I actually had anxiety for so long I went to a psychiatrist. And I said to the guy, ‘I’m constantly anxious. What do I do?’ He told me I had obsessive-compulsive disorder. I was shocked. I had to call him nine times to make sure he was certain. Judy Gold, comedian
The following essay about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and a successful self-help technique was contributed to Minding Therapy by a respected acquaintance who wishes to remain anonymous.
WHAT IF I STOPPED THINKING?!
For most of my life I had never heard of OCD, and if I had, I would
have probably thought that it was one of those exotic conditions
somebody had invented in order to come up with something “new.” So
when my son started displaying “habits” at about age eleven, we had no
idea what was happening. We just thought that his worrying and
ritualistic little “tics” might be some pre-adolescent offshoot of
being highly-strung/sensitive. After all he had had a very normal,
healthy childhood thus far, displaying very little neuroses. It was
hard to imagine that all of a sudden he was becoming “crazed.”
Long story short, we explored all the possibilities and found nothing
that we could put our finger on, but after telling an old friend about
these “habits”, this kind chap did some research and came up with the
possibility of OCD . Although this information came out of left field,
it somehow made sense to us since the symptoms pretty much matched the
info about it, as did the insight that OCD is a physical disease that
has psychological-like symptoms. So he received some therapy and
medication but never grew out of it. Instead, he slowly learned how to
deal as best he could with this aspect of his life.
It never occurred to me (until years later) that I might also have
this same malady. During my life I had had such a long history of
neuroses, childhood trauma, codependency and addiction, how could I
have possibly cherry-picked out of this grim potpourri that my need to
try to somehow make things better via obsessive thinking could
possibly be something new and different from the usual fare?
Moreover, I had spent many years working on my neuroses and addictions
with great success. So I thought that this ever so busy and punishing
head of mine were simply stubborn neuroses continuing to hang around,
(unlike those that so deliciously ended up falling by the wayside).
But the “committee” in my head could truly drive me nuts. So I soothed
it so nobly with affirmations and the like, which gave me some relief,
but not enough, because this ritual always came back, and often in
spades. What a pain to have this dramatically irritating bogeyman
alive and well with no apparent plan to vacate the premises. .
One day I had an interesting experience on a treadmill that I thought
was in some way connected to this entire syndrome. It seemed that if I
could see the tag on my sweat rag that hung on the side of the
machine, I would become powerfully aggravated, and so I felt the need
to conceal it from myself in order to feel okay. But one morning,
after becoming sick of this routine, I opted to avoid this ritual no
matter what! (It annoyed me that I felt I “had” to do it or else).
What a challenge!! Nevertheless I put my plan into action, and after
experiencing some pretty darn insane feelings for a couple of dramatic
minutes, I somehow forgot about it and…it went away. What a victory!
Unfortunately I still had not figured out what I needed to figure out.
So I continued suffering from worry, the need to soothe myself, and
then the inevitable rerun after rerun of same, usually escalating
But an article on the OCD Foundation website further opened my eyes.
It had to do with just what I’m writing about, namely obsessive
thinking and ways to deal with it. This gentleman had written a brave
piece stating that the soothing aspect of OCD, namely the compulsive
side, could be worse than the obsessions themselves as it created an
endless loop of feel bad, feel good, so feel bad again in order to
feel good again, etc.
A precious seed was planted.
One bright sunny day, with my addictions way under the radar screen
and my general behavior, (which underwrites my emotional sobriety),
pretty much intact, I wondered, as I stood in my bathroom why my head
would not stop! It could be vicious and that’s how it was that
morning. I thought about how I had spent so much time worrying during
my life, and then trying to deflect the worries by telling myself
Suddenly a miraculous notion flew into my consciousness—it was
this– “WHAT IF I STOPPED THINKING??”—because I surmised, if I didn’t
think, how could I possibly be in my head obsessing? Made sense to
me—you simply cannot obsess if you’re not thinking!
The grand experiment began at that very moment. I blanked my mind from
thinking—bigtime!! No thought was allowed to develop. And how they
wanted to!! But as with the experience on the treadmill, I was totally
determined to see this through. “Juicy” thoughts that wanted soothing
and TLC would come at me like machine gun bullets but I would cut them
off. I pressed HARD to maintain this difficult exercise.
And then I realized something very sweet–I had forgotten to think
about what I had been thinking about. Ten minutes into the battle, my
mind was CLEAR. Like with the sweat rag, I had forgotten the issues
and thus the need to cure the issues. I was feeling amazingly clear
and even a little…serene.
Now, I had had enough experience with recovery- type experiences to
recognize a real discovery when I saw one. I instinctively knew that I
had found something big, equivalent to getting sober, equivalent to
successful dealings with my codependency; a God-given ticket “out of
In time I would discover that my new skill needed to be fine-tuned.
The basic notion continued to work pretty well but I soon found that
the need for perfection in this area led to another kind of
obsessive-ness, and so over the year I worked out a kind of credo on
how to deal IMPERFECTLY with my OCD. This dogma is as follows:
I indulge the bugger a little. Too hard to eliminate it completely and anyway
it’s part of my existential deal.
I keep lightly abreast of it and if I notice thinking/soothing-need
coming around too much, I take imposed breaks from it — purposely
skipping around just to show it that I can. If I remember later that I
was about to indulge and instead had cut it off and forgotten about
it even for 10 minutes or so, I’d declare victory as my solution has
shown a mite of its gorgeous being-ness.
If I see the tidal wave coming from too much “flirtatious” indulgence,
I cut it off like I would leprosy. I go to the mattresses! The big
weapon is NO thinking; pushing thoughts away even in the middle of the
thought. This is warlike, steely enforcement. I’m aware as I do this,
that it would be very tempting to go just one more round, as it
continuously wants to seduce me. I arrive at a point where I have
nothing but determination and blind faith and the fear of the
horribleness of it all. I can just about remember that this works, but
only barely. But action trumps belief at this juncture. It doesn’t pay
off immediately. “It” wants to make sure that you mean it!
If nothing wants to work (rarely happens) I remember that it is more
vulnerable to exiting after a night’s sleep. So I give it the juice
the next day.
It’s always amazes me how easy it is now to coexist with “it” when
it’s in remission now residing mostly in its cave. I love that it can
be so neatly handled but getting there each time there can be a
terrible act of faith.
Let me state that OCD can be an elusive and mercurial bitch. It wants
to keep you in its clutches and will test you ferociously. But I have
discovered that if I am willing to take the actions mentioned above,
particularly in blanking my mind when it so passionately wants to
prevent me from doing so, that when it knows that I mean business, it
exits dramatically! As it cowers way under the horizon I then get to
enjoy all of the good things that I have derived via my life ambition
of being happy and normal. Indeed, the abatement of OCD was the cherry
on the cake that I had been searching for, for so long.
One other thing, do this long enough and you can sense that the need
to obsess actually and fundamentally abates. It’s as if your brain
changes! What a thrill!!
I have participated in recovery-type programs for so long, and I have
seen so many good folks who have had trouble with the “committee.” I
don’t know if they have OCD or not, but I do know that the things that
I have learned in order to deal with it (as stated above) have
probably put me in a position where I not only get to beat up the OCD,
but also to deal with what seems to be a ubiquitous aspect of the
human condition consisting of worries, fear based being-ness, being
stuck in your head etc., etc.
In twelve-step programs, folks eventually tend to be grateful for
their horrible disease because, when they’re lucky and they work hard
in recovery, it ever so ironically propels them into a life that is
second to none. I feel the same way about my tyrannical OCD career.
Dealing with it successfully (but not perfectly) has helped me to find
a goodness in my life that I could only imagine and for this reason
I’m ever so grateful!