The Boy Who Cried Wolf

If you have OCD, or tend to worry a lot for other reasons, you’re probably very familiar with the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” People around us will frequently remind us about it, after hearing our concerns. The things we worry about often seem small and insignificant to them, particularly if they are not especially devoted to us and to trying to understand (which I admit is probably hard to do). We should be warned, they say; because if we keep worrying or complaining about things that don’t matter, when there is a real problem, no one will know. Sadly, this can be true. But what people don’t understand is that those of us with OCD can’t help our false alarms. The famous fable is intended as a lesson for liars, but we are not liars; we have sudden feelings of apprehension. We don’t hallucinate, but we imagine problems that seem very real. And I hesitate to even call it imagination — I just can’t think of a better word. If it were imagination, we would have some control over it. The feelings really seem important to us. And the accusation that we are somehow as bad as a liar, prankster, or bully, for feelings we cannot help, only makes life more painful. Not only do we have feelings that are hard to understand and control, but we are made to feel like bad people for it.

When I get ready to go to sleep at night, and I’m tired, my brain assaults me with things to worry about. Whereas most people seem to have the reaction of: “Boy, I’m tired right now. I don’t have the energy to worry about anything. I better get some sleep and deal with these problems tomorrow,” my brain is the opposite; the more tired I am, the more I am not able to stop thinking about certain kinds of bad things that take root in my brain. It would be nice if I could only not stop thinking about problems that were important, solvable, or directly related to something going on in my life at the time — but they’re not. And once these things take root and get controlled by my OCD, it’s not impossible, but very difficult to put them out of my mind. “Just stop thinking about it?” “Why can’t you let anything go?” Because I’m forced not to — that’s why. It’s not a choice.

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Acknowledging Feelings

It sounds completely stupid, but one thing I’ve found that really helps me deal with feelings is just to blatantly acknowledge and address them. This goes for OCD and non-OCD related negative feelings that I have from time to time.

The reason for this, I think, is because a lot of times I try and fight my feelings without even realizing it. Using the specific example of OCD-related feelings, there’s an immediate feeling of “Something bad is going to happen, I better do something about it, I have to get rid of this feeling.” So to be able to step back and say: “Hey. I feel really, really uncomfortable right now” and just think about that for a minute before acting is rather liberating. I’m not saying it’s always easy to do, especially with OCD. But just thinking, “I’m angry” or “I’m sad” helps a lot. There’s a natural inclination we have to dislike anger and sadness, but properly placed anger and sadness can actually be a good thing, so I think it’s really important to address the feelings that we have, right when we have them. Just like when we go through grief when dealing with the death of a family member. Not only is it OK to feel sad at that time, but it would be pretty weird NOT to. So there is definitely a place for sadness, and not just when something terrible happens, but for smaller bad things as well.

Now, this can kind of be obsessive too, so one has to be careful with this. Because also with OCD, because of the feeling of “I have to do something about this RIGHT NOW!!” I have to remember the other key part of this system: not only to acknowledge the feeling, but JUST acknowledge it, and JUST think about it for a minute before acting. Or a few minutes. However long I can delay acting, with OCD, is usually better. And sometimes with OCD, success is simply putting off a compulsion rather than not doing it at all. Baby steps.