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Archive for June, 2009

I finally figured out why I have been feeling so INSANE this week. Tomorrow is the summer solstice! That snuck up on me. If you were ritually abused and feel like you were losing your mind this week, you are not alone. This “insanity” should pass after tomorrow. Whew!

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On Wednesday, I kicked off a series on obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). I have struggled with OCD symptoms for most of my life. Each day, I am focusing on another symptom of OCD.

Yesterday, I talked about repetitive thoughts. Today, I will focus upon repetitive actions, which are also known as rituals.

Repetitive actions are anything you feel a compulsion to do repeatedly to avoid feeling anxious. They can be simple or complex. The level to which repetitive actions interfere with your day-to-day living is what determines how severe your OCD symptoms are.

For example, I must check my alarm clock exactly three times before I go to bed. If I only check it once or twice, then I cannot fall asleep. I will obsess about whether the time is correct, even though I rarely change the time on my alarm clock. So, to get it over with, I check it exactly three times in quick succession and then go to bed without any concerns about the setting on the alarm.

Because this process only takes a couple of seconds, my symptom serves more as a quirk than a serious OCD issue. However, other people are not so lucky. There are people who must check the locks on the door exactly 17 times. If anything interferes with the process, they must start all over again. They wind up being late frequently because they must complete the ritual of checking the locks in a particular way. This is a problem that needs to be addressed.

I know a woman who must clean her bathroom every day in a particular order and a particular way. If anything gets out of order or she gets interrupted, she experiences an enormous amount of anxiety and must start over. While some people might find it admirable that she keeps such a clean bathroom, the ritual is taxing on her emotionally and physically.

Unlike my alarm clock checks, which I do every day that I need to use the alarm clock, I have other rituals that come and go. One is blowing on my hands. I used to do this a lot as a child (I have no idea why), and it used to drive my parents crazy (that part amuses me!). If I am feeling triggered, I will sometimes catch myself blowing on my hands. I have no idea why I do it, only that it relieves some of the anxiety.

Even though I know that checking the alarm clock three times is unnecessary, doing it meets a need inside of myself. This is true for anyone with OCD. The ritual serves some purpose – it serves as a valve that releases some of the anxiety for a little while.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Yesterday, I kicked off a series on obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). I have struggled with OCD symptoms for most of my life. Each day, I am focusing on another symptom of OCD.

The OCD symptom that I found most troubling was repetitive thoughts. I am happy to report that I was able to (eventually) end the need to engage in repetitive thoughts. Repetitive thoughts are exhausting, and they interfere with your ability to stay focused on what is going on around you.

I started experiencing repetitive thoughts after my father died suddenly while I was a senior in high school. My mother started sexually abusing me again, so I (obviously) was experiencing an enormous amount of anxiety.

One day, it hit me that I could drop dead just like my father did, and I would burn in h@#$ if I had committed a sin that I had not yet asked for forgiveness for. (See my posts on spiritual abuse to understand my warped thinking about religion at the time.) So, I came up with a “mantra” (for lack of a better word) that I would repeat in my head throughout the day: “Please forgive me for all of my sins. In J****’s name I pray. Amen.”

I would say this phrase hundreds of times a day. If I was not engaging my brain in something else (like a conversation), I was reciting this phrase in my head. I would sometimes even interject it during a conversation!

I found a cadence in the phrase that had eight beats to it. I needed to “feel” those eight beats repeatedly throughout the day. The cadence would relieve my anxiety but not for long, so I would do it again … and again … and again.

When I started this, I had never heard of OCD. I knew that I had quirks, some of which were amusing, but this form of OCD was exhausting. I even wound up adding a finger gesture that matched the cadence. I will still sometimes catch myself doing the finger gesture when I am feeling anxious.

For me, the best way to stop this symptom was to engage in meditation. My mind was always racing, thanks to the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Meditation taught me how to allow my mind to be still. Once I learned how to silence my mind, I no longer had a reason to “fill” it with the cadence.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I just realized that I have not written very much about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) on this blog. That surprises me because I have struggled with OCD throughout my life. As I have healed a lot of the anxiety, my symptoms have decreased. However, when I get triggered, some of them return with a vengeance. Fortunately, I have been successful in ending some of the more troubling OCD symptoms.

My OCD symptoms have run the gamut. The most amusing symptom to my friends is my compulsion to hoard pens. I used to have to have five pens in my purse plus a spare at all times. No, I do not mean that I needed six pens. I needed at least five pens plus a spare to be okay. The spare was to fill in if one of the five pens got lost or broke. The spare would ensure that I never dropped below five pens in my purse.

Of course, insurance pens were very comforting to me, so I would add additional pens to my purse, just to be on the safe side. I believe my record was carrying around over 30 pens at one time. Typical was more in the 20-pen range.

After adopting a baby and having to switch over to carrying around a diaper bag, I got to where I was okay with two or three pens. I typically carry more on me (around 10), but I am okay as long as I have a couple of pens on me.

One of my friends recently asked if she could take all of my pens (I think I had four on me) and return them in one hour, just to see what my reaction would be. I became very anxious. My heart rate increased, and my breathing got shallow. If she had taken them, I would have driven straight to Target to buy more pens because I could not handle not having any pens in my purse. I only got myself to calm down by reminding myself that I had spare pens in the car. My friend gave me my pens back and was shocked at the severity of my reaction to the thought of being without my pens.

My sister has the same reaction, only in her case, she hoards pencils. We talked about why we thought we both had the same compulsion to hoard writing instruments. She thinks it has to do with having a voice. We had no voices as children, but, as long as we had a writing utensil, we still had a way to communicate, even when we were silenced. If we lose our writing utensils, then we no longer have a way to be “heard.”

I honestly don’t know why I am this freaky about needing to have so many pens around. The pens in the picture are just a few that I keep in my office. I chose those for the picture because they are my favorite brand. (In case you have a pen fetish, the best brand is the one in the picture, which is the SRX Stix Grip 1.0 mm ball point pen. Rose Art used to make them, but they sold them to SRX. You can find them at Target.) I have many more in my office, my purse, in the kitchen, by the phone downstairs, and in the car. I also have three unopened packs of the SRX pens in my office. Yes, I clearly have an issue with hoarding pens.

This is only one of my OCD symptoms. I will discuss more tomorrow.

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Photo credit: Faith Allen

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As I shared yesterday in my blog entry entitled Triggered by End of School after Child Abuse, I was very triggered by my child’s school year coming to an end. This was a very intense triggering that lasted for three days. I was in a very bad place and struggled with urges to self-injure. I fought those urges and won, but it was still a very intense three days.

What scares me the most is that, while I am triggered, I still feel the deep despair of my childhood. Despite all of my hard work in all of the healing that I have done, I can still be catapulted to that dreadful place of blackness where there is no hope. In the moment, I truly do not know how to pull myself back out. I just want to die.

One of my friends knew that I was in a bad place, and she kept asking what she could do. I didn’t know, and I felt hostility toward her questions. She saw my pain, and I didn’t want anyone to see it. Even today, my first day out of the black hole, I still don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t know how to stop myself from being triggered, and I don’t know what will make things better when I am in that dreadful place.

It seems to take me about three days to push through a severe trigger like this one. I wish that knowing that I would be okay in three days would make a difference, but I simply do not believe it in the moment. I just want the pain to end, and I don’t care what I have to do to make it end. The only thing that keeps me from giving in is sheer force of will.

While I am triggered, I become very discouraged about my progress in healing. I feel like I have worked so hard to heal, so what was the point of all of the hard work that I have done if I still wind up finding myself in that awful place? Now that I have cycled out, I truly do understand why I work so hard, but while I am in it, I cannot see it.

I keep telling myself that I am making progress. For the first time, I understood what was happening in the moment (although it took me almost a full day to recognize why I was feeling so badly). Because I knew that I was triggered, I felt a little less “insane.” I keep reminding myself that I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and episodes like this go with the territory. None of that makes me feel better, though. I keep wanting to make the mountains move: I am so tired of climbing them.

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PTSD and Cycles of Emotions

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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It’s hard to believe that I wrote such a positive blog entry last week, because I am not doing well these days. I finally figured out what the problem is – I am triggered by the end of the school year.

My son’s last day of school was last week. On the second to last day, we gave his teachers their goodbye cards and presents. When I left the school, I had a bad headache, and it just kept getting worse throughout the day. I was irritable and felt like nothing was going my way. I finally realized that I wasn’t breathing. Each breath was extremely shallow, and it took an enormous amount of effort to breathe more deeply.

On the next day (the last day of school), I was shaky. It got so bad that I took a Xanax. That is very unusual for me. To the extent I take Xanax at all, I take it in the evening, when I am frequently triggered. Even that did not work. I kept breaking into tears. I felt like the world was coming to an end.

A friend, who knows me well, called me and knew immediately that something was wrong because I was talking very fast. She was floored when I told her that I was on Xanax at that moment. I wound up taking a second one (I have the lowest dosage available, so the doctor said it is okay to double up), and even that only helped so much. This persisted through the weekend, and I am hoping that this funk will run its course soon.

The reason I get this triggered is because summer vacation was pure h@#$ for me as a child. All of my loving teachers and friends went away for three months. I was left with my mother/abuser all day, and the ritual abuse was more frequent at night.

Even into adulthood, school is my anchor. I am a very active volunteer at my son’s school. I have lots of buddies there who really like and appreciate me. They all go away over the summer. I don’t see as much of my friends, as they (and I) travel and move into our summer schedules. I frequently battle depression and loneliness during the summer.

I suspect that I feel this way at the beginning of every summer, but this is the first time that I have been so in touch with the depth of the “freaking out” over school ending. I am trying not to go back to leaning on food to get through this, but it is really hard. I am really struggling.

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PTSD and Cycles of Emotions

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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As I shared here, here, and here, one of my focuses (obsessions??) over the past five weeks has been fighting my eating disorder (binge and compulsive overeating). I am happy to report that I am making good progress. I measure progress in two ways – by what is going on in my body as well as by what is going on in my head.

Let’s start with my body. Since I braved stepping on the scale five weeks ago, I have lost ten pounds. That averages out to two pounds a week, which is what, by all accounts, is considered a healthy rate of weight loss. I am feeling better about my body physically. My “fat pants” are annoyingly loose, and I am now wearing a pair of jeans that I have not even bothered trying to wear in a very long time. So, I am on the right track physically.

When it comes to an eating disorder, emotional progress is a completely different animal. You do not want to go from one extreme (binge eating) to the other (starving yourself). Instead, you want to find a healthy medium that enables you to feel like the eating disorder is not controlling you. I really battled the first couple of weeks, but I have now worked out a rhythm that is working for me.

Another part of emotional progress is how you feel about yourself. Most of the time, I drive a diet by degrading myself. I tell myself that I am a fat cow who does not deserve to eat, etc. I use my self-hatred to fuel the weight loss. I am not doing that this time. Instead, I am trying to listen to my body and feed it small portions whenever it is hungry. I might eat five or six times a day with most of those times being a healthy 100-calorie snack.

Another measure of progress is my reaction to messing up. Let’s face it – I have been binge eating since I was 12 years old, so I am going to “fall off the wagon” from time to time. That happened when I went to the movies last weekend. A friend bought a huge tub of popcorn for us to split since I paid for the tickets. I was only going to eat “a little bit” of popcorn. Uh … that’s not exactly what happened … the best laid plans and all…

Instead of getting angry with myself, I went to bed with a slight stomachache and began the next day back on track. I am coming to realize that one overindulgence from time to time is not going to make or break my weight. My body size is reflective of how I am treating my body over time, not one instance.

So, right now I am feeling pretty good about myself. I am eating in a way that works for me. It is not a “diet” so much as a lifestyle change. I am still very susceptible to feeling the pull of the eating disorder, but I am trying to meet those emotional needs in other ways. When that doesn’t work, I have a glass of wine or take a Xanax (this is mostly an issue in the evenings). If that isn’t working, then I’ll have a small snack rather than a binge. Then, I start fresh in the morning. So far, so good.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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