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A reader asked me to post this link to an article on 50 Famous People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). These are all successful people, which is encouraging. :0)

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After reading the comments on my blog entry entitled Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Hoarding, I realized just how common it is for child abuse survivors to hoard pens. In light of this, I would like to hear from my readers if there is also a common obsession with teeth.

I have been obsessed with my teeth throughout my life. I would freak out whenever I had a loose tooth because I feared that there were no adult teeth underneath to replace it. I have had recurring nightmares throughout my life about my teeth falling out or growing too large for me to shut my mouth.

I brush my teeth a minimum of five times a day: When I wake up, after each meal, and before I go to bed. I will also brush after any snack or if I will be interacting with another person.

I actually own my own dental tools. I cannot stand to have tartar build up and have to wait six months to see the dentist for a cleaning. I have one particular area that builds up tartar quickly (inside of my bottom front teeth), so I scrape that regularly with my own tools. As a result of my obsession with my teeth, in combination with grinding my teeth, my gums have receded, so I have to brush with toothpaste for sensitive teeth.

Is anyone else obsessed with their teeth like this? My sister is. She got an infection in the roots of one of her teeth and had to have the tooth pulled. (She could not afford a root canal.) She couldn’t bring herself to do it until the entire side of her face got infected. The dentist pointed out that failing to remove the tooth (or pay for a root canal) could kill her. Only then did she have the tooth pulled, and she was completely wigged out by its removal (well beyond a typical reaction to having a tooth pulled).

Is it just us? Did something in our abuse cause us to obsess over our teeth? Or is this a common phenomenon among child abuse survivors? I would love to hear from anyone else who is as obsessed with his or her teeth as I am.

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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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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Multiple Buds (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common aftereffect of childhood abuse. OCD is driven by anxiety, and the OCD symptoms help the anxious person to manage his anxiety.

I used to struggle with a number of OCD symptoms. Some would come and go, such as blowing on my hands. Others lingered for years, such as saying a mantra in my head to reduce my anxiety. Some were just amusing but not harmful, such as having to check the alarm clock exactly three times before falling asleep. As I have healed from my past and reduced my anxiety, my need for these OCD behaviors subsided. I still have some residue, but most are now healed.

OCD is all about taking control. As a child, I had no control over my life or even my own body. So, I sought control in things that did not matter through my OCD symptoms. My anxiety would build and build, but I could release some of it by doing one of my OCD actions. If I had to hold it in for whatever reason, the anxiety would build until it was nearly unbearable.

One secret to reducing anxiety is processing anger. I was unaware of having rage issues because I stuffed the anger deep inside of myself. It was not safe for me to express anger as a child, so I denied it. When you do not express emotions, they become more powerful. It is only in expressing them that they can be released and then lose their power over you.

When you do not express your anger and stuff it down inside of yourself, it turns on you in the form of anxiety and/or depression. Many people who struggle with severe anxiety and/or depression are angry people who rarely express those emotions. As you start expressing your rage, it finally has somewhere to go, and you will feel your anxiety ease.

This is exactly what happened to me. I had accepted that I would always be “weird” with my OCD symptoms. Through therapy, I learned to how process and honor my anger in a safe manner (that is, after I came to realize that I even had anger to process). As I processed my anxiety, my anxiety level went down substantially. Today, I feel very little anxiety, so I have no need for my OCD symptoms to manage it. When I notice that I am feeling compelled to do those OCD things again, I explore what repressed anger might be driving them, express the anger, and then experience relief from the compulsions again.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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