Houston - We Have a Problem

If I were to recount all of the times I was forced to actually deal with OCD (Obsessive-compulsive Disorder) without my medication prior to 2018, I probably would place the estimate somewhere in the two-dozen range.  Which really does not seem to be that big of a deal when you think about it from a distance.  When you are intimately dealing with OCD/anxiety and are faced with dealing without medication, you would think the world was coming to an end.  Really? Yes, really.  It is that bad if you do not have the tools to cope.  Tools? What tools you might ask?  Well, if you are anything like I was, my “tools” were... my friends at the time, Xanax and Prozac.

They were held under lock-and-key and RIGHTLY so.  These chemicals are not something anyone should be experiementing with.  These medications require full supervision from a qualified physician.  I was seeing a certified physician who fully understood my condition.  So why was it I had to play phone-tag gymnastics to get my medications refilled?   I was attending my appointments, doing things by the book.  I would request refills early, as early as allowed by law.  I would call the pharmacy, then the doctor, then the pharmacy.  Sounds simple enough when I can write it down in one sentence. When lived out, it involves an absorbent amount of time, energy, and frustration to get a regular refill.  So every 30 days this phone-tag gymnastics would occur.

Without these tools of mine, I could not cope.  I did not even know where to begin.  I had heard some people mention something called CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  I am not a therapist or a subject matter expert, so my words about CBT/OCD/medication are a part of my story, and should not be considered advice or a recommendation.  I was told this CBT might be helpful.  I was told it had been proven helpful for “people like you” or “people with your condition.”  The last thing I wanted to do was to go to another psychologist.

The last time I had sat on the proverbial coach, I was verbally poked and prodded like a laboratory animal.  The only difference was that the psychologist I visited used words instead of scientific equipment.  My experience with psychologists had been a poor one and a really expensive one. One with zero benefits other than getting out of the house.   I could have gone to the ice cream shop and got a mental boost from the mention of ice cream.  So, as with other mentions of possible therapies, I was not real keen on investigating this one.  As with anything dealing with mental health, everything is up to the patient to pursue. Do not count on any office personnel giving you the encouragement to get certain things done.

Without my tools, I was a royal mess.  I am sure my crankiness was at an all-time high.  My fear would skyrocket.  I imagine it is not that different from a drug addict running out of their drug of choice, except He/She can easily go down to their supplier to pick up some more.  I was at the mercy of the two different players, the pharmacy and the doctor’s office.  If either of them failed to return calls, which occurred OFTEN, then I was left without my only way to cope.   The other factor which I have yet to mention was the way the OCD/anxiety makes social interaction increasingly more difficult. So combine fighting off the strange withdrawal symptoms that comes from being without your medications, plus the weird way I suddenly did not want to interact with anyone. It was no wonder all I wanted to do was sleep!

 

So here we have a situation.  I am beholden to the pharmacy and the physician’s office.  Every 30 days or so, I am put through the wringer.  Hopefully I can get a refill so I can try to lead a “normal” life. 

 

A Story To Tell

So, here I stood a new person! I was so excited and so scared at the same time. Excited for what God had done, scared to go back to the Spirit of Fear I knew too well. I had yet to tell a soul. Until one morning when God told me to tell my daughter who was nine at the time. We had about twenty or thirty minutes drive to get where we were going. So how do I explain this to a nine year old? Somehow God gave me the words to say. The more I told, the more excitement and confidence I gained. I dropped her off at her grandma’s and headed to my counselor’s office. On my drive there God told me to tell my counselor. After telling my counselor, I left his office and began my way back home.

I can not remember how, but before I knew it I was telling my mom over the phone. My story was becoming real the more I told it. The next thing I remember was being at a client’s office and God telling me to tell my client. God began to use my story to speak to other people. He was saying things to people I do not remember saying. Weird, I know.

During my time with my client, she asked me to stop so she could write something down. I was baffled that God would say something to others through my story. It was clear by now that I had to continue telling my story. I remember distinctly having a conversation with God before telling my client. I say conversation, but I was largely debating with God as to why I should tell my client.

I was silly to try and debate with God, but I was being real. In this conversation/debate God revealed two things to me. One, God did not write my story so I could keep it to myself. Two, I needed to tell my story as much as other people needed to hear it. Telling it was essential to my healing.

So I had told most of the people who needed to hear it, but I shied away from telling my wife Kristi. Of anyone who needed to hear it, She did, but I was afraid. What if it did not last? How hard it would be for her to hear this and then see me backslide towards a Sprit of Fear. The time had come to tell her and I could not hide from it anymore.

Of anyone who needed this story besides myself, Kristi was on the top of my list. She had seen me at my worst and knew my anxiety might not go away. She had taken care of me when I could not take care of myself. I feel she was as hesitant to believe in this miracle as I was. Mainly because it would change everything about our lives going forward.

A Bizarre Confidence

God, I remember when you did the impossible. I was taking a basic programming class in a long line of classes working towards finishing a degree I had started years before. I knew the concepts in this class, I just was not familiar with this specific language. I was dreading going through a class as basic as this as my knowledge was more adept than this class would lead you to believe. I would not say that the class was beneath me, but I was not thrilled about having to spend my time going through it. At the same time, it was a programming class which was the focus of my degree. So I was somewhat happy to be taking a core class which would lead me to towards completing my degree. It was here, in the basic, in the mundane, where God chose to do the impossible. Finishing this whole degree was something I felt God led me to do. I was still experiencing chronic anxiety on a regular basis. My anxiety level had quickly increased while taking classes. I believe my wife Kristi was irritated with me and my insistence on finishing this degree. I was stuck trying to defend my decision while trying to gain confidence in my field of programming. I was stuck on an assignment which was taking far too long for what it was worth.

It was here in the middle of my frustration where God showed up. This assignment tripped me up and I was exhausted from trying to solve it. It was a defining moment where God said, “Craig what is the simplest, most unelegant way you could solve this problem?” In less than thirty minutes, I solved the problem I had just spent four hours trying to figure out. I was blown away!

So I approached my next problem. Within thirty minutes I had solved this one. I continued with my next one and yet again I completed it. I began to feel this bizarre confidence, not in myself, but that God had created me for this. I felt confident that with God’s help, I could solve any programming problem that was put in front of me. I did not know all of this language, but I had no doubt I could face any challenge with God’s help.

Over the next twenty-four hours I experienced something I will never forget. I awoke the next morning still bearing this bizarre confidence I had discovered the day before. There was this freedom, I was significantly lighter than before. Anxiety which had held me captive just the day before was GONE! I went through the day in disbelief. This couldn’t be right?!? I had prayed for God to help me with my anxiety before, but this time it was completely gone.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:26‬ ‭NIV‬‬

It was at this time I remembere a verse in the Bible which says that God prays on our behalf even when we do not know what to pray. Another twenty-four hours went by and I still felt this way. Could this be my new normal?

Accepting My Condition

In a previous article, I wrote about the choices I had when faced with chronic anxiety. One of the topics I touched on during this series was the idea of “Accepting My Condition.” Many times friends or family members will encourage you to “accept your condition” as a piece of advice. While I mentioned that people do not understand what they are asking when they propose this piece of advice, I failed to consider what it might have meant. My advice from Make It All Go Away was not completely off-base, but it did not consider all of the other possible implications. To be fair, my interpretation of their advice was not completely based on truth. When you are living in the midst of fear much of what you are believing is based on lies. My interpretation was focused on statements like, “you are not like you used to be”, “you are less than you once were,” or “you’ll never be what you could have been.” It was focused on telling me what I am not.

Now, accepting my condition might reveal some new challenges, but I doubt that it is all about telling me what I am not. Asking the right questions will reveal possible wisdom. Accepting my condition might mean that I realize my new-found limitations and make adjustments. Accepting who I am now is merely embracing a better understanding of who God created me to be. It is not believing that I lost something, but that I have gained understanding of who I am.

So what can come of this newfound understanding? A discovery of the environmental conditions which I can best thrive in. While it is true that finding work which meets these criteria is much more difficult than before, it means I now know what is needed for me to thrive. It means I now know what I am looking for in a career opportunity.

It is not saying everything I can not do, it is saying what conditions are needed for me to do my best. It is like discovering the recipe or formula needed for fulfilling work for Craig. Some might venture to say this new found understanding is clarity. Clarity is something people pray for, long for, and seek. I have not been given a list of limitations, I have been given a gift!

Make It All Go Away - Part 2

Many might ask me why I did not or do not just pray for God to “Make It All Go Away.” This is an completely valid question as it touches on many things besides the fact that if this prayer was answered, the fear/anxiety would all be gone. On the surface this makes complete sense. When one starts digging, there are other factors to consider besides what seems so obvious. There are two things to keep in mind with this prayer, the faith required to pray this and the potential costs of praying this prayer. When examining the faith required to pray this kind of prayer I would consider two things. The amount required means the believer actually believes God can or will do this. Quite simply, one believes God is capable of answering the prayer. The second part when examining the faith required is one is willing to voice this concern and submit this to God regardless of the outcome. No matter what the outcome, the faith of the believer is strong enough to handle God’s answer.

My personal struggle was not whether God was or is able to answer the prayer. I completely believe God is able to do abundantly more than I can ask, think, or imagine. My struggle lies within the second part of this idea. If God says No, was my faith in a place to handle His answer. At the time of this event, I was not at a place where my faith could handle His answer. My concern was that His answer would cause a crisis of belief when it comes to my faith.

The second thing to think about is the potential costs of praying this prayer. One might say, Praying is free, what cost? I would look beyond financial costs. What happens if God says No? Is the faith of the believer strong enough to handle this answer? If one values something they tend to protect it. The level of protection varies depending on the amount they value the item. In my case, my faith, was as important as the air I breath. This was all I had at the time. I could not handle a crisis of belief. Not at that time.

So why did I not pray this prayer? Quite simply... FEAR. Was this fear rational, no. But the potential cost was not something I would dare take a chance on. When fear grips you as much as it had a hold on me, you begin to accept ideas(sometimes called agreements) that develop as the line between the truth and lies gets blurry. The further inside your head you go, the harder it is to find your way out. We’ll discuss finding your way out in greater detail later.

From this, I learned to ask one question, what lies am I believing which set themselve up against the Word of God?

Make It All Go Away - Part 1

There are a few things you come to realize when you wake up knowing chronic anxiety is part of your everyday life. You soon realize that you will never be like “them” again. By them I mean people who seem “normal” who have never had it out with anxiety or fear. You will always have an intimate knowledge of what it means to live in fear. Fear means something different to you than it does to “them.” It is at this point you have a few choices to make. You can pray God will “Make It All Go Away,” You can dig into the fight against fear, or You can give in to living a life of fear. None of these choices seem like good ones. If you were to ask me which one I would choose A) Pray to God He will Make it all go away B) Dig into the fight against fear C) Give in to fear D) None of the above. I would choose D) None of the above. I believe I have thought “Make it all go away,” but this was never really a choice for me. When originally faced with the choice my faith was not in a place where I could pray this kind of prayer.

People, doctors, friends, family members will most likely be at a loss when it comes to giving you advice in this area. Unless they have personally had it out with fear or anxiety, they will be unable to understand the battle. Most likely you will be able to tell if they “get it” or not. As much as they want to help you, they will disappoint you. Perhaps the best thing they can do is with love, compassionately admit they do not understand.

If you are anything like me, you are left with choice B) Dig into the fight against fear or choice C) Give in to fear. Here is where I would choose choice D) None of the above. Many will encourage you to just accept your condition (the fear is a permanent part of your life.) They do this with a great heart, but they do not truly understand what they are asking you to do. They do not understand that for you, fear does not stand still. It only gets worse or gets better. There is no in between when it comes to fear.

So, here we are...I am not about to just “give in” or “accept my condition.” This leaves me with the choice to B) Dig into the fight against fear. What does it really mean to fight against the fear? I believe the song No Longer Slaves by I AM THEY says it best.

Getting Outside Your Head

So if I am not taking a pill to remove the anxiety, how do I deal with it when it comes? One of the biggest challenges in dealing with anxiety in a healthy way is knowing what to do when the anxiety comes. Keep in mind I am not a doctor or a counselor and this series is more of an informal expression of my experiences. I do not begin to think this will work for everyone, but my hope is that this will help someone. In this post, I would like to address one practical way of dealing with anxiety. There is nothing magical about these methods, but I believe we look too hard for something miraculous when God has given us a brain to apply basic methodologies in dealing with stressful situations. The key is to understand the situations and learn to deal with the associated anxiety in a healthy manner. This post will deal with the idea of “Getting Outside of Your Head.”

Fear and anxiety is a tricky thing, but I believe that God has given us practical ways to combat fear and/or anxiety. If you think about anxiety and the fear that goes with it, you will soon realize that what you are experiencing is largely trapped inside the walls of your brain. One of these practical ways of dealing with anxiety is to get outside of your brain. The symptoms such as tapping your foot or checking a lock are the physical manifestations of what is going on the inside. In previous articles, I mentioned habits which I developed to accompany my anxiety. These habits and others are side effects of the anxiety itself. I hesitate to say these are ways to deal with the anxiety because they are reactionary in that they do not actually process the anxiety in a healthy way. What I want to get to is a way to actually process the event or situation which is at the root of an individual’s anxiety.

The feelings we experience when it comes to anxiety are a complex range of fears, emotions, and beliefs which we have developed over time. You might say you understand the fears and emotions part, but what do I mean when I say beliefs? I do not mean this in a philosophical manner, but the practical application of beliefs. We begin to believe certain things will happen given certain conditions. Specifically in someone with OCD(Obsessive-compulsive Disorder), we believe that if we do not check something, something bad will happen to us or those we love. If we are sensitive towards cleanliness, then we might believe if we do not clean our hands then something bad will happen to us.

These beliefs characterize a situation in one particular point of view. Typically this “view” is the worst case scenario. So how do we get outside our own head? I will not pretend I even know part of the ways to accomplish this, but I will give a few. One basic way to do this is by taking a walk or changing up your routine. Crazy, I know, this is so basic, but what does this have to do with anything? A part of getting outside of our brain is to see things as other people see them. To see things in a different way. To experience something different than you do in your typical day.

If you have ever flown on a plane then you can recall the way the buildings, trees, and cities get so small when you are in the air flying thousands of feet up. Suddenly, the city which was all encompassing, now seems so small. The vehicles and buildings now seem less significant. The things which you have been fearing may now seem somewhat smaller. Many refer to this experience as obtaining a birds-eye view.

If you can practically find a way to accomplish this, your fears do not disappear, but suddenly your life-experience is different. It is an incredible way to break up the monotony of fear or anxiety. It breaks the cycle of your routine enough to jar them loose. In a way, it gives your mind a break. I am not saying this is the end all, magic pill, because it is not. What does happen if done regularly, is provide your brain a place to escape. If you have ever experienced overwhelming anxiety or fear, you will know that this is something we all want in that moment. We seek a way to escape our anxiety or fear.

Internal Dialogue

It was after lunch. I had made my way back to a private part of the office close to my desk. A part of me was convinced that if I could just make it through the end of the day, things would be fine. It was after noon and I was trying to power my way through the rest of the day. As I was starting to build up some momentum, a strange feeling started creeping in. Could I push my way through? Could I move forward? A distant thought or feeling started to peek ever-closer in at me. I do not remember calling out to God, but I know He was there. It is funny how you know someone is there, but you cannot remember details of how or when they came in. I do know God was there with me through it all, I was just to deep inside my own head to see Him.

A part of me was basking in the hopelessness of my job search. I had finally found a good company to work for, good people to work with and at a good rate of pay. So much of the job was great, why couldn’t I just put up with the work? I now wonder if I could have somehow negotiate different job terms. I did not want to give up on it all, but the thought of going in to work was eating at my soul.

I had desperately been longing for someone to say yes. I needed someone to recognize my value and hire me. Countless times I remember being beat down by job advertisements which seemed so promising. I would prepare my application, ready my resume, apply and not even hear a word back from the company. I would attempt to make contact with the company only to find out they would not answer questions in relation to posted positions. How weird? Certainly someone knew something, but no one seemed to have the answers to my questions. The job posting would soon disappear. I remembered going in to company after company, job after potential job, applying for positions, interviewing, hearing nothing in return. It was as though the people who posted these jobs, did not exist. It was a very bizarre dynamic.

This feeling...blurry at first, slowly started to become clearer. Strange, I do not remember thinking it out loud at lunch, but I had definitely felt it before. As I tried to fight it off, the thought came back to me...I COULD NOT DO THIS ANYMORE! I could not, but I needed to...I had to. This overwhelming sense of obligation burdened me like never before. Part of me said, hold on...you got this. Part of me said, WHAT?!?...are you kidding me? And then somewhere in between I snapped! All I remember from this point is talking to my boss. I do not remember exactly how I made it to her office or any of the details. I remember breaking down in her office...I lost it.

I am not sure how much time passed, but that did not matter at this point. My manager called my wife Kristi and tried to explain what had happened. I remember being present, but feeling completely awkward. My manager was incredibly kind. She was only concerned with my well-being. Surprisingly, I remember nothing in the conversation about what we would do about work.

I remember being in a doctor's office explaining to the doctor what had happened and how I felt. The doctor was struggling to speak clear English, which should have been a sign. At this point, I was too far off the tracks to question others. I just needed help! I went home and returned to the doctor many times. Each time I left feeling as though the doctor did not understand my struggle. Each time I had a new set of side effects. It was not getting any better. I am not sure how long had passed.

At some point, Kristi had been speaking with my boss and my boss had suggested me going to a specific day clinic. I would not be staying overnight, it was just during the day. I went there to fill out paperwork and to see what it was like. Things were not getting better and I was desperate for something to work, so I said I would try it. At this point I did not feel safe driving so I remember my mom taking me.

I remember being a part of group there where we would share something which was going on in our lives. Everyone seemed to have a different condition and it all seemed very overwhelming to me. Hearing the problems of others only seemed to compound my anxiety. At this point the fear was eating me alive. I remember pounding...my heart was pounding. Fear overtook my ability to reason. Somewhere I began doing all sorts of weird things to cope with anxiety. Making weird sounds with my mouth was one way I coped with the anxiety. I had a new set of habits. Habits I was not fond of.