Update: Fall 2016 Part 1

At this point in my therapy I am not where I ever expected to be. A year ago I thought I would have been further along and a few months ago I didn’t think I would ever get this far! You often think about the beginning and the end of therapy but then you kind of forget about the middle part of recovery where you have come so far but you also still have a long ways to go.

You forget that you can’t skip over steps to get to the end faster. It doesn’t work like that in mental health recovery. You have to take it slow, however, you can keep reflecting back at how far you have come and how much better you feel than when you were on the last step.

It’s been a while since I posted an update, so I figured it was about time!

I posted the last Music Monday a little over 2 months ago. The day it was posted I fell down the stairs and was unconscious for about 10 minutes. My mom called 911 and the paramedics put me in a neck brace and on a backboard then took me to the hospital. I was fortunate to (unsteadily) walk away from the hospital later with ‘only’ a concussion and a bucket load of bruises. My recovery from the concussion has been quicker than expected! The physical symptoms are mostly gone now but I am still struggling with the cognitive effects – memory, confusion, concentration, brain fog…things that were already issues but a little magnified right now, nothing too major.

Mentally, I did have a hard time switching back into “recovery mode” after the fall. I had two weeks where I didn’t do any OCD homework exposures at all. This wasn’t only because of the head injury. Part of me just got stuck in a negative “rut.” I kept telling myself that I could’t do the homework well enough so I might as well not do it at all. I wasn’t being lazy, I was just overwhelmed with fears and hopelessness.

I also had a couple really stressful events during this time. All that additional stress while recovering from a brain injury PLUS all the usual OCD stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. Then came the appointment where I was supposed to discuss the homework from the two weeks that I didn’t do it.

If you have a great therapist, they should understand how hard the work they are asking you to do actually is. They should understand and even expect that you are going to have setbacks and that normal life problems may appear a little amplified to an anxiety sufferer.

My therapist is fantastic, so she did not look at it as a bad thing or even think it was a setback. In her sweet accent, she just said, “I bet you needed that break from the work. Lets see how we can make things more manageable for this coming week.” That felt so validating to the work I was doing, but also offered a gentle hint of encouragmentand.

We did figure out how to make things go much better. The day after I saw her I picked up my homework and said to myself, “even if it doesn’t work today-you might be setting it up to make it work tomorrow. Just do it anyways Summer.”

Now, for the first time since I started this round of ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention) in May, I feel like I am making progress that I can actually see. I have made progress like what is ‘typical’ for an exposure.

I have done things that I didn’t think I could do. I wasn’t even sure I would ever be able to do them!

But I did…and I can’t even explain how incredible it feels. I feel successful. I feel strong. I feel fearless(ish). And I feel proud.

It all started with picking up the homework and believing in myself. (And prayer.)

OCD: 14 (for the 2 weeks I didn’t do homework)

Summer: 31! (For the one month I have been totally beating OCD!!)

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Before I fell I had been planning on going to surprise a good friend, who moved 3 hours away, with a visit! My incredible Grandparents said they would take me (thanks again guys!). It was a much needed catch up day filled with smiles, laughs, and encouragement. I was able to surprise a friend, see her (very new) house, see her town, have lunch with her, visit by the lake, let my dog run in her backyard, and even show her how lovely it is to colour in an adult colouring book!

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My beautiful friend and I! Thank you Lord, for times like this.

If I think back to last year, there is no possible way that I could have managed a trip like this. Depression, self harm, and dissociations in addition to OCD were too frequent and I hadn’t quite figured out which coping strategies helped me the most. This means I was still having crisis situations very often and I wasn’t good at coping yet.

FLASH FORWARD to Now:

The fun and excitement from this visit outweighed the negative that the OCD thoughts and fears bring into everything.

…Wait…did I actually just say that!? Yes, it’s true!

Do you know how long it’s been since I did something that is supposed to be fun and actually could focus on anything except doing compulsions to keep everyone around me safe? TOO LONG. I don’t remember the last time, but I will remember this success.

OCD: 14
Summer: 31+6 (=37)

(1 for travel/sitting with uncertainty about what we were going to do, 2 for stopping in service stations, 2 for walking near a busy road while having thoughts, 1 for eating lunch at a busier restaurant)

Everything I do does come with challenges. Satan really knows how to use OCD against me. He knows that is how he can make me weak – so he can make me feel completely worthless, disgusting, unforgivable, and even invaluable in Gods eye’s…ALL of which is completely untrue no matter how often these horrible, awful, nasty thoughts come into my mind. So, to get back at satan, I’ve been trying to fight satan and the OCD with all I have and all the strength God is providing.

These past few weeks there has been a big change in the anxiety during exposures.

So… PRAISE THE LORD! Thank you, God, for bringing me to a therapist who is working hard to figure out which techniques will target my OCD best. Thank you for the strength and courage to do the crazy hard work that I would have labeled “too dangerous” in the past. Thank you.

I’m not noticing much change in regular everyday life yet, I’m sure that will be coming soon.

Any time that I have with low anxiety from the intrusive thoughts is precious! These past month where I have exposed myself to things that terrify me then just sat with it and slowly noticed the anxiety go down low…were just ~ WOW ~ wonderful!

Of course I still have a lot of difficult moments and days so your continued prayers are still SO appreciated!

Please pray that the OCD continues to improve. Pray that the ERP therapy gets easier. At the beginnings or before, I still am usually close to tears because I am so fearful of the thoughts. Pray for continued brain healing and answers to the other physical health symptoms that are messing up my system. Pray that I keep my eyes focused on the Lord and lean on Him for my strength.

*Part 2 to come soon*

Waves

Standing on the edge of the shore, I peered out into the ocean as far as my eyes could see. Way out there, the waves appeared so huge and powerful.

Overwhelming. Unstoppable.

I sure wouldn’t want to be caught out there! Those waves would crash over me, taking me under to be drowned.

Caught up in anxious thoughts, the water suddenly splashed around my ankles. The bubbling water refreshed my tired feet, white foam tickling my toes. This felt invigorating and relaxing as my feet sunk into the wet sand. Soaking up the moment, I looked out once again at the huge waves in the distance. And that’s when it hit me.

The threatening waves that started out enormous, had gradually diminished into tame wavelets by the time they reached the shore.

What was viewed from a distance brought fear and anxiety. But when viewed up close, now appeared tame and subdued.

This image paints a powerful picture of what we do with the fears and worries of our life. When we peer into the distant, unknown future, our minds get tangled up in waves of anxiety. Things that haven’t even touched us yet threaten to pull us under, drowning our faith with fear.

What will I do IF that happens?

How will I survive IF they do such-and-such?

I will surely crumble IF this comes true.

While these enormous waves of fear build their power and momentum, we allow defeat to crash over us, drowning out every ounce of peace and joy.

Viewed from a distance, these fears lurk heavily in our mind. But if only we would wait…

Wait for those fears to lose their momentum. Wait for those threats to diminish. Wait for those worries to dissipate to wavelets.

By the time our “what ifs” reach the shore of reality, we will often realize that the very things that once threatened to drown us, are now tame ripples we splash with our feet!

The things that appear powerful are now powerless. The things that seemed overwhelming are now manageable. The things that looked impossible are now hopeful.

img_2168In past seasons of my life I have allowed the waves of fear to pull me in. I’ve allowed my thoughts to run wild with worry instead of letting God’s peace soak up my thirsty soul. I’ve learned that when I live my life out in the distant waves, I can’t possibly enjoy the abundant life back on the shore.

On the shore there is solid ground. On the shore I can stand still. On the shore I can soak up the sunlight.

Just as the bubbling water foams around my feet from the broken waves, God’s presence and peace soothe my aching soul.

So how do we live on the shore when the waves threaten to drown us? I truly believe the secret is where we focus our eyes.

I can glance at the waves in the distance, but I don’t stay there. I can get a glimpse of an approaching storm, but I don’t get caught up in it. Instead, I focus in the other direction.

The day I stood on the beach at the edge of the shore, I turned around and heard the laughter of children. Their shrieks of joy drew me in. They were picking up shells. They were running back and forth, splashing in the ripples. Some were flying kites, throwing balls and building sand castles.

They were too busy having fun to notice the huge waves in the distance. They lived in the moment, enjoying the blessings of life.

I didn’t see any child looking out and focusing on the waves that could swallow them up if they drifted out. I didn’t see any child paralyzed by fear, refusing to budge from their beach chair.

Maybe this is a picture of what it means when God tells us to become like a little child. A child playing on the shore, refusing to get pulled under by the waves of fear. A child trusting their father to take care of their every need.

Where are you today? Are you living in fear from the “what if’s”? Are you letting the waves of worry control your every move?

If that’s where you are, I urge you to turn around. Walk upon the shore.

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Trust God with the things that seem to threaten you. Enjoy the abundant life He wants you to have. Surrender to Him your fears and worries you see in the distance.

I pray that the peace of His presence will refresh your tired and weary soul.

Summer Schyff

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