Friday, October 30, 2009

The sickness that is part of me


I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive disorder when I was 13 years old. For the 21 years since then, I have continuously taken medication for it. I have gone through compulsive behaviors, obsessive fears, and panic attacks. I have gone through more obsessive thoughts than I want to even try to think about, some of them very innocuous or even enjoyable, others disturbing, others potentially dangerous to myself or other people. This is a disease of my mind, but it is also so bound up with most of my thoughts and emotions and behaviors that it is an inescapable part of who I am. Sometimes I hate it as an alien presence that deprives me of full control of my own mind and makes me hate myself, other times I regard it as just a part of life, and sometimes I actually revel in it as something that makes my internal mental life interesting even when my external life is stupefyingly dull.

Perhaps the worst part of it all, though, is when my own obsessive thoughts turn from fear and guilt to repeated thoughts that involve possible harm to others. For me, this usually involves harm through neglect or carelessness rather than malicious attack. There is no particular feeling of anger or aggression, more like (for example) "What if I don't stop for that person crossing the street, but keep on going at full speed instead." As far as I know, I haven't actually hurt anybody ever, but the fact that these thoughts go through my mind again and again is enough to make me feel somewhat afraid, not to mention guilty. There is something else that worries me even more, though. Constantly worrying about these things tends to, ironically, desensitize me. A thought that is shocking and repulsive at first becomes less shocking and repulsive when it becomes obsessively routine. I lose the sense of people around me as being important in their own right, and evaluate them merely in terms of what kind of obsessive thought or feeling they might provoke in me. I grow tired of feeling guilty and worried, especially when I haven't actually harmed anyone. All of this seems to desensitize me further, and I have a deep and lurking fear that one of these days my thoughts might transform into action (or deliberate negligence), and that I might actually harm someone.

I talked to Dad about this earlier this evening, and he advised that I needed to start seeing my psychiatrist for more than the occasional brief session to review my medication. I need to start talking to someone in detail about this again, someone who knows a lot about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but who is not all bound up with it themselves.

I have to give a huge amount of credit to my psychiatrist, who I have been seeing at varying intervals for over 20 years. He was always very honest about the fact that medication could help, that therapy could help, but that OCD is something that will never completely go away as long as I live, that my mind will always have a tendency to move into obsessive patterns, and that I would have to be mindful of this for the rest of my life. It is a very light burden in the better times, a very, very heavy burden in the worst times, but when it starts to effect how I relate to other people in a potentially dangerous way, it takes on a whole new dimension that I can not afford to ignore.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Computers and magical thinking

My continued inability to post any comments on some people's blogs (because I am officially "signed out" of certain people's blogs and can not sign back in no matter what I try) is seriously pissing me off. On the lighter side, it reminds me of how ludicrously ignorant I am about what makes computers work. I think that it has something to do with "electrons" moving through "semiconductors" in the form of "binary code" following complicated sets of instructions known as software, but I have to take that completely on faith. If I had been taught as a child that computers were driven by powerful and unpredictable spirits residing within the metal and plastic boxes, and that glitches could best be cured by sprinkling the blood of a freshly killed goat all over the machine at midnight, then I would have gone through many, many goats in the past 20 years (not to mention that the corner of my room with the desktop would be very dirty and foul-smelling).

I suspect that this is true for a lot of people. If you don't know much about computers or other electronic devices, then you basically stand in the same kind of relationship with them as people in earlier ages did with the weather and the seasons. These things were/are controlled by mysterious forces that you don't really understand, and when it comes to explanations you pretty much have to take someone else's word for it, or work hard to be initiated into the mysteries of the knowing elite. I think that this is more or less what people are referring to when they talk about "magical thinking" (someone correct me if I'm totally wrong).

This may be a wild over-generalization, but I'm going to say that most people's basic approach to reality today isn't much different from that of earlier people who hunted and gathered for food, or farmed with stone tools. Most people just want to find what works so that they can get things done and get on with their life. When it comes to explanations, most people will accept what the experts say. Even though science is surely a more accurate way to understand the physical world around us, most people who accept the knowledge and insight gained by science still accept it because it's what the experts say.

The question is which groups are considered the experts in any given society. Is it scientists, religious authorities, political figures, celebrities, something else, or some combination of these? It may seem strange, but a society that accepts scientifically established facts doesn't necessarily have any higher a percentage of truly "critical thinkers" than one that accepts religious explanations of natural phenomena. It is just a question of which group of experts has more prestige in a given society.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Saddest anniversary

I recently passed the saddest anniversary in my life. Three years ago this past Sunday, October 18, my mom died from leukemia. I have been meaning to post about this for the past several days, but I find the subject difficult to write about, or sometimes even to think about.

She had a rare, aggressive form of the disease that caused her a lot of pain and that moved fast. It was just about six months between when she showed the first symptoms in April 2006 to when she died in October 2006. They didn't even realize that it was leukemia until early June, and she then spent more than two months in Brigham and Women's hospital in Boston, where she got some of the best treatment that I think is possible in cooperation with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, but it still did not work. She came home in September and was at home for the last month of her life, with my father and visiting nurses taking care of her with some assistance from me and my brothers. The pain was often intense even with pain medication, and for the last few days she was asleep or unconscious most of the time. It sounds wrong to say or think this, but my father and brothers and myself all felt a sort of relief along with the great sadness when she did pass away, because she was in such pain and had great difficulty moving or being moved at all, even adjusting her position in bed, toward the end.

Mom carried very heavy emotional burdens for most of her life, from depression and a dysfunctional family life and a deep-seated and unshakeable sense that nothing she ever did was good enough. In spite of all of this, she was determined to do everything possible to give her own children a happy home and the kind of childhood that she had not had. She succeeded beautifully, far better than she would ever acknowledge. I hope that she realized this before she passed away, and that she realizes it now. If there were more people like her, the world would be a vastly different and much better place.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pics of autumn snow

It snowed again this afternoon - the extremely wet snow you get when the air is just slightly below freezing, where multiple flakes stick together into larger white clumps that look a little like bits of cotton falling, until they hit something warmer and melt in about one second. It's a little weird to have snow actually sticking to the ground when most of the trees still have most of their leaves, but most of it melted within a couple of hours even in areas where it did accumulate.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Snow coming early this year

We got a little wet snow here yesterday morning, and the forecast says we might get more tomorrow. It's still too warm for the snow to last long on the ground, but this is unusually early for a first snow around here. Some of the trees haven't even started to change color yet, let alone lose their leaves.

On an unrelated note, the mysterious inability to comment on some peoples' posts has returned, but now it has gone a step further. As of this morning, I can't comment in reply to MY OWN POSTS. (Deep breath -- I love computers, computers are our friends, I don't want to take an axe to my computer)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I think that I exercised too much this past weekend between the gym and long walks and outdoor work. My principal evidence for this is a couple of half-developed blisters on my feet and, more importantly, the fact that some muscles in my arms and abdomen are quite sore. My arms especially are bothering me, since I can't fully straighten either elbow without a fair amount of pain, which leads to me walking around with my arms noticeably bent at the elbows. This makes me look a little weird, or at least even more weird than I usually look.