Friday, March 30, 2012

The Cold Pool of OCD

Why can't I just stop?

Can I just stop?

How do I stop?

I've come to a few realizations. One is that you can't just stop having ocd. The other is that you must just stop doing ocd. Habituation is jumping into a cold pool; at first, the shock to your body from the cold water is unpleasant. You might have the urge to jump right out of the chilly water and back into the warm air. However, you also probably want to swim and enjoy being in the pool. To get there, you have to wait. You have to allow habituation to occur. If you wait, you'll eventually realize that the water no longer feels uncomfortable. After a few minutes, the water will feel quite comfortable. You will no longer experience the urge to leap out of the pool for the sake of escaping the unpleasantness of the chill.

Now, the water temperature has not changed; the only difference is that habituation has occurred. The unpleasantness, the cues from your brain telling you, "Holy crap, this water is COLD!" have stopped coming. Again, nothing has changed about the situation, the water, or your physical self, per se. Nothing, that is, except habituation. You've "gotten used to" the pool water and you are now free to enjoy whatever activity you jumped into the pool for in the first place. Even if you get out of the pool, say to use the diving board, you will still feel acclimated to the water temperature. Unless you stay out of a few minutes, in which case you will habituate to the air temperature around you. Which is why it is important to keep going back into the pool.

Which is why it is important to keep going back into the places that scare you or make you feel uncomfortable. Avoiding jumping into the pool will not make the water any warmer, and avoiding contamination will not make something any less contaminated.

Habituation also happens much faster if you just jump right the hell into the pool. Easing your way in a little at a time just allows the process to last longer, your mind to consider the coolness of the water longer, your body to experience the unpleasantness longer. The person who jumped in at the same time you started tiptoeing in is already having fun and enjoying the water, while you're still standing there thigh-deep, re-experiencing the shock of the chilly water one step at a time. Whose experience of getting used to the water is likely to be more negative? Who is more likely to avoid the unpleasantness in the future? The tiptoer, of course.

And OCD is the same.

I have the power to either strengthen or take the wind right out of the sails of ocd. Every time I react to an obsessive or frightening thought (i.e. OMG, that red dot is blood!) by washing or performing some compulsion or ritual, I am telling my brain that it was correct in its assessment of the risk. In doing this, my brain takes my action as confirmation, and the compulsion is deemed "necessary" in the future. An unrelated pair of things becomes related, and OCD gains strength and validity. Now all red spots are dangerous and require a decontamination ritual - even if they're easily recognizable as simple polkadots in a pattern on a dress.

I went to sleep two nights in a row with no soap & water handwashing. None. I did briefly wipe my hands with a cloth, but that was it. Will this continue? Likely not quite yet. But I am hoping it will help me break the 4-hour handwashing ritual that nightmares are made of. Time will tell. And meanwhile, I will keep reminding myself of the cold pool.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Britney Spears, a Book, and Contamination

I'm kind of obsessed with Britney Spears for the past few years. Not because I'm a fan or anything, and not in a stalkerish kind of way, but because this beautiful girl who was on top of the world had such a public breakdown in what had to have been an unimaginably painful way for most people to comprehend. My life began to crumble not long after, from ocd, and since it is speculated that Britney has bipolar, it's made me feel as if no one is immune to the cages our brains can lock us into. And I have to admit, I still keep hoping the "old Britney" will re-emerge, because that would give me more hope for myself. But I look at her now and see a shell of what once was.

Of course, I have no idea what goes on in her own world, what her everyday successes look like, or if she even has bipolar disorder. But, maybe because we are so close in age, I compare myself to her a bit. I'm certainly not famous and would never want to be, but Britney shows us that we all struggle. I choose to learn from that. And I will continue to hope that she makes it through whatever it is she's still obviously dealing with and finds real happiness. Everyone deserves to have some happiness, and I think she's suffered a lot.

Or maybe I'm projecting. Because I've been suffering deeply with the ocd lately. I am currently reading a great book called Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Steven C. Hayes, PH.D. with Spencer Smith. I have read a lot of books on ocd, and this one is not ocd-specific, but it is absolutely the best self-help book on any topic that I have ever read. If you're struggling with anything, from anxiety to addiction to ocd to just things in life that drag you down, this book is life-changing.

I feel a bit odd saying that since I have really been dealing with some major ocd junk lately. The past three weeks have been some of the worst since contamination ocd began. I've been absolutely convinced that blood is on multiple things, which led to multiple rituals, which led to me feeling contaminated, which led to me not sleeping in bed and eventually me sleeping on the floor without so much as the comfort of a blanket or sheet. Life basically sucks right now.

Also, I'm convinced that I have an infection on my thumb, which has not changed much in the past year and a half that I've been convinced it was there. But I am afraid of doctors' offices, because sick people with diseases and infections go there, and I might come home with something worse than what I went there I don't have any confirmation on the infection. Or lack thereof. But if I could get past the stupid thumb issue, which creates a plethora of bullshit side issues (keeping the bandaging clean, the HOURS it takes to re-bandage, the fear that the infection will somehow seep out and infect the whole damn household...I swear, I should make a site called Crazy Sh*t OCD Says), I think life would be pretty sweet.

But that's the problem, right there. If only and What if are the two phrases that prevent me from living fully. I want to sleep in my bed, take normal showers (instead of going through an hours-long disinfecting process), and get outside. All the time! Like I used to. Sigh. Why can't I just stop?

Okay, something mildly positive. I've been able to get to sleep the past three nights without a massive handwashing ritual. Just a quick wash or no wash at all. For about three days prior to that, I had spent approximately 3-5 rolls of paper towels, 1/2 a bottle of soap, and 4 or so hours washing my hands just to feel clean enough to go to sleep on the chair in the living room. Before I found blood on the back of the chair (seriously, wtf was that from!?) and started sleeping on the living room floor instead.