Stress Management Goals

So I started this blog thinking that I would actually update it daily – yeah right.  Soon after creating this “masterpiece,” I started grad school and a new job, both of which took over my life.  Therefore, every waking moment has been dedicated to reading unending chapters of dry text aimed at transforming me into an amazingly skilled counselor.  I will say – I feel I will eventually be said ‘amazingly skilled counselor,’ as reading is not all that I’m doing.  It’s simply taking up the most time.

Anyway, one of my classes has required that I create 3 stress management goals to implement throughout the semester, hopefully teaching valuable stress management strategies, but also the importance of specific and measureable goals.  So, without further ado, here are my goals:

  1. Meditate twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays at 8:30am, for 15 minutes or more.
  2. Walk briskly/jog/run at least four times per week, Monday-Friday, for 15 minutes or more.
  3. Dedicate 3 hours or more per week to leisure activities, such as reading (for fun), watching a movie, cooking/baking, playing games, or visiting with friends, likely taking place on a Saturday or Sunday.

Alright.  Pretty noble and worthwhile goals, right?  So here’s the problem with each:

  1. First of all, I don’t even know how to meditate.  I think it would be really neat to learn and incorporate into my life on a r egular basis, but as of right now, I have no clue what to do.  Close my eyes and rid my mind of all thought?  (Nearly impossible with this OCD brain).  Listen to soothing music?  Engage in visualization?  Yeah, we’ll see how this goes…
  2. This goal is a “cheat” goal, aka one that I know I can accomplish.  I have a dog, who needs at least 2 daily walks…enoug h said.  Plus, I really enjoy running and working out in general.  Basically, this goal was established so that I could be successful in at least one of these – is that so bad?!
  3. Finally, this goal will likely be more easy to accomplish than I previously thought.  I didn’t originally factor into this goal that fact that football season is starting and I will easily spend 2-6 hours per week watching the Packers and/or Badgers crush their competition.

So there you have it.  My semester goals.  I once heard that the more people you tell about your goals, the more likely you are to accomplish them.  So, I’ll let you know how they go.  :) And I will definitely let you know if I ever learn to meditate (I see some Internet research and an email to my ‘zen-like’ aunt and uncle in my near future).

Wish me luck.

Back To School (minus the new clothes and fun pencils)

This week I started a graduate degree program in school and community counseling.  Yup.  Big life change.  Not only am I taking a full 12 credits of class, but I also gave up my (salaried with benefits, everyday-is-casual-day, greatly autonomous, with occasional product perks) job to do it.

You might be thinking, “what were you thinking?!”

Well, first of all, in addition to all of the characteristics listed above, my job was also incredibly boring.  I worked remotely in a building owned by my customer (read: filled with other vendor representatives, which I was discouraged from socializing with), in a controlling and condescending environment (read: this particular customer is notorious for being demanding and difficult to work with), and didn’t have enough to keep me busy for 20 hours a week, let alone 40 (read: eyes glossing over just thinking about it).  So after only 10 months, I was practically running out the door.

The up side is that I have been awarded a graduate assistant position in the university’s career services office.  Presentations, event planning, and resume critiques – oh my!  So despite the loss of salary, I’ll be enjoying my work much more and will have my tuition taken care of along the way.  I certainly can’t complain.

Now, why counseling?  To make a long story short, I have always enjoyed working with people in a helping capacity.  In a previous role working in college admissions, I was given the opportunity to work very closely with high school students and school counselors.  It was amazing to me all of the hats the school counselors wore and the different roles they played in the lives of their students.  That really appealed to me, and so I started taking some classes.  The more classes I took, the more I became interested in mental health counseling.  Being able to provide support and assistance to troubled adults and families would also be an extremely rewarding and challenging career.  Now, I simply can’t decide which I like more.  So I’m doing both.

However, as part of my program, my classmates and I have all been encouraged to seek out our own counseling.  As the saying goes,

“Every good counselor has a good counselor.”

So that will be my next challenge.  Finding a counselor and getting up the courage to do some serious work in therapy sessions.  And I say courage because it really does take courage.  It’s not necessarily fun – and certainly isn’t easy.  Trust me, I’ve worked with some very resistant ‘clients’ (aka classmates) and it’s like pulling teeth to get anything juicy out of them.  But even so, I’m still excited about the idea of working through life’s issues, big and small.

Lord knows I have plenty of them.  (But really, don’t we all?)

courtesy of chucks-fun.blogspot.com

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…

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.