Panic Attacks and OCD: On the Outside – Discovering Your Friend Lives in Fear

Saturday I spent an entire 6.35 hours away from my children IN A ROW which is a new record. At least since Lil Diva arrived on the scene.

So what did I do with my “time off?” Go to a spa? Get my hair cut? Go see Scott Westerfeld at the Texas book fair since I’d just discovered he was here the day before? Hole up in Barnes & Noble and read a book in one entire sitting without interruptions?

No, no, no, and no. Although I certainly would have liked to do those things.

I did something more important.

Yes, more important than cutting this shaggy mane of hair or meeting one of my favorite sci-fi young adult authors.

Hard to believe, I know.

Instead, I learned even more about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) at the kick off meeting for the future Texas IOCDF (International OCD Foundation) affiliate.

Everyone has heard about breast cancer awareness (which is awesome), but few people probably even know that October 11th through the 17th was OCD Awareness Week.

If it wasn’t for a certain person in my life, I wouldn’t have known either. I’m usually lost dancing with the chaos kids in a world where there isn’t time to watch the news or read a paper. I remain cut off from current events. If it doesn’t show up in a friend’s tweet, blog, or facebook status, I typically remain in the dark about what is going on outside of wrangling The Tackler and Lil Diva.

I still haven’t had time to watch Glee this season.

But I do have a person in my life, one of my closest friends, who suffers from OCD.

Her name is Bobbi. As I was writing this blog, I kept having questions for her thanks to my Mommy Brain. Finally, I asked her to please write a blog telling her story about growing up, discovering, and finally treating and managing OCD.

I keep meaning to write a blog about her, because she is such an important part of my life, but I never seem to have the time.

So here are the cliff notes of our relationship:

We met over the internet exactly seven years ago. I was isolated and still trying to meet people after recently moving 930 miles away from where I’d lived most of my life. She was a 13 year old living North Carolina who was also fascinated with the computer game The Sims. We immediately bonded over this interest, the newly announced The Sims 2, and our use of full punctuated sentences while instant messaging. She was young, but she never sounded that way. She was voracious in her quest for knowledge.  And still is.

In the fall of 2005 she and her parents began RVing around the country, leaving their home behind. She was homeschooled and had “graduated” by 14, so there was nothing keeping her tied there. She organized her itinerary to visit me in February 2006 to coincide with a Keith Urban concert.

We met, instantly hit it off, and spent the afternoon dancing. We had so much fun, we did a second day together and I educated her on the wonders of The Princess Bride (as it had come out Before She Was Born) and air popped popcorn. I’m pretty sure that cemented our bond more than hours of late night phone conversations. She hates talking on the phone. She’s very glad we can see each other face to face now so phone time is no longer required.

The 2nd time we met, we bonded over popcorn.

She was The Person who heard more than anybody about my issues trying to conceive. While it might seem odd to talk to a 15 year old about such things, I really didn’t have any female friends here at the time I thought I could open up to.

She found it very educational and we both wondered why no one ever told us this stuff in health class. She was the third person to find out I was pregnant (behind CG and my mother) even though she was in Timbuktu, NY with no cell signal.

Bobbi planned to arrive in Texas again for my baby shower in December 2006. She and her parents would then “winter” here before continuing on their RV travels in the spring, so she could meet Dances with Happy Feet (now The Tackler).

She stayed with me for a full week (her family was camped about an hour away), and she had the “pleasure” (i.e. torture) of helping me reorganize all of my closets (because at 7.5 months pregnant I couldn’t lift most of my containers) and the now infamous Scrapbook Hell Week (think of finals week in college) where we finished my mother’s scrapbook that covered the first 50 years of her life… that I’d been working on since 2000.

She fled back to her parents very quickly after that week…. What I didn’t realize, was how anxious the scrapbooking and reorganizing mess had made her, thanks to her active but undiagnosed OCD. She hid her anxiety from me very well. Most of it I attributed to it being the first time she’d actually Spent The Night Away from her parents – a fact that I simply could not fathom.

It was also the week I first learned she suffered from panic attacks – a fact she was TERRIFIED to share with me. She hid away in a car, freezing, to have one while we were at a book club meeting. I thought she’d gone to make a phone call. After I made it clear how pissed off I was at her for keeping panic attacks from me and freezing herself needlessly, I told her she doesn’t need to hide things from me, and asked how could I help when they happened.

When I first saw her have a panic attack, I wasn’t as freaked out as most people would have been. I’d had a friend have one years before, but at 16 we didn’t know what it was and called an ambulance. Hers were the same thing: breathing rapidly, so quickly she couldn’t inhale enough oxygen, which made her panic more. Occasionally, she can be non-responsive to anything outside her World of Panic, where I’m told, it feels like her heart is going to explode.

Sometimes I was able to talk her through her breathing and shortcut the attack. Other times, I was completely useless.

Always, she was embarrassed, even though I told her not to be. I knew her breathing would eventually return to normal. What upset me more during this time, were the tears. She would cry, whether from the whole Heart Exploding in Chest fear or the shame she felt in daring to have a weak moment, I’m not sure. I used humor to get her to stop by joking around.

Sometimes, that worked too. Other times, I just had to ride it out with her.

He Who Would Become The Tackler was born and she filled the role of Auntie Bobs.  Because she was nocturnal and rarely went to bed before 4 AM anyway, she would visit and stay with us so CG and I could finally sleep – as The Future Tackler would wake up instantly if placed into a crib and had to be held or sleep in his car seat.

She was a lifesaver, and at times, I know I unintentionally took advantage of that, desperate for more than four hours of sleep. To this day, I don’t think she has any idea how vital those nights were to my surviving new Mommyhood. I still had no clue of the extreme anxiety she had in caring for my son. When I saw them together, you could not miss how much she already adored The Future Tackler.

Her family decided to remain in Texas and cease their RVing ways. They started looking for land to buy. I was ecstatic that she would not be leaving. Not just because she was my friend, I admit, but because she was the only one at this point I trusted to baby-sit.

Not that she believed me, given the laundry list of “How to Entertain and Care for Future Tackler Right Down to His Favorite Games or Foods” that I left her every time she baby-sat. I have learned that is just how I am (I do it with CG too, to this day) and I’m trying to change, because I know it annoys the crap out of both of them. But Bobbi, I know I am not alone now in being Neurotic Mommy.

She stopped hiding her panic attacks, and in an effort to help, I devised the Kelly Proof Method of Averting Panic Attacks. We were talking about the thought pattern that leads to panicking.  Bobbi – when not in panic mode or an OCD loop – thinks very logically. And I thought “What is more logical, straightforward, and boring than a mathematical proof?” I suggested a Kelly Proof, which while not very Politically Correct, actually worked to help get her out of Panic Mode on multiple occasions and avoid a panic attack. The recurring theme was “Kelly does not like idiots but she likes me” – a irrefutable truth in her mind. See the end of this post for an example.

In May 2007, when Future Tackler was several months old, Bobbi finally told me about having OCD. By now, I had noticed odd things… like her obsessing about a spot on a window, having to have things even and aligned, keeping the TV volume on even numbers, right down to perfectly straight lines vacuumed on my carpet.

It was nice to finally know why she was doing these things – although I do admit, I found them completely perplexing and very strange. She would get very angry with me when I tried to stop her, but I persisted (I have learned that this is actually a good thing.. sometimes). Still, I didn’t fully understand what having OCD meant. I thought “Oh, like Monk.”

See, even I can have my idiot moments.

She went on medication. Because of when she started taking it, she was often at my house on Dosage Increase Day. The first time I saw her on one of these, I have to admit, I was scared. And worried.

I nearly panicked myself.

On these days, she couldn’t hide her OCD at all, and the medication put her into a manic sort of loop. She would find a ritual, and stick to it for hours – such as taking 90 minutes to clean four tiles on the floor. Or cleaning my glass kitchen table for two hours, and I’d have to drag her away from it. Trying to argue any type of reasoning was futile. What I didn’t understand at this point, was why.

On July 4th, 2007 I went with her to a therapy session. Bobbi asked me to go (after agonizing over it, terrified of my reaction) and I easily agreed. I hated the complete feeling of helplessness I had whenever she went into an OCD loop (most common on the Dosage Increase Days – which I’m told is ironically good – it means the medication is working).

I learned about “flashing.” This is when someone with OCD envisions Something Very Bad Happening and if they don’t have the lines on the carpet vacuumed perfectly straight, then someone they care about will die in a car crash. Or Other Bad Things.

There was nothing logical about these thoughts, no reality in them. But they are very, very real to the person suffering from them.

One night, I came downstairs when she was staying at my house and found a note.  She was “sleeping” out in her car.  When confronted about why, she told me she was flashing – and the flashing was about stabbing me with a knife. So she was hiding her in car to protect me.

I think my response (it was 6 AM and I am NOT a morning person) was to get back in the house before I stabbed her, and if she was truly so worried, she would’ve thrown away my house key after she locked the door behind her. She was shaking, near tears, certain her confession would lead to being abolished from my life forever, not ordered back inside.

Another night, I’m not sure when exactly, I could tell she was brimming over with even more anxiety than usual (she no longer hid it from me after constant beratings to “stop hiding that crap and be straight with me”). She would often do this when she had a BIG Secret that she was terrified to tell me.

I finally got her to come clean: she was flashing about hurting my children. This one, more than any other, had her convinced she would never ever ever be allowed in my house or to watch my children again. This from the person who prevented herself from having a panic attack while baby-sitting until I arrived home. Then she promptly handed Future Tackler to me and walked off to have her attack.

If there is one thing I know about Bobbi, is that she would rather chop off her legs and lock herself into a mold filled room (another fear) than ever hurt my child (now children). This is precisely why the flashing is so completely terrifying to her. The Bad Things tend to fall into the category of Your Worst Nightmare. Whether hurting a loved one, having a loved one be killed in some type of accident…

If it didn’t bother her, now that would concern me.

I made it clear while I did find the subject of her flashing disturbing, I knew her. I knew flashing tended to focus on the worst possible thing her mind could come up with. And I knew she would never ever do anything to harm my children.

And, by the way, did she want to baby-sit next week so I could go play volleyball?

I’m not sure on that last one, but I’m pretty sure I shortly followed it with a request for aid. Not only was she my biggest help and I did need it, but I wanted to reassure her even with her Deep Secret, I still trusted her to watch the person most precious to me.

Gradually, we adapted. Her ideal medication dosage was found, she started another that helped the flashing. She was able to function better. She learned how to cope with her OCD. And she finally stopped hiding and being ashamed of having a Mental Illness.

She wasn’t OCD free, not by any means. You never truly are. But she had learned to live with it, not have it rule her.

I thought she’d leave to go back to University of North Carolina for college in Fall 2009. I really really didn’t want her to go, but because of her dad’s military service, she had a full ride at UNC. All she’d talked about for years was going there.

To my shock, she chose to stay in Texas and go to UT. She had mostly bad memories of North Carolina, particularly her final years there, and had no wish to return. Texas was her home now. Despite my arguing about turning down a chance to graduate debt free.

That’s right. I argued for her leave, and played Devil’s Advocate, even though every part of me wished for her to stay. I knew how important I was in her life, but I didn’t want her decision based on My Need for her. I wanted it to be what she truly wanted.

She spent her first day of classes informing her professors that “her sister” (as she’s really an only child, I am her sister for all intents and purposes) was 8 months pregnant and could go into labor at any time. So she might have to leave class. She was “on call” to watch The Tackler for us.

She kept me company online and on the phone from midnight until 3:30 AM on September 14th. I was having consistent contractions, less than five minutes apart. They were regular and strong enough to keep me awake, but they weren’t “getting worse.”

After over three hours of timing them (while CG got some sleep), wondering if it was yet another round of false labor, and the fact that my first labor was under five hours and second kids can come faster, I finally I had her come over to watch Tackler.

CG was very confused when I woke him up to leave (the last thing I did) and asked, “What are we going to do with Tackler?”

“Bobbi is already here, hon.  She’s been here for twenty minutes. I tried to let you sleep as long as possible.”

“Oh.”

So she knew before anyone that I was in labor with Lil Diva.

Evidently she’d spent this time (the three hours of me debating about real versus false labor) meticulously cleaning her floorboards and door jambs so “Lil Diva would be happy”.

OCD picks odd ways to cope with your friend giving birth.

She took care of The Tackler for the morning, as sleep deprived as I was. God love her.

Lil' Diva would only let Bobbi sing to her.

Because of her school schedule, she escaped night duty with Lil Diva. Still, she was a huge help on her four day weekends when she’d come over to give me a break so I could get in a much needed shower.

She has been The Unofficial Photographer of both of my children. She bought her first SLR camera just prior to The Tackler being born.

Once he became mobile, we would have zero photos of him in motion (unless full sunlight) if it wasn’t for her. At least until age two, when we finally succumbed and bought our own SLR camera. Still, she probably has over 20,000 photos of my children, just taken on her camera.

She’s the most amazing multitasker I’ve ever seen. I think part of that is the one silver lining of OCD – her brain is always moving fast, so she has to keep busy to prevent herself from obsessing about the bad stuff.

The meeting I mentioned at the beginning? She was one of the co-organizers and the reason it happened. She’s starting an OCD support group for UT. She facilitates a different OCD group meeting twice a month in Austin.

And she isn’t even twenty-one yet.

Taken Sept 2010

Imagine what she can do in the next five years.

So what if my TV has to stay on 12 and not 13 for volume?

She is the only hope my children have to hear someone sing to them on key.

She also makes The Best French Dips Ever.

For those alone I would love her.

Living with OCD and doing everything else, just makes her Bobs – one of the most amazing, caring, and intelligent people I’ve ever had the pleasure to call friend.

And if you haven’t read what it is truly like for her, discovering and living with OCD, you need to read this.

****

UPDATE: One year later, Bobbi was curious how Twitter was talking about #OCD… It pushed her hot buttons and resulted in an informative rant about more OCD misconceptions. PLEASE READ.

———————————————————————————————–

For those of you still reading this, here is an example of a Kelly Proof that she wrote to keep from having a panic attack.

She claims it did help….

Prove: Not Knowing Retainer Location is Acceptable

What I Know:

1.      I know the retainer is either here or at Kelly’s. (Given)

2.      I’ve gone many nights without it before, with no consequence. (Given)

a.       Teeth do not, therefore, move overnight.

3.      Obsessing about it making me panic. (Given)

4.      The retainer is not lost. If it were lost, I wouldn’t know where it is, and step 1 proves that it is either here or at Kelly’s, so I do know approximately where it is.

5.      Because step 4 proves that it is not lost, I will be able to retrieve it within a few days.

6.      My teeth will not move in those few days. Step 2 proves that teeth do not move overnight – that I have gone many nights without it before. Step 5 proves that I will have it back in a few days max. Therefore, my teeth will not move because I am not wearing my retainer tonight.

7.      Worrying about my teeth NOT moving makes no sense.

8.      Step 3 says that worrying about my teeth moving is making me panic, but step 6 proves that my teeth will not move. Step 8 shows that it is irrational to worry about teeth not moving. Therefore: Worrying is irrational.

9.      I know that panic is bad and should be circumvented when possible. (Given)

10.  Panicking about the retainer makes no sense, as proven by step 8. If I continue to believe that not having the retainer is a terrible thing, it goes against everything I have proven to be true, and induces panic.

11.  Step 9 says that panic is bad. Inducing something I know is bad makes no sense.

12.  Going against all that is proven to be true and inducing something I know is bad ,even after proving that it is irrational makes me an idiot.

13.   Kelly doesn’t talk to idiots.

14.  Kelly talked to me today. Therefore: I am not an idiot.

15.  Step 12 proves that irrationally believing that not knowing the location of the retainer makes me an idiot. Step fourteen proves that I’m not an idiot. Therefore: the two are not cohesive and I must stop the irrational thought pattern.

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About Kelly K @ Dances with Chaos

Kelly K has learned the five steps to surviving of motherhood: 1) Don't get mad. Grab your camera. 2) Take a photograph. 3) Blog about it. 4) Laugh. 5) Repeat. She shares these tales at Dances with Chaos in order to preserve what tiny amount of sanity remains. You can also find her on her sister blog, Writing with Chaos (www.writingwithchaos.com) sharing memoir and engaging in her true love: fiction writing. It's cheaper than therapy.
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14 Responses to Panic Attacks and OCD: On the Outside – Discovering Your Friend Lives in Fear

  1. What courage to share this story!
    I love Bobbi, I think she would be one of my friends too!
    Kelly, your writing is amazing!
    Bobbi, you really should be a photographer!
    My therapist, here in Santa Fe, is Dr. Richard Raynard, who is The Panic Doctor!
    I have had Panic Attacks, Anxiety and Depression since I was 15, it’s just a part of who I am, I have worked hard in therapy, and carry Valium at all times!
    You both, just made my day!
    Holly

  2. Kelly K says:

    I’ve known you for how long and never knew you suffered from panic attacks… I know she felt so alone, like a freak, when she had those. If only people were more open about it, maybe we’d all realize it is more common than we think.

    Thanks for reading and sharing it, Holly!

    • bobbijaye says:

      She made me cry. And this from the woman I once accused of lacking sentimentality.

      Holly, I think you’re right! I have to like you on the principle that you’re part of the reason Kel and CG got together, and thus, part of the reason they’re in Texas. 🙂 And I hear you on the Valium. I still carry my Xanax. As for my photography? Kel has long since surpassed my abilities and I now bow to her.

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  4. You two truly seem to be the definition of what true best friends are all about- such a heart warming story!

  5. Sparky says:

    Darn…now you went and made me cry…

    I have OCD, and have read hundreds (maybe thousands) of blog posts, articles, and other bits about it. I am sure that I have never read anything else from a non-sufferer that shows the compassion and understanding of this post. I truly wish there were more people willing to learn about OCD, all of us Bobbi’s need a Kelly. Thank you for sharing.

    P.S. I am going to try the proof…

    • I am a constant “work-in-progress” but I try.

      Since I wrote this I have learned of so many other friends who also suffer from panic attacks and anxiety – they were just silent and hiding it, much like Bobbi used to. Because they deem it as a “weakness”.

      If everyone were more honest with their loved ones, I think it would be a lot easier on everyone. You can’t understand what you don’t know about, and you can’t learn about it if someone doesn’t share it with you.

      That being said, it took me years to really grasp how the OCD mind works, because the process is so alien to those who don’t have it. I also spoke to her therapist several times who has a great talent for “translating” OCD into something a non-OCD person can understand.

      Because someone with OCD has a really hard time explaining how their brain works in a way that doesn’t have you shaking your head going, “But that doesn’t make any sense. Just stop thinking that.”

      I’ll be attending the local OCD Texas conference again this year (it is in a few weeks) and will be on “a panel” this time, talking about it from a “support” perspective.

      Honestly, I’m not even sure what I do, and I always wonder if it is the “right” thing.

      But I know my friend and will do what I can to help.

      And about every “Bobbi needing a Kelly”, I come with a host of my own issues to put up with, including a straightforward, bossy, stubbornness that many find off-putting. It just happens to work well with OCD support.

      Who knew?

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  8. Frelle says:

    Thank you so much for sharing the evolution of your friendship with Bobbi, an in depth look at her response and coping with OCD, and for introducing us to her. This is phenomenal advocacy!

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