About two years ago, we put in a fish pond in our backyard. Before that we had a soothing water feature that regularly sprung leaks, ruined our adobe wall, and made a mud bath for the dogs. That soothing water feature became an endless series of frustrating repairs. So, when two new guys came out for the umpteenth time to dig around the back yard to find the leak, we were pretty stressed out. One guy with long hair in a ponytail drew us pictures of a tranquil spot that would never leak (he was planning on replacing the rocks with concrete). It sounded good. About 100 days later after delays, disturbances and more and more money, the guys left. And there was a small pond with some plants and fish in it. We were so happy to get rid of the workers (for those of you who spend lots of time working at home you know what I mean), that we celebrated with a barbeque.
Many people have problems that occur repetitively, disrupt their lives and seem completely out of control. Sometimes we’re asked if these problems are examples of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). And indeed, there are some similarities to OCD. Nevertheless, these problems are not considered to be in the same category. So what are we talking about here? Specifically, we’re referring to the category of emotional disorders known as Impulse Control Disorders. The similarity to OCD is seen in the fact that impulse control disorders, like OCD, are repetitive and very difficult for the person to bring under control. Furthermore, like OCD, they greatly disrupt and impair the sufferers’ lives.
One of the best things about writing a blog is that you get an occasional opportunity to complain. Today I am going to complain about insurance company “help” lines. Help is definitely the wrong word. More like unhelpful lines, or anxiety attack lines. First, it seems like many of these companies really don’t want you to call them. They make sure that the wait is long. Like, really long. My favorite trick is calling multiple phone numbers, being put on hold for 15 minutes for each number, and then finally being told that I have not reached the right department. That's in spite of the fact that I was using the phone numbers provided on the back of people’s insurance card or a number given to me by one of the multiple people who agreed to speak to me after 500 loops of “we value your call.”
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog about believing what you think. The point of the blog was that people have thoughts all of the time that aren’t really true. For example, people who fear public speaking might think that if they speak in front of a group of people their voices might shake and people will think they are fools. Today, I want to discuss feelings. This subject is a bit more complex because you’ve probably been told that all feelings are okay. And that people feel what they feel. Sometimes, that’s true. But feelings can also get in the way of people’s happiness. Let’s start with the feeling of anger. Anger is an emotion that helps people stay safe. Parents’ get angry when someone threatens their children. Anger increases attention to threats. However, when people get angry too often or over small things, anger can become quite destructive.
Most people can find one thing or another that they don’t like about their bodies. For example, maybe you feel you have a few unwanted pounds, perhaps you don’t like the size or the shape of your nose, or maybe you struggle to deal with your complexion. If so, your concerns fall within a normal range. There’s no reason to think you have a serious problem. In fact, if you saw your face and body as totally, wonderfully, gorgeous and without flaws, many people would think you were narcissistic. But there’s a problem called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) that takes normal, minor dissatisfactions to a level that lies far outside the range of normal. People with BDD have heart-rending distortions of their own bodies. They obsess and feel anguish about one or more perceived bodily flaws.
Mirror mirror on the wall, why is everyone always looking at me? Some people believe that others are always looking at them and judging them quite harshly. It's like there are mirrors everywhere and they all reflect imperfections. People have social anxiety when this feeling becomes overwhelming and interferes with daily life. Symptoms of social anxiety include fears of: public speaking going to parties meeting new people speaking up to authority figures eating in public
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involves feelings, thoughts and behaviors. For the vast majority of people with OCD, the feeling of anxiety stands out as prominent. For example, a man with OCD might have an obsessive thought that a doorknob is contaminated and the thought of touching the doorknob causes him great anxiety. He takes a spray bottle of disinfectant and sprays the doorknob, which decreases his decreases. Then he reaches for a Kleenex to give him a barrier from any possible remaining germs. He feels relieved. And that momentary relief feels pretty good; well, that is until the next doorknob appears. The pattern repeats: an obsessive thought, an overestimation of danger or risk, increased anxiety, a compulsive action, and then feelings of relief provided by the compulsive action.
Most days I think about how dog training has influenced my therapeutic style. If you are a client, you have probably heard some of my favorite dog stories. I often talk about how I forgot my training and turned my dog Sadie into a frightened mess of fur whenever a thunderstorm rolled through. It was pretty cute when she was a puppy and would cuddle up next to me for protection. I’d pet her and say whatever silly dog stuff you say to your dog when she’s scared. Now, she weighs well over 60 pounds and when she gets too close between her fur, dog breath, and weight—it’s not quite as cute. Let’s take a look at what I did wrong with Sadie and see what lessons I can learn.
About ten days ago, Laura and I came down with the plague. Well, OK, not the plague. More like the flu actually. We experienced energy draining fatigue, headaches, fever, chills, a constant cough and even back pain. We spent close to two days in bed and have just now overcome our symptoms with the sole exception of a lingering, but dissipating cough. Of course we wondered if we could have done something to prevent this malady from occurring. When we saw our doctor, he suggested that we might have gotten our flu shots too early this year (apparently, they reformulate the shots as the year goes on). Of course, he said we had no way of knowing that and, no, he wasn’t recommending that we start getting two flu shots a year. Maybe we didn’t wash our hands often enough. Or maybe we weren’t sufficiently attentive to getting enough sleep every night. Or maybe we spent too much time around crowds at the mall. Maybe…YIKES! Stop it!
Like zillions of people around me who have shared a similar fate, a spring virus, unexpected and unplanned for, has fouled up my week. I spent a couple of days dazed—sleeping on and off—then a slow recovery. No single second was terrible, I’ve had much worse, just aches and pains, chills, and a deep cough. But the fatigue, the slogging through molasses deep tiredness of this bug, has gotten my attention. Now I’m in the state of wellness that gives my brain permission to mull over all of the tasks that illness made seem impossible. And still tired enough that the simple tasks take on monstrous proportions. Two blogs to write, bills to pay, balances to figure. And of course, shopping and cooking. Cleaning, catching up on email, scheduling appointments. Too much for today. But, now on top of these lists, I pile stress and anxiety.