That’s The Moon

That’s The Moon by Valerie Parente

Look up high
at the night sky.
See that? That’s the moon
it’s not an excuse
it’s an explanation
to something complicated
something I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand
but when I break it down as a symbol I stand a chance
to make sense of the voice inside
this methodically mad mind.

Do you see that? That’s the moon
and it belongs to you too.

– Valerie Parente (6-16-2021)

The Owl Mind

The Owl Mind by Valerie Parente

Nocturnal under the moonlight,
with visions of horror,
so many fears when it becomes night,
like a bad dream in color.

Intrusive images play in rotations,
amplified by the dark,
wide-eyed in your fixations,
as you perform your thoughts.

Something about the evening,
the howls elongate and stretch,
so foreboding like a demon,
so much worse when the sun sets.

Vigilant on treetops like a tower,
is it paranoia or being wise?
Everything is scarier after hours,
and yes, that includes my mind.

The owl mind is exhausting,
the owl mind you can’t trust,
but there is no other option,
dark will always follow dusk.

– Valerie Parente (3-31-2021)

Follow Up: An Obsessive Compulsive’s Take On The Coronavirus Crisis (3 Months Later)

These past couple of months during the COVID-19 lockdown have been some of the most mentally challenging months of my life, as I’m sure they were with many other people. As someone with obsessive compulsive disorder, centered around a phobia of germs, this whole experience has been extremely bizarre. I wouldn’t say it was solely a positive experience or a negative experience. It was a combination of both, and in the strangest way possible.

I expressed in March how uneasy I felt as the world just began to descend into germaphobic chaos in the following blog post: https://valerieparente.wordpress.com/2020/03/17/an-obsessive-compulsives-take-on-the-coronavirus-crisis/
I remember when the coronavirus was officially declared a National Emergency many people with anxiety disorders and OCD were expressing surprising feelings of calmness. A lot of these people said that they had been prepared their whole life for some kind of disaster like this, so when push came to shove and it actually happened they were more mentally prepared and stronger. I totally understood that concept on paper, but for me personally I didn’t at all share this feeling. I’m sure it has something to do with my ego and that I don’t like being compared to other people, but I hated that everyone was freaking out about germs and feeling the fears that I’ve felt for the majority of my life. It was totally irrational to feel somewhat threatened by “normal” people experiencing my catastrophe-centered mindset, but to be perfectly honest I think that’s how I felt. It was confusing to understand how I felt because I was absolutely terrified but more than anything else I was depressed by the isolation. I wound up taking the lockdown extremely seriously, cooping up in my home, not seeing a single soul outside of my immediate family, for about a 2 and 1/2 months. Mentally, it was exhausting, as I’m sure everybody else felt. As I said, I didn’t leave the house, but I heard through my family members that did take quick trips to and from essential stores that people were wearing masks, employees at the food store were wiping down and spraying carts, limiting customers that could enter the building, and tape was on the floor to separate people by 6 feet. Officials were recommending we don’t touch our face (something I’ve always avoided because of OCD), no sharing food or drinks, limiting socialization to no more than 5 people. If anything, this should have been a dream come true for someone like me that’s terrified of germs. But I didn’t see it that way, I saw it as the world descending into a madness that I individually had the luxury of entertaining but the world as a whole, as I saw it, couldn’t afford to function like this.

When I finally snapped at said “Screw it, I need to go back in society” I started small, grabbing a coffee at my local grocery store or coffee shop. Gradually I started seeing friends again, but only in outdoor settings where we weren’t breathing right on each other. And I’m shocked to say (and maybe this is my all-or-nothing OCD mindset) that I’m extremely “over” the whole virus situation. Obviously I understand it’s still a danger, but as I take appropriate precautions with face masks and bringing wipes and hand sanitizer in my car, I’ve become completely un-phased by the fear of the virus. After one time finally going back into the real world I at ease again. I felt like everything was going to be okay. I felt like there was nothing to worry about as long as I was doing my part to stay sanitized. I think this is a perfect testament to how well Exposure Therapy works with obsessive compulsive patients. I hated Exposure Therapy as a teenager, but in my adulthood, when these circumstances in the world were dire, I sucked it up, held my breath, and I faced my fears. I can’t tell you how afraid I was in the 2 and 1/2 months; I kept telling myself that the second officials said it was safe to go out again that I would probably wait an extended month after that. And guess what? I didn’t. I didn’t do what my fears wanted me to do.

So, going back to my original statement in this post, I was not comforted by the idea of the world becoming more OCD like me when this all started. Now, 3 months later, I understand what people were saying. I understand why the world’s anxiety lessened those already with anxiety. I get it now. Because when I go out and I touch something or drink my coffee in the park, I’ve instilled in my mind through the exposure of going out that first time that nothing bad is going to happen to me. Is that true? Maybe not. But is it a healthy mindset to have now that the virus is on its way out? Yes, I think so. And when that little OCD voice in the back of my head says “You should be scared to leave the house” I just remind myself this: the world is a safer place today than it was 3 months ago. I went over a decade of my life afraid of germs but still going out in public and taking precautions with hand sanitizer and gloves, and did the germs kill me then? No. And today I’m going out with the exact same OCD rituals in place PLUS the rest of the world now has rituals to keep me safe too. Did people wipe down the carts at the food store before? Not to my knowledge. Did cashiers specifically change gloves at the ice cream shop when they accepted your cash? No. Did people judge you for not touching your face even if there’s a piece of hair in your eye? No. These were little stressful quirks that I had that were now socially acceptable. Those were things I did to stay clean, and now the rest of the world (for the most part) is doing these little things too. Things that I always thought were necessary for survival. So, if anything, the world is cleaner and safer because of the coronavirus. That’s what I keep telling myself every time the OCD voice creeps in. If anything, you are safer now than you were 3 months ago. And its this very thought that made me understand why those with anxiety felt comfort when the world addressed COVID-19. I get it now. It took a couple of months and exposure to a new world, but I get it. And this is much different than the tune I was singing in March when I made my first COVID-19 post from the perspective of someone with OCD.

If there’s anything I want anyone to take away from this blog post it’s that the mind is extremely resilient. We are so strong as human beings. And you may feel afraid now of something, but I promise with the proper mental exercises (for me, Exposure Therapy), you will see a day when that anxiety is put at bay. It’s not going to be permanent, and you don’t have to understand how it will feel before you experience that peace, but just know that it is possible even during what seems like the apocalypse.

– Valerie Parente (6-9-2020)

she could not master astral projection

she could not master astral projection by Valerie Parente

The girl with the mysophobia could not master astral projection.
“This fear and this feeling of germ infestation tainting my skin locks me into physical awareness. To be so in touch with my material self blinds me to the ethereal possibilities of consciousness beyond the body. To open the mind to a realm that needs no space or time is impossible as long as this germ fear persists.”

And so it seems, anxiety is the greatest barrier between us and connection with our true essence.

"Astral Projection" by Valerie Parente

– Valerie Parente (5-17-2017)

My Heart Thaws

My Heart Thaws by Valerie Parente

“You know that mysterious feeling when you smell a certain scent and that scent elicits specific memories?”

“Yes…”

“I’m feeling overwhelmed by a sort of time warp… a time warp beseeched by what I can best describe as an ethereal scent. I’m not talking an autumn aroma that invokes nostalgic memories or a specific stench that reminds you of traumatic experiences. I’m not talking a succession of frames streaming like fluid through your memory banks or distinguishable snippets flickering like consecutive flashbacks rolling through a film reel. I’m not talking mechanical reminiscing as a product of some psychological disposition or resurfacing scars brought forth from intensive therapy. I’m not even talking about a scent that hones your mind! I’m talking about the most inexplicable, indescribable, kind of scent that hones your heart… this otherworldly kind of scent that leaves your present perceptions disconnectedly attending to the world but shifts your reactions into intensely reliving the past! I’m talking nine years ago! I’m talking feelings of innocent attraction and distinct anger and vivid hopes and crazy dreams that were all alive and kicking nine Goddamn years ago! Feelings right before the mental breakdowns that broke my mentality and froze my heart! Nine fucking years of letting the cruel and cold mental disorders numb out the feelings in my heart that hurt so bad! And I forgot how much it stung nine years ago before my reality became a shadow tagging behind a haze of obsessive compulsive disorder and eating disorders. But today that haze is clearing! Today the sun is warm and I can feel it shining down and thawing my heart! And my recovering heart is warping back to a time when crushing made me high and love was totally blind! When somebody made a choice that hurt and something better could have worked! And all this heart ache violently tugging at my core is making me realize that maybe, just maybe, I blessedly became mentally ill! I numbed out my feelings as a means of survival, because to become mentally ill was to stunt my emotional development! To stunt the instrument of my emotions was to freeze time on my heart! To put my heart on hold! And maybe icing out the world behind a distorted icy lens was my way of preserving my heart right before it had the chance to break in half! But I am feeling, and I am alive, and I am okay, and I am better than ever. I am feeling it all now.”

doll-heart

– Valerie Parente (9-28-16)

Order In Disorder

Order In Disorder by Valerie Parente

There is an order in this disorder.
A recyclable cycle that can best be described as a pattern of the mind.
A pattern of thinking perfectly warped thoughts and a pattern of reacting to those thoughts by invoking protection against the twisted perfection.
The disillusions playing in rotations are the thoughts with the connotations systematically assigned to strike different panic chimes.

In this sick masterpiece, these thoughts became obsessions egregious as transgressions only to be diffused by a reactive set of rules. These reactions became compulsions strategically malfunctioned.
And yes, these rituals provide relief, but it is that very sense of success which legitimizes illegitimate stress.

mental with material brings emotional

– Valerie Parente (8-26-16)

Novelty

quantum queen

Novelty by Valerie Parente

I always felt like an ongoing stream of my former self, like a passing current from the past through the current.
But lately I feel disconnected from the old moments and more connected with the sole moment.

I always felt like a blurry memory, like an irrelevant event trying to relive my intent.
But lately my memories are fleeting like separate entities separated from my identity.

I always felt like I had the right words racing in my mind, like I had to be the first person to write words in the first person.
But lately I cannot remember the word I was looking for, and I am quite content with the quiet content.

And though these new feelings leave me unsure of myself, I somehow feel more like me.
Because I might not know what I am all about, but I finally stand a fair chance at finding that out.

– Valerie Parente (8-11-16)

Shy of Me

Shy of Me by Valerie Parente

shy

“I’m shy” is not the statement it seems to be.
When I shy away from showing my personality
I masquerade myself purposely out of anxiety
so that I won’t feel disappointed by my inadequacies.
Feigning to be responsible without feeling responsibility.
It’s not about you seeing me for me and not liking what you see,
it’s about me being me before I’m sure what I mean.
Oh the horror of representing myself insufficiently!
Falling short of the ineffable me I dream.
Me being me without calculated routine
or me being me without addressing my needs.
It’s not about you judging me unfairly,
it’s about me feeling like I am incomplete.
Oh the horror of trying my best having yet to succeed
in being the most perfectly perfect version of me.
So I’ll state “I’m shy” and succumb to anxiety.
Too afraid to be imperfect, I fall shy of me.

– Valerie Parente (7-15-16)

Quest

“You don’t want to get better.”
I was extremely offended.
“You don’t want to get better.”
I was extremely offended again.
“You don’t want to get better.”
…and again. It is difficult to get over an emotion when your glitching mind replays conversations… sentences… phrases… words… sounds… again, and again.
“You don’t want to get better.”
The sting of the comment was starting to subdue into a vapid memory, naturally losing its caustic power with every mental replay.
With a clearer mind I tried to understand why I was so offended by the comment.
“You don’t want to get better.”
That can’t be true. I know I want to get better. I know OCD is not my friend. But to entertain the idea that living with OCD is living carefree would be foolishly wrong. There is no serum to permanently reverse this mental illness in its totality, but even if there was, the idea of simply ousting obsessive compulsive disorder is not a matter of “getting better” to me. But why do I view “getting better” with such a cringe-worthy connotation?
It’s not that I want OCD… it’s that… I would feel lost without OCD.
At those critical ages when a kid becomes an adult, when virtues are established, and when identity is found, the development of my personality coincided with the development of my mental illness in a symbiotic relationship.
Obsessive, compulsive, and disordered have fused themselves with the evolution of my personality, so it makes perfect sense that I would feel lost without the anxiety disorder that has pervaded my growth into adulthood.
I do want to feel better. I do not want OCD to rule my life. But I understand that to embark on a life without this mental disorder (if I were somehow endowed with OCD’s cure) would be to face a whole new challenge in itself, a challenge of feeling totally lost and having to find myself. I would need to be ready to take on that challenge. But you know what? I don’t think I get to consciously choose when I’ll be ready for that challenge. And I know this to be true because I already unintentionally started to face that challenge of self-discovery. Because to realize there is a challenge that needs to be addressed is to already begin to address that challenge. I might be lost, but I will find my way.

"Rose Quest"

“Rose Quest” by Valerie Parente

– Valerie Parente (7-9-16)

Hierarchy of Aversions

Some obsessive compulsive disorder sufferers are deeply disturbed or repelled by certain objects, ideas, words, feelings… anything really. Often times people with OCD tend to perform avoidance rituals, in which they obsessively and compulsively avoid these things that stir up so much fear and anxiety. In my OCD struggle with avoidance rituals I have mentally deemed these repulsive obsessions my aversions.
In trying to sufficiently explain how my aversions rise and fall from different degrees of anxiety-inducing severity I have constructed a model I like to call my Hierarchy of Aversions.

Hierarchy of Aversions
NOTE: The Hierarchy of Aversions is constructed by an obsessive compulsive designer.
This mountain of obsessions was built on an OCD premise with the least worrisome aversions at the pinnacle and the most flagrant aversions at the foundation. While most hierarchical structures are stacked with the more dominant echelons ranking at the top of the pyramid, the Hierarchy of Aversions is layered with the least bothersome aversions at its peak, where they are closer to drifting out of sight and out of mind. Unorthodox, yes, but OCD is not orthodox, nor is it logical. Remember, the Hierarchy of Aversions consists of empirical levels that draw their order from a disorder in the constructor’s mind. The primary fears are set at the bottom of the pyramid because they bolster up every other fear. The obsessions that elicit compulsions on the bottom indirectly influence every fear on top.

NOTE: The Hierarchy of Aversions is constantly under renovation.
The contents at each level of the pyramid frequently climb up and down or come and go. What gives these OCD aversions mobility in the Hierarchy of Aversions is the mood of the constructor. Stress causes the disturbing images, ideas, or rituals to weigh heavier, subscribe to gravity, and drop closer to the bottom of the aversion pileup. When moods are lighter and stress is at bay it is common for aversions that once seemed so prominent and so debilitating to feel “not so bad after all”. They, too, become lighter and rise towards the top of the hierarchy. With a little push these flagrant obsessions can even float away.

NOTE: The Hierarchy of Aversions can be manipulated!
Sometimes aversions go away on their own, without the voluntary aid of OCD recovery. When an aversion seems to effortlessly evaporate it can feel like some random blessing. In trying to understand these “random blessing” cases I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s some subconscious effort on the obsessive compulsive disorder sufferer’s part, an effort that ironically involves using OCD to defeat OCD.
For me, when fears no longer appear fearful one of the two situations has typically happened…

1. I had an amazing experience relating to that aversion.
2. I had a horrible experience relating to that aversion.
These seem like very contradictory experiences. Illogical, right? That doesn’t matter. OCD does not rely on logic!

Allow me to explain with the following examples.
1. I had an amazing experience related to an aversion.
I used to have an intense anxiety-driven disdain of the number “7”. I would actively avoid touching, looking at, or talking about anything that had “7” written on it or generally pertained to this digit. But eventually one day, on the 7th, I had an amazing experience. I do not remember what the experience was (and it does not matter). The fact is, I now had a positive connotation to attribute to the number “7”. I almost felt like I had no choice but to graduate the aversion all the way up the Hierarchy of Aversions and, without a further thought, that aversion disintegrated into thin air. Relating “7” to something bad constituted this fear as an aversion in the first place, but using that same OCD mindset I related it to whatever “good” thing happened that day and wound up eliminating the aversion.
2. I had a horrible experience relating to an aversion.
Since the Hierarchy of Aversions is a structure of varying anxiety-inducing obsessions, the very order of this model comes from relating the severity of obsessions to one another. This can actually work to the OCD sufferer’s favor, because when a less severe aversion sitting towards the top half of the Hierarchy suffices, it is much easier to quickly overcome that obsession, or at least diminish the anxiety it induces, by comparing that obsession to the more intense obsessions at the hierarchy’s base.
I actively try to avoid germs, so I do not like walking barefoot in my own home. But even more so I avoid walking barefoot in any environment outside of my home. So, in the instance that I am forced to walk across my floor barefoot because I forgot socks or shoes I get anxious, but then I remind myself that it could be worse- I could be walking across the floor of some filthy public setting. And even though the alleviation of that anxiety is temporary, it is still alleviation. And yes, I am still averted to walking on the floor barefoot, but in pair with exposure this comparison of “it could be worse” nudges that aversion up higher on the hierarchy where it is not nearly as bad as it once seemed.

These two methods I have used to graduate aversions from firm obsessions to fleeting memories involve controlling the OCD with OCD. There is no getting rid of this disease for me, just manipulating it to my advantage so that certain obsessions and fears seem less scary and become more prone to evaporating.

– Valerie Parente (6-26-16)