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.