How to have a good relapse

I was going to share a wonderful post about something I’ve found really helpful and wonderful and you might too. It was going to be absolutely wonderful.

Was.

But today, I haven’t been feeling so great. A mixture of little sleep, some theological questions/doubts and anxiety all shaken up caused me to feel pretty awful most of the day.

This doesn’t necessarily constitute a full-on relapse as such, but it is disheartening to feel so well and then one day suddenly find yourself feeling the way you used to at the start of recovery.

Fortunately, I know that this is a normal part of the recovery progression. I’ve been here and done this before. Feels painful? Of course. No one wants to relapse.

relapse

Image credit: https://imgflip.com/i/1hozhg 

HOW DO YOU HAVE A ‘GOOD’ RELAPSE? EXPECT TO HAVE ONE.

Relapse is a normal part of recovery, and does not equal a failure (Presbury, Echertling and McKee, 2008). So I’m not beating myself up about it and adding that emotional baggage to the stuff I’m already attempting to sort through.

The steps I’m taking to manage this episode, and you might find helpful too if you have problems to deal with (which I’m assuming is, like, everyone) are:

  • Medication – sticking with it, not skipping doses, not doing things that interfere with my medication (like drinking alcohol). If I found that I was frequently having bad days and it seemed like the medication was no longer having an effect, I would go back to my doctor and discuss whether it was still effective and if we needed to try something else (higher dosage, different kind, etc).
  • Tools from therapy – using mindfulness to “sit with” the uncertainty and anxiety I’m feeling, rather than constantly ruminating, CBT to evaluate if my thoughts are realistic and helpful or not, visualising positive rather than negative outcomes. If this isn’t effective enough, an appointment to check in with my psychologist would be my next step.
  • Connection – for me connecting with other people is important (I’m an extrovert), and is pretty much always a mood booster. I sent a friend a silly picture I thought she’d appreciate and we had a laugh. (Well I did). It helped.
  • Accepting my doubt as a part of my faith – tonight I heard an excellent talk by Ken Wytsma, guest speaker at Westcity Church, and he spoke about doubt being a part of faith, and how we sometimes “take a break” from God, church etc until we feel happy enough to stop doubting. He encouraged us to continue in our practices anyway, as that is what faith is. So I am continuing in my attempts to pray and cultivate my faith, rather than stepping away because I’m uncertain and anxious about that uncertainty. So be it.
  • Self-care and self-compassion – just trying to look after myself (eat moderately, drink water, get enough rest) and cut myself some slack, not paying attention to the inner critic (aka Judgy McJudgerson).

So that’s what I’m aiming to do while I go through this process of questioning, feeling anxious about it and feeling uncertain about what the outcome will be.

What do you do when you feel like you are relapsing or things are not going as well as they used to? Let me know in the comments 🙂 

References
Presbury, J. H., Echterling, L. G., McKee, J.E. (2008). Beyond Brief Counseling and Therapy: An Integrative Approach (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.
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Sneaky OCD and faith!

Things have been a bit quiet and I’m keen to start posting some new stuff!  I really wanna hear what you guys are thinking about mental illness/wellness, and I want to make this place somewhere that we can share our stories and share hope. 

I’ve been thinking about OCD lately and I’ve discovered ways it has been really sneaky and taken up space in my life without me really noticing…until I had a good hard look.

3 AREAS I CAUGHT OCD RED-HANDED

  1. Faith
  2. Relationships
  3. Creative pursuits

In this post, I wanna talk about: 

FAITH

Sermons, advice, online articles have all become triggers for me. The cycle goes like this:

A) hear triggering sermon/piece of advice/read article that suggests some improvement to my Christian life. So. Many. Triggers. Even words like “obedience” and “trust” we’re triggers. And like, there is an absolute TRUCKLOAD of advice online. Yesterday I came across an article about should Christians be cremated or not. Seriously. I didn’t realize God had a preference here, but apparently so!

B) Feel anxious that I’m not “doing it right”. Add guilt.

C) Compulsions kick in:

  • Checking whether I am doing “enough” or implementing the suggestion enough in my life – (just a hint: the answer is always no, it’s not enough!)
  • Automatically implement advice without question to relieve the anxiety/guilt, even if the advice is impractical or irrelevant
  • Feel utterly exhausted so avoid sermons/advice/articles 

I didn’t realise this was OCD because it wasn’t causing me to feel super high levels of anxiety (like panic). But clearly, it is. OCD isn’t about the level of anxiety, but the amount the compulsions have taken hold.

And I think they have taken hold, to an extent where I find it difficult to engage emotionally with my faith. It is hard to enjoy prayer, Bible reading or worship when I’m being nagged by these unspecific feelings of anxiety and guilt. It is hard to turn up to church or do a Bible study when I know it is going to trigger anxiety. It is hard to focus on my relationship with God with all this noise going on. And it’s hard to even engage in Christian disciplines like quiet times, memory verses, praying according to a formula because it all becomes empty ritual that simply fuels the anxiety. And all the advice makes me angry because I know it is going to trigger me – not because it is necessarily bad in and of itself. (Although if you are taking it upon yourself to give advice about whether Christians should be cremated, I think there are probably bigger fish to fry and you might wanna focus on that instead. Just my opinion!)

I want to incorporate faith practices into my life that are meaningful and authentic. To do that, I need to start treating this as an OCD problem. 

How is that going to look? 

  • ERP – I need to stop avoiding sermons/articles/advice. I need to maybe intentionally expose myself to some particularly guilt and anxiety inducing stuff and practice sitting with the uncomfortable feelings without engaging in rumination, checking and avoidance. So. Hard. But it is the only way to recover.
  • Mindfulness – use mindfulness based techniques while I am sitting with the uncomfortable feelings to refocus on the present.
  • ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) – know what my values and beliefs are as a Christian and have the courage to stick to them even if other Christians disagree. And even if other Christians think I should be “stricter” in a certain area, still have the courage to risk their disapproval and stick to my own beliefs of having more freedom. Accept that my ideas and opinions and biblical interpretations may be wrong, and live with that uncertainty. This is going to be one of the hardest for me.
  • Just try – pray, read the Bible, learn a memory verse I like. If it becomes a compulsion, stop and try something else. But don’t quit. 

So that is where I’m at. I have to say, there have been days where I feel like I am kind of done with the whole Christianity thing. But I’m not done with Jesus. So that’s why I’m still sticking around. Even though I feel like a poor excuse for a follower of His, I know He isn’t done with me, so I’m not done with Him.

Does anyone else have any faith-related obsessions or compulsions? Or is there an area of life you’ve only just realised that your mental health is affecting? Or is this whole thing brand new to you and you’re like, “What?!” Love to hear from you in the comments, on Twitter (@mytwocompanions) or Facebook (My Two Companions page)! 

Parenting philosophy – maybe a little bit compulsive?

EtI apologize for the lack of posting here lately. I’ve had several things happening in life, but I am still here on my blog to continue writing about OCD, faith, and related topics.

On reflection, I think I may be caught in a cycle similar to the obsessive-compulsive cycle when it comes to parenting ideas/philosophy. I’m not sure I would strictly class this as OCD, but there are certainly similarities.

I realised that I have been trying to parent my children “right”, and to that end have been reading a lot of parenting books. It started with sleep- my first was not a great sleeper; not utterly  terrible, but not amazing – and I just wanted to make sure I did it right, no creating “bad habits” and helping him sleep through as young as possible. (It wasn’t super young! Babies kind of do their own thing.)

Then with my second baby I read a bunch of books about how that is silly and can be dangerous to your baby’s mental health if you let them cry, etc. So then I was following all that advice.

It occurred to me that I probably own more baby sleep books and have read more parenting philosophy ideas and articles than any of my friends who are parents. I have read books they haven’t even heard of. And reading all these ideas and advice can be paralyzing. Sometimes I can find myself in a situation, unsure of what to do next because one book recommends one course of action completely opposite to what another book says – and both claim they are right, and doing something else will be damaging to your child.

So on reflection, I believe this continual search to get it right has become a little too close to a compulsion for my liking. Children are resilient, and my child is not having psychological problems because of how I get him to go to sleep. (No, I don’t just leave him to cry – unless I am getting too upset about him not sleeping, and then I go for a brief time-out to calm myself down.) 

So, I’m not sure what I am going to do yet. Maybe a little bit of ACT can be helpful here – using mindfulness and making choices or responding in ways that align with my values.

What do you guys think? Compulsion? Or just normal parenting? And is there anything you have done that you later thought, “Oh that was a compulsion!”? Love to hear your thoughts.

A Christmas journey from “not very good” to “pretty ok”

Christmas used to be a much more difficult time of year. When I was younger I had a bad episode of OCD begin right before Christmas, so I remember just sitting through it with my stomach in knots, feeling like I wanted to burst into tears – but trying to hide it because it was “supposed” to be a happy day.

Even after that episode of OCD was over, every year around Christmas my stomach would always be in knots. Christmas decorations and songs were reminders of anxiety. I didn’t enjoy Christmas much. Added to that, my family started using Christmas Day as a day to travel for our annual holiday – 15 hours away from all our extended family and friends for a few weeks. So the actual day became very unceremonious, really just a scramble to get on the road as early as possible after a night of packing. While the holiday away was nice, I didn’t love that part so much . (It is a good day to travel, roads are quiet!) 

Then I got married to someone who makes Elf look apathetic about Christmas. I felt a bit like Scrooge as I trailed around the Christmas shops looking for decorations with him while the Christmas music set off all the knots in my stomach again. 

But something happened over the years – by being exposed to Christmas music and decorations and my husband’s enthusiasm, it all kind of became a more positive association in my mind. Maybe a sort of real life exposure happened. And I discovered the joys of Christmas baking…yum! So this year I am pleased to report that I have only very briefly had a few waves of anxiety, and I simply acknowledge it for the temporary visitor it is, take a few deep breaths, and go on with whatever I was doing. 

This is our lounge room by night, all decorated by my husband (must humble brag about him):

This year I am a little sad that my family will be away again, and my husband is working. But I will be celebrating with extended family and in-laws so it will still be a nice day.

For those of us who struggle with the holidays, it’s ok not to love them. There’s so much expectation put on us to be having the best time ever, and go around proclaiming what a wonderful time we’re having. But it’s not realistic – and that’s ok.

I wrote a little free verse for those of us in that place.
When Christmas is not living up to the standard, it’s okay.

If you are stewing in anxiety while the pudding stews away, it’s okay. 

If you are alone, away from loved ones, I understand. 

Or if you are working so others can have a good time, but secretly wish you weren’t,

I hear you. I thank you. 

If the tree fell over, cooking Christmas dinner nearly burned down the house, or Santa just brought you the wrong present – or missed you entirely – you are not alone. 


Beyond the presents, tree, holiday

It began with a first time mum and dad – probably stewing in anxiety over finding a place to stay.

Away from their loved ones, they were gifted with the Saviour.

On a normal night at work, shepherds were treated to the chorus of angels. 

And although they were given no gift, the wise men were among the first to bring the right gift and see the Saviour.


Some say God is far away
Or maybe not even there at all

And maybe this Christmas it feels like it. 

But I pray that this Christmas, as at the first,

That somewhere unexpected,

In the normal, maybe disappointing day to day

That you turn and suddenly glimpse the one they call “Immanuel” – 

God with us.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone.

The Bible and OCD

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”‭‭ Psalm‬ ‭56:3‬ ‭NIV‬‬

So much of OCD is about trying to gain certainty. It’s not worry as such – it goes far beyond worry, into anxiety and sometimes to the point of absolute panic. It can immobilize you. It’s anxiety about lacking certainty in an area of life you feel you MUST be certain about. OCD is about doubt, and you can truly doubt anything.

But the opposite of doubt isn’t certainty, it’s faith. It’s trust. Those of us with OCD learn to tolerate uncertainty in spite of feeling anxiety, and over time that feeling diminishes. Those of us with faith put trust in God and His word in spite of not having total certainty.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The words “confidence” and “assurance” are used to describe faith, but the words “total certainty” and “all-knowing” are not. We are not all-knowing. We can be wrong. But the skill of trusting in God is one we can draw on when we are learning to tolerate uncertainty and manage OCD. We trust because we have reason to trust – we rely on God’s character and His loving, unchanging nature. And so with OCD, we tolerate uncertainty and trust that our obsessions aren’t the truth about us or life, because we have reason to do so.

When we are afraid, we can trust God and embrace uncertainty.

A prayer for us:

Lord, sometimes we aren’t confident or sure. We are frightened and uncertain. Thank You that You are not. Help us to continue to grow in trust, tolerate uncertainty and move forward with life. Amen.

Just sitting with it

I’ve been reading the Mindfulness Workbook for OCD and realising I have quite a bit of work to do. I’ve been good at avoiding anxiety but now need to learn how to face it, how to accept uncertainty. 

For now, I am starting by just “sitting” with anxiety or uncertainty about certain situations. My husband used weed killer on our driveway today and I’m worried somehow the poison is going to get into the house and make someone sick (or worse). But rather than rush around trying to clean/figure out how to stop the “spread” of this invisible poison, I’m just sitting with it, not doing anything out of the ordinary. It’s uncomfortable but I’m trying. One step at a time.

Here is a prayer for you if you’re just sitting with it too:

Lord, help us be strong in uncertainty. Help us not to give in to the urge to do things to “fix” the problem, even when that’s scary and we feel like it’s our responsibility to prevent bad things happening. We trust you instead. Thanks for being here with us.

What things are you just sitting with?

The Day I Accidentally Outwitted OCD

I was at the shops, buying bread. When I picked up a loaf, I noticed it had a hole in the plastic at the top.

I started to wonder if I had put the hole there and if I had, I had to immediately buy the loaf because I had ruined the packaging and I needed to absolve myself of any guilt or blame. Thank you scrupulosity OCD.

But almost simultaneously, I began to worry that the hole had been there when I picked it up, and that perhaps the loaf was somehow contaminated, and if I bought it and ate it I could be putting my health and my child’s health at risk. Thank you contamination OCD.

While the two of them were arguing, I suddenly didn’t feel so anxious. Did I put the hole there? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn’t really matter. What did I want to do? Not what did OCD want me to do. I wanted a loaf with undamaged packaging, so I put back the loaf and got a new one. And I didn’t feel bad at all! In your face OCD. I wonder if I could get this to work for me more often…

Being proactive! Mindfulness Workbook part 1

The other day I bought The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD by Jon Hershfield and Tom Corboy. I am a big fan of Jon’s work. He runs an online support group and has battled with OCD himself. 

I realised that right now in my life, my anxiety levels are relatively low, which is great. But I attributed this to managing my OCD so well, and while I have definitely learned so much, there are still a few things I’ve let slide, mostly because I think, “That’s too hard.” But that’s a sure fire way to have a relapse. 
I will post reflections on the book as I work through it. 

How do you keep from having a relapse? Do you have exercises you do each day?

Monster OCD

OCD takes many forms. There are lots of different themes it can have. The classic one is contamination OCD, which includes obsessions about cleanliness and compulsions such as hand washing. There’s a good list of all the themes here, but I have yet to find “Monster OCD” listed as a theme. But I do believe it was the start of OCD for me.

When I was 10, almost 11, I was in bed one night. It was a summer night so the windows were open. A strong breeze picked up, causing my bedroom door to suddenly SLAM. As it slammed, I suddenly had this mental image of opening it and finding my mother standing behind it, baring vampire teeth at me. I was so so afraid. But I must have got up and opened the door because I ended up in her room telling her about my mental image and being reassured. 

Suddenly “what ifs” and unwanted mental images were a part of my life. Even though I knew vampires weren’t real, and that my mother wasn’t one, I couldn’t shake the awful anxiety I felt. I was afraid I would become afraid of her, when I knew there was no reason to. I used mental compulsions to cope, like reminding myself vampires didn’t exist, and even if they did, my mother and I were related, so whatever she was, I was. Over the year, these compulsions helped to quell the worst of the anxiety and I thought I was returning to normal.

I was only 11, but OCD had arrived. They say it takes about 16 years for an OCD sufferer to be diagnosed. When I was 27 I was diagnosed, so spot on the average there.

This is not a great average. Wouldn’t it be good if diagnosis was a matter of months! 

How old were you when your OCD symptoms began? 

OCD is when you clean a lot.

I have OCD. My husband doesn’t. Yet he MUST vacuum the rug at least every few days. He is definitely the neat one in our relationship.

If you have OCD, you know it’s not necessarily related to cleaning (although it can be). If you don’t have it, hallelujah, and can I say I’m a little jealous? Maybe not, because as part of the human condition you probably have something else equally as awful to cope with. (Sorry about that.) 

As a brief intro to the pest that is OCD, I’m gonna break it down gangsta style (in my white female middle class way):

O is for obsession

the thought in your brain 

that’s strange and disturbing 

and won’t go away.

C is for compulsion

The things that you do

To try and solve the problem

Your thoughts brought to you.

D is for disorder

It’s like a disease

Ignore your symptoms, it gets worse

You can’t make it leave.
Not exactly Wordsworth, or Jay-Z 😉

Obsessions are the anxiety-inducing part of OCD. They can vary in theme but are disturbing to the sufferer – eg the thought that they might intentionally harm a loved one. The sufferer believes the thought is reflective of who they are and feels a great deal of anxiety. (Click here for a nice big list of common obsessions – they’re not real pretty). 

This drives them to do actions that will relieve their anxiety. These actions are called compulsions. While hand washing and cleaning are well-known compulsions, some people (like myself) have mainly mental compulsions, so it’s harder to tell when they are engaging in them.

On this blog I’ll share with you some of my experiences with obsessions and compulsions.  Some of them I’ve overcome and others I’m still working on. I hope sharing some of my journey will encourage others with OCD, like I’ve been encouraged by people with OCD.

Have you ever been told you’re “OCD”? Was it because you have OCD or was it because you like order and cleaning? Let me know in the comments below!