Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Boundary Betty - Not Quite Ready For Prime Time

So I'm slogging through various books right now: self-help, spiritual, and so forth, because I know the biggest thing I need to do right now is GET MY HEAD ON STRAIGHT.

So I'm reading Charles Whitfield's Boundaries and Relationships, because everybody said I should, and everybody is right, and it's a really good book, and yuck, do my boundaries still need major work!

Some of my boundaries are just fine - for instance, no danger I'm gonna send all my money to some TV preacher.  Partly, because I don't have any money, but mostly, because I have healthy, if not perfect boundaries when it comes to money, personal possessions, and spiritual beliefs.  But when it comes to "going with the flow" (rather than asking for what I want) and doing things for other people and absorbing other people's feelings and moods as if they were my own... I couldn't be more accommodating if I wore a green plastic shirt with the word WELCOME in raised letters across my back.

Here's the test, if you want to assess your own boundaries.

Each question should be answered:
Never – Seldom – Occasionally – Often – Usually

I found it illuminating to answer them all honestly (sure, I could have cheated, you can pretty easily figure out what the “right” answer should be most of the time.  But like cheating at solitaire, what’s the point?)

1)      I can’t make up my mind.
2)      I have difficulty saying no to people.
3)      I feel as if my happiness depends on other people.
4)      It’s hard for me to look a person in the eyes.
5)      I find myself getting involved with people who end up hurting me.
6)      I trust others.
7)      I would rather attend to others than attend to myself.
8)      Others’ opinions are more important than mine.
9)      People take or use my things without asking me.
10)  I have difficulty asking for what I want or need.
11)  I lend people money and don’t seem to get it back on time.
12)  Some people I loan money to don’t ever pay me back.
13)  I feel ashamed.
14)  I would rather go along with another person or people than express what I’d really like to do.
15)  I feel bad for being so different from other people.
16)  I feel anxious, scared or afraid.
17)  I spend my own time and energy helping others so much I neglect my own wants and needs.
18)  It’s hard for me to know what I believe and what I think.
19)  I feel as if my happiness depends on circumstances outside of myself.
20)   I feel good.
21)  I have a hard time knowing what I really feel.
22)  I find myself getting involved with people who end up being bad for me.
23)  It’s hard for me to make decisions.
24)  I get angry.
25)  I don’t get much time alone.
26)  I tend to take on the moods of people close to me.
27)  I have a hard time keeping a confidence or a secret.
28)  I am overly sensitive to criticism.
29)  I feel hurt.
30)  I tend to stay in relationships that are hurting me.
31)  I feel an emptiness, as if something is missing in my life.
32)   I tend to get caught up “in the middle” of other people’s problems.
33)  When someone I’m with acts up in public, I tend to feel embarrassed.
34)  I feel sad.
35)  It’s not easy for me to really know in my heart about my relationship with a Higher Power/God.
36)  I prefer to rely on what others say about what I should believe and do about religious or spiritual matters.
37)  I tend to take on or feel what others are feeling.
38)  I put more into relationships than I get out of them.
39)  I feel responsible for other people’s feelings.
40)  My friends or acquaintances have a hard time keeping secrets or confidences which I tell them.

For most of these, an “Often” or “Usually” means too loose boundaries, while a “Seldom” or “Never” answer may mean boundaries which are too rigid.  Question 6 is kind of reversed – if you seldom or never trust others, you’ve probably been hurt in the past and now are keeping your boundaries too rigid.  (This is a very, very abbreviated version of what Whitfield goes into great detail in, in the actual book.  So if you, too, have boundary issues, get the book for more info on your particular weaknesses.)

The point with boundaries is not to barricade myself behind a WALL – but to have a permeable barrier that keeps outside thoughts/feelings/energies out.  Until I decide, mindfully, to invite them in.  To not be so awash with outside energies that I lose awareness of what I think or feel, for myself.

For myself, I found my own boundaries tend to be weak around people-pleasing things, and in specific situations.   For example, on question 30 – definitely an "Often" there for me, when it comes to romantic interests, and once, with a job – but not when it comes to regular friendships.  I do tend to take on the moods of people close to me (question 26) - but again, mostly for romantic interests, for certain members of my family, but not usually when it comes to my close friends.  So, if I can set healthy boundaries with some people, in some circumstances, surely I can learn to do it in all circumstances, right?

Theory, meet Practice. 
My, what big eyes and flabby muscles you have!

Are you a people-pleaser, too?  Let me know where your boundaries are strong & mighty, and where they are soft & squishy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I Used To Be So Proud of Being Psychic

Not that I ever did anything extraordinary on the level of curing cancer, or even winning $20g in the lottery (which I really could have used!) Sometimes, I would just get a weird feeling, and on impulse take a different route home from work. Later I’d hear about a bad car crash in the area I would have traveled through. Or I’d have a weird dream about some minor thing that happened a few days after the dream. Experienced a lot of deja vu.

Once during a windstorm - bad, but we’d had them before - I woke up and knew I needed to bring my (then) four-year-old son from his bunk in the front bedroom, into my bed. I did - he never even woke up - and about twenty minutes later, a house up the street lost its roof. The shingles became flying projectiles, and one of them hit his window, throwing shards of jagged glass all over his room - and into his bed.

I don’t regret any of that, and plan to pay attention and listen to whatever it is that’s giving me these signals.
But mostly, my ‘psychic abilities’ were about other people. I sensed (or thought I did) what they were thinking, feeling. I liked the empathy, the feeling of connectedness, of being able to give my friends and family and lovers exactly what they wanted, without them even having to ask for it. Even though it hurt me, often, I took pride in giving, giving, not asking for anything back. I believed it made me special, powerful, more Evolved.

Sometimes with a lover I would be so into him, into what he was feeling, I would get my own physical pleasure from performing fellatio or giving a massage or whatever, because I felt so dialed into his sensations, sharing on a psychic level his pleasure and enjoyment.

I didn’t want to give that up, either.

Well. Now I’m learning about boundaries, and I just read something that stuck with me - that in Zen Buddhism, they consider psychic abilities to be a distraction from connection with the True Self.

My first reaction - how can that be? But on reflection I realize, that’s True, with a capital T. Automatically, mindlessly tuning into other people’s emotions, focusing on giving other people what they want at that moment - that isn’t good for me or them. Too often, I felt used, unappreciated - and those who took advantage of my vulnerability didn’t understand why I sometimes seemed angry or distant. They hadn’t taken anything I hadn’t freely given, after all.

Letting go of me, ignoring me, not being in touch with myself, what I feel, think, want - obviously, not good for me. Letting others take advantage of me, gratifying their whims of the moment - whether it’s just lying back and selfishly enjoying a hummer, or going to a restaurant where I really don’t like the food - what I am teaching, what they will expect of other lovers or friends, is automatic agreement and expressed pleasure with anything they propose. They’re not real likely to receive it, are they?

It’s not that it’s bad to compromise, or to focus on pleasing someone - it’s that it’s bad to do it automatically, to live with boundaries loose, down, or non-existent. If my thinking was (and it was, sometimes) a kind of smug pride at saving someone in trouble - well, how often did that really work? Seems like it was more a temporary buoying up, one sick soul to another, but neither one ever escaping the danger of going under. How much better to know one’s True Self, to be able to consciously help someone in trouble, just like those who rescue someone in a flood zone stand back, put together a plan, and run a safe and secure line to the person in trouble. Instead of a knee-jerk reaction to blindly fling myself into the water with them.

How much greater a gift is it to know what I want, to say to myself, okay, I’d prefer not to eat at such and such a place. Perhaps I can offer an alternative, perhaps I will choose to go along with my friend’s pick - but now I will do it mindfully. And when the other person knows it’s a gift, aren’t they are much more likely to appreciate it, less likely to take it for granted, and more likely to reciprocate to me in some fashion in the future? Good for me, good for them, good for our relationship, as friends or lovers.

And if I maintain better boundaries, instead of being wide-open and hijacked by every stray bad thought, I will be calmer, happier, more centered. I can always choose to mindfully lower my boundaries if I like, or to keep them in place if I don’t feel emotionally safe.

I realize, I can have my boundaries without giving up on that deeper, psychic connection. That thought in itself makes me feel more connected to the universe already, and on a deeper level than ever before.

Are you also secretly proud of not having good boundaries, because it proves how empathetic you are?  What are some of the reasons you hang back from setting and enforcing boundaries?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Whoa, Nelly!

Miserable, miserable feeling - empty pit in the bottom of my stomach, confusion, panic... I think I failed my notary public renewal exam.

I’m not OCPD (though I may have a few fleas, lol!) But I can’t help but wonder if perhaps this is what those with OCPD feel, in those moments when their world is rocked.

I don’t expect to control every aspect of my life - but some I do, and this is one of them. I’ve been a notary for 20+ years, and I’ve always been a good test-taker. California requires you to take and complete a training course, before you can even schedule your exam, just to try to drum the information into your thick, empty skull.

These last two renewals, I elected to do an online course, rather than go to an all-day seminar. I've done those, and hate being trapped in a room of 60-odd unprepared strangers slogging through a course, when half the questions they ask are abysmally stupid ones, like where their name goes on the paper, or when are we going to break for lunch?  And then the last hour the instructor has to spend rushing through half the course at warp speed to cover the rest of the material.

This year, I took extra time going through my online course, because I sensed, for whatever reason, the material simply wasn’t sinking into my brain. I even went back to it and hand-wrote every single question & answer out on scratch paper, and made sure I knew every single answer, and why. I also rewrote in my own words the ones I had trouble with. Cut short my evening the night before the test, so as to be sure to get a good night’s rest. Ate a healthy, balanced breakfast with carbs, protein & veggies. Brought my notes in and studied before the test - having gotten there not 45 minutes early as advised but an hour early.

And yet, I have the sinking, despairing, sick feeling I missed a lot more than four questions. I feel helpless, sad, furious. Out of 30 questions (you can’t miss more than 4, or it’s a fail) I think perhaps two were similar to questions in the prep material. That’s not fair! It makes me so mad! I feel suspicious - maybe, since the state of California is having budget trouble, they have deliberately rigged the test to force people to fail and have to retake it (for which we have to pay an additional fee, of course.)

So as I’m driving home from the test site, it occurs to me, I wonder if this is how those with OCPD feel? When something they expect to control, is unexpectedly uncontrollable? (Of course, they generally try to control a lot more territory, so they may run into this situation more frequently than I do.)

Not that I’ve been unsympathetic, before, but it fills me with a feeling of empathy and understanding. How miserable it must be to endure this on a daily basis. I’m having a very hard time with how I feel. I don’t want to just relax and just be with my feelings. They’re beyond uncomfortable. I want to wash them away, now.  Perhaps with some major sweets and a stiff drink.

I try to relax and let myself be with my feelings. To step back and look at it analytically - okay, is there anything I can do about the situation now? Well, I can download and print the newest Secretary of State notary handbook, and use that as a study guide, if it turns out I do have to retake the test. (Even if I don’t, it won’t hurt me to have an updated copy on hand. They stopped distributing them for free to notaries some years ago, and my current hardcopy copy dates back to 2002.)  

So, I do that.  I won’t have the results back for about 15 business days, so is there anything else I can do at this time? Not really. <Stress, stress, feeling my heart pound in my chest.>

I force myself to take some deep, cleansing Lamaze breaths. I did schedule my test early, so I would have plenty of time to retake the test, if it turned out I would have to, before my current commission expires. So, if it does turn out I failed, I can retake the test next month, and then again the month after that, if necessary. Hopefully that won’t be necessary. If I did fail, I should be able to remember where I dropped the ball and focus on those areas.

So, having done everything I can for this situation at this time, I tell myself I have to let it go. I don’t want to let it go, I want to keep churning over it, but I know, there’s not a single thing more I can do at this time.

I run an errand - grocery store, not good, too much Halloween candy on display, but I don’t go too crazy on the comfort food. Make myself do some chores, do some reading, get into the pool, and do more breathing, in-and-out, in-and-out. I insist on an evening of "fun" movies with my boyfriend rather than the action or heavy-duty dramatic stuff he favors (we ended up with ‘Calendar Girls’ - not that that was a featherweight movie, exactly.)

Good grief, my "aware" OCPD friends have to do this all the time. Because even if the behaviors are under control, the instinctive, gut-reactions must be very similar to this. (Or so I surmise - feedback, anyone?) And every time they’ve got to rein in those runaway emotional horses, say. "Whoa, Nelly," and take pains to not react in an unaware OCPD way.

I pity, respect and admire them today more than ever.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why Must You Be/Such An Angry Young (Wo)Man?

In the movie Anger Management, Adam Sandler plays a man who is actually quite passive and non-aggressive, until finally goaded to rage and then ‘punked’ into attending anger management classes. During the course of these, Jack Nicholson (who plays a wacked-out therapist) eventually gets him to see that he needs to set boundaries and get angry once in a while.

In real life, most people with OCPD don’t need Jack or anybody else to tick off them off - they wear the cape of AngryMan 24/7.  I watched my OCPD boyfriend descend into rages about the stupidest shit, all the time. Often directed at me because I did something "wrong" in his eyes, like picking up a couple of Kmart throw pillows for the couch without checking with him first.

Or, I would get to be on the receiving end of him re-enacting an argument with his sister (a regular favorite - politics was another) or some other person who pissed him off  (an endless supply of those!)  He could re-live the same experience countless times, and unless I physically left the room, he would often roar right past my stop signs:
  • Yes, you’ve told me this before.
  • Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?
  • I know this upsets you, but I don’t appreciate being yelled at.
  • Please don't do this tonight, I'm not in the mood.
Occasionally, he would stop and apologize, or at later times, he would apologize for ‘taking things out on me,’ but I'm not sure he realized how destructive his rages were to our relationship, until I actually told him I was moving out.

I got an interesting front-row seat at this from another angle, spending time recently with my bi-polar niece (actually my nephew’s fiancee.) While she was with me, she worked herself into several rages, which, while not directed at me, were still unpleasant to witness. She even mentioned that she felt a tremendous feeling of relief after ‘blowing off steam’ and thanked me for tolerating it.

I’d remembered reading in Patricia Evans’ works about how those who are verbally abusive actually experience a physical, addictive high from anger outbursts - something those of us who are not constantly angry may find hard to understand. Turns out there’s a fair amount of research on the subject - and it’s constantly referenced in the media.

From this week’s Newsweek :
"Gut-level feelings of tremendous anxiety quickly turn into rage," says psychology professor Drew Western of Emory University and author of the 2007 book The Political Brain. "Men in particular don’t like feeling anxious, so they quickly convert anxiety into anger at what made them anxious."

From the same article:

... psychiatrist Ronald Pies of SUNY Upstate Medical Center wrote in Psychiatric Times. "There is a ‘magical’ dimension in anger: it transforms the world from one in which the person feels helpless and impotent into one in which the person has the illusion of power and control. It is as if to say, ‘If I get angry enough, the laws of physics won’t apply - I’ll be able to plug that damned oil leak through the power of my righteous indignation!"

October’s 'Self' magazine had an article by Deb Abramson who described her regular blow-ups, and the emotional satisfaction she got from them, although she methodically and conscientiously detailed all the terrible effects blowing one’s top has on one’s physical health (Plenty - from high blood pressure to faster aging and earlier death.  Still, I got the impression, that even though she knows it’s bad for her health, even though she knows it’s hard on her husband, and a terrible example for their children, she doesn’t intend to quit all of her tantrums anytime soon.  The buzz she gets from it is just too sweet.

From Dr. William DeFoore’s Anger Management website:

...the problem develops like this:
  • You get angry. You blow up...
  • You feel a rush of takes you right out of the helpless feeling...
More excellent information available directly on the site; Dr. DeFoore also offers a monthly newsletter on the subject.
"Self-stimulation is one of the most common manifestations of anger addiction. For people who are addicted to rage or anger, expressing their anger is self-stimulating. It doesn't matter how petty their anger issues are, these people would express their anger in some ways because it gives them a feeling of satisfaction. Since venting their anger stimulates them and give them a feeling of satisfaction, people who are addicted to anger wants to be angry most of the time. To fuel their anger, these people often resort to alcohol. Unfortunately, such attitude is very destructive. In most cases, the family, friends and colleagues of a person who is addicted to rage often suffer. Children of parents who are addicted to anger and violence often get abused.
Aside from self-stimulation, people who are addicted to anger tend to be compulsive and obsessive. These people tend to dwell on their past anger issues even when these anger issues have already been properly resolved. It is very hard for these people to forgive others that they often harbor ill feelings to people whom they think have offended them in some ways. In most cases, these people do not listen to reasons. Yes, they may attempt to listen to explanations at times and may even agree to make peace with the people whom they think have offended them but when they are alone, they tend to dwell on their anger issues again. As these people continue to dwell on their anger issues, they become obsessed with the idea of revenge. Often times, these people lose control over their emotions. At this point, the person who is addicted to anger becomes dangerous to him/herself and to the people around him or her."

Been there, experienced that. For all you anger addicts out there - trust me, it will only be a matter of time before the person you love, who has tolerated so much, will reach the end of his or her rope. And when you rage, "I don’t like you! I wish you’d just get the hell out of my life!" for the seventeenth dozen time, no amount of apologies and sweet-talking will smooth it over. The person you were raging at will take you at your word, and go.

Because eventually, we just don’t want to be your emotional punching bag any more. Even if you’re physically ill, or mentally ill, laid-off or cross-eyed, we are tired of the excuses you give for ‘going off’ at us all the frickin' time.  We're stressed out, too - and your anger binges are a big part of the reason why!

We decide we want, and deserve, a home where we're not raged at all the time, where we feel emotionally safe.

Even if it’s not with you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Welcome to Bizarro World

A place where he sulks, and you get accused of sulking.  A place where he won't do something - even if it's something he previously expressed an intention of doing - simply because you asked him to.  (It's called Demand Resistance.)

He may snore like a bear, but he'll wake you up - not because you're snoring, but because you were about to snore.

He may wrinkle his nose at what you're wearing, tell you he doesn't like your new haircut, complain the show you wanted to watch is stupid and change the channel to something more edifying, like "America's Dumbest Criminals," but if you timidly ask him (while gasping for air) if he could, perhaps, slow down on the chain smoking, he will flip out.  "You're always so critical of me!"

He may frequently remark that the key to a relationship is good communication, and ramble on in long, pointless monologues without allowing you to get a word in edgewise.

He believes you are in mortal danger from bacteria on dishes, or counters with a water spot on them, yet insists on leaving containers full of leftovers on the counter to "cool" before putting them in the refrigerator.

The only right towels to use in the bathroom are threadbare and no longer absorbent.  New towels are much too soft and fluffy.

After a while, you may feel you're living in "1984", where War is Peace and Hate is Love, and you get used to the doublethink.  Sometimes you think it's you that's a bit crazy.  If you could just relax, maybe it would all make sense.

And then, you come out of the fog, and back in touch with reality.  Wow.

What kind of cognitive distortions did you experience in the OCPD (not)funhouse mirror?  Comment on them, below.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

He doesn't know it, but I walked for for him

Yesterday I participated in NAMI Walks for the Mind of America.

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is a national, non-profit organization for those with mental illness, their family and friends, and people who deal with them - mental health professionals, police, etc.  They have support group meetings, offer an educational program called Family-to-Family, lobby for health care plans and government programs to include mental health coverage, and a lot more.  If you either are or know someone who is mentally ill, I strongly encourage you to join this organization.  There's not a lot of good groups out there fighting for us.

Every year NAMI does this walk-a-thon, both to rake in some cash for their programs, and to raise awareness of how much mental illness impacts the lives of everyday Americans.  This year, I finally felt free to participate, since it seemed like my every free moment was jealously hoarded by my OCPD b-f.  Oh, technically, he'd never stop me from doing anything solo.  He'd simply complain incessantly about it for weeks ahead of time, possibly throw a tantrum or sulk on the day I went, then whine about it for weeks afterward.  Obviously, as time went on, I did less and less of things he didn't want me to do, because the constant bickering wore me down.  It feels so good to be out of that atmosphere of constant, fruitless catering to his never-ending (crazy) whims.

Plus I raised a chunk of cash for the cause, which I feel good about, and got some good exercise.  There are worse things to do on a gorgeous Saturday morning than to spend it in Santa Monica, strolling along the beach.

We had some actual rain & thunder in the morning, unusual for SoCal, but kinda cool (especially since it stopped before we started walking.)  Ran into some people I actually knew personally, which set me to humming "It's Small World, after all" under my breath.  Co-owner of the small computer shop that have built and fixed my last three 'puters, was walking with her schizophrenic son.  The organizer of the LA walk has a son who played Little League baseball with mine.  My credit union where I do my banking had a group walking, the LA Sheriff Dept had a group.

And so many other people, all ages, right down to kids in strollers.  Dogs, some wearing their own NAMI t-shirts.  People of all races, all sizes and shapes, from the ghettos of South Central to posh San Marino.  The count was about 3500 walkers, they said (wonder if that includes the dogs, lol!)

One thing - with very, very few exceptions, you couldn't tell the "crazies" from the "regular people."  I think when people think "mentally ill" they think somebody screaming in a straight-jacket, or Anthony Hopkins salivating over fava beans.  Not so.  My bi-polar niece walked with us - and I'm sure anyone talking to her briefly found her charming and delightful.  (Over the course of the day, and afternoon, she was sometimes a bit harder to take.)

What's funny, in a sad way, is my boyfriend only knows I can't spend as much time with him this weekend because I chose to participate in this walk.  He doesn't realize (though I think sometimes he gets a glimmer, and suspects) that he, himself, is mentally ill, and I'm not telling him.  With personality disorders, it's almost never helpful to tell the person "I think you have OCPD," or "I think you may be mentally ill."  (See out of the fog on Amateur Diagnosis.)  I've had the benefit of watching many others on my support boards learn about OCPD, and bring it up to their spouses or partners with such hope, that this insight will make the difference, that now the person with OCPD will "get" it and things will change.  Mostly, it makes things worse, and the person confronted will now be more resistant to getting help.

My bi-polar niece knows she is ill, even jokes about being the "crazy bi-polar chick," yet she too is in denial about many aspects about what is going on with her, from inappropriate anger blasts, to non-stop talking.  She hates taking her meds, because they slow her down - and they do, unfortunately, she seems to skip right past "normal" into wanting to take a nap.  I wish there were good meds for all the mental disorders - but there won't be, until more people step forward and are open about mental illness. 

It's hard - you'll notice this blog doesn't use my name, or my boyfriend's, because it would humiliate and enrage him to have me discussing his condition publicly.  Because, of course, mental illness still carries such a stigma, like it's the person's fault, somehow.

Still, somehow those of us who love someone mentally ill, have to find a way to raise our voices and demand more help, more research, better treatments.  Or take a walk along the beach.  :-)