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It’s been a long while since a piece of meat has reduced me to a blubbering pile. I’d forgotten how inextricably meat is tied to certain aspects of my particular brand of OCD. I really feel like flipping out, but instead I just sob.

I still can’t walk anywhere close to the meat section at any grocery store; I still cannot get behind someone in line who is purchasing anything that makes me uneasy. Thankfully, the list of items that cause an anxious reaction has become smaller, but meat remains.

Some things have the power to throw you back into memories, often ones you are trying to erase. I have worked hard to sheild myself from some memories, tried avoidance in order to keep them stuffed down in the basement of my mind. Seems like the easist thing in the world, to let a past event rise to the surface, let your mind take it, relive it. It feels more like dying to me.

So many thoughts race through me. When asked what is wrong, I can only say, as I’ve said so often “I can’t explain it.” Who would understand?

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How familiar those scenes are to me:  the line in the hospital to pick up your meds; the mother who doesn’t really undertand (or try); the looks everyone gives you when they know you’ve just done a stint in the looney bin.  I can say looney bin and it’s not stigma because I’ve been there.  You say it and it’s a different story.

I liked “Silver Linings Playbook”– I liked it a lot, in fact.  But I still want to know where the line is between certifiably mentally ill and human being is.  Because in this movie, it’s hard to find.  Really hard. 

I found myself laughing a lot during this film– and mostly, the others in the audience did too.  But we were not always lauging at the same times for the same reasons.  Why did they find some of these scenes funny, I asked myself?  Is it funny because life is just funny, or is it funny because someone who has obsessive tendancies does funny things?  It’s a hard question for me. 

Let’s break down the characters.  Pat, who suffers from bi-polar, has the classic mood swings, angry outbursts, grandiose behavior.  But look at his dad, who exhibits some of the same symptoms (banned from a stadium for fighting, slaps his son silly during a fight–impulse control disorder, anyone?) and then some.  Mental illness is hereditary, folks!!  Yet no one in the family acknowledges this.  Dad, played brilliantly by Bobby DeNiro, is fixated and obsessed on a football team and is ritualistic to a fault.  His behavior is just as destructive as Pat’s, yet no one throws him in the hospital.  Mom is in denial about everyone’s behavior and, though we don’t see much of her behavior, stays in denial and and focuses on her ‘homemades’ for game Sunday. 

Tiffany is another character suffering from emotional issues and stigmatized for it.  After losing her husband, she seeks comfort in the arms of anyone who will have her.  Even the cop assigned to keep Pat in line hits on her after a public row.  Nobody tries to hospitalize Tiffany (thank fuck) but she is still treated differently and given chemical remedies to help her cope with her grief.  Typical of American psychiatry these days to give us chemical crutches to get through something that is normal in most of our lives– grief.  I”m not saying that no one needs meds at all, but it’s becoming clear that we are an overmedicated nation.  Take for example the conversation that Pat & Tiffany have at the dinner table about meds they’ve been prescribed:  they rattle off names of drugs like they would days of the week.  Funny, but telling. 

This film has been dubbed a romantic comedy, but there are definitely more serious issues going on.  I can’t decide if mental illness has become more normalized and part of every day life, or if it’s still just trendy and funny to talk about.  The lines are too blurry.

Every now and then, an opportunity arises that lets you know just what you’re made of.  What you’re capable of.  It’s nice when you can come out of those situations on top, with confidence and a little sass in your step.  It’s not so fun to find out you are not, as you previously believed, impervious to fear.  You are not made of steel.  Shit.

I just happened to have a few of those opportunities lately, and, for the most part, I am pleased with my abilities.  I’ve done a few things I’ve never done before, and of those things I can be proud.  I’ve also attempted something I’ve never done before and wasn’t quite able to go through with it.  Let me explain.

Just for fun (and the cash), I recently signed up for a little psychological study at Vanderbilt.  They do this sort of stuff all the time:  they pay participants for various tests and studies for various projects.  The particular study I joined was to test the ability of a person with OCD to concentrate and focus.  Part of the study was doing various questionnaires;  the main part was to do a series of tests while in an MRI machine.  So they could take photos of my brain.

Yikes.  While I’d like to see what my brain scan looks like, I’m not in any hurry to crawl into an MRI machine and stay there for 2 hours.  I do have mild claustrophobia, and really am not a fan of tight, enclosed spaces.  So why did I sign up for this?  To test myself.  To see just how strong I was;  to see how bad my claustrophobia actually is.

And really, I didn’t think it’d be all that bad.  I asked someone who’d had an MRI before, and he told me that I’d have space above my head and an outward view.  So really, it didn’t sound all that bad.

I met the research people at the appointed time, and went through all the tests and questions.  So far, so good.  We walked down 21st Ave.  in the middle of the day, in the 95+ degree heat, to the imaging center.  We met with the MRI folks who had me take off all jewelry, my hair-band and belly ring.  They propped me up on the sliding bed-like contraption and began putting all sorts of things on me.

ON ME.  A  hockey-like mask, a large set of headphones, earplugs, an emergency squeeze thing, and what looked like an 80’s era mobile phone.  The mask smelled as if the previous occupant had day-old breath;  it was also heavy and not quite see through.  Once they placed all these things on my head, I began moving backwards into the MRI tunnel.

STOP!  This was me, yelling, as soon as my head was completely in the tunnel.  It felt like suffocation.  We tried again a couple of times, but it was pretty clear that I was not going to be able to stand being inside the machine for nearly 2 hours.  I couldn’t even get halfway in the damn thing.

I am not disappointed in myself for that;  I wish I could have finished the task and the tests but I’m not upset that I didn’t.  I know I have some limitations.  I also know I have to test and push those limits.

One point I’d like to make to researchers:  maybe don’t put folks with anxiety issues and claustrophobia into loud, tight spaces?  Just a thought.

What is it about anxiety that makes you want to ball your eyes out?

My only answer is fear. Fear like you had when you were a kid. Fear that takes your breath, makes your heart thump madly in your chest. And then, the tears.

When the therapist asks if the patient is ready to face their fears, my secret silent answer is always ‘No.’

I like seeing the progress that Obsessed patients make during their treatment. I don’t enjoy seeing their reactions, their anxieties, their fear. I also realize that while I understand what’s going on inside their heads (somewhat), others don’t. What you see is not even the tip of the iceberg. You might see the outward manifestations, the rituals, but what goes on in the mind is so much more. And intensely painful.

Fear, panic, anxiety. That’s what OCD is made of.

What it’s like:  an essay on food and obsessions.

OCD makes it impossible for me to eat, savor, enjoy, be full.  I never eat what I really want because there are too many rules.  There are too many OCD thoughts that govern my decisions. So, I plan, I think, I obsess.  I buy.  But I never eat.

Yet I am always hungry, always desirous.  Always want something more, or something other.  Something different.  Never satisfied.  Always afraid. Can’t be spontaneous about eating:  must plan.

It is the thing around which everything else hinges, hangs.  Where and what can I eat?

It is a large concern.

But I’ll do better, tomorrow.  This is the thought at the end of the day.

I’ll do better tomorrow.

Want to read more?  Check out my memoir, She’s So Heavy, at Smashwords:

She\’s So Heavy: A Memoir

Usually, I find McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies witty and sharp. Usually.

Today, McSweeney’s posted this: A Germaphobe’s Exercise Plan: http://bit.ly/b3eOXI. Now, this is a subject I am sensitive about (having lived with OCD for the past 15 years) but I still have a sense of humor. Though most days I don’t find much funny about it, there are comical aspects of being a germaphobe. I often laugh myself silly over it. I promise. But regarding this post, I do have one major issue to bring up: aside from the Hover Squats (mentioned first), the rest of the list is… not funny. It’s just not.

I’m guessing that these exercises are meant to make one BETTER at being a germaphobe? I think I can safely say that having germ issues keeps me very active, and without the special ‘exercises.’

I’ll begin with steps: counting as I climb or descend them. Climbing steps over and over again because I lost count or ended on a ‘bad’ number. Climbing steps a certain number of times (repeat repeat repeat).

Scrubbing floors or tub multiple times per day: does that count? What about the multiple room dash: dashing or running room to room, checking doors, closets, nooks and crannies for possible intruders? What about the midnight door-check: getting up over & over again, I’ve gone to bed, to check and make sure the door is locked? Or what about vacuuming the floor over and over again, trying to get every speck of dust and every single cat hair from the carpet?

No, really, McSweeney’s: I get it. Really I do. All these exercises are done in order to perform said germaphobe compulsive tasks. I appreciate the effort. I really do.

It’s just that, well, all of these compulsions are not born out of eccentricity; they are born out of fear and anxiety. So, doing exercises in order to perform tasks that came about due to fear and a desperate need to avoid certain things just seems (in light of what the disorder really does to a life) unimaginative. There are many aspects of being a germaphobe that I find funny; just last night, for instance, my friends laughed because I refused to touch a serrated shark tooth (ewww).

Other examples: being obsessed with serial killers. Or the number of times you pee in a day. Or asking your friends over & over if the stove is turned off. Or how about obsessing that the floor of the movie theater is going to cave in as you sit watching some lovely Indie short film? Or what about being paranoid that an unwatched beverage has been contaminated in some way?

What about feeling paranoid about kissing someone because you wonder what they have had to eat that day? Now that’s funny.

Seems folks have a nasty habit of using synecdoche when talking about OCD.  Why?  Because they clearly do not understand what, exactly, OCD is.  Case in point:  earlier this week, while in line at the store, I overheard the cashier and bag-boy discussing their pseudo- OCD symptoms.  Cashier: I have the check the cash drawer every night, I have to.  Bag-boy: What, is that like an OCD thing?  Yeah, I’ve got one of those too:  every time I wash my hands, I have to do it twice.  Every time, gotta wash them twice.

Checking and hand-washing are just 2 symptoms of hundreds for those with OCD; not only that, these symptoms penetrate one’s life to the point of interference in daily life. In other words, one checking behavior and some extra careful handwashing does not a disorder make.

Excessive handwashing and checking are just two outward manifestations of the disorder; behind these, there lie thousands of obsessive thoughts, internal rituals, magical thinking.  Thousands of other rituals that no one else sees, like counting steps, or only turning to the right (never the left), only opening doors with your left hand, never your right.  Looking at things only at a certain angle. There are countless invasive rituals that no one ever knows.

Point being this:  please be well-informed of what you are rambling on about.  There are those in the world who just might call you out on it.

Bravo to A & E for giving a real face to those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  I hope for those who have watched the show, the OCD jokes, the casual knowledge, the trendy-ness of it will cease.  I have heard on more than one occasion the phrase “I am so OCD over [fill in the blank here].”

Clearly, the loss OCD causes is not a joke.  It’s not funny.  Losing your hair, losing your spouse, feeling like you are losing your life– these are all very real, very serious concerns.

Something I learned about trichotillomania:  unlike OCD rituals or compulsions, pulling out hair is a pleasurable thing.  Mandi said she felt hungover, exhausted after pulling sessions.  Again, the strong physical effect is astounding:  just as others have stated they felt exhausted after having anxiety attacks, Mandi feels spent after a hair-pulling session.  Something else she said that I found surprising:  she said she’d never met anyone who’d stopped.  The estimated number of Americans with trichotillomania is 9 million.  Mandi has been doing it since age 9.

Are people starting to get the hint now of how serious, devastating, insane this disorder is?  The estimated number of Americans with OCD is said to be over 3 million.

In her final therapy session, Mandi says she is planning to shave her head; to give her a new start.  The therapist focused a lot on her self worth, her appearance, her awareness.  He said she should stop basing her entire self worth on appearance.  How true is this of a lot of people?  Our culture values beauty and appearance above all else; this is what we have all grown up with.  This is what we know.  We know shiny hair, thin lithe bodies, blindingly white teeth.  How is our self-worth to be determined when our society only values the shallow in humans, the outer layer?  I know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that; however, it’s society that teaches us our values.  Everywhere you look, all you see is shine and sparkle.

Even with Mora’s obsession with her teeth, it’s more of the same.  She doesn’t want to eat certain foods and she cleans her teeth obsessively so that she doesn’t lose her teeth and get dentures.  She says she will be ugly and no one will love her.  This is particularly disturbing to me, as I believe our nation has an unhealthy obsession about teeth as well.  The ads for toothpastes and brushes and washes and countless other related items are endless; I’d like to count them one day just to get an idea of how many are run.  It’s disturbing to me that a person can feel that they are unlovable because they don’t have perfect teeth.  Mora has lost her husband because of this obsession, which must have been devastating to her.  Equally disturbing is the fact that some dentists took advantage of Mora’s obsession and performed unnecessary work.  An egregious and unscrupulous act.

Just watching the show is exhausting, sometimes.  Today’s show stirred up ire in me– the utter destructiveness and devastation OCD causes never ceases to rile me up, to make me tearful and angry.  OCD:  you suck.

Dr. Shana said “live your life in the face of fear.”  For those that suffer with OCD, anxiety, or similar disorders, is there any other choice?  Yes:  to not live, to hide, to isolate, to avoid.

It amazes me, each time I watch this show, how far OCD and anxiety reach into a person’s life.  How devastating it can be.  How it turns normal, every day activities into fear-inducing, god-awful, time-consuming events.  And yet, there is a twisted logic to it, at times.  In Marie’s case, she suffered the tremendous loss of her son, not yet two years old.  She suffers from a fear of things being too heavy, crashing through the floor, and causing her untimely death.  So a traumatic event shook her world, and she now feels nothing is stable, that anything can happen.  The world became unpredictable;  if her two year old son could die so suddenly, then anything can happen.  Maybe it’s because I have the same OCD thought patterns, but this makes sense.  I would feel the same as Marie.  That feeling of not being able to trust anything, or depend on anything–even the floor or ground beneath you– that’s not just paranoia, but a deeply rooted fear.  Life is unpredictable, yes, but for someone suffering from anxiety, that unpredictability can become a conduit for fear.  I’ve had similar thoughts while sitting in movie theaters:  I felt certain that the floor would give way, and we would all fall.  Not being able to trust the ground beneath you is an uncomfortable feeling.

I think Matt was able to articulate his thoughts and feelings very well, but he seemed to struggle quite a bit with therapy.  He talked a lot about avoidance, and I think that’s the perfect word for how someone with certain phobias acts, what they do.  I have always referred to myself as being ‘flaky’ due to avoidance of certain social situations.  Matt also said three things I relate to:  fear of not getting to a safe place, fear of having anxiety, and fear of being trapped.  It’s odd that claustrophobia and agoraphobia both involve fear of being trapped.  But I think the fear of getting to a safe place is the most interesting– and the most difficult to describe.  This is something that has plagued me for years, and I had no name for it.  When I go for walks in the park, alone, I’m never gone that long:  I feel the need to come back home.  I have a fear of having a panic attack somewhere and not being able to escape, or get somewhere I deem ‘safe’ quickly.  The need to be or feel safe is really a crucial aspect of OCD.  It’s not just avoidance of ‘dangerous’ situations but also a need to feel safe, comfortable.  Ask a person suffering with OCD how often they feel safe or comfortable.  I bet I know the answer.

I like what Matt’s therapist (can’t recall her name) said about the purpose of CBT:  she said it was to make the anxiety rise and fall.  The more you expose yourself to fear-inducing situations, the less the anxiety.  Matt didn’t stick it out with therapy, and his therapist said that his success or failure was his own.  Which is true, and it’s reassuring to know that therapists exist who are not enablers.  She also pointed out how exhausting panic attacks can be; also very true.  The physical component of an anxiety attack is… well, there are no words to describe it.  There are words, but they are insufficient.

Watching Obsessed exhausts me.  It dredges up memories of similar experiences.  It pains me to see others suffering from OCD because I know how it feels.  Empathy is good, but some days it is a complete mind-fuck.

In December of 1996, I threw away every bit of silverware that I had.  After having spent months & months washing this set of silverware over & over again and never quite getting it clean, I took the easy way out.  I threw it in the trash. From then on, I used plastic utensils. Thirteen years later, and guess what?  Still using plastic.

Traci on “Obsessed” reminded me of this when she talked about her dish washing habits.  And her hand-washing habits.  I think she said it was about 100 times a day;  that’s a lot, in case you were wondering.  Count the number of times you wash your hands on any given day and you will find the number surprisingly lower.  There have been times when my hand-washing was over the 50 times per day mark; I considered it quite an accomplishment to get it down to 30.  But the dishes:  oh that is very familiar territory.

Traci washed the dishes after her roommates washed them, feeling they were not clean enough.  She hovered over her boyfriend while he was trying to cook dinner, watching his every move.  Oh, so familiar.  That fear that others do not wash the dishes well enough & they are therefore contaminated; that absolute need to watch someone prepare food to make sure they don’t use anything you deem ‘dirty’ or unclean.  I understand her boyfriends’ annoyance at this:  I used to drive my mother crazy doing the same things.

I felt nervous for Traci:  I don’t know that I could go into a port-o-potty either.  Just watching this makes me cringe.  Confession:  this is the first time I’ve seen the inside of one!  [current anxiety level from the sofa:  5.  high, I know, but as a fellow mysophobia-sufferer…]   I know the E&R therapy is helpful, but oh my god… the things you have to do.  Anxiety-provoking, dirty, disgusting, horrific things.

Oh, Traci:  now a roller-coaster ride too?  I recently wrote a post [June, I think] about freaking out on a coaster once.  That feeling of being trapped on the coaster is a familiar feeling, as well. Saying that she felt ‘freedom’ again while strapped into that coaster– well what else can one say but well done?  The therapy made her feel less the ‘prisoner’ she felt she was in the beginning of the show.

I love Dr. Shana’s approach with hoarding; the yard-sale is a great idea.  However, Judi experienced quite a bit of anxiety in giving up her things.  The value of the items to her is of course much more than the price put on those items.  I think it’s quite sad to put all your belongings out on the lawn, for others to judge worthy or not.  Items represent your life in some ways, whether you want them to or not.  It’s interesting to me that we usually tend to label some people who collect things as ‘hoarders’ and at other times ‘materialistic.’  I think the line of demarcation must be the emotional meaning that items hold for hoarders, and the anxiety it can bring when trying to get rid of those items.  It’s so nice to see how proud Judi was of her house after the big clean-out, and how nice it was to have her in-laws over for dinner– for the first time.  What a huge accomplishment for her.

Monday nights are doomed to be sob-fests for me, so long as A&E continues to show “Obsessed.”  And I so hope they do.

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