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.
“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.
This is an open letter to those of you who are loving someone with OCD.
I can’t imagine how frightened you were when your loved one was first hijacked by OCD. Everything was suddenly turned upside down. I’m sure you were terrified that things would never be the same.
In the beginning, you tried to do whatever made your loved one less anxious. It hurt so much to see your child or family member in such agony. So you tried to end the horror as best you could.
Enabling and Reassuring Doesn’t Work
You offered constant reassurance and tried over and over to use common sense and logic to get rid of your loved one’s fear and worry. But that part of the brain didn’t seem to be functioning properly. (There’s no logic in OCD!) So you ended up talking and talking until you were blue in the face.
You complied and met every OCD demand because it just seemed easier. You even joined in on some of the rituals like saying “I love you” five times or washing your hands when they weren’t even dirty.
You kept the environment free of triggers and censored people’s words to keep them from triggering your child or family member. People stopped visiting because they didn’t want to make the situation worse.
You lost a lot of sleep and resorted to lecturing and giving the cold shoulder. You lost your cool many times. You thought, “This is so ridiculous. Just stop it!”
I hope you know that you were coming from a place of love, not doubt, when you cried. And a place of fear, not hate, when you yelled or walked away in frustration.
Your loved one has a problem with self-compassion. I don’t have to meet you to know you have the same problem. Maybe you weren’t always resourceful but you were always doing your best. Always.
In desperation or out of convenience, you kept enabling and reassuring. But, the relief was only temporary. OCD seemed to just get bigger and bigger. It robbed all of you of everyday pleasures and new experiences. The world got smaller with every passing day.
You thought all the reassurance would help ease the anxiety but it actually made it worse. The demands were getting more intense and frequent. Accommodating wasn’t helping anything other than providing one very brief moment of relief.
And then your prayers were answered. You found out that giving in was actually feeding OCD.
Gradually Stop Accommodating
You knew that if you stopped feeding OCD your loved one would protest. Things were going to get worse before they got better. You worried: What if we’re biting off more than we can chew?
But, you believed that in order to get a better outcome, the approach needed to change.
You stopped giving in and your loved one cried, “Don’t you love me? Why aren’t you helping me?” Talk about being stabbed in the heart—ouch.
You got tougher and your loved one accused you of not understanding, “You just don’t get it! I’m all alone now.” Ouch, that hurt too.
You stopped enabling but your loved one put you to the test, and said, “Fine, “I’ll go without.” Oh no! So afraid. What if things get worse now?
Support Your Loved One, Not OCD
You validated your loved one’s feelings, “I know this is hard. I can tell this is causing you a lot of pain.” Validate. Acknowledge. But, don’t take away the pain. Soften into the pain. It’s hard to be anxious when you want to be anxious.
You also showed how much faith you had in your loved one’s ability to overcome, “You’re stronger than you think. I know that you can do this. It’s hard, I know. You’ve done hard before. You’re not alone. I’m going to help you boss it back. I’m not going to feed OCD anymore, but I will help you defeat it.”
As time passed you remained patient. You stayed the course and your loved one began to understand there would be no more avoidance. Your message was loud and clear: THE FEAR HAD TO BE CONFRONTED.
Your loved one had no other way out—but in. No more avoiding.
OCD said, “Leave.” Nope, everybody stayed.
OCD said, “Don’t go.” Everybody left.
OCD said, “Avoid.” Everybody leaned in.
OCD asked, “What if?” Everybody shrugged and said, “Whatever.”
Your loved one sought reassurance, “Could this happen?” You put it back on them, “I don’t know.”
“Will it be okay?” You shrugged, “We’ll deal with it. Whatever happens, happens.”
OCD warned, “You’re getting too anxious. You can’t handle it. Do something.” You all said, “Good. We want that anxiety. We need to practice handling it.”
It wasn’t easy to Boss it Back. But feeding OCD wasn’t easy either. It was scary bossing it back, but feeding it was scary too. Both seemed like poison.
You picked the right poison. Which ended up being the antidote—the healing potion.
The catastrophes have ended. Life has returned. No more tiptoeing. Your loved one still has weird thoughts. But, they’re fewer and fewer.
There are still triggers but nothing a good shrug or “yup” can’t fix. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Honestly, I’m really happy today because I’ve learned that a number of kids, near and dear to me, have returned to school this week with nothing more than a tiny little hiccup. (I’m thankful for the hiccups because they will only build more skills and cause more mastery.)
What About Those Who Are Still Being Accommodated?
I’m thinking now of those who haven’t been set free. Family members who continue to accommodate and reassure. There’s not a lot of bossing it back going on but, there’s a lot of tension. It feels like a hostage situation, I know.
Perhaps you have OCD and are reading this, realizing the ways YOU are being accommodated and enabled. Whether you’re requiring your family to accommodate you, or just passively allowing it—how’s it working out? Everything you want is on the other side of fear. Go get it!
If you are a family member who is enabling, write down all the ways you are doing this—feeding OCD. Rate each one in terms of which ones you think would have the least impact on your loved one’s life if you stopped doing it.
Discuss the list and your ratings with your loved one. Then ask him or her to rate the same list and to “feel free to add to the list” any missed accommodations. Compare the two lists and acknowledge all the difficulties your loved one faces.
The next step shouldn’t be done unless you’re prepared to follow through. I recommend you do this with the help of a therapist who specializes in OCD. An OCD therapist will tell you that accommodation has been tied to poor treatment outcomes. A nonOCD specialist is likely to get caught in the trap of reassuring your loved one a lot.
You can also find expert help and guidance in several books. There are numerous books to guide you through the process too.
Loving Someone With OCD
There are some people with OCD who will threaten harm to self or others if they are not enabled. Do not be held hostage with this threat. If your loved one makes such a threat or goes on a hunger strike, take your loved one to the emergency room or call 911 immediately. Don’t mess around!
But, in many cases, your loved one will (begrudgingly) go along with this plan. They don’t want to live like this either! A 25-year-old feeding OCD for almost 10 years now, was asked by someone else’s parent, “What do you wish your parents had done differently?” He answered, “Not accommodate me.” WOW!!! High Five!
Explain Why Things Have to Change
Explain to your loved one the current method of accommodating isn’t working. “There’s only temporary relief and that’s not good enough! At this rate, we’re all just hamsters in a wheel.” Try to gain permission to stop the enabling. It can be done gradually by withdrawing some of the easier accommodations.
If you don’t get permission to stop, that’s okay. Your loved one will probably be overwhelmed by this conversation but in their heart, they know it’s what’s best.
You’ll be tested. Mean what you say, but don’t say it mean. Explain if they don’t want to participate in the planning you’ll be picking the accommodations that will be stopping yourself. Look at the calendar with your loved one and write down the day you are going to stop each accommodation.
An Example of An Accommodation
Let’s use the example of contamination fears. Are you opening doors for your loved one so that s/he can avoid germs? This is an example of YOU feeding OCD. It’s one thing if your loved one, unfortunately, chooses to feed OCD, but why are you? Your loved one might still feed OCD by using a Kleenex to open the door but at least you’re no longer reinforcing the fear!
What If You’re the One with OCD?
If you’re the one with OCD being accommodated, do yourself a favor! Get your life back by telling people who love you to stop enabling you! With calendar in hand, sit down with your enablers and say, “This is the day you’re going to stop this accommodation. I’ll need your encouragement but please stop feeding my OCD.”
Accommodating someone with OCD and offering plenty of reassurance is usually the mistake everybody makes in the beginning. If you conduct a cost/benefit analysis on accommodating you’ll discover the costs outweigh the benefits.
Hopefully, you’ll continue to get more informed about how enabling someone with OCD is actually…disabling. Just start with gradual changes and you’ll make good progress.
Bonus: If you want a Quick Guide for 6 kind and gentle ways to stop accommodating your child, Click HERE. It’s great for the fridge! Once you click, just check your email.
By the way, the Quick Guide? It’s good advice for adults with OCD too.
As always, your comments are welcome and really make my day. But, in addition to commenting, if you know someone who’s coping with OCD share this post with them!
Do you bounce back-n-forth between feeling either wired or tired? Many people with OCD find it very difficult to have a “moderate” or “ordinary” energy level. It’s quite unsettling because it seems like there is rarely a happy medium; energy is either blocked or excessive.
When you’re feeling wired, you tend to burn off your excess energy with unfounded fears. You can literally feel your brain buzzing. If your energy is blocked you’re here, but not here. Some of you describe it as feeling empty, foggy or “out to lunch.”
Wired or tired; you’re ungrounded. It’s the perfect opportunity for OCD to chatter away because when you’re ungrounded, there’s an imbalance of power. OCD knows you’ve only got “one foot on the ground,” and that’s not a stable position.
When you’re ungrounded, you lose control of your focus and become hyper-fixated on nonessentials. OCD wreaks havoc on your sense of reality. You begin to imagine all kinds of things. Everything OCD says seems real. Which leads to compulsive behaviors and useless in-depth analysis.
However, when you’re grounded your energy feels balanced, and you think logically and look upon each day with clarity.
How can you get grounded?
Many people exercise to release excess energy. Exercising provides a grounding effect, especially if you exercise outdoors.
However, exercising isn’t an option for everyone due to physical limitations, time constraints or it’s just not enjoyable.
How can you get grounded if exercise isn’t an option?
The disconnection from the earth is an often overlooked contribution to the imbalance of power—too much anxiety or too much depression.
Connecting the Body to the Earth
Many of you know I highly recommend hugging trees or laying down on the grass or digging into a garden to get grounded. Think of it this way: Direct contact with anything from the ground provides you with “electrical” nutrition. You can find plenty of research about this in the book Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever. Numerous studies are showing that grounding can reduce inflammation, which has been tied to symptoms of OCD.
So…this leads me to rock out this summer!
My latest fascination with grounding techniques involves rocks! Can you believe it! Even rocks provide electrical nutrition!
Rock Out This Summer With These Activities!
Even hunting for rocks is nutritional! You will feel balanced and grounded simply looking for rocks–much like walking on the beach looking for shells. Read what one person wrote about his love for rocks:
They are pure magic!
I love when you pick up a boring grey stone and then it sparkles in the sunlight. I love the amazing patterns. I love the geometry of crystals.
I love that crystals can make a radio work. I love that rocks and stones are millions of years old in a world of 2-minute attention spans. I love all the colors.
I love that a stone will look different when it gets wet. I have even been known to lick a stone to see that, but I prefer dribbling some water from my H2O bottle on it.
I love that the Ancient Greeks were able to carve stone and make it look like sheer fabric.
I love the feel of a smooth river stone in your hand.
I love that they hold clues to other worlds. Images of dinosaurs and coral, plants and insects made millions of years before the invention of cameras and Flickr. And I love that some of them have traveled all the way from Mars and beyond, despite the fact that they can’t move on their own.
I love that some can be melted to make glass and that some can, counter-intuitively, float.
I love skipping stones on glass-like water.
I love that people build houses from them that last thousands of years.
I love that I can cross a creek without getting my feet wet by stepping from rock to rock and finding the “best” way across.
I love that I can turn a rock over with my kids and discover a bunch of hidden animals. Salamanders, millipedes, worms, beetles, ants.
I love that all children love to collect pretty rocks and line them up on the porch railing.
I’m pretty sure this person doesn’t have contamination fears! Might as well do an exposure exercise while you’re grounding!
I came upon a Rock Cairn one day in my travels, and it piqued my curiosity. I Googled rock stacking and soon discovered it’s used for directional purposes AND a brilliant grounding activity.
Initially, you might lack confidence. “I don’t think I can find a way to make them balance.” Build it anyway. It’s very rare that people feel confident about trying something new. Confidence is something that is developed AFTER trying something new.
This picture of a rock cairn was sent to me by a client who was on a hike. The top stone is a “beak” or a “duckie” and it’s pointing the direction of the path.
I first became fascinated when I learned of a Facebook Group called Grand Rapid Rocks. They paint stones and then leave them in public places for people to find. What a great idea! It’s a beautiful way to practice random acts of kindness. And, it’s also a fantastic grounding technique.
I’m not crafty at all but, I decided to try painting a stone. I found lots of ideas on Pinterest and selected a bee as my first attempt. (I saved the pin if you want to see the directions.)
Considering my bug phobia, I thought painting an insect was a kooky choice. I was ill-equipped with only one too-large paintbrush. So at first, I was self-critical of my crooked lines but then I reminded myself it doesn’t matter! Who cares!
Then I let my inner child out and had some fun.
I hope you ROCK OUT this summer!
Connect with the earth and get nourished!
The more grounded you are the more power you have to beat OCD.
p.s. If you have children, rock painting is an excellent grounding activity for the whole family. Just google Stone Activities for the Backyard.