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What is PANDA/PANS?

My Story I am particularly excited to write about this topic because I was diagnosed with PANDAS when I was 11 years old. I know how it can turn a happy childhood upside down. In just days, I went from laughing and playing with the neighborhood kids to gluing myself to my mother’s side and sobbing uncontrollably. In her prayers, she would beg ¨Please, give me my daughter back.¨ I looked forward to sleeping because my dreams were the only break I got from the ever-present nightmare during my waking hours. I vividly remember a particular visit to a public pool with my family one summer. The entire time there, I was consumed with repeated thoughts and images of being kidnapped and sexually assaulted by some stranger from the crowd. When a boy at my church gave me a ring and told me that he liked me, I saw him do horrible things to me in my mind for weeks. Despite the disorder being mostly unheard of at the time, even by medical professionals, I was lucky to have a psychiatrist that had heard of PANDAS and I was treated effectively. If you have never heard of PANDAS/PANS, you are in the majority. What is it? Although PANDAS sounds like it has to do with cute black and white bears from Asia, it actually is an acronym for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcus. So pretty much… far from cute. The IOCDF (https://kids.iocdf.org/professionals/md/pandas/) explains that PANDAS is a…

Back to school with OCD or an anxiety disorder

School. Simply typing that word fills my stomach with the same butterfly flutters I felt each year on the first day. Will I be able to find my classes? What if I have a really hard teacher? Who will I sit with at lunch? Similar questions are likely to be found in the minds of any child navigating their first day of school. After the first few days, most will settle in and their jitters will dissipate. For those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or an anxiety disorder, those butterflies stick around and continue to be triggered day in and day out. Triggers Going back to school, simply stated, is a change. Let’s face it, trading in swimming, s’mores, and sun for schedules, studying, and social pressures would be a tough adjustment for any of us. Children with OCD or an anxiety disorder are easily triggered by the uncertainty presented during this time of transition. It is less a question of if, but of when something that will trigger their anxiety will present itself at school. Expectations, comparison, separation from parents, crowds and many more aspects of school life are likely to set off the child’s highly sensitive anxiety alarm. Academic The invasiveness of anxiety and OCD symptoms can easily distract from the learning process. Intrusive thoughts and worry can occupy an entire lecture or test time. What ifs and catastrophizing can drown out the teacher’s voice or throw a wrench in homework efforts. Also distracting a child in important…

End of Summer Anxiety

As the clouds roll in, and the temperatures begin to drop, we are reminded that winter is on its way. Yes, football season is among us, but that may not be enough to halt the slow creep of anxiety and depression that we might feel as we say goodbye to barbecue’s, flip flops, and sunscreen. Instead of scheduling a tee time, we might find ourselves scheduling a time with our therapist. If this sounds familiar, if you are searching for treatment for depression and anxiety I may have some tips to help.   Remember Life Exists Outside of Your Home How many of us want to curl up with a good book and sleep the winter blues away. Appealing as this may sound, don’t forget about the wide assortment of activities that are still available to get the adrenaline pumping. Winter sports such as skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, or simply sledding with the kids is a great treatment for depression and anxiety during those less than desirable months.   Don’t Forget About the Sun A great anxiety and depression treatment you can administer on your own is standing outside when the sunlight breaks from behind the clouds. Now I know its cooling off so you may need to bundle up, but our body is dependent on the Vitamin D provided by the sun. Not only does the morning light feel good as it drapes across our face, but our internal organs are dependent upon it. Vitamin D deficiencies can…

Why We Worry

When I was in elementary school, I remember seeing on the news that killer bees had entered the United States, and were headed my way. Having recently stepped on a bee while outside playing, barefoot, I was terrified, particularly since news reports played up the severity of the situation. Since then there have been many fears-of-the-day. H1N1 (swine flu), bird flu, SARS, and more recently Ebola.   For some, there are good reasons to worry about these diseases or other things. Individuals who live in areas where the dangers or outbreaks are prevalent, or who have risk factors increasing their likelihood of contracted them might be benefitted by some worry. Michael Specter, of the New Yorker, wrote about this issue in his article on fear and the Ebola virus: “Fear is not a weakness; it’s how people respond to danger. Unless it is calibrated properly, however, fear quickly turns into panic, and panic moves faster than any virus.”   Fear or worry can act as an alarm system in our body, alerting us to threats that we should take precautions over. Other times, our alarm-system-brain causes severe anxiety, such as with general anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder, alerting us to “danger” when the actual risk is extremely low or nonexistent. In extreme cases, this fear can become debilitating. There are several psychological processes that contribute to how we interpret and process fearful events in our lives. Understanding these processes can help learn how to control anxiety.   Negative…

Wishing For Less

Life gets busy, and when it does, it’s easy to let some things drop off your to-do list. The dishes can sit for another day, right? I’ll get to the laundry next week…   If this sounds like your life, consider the following suggestions to help you deal with the mess in a productive and healthy way. Getting a handle on your mess will help you feel more in control of your life. As you tidy up your house, you will feel satisfaction through seeing tangible progress. Having a tidy house means you can enjoy your friends without worrying about your house being unpresentable. You can find the scissors (and other things) when you need them because they have a place where they belong. Tidying and organizing can help you discover things you forgot you had (and yes, finding your great grandmother’s ceramic cow will bring back all sorts of happy memories- whether you opt to keep it or smile at the memories before passing it along to someone else ready to give it a good home).   Now that you’ve decided you are ready to do something, the following steps will help you reach your goal.   Step 1: Set a deadline Setting a deadline for when your project will be completed will help keep you motivated and on track. To help yourself stick to your deadline, invite all of your friends over for a party to celebrate your accomplishment. Be gentle with yourself, and don’t set a…

Why Rain Feeds My OCD and Anxiety

I love it when it rains. You may think it’s because of the cool dense air, that it may look pretty or that there are often rainbows that follow. NOT for me! I love the rain because It gives my anxiety relief, or so I thought. Let me explain. I have OCD associated with the fear of contamination. I will not leave my home because my brain tells me that If I do, I will be infested with germs carried by the world around me. No-one dislikes germs as much as me. I am the one who has to live in a world that is unsafe. Why do germs bother me so much? When I was younger, I found myself washing my hands frequently. No matter how hard I tried, I still got sick. One day I discovered, If I didn’t go to school, the grocery store, or a friend’s house that I didn’t have to feel anxiety; nor did I get sick. Ah-ha! I figured out the cure for what I was told was OCD and anxiety. Again, so I thought.   Back to the Rain So, going back to the rain, why does it relieve my anxiety? It indicates to me that the earth has been cleansed. It is my only reassurance that I can live life and enjoy being outside of my home without the fear of being contaminated. I can actually leave my house. Often for individuals, rain causes depression. For me, rain is the…

OCD and Your Self Life

Most people are familiar with the idea of obsessive-compulsive disorder OCD. Most of us have probably heard (or said ourselves), “that’s *so* OCD”, in reference to our need for order or a friend’s quirky habit. The truth is that OCD is a much heavier weight in the lives of those dealing with it than the party trick our culture sometimes makes it out to be. One of the ways OCD affects people’s lives is often not talked about but affects our most intimate relationships.   Here are several ways that OCD interferes with sexual satisfaction, creating wedges in one of our most important relationships.   1. Contamination Issues. Just over twenty-five percent of individuals with OCD face contaminations fears. Contamination fears can creep into sexual relationships through concerns over exposure to germs generally, through contact with their partner. Individuals may avoid contact entirely, or they may come up with complex rituals for their partner in order to be pronounced clean of germs. Individuals may also have contamination fears surrounding sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s). These fears are not relieved through even repeated STD testing.   Another way contamination fears can affect an individual’s sex life is through a disgust of sexual fluids. This disgust may result in avoidance of sexual interaction or extensive decontamination rituals following sex.   2. Side effects of anxiety or medication. Generally, the anxiety that comes from mental health problems are correlated to reduced interest in sex, or sexual dysfunction. The medications often used to treat…

How America’s Worst Mom Did Anxious Parents a Favor

Lenore Skenazy was dubbed “America’s Worst Mom” for letting her 9-year-old son ride the New York subway home alone. After her column in the New York Sun was published, there was a media firestorm ranging from accusing her of child abuse to accolades for encouraging her child’s independence. Skenazy went on to write a book called, Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Kids (Without Going Nuts with Worry). Skenazy was confident that her son was capable of finding his way home without her and he was thrilled to be given the freedom to do so. She went on to have a television show aimed at helping parents overcome parenting anxiety and fears and giving their children the room to be children.   There are several reasons behind the strong reactions to Skenazy’s article, which also explain why many parents are so controlling of their children’s lives. Each boil down to anxiety. First: Media and the promotion of fear. Nearly any day we turn on the news, we can see reports of violence. This constant reminder of the violence in the world can lead to anxiety and make us feel that the world is an inherently dangerous place. Concern over letting our children free-range seems like a natural reaction to the dangerous world we live in. In reality though, rates of violent crime in the United States are at the lowest point they have been in the past 40 years, according to FBI and U.S. Department of Justice reports….

Handwriting OCD and Neuroplasticity

When I was in college, I was doing an internship with a woman who had beautiful handwriting. I always took pride in my penmanship, but there were things about hers that I really admired, particularly the way she looped her ‘d’. I decided that I was going to adopt that same loop in my own writing.   I discovered that were six general steps to follow for improving handwriting.   Find the right pen Take your time Use good posture Practice “air” writing Avoid using too much pressure Practice daily   Initially, to add the desired loop to my penmanship, I had to spend a lot of time really thinking about what my hand was doing. As I continued to practice, it became more automatic, and eventually got to the point where I could write without thinking too much about it, and have the nice looped’ that I had so coveted. Adopting a new handwriting style is one example of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the phenomenon in which our brains are able to change and adapt to new behaviors throughout our lives.   Neuroplasticity also works in our favor when doing Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) for obsessive-compulsive disorder. When a client first comes in with debilitating OCD symptoms, one of the first thing we usually do is to explain what ERP is and how it works. A client may grasp the concept right away, but understanding the process doesn’t fix things overnight. Just like desiring to change my handwriting…

Famous People with OCD

OCD has no limits to who can have it. Whether you are rich, poor, beautiful, ugly, kind or mean. OCD is not one of those things that you actually want. Some I have heard talk about how they wish they could have the drive that people with OCD are found having. This is a fallacy. Those individuals who are famous and/or rich didn’t get there because of some type of drive they had because of their worries. If you know anything about OCD, you will know that the “Pressure” they feel, typically is engulfed with pain and suffering. Anyone Can Experience It Famous people with OCD feel the pain just as much as anyone else. They to have to pretend that everything is fine. I would imagine it might even be worse for them because everyone is watching. Everyone is in their business. It must be exhausting to maintain that level of awareness so everyone around them doesn’t find out or judge them for what is not their fault. I could give you names of rich and famous people with OCD, but the reality is that you will get the big names that have come out with their issues, or people have forced them out. But what the world doesn’t see all the others that wear a pretend mask so no one will discover what is actually happening to them. People who struggle look like you and me. Most people don’t walk around their life letting other people know…