Thursday, September 18, 2014

Protective factors and making it through life

My view from the front steps of my office building on a recent evening.


Do you ever wonder how you got from your childhood to where you are now in one piece?

I get emails from people who have found my blog and want to know more about how I deal with OCD and/or depression and anxiety.
I am not a medical expert or a therapist. I am a person who has mental illnesses. I try to share my experiences with different treatments and different ways that I have dealt with OCD, depression, and anxiety.
It still surprises me, though, that I seem like someone who has reached a place where I can be of help to anyone else. Like someone who has a good life in spite of having mental illnesses and setbacks along the way.
Believe me, I have not overcome all the obstacles that mental illnesses cause. I’m still trying to figure out who I am.
But I have managed to build a good life.
What helped me do that?

Despite some difficult times during my childhood and teen years, I had the benefit of protective factors.

Protective factors are individual or environmental characteristics, conditions, or behaviors that reduce the effects of stressful life events. These factors also increase an individual’s ability to avoid risks or hazards, and promote social and emotional competence to thrive in all aspects of life, now and in the future.” 

The CDC lists the protective factors of school connectedness, parent engagement in schools, and positive parenting practices. There are more, of course.

Recently, I’ve written about two parts of my life that I define as protective factors for me. I had people in my life—whether related to me by blood or not—who helped to nurture me and encourage me as a young person.
And I had books that taught me and inspired me.

Knowledge about protective factors comforts me.
As a young person, I had help in several forms that led me to eventually get treatment, begin thinking in different and healthier ways, and start living the life that I wanted to live.
All of that help didn’t have to come from the ones we think must provide it, our parents.
We all have protective factors that help counteract the bad times in life. We can celebrate and nurture those factors.
I wasn’t alone as a child. I’m not alone now.
And neither are you.

So how did I make it from childhood to where I am now in one piece? With a lot of help along the way.


What are some of the protective factors in your life?

Monday, September 15, 2014

How books saved my life

The library in Altavista. Our county has four branches.

Does that title seem like an exaggeration? Over the top? Maybe.
Books didn’t literally save my life. A pile of books didn’t literally keep me from dying.
But they helped me survive mentally. I got through a lot of trying times because of books, especially when I was a child.

Books made me feel secure. I read some books over and over, so they were familiar to me.
I suppose they were an escape, too, from tension that was sometimes in the house, from anxiety and fear.
The real thing books did for me was to show me the world. I learned that other people lived different lives from me. I learned how other people treated each other. I was inspired to live a different life.

I visited the county library quite often, along with the school library.
I loved walking up and down the aisles of the county library. For a while, I stuck to the area holding the juvenile books, but gradually I started looking at the books in the other sections.
The librarian, Mrs. Guthrie, seemed to be able to identify every book in the place. She knew where every book was and whether or not I might like it.

Here were some of my favorites:
*Trixie Belden books
*The Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace
*A Gift of Magic by Lois Duncan
*Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp
*Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
*Rosamond du Jardin books featuring the characters Pam and Penny Howard and Tobey Haydon
*Encyclopedia Brown books
*Books featuring the Tuckers (Tina, Terry, Merry, Penny, and Tom) by Jo Mendel
*Nancy Drew books
*Robin Kane books
*A biography of Amelia Earhart that I read over and over
*Sherlock Holmes stories

I had such a good time working back through my memories, remembering the books I read as a young person. Now I want to read them again.

Chase Bird seems to like reading, too. We're now reading "Personal," by Lee Child.


What books did you read as a child? And if you have children, what are they reading?



Thursday, September 11, 2014

After 9/11


This is a repost of an entry that I originally posted on Sept. 11, 2012 under a different title. It has now been 13 years since that awful day. That awful day gave me, and I think many others, lessons about what is most important to us.


May peace and grace be with all those who died, those who were injured and those still suffering in any way from the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

I’m writing this in the waning hours of Sept. 11, 2012, and today I, as I’m sure millions of others did, remembered that day 11 years ago with sadness.
I remembered where I was on that day, as I’m sure many of you did.
And I thought of the world after 9/11 and how it’s changed.

On that day 11 years ago, I was at work at the health department and watched the Twin Towers fall on television. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I had to hear the late anchor Peter Jennings say it before I knew that what my eyes saw was really happening.
In the days that followed, and the months, too, I stayed glued to the news, on the radio, TV and online.
I knew that the world and the way I thought about it would never be the same.

My anxieties and my fears are so small when compared to the anxieties and fears of people around the world. I live in comfort and safety compared to many in the world.

But this is a blog about obsessive-compulsive disorder and the accompanying depression and anxiety. How do I, with these mental disorders, make sense of a world where things like what happened on 9/11 can happen?

The short answer to that is, I don’t make sense of it. I will never make sense of what happened on 9/11, of other terrorist activities, of violence and hate. I will never make sense of any of that.

But there are some things I can make sense of.

The stories of family members having their last conversations on cell phones with chaos in the background. The stories of men and women who stepped into the chaos to help save others. The people who still work to make sure we don’t forget. The people who work to help prevent other attacks, other violence.

And I make sense on a personal level of how I can navigate in the world of 9/11.

In the months immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, my anxiety was sky high. I worried about things I’d never worried about. I was scared for the safety of my loved ones. I didn’t know what might happen next.

I dreamed about a well-known American man, well respected, nonpolitical, a good person. I dreamed that he committed an awful act of violence.

I asked a friend, how could I dream something like that? It’s evidence that things are not like they used to be, she said. Things that you used to believe in aren’t there any more, she said.

I agreed with her then, and I still agree with her. I was reacting to a changing reality, even a changing personal reality.

Gradually, my global anxiety subsided as I grew used to the way things were. I had learned anew of the many things I couldn’t control. I had learned for good that time is precious and our loved ones even more precious.

Now my anxiety tends towards the personal again, what I’m doing or not doing, what others around me are doing or aren’t doing.


But I will never forget what happened on that day 11 years ago. And it is especially on days like today that I remember the lessons: time is precious and our loved ones even more so.

Monday, September 8, 2014

People who helped me survive

If I look at only the negatives in my life—mental illness, dysfunctional family, emotional and verbal abuse—it’s easy to think that all of life is negative.
But if I consider that despite those negatives, I managed to accomplish many things and am an adult doing what I hope is good work, then I have to admit that I had and have many positives going on in my life, too.
How did I survive and in many ways flourish? How did I reach the point where I could seek help for myself and gain self-understanding?
For starters, I had people in my life who provided love, hope, support, structure, encouragement, smiles, consistency, trust, and values. Even when I was a lonely, scared child, there were people around me who cared and showed me that they cared.

My first grade school picture. I loved school and found acceptance there.

 I decided to compile a list of some of those people who were positive influences on me when I was a child, a teenager, and a young adult. Looking over this list reminds me of how I’ve been blessed, that all of my life has not been negative.

*My great aunt Ida. I wrote about her and her iris garden a couple of years ago. I stayed with her and my uncle quite a bit as a child when someone in the family was in the hospital. With her, I felt safe and cared for.

*My best friends’ mother, Barbara, who I wrote about almost a year ago. She treated me with respect by listening to me and showing interest in me. She encouraged me.

*The first Sunday school teacher I had. She showed interest in me, too, and never tried to dissuade me from coloring everything in purple. She never forgot that purple was my favorite color.

*My elementary school teachers. I was blessed to have good ones overall, and school was a source of happiness. I have especially fond memories of my second grade teacher, my fourth grade teacher, and my fifth grade social studies teacher. They allowed me to follow my curiosity and do more work than was assigned.

*My high school English teacher who taught me for three years. She encouraged me to think big about my future. Her choice of me for the English Award when I was a sophomore helped my self-esteem more than she ever knew.

*My first-year suitemates at the University of Virginia. They showed me that not everyone came from a family like mine, that there were other, and better ways, to interact with people and enjoy life.

*My friend D in graduate school at Bowling Green State University. She encouraged me to seek counseling by telling me that she had gotten counseling. I figured if someone as pulled together as she was could sometimes need help, then I could seek it too.

*My first talk therapist. I revealed things to her about the way I was raised and how depressed I was that I had never talked about with anyone else. She was also the first person to whom I revealed my OCD symptoms. She helped me to begin to move past unhealthy ways of thinking. She also referred me to a psychiatrist.

*My first psychiatrist. She formerly diagnosed me with depression and OCD and started treatment. She called me “high functioning,” which surprised me at the time. Now I realize that she saw more strength and capability in me than I did.

*My friends A and B in graduate school. They treated me with respect, spent time with me just hanging out and having fun, and encouraged me. They reflected to me that I was a valuable person. And they showed me other ways of living life than I was used to.


We never know when we can be a strong, positive influence on someone else’s life. We never know when the small things we do for others turn into big things for them.
Writing this post made me realize how much I want to be a positive influence in the lives of others.

In the comments section, name one person who had a positive influence on you as a child or younger person. Let’s remember together!

Just a reminder: My new blogging schedule is to post on Mondays and Thursdays. So I will see you again on Thursday.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Anguish, but Hope

“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.” Joseph Campbell

  Lately, I haven’t been as consistent as I’d like with my blogging. I debated with myself about this post. I don’t want pity, and I don’t want to whine. I just want to be honest about where my head has been. And perhaps there are others out there who are going through similar upsets or who can relate and know they are not alone.

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I experienced a jolt to my emotional and mental sense of well-being this summer. My mother attempted suicide, and my reaction to her act was like an emotional explosion.
I began remembering things that I haven’t thought about in years, memories of my childhood and teen years, memories of my mother. I began thinking of familiar memories from a different perspective.
I made the decision to not have a relationship with my mother, at least right now
As a result of all of this, I feel like I have been peeled down to my core and have been left wondering, who am I?
My mother taught me certain things: I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t creative, I was lazy, I was selfish, I was like “a lump on a log.” If others knew what I was really like, she’d say, they wouldn’t like me.

Who am I if I don’t view myself through my mother’s eyes? If I don’t believe what my mother said I was, who am I?

It has been a difficult time. I have done a myriad of things to soothe my soul. The bedtime anger has lessened. Probably someone seeing me in my daily life would note no difference in my demeanor.
But just the other day, while I was taking a shower, I became infused with anger. It felt like it was burning me, like my heart was going to burst from it.
I cried because I didn’t know what to do with the anger. There’s no one to foist it upon. No one deserves it. Certainly no one wants to hear all of it.

One thing I’ve been doing to deal with it is journaling, some by hand in a lovely book Larry gave me, and some on the computer.
When I’m angry or upset or very anxious, writing on the computer suits me better: it’s faster, and the sound of the keys clicking helps to calm me.
Much of what goes in my journal is for my eyes only. But here’s a bit of what I’ve written lately.
It’s personal. It’s embarrassing. But it’s a way to show what I’m thinking:


I am stuck. I am sad. I am depressed. I am lazy. I am immobile. I do what I have to do, absolutely have to do, and a little of what I want to do, and then it’s sleep. It’s nothing. I have a nothing life. I have a small life. And I don’t know how to get a big one. I want a reason to get up in the morning. I need something to push me through life. Oh, God, have mercy on me, please.

And then later:

My past is over. I am 51 years old and it’s time to do what I want to do with my life. Not selfishly. But I need to stop adding that. “Not selfishly.” I am not a selfish person usually. It’s OK that I want to do something with my life that makes me happy and content and in the flow. I want to be in the flow. I want a good life, a big life.
What is a big life to me? I’m not yet sure. But it’s more than I’m living now. It’s doing what I want. Doing. Things. I. Want. To. Do. Loving others. Being honest. Being compassionate. Helping to make the world better. Being in the flow. Being in the flow. Not letting fear and fatigue stop me. Not letting depression or OCD or anxiety stop me. Living in spite them. Living a big life in spite of them. In spite of my past. Living a big life.


Yes, I’m struggling. But I have hope. Things will get better. I am putting one foot in front of the other, every day. I will get better.
I will learn more about who I am and how to be in this world so that I have a positive effect on those around me.

Part of my journey is rethinking how I’m spending my time and what I’m writing. With that in mind, I’ll be starting a new posting schedule, changing to two times a week, Mondays and Thursdays. I won’t post again this week, so I’ll be back here on Monday, Sept. 8.
I’d like to devote Bringing Along OCD to the subjects that I originally started out with. I want to use this blog as a form of mental health advocacy.



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Nearing the end of the growing season

The raised bed garden on Aug. 23, 2014.

The harvest from our raised bed garden is nearing its end. We’re still getting a few cucumbers, but other plants have died, wilted, or been pulled up.
It was a season of adventure and disappointment. We didn’t get the tomatoes we wanted—blight took most of them. And we didn’t get any broccoli—green worms got those plants.
But we got plenty of two types of lettuce, lots of cucumbers, peppers, and onions. We felt the pleasure of working soil. We enjoyed the excitement of watching something grow from seeds—watching that process will never get old.
And we learned a lot.

*Decide early on if you’re going to use pesticides or go organic.
*Don’t plant too much, too close together.
*You will have to thin some plants.
*If you buy plants, buy early and buy the best looking ones you can find.
*Get a good gardening book.

Seedlings in April 2014.

Raised bed garden on May 10, 2014.
The addition of tomatoes on May 19, 2014.
Raised bed garden on June 15, 2014.

This fall, we’ll be working on the soil in the bed. The topsoil that we bought for it was supposed to be great for planting. But we found that it contained a lot of clods of dirt difficult to break up. And the soil got too hard once it dried.
Larry has already worked up one section with materials including peat moss and perlite. We’ll do the rest this fall and add some composting type materials to it, too.
And I plan to learn more about organic gardening and have supplies on hand early next year.

All in all, it’s been a rewarding experience. And like all farmers, we hope for a better crop next year.

If you have a garden, how did yours do this year?



Monday, August 25, 2014

Mindfulness and mushrooms



Do you ever get in the mode where you see something every day but don’t really notice it?
I do. For example, I walk out to the car every day to go to work or to go elsewhere. I look around the yard, but I don’t really see it.
Lately, we’ve had more rain than usual, and even when the rain isn’t falling, the days have been cloudy.
The other day, I walked across the backyard for the first time in several days, and I couldn’t believe the number of mushrooms I saw.
An abundance of mushrooms. Brown, red, yellow, off-white. Big, small, alone, in groups.
I don’t remember ever seeing this many at one time.






I took a few photos with my phone. But I knew I needed to do a real study of what was going on in my yard. And that required my big girl camera.
So I spent some time wandering around in the yard with my camera, trying to capture the oddly shaped fungi among the grass.










It has been a while since I’ve taken the camera out. I just haven’t felt motivated. The mushrooms provided me with a nudge. And I knew I needed to get outside and behind the lens of the camera and see what I could see.
It calms me to take photos. I think it’s because I have to be in the present moment when I’m taking photos. I have to concentrate on the object I’m photographing and on how I want the picture to turn out.
I don’t ruminate about the past. I don’t get anxious about the future.
In other words, I practice mindfulness.


What’s been going on in nature where you live?