Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Waiting on..."normal"

Normal...is there such a thing?!  According to Merriam-Webster, normal means conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern.  It can also mean occurring naturally. An additional definition even says "free from mental disorder".  Well, crap!

Hi, my name is Holly and I have been diagnosed and struggle with OCD and anxiety/panic attacks.  This is not something that I'm proud of or have ever wanted to share with others.  I can count on one hand the people that truly know what causes my extreme anxiety.  I've hid this from family and friends because even when I try to explain, it makes no sense.  It's easier to try and deal than face what others might think.  If you've ever heard or said "Oh, that's just the way Holly is" or assume you really know me - what you read just may surprise you.

So, why am I sharing this with you now?  Honestly - I have no clue!  I have tried for days to write about something else but when God places something on your heart, it's hard to ignore.  I have been struggling a LOT lately and I feel like now is the right time to share - especially while my emotions are raw.  If my words can help just one person feel like they are not alone - then it will have been worth it.  
According to the Mayo Clinic, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). It's also possible to have only obsessions or only compulsions and still have OCD.

With OCD, you may or may not realize that your obsessions aren't reasonable, and you may try to ignore them or stop them. But that only increases your distress and anxiety. Ultimately, you feel driven to perform compulsive acts in an effort to ease your stressful feelings.
OCD often centers around themes, such as a fear of getting contaminated by germs. To ease your contamination fears, you may compulsively wash your hands until they're sore and chapped. Despite efforts to ignore or get rid of bothersome thoughts, the thoughts or urges keep coming back. This leads to more ritualistic behavior — and a vicious cycle that's characteristic of OCD.
So, what are my triggers?  Germs.  Many are aware of my crazy fear of stomach bugs (and for those with this fear, I'm sorry for even bringing it up).  For those that don't completely understand, this is not something I chose to be scared of - it's a real fear like someone who is afraid of heights.  So, please don't be mad if I avoid your family like the plaque if you tell me you have been ill.  Because in the meantime, I will have been struggling with thoughts of my family or myself becoming sick. Contamination issues.  I hate to cook! And, not just because I can't - because I am terrified of making my family sick (and, of course, food poisoning makes you puke which takes me back to my initial fear).  Order.  I like things to have their own place.  I could probably get a handle on this if I lived alone. But I don't and I am so thankful.  Being blessed with a husband, three wonderful kiddos, and a dog that keep my house anything but ordered is a coping mechanism all it's own (but that doesn't make my need for order any less).  And, these are just a few that I can name off the top of my head.

OCD is different for every person that suffers from it.  There are those that struggle with counting, others who struggle with hand washing, and others who struggle with hoarding (you read that correctly, just because you have a clean orderly house does not mean that you suffer from OCD).  The best way that I can explain what living with OCD means for me is that I constantly have thoughts "looping" in my head (no, I don't hear voices!) but it's like a To Do list of things that is on constant repeat.  If you tune in to ESPN or CNN there is a ticker on the bottom of the screen:
this is what my brain feels like on any given day.  So, if I've ever asked you the same question multiple times (and absolutely grated on your nerves!), please know that I'm not really trying to annoy - I'm already annoying the crap out of myself with the thought on repeat in my brain!  Another thing that stems from living with OCD is my unbelievable talent of being late for E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G!  I struggle with patterns and completing items (to try and silence or at least quieten the looping) and thus, I can never get everything done that I feel needs to be completed before leaving the house.  Leaving the house is a struggle every.single.day.  And, I KNOW that these obsessions and compulsions are irrational - and that makes everything even more distressing which lead to anxiety/panic attacks.
I hope that I am not freaking you guys out - maybe it would be easier if I listed a few questions and answered them to the best of my ability:

Do certain thoughts go through your mind over and over despite your attempts to ignore them?
     YES!  Falling asleep is hard but once I'm asleep, that is the only rest I get from the non-stop looping.  And, I must admit, being a Christ follower and suffering from OCD can be a struggle.  I'm constantly being reminded by verses that make me feel like I'm not enough:

Philippians 4:6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Matthew 11:28-30

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

I am confident that God created me just the way He intended - no mistakes.  I have learned when I am struggling the most that I find the most comfort when I pray.  He truly is the only One who understands.  I feel like having OCD is a blessing and a curse.  A curse because at times it's a lot to deal with.  A blessing because when He puts a passion for something on my heart - I can't stop thinking about it till it's done!

*Do you have to have things arranged in a certain way?
     If I lived alone, my answer would absolutely be YES!  But, with a family, this just isn't possible.  It doesn't mean that I don't struggle with the never-ending messes but I wouldn't trade my family for anything!
*Do you have to wash your hands, count things or check things over and over?
     I do wash my hands a lot.  This is something that I have noticed getting worse over time.  Counting things is a weird one - I don't count steps or do something a specific number of times but I am constantly counting things (or using numbers as a way to remember things). I'm not sure if it's related but I have a terrible memory.  I will remember that I have 4 things that I need to do but won't be able to remember all four.  I blame this on the never ending looping - just too much for my brain to remember!  And, I check things over and over.  Self-doubt is a side effect of OCD.  I am constantly wondering if I put the garage door down, did I lock my car, etc.

*When did your symptoms start?
     This is a great question - I'm not really sure.  I know that I have had symptoms of OCD since I was in college but it didn't manifest itself into a problem till after I had kids.  After Colby was born, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression.  It.was.terrible!  I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy!  Thinking back, I guess symptoms of OCD starting occurring shortly after this.

*Have symptoms been continuous or occasional?
     Unfortunately, continuous.  There are days when things aren't as bad but I can't think of many days that I haven't had OCD tendencies.  But, that doesn't mean that every day is a different version of bad.  I love my life!  I love my family and really love when I can carry on with minimal distraction from OCD.

*What, if anything, seems to improve the symptoms?
     Lists!  I make lists of lists!  It tends to help if I can write things down versus having the thoughts repeat in my head.  But, these lists are so embarrassing - I tend to hide them so that no one sees them.  Also, time away from our house is also good for me.  Getting everything ready to leave can be exhausting but once I'm gone, it feels so freeing.
*What, if anything, appears to worsen the symptoms?
     Getting behind on the day-to-day chores.  Once I get behind, it's very hard for me to keep up.  We went away on a two week vacation this summer and I'm convinced that I haven't caught up since we returned!

*How do the symptoms affect your daily life?
     It's really an all or nothing deal.  I'm either all in trying to get as much knocked off my list or it's complete avoidance.
*Have any of your relatives had a mental illness?
     My family is very private and doesn't discuss issues like this.  As I said earlier, I'm sure they aren't even aware of my struggles.

*Have you ever considered medication?
     I have nothing against taking meds for certain things but for me, I choose not to.  I have been on meds before and was greatly unsettled by the side effects that would come up when I forgot to take them.  It made me wonder what exactly they were doing to my body.  For me, I would rather have an unmedicated version of me than a medicated version of someone I didn't know.  But, everyone must do what is right for them.

*Is there anything you want people to know about OCD?
     OCD is not a joke.  It's not something you have because you like order and organization and all things clean.  OCD is real and many people struggle in silence because it is an often mis-understood disorder.  No jokes - they tend to lesson what people think of those that suffer from it.  And, if you hear me joking about it, it's probably because I've been put on the spot about it and am trying to avoid talking about it.
*How can you help someone that suffers from OCD?
     *Educate yourself about OCD.
     *Ask questions.
     *Don't make assumptions.
     *Understand this isn't a choice.
     *Don't be afraid to ask questions.
There are many resources that you can read more about OCD and anxiety disorders.  Talk with your friend or family member and ask them specific questions.  If they see that you genuinely care, they will be more likely to open up.  No assumptions - just because a person is having a bad day, don't assume their OCD is in over-drive.  Some times a bad day is just that - a bad day!  And, finally, understand that suffering from OCD is not a choice.  You can't "just turn off the thoughts" - it's not that easy.  Realize that people with this disorder are doing everything they can to live with it.  Did I mention, don't be afraid to ask questions?!  It's ok to talk about OCD - the people living with it have done their darnedest to hide this secret - not because they don't want to share - simply they worry about being mis-understood.  Tip-toeing around the elephant in the room won't make things any better and could possibly make them worse (if I feel like someone is sizing up one of my quirks, I quickly shut down and unfortunately, shut that person out of my life).

Wow - what a load off!  I hope that you don't think any less of me now that I've completely bared my soul.  I know that I'm not the only one with issues but it doesn't make putting yourself out there any less scary!

Oh, and, no, my kids do not know that I suffer from OCD.  They know there are certain things that have to be done "just because" but they don't know the extent of what I go through.  They do see me frustrated and it can be hard to explain why.  But, even though they don't "know" they can provide me with just what I need.  Sunday evening I was trying to explain to my husband why I was having a hard time.  I was upset and the kids could sense something.  A few minutes later, my middlest brought me this note.
This tear stained note means more than she will ever know.  God used a 9 year old to get me the message that I so desperately needed to hear.  I need to WAIT - be strong - and be brave - because His help is coming!

To me, "normal" is just a word that we all use as a measure to see how well we are doing with our life.  But, the more I think about it, the more I agree - Normal is just a setting on the dryer!
Gig 'em and God bless!
Holly

11 comments:

  1. Wonderful and transparent post! I have a dear friend who suffers greatly from anxiety and panic attacks. I have learned to empathize and we talk in depth about it and she trusts me. I used to make light of it, until I realize, this is serious. I had to apologize to her because I know it has been hard! When she is driving and has an attack, she calls me. We talk until she feels good again. I realize now that a God was preparing me. Now, my mother suffers from anxiety attacks so it's been a wonderful and scary journey of understanding.

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    1. Bless you for apologizing! And, thank you for being such a great friend to her! She is lucky to have you! I'm so sorry your mom is suffering with anxiety attacks. For lack of a better term - they suck! Thank you for reading! I sure miss you!

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    1. You are too sweet! Thank you for being such an amazing friend! Love you!

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  3. And you are amazing friend!! I just emailed you!

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    1. I thank God for you! Crazy how two moms on IG found each other and have WAY more in common than most people! Thanks for all your support and just "getting" me!

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  4. After reading your post this morning, I had to jump on over and read this. I wasn't yet blogging when you wrote this or we would have become friends then. Holly, I suffer from OCD too. My symptoms and quirks are pretty much out there for my family, they all know about it and have accepted the fact - "don't try to even change mom, we can't." I could email you with a long list with what I go through and you would say, yup, check, yup, check, etc., etc. Why, because you can relate. Counting, I'm obsess with numbers anything, and I'm a teacher so you can imagine when I'm teaching little ones their numbers how this goes down. Yet, in some ways, it is comforting to me. I won't elaborate here, but I hear every word you wrote on this post and you are not alone. I'm just an email away!

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    1. You are so sweet, friend! I'm sorry that you suffer from this awful disorder but it does feel good to know that I'm not alone. For so long I suffered in silence because I knew how crazy these things were - I just couldn't make them stop! I never felt like anyone truly got me - my family included. I still feel like the truly don't know me. But, if I've learned anything, it's that those who truly love you will love you faults and all (and disorders too!). A few friends had no idea and are more apt to listen even when I'm not saying anything (because those are usually the times I need someone most). I'm here for you too! Anytime!

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  5. Growing up with my father having OCD it was hard to scrub the floors and make sure everything was tidy yet still NEVER good enough for him. I'd spend hours cleaning and he'd tell me everything was wrong in about 4 seconds. As a kid, I never understood and felt terrible but now that I'm older I can see that he has no control at times why he does the things he does and likes things clean and in his OWN order. Thank you sharing this!

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    1. That's probably one of the hardest parts - KNOWING that your obsessions are out of control and not being able to curb them. It's a struggle but I have found peace in finally letting sharing my secret. I hid it for so long. Even my family didn't understand how much I struggled. Thanks for coming over to read! I'm here for you if you need me!

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