Thursday, March 31, 2016

Coping with OCD

Lifetime Condition

OCD is something that I will probably deal with for the rest of my life.  Even though this illness has the potential of being very disabling, it doesn't have to be unabling.  Many people who suffer from OCD have led very successful lives, usually with a treatment combination of medication plus Exposure Response Prevention (ERP).  I've had general success with this combination as well.  There have been many times in my life where I've been able to function like any "normal" person without OCD in the forefront.  At other times, however, even with the medication and ERP, I've suffered intensely.

Until God delivers me from this illness either in this life or in the one to come, I've found that there are certain things that help make my life a little easier.  These things help me live with, cope with, and manage the OCD, both in times of seasonal intensity and in times of relative peace.  

Seasonal Intensity

In the past 5 months, I've had periods of intense suffering.  I had a baby in August (she is 7 1/2 months old now), and I've been told that the most vulnerable time for moms who already struggle mentally is the first 18 months postpartum.  Only 10 1/2 months to go!  Add the body and hormone changes of having a newborn baby to parenting two very active boys (ages 2 and 4 at the time), and the challenge was great.  I felt like I was protecting her life DAILY from her active brothers who had no idea how to act around a fragile newborn.  I was not sleeping much because of taking care of the baby.  I was breastfeeding, and my husband was much more comfortable with taking care of the boys than he was taking care of the newborn, although he was very willing to give me breaks whenever I needed them and to help in whatever way he could.  I did pretty well for the first 2 1/2 months, but by the end of October, I spiraled downward quickly.  I had a difficult time for most of the whole next month, but by December things were much more bearable.  I lapsed again in January for a bit, then came back up in February only to lapse again this month.  These lapses included loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and great difficulty with functioning.  But I had to keep going.  There were kids to take care of, and I am bound and determined not to let my mental illness negatively affect these precious little lives.  A few things really helped me muddle through those foggy days and weeks as I kept on marching forward until God brought me out of the valley as He always does.  

Do something I enjoy.  Sometimes I just need to be distracted from my intrusive thoughts and compulsions.  I love to interact with my kids, and so if I'm having a particularly difficult time, actively playing with them is one of the things that usually helps.  This is such a great way for me to get moving, stop wallowing, and give these kids some much desired attention.

Color.  This one is another sure way to tell that I'm struggling.  I do "art therapy" sessions with my kids where we all just color.  I got my first adult coloring book in September, and my husband got me another one for Christmas.  I actually love it.  It's super relaxing, very therapeutic, and it's something that I can do with the kids to help get my mind off of whatever it is it's trying to obsess about. 

Reach out to people.  Mornings are generally the hardest for me when I go through these seasons of intensity.  So during my lapse in January, one of my solutions was to plan time with a friend for each morning of the week that my husband was at work.  Not only was this a good chance to catch up, but it forced me to put on my happy face for awhile, and it helped me through my mornings.  I also spent a lot of time talking to my husband and my mom.  Both have been wonderfully supportive, and it helps to just get the thoughts out of my head.

Do tactile tasks, like laundry.  This is weird, but one of the (almost) sure ways you can tell that I'm not doing well mentally is that all of the family laundry is done.  I found doing laundry to be VERY therapeutic during the really difficult lapse I had in November.  I think it had something to do with the fact that it was something to do with my hands, and there was a clear beginning and an end to the task.  

Force myself NOT to take naps during the day.  During these recent lapses, I generally banned naps from my to do list and made myself stay awake during the day, even if all of my kids were asleep at the same time.  This helped me to be more tired at night so I had a better chance of sleeping then.  I wanted to avoid the symptom of depression where the sufferer sleeps all the time, plus I wanted to be able to get back in to a regular nighttime sleeping routine.  

Shower every day.  I'm usually a shower-every-other-day kind of girl, but when I'm having a really hard time, I do my best to take care of myself physically.  This means showering daily and not letting myself go.

Daily Maintenance

Even when I'm feeling good, it's important for me to do things daily that help.  OCD can strike at any moment, and it's best if I'm prepared.

Exercise.  We are fortunate to live in a good walking neighborhood.  While we definitely have four seasons, this past winter was especially mild, and there were very few days when I was unable to get outside, even if just for a few minutes.  On nice days (like yesterday), I take all three kids with me and we all get some exercise.  Other days I just take the dog after my husband gets home from work, or I go alone.  On days when I CAN'T get outside, I do some sort of exercise DVD, usually Zumba.  :)  Somehow, I'm active every day.

Stick to a light routine.  I tend to overcomplicate things.  But the older I get, the more I realize that less really can be more.  A few years ago I came up with a massive daily to do list template that was supposed to help me accomplish everything in a day that I was expected to.  It didn't last long because of the incredible amount of detail it had.  Now my general daily routine looks like the following:
  • Hubby goes to work
  • Kids and I get up and dressed
  • Eat breakfast
  • Chores/Play/Walk outside
  • Lunch
  • Kids' naps - I use this time to read my Bible and pray (with limits!), check the finances, complete work, and blog
  • Play, prep dinner
  • Dinner
  • Family time
  • Kids in bed
  • Relax with husband
It really helps me NOT to get too detailed on what I need to get done each day.  I also have really cut back on being involved with outside things.  The busier I am, the more stress I have.  The more stress I have, the greater the chance for OCD to intensify.

Spend time outside.  This one is essential for me.  I need to be in natural light and fresh air.  My husband got me the most thoughtful early Christmas gift this year - a year-long membership to our local indoor gardens.  He knows how much being outside helps me mentally, and this was his way of giving me a way to be "outside" in the winter.  Plus I can take the kids and we can all get some much-needed fresh air.

Eat well.  I try to eat a balanced diet without obsessing over it too much.  I generally eat protein and fruit for breakfast, and lots of veggies with protein and some carbs for lunch and dinner.  I also try to drink water throughout the day.  BUT, I do love my desserts and coffee!  I don't restrict myself too much, but I try to eat sweets in moderation.  It was recommended years ago that I totally give up caffeine, which I have for the most part.  Recently, however, I've started trying it in very small amounts, and I think it might actually help.  The jury's still out on that one.

Have you found that you also have seasons of OCD intensity?  What are some ways that help you cope?  What do you do for daily maintenance?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Worrying about worry

I'm afraid of feeling anxious.  So, what do I do?  I worry about it, which creates anxiety.  This makes absolutely no sense, but logic doesn't seem to matter when it comes to OCD.

I also worry that those things that tend to help with my OCD might become compulsions, which creates more anxiety (quite the cycle!).  

For instance, my counselor suggested keeping a light routine as a way to help with the OCD.  This is in place of a massive daily to do list that just wasn't helpful.  A natural daily routine has emerged.  Instead of being grateful for this relaxed routine, I worry that if something messes it up, that I might get really upset, because maybe following this routine has become a compulsion.  But even when the routine does get switched around, I don't freak out, so in reality, this is a non-issue.

Another example is focusing on one task at a time instead of flitting from task to task.  I had so many (overwhelming!) things going on at once that at times my brain got to the point of threatening to shut down.  Necessary tasks (like doing the finances or dealing with medical bills) kept getting pushed to the side because I didn't feel like doing them right then.  This feeling came after I had already started, so I ended up with lots of unfinished projects.  I figured out that if I just pick a task and stick with it, then my brain doesn't have nearly the same chance of becoming overwhelmed.  So, now that I've learned that, when I start a task and get interrupted (which happens FREQUENTLY since I stay home with three young kiddos), I'm afraid that this will trigger the OCD somehow.  Again, it never really happens, so this is another non-issue.

This overactive brain of mine can sometimes think itself right in to a headache.  Thankfully that doesn't happen often, but it does happen.  Why can't I just enjoy the moment?  I'm so blessed.  I have a wonderful husband who is very loving and understanding, three beautiful (healthy!) kids, and I am in good physical health.  I work very part-time and get to spend the remainder of my time making a home and taking care of the kids, which is EXACTLY what I want to do.  But the OCD/anxiety is usually right there, just waiting for my brain to jump at the chance to obsess.  Granted, there have been many points in my life where the OCD has been very manageable, and I've been able to live a relatively "normal" (whatever that means) life.  But there have been other times where the OCD has been so intrusive that I've had great difficulty even functioning with day to day activities.  Thankfully, the debilitating times have been greatly outweighed by the "normal" times.  Praise God for that!

My new friend Kaitlin from A Journey with God and OCD has a great post on mindfulness that I found very insightful.  Focusing on the moment I'm in and what I'm doing right then will take the power out of those intrusive thoughts about the future - What if I'm doing something that will make my OCD worse?  When that thought comes, I'm going to instead just focus on whatever I'm doing at that moment.  A lot of my compulsions are internal (although I've had my share of overt compulsions, too: washing hands, turning lights on and off, checking for intruders, etc.).  But the majority of my compulsions stay inside my brain.  I just keep thinking about the intrusive thoughts and trying to figure them out.  Which is where, I believe, mindfulness comes in.

This is actually ERP (Exposure Response Prevention), which is the most effective way to change an OCD brain.  Expose yourself to what you are afraid of, and then prevent your natural compulsive response.  I'll expose myself to the intrusive thought, and then I'll practice mindfulness and prevent the response to continue thinking about it.

Refocusing through mindfulness.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Fear and Hope

Fear.  Such a small word for such a huge thing.  And it's at the root of OCD.

     Fear of the unknown.

     Fear of what might happen.

     Fear of someone getting hurt and it being my fault.

     Fear of making God angry.

     Fear of doing something the wrong way.




How does this fear coincide with my relationship with God?

     I know that He is sovereign and that nothing happens without His knowledge.

     I know that He is completely in control of all things.

     I know that all things work together for the good of those who love Him.

     I know that He loves me unconditionally.

     I know that He is much more concerned with the condition of my heart than the order in which I choose to do things.

     I know.

     I know.

     I know.

And yet.  The fear continues.  We've all heard question - why do bad things happen to good people?  Why do I deal with this mental illness when I am a redeemed child of God?  Why can't I beat this beast of anxiety that lives in my head?  I'm not sure.  But I think the answer is that we live in a fallen world.  My mental illness is a result of the Fall, and I'm broken.  Broken by sin, broken by mental illness, broken by my own failed attempts to measure up.  BUT.  I do have hope.  That one day, when God chooses to take me home to be with Him, I will be free of this.  In heaven, where I will be for all eternity, tears don't exist.  And you know what else doesn't exist?  Pain.  Sadness.  And mental illness.

So, as hard as it is to function day to day at times, I choose to have hope.  That God is sovereign.  That He understands my struggles even more than I do.

I choose to have hope.

Monday, March 28, 2016

OCD Infographic

Such interesting information, especially for someone in the throes of OCD.  If you are unable to read it because it's too small, here's the link:  

Sunday, March 27, 2016

He arose!

Up from the grave He arose!  Precious video:

Saturday, March 26, 2016


One of my huge OCD struggles is scrupulosity, also known as spiritual OCD.  I was taught from a young age the importance of having a relationship with God through Jesus, and my faith is extremely important to me.  Someone once told me that OCD is a paintbrush that could touch any part of your life at any time, and it usually affects those things that are most important to you.  So, here we are.

My trigger thoughts include lots of things:

  • What if I made God angry?  
  • Or misinterpreted Scripture?  
  • Or doubted?  
  • Or thought a cuss word during a prayer?  
  • Or what if I'm not really saved?  
  • Or didn't ask God's forgiveness for a sin?  
  • What if I didn't end my prayer correctly?  
  • What if I read my Bible without praying afterward?  
  • What if?  What if?  What if????  
It's so exhausting.

The compulsions vary as well.  Asking for forgiveness over and over and over and over.  Journaling prayers.  Resisting the compulsions to pray, but consequently compulsively thinking about the intrusive thought.  Have you ever been told NOT to think of something and it's the only thing you can think about?  Yeah.  It's like that.  Actually, it's exactly that.

Scrupulosity gets tricky sometimes, because in order to get better, the person with OCD sometimes has to do things contrary to normal spiritual behavior.  An example of this is limiting Bible reading and prayer while still continuing to do both.  For instance, right now I am (at the suggestion of my therapist) reading through the New Testament 1-2 chapters a day.  I'm doing okay with prayer right now overall, but in the past I've only allowed myself to pray three times per day.  I've also had to put boundaries on myself (especially when the compulsive praying is really bad) to not pray again until a specific later time - like at lunch.  The goal is to keep learning and talking to God while also preventing compulsive behavior in response to the trigger thoughts.  Not easy, but I'm making it (by God's sustaining grace)!

There are so many things in the Bible that my mind could latch on to and run with, and I've found it very beneficial to focus on the basics of my faith.  Colossians 1:21-23a has really helped me do that.

"Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation - if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel."  (emphasis mine)

And so, I choose to continue in my faith, even when it seems impossible.  Even when I'm so scared that I've wronged God and that my relationship with Him is in jeopardy.  He has reconciled me to Himself and sees me as holy, without blemish, and free from accusation - from anyone, including myself!  I am covered by the blood of Christ, and HE has made me righteous.

If there is one thing (and there are actually so, so many) that I've learned from having OCD, it's that no matter how hard I try, I am fully unable to be perfect.  And in order to have a relationship with God, He requires perfection.  Righteousness.  And so, I have to trust that Jesus covers me with His righteousness.  I am reconciled - holy in His sight, without blame, and free from accusation.  I choose to have faith and to trust in that Truth.

And if God is not condemning me, then why am I condemning myself?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Man of Sorrows

Man of Sorrows, Lamb of God
By His own betrayed
The sin of man and wrath of God
Has been on Jesus laid

Silent as He stood accused
Beaten, mocked and scorned
Bowing to the Father's will
He took a crown of thorns

Oh, that rugged cross
My salvation
Where Your love poured out over me
Now my soul cries out, "Hallelujah!
Praise and honor unto Thee."

Sent of Heaven, God's own Son
To purchase and redeem
And reconcile the very ones
Who nailed Him to that tree

Now my debt is paid
It is paid in full
By the precious blood
That my Jesus spilled

Now the curse of sin
Has no hold on me
Whom the Son sets free
Oh, is free indeed

See the stone is rolled away
Behold the empty tomb
Hallelujah!  God be praised!
He's risen from the grave!

© 2012 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Wayne Brady and Depression

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Do you have any health problems?"

Such a seemingly simple question asked by my kids' doctor today during an appointment.  After asking about my husband's health, the doctor inevitably turned the question to me.  And I wasn't really ready for it.  Immediately the uncertainty set in.  Do I disclose my mental health struggles to this guy?  What if he thinks I'm unfit to be a mom to these three beautiful kids?  What if he doesn't believe me and thinks I'm just another overwhelmed mom in an over-diagnosed society who thinks she has mental issues and needs to be medicated?

There is a lot of shame with admitting to mental illness.  That plus my perfectionist tendencies and desire to appear to have it all together equals even more shame.

How do I admit to those who think I'm emotionally healthy that I have intrusive thoughts that sometimes invade my entire life, especially the parts of my life that I feel most strongly about?  That the vicious cycle can persist in my mind - intrusive thought, anxiety over the thought, compulsion to resolve the anxiety, shame over giving in again, depressive thoughts about never getting over this so what's the point...?  That sometimes I have to survive by going through the motions of life pretending that everything is fine, when my brain is working serious overtime trying to resist the illness, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so much?  That no matter how hard I try, it just won't go away?

Thankfully I have not experienced extra shame from my Christian friends in this area, but I'm sure that there are others who have not been so fortunate.  Is it harder for those of us in the church to admit to mental health problems?  What if people respond in an unhelpful way?

  • But you're a Christian.  You shouldn't be depressed.
  • You just need to have joy.
  • Look at all that God has blessed you with - you have nothing to be depressed about.
  • Read your Bible and pray more and you'll feel better.

Back to the doctor.  After being asked about my health, I paused momentarily before saying quietly (hoping to avoid five-year-old curiosity), "Well, mental health -anxiety and depression."  His response was rather anti-climactic.  He just nodded his head, said something like, "uh huh," and kept typing notes on his laptop.

Maybe, just maybe, other people don't think this is as ugly as I'm afraid they will.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Another Hard Day

Today has been a hard day.  Again.  No matter what I try, I think that this time maybe this mental illness - OCD, anxiety, and depression - will get better.  Maybe reducing stress will help.  Maybe getting more sleep.  Maybe only focusing on one thing at a time.  Maybe I should stay off caffeine.  Maybe I should drink caffeine.  Maybe I need a hobby.  Should I work more?  Work less?  What will make this go away?  And, continues to plague me.  Unwanted trigger thoughts continue to come.  Some I can let go of, others nudge me toward certain compulsions - asking God for forgiveness over and over.  Checking to make sure that the baby's collar isn't too tight as she sleeps.  Hyper-focusing on existential things - like time or language - and trying to figure out how they work.  Ruminating on certain thoughts.

Who am I?

  • a Christ-follower and redeemed child of God
  • a wife to a very understanding and loving husband
  • a mom under 40 of three young kids
  • a mental illness sufferer: a tormenting and, at times, debilitating combination of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), general anxiety, and depression
Why a blog?

The purpose of this blog is twofold.  I'm hoping that it will help me on my journey through mental illness as a Christian, and that it will also help you as a reader - either as someone who struggles with mental illness yourself, or as someone who knows a fellow struggler.

Join me, friend, as we traverse the complicated road of the combination of mental illness and Christianity and discover that even difficult minds can be made beautiful.