s not that I don’t want to sit still; I just can’t. I’ve always envied those who could spend a fall afternoon lying on the couch watching wall to wall football games.

Here’s a snapshot of my thoughts when I try to chill out in front of the TV: “Oh this game looks good…hmmm, commercials…let’s see what else is on…ooooh another good game and this one’s farther along…which one should I watch? (anxiety starts to move in; OCD starts telling me that if I pick the right show, I’ll be able to relax, but if I don’t, I’ll regret it forever and probably die of a stroke because of what I missed)…maybe there’s a movie on instead (hit “guide” button on remote)…dammit another game I want to watch…and 2 movies…self-criticism starts: ‘Tim, why can’t you just pick something and quit over-thinking this, you idiot! Take a deep breath and just pick one’…okay, I’ll watch this game…crap, they scored twice while I was channel-surfing…now this game is boring…

Sounds pretty relaxing, no?! Yeah it’s not.

In college, I loved having a cigar with friends, not as a cure for anxiety, but as a do-gooder’s attempt to be edgy. Smoking a cigar nearly guaranteed an hour of great conversation and relaxation. Last summer, some of my recently-graduated students invited me to join them for a cigar, and I eagerly said yes. Then I decided to buy a few more and to enjoy them in the coming evenings.

Then I got hooked.

Not hooked in a cigarette sense – cigars are not addictive unless you inhale them, which I don’t. But hooked in the sense of having found a way to force myself to sit still, read a book, think, and quit fidgeting for an hour. I had something in my hands to fidget with if need be; the flavor and management of the cigar kept me engaged in the activity at hand; the slow and quieting nature of cigar smoking naturally seemed to do what nothing else could – make me relax.

Then the inevitable guilt, OCD, and anxiety kicked in: Is this going to kill me at age 46, and my wife and children will resent me for making this choice, knowing I would’ve lived to be a healthy 105 without the damn cigars? Am I a horrible father for smoking and giving my kids mixed messages: “Don’t smoke cigarettes! but leave daddy alone while he has a cigar.” Can I afford this expensive habit? Will my wife tell me I have to quit smoking them just as I’m starting to love them?

So I did what any good, obsessive person would do: I decided to figure out exactly how dangerous this is for me since that fear was at the core of my anxieties. Unfortunately, there’s only conjecture. No one’s ever studied cigar smokers’ longevity. The warnings about any kind of smoking all get lumped in together, but in the case of cigars, that’s a cover-your-ass (cya) measure by our government…”We’d better tell people these will kill them just in case it’s true…even though there are no additives (it’s 100% tobacco), most people don’t inhale them, and we’ve never actually studied this particular sub-group.” So, without the religious-zealot’s certainty I was hoping for, I was left feeling anxious about my new habit. There was no data telling me that I had, in fact, found a healthy cure for anxiety.

After a year of anxious questioning (while still smoking) here are some of the conclusions I’ve landed on (at least for now):

  1. My issues and challenges are entirely different from other people’s. Most people want to live as long as possible; I’d like to be dead by 75. Not that I’m trying to kill myself with cigars, but if you’re argument against it is that it might shorten your life, I for one ain’t aiming for 100! My brain is exhausted already…has been since I was 8!
  2. Most people are capable of some degree of relaxation without the aid of the 4 mental health drugs I take, so they have other options for relaxation – I even have one friend who runs 3,000 miles a year (about 8 miles a day), and that’s his therapy and catharsis. Lucky bastard! His relaxation is actually good for him…more proof of the inequities in life, right?! But smoking cigars helps me immensely. I’ve tried getting the “natural high of exercise,” but I hate exercise. I still try to do it, mostly out of guilt, but I hate every second of it.
  3. No matter what I do, I will obsessively fear my own untimely death and subsequent abandonment of my children; even when I exercise religiously (see #2), I think about the healthy 37-year-old father of 4 who dropped dead 2 years ago in our community. I’m always aware that death is never all that far away. Morbid, I know! That’s why I have a blog about my own insanity, people.
  4. I want to add things to my life that help me to embrace TODAY without living my entire life in the fear of the future or regret of the past. Whether I smoke cigars or not, I’m not sure I’ll be alive tomorrow, so I want to, pardon the cliche, seize the day.
  5. Finally, and this is very similar to the first, but it’s worth repeating: I’m just trying to survive today. I don’t have the luxury of daydreaming about where I’ll retire and life happily ever after. Staying alive is something I routinely question my desire to do! Living happily ever after?! Ha! I’ve lived less than 2% of my life truly happy since I’m ALWAYS anxious, obsessing, or depressed. The rare manic (or even just peaceful) moments are great, but I realized a long time ago that I ain’t got a chance to live happily ever after. I’m just SURVIVING and trying to make my survival a little better bit by bit.

So I smoke cigars. These days, quite a bit. Will it kill me? Maybe…but so will my anxiety and/or suicidal depression if I don’t get a handle on them. If cigars are a somewhat unhealthy part of that handle on sanity and peace, so be it!

 

 

 

 

 

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Acupuncture and Crazy Religious Beliefs

Accu 3

I’ve been wanting to try acupuncture for my overall lack of mental health for quite awhile, and this morning I finally had an appointment with a woman whose English was so bad that I finished most of her sentences for her after losing patience with her stumbling diction and incessant hand motions (you know, the universal sign language that means “If I just wave my hands long enough surely this person will learn to speak my language”). For some odd reason, I found her complete Chinese-ness reassuring. If someone is going to stick needles into my body, they’d better have a thick accent and at least one statuette of a kimono-clad woman in her office. Check and check!

I don’t have any clue yet whether this will help with my mental health, and quite honestly, my brain is so prone to ups and downs (thank you, bi-polar II) that I might well think something has worked when I’m just on a natural high. We’ll see.

But honestly, the more interesting part of the experience had nothing to do with the needles or the broken English or the wall full of Chinese herbs. No, the best part of this story came as I was leaving home to head to the appointment…As I was leaving, my wife’s “small group” from our former church was arriving. It consists of three women around our age and one woman who is about twenty years their senior who “mentors” them. This very sweet and well-intentioned woman asked where I was headed, and when I told her, her face sprouted a concerned look. Then she said, “You need to pray for protection because acupuncture involves spirits, and you don’t want to open yourself up to an evil spirit.”

Having grown up in and around fundamentalist Christianity, I have heard this view expressed before. It’s basically religiously-justified xenophobia, the attitude being very much an us vs. them mentality: “Surely God can’t/won’t be involved in any Eastern methods of healing or hope. No, those versions of health come from evil spirits that the Real God is fighting against. But make sure you ask the Real God to help you in prayer; otherwise, he’ll just ignore your misfortune as you allow evil spirits to invade your unsuspecting body. Muhahahahaha!”

While I find the aforementioned ideas laughable these days, I’m also well aware that dogma is not unique to Christianity. Even the acupuncturist, from what I could understand, was espousing her own version of dogma. She boldly claimed that I should be off of all five medicines that I take with enough acupuncture treatment. If she’s right, I guess those evil spirits know what they’re doing. For now, my cynical self suspects that both ladies are wrong. I’m just hoping for a small step forward here, ladies. Is that too much to ask?!

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One Day at a Time

Because of OCD, I spend most of my time worrying about various and sundry catastrophes – when I’ll die, whether my kids will survive childhood, the countless ways I might be destroying my marriage, financial disasters, losing my job, etc. These songs are the never-ending background music to my life. The other day I was asked to reflect on some major event/success/change from 2013 and to think about a goal for 2014.

The answer to both, for me was encapsulated in one simple word: survival.

I don’t mean that in an I-might-kill-myself sense, but just in the sense that any variation of thriving doesn’t seem realistic for me. I can’t remember a time in my life when I felt I was thriving for any prolonged period of time. (Let me add that I’m in about as good a mood as I have ever been in as I write this, so I’m not saying this from a place of despair.) Childhood, adolescence, college, young adulthood, marriage, parenthood, career growth, promotions, accolades…none of them have created an “ahhhhhhh” period for me. Each one has come with new kinds of angst and new ideas for how my world might fall apart at any moment.

Lately I’ve been pondering the one day at a time philosophy from various vantage points. Christianity says, “Do not worry about tomorrow.” Buddhism says, “Let go of desire and be present with whatever exists in the moment.” AA says, “One day at a time.” Judaism’s God, when asked what his name is, says, “I am”…meaning, to me at least, “I exist in the present and nowhere else. I am not ‘I was’ or ‘I will be” but ‘I AM.'”

It seems more and more foundational to me that embracing what the moment has to offer is a fundamentally meaningful way to live, no matter who you ask. Thinking of the future leaves one anxious. Thinking of the past leaves one nostalgic (unrealistic) or regretful. But a radical commitment to making the most of the moment at hand can be life-changing.

My OCD wants me to live in the “what ifs” of life, all of which are outside the moment. In the past 24 hours, I’ve heard stories of a man finding his wife and daughter murdered in their home and a story of a man throwing his toddler and himself off of a 52 story building in the wake of a nasty custody battle. My natural reaction to these sorts of stories is to begin wondering whether God exists, how he allows this sort of thing, and whether it will ever happen to me.

But in this moment, I have what I need. I have life, my family, things to enjoy (food, friends, a home, etc.). So I’m working on being radically committed to the moment at hand. I want to force myself back into the present when I start to wander out of it into the what if world. Will the greasy cheeseburger I want to eat kill me ten years earlier than I should’ve died, denying me the chance to know my grandchildren? Will the cigar I want to smoke kill me at age 45, leaving my children to resent me for smoking cigars in the first place? Will tending to my own needs despite knowing that I could be more generous with my time and energy lead me to a life of selfishness and isolation?

Who knows?

Who could possibly know?

But in this moment if these minor choices will lead me to embrace the day, to be more patient with my kids, to go to bed a bit more at peace, why not sink my teeth into them (pun intended) and let tomorrow’s troubles take care of themselves.

This isn’t a treatise on hedonism. It’s a treatise on taking my life back from the what if monsters. All of those what ifs may well happen…but they aren’t happening right now, so I might as well soak up what the moment/day has to offer  – cherish it, enjoy it, embrace it, lean into it. The other alternative is to lose the moment by pondering all that might go wrong tomorrow. It won’t be easy; nothing is when OCD is an ever-present friend. But it’s worth trying – moment by moment, day by day.

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Religion and Mental Health

I almost titled this post “Faith and OCD” but then I realized that faith and religion are two separate matters entirely. For me, religion, specifically the Southern Baptist Christian variety, has been the source of tremendous pain when it comes to my OCD. Religion earns its keep by telling us that there are simple answers to complex questions. OCD loves to ask “what if” questions. Get these two fighting against each other and you have a perfect storm! It goes something like this:

OCD: I just thought that guy was a handsome man. Am I gay? What if I’m gay? How can I figure out if I’m gay…

Religion: Being gay is a sin. You need to figure it out, and if you are gay, you’d better get right with God.

And this little dialogue can become so all- consuming that one can’t get out of bed, go to work, look at anyone without it triggering this question, etc.

In my own faith journey, lately I’ve been distancing myself more and more from organized Christianity (was it ever intended to be organized anyway?!) and I’m finding some freedom. The OCD is still there, but the religious answers aren’t as fear-inducing as they used to be because I no longer buy into them. What do I buy into these days? Well, the beauty of uncertainty for one. Even if uncertainty isn’t beautiful, I’m never going to have certainty so I might as well try to embrace whatever beauty it holds. Second, I’m finding freedom in the “f@&$ it!” Point being: if God isn’t aware of how hard I’m trying to do the right thing, there’s not much I can do about it. I worry so much about whether I’m doing the right things in life, but lately, when I start to feel anxious or confused, I simply say, “F@&$ (I actually say the real word, but don’t want to offend anyone reading this (but what if they’re offended? What if someone whose my superior at work reads this and has me reprimanded or fired? What if I can’t feed my family because I get fired…then my wife will divorce me and I’ll end up destitute and probably kill myself? What if a future employer won’t hire me because they find this entry online when they are searching to find the skeletons in my closet? Ahhhhhhh! I should rewrite this whole thing. Or maybe I should just delete it and forget it…(there’s a little glimpse of the OCD at work for those of you who don’t know it first-hand))) it…I have no real idea whether what I’m about to do will be the best or worst decision of my life. I can only do the best I can right this moment and jump in.”

I used to think I needed to understand exactly what God wanted from me at all times so I wouldn’t upset him. Now, my theology is more like this: if God wants me to know precisely what to do, he’ll have to be more clear in showing me. Otherwise, I simply hope he will understand that I’m doing my best and love/forgive me for the flaws in my own system.

Everyone has a theology of some sort – whether or not they are religious. Given that, for those of us with OCD, the voices of OCD and the voices of God(s) are likely the two strongest in our heads, it helps to see God in a way that allows for the OCD rather than seeing her as a tyrant who demands that we find certainty despite the overwhelming confusion this life offers us most of the time.

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Permanent Decisions

This summer, in honor of my 10th anniversary, I got a tattoo – something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s on my wrist and can be hidden by my watch (had to be practical, you know!). The aftermath has been unsurprising – obsess, obsess, obsess. Will it heal right? What’s wrong with that little spot that doesn’t seem to match the rest? Are those letters perfectly proportioned? Did I ruin it when I wore a watch the other day? It looks a little different than I remember. What if I get in trouble at work when a student sees my tattoo (I’m a teacher)? What if I regret it for the rest of my life?

And on and on, endlessly.

What I’ve realized is that the more substantial the decision, the more my OCD kicks in. If you’ve read my book, you know that my marriage has been the cause of my last 10 years worth of OCD thoughts. On a much sillier and lighter note, every time I buy a new pair of shoes, I obsess about every little spot where something might be a little off. I can’t even count the pairs of shoes I’ve returned or tried to return after a week of obsessing about them. I really like shoes, and my feet bother me a lot in general, so I care a lot about shoe decisions. Obviously not as much as I care about choosing the right marriage partner or liking my tattoo, but the same principle holds true: the more I care, the more I obsess.

The temptation, then, is to avoid major decisions. I know the ERP idea would be to embrace the anxiety of the major decisions, but let’s be honest, exposure sucks. It may help me in some way but I haven’t had much success with it to this point. Then again, I even obsess about decisions like where to eat dinner and what to wear, so there really is no way around it. Argh.

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Abandonment Issues

In response to the upstart of this blog, a friend wrote to me about how all of her OCD issues ultimately stem from her abandonment issues. I can relate! As a child, my obsessive fears began with a fear of being left by my parents. My parents had their flaws, but they weren’t the sort one sees on the five o’clock news, having left their car full of kids in some isolated parking lot while they fled the scene. Nevertheless, my abandonment issues ran so deep that I structured my young life in such a way as to be surrounded by responsible adults as often as possible. Being left with a random friend’s parents or a baseball coach sent me over the edge. The fear went like this: My parents won’t come to pick me up from baseball practice; the coach will wait awhile and then tell me he has to leave but he’s sure I’ll be fine; I’ll wait until dark when I will begin wandering the streets, alone and in danger; the rest of my life will be a homeless, friendless existence. The end.  To a rational mind, this is absurd. Any number of people would help a stranded kid, and my parents weren’t likely to jump ship on me.

Today during a counseling session, I was sharing this fear with my counselor but I worded it differently. I told her that I had a “feeling of abandonment” moreso than a “fear” of it. This was an aha moment for me; there’s a big difference between a fear and a feeling of abandonment. My parents never abandoned me in the physical sense of the word, but there were countless emotional abandonments. I was one of five kids, and during my obsession-filled child, my parents were going through a very rough time in their personal lives and marriage. Even then admit that I got the brunt of their turmoil. To cope, I became a reader of people and a people pleaser. I would (and still do) read people as best I could in order to figure out how to get them to accept me and like me. Anxiously, I would (and still do) look for little clues as to how well I was doing in my efforts to be accepted…in my attempts to ensure that I wouldn’t be abandoned by this new friend.

I suppose this post is related as much to anxiety and childhood psychology as it is to OCD, but for me, as one with OCD, my feelings of abandonment have led to many, many obsessions that center around a quest to be accepted – truly accepted with no hope for rejection. I’ve found it in my marriage, yet ironically, I obsess about my marriage more than anything else these days. I still don’t sense it from my family of origin…while I may be wrong, it feels more like a “be like us or you’re out!” family.

So, friends, I’d like to hear from you…how has the idea of abandonment played a role in your mental health?

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