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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chapt 3
Not So Perfect Relationships
Social Inhibititions & Being Right

This post continues with Not So Perfect Relationships, from Chapter Three.

This series will look at a small snippet of The book on the Perfectionist Personality, aka The Obsessive Compulsive disordered Personality, aka OCPD, each week. Please follow along, leave your comments, engage more on the FaceBook website... whatever your heart calls you to do.

Too Perfect, When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeanette DeWyze was published by Random House in 1992.  If you believe you are dealing with OCPD or someone who is "Too Perfect," whether that's you or a loved one, please buy a copy of the book and read it for additional insights that will not all be covered in these excerpts. 

Not So Perfect Relationships

The most serious effects of perfectionism can be seen in personal relationships.  Such problems spring from
  • the fear of having other people see one's flaws
  • the need to be right about everything
  • a constantly critical attitude

Let's look first at the fear of letting other people see one's shortcomings.  This fear is responsible for a variety of social inhibitions that can range in intensity from slight apprehension to full blown terror, complete with pounding heartbeat, weakness, upset stomach, and other symptoms.

<snip> While the form of the specific fear may vary widely, most socially inhibited people harbor distorted fears of being noticed and having their flaws exposed.  The vast majority feel themselves to be under scrutiny much more than is the case, and they believe that others will reject them or will respect them less if any slips or imperfections show through.  <snip>

A different way in which perfectionism can damage personal relationships stems from the perfectionistic need to be right -about everything.  Errors are anathema to the perfectionist, but everyone is wrong sometimes.  (After all, perfectionism is a myth.  Human existence cannot be mistake-free.)  Lots of obsessives will admit in abstract terms that they make mistakes.  Being able to recognize one's shortcomings is, after all, part of being "the perfect person."  However, perfectionistic obsessives tend to avoid owning up to specific errors, particular in important matters, and this often alienates other people.

It's simply unpleasant to be around someone who always has to show he was right.  <snip>

Perfectionists often try to talk their errors away.  In a discussion, they gently hammer away at their opponents' position until the others back down, if just from fatigue.  Or they will explain how their position was misunderstood.  They nimbly dodge admitting their own culpability.

Should a mistake be absolutely undeniable, they may still have trouble calmly acknowledging their error.  Often they will become defensive, tossing off so many buts, howevers, and other qualifications that their listeners can barely hear the admission within the verbal thicket.  Even in admitting error, perfectionists seem to be saying they they were... semi-right.  Somehow they make it seem that, given the circumstances, being slightly in error was the most intelligent position to have taken.  Throughout, they fail to notice how repelled others can be by this stubborn pretense at infallibility.

<snip>perfectionistic obsessives may even try to convince a hurt or angry friend that his feelings are inappropriate or "wrong."  <snip>  One person will blurt out to the other, "You shouldn't feel that way!"  In each case the obsessive may be surprised when the other person feels alienated still further after being proved "wrong" for feeling a certain way.  The obsessive fails to see the damage done by trying to transform a sharing of feelings into a debate: all too often it pushes the other person into keeping future complaints to himself while smoldering under the surface.  <snip>

When I was in my teens, and early twenties, when buying feminine hygiene products at the grocery store I would seek out a female cashier and bagger.  It was simply too humiliating to have a man handle such intimate items, because if they did, they would know that I used them.  They might even think I was menstruating right at that very moment.  The horror!

Well.  I got over it.  I realized that even the male cashiers and baggers handled such items dozens of  times a day, and gave it no more thought than if I was buying tomatoes or shampoo.  They.  Couldn't.  Care.  Less.  If they were thinking about anything while handling my purchases, it was probably about what time they got off work, or how they were going to spend their paycheck, or that cute girl (or guy) that just got hired.

Somehow, those with OCPD are stuck into "they're all thinking about me, they're all looking at me" mode, which becomes self-fulfilling.  If you feel particularly self-conscious and act that way, people will look at you more.  I'm not sure if it's egotism, or immaturity, but mostly, just as in my tampon example, above, we all need to realize that people care a lot more about their own affairs than about us.

I think everybody, perfectionist or not, tends to be at least somewhat defensive about making mistakes.  I don't like finding that I've made a mistake, but I've learned to accept that I do.  I even call attention to my mistakes at work.  "I forgot to do X, I filled out this form the wrong way; I missed picking up the message; now here's how I suggest correcting it."  I work at devising systems, for myself and others in my department, not that prevent mistakes from being made, but that will detect them quickly. My bosses appreciate that I'm more focused on making things work, than trying to deflect blame or Covering My A$$.

Ex was the dinner-preparer, and on rare occasion, he would over or undercook something.  He did learn to joke about that (somewhat), but his attitude towards most mistakes was defending the pass at Thermopylae (think The 300).  Nothing was going to get through or be admitted without a long and bitter battle.

shirt available from
As noted above, that kind of stance is highly detrimental to a relationship.  I experienced all of the defensive tactics noted above: the wall of argument, the admission buried in a pile of qualifications, being told my feelings were wrong, being told I shouldn't feel what I felt...  It's emotionally exhausting, and it erodes trust. 

I had one friend who was actually (somewhat) supportive of our relationship, and who was liked by the ex and welcome in our home ( a very short list), until... she offended him (in his eyes.)  She and I had gone out somewhere, it was a hot summer day, and when she dropped me off, she got out of the car to greet him.  She was a very fastidious person, and he'd been working outside, with no shirt on.  He wanted to hug her hello/goodbye, in all his sweaty glory.  She insisted on shaking hands, instead, which I believe wounded his vanity tremendously.  He couldn't forgive her for the "insult," and nothing I could say would convince him otherwise.

From then on, she was a horrible snob, no longer welcome in our home, and I met bitter resistance to going out to do girly things with her (which was perhaps every other month.)  If I even mentioned her name, I met with petty complaints and ugliness, which encouraged me to keep my feelings to myself.  There was an ever-growing list of Unmentionables.  I don't think he ever sat down and thought about how that kind of behavior did not bring us closer together, but drove us apart.  He would pay lip service to "better communication" being essential to our relationship, he would even bring it up, but how can you communicate with someone who can't accept your feelings or admit being wrong?

Have you lived through the Debate that Wouldn't Die?
Are you more likely to find a winning lottery ticket on the sidewalk 
than have your Perfectionist admit having made a mistake?

Tell about it in the comments.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Trigger Me This

Roy Rogers & Trigger

When you hear the word "trigger," do you think of this beautiful palomino who was originally named Golden Cloud?  I do - much of the time.

Trigger the horse, star of movies and TV, was probably before your time (and mine), but had a brilliant career.  He even had his own comic book, and was  said to have 150 trick cues.

Then there's this kind of trigger:
a small projecting tongue in a firearm that, when pressed by the finger, actuates the mechanism that discharges the weapon.

But it's the other kind of trigger I'm lately seeing all over the place: 
anything, as an act or event, that serves as a stimulus and initiates or precipitates a reaction or series of reactions.

I know that ragweed or pollen can trigger an asthma attack.  That a cellphone can be used to trigger a bomb.  Odors, for me, can trigger childhood memories (musty raincoat or Lemon Pledge), help me feel happy and relaxed (vanilla or lavender,) even turn me on (sexy man-scent).

Right now, I see more than ever that words, or certain subject material can trigger an emotional reaction.

This is nothing new.  The "n" word, "bastard," the "c" word, "Your Mama!" and other terms have long been used as "fightin' words," precisely because they trigger an emotional response.

What's new is some of the subject matter that is considered triggering.  Discussions of food, diet, and  photographs of too-thin women can be triggering for those with eating disorders.  Talk of funerals or illness may be triggering to someone who's just lost a loved one - or someone who's lost a loved one, ever.  A trailer for a romantic comedy may trigger tears in somebody who just split with their boyfriend or girlfriend.

In a way, I find this all very irritating, and in another way, very healthy.  Rather than either ignoring triggering events (while seething or hurting inside), or challenging someone to a fight, we are admitting we are hurt.  Perhaps we're speaking up politely but firmly, "Could we not talk about diets, please?"  Or, "I don't like it when you use that word, I find it offensive."

On the other hand, I feel like if I'm an "evolved person," there is some kind of expectation to speak in political and emotional correctese.  To not say anything, ever, that might possibly offend anybody.

Not gonna happen - at least from me.  I expect to keep pissing people off - not deliberately or maliciously, but either by accident or in some cases, because I believe an idea is worth discussing, even fighting for.  Even if the discussion may make some a little uncomfortable.

On another site, I used the "n" word, once, in a discussion of whether or not words like slut or (that word) can be reclaimed.  Most readers found it to be a good, thought-provoking discussion, and my own conclusion was that the word should not be used by anybody.  One person was triggered, although she herself also said the discussion was reflective and thoughtful.  On another site, there was discussion about the word "manipulation," which is under consideration by the DSM-5 committee as part of the diagnostic criterion for OCPD.

You might have thought the word was pederasty, instead, and a vigorous debate ensued.

Even though it's uncomfortable, I think we all have to try walking that fine line.  Not deliberately seeking to trigger people at their weakest points, but at the same time, continue to be willing to think about and talk about subjects and words that might not feel 100% comfortable, because otherwise we'll never be able to heal those places.

And on that note... have a wonderful weekend.  Hope all your triggers are happy ones.

What are your trigger words or situations (if you feel safe enough to share)?
What triggers have you noticed in others?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Walking A Mile in Their Moccasins -
Developing Empathy

Photo by Paul Martin Eldridge
at FreeDigitalPhotos
One of the most painful aspects in my relationship with my ex was his expectation that I did - or should - see the world through his eyes.  At best, he would act hurt; at worst, he would be in a towering rage if  I didn't enjoy the foods he liked, appreciate the same TV shows and movies, have the same views on politics, religion, housecleaning... the list went on and on.

The problem wasn't that we never saw eye to eye on anything.  We had many likes and beliefs in common.  It wasn't that I couldn't see and understand his point of view in areas where we differed, because I could and did.  It was that I (stubbornly, to his point of view) refused to be him.  He was unable to understand and appreciate that I was a separate person with different ideas, thoughts, and feelings, which were as equally valid and logical as his own. 

It seemed as surprisingly outrageous for me to express a different opinion as if his own hand had turned around and said, "Hey You!  From now on, I'm not gonna zip up your pants or press buttons on the remote anymore.  I've decided to go into archaeology.  See ya!"

from rebeccaselah at Flickr
Even if I was standing in front of him, telling him, "Here's how I feel, and here's why I think I feel that way," he couldn't put himself into my moccasins, as the old saying goes, and understand what I felt.  He could only go as far as to imagine how he would feel in such a situation.  It was like he expected me to walk in his moccasins, rather than him attempting to walk a mile in mine.

He lacked empathy.

Too often when we talked, he would launch into OCPD in rant/lecture/rambling mode, in which I did not even get an opportunity to speak.  (After all, if you're not really a separate person, what do you possibly have to say?)

Possibly he didn't mean to devalue me as a person, or to ignore my feelings or experiences.  However, whether he meant to or not, that's what his actions did.  To be treated as a non-person - OCPD or non, adult or child - as if one does not have (or is not entitled to have) separate thoughts, dreams, likes and dislikes, and feelings, is one of the most painful and dehumanizing experiences possible.  (And one that many with OCPD themselves experienced as children at the hands of a possibly OCPD parent.)

These and similar behaviors have been related time and again, not only by many partners and children of those with OCPD, but also by those who struggle with a loved one with  Asperger's Syndrome or autism.

Part of the problem seemed to be lack of listening, and part of it seemed to be not hearing.  Human beings communicate not just verbally, but with facial expressions, body language, gestures, tone, even odor (fear-stink, ovulating pheromones, etc.).  Even if one hears and processes every single word (which my ex did not), there's still a whole lot of information that gets missed, if the facial expressions and body language are either skipped or misinterpreted.

Does OCPD perhaps fall under the umbrella of SEPD - Socio-Emotional Processing Disorder?
...people with SEPD may have normal or even superior verbal skills, yet may still have a lot of trouble with social communication. Conversations may often be one sided. The person with SEPD may carry on a monologue on a favorite subject and not be aware of attempts of his/her listener to interject comments. At the same time, they most likely do not recognize the frustration or other emotional response their listener is showing. Consequently, it is difficult for them to develop emotional relationships, friendships, and even normal interactions with coworkers. 
Is the empathy center (if there is such a thing) which comes naturally to most people missing?  Or perhaps present, but underdeveloped or damaged?   Recent research points to drug abusers also having difficulty recognizing emotion from facial expressions.

How Do We "Grow" Empathy?

from Salvatore Vuono
at FreeDigitalPhotos
First, make sure we always allow our conversational partner adequate time to speak.  If we know we tend to monopolize a conversation, use an egg-timer, a stopwatch, or allow our partner to do so, but don't allow ourselves to run on for more than 2-3 minutes at a stretch.  FYI, allowing someone time to speak means giving them time to say more than Uh-huh, You're right, or Okay.  They are even allowed to change the subject!

Ask, don't tell others how they feel.  Listen without judgment.   Instead of "I can't believe you don't love my chile rellenos.  I think you do and just don't want to admit it," try "Thanks for trying them.  What was it about them that you didn't care for?"

Try not to take things personally.  I didn't like my ex's chile rellenos.  That doesn't mean I didn't like him, as a person, nor that I didn't truly appreciate all the time and energy that went into preparing them. (Goodness knows, I would lavish compliments and thanks on him for every meal he prepared.)  I'm a supertaster; I don't like spicy food, I have never liked anybody's chile rellenos.  My ex seemed to take every difference of opinion as a personal criticism of him, and be crushed by it.

Our spouses, our parents, our children, our boss, our dog - nobody is ever going to love every single thing we do and say.  We need to find a way to be okay with that, and to not plunge into fear/panic mode if somebody expresses disapproval or dislike of one thing we have done or said.

Ask follow-up questions, without passing judgment.  "I'd never have picked Animal House as one of the best movies ever made, but am curious as to why you think so.  Tell me more."

Ask open-ended questions.  "I'm trying to do a better job of listening to you.  Is there something else I can do that I'm not doing?"

Go for the five-to-one rule.  For every single criticism or negative remark, try to find and say at least five things about the person that we like, admire, or respect.

eHow thinks we can even build up our skills at reading facial expressions.

Read as much fiction as possible, to stretch our imaginations and to glimpse inside other people's minds and motivations.  Consider empathy and imagination not as some ethereal gift - we're born with X much and that's all, folks! - but as flabby muscles, which can be exercised and built up.

From Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran  (bolding is mine):
"...This carelessness, a lack of empathy, appears in Jane Austen's negative characters: in Lady Catherine, in Mr.s Morris, in Mr. Collins or the Crawfords.  The theme recurs in Henry James's stories and Nabokov's monster heroes: Humbert, Kinbote, Van and Ada Veen.  Imagination in these works is equated with empathy; we can't experience all that others have gone through, but we can understand even the most monstrous individuals in works of fiction.  A good novel is one that shows the complexity of individuals, and creates enough space for all these characters to have a voice; in this way a novel is called democratic - not that it advocates democracy, but that by nature it is so.  Empathy lies at the heart of Gatsby, like so many other great novels - the biggest sin is to be blind to others' problems and pains.  Not seeing them means denying their existence."
We all want people to "see the real me."  The only way people can see us, and we see them, is through empathy.

One caveat - for those who tend to err on the side of co-dependence, rather than not enough empathy, it's important not to dive too deeply into the pool of feeling for and understanding others.  We need to reserve a healthy amount of time and energy for ourselves.

Got an empathy story?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chap 3 - Physical Clutter

illustration from Wikimedia 
Dragon Hoards are jewels and gold
OCPD hoards are old boxes and spoiled food
This post continues with Physical Clutter, from Chapter Three.

This series will look at a small snippet of The book on the Perfectionist Personality, aka The Obsessive Compulsive disordered Personality, aka OCPD, each week. Please follow along, leave your comments, engage more on the FaceBook website... whatever your heart calls you to do.

Too Perfect, When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeanette DeWyze was published by Random House in 1992.  If you believe you are dealing with OCPD or someone who is "Too Perfect," whether that's you or a loved one, please buy a copy of the book and read it for additional insights that will not all be covered in these excerpts.

Physical Clutter

Just as some perfectionists' speech is cluttered with too much detail, others have trouble discarding things in their lives.  They are crippled by the fear that they may make an irreversible error in throwing something away, and by their inability to prioritize.

<snip> When I met him, Karl had been living in his apartment for almost two years, yet boxes and packing crates were piled four to six feet high, filling most of the living space.  Though Karl had arranged a neat path between them to connect the various rooms, so little space was left that he had almost no furniture.  He even slept on the floor.

He told me that the boxes contained newspapers, magazines, and books he planned to read, "as soon as I get the time."  Nor could he discard old letters, broken tools, or empty containers because "you never know when something will come in handy."  Of course, Karl couldn't invite people to his apartment, where they would see the appalling clutter, so his social life foundered.  Yet each time he decided that he had to discard something, he was overwhelmed by the pressure of prioritizing; somehow everything seemed equally important.  <snip>

As we'll see in chapter 8, some obsessive go to the opposite extreme; they're too orderly.  But milder variations of Karl's disorderliness are common in obsessives.  They might generally be sloppy, or the disorder might be confined to one area of their lives - to their car, say, or to one particular closet.  In many cases the ironic underlying cause of the mess is perfectionism.  Cleaning up would require scrubbing every surface, removing every molecule of dust, finding a place to store every possession, a task so herculean that it would daunt anyone.


We've discussed the hoarding, a few (billion) times.  To those not involved with a hoarder, there's a train-wreck style fascination - how can you possibly let it get that bad?

It gets that bad because people with a hoarding partner either put up with it, hoping/praying they will get better and eventually be prepared to get rid of the clutter. The hoarder promises s/he will, "soon," but "soon" never arrives for them.  You have a better chance of standing in the yard waiting to get struck by lightning, than of a hoarder voluntarily deciding today is the day to start decluttering.

In some cases, the hoarding will break up the relationship.  This is largely why I left my ex, because he was not willing to address  the issue and get help.  (Yes, he had other issues, and became emotionally abusive, but much of the time he would "go off" in defense of the hoard when I would press the issue.)

There is every excuse in the world - I'll get to it later, there's still a use for it, do you know how much I could sell that for?  (Then why don't you, sell it?  Another excuse comes up.)

Many hoarders end up living alone (after all, there's not much room for anybody else.)

Some hoards include heaps of garbage and old clothes, some have neatly stacked boxes and goat paths, but a hoard is no way to live.  For a fascinating graphic & statistics, click here.

Yes, people who are hoarders are truly mentally ill.  But if you love them, if they totally refuse help, and you don't want to live as consort to the King or Queen of Empty Boxcity, what can you do but leave?

Your thoughts?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bravery and OCPD
Self Discovery Word by Word

Some of the bravest people I know have OCPD.  (And some of the funniest - it was an OCPDr who shared this cartoon.) 

Nobody yet knows what causes OCPD.  Genetics?  Overly strict parenting?  A combination of the two? 

It may well be that like other mental illnesses, OCPD is primarily caused by a chemical imbalance or malformation of the brain.  So that the overwhelming fear, anxiety, and need to control is like sitting behind the wheel of a Toyota with a malfunctioning gas pedal. The question, for those diagnosed and actively battling their condition, may not be "why don't they handle life better?" but "why are they able to function as well as they do?"

Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.  ~Raymond Lindquist

Those with OCPD, brave enough to face a diagnosis, brave enough to commit to medication if necessary (medication is not the answer for everyone, but is very effective in some cases at interrupting OCPD behaviors long enough to allow new coping mechanisms to become habits.); brave enough to commit to regular therapy, are my heroes.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.  ~Ambrose Redmoon

This post is part of the Self-Discovery
Word by Word Series.  Join in here.
In many cases, the bravery comes about as the result of an ultimatum - get help or get out (or I will get out.)  Sometimes even that is not enough.  The love and possibility of a more fulfilling relationship (with others or oneself) is not rated as more important than the fear of change.

But for some, they do decide love is more important, and it takes bravery and courage to make that choice.  They become strong enough to face their inner lions.

Battling any mental illness is scary.  Telling people you have a mental illness is terrifying, because of the stigma, the perception that people "choose" to be "crazy."  (Or that it'll rub off or something.  This is why I have many more readers than people who openly follow this blog.)

via mharrsch at Flickr
Courage is being scared to death... and saddling up anyway.  ~John Wayne

To me that means, if you think there might be something wrong with you - whether it's OCPD or another mental illness, an eating disorder, a physical illness - saddle up and go get professional help.  Yes, you may not like what you hear.  Yes, you may have to make some uncomfortable changes in your daily routines.

You might even have to shop around until you find a therapist who understands your condition and can help you effectively - so what?

Not taking the steps necessary to be well, to make a better life for yourself and your loved ones, is letting the fear win.

And you don't have to.  Whatever strengths you have been using to push it down, to fight it on your own, those strengths and determination are more than enough to defeat OCPD - or any other condition.  You have the bravery, you just have to let it out.

For those who love somebody with OCPD - every day you prove your bravery.  Some prove it by staying in the relationship, and some prove it by leaving.  Neither is an easy choice, especially when there are children involved.

I salute all the brave people battling OCPD, in one way or another, every day.

(This post is part of the Self-Discovery, Word by Word series.  For more posts on this theme, a link to The Body and the Brood is live HERE .)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chapter 3: The Completion Complex

This post continues with Performance Pitfalls: The Completion Complex, from Chapter Three.

This series will look at a small snippet of The book on the Perfectionist Personality, aka The Obsessive Compulsive disordered Personality, aka OCPD, each week. Please follow along, leave your comments, engage more on the FaceBook website... whatever your heart calls you to do.

Too Perfect, When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeanette DeWyze was published by Random House in 1992.  If you believe you are dealing with OCPD or someone who is "Too Perfect," whether that's you or a loved one, please buy a copy of the book and read it for additional insights that will not all be covered in these excerpts.


A trait related to the need to be flawless is the need to be thorough.  Bowing to this pressure when preparing a presentation of written report, the perfectionist will include far more information than necessary.  He can't draw the line between what is and isn't important, and he can't risk leaving something out for  fear someone will think he wasn't fully informed.  <snip>

Among countless examples of this behavior, one is provided by the teacher who feels driven to give the perfect lecture.  She fastidiously  presents reams of background information, but then finds herself having to rush through the very issues to which she was building.  In fact, her students often can't follow her increasingly frantic lectures and walk out without having absorbed the main point.

<snip> However, the obsessive's chief motive in covering topics in such fine detail is usually his exaggerated fear of omitting something that will turn out to be important.  This fear blinds the person to the fact that too much detail can dull the impact if his main points, boring and confusing listeners rather than clarifying.  If every base has to be touched and all pros, cons and caveats acknowledges, communication is sterile.  It lacks color, force and focus.  Perfectionism once again winds up detracting from overall performance, rather than enhancing it.


One thing I want to say about my beautiful, self-aware OCPD friends - they do know how to laugh at themselves.   The photo joke above was posted on one of my support boards by somebody who has OCPD, and many of the aware OCPDrs joined it to laugh at it, and, ruefully, at themselves.

Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of a massive info-dump.  Again, I think this goes back to my analogy of a malfunctioning or over-sealed filter - those with OCPD really don't know how to filter what's A level important, B level important, C level important.  So everything is included, in one big pile o' crap.  With the result that nothing makes sense.

They did not get the show biz memo: Always leave the audience wanting more.

When I ask what's wrong with my car, for instance, what I really want to know is just three things: 1) How long is it going to take you to fix it, 2) How much is it going to cost, and 3) Is it my fault the whatever-it-is broke, so I can avoid breaking it again in the future?  I don't want to know about the entire history of the internal combustion engine, or how my whatever-it-is works compared to twenty other models of cars.  That makes you happy to know these things, good for you, but I. Don't. Care.

Sometimes I battle the TMI (Too Much Information) tendency in myself, but mostly, people (at least who do not have OCPD) tell me I do a decent job communicating, both verbally and via writing.

How about you?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Birthdays, Glee, and the Amazing Technicolor Roses

My sister sent me these roses for my birthday.
Yes, they're real.
I celebrated a milestone birthday last week, and my thoughts are more scattered than usual, but I am feeling a quiet sort of contentment and happiness, with a tinge of sadness.

Birthdays are usually a mixed bag of emotion for me, because my birthday is also the anniversary of my mother's death from breast cancer.

Last year at this time, I turned the age my mother was when she died.  This year, I surpassed it.

Last year, I was in mental and emotional agony over the fact that my OCPD boyfriend, who I dearly loved (and still do love) was willing to let me leave, rather than get help for his mental and physical illnesses.  This year, I have (mostly) accepted that it is not and never was my job to "fix" him.

Last year, because the "shared" garage was devoted to non-operational vehicles and his hoard, most of the personal belongings that were meaningful to me were in boxes; said boxes were in a storage facility miles away, and filthy with dust.  So anytime I wanted to read a book, work on a craft project, etc. it meant arduous effort.  This year, my grandmother's china is proudly on display, my books are on bookshelves all around me, and my craft projects... well, I've worked on them a little.

No clue how it's done - they are NOT painted.
Last year, one of my hurts was that every time I tried to write, I was confronted with jealousy and interference from my boyfriend.  This year, I have written something almost every day.  Some of it even on my novel!

Last year, social events were few and far between, and always iffy when it came to b-f's attendance.  At least half of the time, he would plead ill health at the last minute and try to emotionally manipulate me into feeling bad if I went without him.  (Like when my writer friends held a dinner for me, to celebrate my getting a literary agent.)

Although I learned not to sucker into the guilt-tripping several years ago, it was still inconvenient and embarrassing having to show up at events without my partner.  Then again, when he did go, I was always on tenterhooks as to whether he would get obnoxiously drunk and pick a fight or otherwise melt down and make a scene.

This year, my social life is my own, and the only person who can embarrass me in public is me.

Last night I attended what was basically Glee live.  Burroughs and Burbank High Schools (which inspired Glee)  show choirs put on a combined show as a fund-raiser for Burbank schools arts programs.  I went with old and new friends, and it was much fun.

I didn't go planning to record, but the performances were such fun I decided to capture just a tiny taste.  They're selling DVDs of the show, too, which I just may have to buy.

This started out with the Day-O, Banana boat song, and segued into this:

Ex-boyfriend was such a snob about what "we" watched or what we did.  He felt he had refined tastes and liked nature programs, PBS, and dramas, but wasn't above his Two-and-A-Half Men, Cops, and Rehab (that's a reality show set in some Las Vegas chi-chi bar.)  The TV was on 24/7, and he felt insulted if I chose to sit and read rather than watch TV with him.

He would have had to be dragged to a show like this - although he would have loved it, had he gone and not done a last-minute bail.   The kids (and these are actual high school kids performing, not professionals) were really good.

There's so much that my ex refused to see, try, places to go, friendships to be open to...  I am so happy not to be living in his crazy cage any more.

I feel like my life is moving forward. I'm still digging out of debt - the security deposit, higher rent, furniture purchases, etc., all went on plastic, but I don't regret a dime of it (except when the statements come.)

I wish he'd have been willing to move forward too, but he was too afraid.  And after six years begging, reasoning, bargaining, and threatening,  all the while his behavior continued to get worse and more abusive, there was nothing else I could do but move on, without him.

Still, I feel sad for leaving him behind.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Slutwalk LA Update - Over At Health for the Whole Self

Katie McLaughlin writes (and I follow) one of the best blogs on the Internet about learning to get in balance with one's body, self-acceptance, and, yes, HEALTH, over at Health for the Whole Self.  She's kindly allowed me to guest on her blog with an update from Slutwalk LA.

One of the most horrible things that happens to young (and not so young) women is that we are expected to be pretty, attractive, and sexy - and at the same time, blamed if we are too sexy.  Called sluts, and possibly sexually assaulted.  Then blamed by police, even friends and family, for being sexually assaulted.

Yet, on the other hand, if we dress modestly, if we choose not to engage in sexual activity... we're told to loosen up.  Not be so uptight.  (And not any safer from sexual assault, either.)  We're constantly put in a lose-lose situation.

Slutwalk is about calling bullshit on these crazy pressures, and saying, from now on, we will decide what we do with our own bodies.  And we won't let anyone make us feel ashamed.

For more on Slutwalk LA, please click over to Health for the Whole Self.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chap 3 - Performance Pitfalls
Deadly Deadlines

This post continues with Performance Pitfalls: Deadly Deadlines, from Chapter Three.

This series will look at a small snippet of The book on the Perfectionist Personality, aka The Obsessive Compulsive disordered Personality, aka OCPD, each week. Please follow along, leave your comments, engage more on the FaceBook website... whatever your heart calls you to do.

Too Perfect, When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeanette DeWyze was published by Random House in 1992.  If you believe you are dealing with OCPD or someone who is "Too Perfect," whether that's you or a loved one, please buy a copy of the book and read it for additional insights that will not all be covered in these excerpts.

Performance Pitfalls
Besides putting many obsessives under enormous pressure, the Perfectionist's Credo an cause other insidious damage.  It often propels obsessives into self-defeating behaviors that far outweigh the rewards of avoiding errors.


Many perfectionists chronically have trouble getting their work done, or even started.  They tend to procrastinate because all tasks loom large when they have to be done flawlessly.

<snip> Once a task is undertaken, the perfectionist always finds room for improvement.  No matter how much time he spends on a project, there's always the chance someone will catch an incomplete or erroneous detail.  So he holds on to it, spending far more time than necessary.  In his mind, the danger is in letting go of something before it is truly perfect.  Under this pressure, some perfectionists actually miss their deadlines, while others meet them but pay a terrible personal cost.

<snip> This patient wanted every sentence to be profound, and she couldn't write down a single word until she was absolutely certain it was the right word.  Ironically, the longer the writing took, the higher she felt others' expectations would be, so the self-imposed pressure mounted with each passing

Over and over, I've heard patients describe being frozen into inaction by the awesome imperative to do a task not just perfectly, but in a way that truly impresses or astounds - in other words, to be "great."  I have to stress that most of the time the obsessive doesn't walk around consciously thinking that he or she must tower above other people; acknowledged consciously, it sounds pretentious.  But whenever I question, point by point, why she can't stand an oversight in her presentation or why he can't stand to be seen as an average attorney (or designer, or chef, or teacher), a submerged desire to astound people with his or her knowledge emerges.

Not only can the imperative to be great inhibit one's day-to-day functioning, but it can also, paradoxically, discourage one from developing one's talents - sometimes at a tragically early age.  I think of Janine, a gifted twenty-seven-year-old architect who consistently had trouble undertaking important projects because she as convinced she had to "produce a design so innovative that it stands everyone on their ears."  Even sadder was Janine's' outlook for her future.  "I had to many plans, so many fantasies," she told me.  "But because my work has to be incredibly good, it takes infinitely longer to execute somethng than to simply think of doing it.  I feel like I've wasted the last two years.  Anything I do now will be less than what I fantasized I would do.  So now it feels like there's no use."


The "everything-including-the-kitchen-sink" thinking, is, I think, one of the markers of this condition - the lack of working filter.  On a report, say, those with OCPD really can't sort out which things are most important,  which things are less important, and which things are frills to throw in, if there's time, or as an illustrating anecdote.  Everything ever known about the subject must be included.  Which means a confusing mess, much of the time. 

Then, of course, if a task is never finished, it can never be criticized, because, of course, it's not finished.  (Like my current novel - though I am getting critique on the unfinished bits.)  And you don't have to start on any new projects, because the old project isn't done, are you crazy?

This was why my ex could rarely be persuaded to start some new project.  His favorite excuse being the garden - and when there's a big yard, you can always find trees and bushes that could use a trim, weeds that need pulling...  The yard was never perfect enough to move on to something else.

I find that I tend to procrastinate on things I don't enjoy doing.  Like filing.  Housecleaning.  I find ways to get around that, like playing some "get up and move" music, but still, sometimes it's hard beating the inertia.

So I can empathize, to a certain extent, how much harder it must be for those with OCPD to get the ball rolling.  And yet, part of me just wants to scream:

Because if one just pitched in and got-er-done, it would take so much less time and energy than all the excuses.

Anybody with me on that?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Labels Help, Labels Hurt

from cheezburger
Labels Hurt
Today, I am participating in Slutwalk LA.  Why?  Because I am beyond weary of men, women, and children being assaulted. 

I am infuriated by the misconception that rape is about anything but power and control. 

I am disgusted by the crazythink that all girls and women have to do is "stop dressing like sluts" and we will be safe.

I've already posted about the myths of rape, like the idea that rapists are looking for sexual satisfaction - when actually, many can't get their rocks off.

Back on point - pretty much, nobody likes feeling "labeled."  Black, white, young, old, prissy, slutty... people can and do find all those labels objectionable at times.  Labels are often used to divide people in very ugly ways.  She is mentally ill - I am not.  He's poor - I'm not. 

We can hold ourselves superior to "those people," whatever those people are that we're not. 

If we are "virtuous" and dress "modestly," then those girls, over there, must be "sluts."  If we like to dress to show off our bodies and feel comfortable being open about our sexuality, then those women, over there, must be repressed prudes.  

from Joe Shlabotnik at Flickr

from xddorox at Flickr

When we look closer, we find out that, hey, the rich, the poor, the immigrants, the sluts - whatever we consider "the other," are actually... pretty much like us

Everyone deserves to be safe from being raped, assaulted, or killed.  Labeling some victims as somehow "less worthy" or "asking for it" does not reduce the number of attacks.  It simply reduces the number of assaults reported.  Which means that those who actually commit the attacks are still at large, free to attack someone else.

Labels Help
At the same time, labels can be helpful.  Especially for children, "labeling," or diagnosing a child with autism or a learning disability at an early age means that treatment begins sooner.

Diagnosing, aka "labeling" of mental illness allows for more effective treatment, and in some cases, appropriate medication.  Because there is still, sadly, such a huge stigma, nobody wants to be labeled mentally ill.  People who suspect their loved one might be mentally ill have to move very carefully, because their amateur diagnosis is unlikely to be welcomed with open arms. 

It's one thing to have someone tell you, "I notice you squinting a lot; let's have your eyes checked, maybe you need glasses." 

Quite another to have someone telling you, "It seems like you are anxious or angry a lot of the time; let's make an appointment with a psychiatrist and see if you... need help."

Those with substance abuse issues generally don't want to hear it, either.  "I'm not alcoholic, I just like to have a couple beers after a hard day at work."  They may on one hand insist they have no problems - and at the same time, expect you to let things slide if they misbehave, "You know I couldn't help it, I was drunk."

If we love someone with "problems," realizing it is them, not us - can be tremendously helpful in sorting out better ways to cope.  And to learn how to not enable, if we have been doing so in the past.  (See Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask, First.)

Attaching a label, in and of itself, doesn't help.  On the other hand... while the vast majority of those with mental illness are not violent, imagine if Jared Loughner's illness had been recognized and treated.  Or Ted Bundy's.

I think we can sort out whether a label is helpful or harmful.  Is it being used to hurt someone?  Is it being used to put the labeler in a position of Power Over, or to give him/her a smug feeling of superiority as compared to the person being "labeled?"  Or, is it simply identifying a possible problem so that the person can be helped?

Have you ever been labeled? 
Do you think some labels are helpful?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask, First

If we've traveled on a plane... pretty much ever, we've heard the drill, about "When traveling with a small child, or person who needs assistance, put on your own oxygen mask first, before assisting the other person."

And of course, that makes sense.  If we are dead cold passed out, then who's going to put the oxygen mask on little Jimmy or Grandma?

Yet when it comes to a dysfunctional relationship, our instinct is to do the exact opposite.  We go into therapy, either with or without our partner, and tell the therapist, "S/he's broken.  Fix her/him!"  (Or, teach me how to fix her/him.)

What do they do?  They tell us we have to work on ourselves first.


We may spend a lot of time explaining to said therapist just how screwed up our partner is.  Session after session.  Finally, it seems like they "get" it.

And they return, gently, firmly, to "You have to work on changing yourself."

One of the things that happens in a dysfunctional relationship is our sense of reality gets distorted.  We need to learn to build - or rebuild - healthy boundaries.  We need to rediscover our own truths, instead of bending ourselves into pretzels trying to please or accommodate the disordered person, and coming to believe their truths.  Sometimes we have internalized what we have heard from disordered parents, lovers, spouses, bosses, etc., so long that it feels like this is who we are.


He calls me a fat slob, so I must be one.
She says I'm selfish to want to go out with my friends once a week, so I must be selfish.
He swears and gets upset when my friends call in the evening, so maybe it is intrusive of them.
She says it's lazy of me to want to sleep late on Saturday morning after a 60 hour workweek instead of getting up to weed the garden at seven a.m.
He says we wouldn't fight if I didn't argue with him about everything.

Hey, maybe I am a fat slob.  And maybe that's total BS.  Just because someone says something to us, just because it happens to zing us in a spot where we feel vulnerable, doesn't mean it's true.

We need to relearn what's reality and what's crazythink - like the idea that the order in which one carries groceries into the house is a matter of life or death. 

The only way we can do that is by emotionally taking a step back,  Stop trying to "fix" or "understand" or empathize with our partner.  We cannot do their emotional homework for them, we can only do our own.  Deal with our own issues, become reacquainted with how we think, feel, want... that's putting on our own oxygen mask.

Then, once we have some "oxygen," we can better figure out what we want to do next.  Maybe we will find a better way of living with our partner even if s/he makes no changes at all.

Maybe the changes we make in our own attitudes and ways of dealing with life will make our partner so uncomfortable (or so impressed) that s/he will be willing to work on fixing him or herself.

Maybe we will decide to end the relationship.

Maybe we will try one thing, for a limited period of time, and then another.

I'd already started this blog post, and one of my chat friends posted this, which was so in line with where I was gong that I asked to borrow it. 
Our joint therapist would point out to my ex (the ocpd partner) that his perspective did not change my truth. It was an interesting way to phrase it. He called it denying my truth. It was his rewriting of reality to ease his anxiety by increasing mind. It was so confusing and exhausting.

My divorce attorney gave me several good analogies that I still think of:

She said, if he set your hair on fire and then told you that he didn't, your hair would still be burnt off.

She also said he can call you a giraffe but that doesn't mean you are one and your neck won't get any longer.

from Martin Pettitt at Flickr
The whole point being that we have to heal ourselves and then trust our own strength. This is not an easy task. I resigned the marriage rather than continue to do this 24/7 but I have learned what I need to do for my children's sake.

1 - We are strong or we would never have been their partners.

2 - We are kind, but must remember to be kind to ourselves first.(Remember to place your oxygen mask on first before securing children and others - from pre-flight instructions - OCPD are always crashing so don't go down without your mask)

3 - We are adept at interpersonal communication or we could never learn to speak OCPD.

4 - We are not mind readers and the harder we try the more we will fail - which will be our fault. Do not try!!!!!!!!!

5 - I have learned to pretend that what is being asked of me was asked of another. Such as a solid married couple you know or a sibling that you are close to..... or would you want your child to be treated this way. If the answer is no, then it is not acceptable to you either.
What lessons have you learned about putting on your own oxygen mask?