Thanksgiving Behind Bars

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Happy Thanksgiving from Asher and friends! Remember that as you enjoy time with family and loved ones, there are those in prison who can hope for little more than an hour-long visit with theirs – and many expect nothing at all.

Food for thought…read this post on a typical prison Thanksgiving.

Cheers, y’all!

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What It’s Like To Be In Love When You Have Depression

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Asher’s sister shared this today and it made me think of him. He has suffered from manic-depressive disorder for years and often expresses to me that he wonders if he will ever be capable of a real relationship or romanic love. This is perfect.

Thought Catalog

“No one will love you until you learn to love yourself” is an easy enough phrase to believe is true. But it’s terrifying, especially when you have depression. What if you never learn? As a teenager, it made me fear for my life as an adult. I was certain I would never be capable of being in a relationship, but I was very wrong. Honestly, I do not like myself very much, and in August of 2013, a boy fell very, very much in love with me.

I have dealt with depression for as long as I can remember. I’ve been on and off medications, been to therapy, but it’s still alive and well, comfortable in its home in my bones. I can feel it every day, a tiny inkling that causes breathtaking emotional pain at the most inconvenient of times.

My depression doesn’t care that I am in a…

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Taboo Tuesday: Penis Pearling

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Author: Erica

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I write to several different inmates throughout the country. A couple of months ago, one of those friends introduced me to something…unique that many of the men he has been locked up with have done – penis pearling. I’ve also seen this referred to genital beading.

***I’ve linked to a couple blurbs on what this practice is, but 3 pictures are included at the end of the post. If you don’t want to see a penis, I suggest you don’t scroll down***

I had personally never heard of such a thing, but it evidently originated with the yakuza in Japan who began inserting pearls and other similar objects beneath the skin of their members while imprisoned. Today, prisoners will engage in this practice for reasons ranging from gang initiations and loyalty pledges to the idea that it will provide a more pleasurable experience for their partners.

Even though there are some professional body modification artists that do genital beading, the ways in which inmates go about the process is pretty alarming. I’m not going to reveal which of my friends shared this concept with me, because he actually went through it and I need to protect his privacy. In his case, he found a small rock while he was out on the yard a few years ago. He then spent some time smoothing and rounding the stone to his satisfaction. He sharpened his toothbrush and had his celly help him to actually pierce the skin of his penis, insert the rock into the gash he had created, and then allowed it to heal over. I can’t imagine doing something more painful or dangerous to yourself.

The usage of a sharpened toothbrush is a pretty common occurrence, but the objects inserted can be just about anything…marbles, dice, stones, deodorant roller balls, melted down and re-shaped plastic, etc. Although statistically the overall percentage of how many inmates actually do this is relatively low, there are still men in prisons throughout the world that actually put themselves at serious risk by doing this. The inserts can actually migrate around under the skin. Guys with multiple implants can end up with a hard clump all in one spot. On top of this, it can lead to some pretty gnarly infections and even erectile dysfunction. And for what?

For all these fellas know, their future partners won’t even enjoy it! My friend admits that he really regrets it other than the fact that he can literally “rock out with his cock out” (his cheesy joke – not mine lol). Ultimately he said he did it as a status thing and to prove himself as a “tough guy” while behind bars. It never ceases to amaze me what people will do in an attempt to prove themselves…

Anyone else ever heard of this? Been with a partner with a genital bead? Thoughts?

I mean, personally this looks terrifying to me:

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And this:
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I guess one might not be HORRIBLE, but…WHY?

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So…would you, or wouldn’t you?

 

(PS: These photos are not mine. The end.)

Monkeying Around

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Hey everyone – look! It’s a monkey on a bike! 🙂 Here’s Asher’s latest and greatest photo adventure. Whimsical, no?

Asher 2014

Asher 2014

And while we’re enjoying the funner side of life, here’s another new funny from your favorite felon 😉 This one gave me the giggles.

EQUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL!

Artist: Asher

Copyright Asher 2014

Copyright Asher 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Food for Thought – Prison Perspectives

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Author: Erica

Let’s face it. Asher is my favorite prison buddy (obviiii, as he would say). Because of him, though, I’ve made connections with other inmates throughout the country. I think one of the most interesting things that I’ve come to discover is how very differently each prisoner views their circumstances. It’s pretty clear that Asher is good and ready to get the hell out of that joint, and with his federal appeals coming up in February, we’ve all got our fingers crossed. Not everyone feels the same way, though.

Asher has mentioned friends of his with relatively short sentences (well, at least compared to his own) who have been terrified upon their exit out into the real world. Then there are those who are sharing life sentences with him who wish that the death penalty were legal in Iowa so that they could be put to death and not have to live within the system anymore.

This perspective is especially interesting when compared to a friend of mine who is on death row at the Polunsky Unit in Texas. Texas death row is about as bleak of a place as you can find yourself. My friend spends 23 hours a day in a 9×9 cell with absolutely no human contact unless he is being searched and cuffed as he is taken to and from his daily 1 hour rec time – alone in a cage. There’s no TV. The most these fellas can do is listen to the radio (assuming they have the funds to purchase one), read, and be alone with their thoughts. Despite these depressing conditions, my friend has found true inner peace and self-discover and wishes to live – even if that means living in solitary. Despite this, though, he would much rather live in general population.

That was a question that I raised to him after a talk with a friend of mine in a prison just a few miles from where I live in Lancaster, CA. This is a very overcrowded and violent prison with a lot of gang activity. My friend at this institution revealed that he frequently fears for his life and often prefers solitary conditions because he knows he’s safe. I asked my death row friend what he thought about this – would he rather live in isolation knowing that he is safe but that death is inevitable, or be placed in a general population setting where he must wonder if every day is is last. He confessed (and I agreed), that because of the basic human instinct to fight for life and survive, he would rather risk a potentially dangerous GP situation.

Of course, then there are those who have lost their will to live altogether. Take Polunsky Unit death row inmate Daniel Lopez, for example. According to state and federal law, all death row inmates must go through the entire appeals process. This young man, however, has decided that he doesn’t even want to take his appeals. He wants his death to be expedited so he can just get the whole thing over with. An interview of his thoughts on the matter and the obstacles he’s facing in being murdered by the state can be read here (also a great blog to read in general for information on life on death row).

It’s impossible to know how any of us would feel if we were in the situation that these men are in. Would we want to do our time in peace, or fight for our freedom? Be alone, or surrounded by others? It’s something to think about. I’d like to think that I would never go out quietly – that I’d fight for my life. That’s why I’m so determined to help my friend in his hour of need. Where do you think you would stand?

Food for Thought Thursdays: Jack Pursel

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Author: Erica

A few weeks ago I was chatting with Asher on the phone and he told me a story about this funny old man who came into the library where Asher works trying to talk to him about his faith. Of course, Asher couldn’t tell me the man’s name lest he get in trouble with the prison, but he did share with me that this was a man who had literally gotten away with murder, and then decades later had turned himself in.

With this information, I was able to find that the man is one Jack Wendell Pursel (you can read the story here). He murdered an Iowa couple in ’81, and then at the age of 66, flew back to Iowa from southern California where he had been living, and turned himself in. According to Pursel, he had come to know Christ, and wanted to clear his conscience. He felt that it was the right thing to do. Others, however, believe he may have had more selfish reasons for coming forward. Perhaps he hadn’t prepared for retirement adequately, and having no real family to speak of, decided to spend the rest of his days in a place where food, clothing, shelter, and medical care would be provided for him at all times.

Personally, I’m a bit divided on what to think. As someone who grew up in the church, I’ve seen how many people, faced with their own guilt and self-doubt, turn to God for answers. Often the worst “sinners” who find their way to Christ are the ones who become the most zealous. For this reason, I can totally see why the man would feel that perhaps God was compelling him to do the right thing. On the other hand, I also know how hard it can be to get by in this crazy world and how having the security of your needs being met could be attractive to someone.

In either case, justice was technically served. But was it, really? We send those who have committed crimes into institutions as a means of punishment, and in some cases, rehabilitation. Had this man been caught and convicted, he would have received a life sentence. The reasoning behind this is not only punishment for what he did, but also because of the possibility of a repeat offense. In the end, though, the young man who committed the murders walked free and was given 30 years to live his life however he pleased. He began a new life in California. And, from what we know, he never committed a crime again (at least nothing major). Now, as an elderly man who is very different from the young man he once was, he is locked up until he finally dies.

This raises an interesting thought… how do we as “peers” of the convicted ever really know if someone is likely to be a repeat offender? There are many people behind bars who have committed terrible crimes in the heat of the moment, who regret their decisions, and would never make the same mistake twice. Then there are those who make more “minor” mistakes and are let back out on the streets, only to make even bigger mistakes.

Case in point, a young man in Palmdale, California was arrested for drunk driving. He received a slap on the wrist, and within one year, he struck a stopped vehicle from behind at 60mph, causing the stopped car to burst into flames and the 19 year-old young man inside burned alive and died (story here). This is not to say that those who commit serious crimes shouldn’t be punished, but it seems to me that we make assumptions about a criminals character based upon how severe we perceive the crime to be, rather than what their character actually stands for or the situation surrounding the incident. To me, the decision to get behind the wheel in drive shows much more reckless tendencies and behavioral patterns than a crime of passion.

The point here is, if Purcel had been convicted for life at the age of 36, THAT man would have been punished for what he did, but what about the man 30 years later – would he still deserve that same punishment after years of rumination and repentance? And would he have even turned a new leaf in life had he been locked up to begin with? Should we be putting more of an emphasis on shorter sentences and increased rehabilitation programs? Should someone be imprisoned for a crime they committed 3 decades prior, even though they have demonstrated that they are no longer a threat to society and have repented?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but it’s certainly something to give some consideration to, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Wellness Wednesdays – The OCD Chronicles

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Author: Erica

When I first started talking with Asher, mental wellness was a top that came up a lot. As he struggles with manic-depressive disorder, I found it very easy to talk about my OCD with him. A few years ago, I wrote a 6 part blog describing what it was like for me, and Asher asked that I share it here. Mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of or buried down inside. In the end, that only leads to an eruption.

So here it is:

THE OCD CHRONICLES PART 1 OF 6: COMING OUT

 

“If you can’t show acceptance and understanding to yourself, how can you expect others to do so? Start with yourself and lead by example.”

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I sat here thinking about how to start this for a few minutes, mainly because it was difficult for me to even decide to write my story to begin with. But let’s just let the cat out of the bag here: I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. No, really. I know everyone says they have O.C.D every now and then, during times when they are feeling particularly particular, but I have an anxiety disorder, and I have had it since I was about 10 years old.

 

There’s this adage that states that something like 1 in 4 people have a mental disorder. They say that you should take a look at your 3 closest friends – if it’s not them, you’re the crazy one. So guess what? If you’re one of my 3 closest friends, you’re probably pretty safe!

 

I’m not surprised if this news surprises you. I just told my mom last week and she was surprised. I was living with my husband for almost 3 years before I told him and he was surprised. It just goes to show you that you never really know what’s going on inside someone else’s head, eh? No one I knew had any idea that for the past 14 years I have been struggling with this – except for me.

 

That’s one of the reasons I decided to share this with you people. Dealing with this alone was HARD. It’s no one’s fault. I don’t resent anyone for not noticing – I hid it well, and I still do. I don’t think I had an unhappy childhood or life; quite the contrary, actually. I consider my childhood to have been an extremely happy one and I see myself as a very well rounded and self-sufficient adult. But that doesn’t change the fact that fighting O.C.D on my own was pretty crappy.

 

Mainly, I was too embarrassed and too afraid to tell anyone about it. I knew from the very beginning that something was wrong, and it scared me, but I didn’t want my family and friends to think was nuts. By around age 15 I had basically figured out that my problem was O.C.D, but I wasn’t ready to fully accept it, and I definitely wasn’t telling anyone that I thought I had a mental disorder! It wasn’t until June of this year that I was officially diagnosed. And now that I am, I’m coming out. But please don’t think I’m psycho.

 

O.C.D really gets a bad wrap. When people hear “O.C.D” they think of some maniac washing their hands again and again or of Howard Hughes pissing in empty milk bottles and lining them up in a row. Basically, they think, “Cuh-ray-zay! The thing is, people with O.C.D. aren’t crazy. They KNOW that what they are doing is illogical and weird. They KNOW their fears and obsessions are ridiculous and out of control. They just can’t make that part of their brain turn off.

 

Everyone has a weird thought pop into their heads from time to time. “What if…?”, but a person with a normally functioning brain can discard the thought with logic and reason, and move on. In the brain of a person with O.C.D, that thought gets STUCK and it just keeps re-firing and re-firing, telling you that there is danger and that something is wrong. Even if you try to reason with yourself and back it up with logic, that message just keeps firing again and again. And when your brain senses danger, it wants you to DO SOMETHING!

 

So what choice does the person with O.C.D really have? The thought won’t go away (that’s the obsession, obviously) no matter how much you want it to. It creates severe distress and anxiety as the brain wants you to respond to the “danger”. So you adapt. You find a way to relieve that stress and anxiety by carrying out some kind of action. Usually, it is totally nonsensical and absurd, and the sufferer knows that it doesn’t make sense, but it brings relief. There are rules. Sometimes the compulsion has to be carried out a certain amount of times or in a certain order or way…but no matter what, you do it until it feels right. Until the obsession fades away.

 

 

Because the person with O.C.D realizes that their obsessions and compulsions are absurd, it’s pretty easy to see why it’s so embarrassing and hard to talk about. That’s the main difference between someone who is insane and someone who has O.C.D. To an insane person, all of their fears and delusions and paranoia are REAL. Anyone who doesn’t believe them? Well, they’re the crazy ones.

 

To a person with O.C.D, though, all of their fears and actions are humiliating. The sick part of your mind is telling you one thing, while the logical part of your brain is telling you another. Because of this, people with O.C.D often feel like they are losing their minds. They know that what there are doing is abnormal and so they try to hide it. And hiding it is something I am clearly very skilled at.

 

But I have decided to own it. Ya know what? I’m not crazy. In fact, I’m pretty friggin’ awesome. People like me and people respect me. I’m a hard worker. I’m a friend, a writer, a sister, a daughter, a student. I live the good life. I just have this annoying disorder hanging out in my brain. Why should I be ashamed? It’s not like I can help it. Would I be embarrassed if I had cancer or ADD? So why should I be embarrassed about this? Answer: I shouldn’t, and I’m not going to be anymore. So in honor of O.C.D awareness week, I’m spillin’ my guts. I’ll break it into smaller chunks so you don’t have to listen to me prattle on for too long.

 

I guess I’m hoping that laying this all out in the open will be mutually beneficial. I’m not gonna lie- this is a little bit self-serving in that it’s pretty damn therapeutic for me, but maybe it will clear up some misconceptions, shed a little light on the disorder, and maybe it will actually help somebody out. We all have our issues and we all have our secrets. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter ‘cause the world is gonna blow up next year anyways.

 

 

 

 

 

THE OCD CHRONICLES PART 2 OF 6: IN THE BEGINNING

 

The first time I can consciously remember there being something “off” about myself was when I was in the fifth grade. It’s kinda amazing how one simple remark can change everything for you. It all began one morning in Sunday School.

 

I don’t remember what the Bible story was about that day. I don’t remember who else was in class with me. I don’t remember what I was wearing or what time of the year it was. The one thing that I do remember, however, I remember today as clearly as ever. The fateful words were spoken to me that morning, “If you have any sin in your heart and you haven’t confessed and asked forgiveness for it, God can’t hear you because he is perfect and he cannot tolerate sin”.

 

After that, something snapped in my brain and things were never the same. Funny how my teacher and the other kids in class probably walked out of church that day and never gave another thought to that statement. For me, though, I couldn’t erase the words from my mind. My brain was stuck; I was obsessed.

 

I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I hadn’t realized until that moment how powerful my sins were against my connection to God. Prior to those words, I said my bedtime prayers every day and made my peace with the Lord then. Now, however, I knew that this was just not gonna cut it! Sure, I was being forgiven for my sins at the end of the day, but what about all those hours in the day pre-confession? Those were hours where I was cut off from God – hours where he couldn’t hear me if I needed help.

 

This was just too much for me to bear. All of these “What if’s” consumed my thoughts. What if something happened to my family and when I prayed for their healing and protection I had un-repented sin in my heart? My prayers would not reach the ears of God and he may not help them. Then if they died, it would be my fault! And what if I needed aid, but forgot to ask forgiveness for saying something mean to my sister? I would be alone and helpless because God would not be able to hear me with my heart so black and full of evil.

 

I knew what I had to do. Repentance was now a priority. I couldn’t let the sins stack up before confessing or else I might forget one and then I’d be on my own. Immediately upon “sinning” I had to pray and ask for God’s forgiveness. This quickly spiraled out of control.

 

Soon, it was not enough to cleanse my soul from sins I had actually committed, but I also had to beg forgiveness for thinking mean thoughts, laughing at a “bad” joke, not correcting people for their own sins, or even for accidentally seeing something on TV that I didn’t think God would “want” me to have seen. Nothing was too trivial to potentially separate me from the Lord and I had to purify myself in his eyes.

 

When you are asking forgiveness for every tiny little thing, your time really starts to get away from you. It didn’t take long before I was spending hours a day in prayer. If, when I was done praying, I didn’t “feel” the “burden of sin” had lifted from my chest, I knew my prayer had been inadequate and I had to do it again to be forgiven. If guilt popped up in my head about something even hours after confessing the first time, it meant I had not been “fully forgiven” by God and I had to pray again.

 

When praying again, everything I confessed had to be said in the exact same words and in the exact same order as the time (or times) before or else it “didn’t count”. If I messed up, I would have to start all over again.

 

Imagine sitting in school, watching TV with your friends, or riding in a car with your family and you can’t stop saying silent prayers. When others would talk, it would disrupt my concentration and make me mess up my prayers, so I had to subtly learn to plug my ears or discreetly leave the room so I could pray, uninterrupted. If someone spoke to me, I’d have to respond or else they would think I was weird, but then my prayer would be “ruined”. This was so frustrating, especially after multiple repetitions, and I would lash out or feel anger, which was a sin. Then, of course, that sin would just add more fuel to the fire and I would have to pray some more!

 

Even if I got a repeated confessional prayer perfectly “correct”, sometimes it still didn’t “feel right”. I would either have to do it again, or breathe in a certain way to make the prayer feel more “real” or “good enough”. I would then get caught in a spell of taking painfully deep breaths and holding the air in my lungs to feel “okay”. At times I was so frustrated and embarrassed that I would cry.

 

I knew my compulsive praying was not normal or logical. No one else I knew had to “confess” like this all the time. I can remember wondering why I couldn’t be like other people. I knew they were all sinning like nobody’s business, yet they didn’t seem to care! They weren’t concerned about God cutting them off at all! I would beg God to help me stop and to release me from the fear and guilt, but whenever I tried to suppress the urge to pray, it would feel like I couldn’t breathe and then I would have one of those obnoxious breathing fits again. (Not to mention that by trying to get out of confessing my sins, I was blowing off God, which was SURELY another sin!)

 

It was scary to know that something was wrong but to not know what it really was. Then one day I got my answer. I was about 15 years old and I was reading one of those teen magazines. In this particular issue, there was a feature on O.C.D. A the end of the article there was a checklist of common O.C.D symptoms. Two words at the bottom of the list made my heart stop for a minute: “Ritualistic Praying”.

 

I got that feeling like I was on the downhill side of a roller coaster. I just sat there staring for a few minutes. I panicked. Could I really have O.C.D? I didn’t want to be crazy. I knew deep inside that it was true, although I didn’t want to accept it. I was just “deeply devoted to God”…yeah. That was it. But that didn’t stop me from praying that God would help me stop. Praying again, and again, and again…

 

Eventually, I stopped the praying as I started to doubt my faith. Please, however, let the record show that my separation from my religious beliefs was not a direct cause of my O.C.D. The two are mutually exclusive. But I digress.

 

The end of the prayers was not the end of my obsessive thoughts, however. They were merely replaced by what I like to call “my affirmations”. But I will get into that in another section…

 

THE OCD CHRONICLES PART 3 OF 6: SKINNY OR BUST

 

Around the age of 13 is when I began my obsession with becoming fat. Now, I realize that most teenage girls have body image issues, but I took mine to a whole ‘nother level. My friends were losing their baby fat, and I wanted to become thinner too. In a fitness magazine, I found an article that tells you how many calories you can burn by performing certain activities. For whatever reason, I got stuck on sit-ups. I was obsessed.

 

I was a slave to sit-ups. Additionally, I was a slave to counting calories. Every calorie I ate had to be cancelled out by sit-ups. Once again, I was losing control. It got to the point where I was literally doing between 1,000 & 2,000 sit-ups a day. Hours of my time were consumed by the compulsive exercising.

 

I was obsessed with doing “enough” sit-ups. Every set had to be in groups of 100. When I counted the sit-ups that I did, the first set began at 0 and went up, and then the second set would come back down from 100. But then I started questioning myself. O.C.D is the “doubters disease” and nothing ever feels quite right. I would think, “What if I accidentally skipped from 70 to 59 and missed 10 sit-ups?” Then I would have to repeat one set to be sure I had done the “correct” amount.

 

If I did 500 sit-ups in the morning before school, I would tell myself, “I did 500 sit-ups so far today and I have x amount left”. By a couple hours later, I wouldn’t trust myself anymore. “What if I didn’t really do the 500 sit-ups today? What If I am thinking of yesterday?”. Because of these questions, I had to start writing it down.

 

Writing it down worked for awhile, but then I started questioning that, too. “What if the note saying I did 300 sit-ups was left over from yesterday?” or “What if I just wrote that down but it wasn’t true?” How could I be sure? I began recording specific details by set. For example, “I did 100 while listening to such-and-such song while counting up from 0” or “I did 100 while such-and-such a commercial was on TV counting down from 100”. The notes had to be discarded at the end of the day so there could be no question or confusion. But that still didn’t stop me from questioning myself.

 

I was constantly counting calories to make sure that I hadn’t exceeded what I had burned. Then I would have to deduct the calories burned to make sure everything balanced out. I was happiest if I could end the day with “negative” calories.

 

I was out and out suffering. I couldn’t skip sit-ups even if I was tired or sick or for any reason. Even if I was at a friend’s house spending the night or on a family trip, I would have to excuse myself to the bathroom and do sit-ups in there. I liked to do the majority of my sit-ups in private so that no one would know how many I was actually doing. My family used to joke and call me the “sit-up queen”, but they only saw the tip of the iceberg.

 

I had sores on my tailbone from the friction of my pants or the carpet rubbing up against me as I did my sit-ups. I would often bleed and be in pain. But that did not stop me. I couldn’t stop or else I would get fat. And if I knew I was going to be gone all day long, I would have to do all 2,000 sit-ups in one sitting early in the morning to ensure that I would be able to eat during the day.

 

Throughout the years, my weight fluctuated. After a couple of years I realized that I simply could not carry on with the sit-ups anymore and I replaced it with excessive walking and doing lunges in my bedroom. The counting calories never went away, however.

 

I think I was about 17 when the calorie counting got worse. It wasn’t enough to keep a running total in my head anymore. I had to write down the calories in a list in the order that I had consumed them and do the math. Then I would add all the calories I burned in the order I burned them and do that math and deduct it from the calories. I had to do this multiple times throughout the day or else I would feel sick and anxious that I was fat. As though doing the math in a “right” way was helping me to not be fat.

 

For example, if I had 100 calories for breakfast, a snack that was 80 calories, a sandwich that was 240 calories, and carrots at 35 calories, I would have to do 100+80+240+35=455. If later in the day I ate a snack that was 100 calories, I could not simply do, “455+100”, I would have to do “100+80+240+35+100=555” or it would not “count” (pun not intended).

 

As I got older I started allowing myself to use a calculator, but again I would have to do everything in order, exactly. I would often have to double, triple, quadruple, etc…check the math to make sure it was right. Even if it were a basic problem that I could do in my head, this was not good or “true” enough. It had to be on the calculator. If I was 12 items into the equation and accidentally punched “50” instead of “500”, I could not simply add “450” on to the equation even though logically I knew it was the same thing. The O.C.D was telling me I had to start all the way over. So I would.

 

And eventually fat grams also got factored in to the equation. I still struggle a lot with the calories and fat counting. Jim knows what to look out for. When I am feeling anxious, I start punching out numbers on my calculator like crazy (again, no pun intended) and he reassuringly reaches out to me an asks, “Do you really need to do that? You know what you ate. You know you’re healthy”. It’s a work in progress.

 

I don’t do the obsessive walking or lunges anymore, but I do obsess about my workouts. If I don’t get my 3 workouts in during the week, I get extremely anxious. Sometimes I doubt that I did my three and I have to write out specific details about each day that I went to help me “remember”. Right now, I’m pretty anxious that I missed my Monday work out and I’m thinking of how to “make it up”, while simultaneously telling myself to re-fucken-lax because everyone deserves a day off sometimes. We’ll see which part of my brain wins this battle.

 

THE OCD CHRONICLES PART 4 OF 6: THE POWER OF MY THOUGHTS

 

I mentioned in a previous post that after moving on from the ritualistic praying, I took up compulsive “affirmations”. This really took off when I was about 18 or 19 and I watched a movie called, “What the Bleep Do We Know?”. They ask the viewer, “How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?” Well, it would seem I went down too damn far.

 

The documentary featured a lot of really interesting and cool ideas, but my O.C.D had me take it to the extreme. There is a heavy emphasis on the power of your thoughts. You create the world that you live in. You influence whether good or bad things happen in your life by your thoughts. You are the creator of your destiny and it all happens within your mind.

 

Once again, this idea got stuck up there in my brain. My thoughts HAD to be positive. Even the most fleeting negative thought was a danger and could bring terrible consequences. The obsession that my negative thoughts were powerful made me obsess about negative things. “What if my family dies?” “What if I’m pregnant?” (at that time I was still a virgin!) And then those thoughts popping into my mind made me feel that they would happen, because my mind was the master of my fate.

 

Because of this, I would have to “counterbalance” the negative thoughts with positive thoughts. I would have to think more positive thoughts than negative ones to “cancel out” the bad. Sometimes, however, my thoughts were not “clear” enough. I would feel that the universe might confuse one word with another (ie: “Can” vs “Can’t”). Then I would have to spell out the word, say it out loud, act out the word with hand gestures, or write the statement down (or a combination of these) to make the thought “clear” enough. And I would have to do it enough times to make it feel RIGHT.

 

This evolved into a need to do daily affirmations to ensure that nothing bad would happen to myself or loved ones throughout the day. It was not enough to say that my family would be protected and safe…I had to name their names and visualize their faces so that the universe would not be confused about who I meant. Sometimes I would have to do the affirmations again and again if I didn’t get them right. Like the prayers, they had to be said in the same order and in the same words each time I repeated them or I would have to start over.

 

I was always stressed out because these affirmations, again, were time consuming! I would often be running late for work because I got stuck doing them over and over. I would have to excuse myself from my desk at work to go in the bathroom and do affirmations, or write them down on post-its again and again to make them “real”. Then, of course I would have to rip up the post-its and throw them away because I knew how weird it was! I would lose focus on class or on work or on movies that I was watching because I was obsessed and I needed to “clarify” my thoughts.

 

Sometimes I would know and understand something, but I would doubt what I knew. For instance, I would be sitting in class and my instructor would mention in passing something like, “This relates to such and such which we covered in class last week”. I knew exactly what he was talking about. I knew that I grasped the concept and “got” it…but my brain would freak out and start doubting. I would have to repeat the concept to myself again and again to assure myself that I “understood”.

 

The breathing habit reared its ugly head with the affirmations, too. If I couldn’t breathe a certain “way” at the end of my affirmations, I didn’t do them right and they were invalid. Sometimes as I exhaled on my weird breath, I would have to say the last words of the thought or affirmation to validate them. I can’t tell you how embarrassing it was when someone heard me whisper something and I would have to try to play it off!

 

I was always battling with my mind. I say this in the past tense, but really, I am always at battle with my mind; I am just learning to control it better now. My thoughts are never enough. I’m always doubting that I thought something correctly. This is kind of hard for me to explain. Let’s say that I know I have 2 quizzes and a project coming up. I can think to myself, “Well, I will study for an hour for the next three days and then I will spend 2 afternoons on my project and I will be done”. This does not appease my brain, however. I have to say it again and again until it feels “true”…it’s like I doubt that I will really do it even though I know I will. Sometimes I have to write it down a few times. It’s really annoying but I can’t stop feeling anxious unless I do!

 

I guess another example would be needing things to be done immediately or my brain goes into panic mode. If I find out a friend is coming to visit in a week and a half, I start to obsess about getting the apartment ready for them. I think, “They will be here in a week and a half so I will do a big clean this weekend”. This doesn’t hack it with my O.C.D, though. I have to start mentally walking through the whole apt. and “noticing” anything that the friend might see or encounter. Then I have to clean everything and arrange it “just so”. Of course this all happens a week and a half before they arrive and then the place gets messy and I get really anxious and upset because they are coming in 9 days and how can we let our house be like this!? I know it doesn’t make sense because they are not going to see the apt. in that state, but it still feels like it needs to be corrected NOW.

 

The doubt of my thoughts is also reflective of my need for reassurance. I will often need to say my thoughts out loud to someone and hear them agree in order for them to be “true” or “correct”. Or if I have had a discussion with someone about something that makes me anxious, I will feel the need to keep rehashing the same things again and again until I feel “right” again. It’s a pain in the asssss. Thank goodness for meds!

 

THE OCD CHRONICLES PART 5 OF 6: I ALWAYS FEEL LIKE SOMEBODY’S WATCHIN’ ME

 

Okay, so this is the part of my O.C.D that is the most embarrassing for me to talk about. The first person I ever told was in July of this year, and I broke down in tears of shame when I explained it to Jim. Again, I re-emphasize, the reason that O.C.D is so difficult for the sufferer is because they KNOW what they are thinking and doing is NOT NORMAL, NOT REAL, and NOT LOGICAL. End disclaimer.

 

This one started back at the very beginning as well. It started as a “game”. I went to camp one summer, and there were some kids that I really liked and wanted to be friends with, but I didn’t know how to approach them. I really wanted them to know that I was a cool and funny person, though, so I made up this “game” where I would pretend that they were watching me. Think, “The Truman Show”.

 

I would pretend that these kids could see me interacting with my family and friends. While they were “watching” me, they could see that I really was a cool person who was worth being friends with! Even though I KNEW that no one was REALLY watching me, I would still pretend that they were. As a kid, I didn’t realize that this was totally O.C.D. The obsession was not feeling liked or accepted or “good enough”. The compulsion was to pretend that I was the star of some reality show where I could show the world how awesome I really was.

 

The problem with this “game” was that the obsession backfired on me. One day I got the thought that if people could “watch” me when I wanted them to, what if they could “watch” me when I DIDN’T want them to? This is when I started my “right side/left side” associations.

 

Things associated with my right side were “on” and things associated with my left side were “off”. If I was obsessing about being liked or accepted or appreciated, I would do something to the right side of my body to make the subjects of my obsession (I don’t want to make this sound like I was obsessing about the people. It’s rather, an obsession with being accepted by those people) “be able to watch me”. This kind of changed throughout the years from snapping my right fingers to slapping my left leg (in “certain ways” that were “right”), tugging my right ear, touching my right eye, etc.

 

When I didn’t want anyone to be able to “watch” me, my left side was “off”. I would do the same things to my left as the right, but I had to be “more-so left than right”. To clarify, if I had pretended that people were “watching” me by tugging my right ear, I would have to tug my left hear harder or multiple times so that I would be more “emphasized”, I guess.

 

There was also this whole thing with stepping on cracks with the exact center of my foot that would manipulate the “on/off” capabilities depending on how I stepped on the crack. If I really didn’t want anyone to be able to “watch” me, I would avoid stepping on ANY cracks with my right foot, even if it meant that I had to walk really weird. I would also focus on trying to get the exact center of the arch of my left foot to hit the crack at a certain force so that I was “off”. The same thing was vise versa.

 

So if I was “on” and pretending that people could “see” me, I would be really focused on not accidentally going “off” with something on my left side. If I had an itch on the left side of my face, this was no good so I would have to then itch the right side of my face a lot harder to be “more-so right than left”. If I was walking and pretending people were “watching: and I accidentally stepped on a crack with my left foot, I would have to start doing things to my right side like snapping my fingers, slapping my leg, and hitting every right crack. If it still didn’t feel right, I might do some weird breathing to make it “true”.

 

Sometimes I would become so obsessed with the fear the someone could “watch me” (even though, as I said, logically I KNEW and UNDERSTOOD FULLY that no one was really watching me. It’s just this persistent “danger” signal that gets stuck when my O.C.D acts up), that doing something to my left side to be “off” was not enough. Because of this, I started wearing a band on my left arm a lot and I started this “rule” where if my thumb was between my left pinky/ring finger & left pointer/middle finger then no one could “see” me. I would hold my thumb there for hours to be sure no one could “watch”.

 

Yes, I know this all sounds weird. Because it IS weird. And it’s so embarrassing for me to talk about because I KNOW that it’s abnormal. But if you happen to know something about you that I didn’t think you knew about me…I might be very convinced that you DID “watch” me!

 

Something that goes hand in hand with the obsession of being liked and accepted would be my excessive daydreaming. From talking to other people with O.C.D and reading various forums, intense daydreams are pretty common.

 

When I wanted people to like me or accept me, I would daydream very vividly with entire conversations playing out exactly like I would want them to. There would be very specific scenarios, and if I didn’t feel like my daydream was “clear” enough, I would have to repeat the scene or statements in my mind. They daydreaming would make it very difficult for me to sit still and I would often have to go for very long walks or very long drives (for hours) to get through a scenario and be able to “clear” it out of my mind. This also caused me to have a very difficult time falling to sleep. Now the Prozac helps me sleep like a baby and have super weird dream dreams…so that’s kinda awesome.

 

THE OCD CHRONICLES PART 6 OF 6: FINAL THOUGHTS

 

Well, now you know all my deepest darkest secrets. I feel better, don’t you? These are just a few of the highlights of the ways in which my O.C.D has affected me, but it isn’t me. It’s just there in the background. I’m bigger and better than any stupid disorder. With the help of cognitive behavior therapy and medication, I’m learning to re-train my brain. I’m growing more confident and strong in myself.

 

I do feel really fortunate that a lot of my obsessive-compulsive behavior is internal. It doesn’t change that it is scary and weird and it sucks, but at least it has always been a lot easier for me to hide. I would really hate if I had to turn the lights on and off x amount of times or drive home 12 times to check that I really unplugged the toaster.

 

One bonus of the O.C.D is that I think it makes me a pretty damn good worker. When you are always concerned with pleasing people and seeking approval, you get to be a bit of a workaholic. It makes me very successful at the things that I endeavor to do. So…silver lining.

 

I really hope that to whoever decided to stick this out and read the whole thing, you got something from it. Not everyone who has O.C.D is a compulsive hand washer or a neat freak. It comes in all different forms. It’s nothing to be ashamed of – it’s just a chemical imbalance and a brain malfunction.

 

I hope that if you read this and you feel like there is something “off” about you, whether it’s OCD related or something else entirely that you will confide in someone. It seems embarrassing, but it shouldn’t be. No one is perfect. Everyone is inherently WEIRD. You will feel so much better once you get it out, I promise.

 

My fingers hurt and I want a snack. So I’m done.