Friday, May 1, 2009

Looking Back Issue 2: Irrational Fear

This is the second iteration of my new series titled "Looking Back." Each post will analyze an entry in my OCD journal from 1998 when I first received the diagnosis. In most cases I won't post the entire entry (they're pretty lengthy), but I'll highlight the major points. It's been a while since the last post, but I promise these next ones will come more regularly. (I'm trying to buy a house and it's taking over my life.)

"Today it seemed a bit easier for me to put thoughts out of my mind."

That's the way the next entry begins. So much of my first experience with OCD was about this very topic. My first therapist called it thoughtstopping, but after years of trying the technique I found it less than helpful for me. I could never get it right. Simply wanting to stop the thought cold turkey, and thinking about how it needs to be "out of my mind," always ended up with me devoting more attention to it.

Trying, but Failing
That's what was happening to me as I scribbled this entry, eleven years ago. I was worried that my online pen pal was not who he said he was, and that he would come to my house to hurt me or someone else (I wrote about this in another post). I could feel in the tone of my writing that I was struggling to defend myself against the thoughts that grew stronger with every attempt to extinguish them.

I continued on about how I sent an instant message to a friend saying that my family would be on vacation this weekend. This led to the (seemingly very realistic) fear that my pen pal would break into my house. Here's how one misjudgement of risk led to another, bringing me quickly to this scary, unrealistic outcome. (Remember that OCD is often about seeing absolutes, as in these things would DEFINITELY happen just because there was a remote chance that they could.) Follow me here...

Misjudgement number...
1. My pen pal is not who he says he is.
2. He is a hacker.
3. He hacked into my computer.
4. He read the message to my friend.
5. He is coming to my house while we are away on vacation.
6a. He will be here waiting for me OR
6b. He will steal things from our house.
7. My parents will be mad.
8. It will be my fault because he's my pen pal.

A Better Solution
My OCD has been acting up lately, and I actually caught myself using the same faulty logic last night. So last night, instead of thoughtstopping, I used a set of questions that my therapist gave me from The OCD Workbook. The questions helped me to combat the intrusive thought realistically. I spent a reasonable amount of time on the thought, weighing what is likely against what is unlikely, and came to a conclusion that I could let this worry go.

With help from my husband, my workbook, and the knowledge of prior experiences, I was able to get over the thought. Yes it was work. But anything worthwhile is.