Avoidance, Confrontation, and Safe Places

As people with anxiety and obsessive behavior are often wont to do, I spend a lot of time reading about my own dysfunction, on the one hand to understand it, but on the other because I obviously have to obsess about obsessing. Because sometimes obsessing about obsessing is better than obsessing about upsetting obsessions.

Ya feel me?

Anyway, recently, I was reading about what’s called “Pure O OCD” which most accurately describes my experience. Here is a pretty good rundown from the OCD Center of Los Angeles:

However, it should be noted that the term “Pure Obsessional OCD” is somewhat of a misnomer. While it may at first appear that these individuals experience obsessions without compulsions, a careful assessment almost always uncovers numerous compulsive behaviors, avoidant behaviors, reassurance-seeking behaviors, and “mental compulsions,”. These behaviors are not as easily observed as other, more obvious OCD symptoms, such as hand-washing and lock-checking, but they are clearly compulsive responses to unwanted obsessions.

This is the kind of thing I read and say: why won’t my psychiatrist listen to me when I say I have compulsive behaviors? Oh, I don’t wash my hands over and over again and therefore I don’t have compulsions? Try living in my head for a minute, madame.

The article goes on to say:

Some common examples of compulsions seen in Pure Obsessional OCD include:

  • avoiding numerous situations in which one fears the possible onset of unwanted thoughts
  • repeatedly asking for reassurance that one has not and/or will not commit an act that one perceives as being “wrong” or “bad”
  • compulsively “checking” one’s body in an effort to get evidence that one is not sexually attracted to someone who he/she considers inappropriate (especially in cases of POCD, HOCD, and ROCD)
  • silently praying or repeating certain phrases in an effort to counteract or neutralize thoughts that one considers to be sinful, immoral or sacrilegious
  • performing superstitious behaviors in an effort to ensure that bad things don’t happen (i.e., counting, tapping, knocking on wood)
  • repeatedly confessing to people, even total strangers, that one has had thoughts which he or she considers to be unacceptable
  • continually ruminating about obsessions in an attempt to prove to oneself that he or she has not done and/or will not do anything “wrong” or “inappropriate” or “sinful”

I’ve underlined the ones that I experience regularly.

My biggest problems are rumination and avoidance. Since I read this article, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own avoidance, and I’ve decided for the purposes of bettering myself to put out into the world some of the things that I avoid or have avoided because of my condition. This is a limited list to what I am willing to admit and is not, by any means, a comprehensive one. I’ve explained them where I am comfortable doing so:

  • Pearl Jam’s song “Better Man” [this song triggered the first big wave of obsessions relating to my relationship back in January]
  • Days when I am anxious or particularly susceptible to ruminating, I will not listen to any music for fear that it will trigger anxious obsessions.
  • Children
  • Family members
  • Some of my friends
  • As a general rule, I won’t look at any strangers for fear that I will find any piece of them attractive or alluring.
  • Coworkers
  • A street near my work that has the same name as my significant other’s ex. The association sometimes will send me into jealous ruminations that drive me insane and are totally unproductive.
  • People who remind me of my significant other for fear that I will find any piece of them attractive or alluring.

You’d think that avoiding triggers would be a good idea, you know? If you’ve ever quit smoking or drinking or some kind of addictive behavior, you learn to keep yourself away from addiction triggers. But it works differently with anxiety. It seems sort of counter-intuitive, but avoidance is a major part of the problem.

Using the street name as an example, I had to force myself to walk down this street and repeat multiple associations other than my S.O.’s ex’s name so that I could rewire my brain. It’s like changing muscle memory. By making multiple associations, you’re eliminating the potency of the “bad” association and therefore remove the “bad” from, in this case, the street near my work. But in order to do this, you have to confront it. You have to force yourself to be near the thing that you fear. And what I fear is the thoughts. I don’t want to think about these things. No one wants to think about their significant other being with another person, regardless of when it was or if you even knew them. But instead of it being common jealous thoughts like most people have, the ruminating is what makes it unhealthy. It’s not that I will think about it for a few minutes or for an hour.

I will think about it for days.

Weeks, sometimes.

When I write that out, when I admit that I think about such inane things as my boyfriend’s ex for weeks at a time (not constantly, mind you; it does come and go), it makes me ashamed and it makes me sad for myself. That so much of time is consumed by a person who I don’t even know and will probably never know. And who will never really have any bearing on my life.

So why do I think about it?

Well, to be honest, it probably is because I can’t fathom being a person’s first choice. That being the best thing that ever happened to a person just isn’t possible. Clearly, says my Mean Voice, clearly you are just filling in for some other person. You’re a replacement for a person who he can’t have anymore. Clearly, you’re a consolation prize. You don’t deserve happiness. You don’t deserve this amazing person. This amazing person was clearly meant for someone else.

This doesn’t just happen with jealousy. It happens with everything. Last year when I had that thought that ruined my year, I spent the entire year thinking about the thought and convincing myself that I was a horrible person who was just going to hurt someone. Sometimes, I obsess that my boyfriend doesn’t love me. Or that I don’t love him. Because either A) I don’t deserve a healthy relationship so clearly he must be lying about loving me or B) I am a bad person and am manipulating him on the daily.

Anyone who knows me or my significant other would probably say this is the very furthest from the truth.

And see, that’s just it. I can’t say it enough: the content doesn’t matter. It isn’t that I’m ruminating about my S.O.’s ex or not loving him or thinking I’m going to hurt someone – it’s the fact that I’m having the rumination IN THE FIRST PLACE. It isn’t about the actual thing, it’s about the rush of thoughts you can’t control or forget.

I think that’s why people who don’t have this problem say: well, just don’t think about it. Because I don’t think that they can conceive of a headspace where your thoughts are your greatest enemy. And because of this, you’re a prisoner in your own mind.

Because of all this, I don’t know how to trust myself. I am rebuilding. I’m telling myself it’s okay to have thoughts sometimes. That my thoughts do not determine who I am. That my thoughts and I aren’t always one. That sometimes I am a Harvey Two-Face. Sometimes I have an evil voice in my head that wins.

And I suppose once i start to accept that this evil voice isn’t a part of who I am or who I want to be, that is when the thoughts will go away.

But right now, I feel like I’m doing all this work and I’m still waiting. I’m getting a lot better, believe you me. Things are much better now. But I want my head to be a safe place. Not a place where I see disturbing images or think about my significant other with another person. I want to be my own safe place.

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Amanda Bynes, Robin Williams, and the Spectacle of Mental Illness

Let's Queer Things Up!

Internet, we need to have a talk.

I’ve had a number of readers ask why I’ve neglected to write about Amanda Bynes this last year. It’s simple, really. I don’t believe that celebrities are “fair game,” and that, when they have very human and very difficult struggles, I should capitalize on those things by writing an article, however well-intentioned. I believe they are deserving of privacy and respect, by virtue of their being people.

However, I’m making an exception here, because in the midst of the negative and callous press that Bynes has received, I think it’s time we had a chat about it from a different perspective. And then, after we’re done, I think it’s time we stop speculating about it altogether. Deal?

First and foremost, there is no way for us to know what, if anything, Bynes has been diagnosed with. The family has denied schizophrenia and bipolar…

View original post 1,142 more words

Life Without Meds and the One Thought that Ruined My Year

Last week, I stopped taking my daily low dose of klonopin. I’ve been up and down, had a couple anxiety attacks, and faced my standard non-medicated, 4 AM, wake-up worry. But, in truth, I don’t mind all that. I can deal with escalating anxiety at work or whatever it is that might cause some frantic moments. (Though, when I’m in those moments, I would say that they are a living hell and I’d do anything to not have them.) Honestly, what bugs me out more than anything is having the thoughts.

While on my medication, mostly the thoughts were only around when I was stressed out. Now, they come and go as they please. For several days, I felt great. No problems, no thoughts. Now I feel like I’m back to square one.

Though, if I’m being honest, I’m not back at square one. I’m doing better. I can live without meds right now. Six months ago, I couldn’t go a week without a panic attack. Now, I’m not letting the anxiety get out of hand. And that’s more than I could’ve said for myself even just a few weeks ago.

More than anything, it’s the shame.

Shame for having thoughts. Shame for doubting myself. Shame for letting the doubt take over. Shame that I can’t handle this better than I am. Shame that, even for a moment, I might buy into a delusional thought. Not in the sense that I actually think it’s reality. That isn’t the case. It’s that…I worry that it’s real. Which is different than believing it’s real.

The content of my thoughts generally has to do with honesty. And perfect behavior. My particular brand of obsession has mostly to do with lying to myself, lying to people I care about, and being caught up in self-worth battles that never seem to end.

Am I good enough? Will I ever be good enough? What if I hurt somebody?

Last year, I was working in a toxic environment that constantly devalued me and made me second-,third-,fourth- guess my self-worth. When I started working there, I thought I had finally found my Place outside of college. And at some point, it became apparent that I was not of value, despite all of my hard work, overtime, and dedication.

I (along with my coworkers) knew I was getting laid off for about six months before it happened. Going into work every day was like…walking into the deepest reaches of hell. Everyone around me was depressed and anxious. People were clearly not coping well. And on top of it, our management didn’t seem to give a shit about any of it.

At some point, very shortly before I was laid off, my anxiety disorder started (probably not as suddenly as I think it had). I had a singular, instantaneous thought. One. Single. Thought. I ruminated about this thought for…a day straight. I’m not comfortable with sharing what the thought was, or what the rumination was. But, essentially, it was this: I had a thought about hurting someone I care about.

I thought that I was a horrible person who was going to hurt someone I love.

It threw me into this horrible, isolated depression. I couldn’t tell anyone. How could I tell someone that I had thoughts about hurting someone? I’d become a pariah.

I felt totally alone.

I started thinking things like “what would happen if I jumped in front of that train?” And as soon as those thoughts came, I called a therapist that very day. I knew I was headed down a destructive road.

I was shaking when I walked into my therapist’s office. I thought somehow I had already done something wrong. As if having the thought itself was committing the action. But it isn’t. It isn’t the same.

My therapist told me recently: “I knew the moment you told me about the thought that you weren’t going to hurt anyone.”

People with OCD commonly have disturbing, depraved thoughts that are totally contrary to things they would actually do. Usually, these thoughts are triggered by stress or trauma. But the problem is that the person focuses so much on purity and perfection that the thought itself is like committing the action.

The person I had the thought about…I still struggle to be around them. It makes me hesitate to be near them. It makes me question my morality, who I am, what I’m capable of. I’ve avoided that person for the better part of a year and a half. And nobody close to me or that person (outside of a very, very few people) knows about it. They must think I’m being selfish, because I’m not around as much.

And I can’t tell them, or anyone around them, why. I risk alienating myself from the people close to me. Because of one thought.

Do you have any idea what that feels like? To think you are the worst kind of person? And truly believe it?

Essentially, I protect the people I love from myself.

The thought never happened again. Only that one time. But it’s the worry that it will come back that drives me away from the person it was about. Other “intrusions” (as I call them) alienate me from other people that they involve. Likely, I have so many anxiety attacks around my boyfriend because so many of my obsessions thematically involve him, my feelings for him, and his feelings for me.

But I love him more than I need avoidance. It isn’t even fucking close. And, honestly, I think working through the anxiety that is brought on by my relationship (however healthy and fantastic it is) is making me stronger. It’s making me confront my anxiety and deal with it head-on. And, honestly, I couldn’t do that if he didn’t grant me the safe space to be honest. I can tell him some of my thoughts. I can have a conversation about them. I feel as though I can trust him to never judge me for them.

This monster that lives inside me, I’ve isolated it. It used to be a fog, or a poison, inside of me. Now, I’ve pushed it into a corner. I’ve located it, I’ve named it, and I’ve got its number. I’m done with this mean voice. I’m done giving it power. And I’m done letting it ruin my life and my relationships.

For any of you who have mean voices, loud or quiet, beat them back with everything you have. I believe in you, even if you don’t.

Therapy in Action: Coping Methods for Anxiety and How They Work for Me

I’ve written a lot about processing obsessions in a theoretical and reflective way, but I haven’t illustrated what it might look like in action. First, I want to talk about the methods of processing, coping with, and overcoming obsessions and anxiety. Then, I want to show what it looks like (literally) on paper — processing in action, as it were.

Methods
I can’t say for certain that what I do to deal with obsessions and anxiety torment is purely Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), but that is the main method that my therapist and I use to combat my anxiety. Sometimes, I also utilize Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) methods. And occasionally, I use Grounding as a method to alleviate escalating anxiety. I have feelings and reactions to all of these methods of coping with anxiety and obsessions, sometimes only one works, sometimes I have to do all three. Some days I hate REBT, some days the CBT isn’t enough.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
The use of CBT for me is the one that is the most “invisible,” so to speak. This is the method I most likely use when I’m not noticing what method I’m using. I know that sounds real layered and heady, but honestly, that’s how my mind works. When I’m trying to overcome anxiety, the anxiety becomes about the anxiety, and I spend a lot of time and energy focusing on or obsessing about the method I’m using. The CBT is the most blended kind of mechanism – it sometimes sounds like REBT to me, and sometimes, it just sounds like the way I’ve coped my whole life. Maybe for me CBT works the best, and that’s why I don’t really notice it in action. Also, I believe this is the method my therapist uses in sessions, so it may just be comforting or just feel like a conversation with my therapist, which is much less informal than utilizing other skills.

Grounding
This is an interesting method. My therapist recommended it as just a piece of a toolkit for me. I have a small object that I carry with me EVERYWHERE. All the time. Every day. I keep it in my pocket. When anxiety comes on, I am to either hold it, or look at it, or try to focus only on the object and not on the world (and thus the stimuli/anxiety) around me. What I carry is a little Pokemon figurine (Wartortle, if you’re curious) that I got from my significant other. It serves both as a distraction and a focus as much as it does a comfort to me. It’s very much like the totems in the film Inception. It’s there to ground me back into reality. And it usually only works with escalation and doesn’t necessarily work for me when I’m dealing with an obsession.

Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy
I kind of hate REBT. Mostly anyone who has used REBT, in highly emotional moments, will say they hate it. It’s harsh sometimes. And when I talk to my therapist about it, she says “Nobody likes REBT, it’s just supposed to work.” And it does, often, when I can dedicate myself to the Spock-like nature of the logic it utilizes. Often, I find a lot of comfort in the standard coping statements that REBT uses (ie: I can overcome my anxiety. I am not my anxiety. It is okay for me to not handle every situation perfectly. I will feel better soon. etc) and the idea that there is a difference between ‘knowing’ something and ‘believing’ something. I practice bridging the gap between these two ideas with my self worth while I run, actually. I know that I am tenacious and strong and beautiful, but do I believe it? Often times, no, I don’t. But when I’m running, and I start telling myself these things, I can feel myself start to believe them. And the positive emotional catharsis I feel when the ‘believing’ starts to sink in is tremendous.

Coping Methods in Action
What I’ve written below was composed by hand, while in the midst of an obsession that was upsetting me for probably more than a few days. I had been stressed out for weeks over a circumstance that was pretty difficult to deal with, and the stressor re-lit some dormant obsessions that blind-sided me and haunted me for longer than I’m willing to admit to myself. I’m going to write out the obsession for the sole purpose of overcoming the shame I feel in having it (and because I think people need to see what sort of things can buckle a person like me completely). Know this: this obsession was certainly not the ONLY obsession rolling through my head. It was one of many. I didn’t really confront the obsessions I was having until this plagued me for a couple of days. Remember: this obsession is a product of stress and fear, and does not reflect the reality of who I am or what I actually think.

What if I don’t love my significant other and I am lying to myself and him? What if I want to break up with him?

How I drew it out and coped:

October 1, 2014

Obsessions and intrusions have started up again. Nonsense thoughts that haven’t bugged me in a long time. It also has to do with certainty and perfection. It’s like I set these boundaries in my mind that I:

  • must be 1000% anything at all times
  • must be certain about my emotions
  • must react perfectly to everything
  • must know exactly how I feel 100% of the time

Additionally, I check in with my emotions and search out feelings. It’s like…checking doors or opening closets to make sure all my stuff is still there.

know my wallet is in my pocket, so why do I keep checking my pocket?

Furthermore, I set metaphors for my feelings and thoughts. Based on what? The culture’s or world’s conception of my identity and how I should feel: “Oh – every Rom Com says that this means this and therefore…”

The difficult thing is – even bearing this in mind – I still struggle to know what’s real.

There’s a difference between knowing and believing and I think the way to create the bridge between them has to do with self-trust.

It’s mind-boggling to me to see and recognize that I understand how all of this works and to still be so unsure of myself. 

The doubt and self-doubt is terrifying.

Now, I did write this with the intent of sharing it. But, in this instance, the only way of dealing with the emotional turmoil over an obsession and an anxious moment that I knew was caused by the delusions of my mean voice, was to evaluate how anxiety functions in my mind and the tricks that my brain plays on itself. Because telling myself over and over again that it isn’t real doesn’t help. I have to see how the mechanism works. Otherwise, I’ll argue with myself over the finer points of evidence.

Evaluating evidence is something I can’t do inside my mind. It causes ruminations, which are dangerous for me. Sometime soon, I’ll discuss how ruminating ruined almost a year of my life, and how the process of ruminating has led me to believe over and over again that I am the most awful person that has ever lived.

In this case, anyway, if you’re wondering, once the stress was gone, the obsessions stopped again. I stopped taking my meds last weekend, and I spent four whole work days without meds. I’m so unbelievably proud of myself. I feel like myself again. I didn’t realize how much my small dosage of Klonopin was effecting my every day emotions. Both in a good way and a bad way. I may still use it yet, but for now, I’m okay without. I’m in a great headspace this week – a stark contrast to my last entry – and I’m motivated to keep the ball rolling so I don’t fall into too terrible a seasonal depression come December.

Be well, friends. And I hope you can also find a good headspace.

This is What Bad Headspace Looks Like

I’ve been in a terrible headspace lately. The last two weeks have been tough, life-wise and therefore head-wise. In my relationship, I’ve had to take on the role of supporter, as my S.O. has been going through some difficult things both having to do with circumstance, and I think, as a result emotionally. Because I’m a fixer – a loyal person who wants to take on all of people’s problems as my own – his problems become my problems. I take on a substantial load of the weight and, frankly, do too much to help.

Because of this, I get tapped out easily. And because I’m tapped out, I’m emotionally vulnerable. In the midst of this “crisis” (for lack of a better word), and possibly as a partial consequence of it, I began to have issues with one of my friends which was only escalating the stress having to do with the situation at hand.

Would you be surprised to know that I’ve been having a lot of “old,” intrusive thoughts? No, I suppose you wouldn’t. I look back on the stress level that I’ve been at lately, and I’m surprised I haven’t popped yet (read: massive anxiety attack) – and I suppose I should be a little proud of myself.

But, frankly, it just makes me sad. Sad, lonely, and tired. I feel isolated. Though I know the content of my thoughts don’t matter (it’s the obsession that’s the issue at hand – the content is irrelevant), I feel like I can’t share them with my S.O. He’s enduring a lot right now, and I don’t think he’s in the headspace where he can endure what’s on my mind. And that makes me feel alone. Because I can’t talk to the one person who seems to really understand.

I went out with a few friends who I haven’t seen in a long time and felt so far away from them. I spent most of my time with them worrying about their opinion of me, thinking that I was a bad friend for not being around enough, and convincing myself that they were all mad at me.

I can’t get myself to my therapy appointment next week because of the circumstances at hand. And that makes me feel worse.

I can’t stop obsessing about this or that, and my mean voice (normally abusive only to me) has started to project outward. Which makes me abuse myself emotionally even more.

I can sense the separation anxiety monster in me brewing a lot, and I don’t know how to make the mechanism stop anymore. I have made efforts to stop the obsessions. While out at a party last night, I started experiencing anxiety, fell into myself, began to obsess, and then said to myself “I’m not going to ruin my evening by hyper-focusing on every single fucking thing that happens and sitting here feeling like shit.”

I should be proud of myself for that, because my methodology worked. But the anxiety is still there. I still got home and cried. I still came home and hated myself for it. I still came home and felt ashamed and guilty.

I didn’t sleep all night. Kept waking up every 20-40 minutes or so. I know that getting through the day or getting through anxiety is often just a matter of changing your perspective and looking at things in a positive way. But, honestly, I just don’t have it in me today. I’m irrationally terrified that I’m pregnant. I’m convinced that I’m only going to hurt every single person who gets close to me. And I feel like I’m just waiting for the moment when everyone I love will abandon me.

I told myself that I would never dump negativity on this blog at all, because I don’t know if it’s productive. But maybe somehow this is helpful as well. To see what the really negative side of this looks like on paper. To see how much more honest it is.

It isn’t. This entry has been more reticent and distant than anything else I’ve written here. Why? Well, because I’m convinced you will all reject me.

I’m falling into myself, and when I’m wading in this deep of water, I forget how to swim.

I know I’m doing better. I am. But I am fucking tired of thinking about shit that I don’t want to think about. Thinking about the shit that upsets me more than anything. And I’m petrified that the monster that lives inside me and makes all of this up in my head is going to win for just one moment when I’m weak, and I’ll lose everything.

Broken Patterns, Obsessions with Longevity, and the Problem of (Un)Certainty

I’ve written about how obsessions work for me, how they make me feel, and why I have them. For the most part, since I’ve been in therapy, I’ve managed to severely reduce the frequency and potency of my obsessions by not allowing them to have power. I’m getting better at truly ignoring them, or by just letting them happen without having them affect me emotionally.

But I haven’t really explored the sort of long-range obsessions that plague me. Some obsessions happen for a day or an hour. But some go on for months. They’re usually just thematic, and unspecific. Like…a recurring dream that happens every day for three months. These obsessions are usually less potent, calmer, and easier to ignore (in the sense that I can carry on with my everyday).

Every couple of months, though, they’ll change. And that’s where the anxiety with long-range obsession occurs for me. For three months, I’ll have a minor, background obsession about – well, the last few weeks it’s been: my significant other’s ex. I really know nothing about this person, nor do I know much about their relationship, but the obsessions are more like minor ruminations.

I get on a ground-out track of thought processes, and let my brain do its thing: How did he feel about her? Does he miss her ever? Is anything about me the same? What if I’m just a replacement for something he misses? These kinds of thoughts drive me mad. Because no one wants to think about their significant other with another person, regardless of who that person is. Regardless of what my reality is. I think thoughts like these are common for many people – I just happen to think about them more actively. Or, the difference is, I spend the energy trying to find some sort of conclusion utilizing evidence.

This month, that obsession has converted itself/evolved into: what if my significant other doesn’t love me enough and doesn’t know it? This is a dangerous obsession. Because it’s totally impossible to disprove. If the obsession simply were “what if he doesn’t love me?” I could use a series of syllogisms and evidence sets to override this obsessive doubt. I could have a conversation with the Doubtful, Mean Self and say: “If he didn’t love you, he wouldn’t do A, B, C, D, E…and all this other stuff he does all the time. He very obviously loves you and treats you well, so this thought is bullshit, and you know it.” But the addition of “he doesn’t know it” will withstand this set of evidence. The conversion of the previous obsession into the new one presents a new challenge: Is this real doubt? Is this a real red flag? Or is it Just. Another. Obsession? If it’s real doubt, I need to actually evaluate my relationship – a pretty big deal. But if it isn’t real – if it’s a delusion conjured up from the darkest, most jealous and insecure parts of my psyche – the content doesn’t matter.

I’m going to repeat this for any of you who struggle with obsession as my therapist repeats to me: the content doesn’t matter.

The more likely scenario is that this is just another obsession. But, the logical difficulty here is that there’s no way to prove that it is just another obsession. Usually, this is the core of why obsession is so difficult to overcome: the impossibility of disproving the obsessive thought.

Most obsessions require certainty. A person with an obsessive mind will set a parameter of: I must know with absolute certainty that [my spouse loves me, my boss approves of me, I care about my family, etc.] Here is where the obsessive mind becomes problematic. How CAN you know this with absolute certainty? You can’t. No one can. Everyone pretty much always lives out life accepting that grain of doubt that exists in all of us. Life is simply imperfect. The person who is obsessing sets an unreasonable exception (i.e. perfect logical evidence and proof), an expectation that can NEVER be reached, and has therefore set themselves up to fail. If I set the standard that I must know with absolute certainty that my significant other loves me unconditionally, through and through, my mind won’t be satisfied. Because although my significant other could (and does) tell me over and over and over again how much he really does love me and wants to be with me, the truth is, neither of us can really know with 100% certainty. That’s just the reality of life right there. It has nothing to do with our relationship. This uncertainty causes me to seek reassurance constantly, a behavior that’s very common in people with OCD.

But, let’s for a second imagine his frustration with having to constantly tell me this over and over again. Imagine how this must make HIM feel. To know that I am gripped by these irrational doubts. It makes me sad, the potentiality that my thoughts have to hurting his feelings, regardless of how resilient and impervious he is to them. I know he can handle my anxiety most of the time. I’m just terrified of the moment when his patience runs out. But, I digress.

To someone with an obsessive mind, or – more specifically – with OCD, imperfection is unacceptable. Imperfection and doubt cause anxiety. The same with pattern and consistency. I have an incredibly difficult time accepting a change in pattern.

Every Friday, my team gets free bagels. My manager brings them in, and I set them up for everyone. It’s been a part of my weekly routine for months. Today, my manager wasn’t in and passed on his title of Bagel Santa to one of the other managers. The new Bagel Santa, not usually in as early, didn’t know how Bagel Friday was handled every week and went ahead and set them up without me.

When I found this out, my entire emotional well-being came to a crashing halt. I was devastated by this tiny, tiny, insignificant event. On top of it, when I tried to express my frustration and anger (irrationally, at this other person) to a couple of my friends, I could tell they were thinking that I was blowing things out of proportion. I could tell they didn’t want to listen to my irrational rampage. It was incredibly alienating.

For the record, I was blowing things out of proportion. But, also, I have had a really bad week; this was just kind of the icing on the cake. Setting up those bagels gives me a sense of stability. It also makes me feel useful. So when that stability is yanked out from under me, I freak out. And on top of it, some people can’t understand that. Because my friends reacted in a way that wasn’t up to my standards (i.e. validating my feelings), my anxiety over it compounded. I was behaving imperfectly. I couldn’t handle myself. And I was getting down on myself for not handling the situation well.

Dudes, this bagel thing upset me so much, that I actually had to go to the bathroom to cry so I could let out.

Imagine my self-embarrassment; my self-harassment: “You’re crying over bagels, you little baby. Get yourself together.” This is how I speak to myself in these instances. But, frankly, as much as I am empowered and in charge of my emotions, getting down on myself for getting upset is the real problem. I felt misunderstood, I felt unheard, and on top of it, I was ashamed.

It wasn’t until I spoke to another friend, who has difficulty with obsession (and, additionally, a family member with autism), that I felt understood. She recognized that just the dramatic change in event alone was enough to drive me out of rational and into irrational, suddenly-heightened anxiety. She gave me the permission to be upset. It was the validation I needed.

Immediately after, my significant other gave me the permission to complain about the event later, which was extremely helpful. Because it A) indicated that the event was of enough importance (to me, and therefore to him) that it meant he was willing to set some time aside to hear me bitch, and B) therefore, validated my (albeit irrational) feelings and made me feel less ashamed. I was then able to bring myself back down from an 8 to a 5 and put the anxiety off until later.

The truth is, by later tonight when I am allowed to complain…I probably won’t need to. This, my friends, is how I overcome anxiety, emotional distress, and the driving force behind my obsessions: my mean voice. Not by pushing the feelings down or ignoring them, but by taking hold of the emotions, screaming at my mean voice to fuck the hell off, and say:

No, you will not control me.

Panic Attacks, Pills, and Progress

Over the last 6 months or so, I’ve been having fairly regular panic attacks. Once they started, the frequency increased exponentially, starting at once a month to once every two weeks. That doesn’t count all the times I almost had panic attacks and managed to calm them down.

At some point in the middle of developing a panic disorder, I had convinced myself that I wasn’t actually having panic attacks. That they were just “anxiety attacks” – this may still be true, though. What I would call a panic attack might just be a very severe anxiety attack.

There is a difference between the two. Panic attacks generally are rooted in the fight or flight physiological reaction in the brain and are often unprovoked (a stressor is not required). Anxiety attacks are physical symptoms of anxiety that are as a result of stressors.

Often, a panic attack itself would cause anxiety. My body would freak out and then my brain would go: oh, this is like anxiety, let’s think about stuff that’s awful and scares us. And it would escalate the physical symptoms further.

One particularly bad week, a panic attack sent me home from work.

Afterwards, I generally feel depressed, which started to worry me more – I fear depression almost above all else. I’ve been down the dark road to rock bottom, and, more than anything, I don’t want to go back there. I’ll take the anxiety and relentless obsession any day over that. At least with anxiety I can be an active participant in life and other things.

Anyway, it hadn’t occurred to me until relatively recently that the depressed feeling was most likely a “come down” from all of the heightened physical symptoms. So, I told myself over and over again that lethargy was just lethargy and the “depressed” feeling was not necessarily a sign of depression.

My panic attacks have become less regular since I started on a daily low dose of an anti-seizure/anti-panic medication called Klonopin. I take it as a baseline to prevent early-early-morning anxiety that was waking me up around 4 AM daily. This has a sort of “trickle down” effect. If my anxiety is lower in the morning, it won’t escalate as quickly into an anxiety/panic attack.

For weeks at a time, sometimes without a single day off, I started obsessing before I was awake; thus, I begin my day at an already-heightened anxiety and stress level, and then it really only increased from there. I would spend my entire time in my morning shower (which is my wake up and focus time) beating back obsessions like “Do I ACTUALLY love my boyfriend?” “Does my boyfriend ACTUALLY love me?” “What if he’s lying to me about [fill in the fear]?” “What if I’m an awful person?”

Much as I hated the idea of taking medication (and I still do, every day), the daily 0.25mg of Klonopin I take really takes it down a LOT. I still have some obsessions and still have to work sometimes at it, but now I feel more ABLE. Now that a lot of the really high-level anxiety nonsense is gone – for the most part – I can focus on tackling the bigger issues, including panic attacks.

I think that because of this, I don’t have the panic attacks “often” anymore (this is a relative term). To boot, any incident or episode of anxiety has now become a minor anxiety attack (minor hyperventilating mixed with a crying spell), and they are easily diffused by me when I’m alone and even more quickly and easily when I’m with my significant other. Even with friends near, the anxiety diffuses more quickly. I have one friend in particular who sometimes rescues me from the stairwell when I trap myself there.

I had been going to therapy every week for months and months, and I recently moved to a different town, making it more difficult for me to get to my therapist’s office. Up until my most recent session (two weeks ago), I hadn’t been there in a month.

This month, I had a really severe panic attack at work. Then a few days later, I had two minor anxiety attacks. In the week following, I was down on myself for all of the piled up anxiety attacks. I felt that I had lost control of myself or “let” myself have the anxiety/panic attack(s). That I was somehow responsible for not being in control of myself enough (perfection alert, perfection alert).

When my therapist asked me how my month went, I said “Well, I had a panic attack on a Friday at work and then two minor anxiety attacks the following Sunday.”

She asked me what had been happening in my life this month and this is the list:

-I moved out of my parent’s house. (Moving is fucking stressful, yo.)
-I didn’t get to take my dog, whom I adore, with me.
-This is the first time I’ve been on my own since I was 20.
-I had been working overtime with a lot of pressure to perform daily and produce double volume while maintaining quality.
-My significant other has been undergoing some pretty major life changes in the last month and there are a lot of uncertain things in his life.
-I’ve been training for a marathon which is now into some pretty high mileage runs on the weekend.
-I get up at 4:50 AM every morning for work and I have a 3 hour round-trip commute.
-The only down time I have anymore is on the weekends.

My therapist’s reaction to all of this, including my panic attack and anxiety attacks, was a big smile and: “You only had one panic attack this month?? Even with all of that going on?”

It hadn’t occurred to me that it was JUST one panic attack, on top of everything that was going on AND no therapy for four weeks. I had pretty much endured a hellish month without really batting an eyelash. I had that moment of realization that makes me hopeful for the long-haul: I am getting better. Slowly but surely, I am getting better, and maybe sometime soon I won’t need the medication anymore.

That’s a pretty big victory, I’d say.