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.

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.

Handwashing Update

Handwashing is the main symptom of my obsessive-compulsive disorder, as it is the way I deal with the anxiety surrounding the possibility of becoming sick. Throughout the past few years, the amount of handwashing I do has varied. The time I will wash my hands the most is upon arriving home. I feel this is the most important time, so that I don’t bring in any potential contaminants that may make me ill. In the past, I’ve washed my hands up to ten times in a row (repetitions). As you can imagine, this would make going out and returning a bit frustrating, since it does take some significant time. I can still remember the early days of my OCD, where I would simply elect to stay at home. The amount of work involved with coming back was frustrating.

More recently, I’ve been washing my hands five times in a row, which still takes a lot of time.

Within the past week, I decided to bring the amount of repetitions down to four, as I feel that it’s time to once again start working on this symptom of my OCD.

It isn’t without anxiety, and it varies on a day-to-day basis. The first day I did it, I didn’t have any problem only doing four repetitions. However, a few days later, it was much harder, as I self-perceived that my hands were dirtier that day.

Anxiety does just that. Your brain begins to believe that five repetitions is the way to safety. To make sure you don’t get sick. Even though I’ve already washed my hands four times (the World Health Organization recommends only a single washing of the hands to prevent illness), the hardwired anxiety wants you to believe that extra fifth time is an absolute necessity. If I was in a situation where I was only able to wash my hands a single time upon arriving home, I would still consider them as dirty as when I first walked in the door.

As I continue to work on this, I will adjust the way my brain handles the anxiety around only washing them four times. Four will become the new safe amount of repetitions, and I will be OK with that amount. I will have days where I struggle to only do four, such as yesterday, but that’s OK! When we miss a day or two, we can’t beat ourselves up. It is what it is. You can always try again (and succeed) tomorrow.

2013: A Big Year

When I reflect back on 2013, I realize that a lot has happened this year. I’ve become involved in a lot of new causes that are important to me, started to better understand who I am, and connected with people who have had a massive impact on my life.

There’s no question that the main decision, which allowed all of this to happen in 2013, was joining Twitter. I had never really thought much about Twitter, and didn’t see the point in opening an account. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was on a whim that I joined, but within just a few short months, I was actively connecting with people of so many backgrounds…People who spoke out about human rights, equality, mental health, feminism, and other current events. I started meeting people who suffered with mental illness and were on their way to recovery, as well as many who have successfully recovered and wish to help others on their journey.

It’s hard to put into words the motivation these people have given me to start owning my mental illness and speak out to help others. They taught me that even though I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, I’m still a person who deserves to be respected and most of all, to respect and be kind to myself. When I read their personal blogs about mental illness, I felt the strong urge to join them in raising awareness and writing about what I’ve been through. Patricia Lemoine and Kathleen Pye are two people I have to recognize. Their love and support has meant the world to me, even though I’ve never met them in person.

It’s paid off, especially when I’ve heard from the people who have been to my blog. Some have said they thought they were the only ones with these problems. I’ve also seen the search terms people have used. A lot have found OCD Survival when thinking about taking medication as part of their treatment. Some have looked for stories about how people deal with OCD and how they could support people they care about. Others have wanted to know about irrational thoughts (like harming others), about self-harm, and if they actually committed a crime because they started obsessing over the belief they did.

While this has possibly helped others, I cannot express how much it has helped me understand who I am. It’s easy to get caught up in self-stigma and try to ignore your mental illness, even though it’s staring you in the face, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Becoming a Community Correspondent with Partners for Mental Health has also allowed me to help open the discussion about mental illness in our society. When I think about the other volunteers, especially my fellow Community Correspondents, I feel like they are a part of my family. We’re always there for one another when the going gets tough. Each and every one of them means a lot to me.