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?