The Letdown

Let’s talk about some mental health shall we?

One of the things that really bothers me is what I like to call “the letdown.” I’ve been feeling this emotion quite a bit lately, so I’d like to talk about it with you. Now, we all know, or at least the common reader does, that I live with obsessive compulsive disorder, severe anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder. That’s a lot of disorders – and I have written about all of them. But something I have only ever touched on is the letdown. The letdown comes after any attack from those three foes of mine. Yesterday, all three were at play, ergo all three caused a letdown situation.

First, there is the general depression that I am feeling which has been heightened by recent traumas regarding the death of my mother. I started the day already feeling depressed about my circumstance, which immediately led to a mild letdown, and caused me to sit on the sofa for several hours feeling frozen and angry at myself. I used my coping mechanisms to push myself to do something that would make me happy-so I decided to make pancakes. When I got to the kitchen, I discovered I have three boxes of pancake mix and they were all past their expiration date. When I got to the refrigerator, I found that the milk had spoiled. I then spilled rotten milk and pancake mix all over the floor. That is when the OCD part of me jumped out and stormed out of the room. I had to sit down and take deep breaths in an effort not to launch into a panic attack. When I did finally call myself down, I had a mess to clean up and a lot of regret for yelling at my husband.  The letdown, again.

Then I went to work, which was a good day, and I would have thought I’d have been fine- until I got to the car after and started to cry. I don’t know why, probably my mother, but whatever it was caused a large amount of anxiety to well up inside me. I really wanted to go to that workshop, but I couldn’t. Instead, I drove to my sister’s house and sat on her futon and tried not to cry more. Then, came the letdown. This one was worse than the others, because this one affected my life in a way that I do not have control over. Yes, I could have forced myself at work to go do that workshop, but I might not have absorbed anything since I was not in my right frame of mind. Instead, I chose the self-care option, which is what I know I am supposed to do. Still, I have regrets. I am disappointed. I have a feeling like I am not good enough, like I am broken in some way and unable to do the things I want to do. This, this is the letdown. So how does one get out of it? Earlier, I tried to make pancakes. When that didn’t work, I tried meditation and deep breathing. And then, like building blocks, I found myself feeling even more let down at the end of the day, unsure how to rattle myself out of these feelings. Now it is the next morning, and I am still feeling disappointed in myself, even though my logical brain knows I made the right choice for me at the time. But sometimes the right choice is not the choice we wish to make. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Sometimes it means it definitely should. So I tell myself that I made the right decision, and I hope that my feeling of failure fades. Maybe by tomorrow.

Anyhoo. The big workshop starts next week. I will start psyching myself up for that one now. Happy Thursday.


OCD Awareness Week

October 10-16th is OCD Awareness Week, so let’s talk about that.

I started showing symptoms during puberty, around 11 years old.  I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 19, however, as child psychology was still a bit taboo in the 90s.  It started with Trichotillomania.

For those unaware, Trich is a compulsive hair-pulling syndrome.  I started pulling my hair out in 6th grade.  At first, I didn’t realize I was doing it because I would fall into a sort of a trance, only to come out of it and discover hair everywhere.  My doctor diagnosed me with alopecia, because she and many other medical professionals I encountered over the years had no idea what Trichotillomania even was. 

When I realized I was the one doing it, I researched the crap out of it, as I tend to do when something makes me nervous or scared.  Once I realized what I was dealing with, it took 8 more years and three psychologists before I found one who knew what I was talking about.  I had another flareup when I was 19, so I marched my bandana-covered head into my doctor and said “Listen…this is what I have.”  She agreed.  She knew what I was talking about.  It was instant relief.

And then she diagnosed me with obsessive compulsive disorder. 

Trich is a definite red flag and true cousin to OCD, so there was little surprise.  They asked me questions, such as do you ever have intrusive thoughts that you can’t control?  Um…yes, doesn’t everybody?

Apparently not.

I was never the neat-freak, handwashing kind of OCD, but my compulsions lie in Trich and my obsessions rest in my brain.  It’s a truthful diagnosis, and also my best controlled one.  I deal with my anxiety and depression all day every day, but my OCD is pretty well regulated.  The only thing that still bothers me is the incessant counting…i used to count everything, but these days it’s mostly just my steps.  Mark got me a Fitbit so that I can remind myself there’s no need to count because my watch is doing the work.  It’s helpful…sometimes.  Not all the time.

I don’t think much about my OCD because it is so well-controlled now.  I do however take great offense when folks who have “quirks” claim they have OCD.  Oh, you can’t go to sleep at night with dishes in the sink, so you don’t have to do them in the morning?  How quaint.  Sounds a lot more like a personal preference than something you have to do in order to keep you and your family alive, which is how an OCD brain can think.  OCD is not quirks; it’s patterns of behavior that disrupt your life.

Alas, my life is not disrupted by it at the moment, which makes me happy.  I do worry daily about another Trich relapse, though, and I am extremely particular about my hair since I lost so much of it in the past, and it is much thinner than it once was.  However, I know now that should that happen, I can immediately call my doc and we can figure out a game plan.  That wasn’t a luxury I felt I had in my early 20s.  And even when I count my steps, I remind myself that my Fitbit is on the job, and try to use coping mechanisms to draw my attention away from the counting.  I do the same with the intrusive thoughts.  Truthfully, I am making progress daily.  I hope others our there can say the same some day.

Here are a couple of links to resources about OCD:

International OCD Foundation

Symptoms of OCD

Help for OCD

Trichotillomania Learning Foundation

Collector’s Edition

When I was a small child, I collected rocks.  I liked all rocks, but ones with pretty colors and shapes were my favorite, and would immediately end up in my pocket to come home to the tin can I kept them in.  I would lay them out on the floor and count and sort them, by color, by size, by type…I liked learning about different rocks.  When we went on vacations or day trips, I would buy precious rocks from stores as souvenirs.  I know I had my collection for a very long time, well into my 20s, but I have no idea now what happened to it…must’ve been lost in a move.

In middle school, I started collecting stickers.  I had a blue and purple photo album that I would stick them in.  I would then spend an hour counting them, and double checking, to see how many I had: which is a big fat OCD red flag.  I remember one in particular that was a bag of Doritos and a scratch-and-sniff, so it smelled like nacho cheese.  I don’t know what happened to them, either.

In high school, I collected cows.  Of course, not actual cows, but figurines and such.  Things with cows on them.  I liked cows-I thought of them as big dogs and they are my favorite farm animal.   People would buy me cow stuff as gifts.  When I went to Girl Scout camp, my mother made me a little cubby out of a crate, and covered it in cow print fabric.  I don’t know how many cows I had, and I am sure I counted them, but over the years many things broke or got lost, and now I have no cows, except a cow kitchen timer I got from my friend Chelsea and the cow-shaped creamer I got for Christmas from…mom?

In my 20s, I collected nothing but bad decisions.  Ha, not really.  Purses-I was big on purses, particularly Kate Spade’s. I couldn’t afford the real thing though, so I had several knockoffs.  One day I gave them away to my friend’s daughter.  I kind of wish I kept one, though, now that she is gone.  Even if it was a knockoff.  (I do have a genuine wallet, though.  That’s gonna stay with me forever.)

In my 30s I got married, and I got this curio cabinet, and had nothing to put in it.  Until one day, I received a wedding gift from my best friend from elementary school. This chick sent me all the crystal in Ireland!  A butter dish, a creamer dish, a sugar bowl, and two sets of glasses-all Irish crystal.  And, better to me than all of that, a Belleek platter.

My mother loves Belleek.  We don’t have a whole lot in common when it comes to style, but we definitely agree on this beautiful Irish china with tiny shamrocks on it.  After I got the platter, she got me a Belleek St. Brigid’s cross ornament for Christmas.  It hangs prominently on the tree every year.  Its only two pieces, but this is no rocks or stickers, mind you.  Can’t just find these for under a buck at the corner store, or under your feet on the way to school.  This is more of a lifetime collection for me, something I intend to add to a little through the years.

On the cheaper side of things, though, I have started collecting Rae Dunn pieces.  She does pottery that I like.  I never really cared about things like that, but one day Mark bought me a mug that said “Feminist” on it, by her, and I loved it.  I loved how simple it was; how imperfect it was.  I only have a few pieces, but at least with this collection I can justify the cost because pretty much everything has a purpose.  My favorite piece I have is below, my boss lady nameplate.  Boss Lady became my nickname when I went on the cruise with my sister, and since I started publishing, I have taken strength from that title.  Also pictured are my newest additions, and let me tell ya, that little honey pot might actually be beating out boss lady for favorite piece now.


It occurred to me the other day that I have always been a collector of things, and if I had the time and money I would collect A LOT more things.  I watch shows like American Pickers and think “now those people have the right idea.”  And yes, I am referring both to the pickers AND the hoarders.

So, I gotta watch myself so I don’t go picking up every rock I see.

It also occurred to me that collecting was a total and terrible sign of OCD for me.  Counting is and was my biggest obstacle with my disorder-I count everything.  Steps, especially, and I even got myself a Fitbit solely so that when I started counting my head, I can tell myself that I don’t have to because my watch is taking care of it.  It works, for a while.  But every time, eventually, I start counting again.  It is the one lingering symptom of my OCD that no pill can seem to fix.

However, it brings me joy.  I mean, I woke this morning and saw that little honey pot and thought “gee, that’s adorable” and it brought a smile to my face.  So, yeah, I’m going to collect things by the artist I like and let them bring me a little happiness.  And on particularly special occasions, I might even add to my Belleek collection. 

Sometimes, when we are out fishing, I will find a particularly cool rock.  I will pick it up and put it in my pocket.  Often, it disappears, but sometimes I reach into that pocket a few days later, and feel the little stone in my hand, and smile.

Also, some stickers lol.

Life With Fitbit

Hubs and I have been together for nine years and married for three this past September.  For our anniversary, he got me a Fitbit.  I’ve wanted one since he got the Versa last spring, and I tried it out for a few days.  I enjoyed it but didn’t like the bulkiness, so he got me the Charge 3 which is slimmer.  I started using it daily to monitor things like my calorie intake and my sleep habits.

Dieting is not my thing, as I have written about in the past.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it was one fad diet that kicked my body into diabetes-mode.  So, since then, I give diets no credit.  I don’t believe in denying oneself something; I believe in controlling how much of that thing you use.  Ergo, calorie counting is probably the only “diet” to which I will give credence.  I don’t have any crazy weight loss goals, either.  I’ve lost about 20 pounds over the past six months or so and I am mainly working on keeping it off; though if I could lose another 15, I would be super proud of myself and at a weight I feel I would be more than comfortable with.  I’ll never be the weight I “should” be, because I am simply not built that way, but I make small choices daily to be active or to eat certain things based on my caloric intake.  I was sort of winging it for a while, but then came my little anniversary present, and now I know exactly what’s going in and out of my body.

Another benefit I’ve found is that it helps with my OCD symptoms.  Most of these are well regulated by my meds and therapy, but my trickiest symptom to shake is counting.  I count all sorts of things, but what I count the most is my steps.  Now, when I start to count in my head while walking to the car or through the grocery store, I just remind myself that my wrist is keeping track of my steps so I don’t have to.  I still can’t take a long walk without doing it, but it’s helpful in those little moments when the numbers start rolling and I think “Oh, not again…”

Then there’s the sleep thing.  Good sleep is elusive to me.  I’ve had insomnia since youth, and often find myself cleaning the fridge in the middle of the night or binge-watching 90s sitcoms at 3 am.  I am often awake before six, despite going to bed late.  I have tried every sleeping pill under the sun.  Ambien was my drug of choice, but then they changed the regulations so that women can’t take over 5mg, and I needed 10.  Now I take Seroquel, which isn’t strictly a sleep drug but makes me dozy enough to drift off.  The first few days with my Fitbit I noticed I wasn’t sleeping well.  I was waking in the night, and mostly just getting light sleep as opposed to deep or REM sleep.  I tried taking my Seroquel to see if there was a difference.  I did mange less awake time and more deep sleep, showing me that my drugs do in fact work, which is kind of cool.  My sleep isn’t great but at least now I know where the problems lie.  I have changed my nighttime habits some using the recommendations I found in the Fitbit community, and have discovered that even without my meds I am sleeping better.

So far, I have two gripes.  One is that I can’t connect to friends easily.  It should register telephone numbers, not email addresses.  I don’t have anyone’s email address in my contacts.  Hell, I’m pretty sure I only have five or six people I email anyway.  I do however have dozens of friends with Fitbits that I would like to cheer on from the sidelines, and connecting via phone number is a much better way to find contacts.  Maybe they will give this thought in the future…but I won’t hold out hope.  My other complaint is that there should be an app for a calendar on your watch.  I can get messages and the weather, but I can’t get a calendar?  Seems silly.

All in all, I can say that my Fitbit has improved my health.  I am more conscious of my activity, my sleep, and my calories.  I am trying to stay invested in the long-term goal of good health, and I am using my new tool daily for that purpose.  If you’re looking to be more conscience of your body, I would definitely recommend getting a Fitbit

Thus ends my first product review.  And let’s be real, maybe my last.  I’ve really got to like something to write about it.  Or hate it.  Strong emotions must be felt either way.

World Mental Health Day

I’ve got a few prepared blogs ready to go, and I should definitely be using one today as I spent yesterday at Mercy hospital puking my guts out.  However, I also had a special topic to post about today, as it is World Mental Health Day, and while my physical health is kicking my butt I will try to expound on the other side of wellness.

I started my journey with mental illness at a young age, but wasn’t diagnosed with anything until I was nineteen.  Then they decided that I was Bipolar and loaded me up with medications.  Never mind that I was NOT Bipolar, and did NOT need those meds.  I became a zombie.  Everything somehow got worse instead of better, and I lost whole chunks of time from being so heavily medicated.  Eventually, my mother got me to a clinic where a doctor told me I did not have Bipolar Disorder, and gave me one pill.  One little miracle pill that lasted me very well for a very long time, until my insurance pulled it out from under me.  I went on its sister drug, Celexa, and yes, I do have a couple of backup singers now, but it is nowhere near the fourteen pill a day diet I used to be on.

My diagnoses have changed many times as well.  Now I am diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Severe Anxiety, Trichotillomania, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  These feel the most accurate, I must say, and are much better than calling it all Bipolar and moving along.  It took the time and energy of many medical professionals to figure out what was really going on with me, and I am forever grateful to them.

I tell you these things in the same way I talk about diabetes or gastroparesis, because to me they are no different.  Yes, my pancreas is sick and therefore I have diabetes.  Well, my brain is also sick and therefore I have depression.  I do not believe in the stigma of mental health, so I treat its discussion no differently than that of my physical health.  Sometimes this really surprises people.  There have been many moments when I have received messages from both friends and strangers telling me that they are proud of what I have done, just talking about mental health.  I don’t know that it’s something to feel proud about, because it’s just a piece of myself that I express to the world, just like the other pieces.  I’ve had people write me with “me too.”  This is when they realize that they have the same condition, but couldn’t put a name to it.  Or when they’ve been diagnosed as well, but afraid to tell anyone.  These little messages make me feel special, because my words on mental health are breaking a stigma for them.

It’s the stigma that is the worst bit, in my opinion.  It’s the fear that we have, that someone else might think we’re wrong in some way.  We’re scared of the reactions of other people, and that forces mental illness into hiding.  It shouldn’t be hiding.  It should be worn loud and proud.  If you have a mental illness, you battle with that monster daily, and no one sees it.  You fight wars against your demons constantly, even when you’re wearing a smile on your face.  You know pain in a sense where physical pain would almost be a relief.  And still, we hide this debilitating bastard behind so many veils of self-doubt that we become another person, almost.  There’s the person you present to the world, and the person you are on the inside.  I say no.  I refuse to be two people, living half my life in shadow.  I would rather throw it in your face and if you don’t like it, the problem lies with your own fears and neuroses.  Mental illness is not contagious.  In my experience, it really only scares those that already have it, and are doing nothing to help themselves.  So, shout it out!  Scare those people into getting help.  Scare the people who think mental illness isn’t real-be their proof!  Stop letting stigma hold you back.  Other people do not dictate the course of your healing, you do.  Talk about it.  Laugh about it.  Just don’t let others tell you your experience.  As my father would say, “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.”

So, on World Mental Health Day, I will be taking care of my physical health, by lying on the sofa and watching Parks and Rec and drinking a smoothie.  It’s not what I had planned, but it’s what needs to be done, so that my mental health can realign as well.  The two are very connected for me.  When I’m in the hospital I become instantly depressed, and it takes time for that feeling to fade away.  So today, I will do all I can to make myself feel better, inside and out.  I will also, as always, continue my fight against the stigma of mental illness and tell you, my reader, that if you ever need an ally in this battle, you have one right here.

Stay safe, stay sane, and have a good Thursday.

Status Report

Apparently, they fixed my stomach, which everyone is hopeful about, except me.  I have almost no hope this will work, as I have had no hope for quite some time regarding different treatments.  I try to muster something optimistic and I suppose that miracles are possible but I feel that it would take as much for me to feel confident that everything was going to work out.  It is quite rare that things do.

I went to my first appointment at my new therapist today, which was less stressful than my panicked brain made it out to be last night.  I scored high for depression, anxiety, and trauma, the three subjects whose tests I always pass.  My counselor is an intern, which alarmed me at first as I am used to the hardened professional.  She seemed nice enough, and she knew what Trichotillomania was, which is my psych industry litmus test.  I figured that if she wanted to take me on as a patient in her last year of school, that I would oblige.  These days I am only finding therapy necessary for a quick checkup of sorts.  It’s more about the daily stressors and handling my anxiety and depression than it is about past traumas, Trich, and OCD triggers.

Mark has considered starting therapy, as he is sure he has PTSD.  I have more or less armchair diagnosed him after reading a crazy number of articles on healing trauma.  He is the sort that puts off going to the doctor though, and his first foray into it was not great.  He attended the initial intake session, and then felt overwhelmed.  It can be overwhelming.

First, you have intake.  This can be 2-3 appointments where you meet your counselor and they take down a bunch of information.  They’re a question and answer sessions more than anything else.  Today she asked me about my family, friends, living situation, working situation, meds, illnesses, and whether I use caffeine.  They give you little tests to take that tell what your mental state is within a period of time.  You fill out some forms.  For my husband, each appt will cost 40$.

This is why he doesn’t go, you know.  And that’s a whole other blog post.

After intake you meet with a doctor, which takes about an hour.  My appointment for this is tomorrow, as I was super lucky to avoid another month at the MAPP clinic.  After that, appointments with the doctor (or more accurately, prescriber,) only take about 15 minutes tops.  You set up appointments with your counselor.  They meet with you for about 45 minutes as often as you feel necessary.  Currently I go every three to four weeks.  And that’s it.  You just keep going, you take your meds, you tell the prescriber and counselor how you feel, and you get better.

I mean, you shouldn’t have to pay 40$ a pop for it.  But again…another time.

I only write this because you never know who might be considering getting help.  You might be a kid who is scared of how he feels.  Or a mom whose stress level is through the roof.  You could be anyone facing any number of problems, and you could be scared to make the phone call because you don’t know what comes next.  That’s how I felt when I first started therapy, and it’s what my husband still feels today.  But you should make the call, if you’re thinking about it.  It might be hard to open yourself up a little, but I guarantee it’s not as hard as the struggle you’re already living.

Breaking the Stigma, Part 4

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and so I am doing a series of posts about my own mental health, to help break the stigma of mental illness.  Part 4 is about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

It’s not the kind where you wash your hands all the time.  It’s not the neat-freak kind either.  I mean, I kind of wish it was, but it’s not.

It’s the counting every step, obsessing over something tiny, having intense phobias kind.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts and feelings.  This, combined with my previously touched on Trichotillomania, are two of the disorders that make up my Anxiety.  Trich is actually connected to the OCD as both illustrate compulsive behaviors.  So, it’s like OCD’s baby.

As with previous disorders I have discussed, many people claim to have OCD.  Many people are lying.  What they have are quirks: “I can’t go to bed without doing the dishes,” or “I always have to double check that I turned off the coffee pot.”  That’s lovely, but how many times did you check it?  Seven?  Fifteen?  Just the once?  Cute.  I’m pretty understanding, but I cannot suffer that crap.  So, the stigma of OCD is tainted, because everyone walks around claiming they have it, and when I say something about having it, they assume I just have a few quirks, not an obsessive need to do something over and over, or an inability to stop thinking an unwanted thought.

I don’t remember how old I was when I started with the counting, but it was in my adolescence.  I know that by seventeen I was sure that my thoughts were obsessive, and I have always known that my fears are mostly invalid.  When I was twenty I was diagnosed with OCD, and it made all sorts of sense to me.  When they put me on meds, I saw immediate improvements.  For one thing, the bout of Trich I was suffering passed.  I stopped counting everything: cars, steps, stoplights, houses.  I overcame some silly fears, though I will say some are yet to be conquered (one day I hope to do a full load of dirty dishes.  As of now the only dishes I wash are for other people’s children, and it is agonizing.)  Some things I still work on, like said dishes and my fear of fireworks.  They no longer leaves me paralyzed, but I still don’t like them.

The only time OCD was really a problem for me was 16-21, and that was because of obsession.  Let’s use M as an example here.  M loves Godzilla, hardcore.  He doesn’t care what it is, if it features Godzilla, it’s right in his wheelhouse.  He knows everything he can about Godzilla and keeps an eye out for new movies or memorabilia.  This was my life, but with everything, every day.  The world was my Godzilla, the people in my life my Mothras, and everything was Tokyo under fire.

After a while with therapy and meds, most things straightened out.  I still count, but only my steps, and I have like 50 tricks to stop doing it in my emotional toolbox.  I still can’t do those dishes, but I can clean the toilet, so some improvement is obvious.  Mostly, I try to control my thoughts, so that I don’t hover on a topic for too long, and I find that nine times out of ten, I am in control of what I think.  As with my other disorders, OCD is not who I am, just a fragment of my personality that needs to be ironed out.

So finally, if you, my reader, have any questions about life with OCD, please comment.  It is important to me to connect with others who have suffered similar issues, as well as those who have questions and want answers.  I am thankful to have had the chance to share my experiences with you, and I encourage you to share them with others.  If you have read all of my Breaking the Stigma series, or just some of it, I thank you for taking the time to understand mental illness and help me break the stigma.