Coming Back (An Ego-Centric Post)

I love to be doing better, but going too long without writing is not a good thing, and I tend to only realize a problem is OCD after it’s too late. This means my mindfulness could use improvement. The more something bothers me, the more it gives me that “Something bad is about to happen if I don’t resolve this” feeling, and the more I feel compelled to think about it. It sounds simple to be aware of this basic cycle, but OCD is good at tricking us.

Here’s another problem: Should I still be open about my OCD? Will new people I meet judge me if they learn it too soon? I don’t force bringing it up, but I don’t hide it either. I figure this is the best approach. It’s an embarrassing but true part of who I am, and I feel that trying to hide it would be bad in the long run. I have to be honest with others and myself about who I am.

It’s been a while since I’ve regularly updated this blog. I need to take a good look at it and make sure I don’t write too much about things I’ve already covered. But then, isn’t that what OCD is all about?

Itchy OCD

My obsessive, intrusive thoughts are a lot like an itchy bug bite. When bitten by a mosquito, I know it’s best not to scratch. But it itches so much that sometimes, I can’t help but give in. As I get older and more mature, I realize more the reality that scratching does no good, and in fact makes the situation worse; each time I get better at avoiding it, though sometimes I take a few steps back. It might take all of my effort and chip away at my sanity to avoid scratching that itch. But when I can avoid scratching it, and I let the itch be, at a certain point a threshold is reached where the itching stops. The wound will heal with no scar.

You can’t get rid of an itchy bug bite — you just have to wait while it runs its course of healing. You also can’t get rid of an intrusive thought caused by OCD — all you can do is accept the thought and let it run its course. Just like you don’t really need to scratch that bug bite, your body in both situations is giving you a false alarm. The sooner you realize that and treat it like what it is, the sooner you can get better.

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.

Embracing Uncertainty and Imbalance

It may not work for everyone, but lately I find myself engaging in small “exercises” to encourage myself to be open to the inherent uncertainty and imbalance we all encounter in life. One of these is purposefully wearing mismatched socks in a very obvious way (as I am doing tonight). If I wear a perfectly matched outfit, I’m more inclined to frequently check and see if my socks are pulled up all the way/folded evenly/at the same height. Looking back on it, I’ve even purposefully mismatched my shoes in years past, probably for the same subconscious reasons. Another thing I used to do was to purposefully hang crooked pictures on the wall — this was my way of taking charge of the fact that a picture I unintentionally put up crooked would bother me. If I did it on purpose, I took control of the situation, and was not as bothered. That doesn’t mean it’s about control, though, so much as awareness and acceptance. While I admit I can be controlling at times, I don’t think this is a major facet of my personality.

Are there any “exercises” you all do to combat your OCD? I can’t do the same thing with my tics, because of the intense physical discomfort I experience from not doing them. But because OCD is about mental rituals, I can assist myself in “thinking” myself free by doing these little things more often.

Lazy Brain

Sometimes I think because I’ve developed the habit of repeatedly checking over the years, my memory has started to depend on it and not work as well. Maybe it’s just an illusion, but does anyone else feel this way? It’s like my memory has become lazy because it knows I will keep checking over and over anyway. I find I have to concentrate and check things really mindfully, otherwise I know I’ll want to keep checking it. Not only that, but a part of me actually becomes unsure whether I really checked before. Like, I have to kind of say to myself in a loud (mental) voice: “I AM CHECKING THIS RIGHT NOW SO THAT I WON’T NEED TO CHECK IT AGAIN IN FIVE MINUTES. WHEN I WANT TO CHECK THIS AGAIN IN FIVE MINUTES, I WILL REMEMBER THAT I CHECKED IT JUST NOW.”

The other day I opened a closet door, looking for something, didn’t find what I was looking for and closed it; and I kept opening it again and again, to check. Every time I closed the door I got a feeling: “Wait. Maybe I wasn’t thorough enough. I need to make sure.” And it was clearly an OCD feeling, but yet I also feel that when I check things I can get into a habit of doing them carelessly, because I’m so used to repeating it over and over.

Busy

I’m so, so busy. I have more responsibilities that I can juggle at once right now, and I keep dropping one or two and having to pick them back up.

But I’m also more happy.

I’m the kind of person who needs to stay busy, because if I have too much free time I think myself into a depression. OCD is a disorder of over-thinking, so that’s exactly what I don’t need time to do.

Now all I need to do is learn to adapt to the higher stress level of being super-busy. It leaves me with little time for my obsessions to creep in, but it is hectic and chaotic. If I can just stay calm it will be smooth sailing.

The OCD Workbook

I can’t really review it until I’m done with it, so this is more like a partial review. Yesterday was my birthday, and one of my presents was the Third Edition of The OCD Workbook by Bruce M. Hyman and Cherry Pedrick. I picked it up to just skim through for ideas and tips, not really planning on actually buying it, but my husband ended up getting it for me. And now that I have it at home, I realize it’s probably a good thing because sometimes I over-estimate my strength in cognitive-behavioral therapy. It’s easy to get going and think “I’ve got this down now,” meanwhile problems start creeping in.

The book has a great general overview of OCD and related disorders, making it an excellent choice for family members to read and get a good grasp of what their loved ones with OCD might be going through. And it’s so important for loved ones to understand. It’s easy to be well-meaning and give bad advice because you’re thinking of what would work for you, not the person with OCD; sometimes I do the opposite, and offer advice that would be good for me and my OCD but horrible for a “normal” person.

I like that acknowledgement of “primarily obsessional” OCD is included. “Pure-O” may not truly be a thing, but “Primarily-O” should totally be.

And yeah, it is a workbook, so there are sections you fill in, like checking off your own symptoms and writing in personal history. There are also neat little inspirational quotes at the beginning of each chapter. I tend to be cynical, so I don’t like overly-phony-positive motivational quotes — but these are pretty reasonable.

It also looks like there’s a pretty thorough section about tips for taking medicine along with CBT, but I can’t say for sure if it’s good since I’ve never been on psychiatric medicine. Maybe someone else would be better qualified to review that part.

I really like the list of key cognitive errors of people with OCD. Recently there was a link going around on the internet about 50 common cognitive distortions which I also really liked, and that one is even more thorough and thought-provoking. But this one is good because it’s specific for people with OCD. There aren’t 50 here, so a lot of yours (or mine) might still be missing. I think my worst ones are: pessimistic bias; what-if thinking; intolerance of uncertainty; and over-estimating risk, harm, and danger. Intolerance of uncertainty seems to be what’s ultimately at the root of all OCD, though.

I’ve also realized how selfish my OCD fears are! It’s always about me. Maybe I’m going to get hurt, sick, contaminated, or maybe something bad is going to happen to me. I’m not one of those with OCD who worries constantly about the possibility of harming others. Then again, that could also be because somewhere deep inside me, there’s always at least a tiny awareness of the fear not being “real.” So maybe I only worry about myself because I subconsciously know the fear isn’t “real.” As a child I was deathly afraid of battery acid, but it was OK to get others to touch it for me, because on some level I probably knew it wouldn’t actually kill them — I just didn’t know how to get rid of that all-pervading anxiety. Now I realize I don’t have to — I just have to learn to acknowledge and live with the anxiety.

I’ll continue reviewing The OCD Workbook as I go through it. So far I like it, and it’s good to do first thing in the morning, and just before bed — when my obsessions seem most ready to pounce.