We've all been there (us ocd people); you feel you've touched something contaminated and you just want to do a "quick wash", or you think you heard something in the house and you just want to do a "quick check". Haha, right.
That "quick" wash starts out okay, until you realize you've splattered "dirty" soap water onto the floor. Then you have to clean it, so you dry your hands and grab the floor cleaner. Then you have to start over with the hand washing. But now you're running out of paper towels or hand towels, or you've contaminated what you've got and need fresh ones. So you go get what you need and start again. By now, you've washed so many times you forget if you got each part of your hands...and wait...did you really clean up after the soap splatter, or did you just know you had to? Shit. You need to do that again. Meanwhile, you think your hair touched the contaminated cleaner bottle, so you have to clean that part of your hair. And because of all of the contamination you've been in, you'll need to change your clothes.
Or maybe you went to check out a noise you heard. And you did, but when you got back to bed you couldn't remember if you checked the window lock. So you went back to check. And once you were back in bed, you weren't sure if you really checked it or if you just went into the room and thought you checked it but really looked at something else. So you check again. But wait...did you check on your child? What if there was a blanket wrapped around his or her neck? You run out of your bedroom and into theirs. The kid is fine. Lather, rinse, repeat. You finally get done with this "quick" wash or check about 3 hours later. You're so exhausted you're asleep before your head hits the pillow.
This is why I have come to realize that "just a quick..." never is, no matter what it is, when you have ocd. The epic tidal wave of anxiety and exhaustion that could potentially (and probably will) overtake me if I decide that I need to do just a quick wash or check is often far worse than just sitting with the anxiety of whatever it is I'm trying to avoid. In fact, the experts would recommend going a step further and sitting with the anxiety while simultaneously imagining my worst case scenario. Honestly, I don't do the latter most of the time. I did once, and the result was kind of funny. But usually, just sitting with it is enough.
For example, I have a thing about contaminated water. Sometimes, when I am filling my coffee or tea cup with water in the morning, my ocd says, "Stop! Where did that water come from!? Were you paying attention to the faucet? Did it come from there? Or did you pick up a soaking cup full of old coffee and who knows what else?" Of course, this is absurd, and it sounds even more absurd when I externalize it by speaking it or writing it (the reason I came back to blogging!). There are a number of things I could reassure myself with. But, as absurd as it is, ocd is a powerful naysayer who can dismiss any measure of comfort and destroy my peace of mind in seconds. So I've stopped listening about the water. Because I've decided that drinking junk water is going to be more pleasant in any circumstance (even if it did, in fact, sit overnight soaking in a cup) than listening to ocd tell me I have to refill my damn coffee cup countless times before it feels "right" and I am allowed to be fully convinced of the safety of the water. Sometimes I even say aloud, "F%ck you, ocd. I'm using this water. I'm putting it in the microwave. See? Right there. And you can kiss my ass." Of course, I only say this if I am alone, which I usually am in the early morning. I don't know why, but when I talk back to ocd aloud, I feel more powerful. Eh, and maybe a little crazy, but whatever.
ERP is awesome. Well, maybe not the E (exposure) part, which is why you might often see me say just RP or response prevention. My ocd, this episode, has been what I would consider severe. I was housebound for 6 months, and wore only one pair of shoes for 2 years. I washed my hands for sometimes 3 hours at a time, and could not touch laundry without plastic gloves on my hands at one point. So for me, and I'm guessing some of you, simply preventing the response part of my constant friggin' anxiety and stress is huge all by itself. I don't need to seek exposures; simply getting out of bed and going pee in the morning constitutes an exposure for me. Really. But anyhow...
Recently, I found what I think is the best book ever written on the topic of ocd. It is called Coping with OCD: Practical Strategies for Living Well with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, by Troy DuFrene and Bruce Hyman. This book is fantastic; it hits all of the important points, stresses the importance of maintenance, and gives practical advice anyone can use. In short, it basically affirms that you're not alone, that they "get it", and gives you some very easy-to-follow instructions on how to set yourself free. Or, as they put it, to quiet the "Doomsayer". And ocd is a doomsayer, yes? And a bitch. And a bully. And so many other things. I find metaphor to be helpful in explaining my struggle with those who are unfamiliar with ocd. I like to say I have a bully living in my head 24/7, who only shuts up when I sleep. And back in the day, not even then! The bully even made its way into my dreams! Not lately, though.
Anyhow, I highly recommend the book. I'm not paid or encouraged to say that, I don't make money from my blog, and I'm not here for anyone's benefit but my own. And, if I am blessed enough to make a difference in someone else's life, your benefit. If I help even one person, even a little, by sharing my own struggle, it's all been worth it. And I sincerely mean that. I truly wish all of you who suffer with ocd a life free of it, where you can be you again. I don't even know you, and I want that for you. No one deserves this. I hate bullies, and ocd is one of the worst.
So this week, my goal is to avoid (as many times as possible) the "quick" wash, or the "quick" check. Want to join me? I'll be happy to cheer you on! If you're reading along and have a blog, I'd love to read yours, too, so leave a link in my comments. I add my regular reads to my sidebar.
Best to all of you.