How “Should” Messes Everything Up

We say “should” all the time, but rarely at the appropriate time.  “Should” indicates responsibility in usually a critical way, and with anxiety disorders and depression, this occurs a lot.

“My life shouldn’t be like this.”

This statement hurts because what it really means is that life and who I am are not ok as they are.  I know OCD doesn’t feel ok, but hear me out. It’s that “I’m wrong and that if I made a different choice or acted another way, than everything would be as it should“.  “Should” makes us feel like we messed up, and what’s worse, if we truly have no or little control, then we are beating ourselves up for a crime we didn’t commit.

When I said this, my therapist asked me how my life should be.  Through the tears, I explained how I never thought I’d be this person.  He asked when I made the choice to get OCD, and I said it wasn’t my choice, and he said “exactly.”  He explained how “Should” was a trap.  Who decides what should and should’t be?  It’s when we feel like things should be a certain way, that we fall into it.

Next time you say “should”, think if it’s really appropriate.  It hurt less to say “I want my life to be different.” because this stems from a real emotion, and begs the question, “how can I improve my emotional state?”

Language can really cause us emotional downs, and here’s another:

“I don’t deserve to be happy”

“Deserve” means you have done something worthy enough to receive something else like happiness, for example.  O no.  I’t’s impossible for a psychologist to talk me out of this one.  They always respond to with “but, everyone deserves to be happy.”  Instinctively I know this is not true.  Evil people don’t deserve happiness, while kind people do, right?  What about people who go through insane trauma; did they not deserve happiness?

In short, no, I don’t deserve to be happy, nor do I deserve to be unhappy.

Wait!

The truth is that sometimes I will feel happy and sometimes I won’t, but that doesn’t reflect who I am.  Most of us strive to be descent people and happiness is not a reward system. Happiness is an emotion that stops by sometimes, and though I feel like it’s unfair that I feel anxious more than I want, it doesn’t mean that I deserve to be unhappy and I shouldn’t believe that it does? 😉

OCD and Addiction

OCD is a monster. One that we feel we must constantly keep pacified out of fear that the next spike will be unbearable. My OCD is mostly gone, save a few bad days and irritating moments, but I kind of appreciate those moments because they never let me take for granted what I now have. The OCD is mostly in remission, but the habits I developed to deal with it are still around. In my desperate attempts to escape, I developed a problem with addiction, which is now the new monster I am fighting.

Drugs is a controversial topic and one I have been shying away from, but many of us know the unpleasant stigma of mental illness and I think the only way we can get rid of that is to speak the truth. I know there are many others out there struggling with their OCD and hiding their addictions, which is why I am also choosing to discuss this; because it is when we suffer alone that we truly suffer.

I began to treat myself before I knew I had OCD. I was not diagnosed until I was 21. In my teen years I developed an eating disorder. It had nothing to do with body image, but entirely about control and escaping my emotional discomfort. I think the most important thing a lot of people misunderstand about eating disorders like Anorexia and Bulimia is that they are anxiety disorders, not issues concerning low self-esteem.

I deprived myself of food to induce stomach aches which would distract me from my racing and obsessive thoughts. After it was getting out of hand, I started smoking weed. Every night, it put me to sleep, for years. Then, one fateful day in hte hospital, I was prescribed Ativan for my rapid heartbeat, which I explained was normal due to my anxiety. I started taking the drug every day because it made me feel “normal”, but I became dependent on it and the side effects were so awful I decided to get off of it. I did this safely.

I replaced Ativan with narcotics, sex, drinking and cutting. To me, it didn’t matter what the vice was, as long as it was something that changed how I felt. The one thing all these vices had in common was that they all altered my mental state, but lead me to a crash the following day.

I had gotten so used to escaping my feelings and running at the first sight of OCD or discomfort, I stopped feeling anything… anything bad, anything good. And trust me, the thought of feeling numb sounded pretty fucking good, but it wasn’t numb, it was just kinda down all the time. No joy, no color, no vibrance, just gloom.

Therapy has helped me tremendously to learn how to not only tolerate my emotions, but to accept them. I realized that my use of drugs and such was because I didn’t know any coping skills for feeling emotions, and feeling emotions was and still is scary.

Drugs still have a place in my life, like once in a great while when I am really anxious because of traveling or something, then I do take an anxiety pill, but other than that I am learning to deal with my emotions and such without self medicating.

The complication for me was that my need to compulse and need to use drugs or alcohol got intertwined (like when I cut) sometimes I felt like stopping, but my OCD brain felt like the number of times I cut was wrong, so I would cut more than I wanted to. It was weird to lose control doing what I started to do because I thought it gave me a sense of control.

The addiction monster and OCD monster can feel the same, but what I’ve discovered to help both is learning to accept myself and learning how to deal with emotions. I have also learned that when the need to cut or use comes up or the need to compulse comes up, I take a deep breath, remember what I learned in therapy like journaling, and most of the time I get through it, and the more times I get through it, the more I learn I can get through it.

If you struggle with addiction or OCD or both, you are not alone. Please seek help if you want it, because you can get through both if you want to. Stay strong.

Facing the Future

I dropped out of school because it was too hard.  The work was not hard, nor was the knowledge beyond my understanding, but school is a trigger for me, as I’m sure it is for a lot of people, and I could not deal with it.

I felt disappointed in myself that I left school and tried to accept I could not have the career of my choice.  Telling my family I failed was not easy.  My family was supportive, acknowledging my success in trying.  I started therapy shortly after.

I have been in therapy nine months and seeing change in how I handle and see my life has been phenomenal. Before therapy, I had given up on my dream, I avoided triggers, I escaped my pain and in essence lived with a dim light.

I was managing though.  I had marijuana and kava and a bunch of other tricks that helped.  I still utilize these home remedies at times, but not nearly as much.

The changes I have seen in myself have been so rewarding I have since decided to go back to school.  This decision was pretty difficult because I still had to ask myself if throwing myself into a known trigger was worth it, but that’s just it!  It will be challenging, but the time has come for me to not be a slave to mind anymore.  For so long I thought my mind hated me, but now I see that OCD is just one facet of my life.  I have other qualities like intelligence that I have stiffled in an attempt to escape my mind.  I’ve learned that embracing my mind means embracing all of what goes on in my head.  Of course this does not mean that I now love having OCD; it means that I no longer see it as threatening, and when OCD gets a grip on me, I use the tools from therapy and don’t let that stop me from achieving what I really want in life and to finally see what the full potential of my mind is.

I’m used to living in fear, anxious all the time, nervous by nature.  I’m not “cured”, but things are getting better and of course I have more work to do.  But, I’m brave enough to live a full life.  Seeking therapy was the scariest and best decision I made to better my life.  My husband has helped me immensely, never losing faith in my abilities.  I’m grateful for him every day.  My therapist has saved me in so many ways; the biggest way was showing me that I did not have to live in the dark anymore and that I was strong enough to live in the light.

How to Find a Good Therapist for OCD?

Ok, you have decided you are finally ready for therapy.  So, how do you find a good therapist?  And when I say “good”, I don’t mean qualified, because most practicing therapists are legally qualified; I’m talking about someone who listens, respects you, has beneficial input and someone with whom you are comfortable with.  It is important that you are comfortable with your therapist because if you don’t have a framework of trust, it’s not going to work.

You can call your insurance company for a list of names, you can seek free or low cost therapy, you can ask your school councilor for referrals, you can google “ocd therapist near….”

Phew!  So, now you have some names, and then you make the calls.  When I called the therapists on my list, I left messages with almost every single one of them.  Many returned my call and when they did, I had a list of questions ready:

  1. Do you have experience treating OCD? If not, then don’t even bother.  Not all therapy is equivalent.  Some types can actually make things worse; so stick with what’s been proven to work.  If they say “no”, you can ask for referrals or advice on how to find one.  This is actually the way I found mine.
  2. Are you accepting new clients? If not, but you really want them, you can wait.  Or move on.
  3. What kind of therapy do you use to treat OCD? i.e. ACT, CBT, EMDR…It is wise to do a little reading on the difference between these types of therapy.  You can always ask the therapist as well.  My therapist asked if I would prefer to go with the ACT approach or the CBT approach.  He explained both and I picked the one that sounded best to me.
  4. What are your rates and do you accept insurance or offer sliding scale?
  5. Ask to setup an orientation or first meeting if you think everything sounds good.  Keep in mind, a first session is most often you discussing your history, filling out a questionnaire and feeling things out.

The first therapist I tried out was awful.  She seemed nice, but when I talked about my history, she made comments that really just pushed my buttons.  I felt judged.  At the end of the session, she gave me some pages from an OCD workbook to do as homework.  I was less than impressed.

I left, not really sure if that was normal or not.  I didn’t like her, I knew that much, but I wasn’t sure if I should give her a few sessions to make sure.  I also wondered if maybe I was trying to get out of therapy subconsciously.  I told the story to my husband and sister and I realized that the more I talked about it, the more it bothered me and I decided not to see her again and to look elsewhere.

I started calling other therapists and I began asking the ones who said they had no experience in treating OCD if they could recommend someone.  One suggested I check with anxiety center in my area and I found a therapy group specifically geared to treat OCD.  I spoke to one on the phone and decided to give him a try.

I had my first session with him and I knew he was going to be the one I wanted to help me.  I felt comfortable and agreed with his philosophies on treatment.  Everything felt “right” and I have been seeing him for a few months now.

The search may be frustrating as it was for me, but when you find a good one, it will be worth it.

ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

I was absolutely terrified to begin therapy. O man, was I pulling out every excuse in the book to avoid it. I thought it wouldn’t work, that CBT would be painful with short term results, and that the fear of exploring my mind would be too intense.

In an effort to avoid therapy, and still get some help, I talked to a school counselor about some tricks she might have in terms of coping with stress. I explained about my OCD and she told me simple stress reduction exercises weren’t going to help me and she recommended I try exposure therapy. I told her I saw “Obsessed” on TV and there was no way I was going through that. She responded:

“I think it’s great that there is awareness being brought to OCD, but the shows on TV are so extreme.  The exposures they do are intense and much of the time irresponsible.  In real life therapy situations, things go much slower.  The problem with shows like that is that they make people afraid to seek treatment.”

Over the next few weeks, I decided I was ready and thus began my search for a therapist.  My first therapist was a horrendous bitch and I didn’t give her more than one session.  I found a new one who is compassionate, trustworthy and whom I have good chemistry.

I have been in therapy now for nearly four months. I think it’s helping a lot. I have noticed some pretty cool changes, but I’m not gonna lie; it’s difficult. I have experienced some painful situations, opening doors to my mind I never wanted to, but I am becoming a stronger and happier person.

The therapy I am doing is called “ACT”, short for “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy”. It is similar to CBT in that it incorporates exposures, but the main difference is that instead of trying to control or fight thoughts like in CBT, ACT promotes accepting the thoughts as merely thoughts.  ACT also focuses on helping the individual discover his/her core values and goals about life and ways to take action in achieving those.

I don’t take SSRIs.  The rate of them being effective is pretty low, while the risk of developing side effects is pretty high.  I think it’s awesome that some people have found them to be helpful, but they aren’t right for me.

I know many of us wish there was a pill that cured OCD, that had no side effects and didn’t lose potency or trigger dependency over time.  The truth is that there really aren’t many medications in life that are like that.

Therapy is like exercise.  Everyone wants a magic diet pill, or a 10 minute workout, but the answer is and always will simply be that you gotta do the work.  Yes, it will hurt, but the journey can show you how strong you never thought you could be.

Therapy is a great option and the success rate is impressive.  Maybe give it a shot when you’re ready.

I still have a long way to go, and I will no doubt stumble along the way, but my happiness is worth fighting for and so is yours.

An Honest Attempt

Since starting therapy, I have been so emotional.  I didn’t cry last session though which made me feel proud that I’d kept it together, but when I got home I felt like shit.  This showed me that suppressing the urge to cry is worse than crying.   I am going to do my best to explain this honestly.

I am not as “ok” as I thought.  The truth is that there are times when I’m feeling a little better and times when I feel hopeless.  My recent posts have indicated that I have tried and found treatments that work for me, but the deal is that although they help, they didn’t cure.  Pot really is the best sleep aid I’ve tried and shrooms did  bring me off the ocd ledge quite a bit, but I am just now learning that my coping mechanisms are not going to save me and that I’ve got to work through this myself.

I don’t write this to erase the opinions I’ve expressed about certain treatments, but rather to stop suppressing the feelings i have, even if i dont enjoy feeling them.