This is the moment you’ve trained for. You’ve spent a lifetime imagining all kinds of catastrophes. And now that the real catastrophe is here…you’re like, what’s sup?
You’re thinking it shouldn’t be this easy. Everybody’s freakin’ out and you’re not. WHY AM I NOT FREAKIN’ OUT???
Because you’ve trained for moments like this.
ERP Before COVID-19
With the pedal to the metal, you touched all kinds of crap without washing your hands. You learned to watch people touch stuff that was “contaminated” and shrug it off. “That’s your problem OCD, not mine.”
You stopped washing excessively. Fabric and surfaces no longer bothered you. Showers got down to less than 15 minutes. You freely moved around without scanning and monitoring. Sure, you still had pop up thoughts about contamination but you were wise to it. “Nope, not going down that rabbit hole.”
OMG, you did it!!!
You got your life back!!! You learned to “Boss it Back.”
It’s surreal, isn’t it?
As an OCD therapist, I’m asked a lot about how clients are holding up with what’s happening. Many are thriving–some are struggling.
“You might think this pandemic would make anxious people way more anxious. But for those of us who’ve been catastrophizing our entire lives…We can be surprisingly calm in a crisis and many of us are right now.”
“I’m personally more anxious when things are typical. My brain is always trying to find what’s going to blow up in my life and fall completely apart. When there’s a real crisis happening it’s stressful, but not in the way I see it stressing other people out.”
“I feel like it’s helped me focus my anxiety–instead of worrying about hundreds of things, I just have to worry about one big thing.”
“My planning for the worst and hoping for the best finally comes in handy. And it feels good.”
“I’m like, FINALLY EVERYONE FEELS LIKE I DO ALLLLLLL THE TIME!”
“I’m an expert in crisis management because I’m an expert in crisis creation.”
“I’ve been training my whole life for this.”
“I actually feel some kind of release. It’s like I’ve been waiting for “something” to crash, and now that it finally does, it seems emotionally easier…”
“…kinda just a “well I’ve been expecting this to happen” feeling.”
For some people, they feel worse. Not so much because of the virus itself but because of the change in daily routine and the way other people are behaving. Being cut off from a purposeful day or from being around support systems can be stressful.
I’m Not Okay:
“I acclimated quickly to the restrictions and changes and felt surprisingly okay, feeling like I had what I could under control, but this week I’ve just been a mess.” I think many people are experiencing the second or third week as more stressful. So what you’re feeling is reasonable. It’s okay to fall apart. Put yourself back together though.
“Reality checks and distraction normally help me but when the world confirms my obsessive fears of germs, disease and loved ones at risk, that doesn’t help so much.” It’s hard taking the recommended precautions because it might seem like you’re agreeing with OCD. But you’re not. You’re agreeing with the experts who tell us to take these precautions. Your fears are no different than the rest of the world right now. Don’t give OCD credit.
“I was starting to get better before the pandemic, but now I fell back into a hole and my anxiety is off the charts. In times of peace, I’ll be anxious. In times of crisis, I’m more anxious.” Anxiety is uncomfortable but don’t let it keep you from being who you want to be. You can do anything no matter how anxious you are. You can do nothing by avoiding anxiety. How do you want to spend your time and who do you want to be?
“How am I supposed to tell OCD no when everyone in my house is bonkers? They keep telling me to wash my hands! So I’m back to square one.” It might feel like you’re back to square one but that doesn’t make it true. Once you’ve confronted OCD and faced your fears you don’t forget how to do it. Remember, you just have to start somewhere and build momentum. You’ve got muscle memory on your side.
This situation we’re in is fluid and ever-evolving. We’re all in it together. Remember it is crucial that you:
Maintain a routine.
If you’re not living alone find some “me” time.
Follow the recommendations of physical distance but find ways to stay socially connected.
Find something better to do than perseverate and ruminate.
Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear”~Franklin Roosevelt
How to Manage OCD While Your World Shrinks Because of the Coronavirus
Schools and colleges are closed. Businesses are having employees work from home. Sports and entertainment activities are canceled. People are isolated at home or worse quarantined to a room.
For people with OCD, you’re probably handling the anxiety better than most people. After all, you’ve trained for catastrophic events most of your life. And if your anxiety has increased, you know all you can do is follow the CDC guidelines like everyone else and say, “Whatever happens I’ll deal with it. This isn’t my first rodeo.”
You also know you have to have something better to do than worry and perform compulsions.
Even if you are managing your anxiety there is still the problem of isolation.
Not by choice but your world is temporarily changing and shrinking. We all know the smaller your world the more agitated OCD becomes. If you don’t have something better to do rituals and mental compulsions can increase. Harassing or awful thoughts can seem more intense, frequent and real.
So what will you do? You have a choice. Listen up! Right now you have a choice. You can make it easy for OCD to hijack your brain or be assertive and come up with a plan to take care of your mental health while your world shrinks.
Stuck in your home you are at risk for leaning into mental and physical stagnation. Without a normal routine of getting out of bed and following a regular daily schedule, OCD can become obnoxiously loud. To confront OCD you need “happy juices.”
Being quarantined or isolated can prevent your body from manufacturing happy chemicals like oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. These happy chemicals help maintain:
Healthy nutritional habits
Arousal and alertness
You can’t maintain the above when you’re bored and inactive. It’s crucial to get out of bed and follow a schedule but you also need stimulation. Take steps to protect your mental health while coping with a widespread virus that is restricting your movements and activities.
Here are over 20 ways to fire up your neurons and keep your brain a lean mean fighting machine:
It’s about keeping physical distance while maintaining social closeness. Think of ways to be close and yet keep your distance from people. How about twenty cars driving by someone’s house to sing happy birthday. Or, check out this beautiful way people are connecting with one another by hunting for rainbows. Click HERE.
Instead of saying, “you can get through this” or “I can get through this” say, MWE can get through this.” Me + We…if we work together it will be our finest moment.
Get fresh air. Open windows. Step outside. Take a walk if you’re up for it.
Boost your brainpower by memorizing: Flags for each country, the periodic table, the roulette wheel, all 206 bones of the body, words of kindness in other languages, or practice drawing a map of the U.S. by memory.
The best you ever felt can be traced to a time when you trusted the following:
A thought is not an action.
Thinking about thinking is nothing but space junk.
What you already know cannot become unknown.
Facts and evidence are a reality—imagination is not.
You are capable of handling whatever happens.
What you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch are real—not what you thinkyou saw, heard, smelled, tasted or touched.
You deserve self-care.
You are worthy of love and praise.
Not all hurt is bad.
Common-sense measures are all that is needed.
Remember the day when the same thoughts that haunt you now had little to no effect on you? Or, maybe once upon a time, you didn’t even have so much junk between the ears—your mind was clear and decisive.
No matter the theme or content of the thought, or how uncomfortable you felt—you maintained your trust—that’s when you felt the best.
There was a time you weren’t always terrified by your thoughts, and you didn’t ever question your true identity or safety. And then the time came when you stopped trusting.
The best you ever felt is when you trusted that thought is not action.
The best you ever felt is when you trusted that it’s not what you think, but how you act upon what you think, that matters.
The best you ever felt is when you trusted what you know and lived your life based on facts and evidence; not opinions and possibilities.
The best you ever felt is when you believed in yourself.
The best you ever felt is when you trusted what you saw, heard, smelled, tasted and touched.
The best you ever felt is when you trusted you were worthy and deserving of love and happiness.
The best you ever felt is when you trusted that not all hurt is bad.
The best you ever felt is when you trusted common-sense measures.
Now I want to ask you something. If you trusted again would you even have OCD? Sure, you’d still have thoughts. We don’t choose our thoughts, they choose us. But if you trusted again, would you have the need to perform repetitive mental acts or any more compulsions?
As a social worker, it is my ethical responsibility to employ evidence-based treatment for OCD. It seems like OCD is a moving target, and so for me, it’s essential to make sure I am current on cutting-edge, effective treatments.
ERP is the gold standard treatment for OCD because it has been tweaked and improved upon over the years. Researchers and practitioners have given much attention to the best way to step outside of one’s comfort zone, and there have been significant discoveries concerning attitude.
Think of it like ERP with Attitude.
You Have to Be Willing to Feel Anxious
You have to do more than seek exposures and “put up” with the discomfort. It’s good to get up the courage and go toward whatever makes you anxious. But your attitude is crucial. You can’t drag yourself through it just to get through it.
ERP with Attitude: You have to WANT to feel anxious. Welcome the worry, the doubt, and all the what-ifs. Hit it hard. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” When going head-to-head with OCD, you’ve got to do more than one thing every day that scares you.
During a recent visit to North Carolina, I looked for ways to step outside of my comfort zone. I hunted for a lot of things that would make me uncomfortable.
Take a Scary Walk
I walked alone along the Cape Fear River, where I was assured of being eaten.
I was disappointed I never saw one. How can I practice without the trigger!
Let People Down
I went to the “House of Pickleball” where I didn’t know anyone. Mostly I was afraid of letting people down. I play a lot of Pickleball, but the receptionist warned me the competition would be fierce.
I was so nervous the first game I blew it—0 to 11. My partner, whom I just met, said: “Maybe you just have to get used to the new setting.” But in my mind, she was thinking, “What is she doing here? She doesn’t belong here. She’s going to drag us all down.”
It occurred to me to make things better for them; I should leave, but I didn’t. What could I possibly gain by leaving? And, what would they gain by my leaving? Maybe it was meant for them to play with a loser. I chose to be energized by the anxiety and we won 5 of the next 6 games.
Do Something New
When I called home and told my family what I was planning to do, they asked me not to do it. “Why not?” I asked. “Because you’ll fall and hurt yourself and you’re all alone, and you don’t even know where the hospital is.” So you can imagine that when I did this next thing, I had no confidence. I doubted my abilities.
I was pretty wobbly at first. Mostly my anxiety had me so revved up it was hard to balance. Every move I made caused the Segway to jerk. “Good,” I thought, “this is going to put me in the hospital, but at least it will make an interesting story.”
I reminded myself to use my bones to carry the anxiety, not my muscles. By loosening my muscles, my steering became smoother. (Well, for the most part, but there was that one time I almost ended up in the river with the alligators.)
Life Lessons On a Segway
Before taking off through the city of Wilmington, the guide had me practice in the parking lot. He warned, “Initially, you’re going to think you’ll never figure out how to do this. But, I’ve never had anyone not figure it out. People of all ages learn how to do it in about 7-10 minutes.” Of course, I thought I’d be the first person not to be able to figure it out. He continued, “So if others learned how to do it—you can learn how to do it.” Should I trust common sense?
After a few minutes, my guide said, “You look comfortable. I think you’re ready for the tour.” I was still anxious but looked more relaxed because I used my tense body like biofeedback and switched my mindset to using my bones. I told my muscles I didn’t need them. I trusted my bones, and this relieved my muscles, which makes any task at hand so much easier.
Did you know the way to move forward on a Segway is to lean forward—and especially to go up a hill you have to lean WAY forward, I mean drastically forward? At first, it’s scary because it feels like if you lean too far ahead, you’ll topple over. Before the first hill, my guide advised me, “You are going to feel uncomfortable leaning into it. But, if you hesitate, you will only make it worse.” Leaning into a challenge gets us to the top faster.
Don’t Be Indecisive
If you’re not leaning forward on a Segway, you’re caught in a wobbly movement. The slightest shift from one knee to another is a sudden balancing act. You’re stuck in place trying to find balance but not really going anywhere. Not going forward feels like indecision—trying to feel just right but going nowhere.
Get Up and Move
To brake on a Segway, there is no seat but you act as if you’re going to sit down. There are no brakes. When you “sit down” the Segway comes to a halt. I think we can say the same about life. When you don’t get up-and-moving you’re only putting the brakes on life.
Life Rewards Action
We were only supposed to tour for 60 minutes, but the guide could tell I was having fun taking on the challenge of maneuvering hills and curbs, so he added 30 free minutes! Living well with anxiety is challenging but also rewarding.
Why Is a Therapist Anxious?
I felt anxious many times during this trip to North Carolina. Just before take-off, in front of passengers, the airline staff threatened to fine me $1,000 for something I didn’t even do! My mind told me this was a sign to get off the plane, but I didn’t.
In an email, the stranger who said he’d take me on a private Segway tour told me to meet him in the parking lot of an empty park and to look for his white van with no windows. My mind told me he was going to kill me, but I trusted common sense and went anyway.
On the way home the flight attendant said she wasn’t going to get up from her seat. “There’s going to be a lot of turbulence and last week a flight attendant passing out snacks fell and broke both her legs.” The pilot spoke through the intercom, “We’re in a holding pattern waiting to be given the okay to land. It should be about 15 minutes and then we’ll give it a shot.” WHAT????????
A person reading this post might say to me, “I don’t understand. You’re a therapist. How can you not have any tools for your anxiety?” I use a lot of tools! But that doesn’t mean I won’t have anxiety. The goal is to embrace anxiety not to get rid of it.
ERP with Attitude
Remember what you’re fighting for. Let your values drive you forward. For me, I don’t want to waste time white-knuckling my way through anxiety. Time is precious and I can’t get it back. I have anxiety and I might as well figure out how to make the best of it.
Stay tuned for the next post to talk about being unthinkingly willing and eager to go head-to-head with OCD. While you’re waiting for the next post give some thought to the word, unthinkingly.
I’m on a mission to help you live well with OCD. And, I’ve got more than one idea of how to make it happen. In a series of posts over the next few weeks, I’ll share a variety of ways for you to manage OCD.
First, let me say that my clinical experience to date indicates there’s more to living with OCD than just white-knuckling your way through life.
A person with OCD often wishes out loud, “If only I could just trust myself again.” An Exposure & Response Prevention(ERP) therapist, such as myself, might say, “Well, OCD isn’t going to let you trust yourself. You have the doubting disease. There are things you will never know for sure.”
So, we discuss what must be done despite lacking faith in oneself. Employing ERP is at the top of the to-do list: Gradually confront what you avoid and do nothing to neutralize the anxiety. Endure the discomfort and resist compulsions. Accept the doubt.
And you know what? People with OCD can do it: They can go about their day, lacking confidence, having no sense of certainty or ease of mind. They are the least assured person walking the face of the earth, and yet people with OCD can accomplish anything. Anything. At. All. Including confronting their fears with little to no trust in who they are or what will happen.
But…is there more than tightening the jaw and fist, and pushing through the pain?
Does It Have To Be This Awful?
Exposure & Response Prevention continues to be the most widely regarded treatment for OCD. If I could wave a magic wand, every
client would use ERP to manage their OCD.
But, here’s a question: For those who do awful exposures, should we say, “Congratulations! You forced yourself through that horrible exposure and tolerated all that discomfort! Good for you!”
Instinctively, these are the faces people make as they deal with obsessional thoughts and exposures:
People with OCD can white-knuckle their way through one trigger after another. But is that all there is?
Is it enough to white-knuckle your way through triggers? Is there more to it than saying, “Whew, thank God that’s over with. I hope I never have to deal with that again.” Is it possible to feel better about going head-to-head with OCD?
YES!!! There’s more to ERP than forcing yourself to face your fears. Not only is there more to ERP, but there’s also more than ERP.
FFF is an automatic response that prepares a human to fight, run or hide from a perceived attack, harm or threat to survival. The amygdala yells “danger,” and the body goes into survival mode.
Fight or Retreat
In the face of supposed danger, the body responds faster than the rational mind can react. Before your intellect can kick in, fascinating instantaneous changes take place in the body to prepare to fight or retreat such as:
Muscles are prepared to fight or run. Blood is diverted from toes and fingers to core muscles in the arms, shoulders, and legs.
The skin acts like an air conditioner. Sweating occurs to prevent the body from overheating and getting sluggish.
Adrenalin is released and the pancreas secretes sugar to give the body a jolt of energy.
You need to be light on your feet, so there is a relaxation of abdominal muscles. The digestive and urinary system might need to empty, to ensure the body can be light and fast.
Pupils dilate which shrinks peripheral vision and allows for straight-ahead vision to keep the focus in front.
The breath becomes quick and shallow to increase airflow and bring oxygen to the muscles and lungs.
WHAT MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW
There is more to the FFF Response than preparing the body to fight or run. When there is a perceived threat, the body might not FIGHT or FLEE but instead FREEZE. Perhaps the body comes to a literal halt, but another way of looking at this is the freezing of emotions. When a threat is perceived sometimes the response is to numb the anxiety.
Freezing is especially true in OCD. The purpose of performing compulsions, including mental acts is to numb anxiety. You might argue compulsions help stop thoughts, but we know that’s OCD talking. Compulsions provide temporary relief and numb the anxiety for a short time. But did you know you can’t isolate one emotion to anesthetize? When you numb anxiety you numb all feelings.
Rusty at Being Human
Numbing becomes deadening to all emotions. You become flat and muted—perhaps depressed. Indifference sets in and you feel stripped of joy or pleasure. Motivation is practically nonexistent. When you spend time with friends and family, you feel detached. It feels like you are on the outside of life rather than “in” it. You become rusty at being human.
Numbing has helped you to survive awful thoughts and feelings, but it is after all, another word for avoidance. Numbing puts a wall between you and the life you want. Stop numbing, and yes, you’ll experience anxiety, but you’ll also feel other emotions like happiness and connectedness.
The Body Responds Faster Than the Rational Mind Can React
When triggered by an obsession, a client with OCD reports: “I’m having trouble breathing” or, “my heart is racing” or “I feel like running.” These are all signs that the body is responding to a perceived threat.
If the client can ride it out, and do nothing to get rid of the anxiety the jolt of adrenalin will dissipate, and the rational mind will win. The brain will make a connection: Just because my body prepares for a threat doesn’t mean the danger is real. When the body goes into the fight-flight-freeze response, it doesn’t say there was actual evidence of risk. The body responds faster than the rational mind can react.
OCD is a fantastic storyteller. If it used facts to tell stories, you wouldn’t pay any attention. You’d be bored. So OCD does whatever it can to captivate you and set off adrenalin. It makes you feel fear and doubt not because it’s out to get you. OCD wants to save you from ruining whatever is precious and sacred to you.
The problem is you don’t need saving. It’s not the rational mind deciphering what needs saving. OCD can’t tell what is dangerous, so it takes a hard “just in case” stance.
The Fight-Flight-Freeze Response automatically kicks in when there is a perceived threat.
The body responds to a perceived threat before the rational mind can react.
Using avoidance or compulsions to numb anxiety suppresses good feelings too.
OCD is nothing more than a talented storyteller that has no clue about what is or isn’t a true threat. OCD wants your body to live in a “just in case” fight-flight-freeze mode.
Ride the Wave
Notice your anxiety as a physiological response to a perceived threat. Get curious and determine whether your body is preparing to fight, flee or freeze. Is blood diverting from your fingers to your core muscles? Are you sweating? Do you feel like going to the bathroom. Are you feeling nothing? Did you numb?
Thank your body for being so fascinating.
Keep it real. Just because your body goes into FFF it’s not evidence of true danger. Anxiety doesn’t mean something is actually wrong.
OCD prefers you to adopt a “just in case” way of life. So it’s going to use storytelling to get you to do it. Your best bet is to agree with OCD, “Maybe that’s true. Maybe it isn’t. I’m willing to find out.” Resist trying to figure out if the threat is real.
Use your script:
“I notice I’m feeling ____________. I’m worried that:__________. Yes, it is possible that my fear will come true. I would not want this to happen but I can’t control what happens. I need to be in charge (not OCD) so I’m going to accept the risk that [this thing will or has happened]. I’m not going to check or use some magical wand (compulsion) to make sure all is well. I will never know if I do or don’t control outcome. I have to live with this uncertainty.”
Remind yourself to ride it out until the adrenalin fades. Don’t engage in compulsions and you’ll arrive in a non-aroused state quicker.
Maintain a growth-mindset. Never put yourself down as you practice these steps. You’re on this earth to learn. You’re not here to be perfect. Perfection can only be faked. Practice makes…progress.
Remember the Goal of Resisting Compulsions:
Develop the ability to tolerate “hard” feelings like anxiety.
Discover you’re stronger than you thought.
Surrender to the fact you cannot control what happens.
Accept uncertainty as a way of life.
Let your guard down and allow feelings of vulnerability.
It’s hard enough to have OCD during waking hours, but why does OCD infiltrate dreams too? Are you performing rituals even in your sleep? Do you obsess in the form of a nightmare?
While you might feel alarmed about OCD visiting you during sleep, I’m here to tell you it’s a good sign. Your mind is looking out for you by using dreams to get your attention.
Dreaming about OCD is signaling you to step up more than you have been. Perhaps there is a compulsion you need to resist or someone in your life you need to stand up to. The purpose of dreaming about OCD is to get you to stop doing what you’re doing and take a different action. You’re not listening while awake so now the message is being delivered at a subconscious level.
Whatever you are avoiding, it must be having a negative impact on the quality of your life. So your dreams are here to help.
If you’re dreaming about OCD, ask yourself what you need to change. Your dreams about OCD means it’s time to take charge of a situation that has become serious. Consider the strong possibility that you need to stop procrastinating and confront an uncomfortable circumstance.
Take Better Care of Yourself
Has feeding OCD reached critical mass? Be honest, have you become severely impaired because of compulsive behavior? Is there a compulsion (including avoidance) that is detrimental to your health or making you unsafe? You might be dreaming about OCD because, at a deeper level, your mind is warning you. Your dreams might be saying the way you are feeding OCD is unhealthy if not dangerous.
Sometimes when you dream about OCD it’s your mind’s way of saying you need to be more assertive. Clearly, with a diagnosis of OCD, you are constantly reminded that only one of you can be the boss. So when you start having dreams about OCD it might be your mind’s way of reminding you about the importance of being enduring not wary, decisive not hesitant, daring not fearful, and authoritative not bullied.
Your dreams might be saying this is no time to be timid. Do you need to take charge of OCD or some other circumstance in your life? Perhaps there is a person who is taking advantage of you and needs to be confronted. Maybe there is a daunting task you keep putting off and it’s weighing on you heavily. Your unsettling dreams are telling you time is running out…take action…resolve this.
If you are performing compulsions it’s detrimental to your well-being. If you are avoiding conflict or necessary tasks, this will increase your level of stress and keep you from fulfilling your “dreams”–the ones that matter.
Don’t be surprised if the dreams about OCD persist. Never estimate the power of your brain and its ability to signal you to take action.
On April Fool’s Day, you will be pranked by only those who:
catch you off guard
sound convincing even if the prank is outlandish
are privy to what riles you
Caught Off Guard
This morning I was barely awake and had no idea it was April Fool’s Day. I was caught by surprise when I was told “we need an exterminator. There were bugs coming out of the drain. It was so bad. We’re infested.” It was early in the morning and I fell for it and freaked out.
Yup, I believed it because we’ve had sugar ants crawling on the counter every morning. And even though it’s been getting better I fell for it. Bugs coming out of the drain? Sure. Why not. It happens. My family was hysterical about it so I thought, “It must be real.” I freaked out.
Privy to What Concerns You
My family knows I have a bug phobia so they know how to get my attention. If they had put poop or vomit in the middle of the living room I would have laughed. But bugs? Being free of infestation is precious and sacred to me, so my family knew exactly how to fool me.
OCD is a prankster. Not just any prankster but a superior one. As an OCD therapist, I hear about OCD’s pranks day in and day out.
Imagine for a moment all the pranks an OCD therapist hears about in one week: The next day other clients share a different set of OCD pranks: On another day of the week, the therapist hears about other OCD pranks: Still, in the same week more OCD hoaxes are shared by clients:
While these concerns represent what an OCD therapist is told in one week, there are even more ways OCD pranks people.
But honestly, while all the pranks sound different, at the end of the day, at the end of the week, they’re all the same. You can have five different flavors of ice cream, but they’re all made with the same basic ingredients. With eyes closed, you probably wouldn’t even be able to identify the flavor.
One obsession is no different than another. You’re feeding your OCD if you think otherwise.
The details of the obsession complete a fantastic story. There is no better storyteller than OCD. The way to hijack your mind is not by facts. The way OCD captures your attention is by twisting the facts or telling outright lies.
How interested would you be if you were listening to a story over and over again about the number of times a car’s turning signal was used? “I went down route 9 and put my turning signal on. Then I drove for about 300 feet and put on my right turning signal. In about 300 feet I used my turning signal again.” Blah, blah, blah. You’d tune out in one minute if this factual story was told to you.
However, you would maintain an interest in the story if it became more fantastical. Such as, “When I made a left turn, I realized my turning signal might not be working. Up ahead a truck seems to be blaring its horn at me. Something is clearly going to happen and it’s not going to be pretty.” Not one word of this story is factual and yet, you are captivated. You’ve been baited with lies.
OCD has a way of enticing you into paying attention. It avoids facts as much as possible. It prickles your nerve endings with lies, and like watching a horror film, you forget where you are and what is real. If OCD used facts to tell its stories, you’d be bored in no time and lose interest. So OCD knows it’s essential to make the story as real as possible.
OCD uses five essential elements to tell a tantalizing story:
Element One: Characters
OCD instills people in your story who are precious to you. According to OCD, you must protect these people. Sometimes OCD claims you are a victim in the story and need protection. Other times you’re made out to be the villain. OCD pranks you into thinking you or others are at risk. OCD builds the story by creating villains and victims. Characters either seem vulnerable or possess supernatural powers.
Element Two: Setting
Where is the “action” taking place? This is the place where the plot thickens. It could be in your home, at work, school or at the playground. It could be everywhere or it could be what takes place in your mind. Sometimes OCD contains the story to certain settings, but other times OCD is portable and goes wherever you go.
Element Three: The Plot
What is the plot? Where does the story begin? What is the trigger? Once triggered, what does OCD tell you happens next? And, how does this story end according to OCD? Will you be cast away, abandoned, imprisoned, annihilated, or left uncomfortable for the rest of your life? Or, is there no ending and that’s the problem. We don’t know how this story ends? Clarity cannot be found. Certainty isn’t obtainable?
Element Four: The Conflict
In any story, characters are either trying to solve the conflict or create a conflict. We usually witness conflict resolution at the end of a movie or a good book. When the movie ends without resolution we shake our heads in frustration. We are socialized to believe every conflict can be resolved. Early in our childhood, we are taught conflict resolution by parents and educators. We’ve been trained to solve the conflict.
In OCD’s story, the conflict is the obsession. The resolution is the attempt to get resolution when there is none.
Element Five: Resolution
The resolution solves the conflict. Every movie we watch or book we read resolution is expected. If there is no resolution we get frustrated. In OCD’s story, there is never a resolution but you’ve been tricked into thinking there is a way to get it.
By believing there is a resolution you are tricked into a life of compulsions or avoidance. In OCD’s stories, the resolution is nothing more than a hoax. Don’t fall for it. Your OCD story needs no resolution.
OCD is the greatest storyteller in the world. It uses five elements to create a realistic story that in reality is nothing more than a prank.
Every day with OCD is April Fool’s Day. How to cope?
Stop being surprised that OCD is going to try to prank you. Keep up your guard. Expect OCD to tell you stories. OCD never got the memo that April Fool’s Day occurs only on the first day of April. OCD is committed to prank you every day.
If you expect to be pranked you are less likely to be fooled.
Accept the fact that you have the greatest storyteller ever known to mankind, inside your brain. Its stories can bring highly intelligent people to their knees. It knows what is precious and sacred to you, and uses this information to captivate you and tug at your heartstrings.
OCD is masterful at using vulnerable characters, the perfect setting, a horrifying plot, and a neverending conflict to lead you to a life of compulsions.
Don’t bother focusing on the OCD story. It’s a hoax. You know what isn’t a hoax? Your anxiety. That’s real. Besides treating every day like April Fool’s Day you also need to accept that you have anxiety. You just do. No story needed to explain it.
Commit to living your life with anxiety. Focus on your values. Live a priority-driven life. You can do anything with anxiety. You can do very little avoiding triggers or by engaging in compulsions.
“I’m just trying to hold on. I’m falling in the dark below. I feel I’m falling in the big unknown.
I will rise. I will rise. I will rise again.”
~Songwriters Ben Travers/ Helen Adu
I heard this song sung by Sade and immediately thought of OCD. I know it’s how it feels to have OCD. When you think you’ve figured out how to beat OCD, you find yourself falling back into the big unknown. It feels permanent. Every single time the threat feels like the real deal. But lo and behold, you rise again. Life feels like a Yo-Yo: downward—upward—downward—upward.
By changing just a few words of this lyric the remedy to living well with OCD is revealed:
“I’m just trying to let go. I’m jumping into the dark below. I feel I’m welcoming the big unknown.”
Living well with OCD means letting go and surrendering to not knowing. So rather than falling into the unknown, it’s better to jump right in. Any of these words will do: Leap, bound, hop, skip, jump, seize, grab on to…
Having a bug phobia, when I see a suitcase in the closet I immediately fear there are bugs in the suitcase from a recent trip. In the past, I would have thrown it into the garbage. But I’ve progressed and even though I’m anxious, and have thoughts of infestation, I grab the suitcase, embrace it, and say “come and get me. Whatever happens, happens.” I jump into the unknown.
A bee trap is successful because the bees fly into the plastic bottle for the honey, but then won’t fly back out because there is black tape wrapped around the outside of the bottle near the exit. Bees don’t like the dark. If only they’d agree to be uncomfortable and fly through the darkness they’d be free. But they won’t do it.
What do you wish you knew for sure? What is it that you’re trying to get to the bottom of? It’s at the center of your obsession. You won’t stop until you gain certainty. But certainty is unachievable. It’s like flying into a bee trap to find answers. You’ll do anything to get rid of the doubt. But now that you’ve been tricked and you’re in the trap how will you get out? You’re going to have to go into the big unknown. Will you do it? Or will you stay in the trap trying, and trying, and trying to answer the unanswerable?
The fact that you have OCD means there is going to be something you will never know for sure. You can gain clarity, but at some point, a question will surface that has the potential to pull you into the trap.
How to Stay Out of the Trap?
I don’t know for sure.
That statement might not be what you wanted to hear but it is the truth. There are many books about OCD and specialists who can tell you what to do to live well with OCD.
But all of those ideas can end up being a trap.
When you apply a therapy principle and get relief, you’re going to expect that principle to save you every time. And when it doesn’t, it causes you to spin. You begin to compare and contrast, “What did I do then that I’m not doing now?” You analyze why the thoughts are back. You are utterly surprised the thought patterns are there. And suddenly you’re in the trap.
When you get a thought that disturbs you say, “good, there’s my thought. I want this.” Better yet, spend a lot of time trying to get disturbed on purpose. Create as much doubt as you can and tolerate it. Look for things, places, or people that trigger your thoughts and make you uncomfortable.
Be willing to be uncomfortable and JUMP into the unknown! Jump! JUMP!JUMP!
But Ask Yourself This Question:
WHY ARE YOU JUMPING?
Why are you agreeing to jump into the unknown?
The reason you are jumping into the unknown cannot be, “So that I get relief.” This lacks commitment and your efforts will be half-hearted and superficial. The reason you are jumping must be, “because I’d rather live in doubt than try to figure stuff out.”
Do not try to control how you feel or think. You can’t heal what you won’t feel. Say, “I notice I’m feeling anxious. Good. I need the practice.”
There are no guarantees that you’re doing the right thing by surrendering to the unknown. There is no such thing as knowing anything for certain. No decision guarantees a specific outcome. No action guarantees a particular result.
You have to be willing to find out what happens and deal with whatever happens. “I’d rather live with uncertainty than waste time trying to answer the unanswerable.”
Who do you want to be and how do you want to spend your time?
If you’re not answering this question when you wake up and throughout the day, you’re drifting aimlessly with no sense of purpose or self. You must commit to spending your time being the person you want to be, no matter what you are thinking or how you are feeling. Don’t drift. Jump. And don’t plug your nose when you do it!
A Special Gift For You
I use a lot of catch phrases with my clients so they can stay focused on the mission. If you would like access to some of these phrases, just click BELOW and you’ll be able to print out these free posters.
If you like these posters then you might also like my book, Gratitude, the Great OCD Sanitizer.
Grappling with OCD is no easy task. There is a continuous need to “boss it back” and face fears without compulsions. The best way to live well with OCD is to accept obsessions and resist compulsions—through the use of Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP.)
It’s true, ERP is not for the faint of heart. Committing to ERP requires a willingness to experience emotional pain. I’m not saying the pain will definitely occur. To one’s surprise, sometimes it doesn’t—the anticipation of confronting a fear can be worse than facing it!
In comparison, avoidance causes more pain than confronting. But, if facing a fear does cause discomfort, it’s usually short-lived.
When I give advice to face a fear, a client almost always says, “easier said than done.” Listen, I know it’s scary to give up trying to prevent bad things from happening. But, you’ve got your head in the sand if you think it’s easier to live a life of compulsions! No matter what you do (Feed OCD or Boss it Back), it ain’t going to be easy!
No matter what you do, it’s going to be hard. But you have strengths to help you face any challenge. By tapping into your strengths you will feel stronger and more daring.
After you answer those questions you’ll hopefully make the right choice and boss it back through Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP).
Once you take the plunge and immerse yourself in ERP, the reward of freedom and independence is well-worth the hard work of saying “no” to OCD. Besides, most people admit that feeding OCD only turns fear into terror, and pain into long-lasting agony.
It’s best to confront and not avoid; accept uncertainty, and not seek reassurance. BE DARING. You’re stronger than you think. You can endure the difficult times. You can defy OCD.
Focus on your strengths and not your shortcomings and you will be able to confront OCD. Theodore Roosevelt, (yes, the man who once gave a 90-minute speech just after being shot, with the bullet still lodged in his chest) said it best:
The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strived valiantly; who errs, who comes again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
What’s interesting about this quote is that Teddy Roosevelt is bringing into focus the need to emphasize strengths, not shortcomings. He displays a growth mindset and highlights the importance of being daring.
Daring people believe everything will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about people with OCD, it’s this: being daring is your superpower. But, I’ve also noticed that your superpower vanishes quickly when you get down on yourself.
Every person is unique and has the potential to change. You can live well with OCD. The key is to capitalize on your strengths and pay no mind to your shortcomings. You reinforce your shortcomings by focusing on them!
The secret to being daring is to focus on your strengths, not weaknesses or deficits. Imagine what is possible when you take advantage of your strengths! Did you know that by focusing on your strengths your shortcomings will spontaneously combust? Focus your efforts on developing your strengths and the rest will take care of itself.
You’re an over thinker and this is a shortcoming. But it’s not a good idea to try and improve by thinking less. We know where that takes you. Trying not to think makes you think more! But perhaps one of your strengths is that you are known for your high level of energy. Focus on your strength of being more action-oriented, and you won’t have time to overthink.
Spend your time nurturing your strengths and not your shortcomings. This will make you more daring. Focusing on your weaknesses makes it harder to confront fear because your shortcomings make you feel weak. Whereas, developing and improving upon your strengths increases brain activity, releases happy juices (serotonin/dopamine) and makes you feel strong.
Think about who you want to be and how you want to spend your time. Do you want to be the person in the arena that Teddy Roosevelt is describing or, do you want to be like this person:
At the moment, I’m feeling like a victim. I’m having bad thoughts one right after the other. This is depressing. I thought I was done having intrusive thoughts. I feel like I’m being attacked from all sides. My family refuses to acknowledge how hard my life is. Yes, I have a victim mentality, but I don’t think I always have this. I’m trying really hard, and no one is giving me any credit. Having OCD is frustrating.
What’s interesting about this person is that s/he is focused on the problem, not the solution. There is no mention of this person’s strengths. We are not responsible for being down but we are responsible for getting up.
Focus on Strengths and Be More Daring
When an exposure exercise starts to get easy ask, “How can I be even more daring?” Dare to feel uncomfortable and life changes. Your strengths can help you be more daring.
Conduct a personal inventory NOW of all your strengths—these might include:
Special interests passions/desires
If you have trouble describing your strengths:
Imagine being 60+ years old. What would you tell your younger self to focus on? Would you tell your younger self to self-loathe and hopelessly concentrate on weaknesses?
What if you could be someone else for 30 minutes. What would your other self be like?
Try identifying your strengths from someone else’s point of view. “My best friend says that I am willing to be vulnerable (yes that’s a strength) and that I’m thoughtful.”
Recalling one of your own strategies from a past success of risk-taking, what advice would you give to a friend who doesn’t feel very daring.
What personality traits help you to keep going even when times are hard?
Think about something you’re good at. Now, ask yourself, “why?” Why are you good at it? Next ask if you can get even better at it. How?
Another way to identify your strengths is to take an online assessment:
There is a $15 fee but the results are worth it. Just make sure you rate yourself fairly. No self-loathing allowed! Use plenty of positive adjectives. Be comprehensive. The more adjectives you use, the better your report will be.
Use this free code (YOU-bossitback) to discover what’s fascinating about you. (This code can only be used a limited number of times—so 1st come 1st serve!) Go to HowToFascinate.com/YOU Enter the code (YOU-bossitback) + your information. Click the “Start Now” button.
3. This is a more costly assessment but highly informative and popular.
Once you have identified some of your strengths, it’s time to take advantage of them!
Nurture Your Strength
Take one of your strengths and on a scale of 1-10 how high would you score this strength? For example, let’s say you think you are a 7 when it comes to being kind/loving. Now think about steps you could take to raise the score to an 8 or 9. Perhaps one of the steps would be to set Alexis to start your day with a daily affirmation. (Developing self-compassion.)
Communicate Your Strength When Talking Back to OCD
“I know you are afraid right now OCD. You’re leaning toward being stuck. Afraid to be daring. But daring is my superpower. So hold on…it’s going to be a bumpy ride. I’m a mover and a shaker. I got this.”
Use Your Strengths to Take Risks
Always, always, always pat yourself on the back for initiative and effort regardless of the outcome. Better to take risks than be paralyzed.
Find Your Hidden Strengths
We all have strengths we don’t even know exist. We use them every day but we haven’t identified them because they run in the background of our consciousness. Taking one of the online assessments can be helpful with finding hidden strengths, but asking friends and family is often even more enlightening.
Keep Track of Your Strengths As They Improve
It’s beneficial to have a visible way to keep track of your progress. Download an app (e.g. habitbull) on your phone or keep a diary. I like apps because they provide graphs which are rewarding to look at and see the progress.
Share Your Strength with Others
Maybe someone else isn’t as organized and as good at planning as you. Offer your services. Design a planner and sell it on Amazon.
Collect More Knowledge About Your Strength
Instead of reading a self-help book to improve upon a weakness, read a self-help book or listen to a podcast or Ted Talk about one of your strengths. Reinforce your strengths by learning more about them.
Use your strengths to be daring. Dare to be uncomfortable and you’ll leave OCD crippled by your superpower. By sharpening your skills and reinforcing your strengths, you’ll be more motivated to engage in ERP.