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     Oh my word!  I can not believe my last post was in September.  This was a terrible winter, for many reasons, and I am so glad that it is *hopefully* over, and now bring on spring!  Winter always brings it with some additional problems for my OCD, as I'm sure it does for a lot of yours too.  I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, and just generally feel more down and depressed during the winter months.  This makes it difficult with the OCD, as the depression/OCD cycle is a vicious one.  Also the dreaded cold/flu season makes it very difficult be out in public as I'm very in tune to every cough/sneeze that I hear, and generally try to hunker down at home as much as possible.  This compounds the depression, because I'm not getting out and socializing and having fun, but rather just hibernating in my home and looking at all the same walls every single day.  Sure, I make my grocery store trips, but that is honestly about it.  We had another terrible year for flu season here, and I am so thankful that the levels we are seeing are much lower now, so I have been able to get out more and do things.  And...the weather has turned here!  Most winters here in the Midwest are cold, that is just a given.  But honestly through the entire months of January and February, we had below zero wind chills almost daily, and constant snow/ice on the grounds. It was no fun.  Even my dogs didn't get out much, and they were very keyed up most days and going stir crazy, which just added to the stress.  My fibromyalgia also tends to act up in the winter, with the cold.  This year was no exception, sadly.  I had many flare-ups and just felt flu-like many days.  But....I'm going to put this winter behind me.  It's spring, and time to move forward again in many ways!!
     I was looking through my blog statistics this morning out of curiousity.  I'm getting close to 100,00 views.  That's pretty amazing to think of, considering when I started this blog, I really wasn't sure if I would get any traffic.  It's pretty interesting that blogger breaks down your audience and post views, so I can see what posts are getting the most traffic.  My top 3 posts were regarding laundry routines, "the trail of contamination", and lack of spousal support.  Wow!  This resonates so strongly with me on many levels.  First of all, my laundry routines were some of my darkest days, where my day truly centered around cleaning my clothes and making sure everything was properly rinsed afterward, sometimes taking up to 6-8 hours for a single load of laundry.  I was triple washing many loads.  Multiply this by 10-15 loads of laundry per week, and this was my life for a good year.  I am so glad I was able to get myself out of that.  It was truly miserable, and it honestly shocked me to see how many people viewed this post.  It is heartbreaking to think that so many other people must deal with this same issue.  Maybe not in the exact ways I did, but developing their own routines and trying to feel a bit more comfortable, meanwhile plummeting down into OCD quicksand.  The "trail of contamination" was actually my #1 viewed post.  After all, isn't this the whole crux of OCD.  Developing safe zones, and making sure that the contamination we perceive doesn't spread.  Jumping in with our cleaning/wiping compulsions, to make sure that everything stays safe, clean and comfortable.  It is life-consuming as well.  Although I am much better than I was in the past, I still have my safe zones.  I probably always will.  If I were able to eliminate my safe zones, my OCD would be gone.  Lastly, I want to touch base on my lack of spousal support post.   This one, I also couldn't believe how many views it received.  It truly breaks me heart, that for most people with OCD, they absolutely do not have the support or understanding of their spouse.  Sure, there are exceptions to that.  And I firmly believe that for those that have spousal support, their outcome is likely better.  But what do you do when you don't have spousal support?  I have a huge post planned coming up for that, so stay tuned.  I am all to well familiar with navigating OCD with absolutely no concern from your spouse.  I am living that, and have, every day since I first developed this disorder.  But I want you to know, it can be done. You are stronger than you think you are.  I was able to start overcoming severe depression and almost debilitating OCD, by myself.  Without any guidance from a therapist.  Start reading about OCD, start reading about ERP therapy, get connected with someone else that has OCD (a support group, Facebook group, blog) that can help you and offer you support.  I will be that person for any of you, you can always e-mail me at connectwithmyocdstory@gmail.com.  It is truly my honor and privilege to talk to anyone that is struggling with this disorder.
     Just kind of a wrap-up, since I haven't posted for awhile.  I've got a few posts "in the works" coming up, and will try to be better about posting.  Now that the weather is warming up and hopefully flu season is on it's way out the door soon, I will need to start planning some more exposures and getting myself back out there again.  Hope you're all doing well!  
   
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     Today I want to talk about the social stigma that surrounds mental health issues in general, but for those of you reading and myself....specifically OCD.  We all have struggles in this life that we have to deal with.  That's just the truth.  For some of us, those are physical health issues.  For some, they are mental.  Some are emotional or relational.  Maybe financial.  And most of us deal with several things over the course of our lifetime.  I don't want to say that OCD is one of the worst things in the world to have, because I believe there are so many people out there that experience far worse.  And OCD itself, even, can range in severity from mild to debilitating.  But this is an OCD blog, and so my hope is to help others that are struggling with OCD.  To even just let me know they're not alone (because that is the common comment I get on my blog.  Someone just thanking me for writing, and realizing that they are not alone in their struggle).  The truth is that OCD ranks as one of the top disabilites according to the WHO (World Health Organization).  So it is a big deal.  It is a problem.  And it majorly affects a lot of us that have this.  Everything in our lives.  One of the things I really struggle with in this battle, is the fact that there aren't too many people to talk to that really understand what it's like to have OCD.  Fortunately I met a great friend through this blog and we have message conversations and give each other updates frequently, so that support has been excellent to have.  It's mostly the reason I started this blog back in 2013, because I was at a low point and just needed someone to talk to.  I deeply needed to connect with someone that experienced this too on a daily basis.  I also wanted to document my journey, because sometimes we forget where we've been and how much progress we have made (it is progress to us, even though non OCD suffers could never understand it).  I have a couple of friends currently that are battling cancer and they have Facebook or Caring Bridge pages to update their friends and family on their illness.  I think these pages are great.  People are able to get updates without being nosy and asking the person questions.  The person can divulge as much, or as little, information as they want.  They are able to derive support from people and a sense of community. They have people that care about them, that want to know about their struggle, and are there for them.  They can be open about their health issue--and without judgment from others.  Because they  have a PHYSICAL problem.  But what about MENTAL problems?  Where is the community for those of us with mental health issues?   It's behind the scenes.  Its an internet community that only those of us with these issues belong to.  For OCD, It's googling things that most normal people wouldn't even think about, like 'emotional contamination", "clothing contamination", "showering OCD" and "husband contamination", and hoping that we find something on the internet.  Some magical advice to give us.  Someone that is struggling like we are.  That's why my blog is anonymous.  Because I've admitted it before, and I'll admit it again.  I didn't ask for this disease.  Neither did you.  But I'm embarrassed that I have it.  I don't want people to know about it.  If they knew the things I've done or avoided because of my OCD or how much it has affected everything about me...they would think I was crazy.  There's a deep sense of shame in having this illness.  That is why we suffer alone.  That is why pretty much everybody, including my parents, don't know my diagnosis.  Only my daughter, my husband, a couple of my medical providers, and a couple of friends that I've met here on my blog.  Along with all of you that read my blog.  I know that you all understand, as you experience the same thing likely.  Hopefully many of you have confided with others though and have a sense of support outside the internet.  But many don't.  Can I imagine posting the things I write about on this blog for all of my Facebook friends to see?  NO!!!  Especially when I was in the worst of my symptoms and I was doing the absolute craziest things--such as shutting off the water supply to the toilets before I started my laundry for the day.  I spent almost a year doing this.  Insanity as I look back on it.  Or how about the fact that I would throw clothes away just because they felt contaminated after being out in public?  Just because I was walking around and it was windy and sawdust came my way.  That I threw my ENTIRE outfit in the garbage that day.  That I would throw away food, entire meals sometimes, because something "might" have happened to them when I was cooking (like I saw an ant on my counter and it "might" have gotten in the batter.  That I would throw away dishes that my dog licked when they were on the counter.  That I once took 5 tries to buy a purse because something kept happening to it with the cashier at each store I went to.  That for MONTHS I was unable to shower normally or use my  hands to wash my hair because gasoline dripped on my  hand at the gas station.  That I combed, yes combed, shampoo through my hair  and tried to rinse it away the best I could it because I couldn't shake the feeling that gasoline was trapped in my hands.  And this all led to an accumulation of dried up shampoo and orange residue on my scalp that is horrifying to think back on now.  But really--can you imagine?  Can you imagine a Facebook page called "My journey through OCD" that was made public to all of your friends.  Where you documented your concerns and your exposures.  "Today was a rough day, I went to the mechanic to have my car fixed and spent 2 hours cleaning my car out.  Wiping the seatbelts, the dash and the seats themselves off with soapy water three times.  Yes, it had to be three, because that would make it feel clean".  Or how about "today for the first time in 18 months I double washed a load of clothing instead of triple washing it".  Or "today I ate with my hands for the first time in a year, instead of using a fork to pick up chips or other finger foods".  Or...showing a picture of myself at the worst of my OCD (when my hair was halfway down my back because I didn't want to contaminate myself by sitting in a stylists chair, when I hadn't had it colored for a year because I didn't want chemicals in my hair.  When I hadn't worn makeup for a year for the same reason--didn't want chemicals on my face.  When I look at that picture and cringe because it looks like someone mentally ill.  There is a distinct unwell look to me.  In fact, we moved into our current house shortly before I hit the worst of my OCD.  Most other women on the street forged friendships, and I was too ashamed of myself to even face these other women.  I stayed inside, didn't socially interact and I think they all thought I was extremely rude.  This was all stuff from a few years ago, but all true things and just a few examples of a thousand more that I could give.  You would have to revisit about November 2013-May 2015 to read the worst of my OCD posts.  Thankfully I have come a long way since then.  Fast forward several years now and thankfully none of these things are issues for me.  I look better, I feel better.  I take care of myself and I am happy to get myself ready each day.  In fact I do better when I do.  I put on my makeup, do my hair, use my hairspray and color my hair regularly.  Not in a sort of vain way, but a health way.  As I'm going to try to look my best today and go out in the world and do what I can to fight this OCD another day.    Although I still have my OCD issues that, yes, I am embarrassed about.  I can't ride in my husband's car--too contaminated.  I still separate my clothes into outside and inside clothes (as far as separating what I can wear in my car vs my couch inside).  I won't use restaurant silverware.  I still feel a chronic, mild depression, although it is manageable.  But I still feel like I am missing out on so much in life and still could improve so much.  In fact, that is another post I am working on--coming up with the issues I still have and how to tackle those.  Because I've been thinking down the road, toward things that are going to become more problematic for me, and I want to tackle some more issues before that.  Huge post coming up about that soon!
     But this has been heavy on my mind lately, so I just wanted to let you know that if you're reading this, you are not alone.  Furthermore, those of you that have OCD, you are some of the bravest people I know.  You have no choice but to go out and fight this disorder every day.  Just like I do.  We are good at putting our "normal faces" on while out in public.  Appearing normal to those around us, and pretending like we are normal just like everyone else.  I know I am.  None of my friends would understand what goes on behind my closed doors, or in the deepest recesses of my mind.  But inside we are struggling with something that sometimes we don't even understand.  Why we have this?  Why is it so hard to stop doing what we do?  Why can't we just be NORMAL?   Why do we have to be bogged down with these worries, that most people don't have?  I don't understand why I have OCD (or why you do either) but I do trust God and know there must be a reason or purpose for it.  There has to be.  As the picture states above, God gives his hardest battles to his toughest soldiers.  And OCD is a hard battle.  And we are pretty tough people.
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