Itch and scratch

Almost everyday, I read cnn.com to catch up on the news, get the scoop, stay in the know, keep up with the Kardashians, etc.  Well, today, there was an interesting blog post featuring OCD.  I always try to read articles, opinion pieces, or testimonials when it comes to OCD, not only because I enjoy learning about it, but because hearing about other people’s symptoms is usually very interesting and entertaining.  I’m not trying to poke fun at anyone here, but let’s be honest – some OCD symptoms are highly amusing simply because they are so off-the-wall that it is difficult for most people to wrap their mind around them.  What’s more is that people with OCD often come up with extremely creative and innovative compulsions to help relieve their anxiety, thus adding even more intrigue to the whole mess.

For example, the ‘patient’ from the featured blog post was experiencing extreme anxiety hearing and even looking at kitchen or bathroom sinks and anything that resembled a gas tank or nozzle.  Seems pretty bizarre, right?!  I mean, can you imagine covering your eyes every time you pass a sink?  Or breaking out your hand wipes when you drive by the gas station or see one on TV?  It sounds ridiculous, I know.  But to that patient, it is intensely uncomfortable.

To be fair, I will share one of my more embarrassing symptoms, too.  My uncle once told me that it “only takes a tablespoon to drown.”  Now, he has the tallest of all tall tales, the longest fish, fattest turkey, loudest laugh, yet is one of the most loving uncles that I have.  So whether or not this little tidbit is true is still left to be decided.  But to me, it didn’t matter.  If he heard it, maybe it was possible – or even entirely true – in which case, I was not going to take my chances drowning on any of my 64 daily ounces of water.

This little factoid has been burned in my brain since the day he shared it with me.  And although I don’t currently worry too much about it, there certainly have been times when all I could do was dread every sip of water.  I’d reach for my glass, then panic.  Would I breathe in too deeply while trying to take a drink?  Would it go down the wrong tube?  Was a tablespoon really all it took to drown an adult human being??

When thirst would finally win out and I’d take a drink, I would hold the water in my mouth for what seemed like forever.  Scared to swallow.  Afraid to breathe.  Sloshing the water around.  Mentally preparing to send it down the pipe.  Suddenly searching for anyone close by that could administer the Heimlich and give mouth-to-mouth should I happen to mess up a basic human instinct I had been successfully mastering since the day I was born.  I over thought the whole process so much I probably could have drowned!  It was ridiculous.

And not only was I scared that I would drown, but that anyone else who drinks liquid would, too.  I’d stare at my husband as he chugged down whole water bottles in one shot.  I’d lecture him on proper drinking etiquette and safety (his method of filling his cheeks like a chipmunk then swallowing in one big gulp was both disgusting and anxiety-provoking, to say the least).  The simple act of drinking became a major stressor for me, when I can guarantee most of the universe doesn’t think twice about it.

Kind of like the lady and her gas tank.

The psychologist who weighs in on the post describes obsessions and compulsions like an itch and a scratch.  You get an itch, so you scratch it and feel temporary relief.  And just like mosquito bites (and those pesky no-see-ems that are driving me crazy this summer), the itch comes back later.  And itches worse.

But he also points out that if you leave the itch alone, and refrain from scratching, eventually the itch goes away altogether.

Unfortunately, I’m a scratcher.  Bug bites, OCD, it doesn’t matter.  I have an itch, I’m going to scratch it.

Just give me a better bug spray and we’re in business…

The Hora of it all…

One of my closest friends will be getting married in three weeks.  As if that wasn’t exciting enough, her hubby-to-be is also a very good friend of mine (isn’t it great when two friends get married??)  Anyway, the bride’s family is Jewish and the groom’s is Catholic, so a mixed-religion ceremony will be done at a neutral location.  When we started asking the bride about what religious traditions will be incorporated into their day, the one I was most curious about was the Hora, more commonly known as the Jewish “chair dance.”  Essentially, the bride and groom are lifted up on chairs as everyone dances in a circle around them…doesn’t that just sound incredibly fun?!?

courtesy of bridalguide.com

I am determined to make this happen, seeing as there will be no yamakas or stomping on the glass.  Since I am unaware of the proper etiquette associated with the Hora, I was inquiring into how the dance gets initiated (aka, can a slightly hyper, non-Jewish bridesmaid request slash demand the celebratory dance take place, or are there more formalities involved?)  Just then, my other close friend reminded me that I don’t do particularly well with people being lifted into the air.  Damn.  In my excitement, I forgot all about the incredible anxiety that would inevitably ensue should I happen to witness the Hora in person. 

Not only do I feel that falling to one’s death is probably the most terrible way to die, but I also just don’t like the idea of falling in general.  When your landing is not ideal, you can most certainly count on bruises, sprained joints, broken bones, or even paralyzing injuries.  There are simply too many stories out there serving as shining examples of what happens when you take a bad fall.

As a result, I get incredibly anxious when I am around anyone who has the potential to fall – children on a swing set, people riding piggy-back, spectators in the front row of the balcony section, and more than likely, a bride and groom being hoisted into the air on rickety chairs held by their intoxicated friends and family.  This may not go so well.

Upon seeing such “dangerous” situations, I have been known to close my eyes, change seats, have my own little version of a panic attack, and even leave the area completely.  Even if the moment passes without any trace of danger, my mind will play out the alternatively horrific ending regardless.  It is a terrible little movie that only I can see, but that haunts me until I can find something to divert my attention to something else. 

Yeah, maybe my friend is right.  We could probably do without the chair dance.  Although it sounds fun, it could be hora-ble.

Glad to be diagnosed

As you know by now, I have OCD.  And I’m not just saying that in the, I-always-have-to-put-the-right-sock-on-before-the-left kind of way.  I have actually been diagnosed with OCD.  And let me tell you, it was a huge relief!  Imagine having a million weird little quirks that you can’t quite explain and then all of a sudden, some crazy therapist lady with a slightly hippie appearance (but a legitimate professional background) puts a label on it for you.  And tells you you’re normal! 

Well, for someone with OCD. 

Anyway, it was a feeling of liberation!  I know there is much debate over the ethics of diagnosis, and whether or not it does more harm than good for a patient.  But for me, it was a postive experience.  Finally, I had the missing piece to pull it all together.  A diagnosis.  Something to research.  I think deep down I knew I had OCD, but I had never labeled myself as such, and neither had anyone who graduated from a psychology program.  So I went through life just thinking I was quirky. 

That day in the therapist’s office was a long time coming.  Years and years in the making.  As a child, I was a perfectionist to the core.  I was a natural-born leader, which my teachers recognized immediately.  I would always be assigned the desk right next to the naughtiest kid in class.  Supposedly, this is a trick many teachers use to reign in their rowdiest pupils.  This didn’t bother me too bad – at first.  Because as an elementary student, you always have something to look forward to – the best day in a child’s primary school life – the day the desks get rearranged!  So I would sit next to the naughty kids, patiently waiting for the day when we would walk into the classroom and, low and behold, the desks would no longer be arranged in rows of 6, but in pods of 4!   Like all my classmates, I would run around the room looking for my name tag, only to find it in the same pod as the naughty kid.  And so defined grades 1-5.

These small signs of perfectionism slowly crept their way into other facets of my life.  I remember my mom escorting me to the bus stop down the street and making me wait to be the last one on the bus.  Apparently, word had gotten out that I always had to be first.  And I started to become obsessed with fairness, mostly for my own benefit.  If my sister and I split a piece of peanut butter bread, I had to have the bigger half, because it wouldn’t be fair, to me, to get a smaller piece than her. 

The interesting thing about OCD is that symptoms change as the person and their life situation changes.  No, I do not obsess about getting the best bite of the DQ Blizzard I occasionally share with my husband (however, I am still very protective of my food – keep that fork over at your own plate!)  Just knowing I have OCD, having that diagnosis, has helped me to better understand the way my mind operates so I can actively work on controlling the obsessions and compulsions.  I was happy to be diagnosed, because now I can face my OCD head-on.

PS – the boating this weekend went wonderfully, despite everyone reminding me of the terrible boating accident last weekend and the numerous “be safe!” pleas.  I’m still bothered that it took me 3 times to park the boat in the lift (ugh, pathetic!), but I faced my anxiety and I think everyone had a great time.