Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery…Some News and a Book Giveaway!

Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery was first published in January 2015 and has reached many people in the United States and beyond. I am happy to announce that the book is now being published in paperback and will be available September 2017. I’m not sure of the actual release date yet, but will keep you posted!

To celebrate this event, I am holding a Book Giveaway! My plan is to give away two signed hardcover copies of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery to readers of my blog. Everyone is eligible. Just leave a comment below this post before the deadline of August 23, 2017. I will then randomly pick two commenters to receive the books and the winners will be announced on my blog.

Good luck to all!

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OCD and Time Management

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Thoughts on time management as young people head back to school and college. A version of this post first appeared on my blog in April 2013…

Time management is a hot topic these days. Whether related to the workplace, school, homemaking, child-rearing, or our personal lives, there just never seems to be enough time to do all the things we need, or want, to do. We are so overloaded that there are self-help books, as well as experts and entire companies dedicated to this subject. When did it all get so complicated?

And if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, there’s a good chance you’ll have even more obstacles to overcome.

To me, one of the most frustrating aspects of my son Dan’s severe OCD was how much time he appeared to spend doing absolutely nothing. He had schoolwork and responsibilities to attend to, yet he’d just sit in a “safe” chair for hours and hours on end. I now know that he spent this time focusing on his obsessions and compulsions, which were in his mind and not obvious to me. As Dan’s OCD improved, the chair sitting stopped, but he still often took longer than others to complete his school assignments. This seemed to be attributed to his difficulty balancing details within the big picture, perfectionism, and  over-thinking.

While Dan’s problem of apparently wasting time is common for those with OCD, the opposite end of the spectrum can also be an issue. Some people with OCD  might feel the constant need to be busy and productive, as well as having every event and task of the day carefully planned. For Dan, spur-of-the-moment plans were not even a possibility when his OCD was in control.

Something else those with OCD might deal with in regard to time management is lack of punctuality. This might be because they feel the need to finish whatever task they are working on before they can move on to something else (even if most people wouldn’t consider it important), or perhaps due to trouble with transitions. Of course, time spent attending to obsessions and compulsions can always account for any struggles with time management.

From what I’ve written, it is easy to conclude that people with OCD do not manage their time well. But actually, I think the opposite is true. Those with OCD are excellent time managers. Look at everything they have to manage! For example, even though my son Dan sat in his “safe” chair for hours on end, somehow he was still able to meet all his responsibilities. Many of those with OCD not only fulfill their own obligations, they meet the “obligations” of their disorder as well. Of course, not surprisingly, this load might finally become too much to handle.

In my opinion people with OCD don’t need lessons in time management. What they need is to fight their OCD. Obsessions and compulsions are time-consuming, as is constant worry. Getting back the time that OCD consumes is nothing short of a gift and can open up a world of possibilities to not only those who have OCD, but to the people who want to spend time with them.

 

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Back to School with OCD

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For the next few weeks I’ll be sharing previously-written timely posts about school, college and transitions…..

I’ve previously written about taking obsessive-compulsive disorder to college, where I focused on establishing a good support system for those with OCD who are embarking on this exciting, but often anxiety-provoking journey. I discussed how important communication is with all school personnel, from the dean of students to teachers. The more support the better.

But what happens when the support you deserve, and are entitled to, is not afforded you? What if one of your teachers thinks OCD is no big deal, or not a real illness? How do you deal with a situation like that?

My son Dan, in his senior year of college, was discriminated against because of his OCD. I know discriminate is a strong word, but it fits. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), college students with documented disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations. While offering wheelchair ramps for those who can’t walk is an obvious compliance, accommodations for other issues, such as OCD, are not as clear-cut. Unfortunately, there are still many college professionals who know little, or have misconceptions, about obsessive-compulsive disorder. Students themselves might not know what they need until after the fact. Indeed, the complexity of the disorder can make the establishment of accommodations difficult. The Academic Resource Coordinator at Dan’s school, the expert who dealt with students with disabilities, “wasn’t sure” if Dan’s issue of concentrating more on details than the big picture was related to his OCD.

The best advice I can offer if you find yourself in a similar situation is to know your rights. Read up on the ADA and stand firm. Support, as well as documentation in writing, from a therapist or psychiatrist (preferably your own), can be invaluable. While college is typically a time of reduced parental involvement, I am convinced that if my husband and I hadn’t joined in Dan’s fight, the outcome would not have been in his favor. We had to bring our son’s case all the way to the president of his college, but he ultimately got what he deserved: fair treatment.

Because Dan’s OCD wasn’t diagnosed until he was seventeen (and because we homeschooled), our family never dealt with the need for accommodations during the K-12 school years. Again it’s important to know your rights and options. Laws and plans are in place, particularly for schools that receive federal funding (this includes all public schools). So many school professionals simply do not understand OCD. Until this changes, it is up to us to educate them. This is just one of the many reasons why parents need to be well prepared to advocate for their child.

Whether you’re sending your child off to kindergarten or college, this exciting time can also be stressful.  Add obsessive-compulsive disorder to the equation and chances are you’re also adding an extra layer of anxiety. That’s understandable. I do think, however, that it’s important for parents to remain positive and convey an air of confidence that everything will work out just fine. Because it probably will. But if problems do arise, we need to let our children know, no matter what their age is, that we will be there to support them, advocate for them, and love them every step of the way as they navigate their educational journey.

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OCD and Sleep Timing

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I’ve been blogging for over seven years now, and my most-read posts, by far, are those that discuss sleep and sleep deprivation. As I’ve previously written, OCD, by its very nature, is unconducive to a good night’s sleep. How can you sleep when you have to continually check to make sure the door is locked or the stove is off? How can you relax when you need to review your entire day in your head to make sure you didn’t do anything wrong? How can you breathe easily when you find yourself ruminating on, of all things, not being able to sleep? Really, as anybody with OCD most likely knows, the possibilities are endless.

Sleep is critical to our well-being, whether we have OCD or not. But for those with OCD, it can be a vicious cycle: They can’t sleep because of their OCD and this lack of sleep intensifies the disorder.

A recent study presented at the 31st Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies suggests that the amount of sleep we get isn’t the only important factor deserving of consideration. Timing – when we sleep – also plays a vital role in our well being. In fact, in those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a late bedtime is associated with a lower perceived control of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.

When my son Dan’s OCD was severe, he would typically be up all hours of the night, pacing and giving in to whatever OCD was demanding at the time. We’d often find him on a couch (or less frequently on a floor) in the morning – fast asleep wherever he happened to collapse from exhaustion. I know this type of disordered sleep is not uncommon in those with OCD. I just never realized how detrimental it truly is.

In this article, one of the researchers, Binghamton University professor of psychology Meredith E. Coles, PhD, says:

“I always knew you were supposed to get 8 hours of sleep, but I was never told it matters when you do it. It’s been striking to me that this difference seems to be very specific to the circadian component of when you sleep. That we find that there are specific negative consequences of sleeping at the wrong times, that’s something to educate the public about.”

Coles plans on continuing her research, using light boxes to shift people’s bedtimes. She says:

“It’s one of our first efforts to actually shift their bedtimes and see if it reduces their OCD symptoms, and if this improves their ability to resist those intrusive thoughts and not develop compulsions in response to them.”

While this important research is underway, I think the best thing those with obsessive-compulsive disorder can do is to continue fighting their OCD as much as possible with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. I know for Dan, once his OCD was under control, a good night’s sleep followed. My guess is this is true for many others as well.

 

 

 

 

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The Impact of Pediatric OCD on the Whole Family

A study published in the March 17, 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry  concludes that pediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder negatively affects not only the children who suffer from it, but also their parents.

At the risk of sounding snarky, I (and anyone who has a child with OCD) could’ve told you that.

Still, well-conducted studies, as opposed to anecdotal evidence, are important. If nothing else, they give clinicians and researchers concrete information to reference, study and build upon in their quest to understand OCD and how to best help those whose lives are affected by it.

The study had a good number of participants – 354 youth and their parents. As I read each finding in the abstract, I nodded in agreement, as my family (when my son Dan was dealing with severe OCD) fit the profile of those in the study to a tee.

Not surprisingly, OCD is marked by disrupted routines, stressful social interactions for the children, and poor job performance for the parents. Everyone in the family had elevated stress and anxiety levels, though I found it interesting that there is no specific mention of siblings. As far as I know, siblings were not part of the study, but of course they are also affected by having a brother or sister with OCD. While the children with OCD often felt frustration and anger, their parents were more likely to describe feelings of sadness. I, and I’m sure many of you out there, can relate to that!

Some points that I found interesting include the finding that parents often did not recognize the extent of their child’s suffering, particularly in regard to academics and socialization. We know that those with OCD can be good at hiding how they are truly feeling. Thinking back to my son Dan’s ordeal, I now realize that when I thought things were not “that bad,” they really were. Additionally, mothers seemed to be more negatively impacted by their child’s OCD than fathers were. This could be due to many factors, including the fact that mothers typically (though not always) spend more time with their children.

To me, the most important conclusion of this study by far is the fact that the more parents accommodated and enabled their children, the more the entire family became impaired.  If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might know that this is one of my pet peeves: Parents and loved ones need to be educated about how to properly deal with OCD. What loving parent hasn’t inadvertently enabled their child because they wanted to take away their pain, only to later learn (or maybe not) that their actions have only made things worse? Because the proper way to deal with OCD involves going against our instincts, family members need to be educated.

It is my hope that the results of this study will lead to more awareness and better treatment for OCD, not only for those suffering from the disorder, but for those who care for and support them as well.

 

 

 

 

 

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Symptoms of OCD?

For those who think they, or a loved one, might be suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, it is easy to go online and find a list of common symptoms.

In some cases, people’s obsessions and compulsions might be quite obvious and they will present with a “classic case” of OCD. Those who fear contamination (obsession) and wash their hands until they bleed (compulsion) are a good example.

But it is not always that easy to figure out if you or someone you care about has the disorder. Some symptoms of OCD might not seem like symptoms of anything at all. For example, at least a year before we knew my son Dan had OCD, he stopped choosing what clothes to wear in the morning. “Just pick out anything for me; I don’t care what,” he’d say. While I might have thought this behavior was a little odd for a teenager, it never once crossed my mind that Dan was consciously avoiding making decisions. I now know that this is not an uncommon symptom of OCD. If Dan didn’t have to decide what to wear, or what movie to go to with friends, or give his opinion on anything, then he would not be responsible for anything bad that might happen as a result of his decision. As I’ve said before, while intellectually Dan knew his thinking made no sense, there was always doubt, another mainstay of OCD; “What if I wear my blue shirt and then someone I love dies?”

Reassurance seeking, such as asking “Are you sure everything is okay?” is a common compulsion in OCD. As a matter of fact, when Dan entered his residential treatment program, cell phone use was discouraged because so many clients would continually call home for reassurance. I told Dan’s social worker that he never asked for reassurance, and that was true. But what he did do was routinely apologize for things most people would never apologize for.  He’d say things such as “I’m sorry I spent so much money at the supermarket,” (when he actually hadn’t) and I’d answer, “You didn’t spend that much; you have to eat.” Now it is easy for me to see that Dan’s apologies were a form of reassurance seeking and my responses to him were classic enabling.

Of course a lot of people avoid making decisions, and I’m sure just as many are always saying they’re sorry. I am in no way suggesting they all have obsessive-compulsive disorder. What I am saying is that OCD can manifest itself in countless ways; no two people with OCD will have exactly the same symptoms. Couple that with the knowledge that there are still many therapists out there who don’t have a good understanding of OCD symptoms and treatment, and you might have the makings of a misdiagnosis.

So this is one more reason to continue to advocate for OCD awareness. The more knowledgeable we all are about the signs and symptoms of OCD, the better position we will be in to fight the disorder head on.

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When to Seek Treatment for OCD

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I’ll be sharing some of my older posts for the next few weeks. This one first appeared in November 2011….

Most experts agree it is time to seek treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder when it “interferes with your daily life.” While “interfering” can mean different things to different people, it is generally described as having obsessions and compulsions that take up more than an hour a day of your time.

While a lot has been written about recovery avoidance in OCD, what I’m talking about are cases of OCD that might not be that severe. Many people with OCD and their families might avoid even discussing treatment options because it appears that the situation is just not ”that bad.” Of course, because those with OCD are adept at hiding their symptoms, they are often the only ones who know the real extent of their disorder.

To me, before things get “that bad” is the perfect time to seek treatment and get started on exposure and response prevention therapy. The less entrenched OCD is, the easier therapy will be. OCD rarely goes away on its own, and the longer treatment is delayed, the more time OCD will have to latch on to its victim, making recovery even more difficult in the future. Remember that OCD is an insidious disorder that does whatever it can to undermine a person’s desire to get well.

The decision to seek treatment for OCD is sometimes shrouded by fear, shame, and embarrassment, and it might just seem easier all around to ignore what is going on. I think this is a huge mistake. If you suspect you have OCD, are concerned about a loved one, or aren’t really sure what’s going on, please make the effort to find a therapist who specializes in treating this disorder. The sooner the better, because it might not take long for “I can handle this” to turn into a life totally controlled by OCD.

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