It’s now been two weeks since I went on leave from work. What have I done with that time? Here are the things I’ve accomplished so far. (Some of these things may seem small to an outside observer, but let me assure you that these have all been monumental for me and represent substantial efforts to take back control from OCD. Most of these were not easy and involved elements of exposure.)
- Daily exposures to triggering words. This literally involves writing or typing the words (as well as variations of the words) over and over again and again. I typically do this from ten to twenty minutes a day. Then I read the words out loud while recording myself. Then I listen to the recordings. In the last two weeks Dr. Osborne and I have covered eighteen words. These are all words that have caused me in the past to engage in OCD rituals. The goal from here on out is to not engage in OCD rituals when I come across these words in real life.
- Developed a couple more exposure scripts. See Live from EBT post from May 8. This is similar to the word exposure where I record the scripts and then listen to them over and over again.
- Almost completely stopped washing my hands in the sink (but replaced with something else). This has been a huge step on taking back some of the time that OCD was wasting. Hand washing has been my primary compulsive and ritualistic behavior and has eaten up so much time, energy, and emotion (sometimes a single hand washing episode could last as long as thirty minutes). It had to stop. So, I forced it by replacing the sink hand washing with decontamination via hand wipes. It’s still a compulsive and ritualistic behavior, but it takes far less time and energy and Dr. Osborne agrees it is a step in the right direction.
- Started wearing the new clothes I recently bought. I’ve mentioned that shopping is difficult because things get contaminated especially easily. This is probably mostly because I have conditioned myself to be extra sensitive when I go shopping and I come across triggers that contaminate stuff before I even get it home from the store or out of the bag to use it (a reminder that “contamination” for me means that objects get negatively associated with other unwanted or obsessive thoughts). I’ve needed new clothes for a while and I finally was able to buy some and start wearing them.
- Cleaned and replaced the rug on my kitchen floor. This was also a big step for me. About a month or two ago, when work was at its peak and taking all my mental capacity, I had left a single grocery bag on the kitchen floor for several days. Most of the things in the bag were non perishable so I didn’t really think about. Besides, I had my work project to worry about and finish up. Well, in the bottom of the bag was a half-gallon carton of milk. I discovered one day by stepping on a soaking wet rug that the milk had spoiled and burst the container. (Yes! Gross!) I wadded up the rug and put it in the corner because I didn’t want to deal with it and I still had my project to finish up. I knew to get the rug clean would involve a fair amount of OCD compulsive behaviors. This was sort of a catalyst and the starting point of a lot of the messes in my kitchen. This is when more and more grocery and garbage bags started piling up.
- Unloaded and disposed of six+ bags of groceries that had accumulated on the floor of my kitchen. See above. It’s such a relief to have these out of the way.
- Cleared out and disposed of five+ large bags of trash that had accumulated in my apartment. OCD was making it difficult to get the trash bags out of the apartment (see Unblock Me post from a few days ago). But, with some effort I was able to get rid of them. It was also such a relief to get them out of the apartment. The goal from here on out is to immediately take out the trash and not let any more accumulate.
- Went running for the first time in months. There are many OCD barriers to running. The beautiful weather we’ve been having in Seattle has motivated me to break through these barriers and I have now been on two runs. It felt great to get out and exercise in this way once again. I’ve missed this.
- Started image exposures. My OCD brain has catalogued a bunch of disturbing images that I’ve seen mostly in movies or on tv. These images surface frequently. When they surface they make me feel “contaminated” and cause me to engage in compulsive behaviors. This week we started exposing to some of these images. There are two levels of exposure we’ve been working on. First is imaginal exposure where I recall or replay the image in my mind and then describe out loud to Dr. Osborne the image in my head. I then repeat this several times with the same image. The next level of exposure is to actually watch or look at the image over and over again. We picked two scenes from a tv show available on Netflix and started watching them over and over. I watched each of these scenes ten times yesterday and ten times today. Today we picked a third image and my homework is to begin exposure to it.
The good news is I can already feel a shift in how I am responding to obsessive thoughts and it has confirmed to me that taking time off of work to focus on treatment was the right choice for me. This is only the beginning, though, and I have a lot of work still ahead of me.