The Banana Conundrum & Updates

It has been quite a few months since I’ve been active on my blog! A lot of things have been happening in my world over the summer, and I’ve made a big decision to go back to school to future my education, with a Graduate degree. After some time away from work, and discovering some new things about myself, I’m hoping to get back into a consistent routine, and start posting more on this blog. I’ve also decided to try out a new name: My OCD.

Now onto my banana conundrum…

If you’ve visited my blog before, you know quite well the problems I’ve had with eating fresh produce. I’ve been getting a lot better over the past 10 months though, using fresh veggies when I’m making various dishes, and I’m absolutely loving how much better my food is tasting.

Two weeks ago, I thought I’d try bananas. The first time in a few years.

Bananas are one of those foods I look at in the store and wonder to myself ‘how many people have touched these?’ and ‘were those who picked them over sick?’ Lets be honest with ourselves…A lot of people still aren’t washing their hands as they should be. We’ve all been in a public washroom and heard or watched someone walk out without doing it. Maybe they went straight to the banana display and wiped their hands all over them! Regardless, the consumption of produce is a relatively low-risk event for human-to-human disease transmission.

To ease my anxiety as I made this attempt, I decided to get bananas which were pre-packaged in bags. My reasoning is that minimal contact would make me more willing to indulge in them, and not be as concerned about contamination.

The Result: I successfully ate the entire ‘hand’ of bananas! And with minimal anxiety during the experience. I will most definitely be buying more, and I’m hoping to make it part of my daily breakfast. Part of successfully mastering OCD is pushing yourself to stop thinking about what you’re avoiding, and just doing it. The best success I’ve ever had with mastering my compulsions has been when I’ve, essentially, forced myself to do something and stop asking questions.

OCD will always keep asking more questions than you have answers. Don’t let it ask questions. Tell it what you’re going to do whether it likes it or not. It will get better.

Next Goal: Apple season is fast approaching! Bring on the harvest.

Duncan’s Cove Hiking Trail

The Duncan’s Cove trail is located in Duncan’s Cove, Nova Scotia, on the Chebucto Peninsula, and about 30 minutes outside of central Halifax. The trail itself is located on crown lands (owned by the government of Nova Scotia), and is a perfect example of a coastal barrens ecosystem. The trail is just over 5.4 km return to the parking area, and takes you on a beautiful coastal hike, with some amazing views along the way. You should set aside at least three hours for the whole trail (including a break at the halfway mark), but you can easily complete it within 1.5 hours if you hike at a brisk pace.

Getting There:

Car: If you have access to a car, it will take you 30 minutes to get to the trailhead from central Halifax (22.5 km). PLEASE use caution when driving, as these routes are well used by road cyclists. Click here for Google Maps directions.

Bus: Unfortunately, you can only get to Duncan’s Cove using transit from Monday to Friday. However, if this is an option for you, it’s a one and a half hour trip from central Halifax, including a short walk to the trailhead. Click here for Google Maps transit options.

Bike: Duncan’s Cove is accessible by bike, and on a well used cycling route, as mentioned above, and is 22.5 km from central Halifax. As for securing your bike while you hike, you’ll have to bring a large device to either chain it to a lamp pole or a tree. Click here for Google Maps bike route.

When you reach the parking area, you’ll see the road that has a gate across is, which leads to the trailhead. You’re able to access this property. Once you get to the top of the road, just before the home, look to your right and you’ll see where the trail opens up.

What to Pack:

You won’t be going into the woods, so you can generally get by with the bare essentials:

- Water (of course). You should have at least one litre of water for a hike of a few hours in length, more if it’s hot out.

- Food. Part of the fun of hiking is snack breaks, especially when you reach the top. Keep that blood sugar up and keep your body going!

- First aid kit. You can buy small ultralight kits for you and your hiking partners at local outdoor shops. You never know when you, or someone else on the trail, might need it. A lightweight security measure you should have.

- Cellphone. Lots of signal strength on the trail system. If you need help, dial 911.

Difficulty:

Duncan’s Cove is a rugged landscape. You’ll be walking up and down hills, navigating narrow trails over boulders, dodging puddles of mud, and walking up and down steep portions where you need to watch your step. You really need to have hiking footwear, with traction. The granites here are slippery and running shoes might not cut it. You might find hiking poles give you a hand.

Geology and Ecosystem:

Duncan’s Cove sits on the same rocks as The Bluff Wilderness Trail, granites of the South Mountain Batholith, which cover a large part of Nova Scotia. Approximately 380 million years in age, they were formed from a upwelling of magma, which took millions of years to cool below the surface of the Earth. An indication of this cooling length can be seen in the size of the minerals within the rocks. If you visit Peggy’s Cove, you’ll see the exact same rocks. Duncan’s Cove has also been carved by the glaciers, creating the smooth rock surfaces you’ll be walking over.

Situated on a coastal barren, the landscape is desolate and contains minimal plant life. The soil has been all but wiped clean by the last glacial period (approximately 15,000 years ago), when ice sheets extended out to Sable Island. The high concentration of salt in this location, including ocean spray during rough weather conditions, means that only salt tolerant plants are able to survive. The tree line respect this by remaining at a far enough distance to avoid its impact. You’ll often notice that the trail is narrow and well worn in. As coastal barrens are delicate ecosystems, please try and stick to this trail, as to avoid disturbing the surrounding vegetation.

Granite is largely composed of feldspar (large white crystals in these rocks. Varies with composition), quartz, and mica.

Granite is largely composed of feldspar (large white crystals in these rocks. Varies with composition), quartz, and mica.

Coastal barrens of Duncan's Cove.

Coastal barrens of Duncan’s Cove.

Example of the trail navigation.

Example of the trail navigation.

One of the views you can look forward to!

One of the views you can look forward to!

The Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail – Pot Lake Loop

I’ve talked with a lot of people who live within the Halifax area of Nova Scotia, and few know about the vast amount of hiking we have right here on our doorsteps. I’ve had the chance to hike a lot of these trails over the past few years, and as I make my way through them this year, I’d like to share my experience and raise attention to them, in hopes that viewers in my community will also want to check them out.

You might be wondering why I’m talking about hiking on my mental health blog. I’m a firm believer that being active is important for the management and recovery of mental illness. Also, many have suggested that connecting with nature has some positive benefits on our brain, especially in the fast paced world we live in. Escaping into nature for a few hours may do a lot for our overall well-being.

The Bluff Trail system is located in Timberlea, off the St. Margarets Bay Road, on crown lands (owned by the government of Nova Scotia) and managed by Woodens River Watershed Environmental Organization. It is composed of four large loops (click for map), each with varying distances. If you follow the entire outer loop, you will travel distances of approximately 30 kilometres (this is generally a multi-day hike). The first loop, Pot Lake loop, which I completed, will take you a distance of 8.7 kilometres, and is able to be completed within three to four hours, depending on your speed.

Getting There:

Car: If you have access to an car, it will take you about 20 minutes to get to the trailhead from central Halifax (Robie/Young street) (20 kilometres). Click here for Google Maps directions.

Bus: The Bluff Trail is accessible to you by Metro Transit! It’s a bit of a journey to get there, depending where you start. From central Halifax, it’s about one and a half hours, including a short walk to the trailhead. Click here for Google Maps transit options.

Bike: The Bluff Trail has a lovely bike rack at the Trailhead! From central Halifax, depending on your speed, it will take you up to an hour to get there (16 kilometres). Click here for Google Maps bike route.

What to Pack:

- Water (of course). You should have at least one litre of water for a hike of a few hours in length, more if it’s hot out.

- Food. Part of the fun of hiking is snack breaks, especially when you reach the top. Keep that blood sugar up and keep your body going!

- GPS/Compass (optional). I always like to have one with me when I hike.

- First aid kit. You can buy small ultralight kits for you and your hiking partners at local outdoor shops. You never know when you, or someone else on the trail, might need it. A lightweight security measure you should have.

- Cellphone. Lots of signal strength on the trail system. If you need help, dial 911.

- Other stuff. I like to be prepared and carry a knife, fire starter, flashlight…It doesn’t take up much weight, and you never know. Camera too.

Difficulty:

The Pot Lake loop is of moderate difficulty. If you’re a novice hiker, there’s a lot of walking on rocks and inclines/descents on those rocks. You will cross some minor streams as well. You NEED good footwear with traction, especially while handling steep rocks. Running shoes might be too slippery for this type of trail. If you get sore knees, you may benefit from hiking poles.

Images and Geology:

The Bluff Wilderness Trail sits on a large area of thin topsoil, with lots of exposed granitic bedrock. Glaciers are responsible for the way the land looks today, carving into the granite, moving pieces around, and giving the area its topography. If you live in the Timerlea/Hubley/Tantallon area, you’re likely familiar with the threat of radon gas within your home, as a result of the high concentration of radioactive minerals within these granites.

Trail Topography

As mentioned, the trail contains a lot of rocky terrain. Some sections are easy to cross, while some are covered in smaller boulders that you’ll need to climb over or walk around.

 

Stream

One of the streams you’ll have to cross. The water level is higher this time of year. You won’t have any issue getting across, but the rocks can be a bit slippery.

 

Glacial Erratic

Nova Scotia is well known for its rocks that are just ‘placed’ in random spots. These are called glacial erratics. Massive amount of ice pushed them as the glacier moved, eventually just leaving them. You’ll see lots on the Bluff Trail!

Happy hiking!

Progress, not Perfection

I’ve been thinking about how best to write this post for the past several days, when today, I happened to be listening to a podcast about discouragement. The speaker was discussing its impact on our lives, and how when we work to change things, we need to measure progress, not perfection.

Progress, not perfection, can be applied to so many things in our lives, especially recovery from mental illness. When one decides to enter a treatment program to help overcome their mental health concerns, recovery will never be linear. It can be up, down, and flat. Some weeks you’ll be doing really well in that recovery. Other weeks, you might be having a difficult time dealing with the mental illness and triggers that are causing higher than normal symptoms.

It is very easy for us to become discouraged when we have these periods of regression. We can often be left asking ourselves why things aren’t working as they should be. How am I ever going to beat this thing or get it under control if I keep having bad weeks?

It can also be frustrating for those who care about us and may have their own measure of your recovery, failing to understand that it’s not about perfection, but progress over time.

It’s during these ‘bad weeks’ when we lose sight of where we used to be and where we are now. For that reason, it’s important to take note of the things we’ve accomplished during our recovery. Consider keeping a list of the accomplishments you’ve achieved. When you have those bad weeks, look through your list, and remind yourself that progress is happening.

Recovery from a mental illness is not about how far you have to go, it’s about how far you’ve come. This isn’t easy, but you can do it.

The Farmers Market

Well I finally went to the local market. Here in Halifax (Nova Scotia), we’ve a lot of great opportunities to buy local. There’s an abundant source of locally grown produce (much of it organic and spray-free), small animal farms that raise additive free and humane meat, several wine vineyards, a distiller…The list goes on. All this culminates into markets throughout the province, many of which are open on a daily basis. The weekends, however, are prime time, when many more vendors are out and selling their products.

One of the main markets here is the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market. I’ve been there during the evening after I get off work, but they only have a few select vendors during the week. For quite a while, I’ve wanted to experience it on a Saturday, and see all the local products available, especially now that I’m working on using more fresh produce.

One of the main concerns I had about visiting was the amount of people. I’ve heard all about how busy the market gets, especially on Saturday. It provokes anxiety when I’m in large crowds and surrounded by people. I don’t like being unable to move around.

The market was definitely busy. It was a bit overwhelming when I first arrived, especially since it was my first time there. Thankfully, I was relaxed and actually not bothered by the crowds. Navigating through wasn’t too much of a challenge (I’m good at finding holes it seems), and people were very friendly.

The large amounts of food that was in the open (unwrapped) was a little anxiety provoking, but I was quickly able to realize that nobody was forcing me to eat those goods (even though they looked absolutely delicious), and that people who were more comfortable were enjoying them. I even noticed the market has a few hand washing stations throughout. It’s nice to see they promote that level of public health.

All in all, I had a really enjoyable afternoon. It was great to finally see people from Twitter that I follow and tweet with, and to get a sense of what sort of products are available (I already have my eye on a few wooden kitchen utensils).

While it might not seem like a big deal to most, finally conquering this step was important to me. I’ll definitely be back!

Check out the Seaport Farmers Market on Twitter and Facebook!

Want to get in contact with me? You can reach me at steve@ocdsurvival.com or through Twitter. Your comments are always welcome!

My Fresh Food Relationship

I obsess over becoming sick. People spread illnesses, which means that the things they touch have the ability to spread an illness they might have. Fomites (objects that can carry infections) have long been a struggle for me during the course of my obsessive-compulsive disorder. Things like door knobs, buttons, levers, shopping carts, debit machines, self-serve consoles, etc. have been a struggle. How do I know these things aren’t carrying something that could make ill?

The most damaging part of this fomite avoidance has been with fresh produce. When I go into a store with things like celery, broccoli, and apples sitting in the open for people to pick over and put into bags for purchase, it makes me feel nauseous. I look at that celery and wonder to myself how many people have touched it since it grew in the ground. The harvester, the people in the production line to get it to market, the store produce employee, and then anybody who’s shopping. Maybe they touched it to inspect it and decided against it. Maybe their kid touched it. Maybe they sneezed and coughed on it (lets not talk about how many people don’t cover their mouth/nose). Maybe they dropped it on the floor and put it back.

This is the anxiety I face with using fresh produce. Yes, a lot of the things I cook, but it still provokes intense anxiety.

What do I do? For several years, I have only purchased frozen produce. Things that, in my mind, are more safe, as they would have had less human contact. Some of it would have been washed and handled only by machines, although we’ve all seen the stories about factory handled food products contaminated with bacteria due to improper cleaning. Regardless, in my mind, this was safer. OCD and anxiety don’t have to make rational sense.

How have I been trying to recover and welcome more fresh produce into my life? I’ve been starting small, with things like onions, garlic, carrots, and squash (potatoes have always been OK). I even made my first trip to the market a few weeks ago to buy some fresh local produce. Before the holiday in December, I also made a huge pot of vegetable stock and used fresh celery. I picked the one that was packaged at the processing facility, but hey, it’s a start! So far, the results are delicious!

As always, I encourage you to leave questions or comments below :)

Did I Lock the Door? Checking & OCD

Since checking is a newer symptom of my obsessive-compulsive disorder, I clearly remember when I started worrying about things such as locking doors as I left home, and when I started checking them.

For the majority of our population, door locking upon exit is one of those monotonous activities that we do on autopilot. Can you think back and remember a day where you don’t actually remember locking the door? Now the key questions are: did your anxiety level increase? Did you start analyzing every second of the time you left home and reassuring yourself you did lock it? Did you want to immediately go home and check the door?

There was a day when I was still living with my parents that I had gone off to school after they both left for work. Nothing unusual happened, and I was sure I did everything one does as they leave for the day, especially locking their door on the way out.

However, later that night, my dad informed me I had forgotten to lock the door, and to make sure I did it next time. This was all it took for me to start becoming anxious and obsessing over making sure the door was really locked when I left.

OCD, which includes a checking component, morphs our anxieties into somewhat of a game. Those who suffer from it are convinced that even though they are standing at a door and watching themselves put a key into the lock and turn it, it isn’t actually being locked. Even though we turn the handle and push on the door, we can convince ourselves it still isn’t locked.

Checking often results in sufferers making sure things are ‘just right’. If the action isn’t done in a certain way or a certain number of times, it’s wrong, and you need to start over again. I would check my parents’ door by first testing the mechanism, locking it, opening it and the door, and locking the door again. Then I would push on the door a few times, just to be certain I had actually locked it. If I was forced to only do this action once, without being able to check it by pushing on the door, my anxiety would grow and I would worry someone was going to break in.

Here’s the kicker: checking, as I mentioned above, can also lead to random bouts of anxiety, and the desire to return and make sure something is right. I can clearly remember two cases of forcing myself return home to check the door. One happened when I got a significant distance on the bus with really high anxiety. I got off, got on another bus, and went home to verify.

The good news is that therapy, especially exposure and response prevention, can help you unlearn checking, by dealing with anxiety of ‘what if’. I’ve gotten better with my checking, but I still have improvements to make.