How can I be more sane?
September 29, 2009 4:25 PM   Subscribe

Every few months (or less), I develop some sort of new phobia. Some of them are absolutely ridiculous (which I recognize), but it is very difficult for me to overcome these fears. What can I do?

I apologize in advance, as I am sure this is going to end up very long.

To give a little bit of background, my family has a history of mental instability. No one has ever been committed, but both sides of my family suffer from anxiety and depression and OCD (or OCPD).

About two years ago, I was diagnosed with a benign, but disabling, neurological disease. There is no cure, and treatments are typically hit-or-miss. It took about a year until I finally started to feel better. I lost about 1/4th of my body weight because I was too sick to eat. I felt so ill and was in so much pain that daily, I either felt (a) I was dying or (b) that I wanted to die. Suffice it to say, it took a big toll on me mentally, and when I think of how bad it was, I'm amazed I even got through it.

Around the time that the symptoms of my illness began to appear, I started to have terrible anxiety attacks. I've always been an anxious person, but I had never had a panic attack, to my knowledge, until that point. The day after I had my first panic attack, I started to develop really weird phobias. I also started to develop what I guess to be OCD.

At first, I was convinced that all of my food was poisoned. I would check all of my food and my drinks to make sure they were thoroughly sealed, and even if they were, I would think maybe someone tampered with it while in processing. Eventually I got over that, because I had to eat (or die), but I still check all of my food before I eat it.

Following that I heard a story on the news about a boy dying from amoebas. Cue amoeba phobia. Showers and baths became terrifying for me. If I got water up my nose, for several days I would be worried. Again I got over that, because I shower every day and I'm still alive.

Now I'm afraid I'm going to become disfigured or that I am, in some way, just going to die in some random terrible accident. This phobia has worsened my compulsions. I don't know if it's OCD because I don't have any "rituals", per se, but whenever I do something, or think of doing something, I'm afraid of the outcome. Like I'll think, "I can't get out of bed yet; if I get out of bed now I'll be disfigured/something bad will happen." Or if I go to get myself a snack, and there are multiple choices, I feel like if I pick the wrong one, I'll be disfigured or something bad will happen, leading me to get really frustrated and skip eating the snack at all. If I get in an argument with someone, regardless of the situation, I'm afraid I'll be "punished" by some unknown force for being a bad person. Just about every action I do, or am about to do, I think to myself, "If I do this (or don't do this), something bad will happen." It pretty much gets in the way of living.

Part of the fear of disfigurement is due to the fact that I am 24 and have never been in a relationship (I was physically/verbally abused as a child and my mother/step-father had a violent relationship when I was growing up, so it has taught me to just pretty much be terrified of ever dating). I know if I could address that issue, my fears would probably lessen, but I'm even afraid to go out sometimes or sign up for a dating site online because I'm afraid maybe I'll be disfigured by doing it. Also, I'M A TOTAL MENTAL CASE IN CASE YOU HAVEN'T NOTICED and I'd rather not put anyone through that.

There is no one I can talk to about this; I'm not going to dump these problems on my friends, and my family is pretty unsupportive (when I told my mom about my fear of disfigurement, she just laughed and walked away). In fact my family is pretty much awful sometimes and they just add to my stress.

I know I need to see a therapist, but I'm in a really bad financial situation due to expensive medical bills and having to figure out how to bring income in by working for myself (my health is unreliable so I can't hold down a job). So while I am saving up to see someone, it's going to be awhile before I can afford regular sessions.

What I'd like to know is what self-help resources are out there that I can use to my benefit until I can see a therapist? What self-help booklets, workbooks, videos, et cetera, do you recommend? If anyone has had any problems similar to mine, what helped you to overcome your phobias/anxiety/psychological problems?

(P.S. I have tried a number of anti-anxiety drugs and I have had bad side effects with all of them, some even making me more anxious. I'd really just not go down that road again.

Also, my mental problems are not due to my neurological disease. Anxiety is one of the symptoms listed, but it's usually a side effect of HAVING the condition; the disease itself does not cause it.)
posted by nimufu to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is the obsessive part of OCD, the intrusive thoughts part. You don't have to have the compulsions to have OCD. They're just more telegenic, so that's what you see on-screen as the representation of "OCD".

Try online support groups for OCD or forums, I can't recommend any in particular. They usually have local forums or resources. Check for a NAMI chapter in your area.

Also, try your friends--they might want to help.

Panic attacks can cause weird fear associations, by the way. I had a panic attack one time at a thai restaurant, for the longest time I had a weird aversion to things that reminded me of that particular restaurant, like the taste of fish sauce. Fuckin' a, huh?

I'm sorry your brain is being so wacky and I'm sorry your family isn't there for you. You really deserve better and I know this will get better as you get it treated and work through it.
posted by kathrineg at 4:57 PM on September 29, 2009

By the way, I'm not a mental health professional and I can't diagnose you with OCD officially.
posted by kathrineg at 5:03 PM on September 29, 2009

Also--last post, I swear--you do seem to have rituals, they're just not big dramatic rituals. Eg., the food-checking.
posted by kathrineg at 5:18 PM on September 29, 2009

You've heard of the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, probably?
posted by salvia at 5:40 PM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

The workbook that salvia mentions is good, and I also HIGHLY recommend Brain Lock. Good luck to you.
posted by thebrokedown at 5:44 PM on September 29, 2009

my health is unreliable so I can't hold down a job

Can you apply for SSI?

Most likely the financial stress is worsening your anxiety, but it's one of the more tangible things you can deal with.
posted by desjardins at 5:54 PM on September 29, 2009

I'm not a professional and I can't diagnose you, but I want to point out that your issues sound pretty damn consistent with OCD. The "compulsive" aspect of OCD really doesn't need to be present. A lot of times "compulsions" aren't outwardly manifested, but are actually just mental rituals and you find that your thoughts and fears take on a repetitive quality?

I highly suggest therapy. Specifically: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which has been broadly proven to effectively treat OCD. If you're having financial difficulties, it's likely you can still find counseling. Do you live near a major urban center? Look into universities with psych. grad programs; they often offer counseling for reduced fees.

I also suggest some reading. Understanding your issues helps you resolve them. A good place to start might be Edna Foa's "Stop Obsessing!". Brain Lock (previously mentioned) is great too.

You can look into online communities like Stuck in a Doorway. You can also join OCD associations like the OCD Foundation. Both places provide substantial resources.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 7:37 PM on September 29, 2009

I've met several people who have had very favorable experiences with Recovery International. It's free, and they have meetings many places. I'd be interested in your experience, if you decide to give it a try.
posted by jasper411 at 9:19 PM on September 29, 2009

I highly, highly recommend this book by Claire Weekes. (Check out the Amazon reviews: so does everybody else who has ever tried her method.)
posted by Wordwoman at 9:30 PM on September 29, 2009

In addition to self-help resources, check out the availability of peer support groups in your area (or even online, if there aren't any). Since your family and friends aren't supportive or understanding (or even aware of what you're struggling with), connecting with people you can share your experiences with might be a big relief.

I have some acquaintances who have gone through periods of severe psychological pain and have found Emotions Anonymous meetings helpful. I have no personal experience, but it seems to be a 12 steps type of peer support program for people dealing with various emotional problems, including the kind you described.

And I'm sorry to hear you're going through something this disruptive and draining. I hope you'll find help soon. Hang in there.
posted by sively at 1:56 AM on September 30, 2009

IANAD, but I do have mild OCD and this sounds very much like this. SSRI's can be very, very helpful-- note that Brain Lock has somewhat of what seems to me to be a bias against meds.

They have made a huge difference for me and I am *not* on high doses that they say are necessary (but for me would have way too many side effects).
posted by Maias at 3:40 PM on September 30, 2009

I'm not sure that it would solve your problem completely, but if you don't already do it, high intensity aerobic exercise (like running or cross country skiing) can make a world of difference with anxiety.
posted by mintchip at 9:34 AM on October 5, 2009

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