Sunday, August 23, 2009

Escaping an OCD Exposure?

The other night my husband and I were trying to figure out what to watch on tv. We just got a bunch more channels than we need when we subscribed to a new cable service, so the options seemed infinite.

He was scrolling the channel guide when something caught my eye: "The Monsters Inside Me." Yes! Let's watch that! A show about parasites that grow inside people and the catastrophic events that follow. Perfect!

He was disgusted.

Only I wasn't kidding. I really did want to watch this show. Things like this always intrigue me: "Terror in the E.R.," "Rescue 911--" the types of shows where people narrowly escape death thanks to some supernatural force or a doctor's revelation. So he gave in and we flipped to that station.

I could only stomach 3 minutes. The episode was about a boy and a parasite that crawled into his brain. (We didn't watch long enough to hear how.) Immediately I felt my anxiety level climb. I didn't want to worry that this could happen to me or someone I love. "Maybe I shouldn't be watching this," I said, and my husband clicked back to the channel guide.

Whew. It was over. I didn't have to think about it anymore. The images of the boy in the hospital bed and the uncertainty about whether I could encounter parasites were both gone.

But then I thought, could this have been an exercise in exposure? Might it have been good for me to put up with this stress for the sake of learning that I can't hide from everything that scares me? OCD exposures are about "sitting with" the anxiety, and understanding that it's normal. In the grand scheme of exposures, for me they're about being able to maintain calm when uncertainty arises.

Sometimes, I admit, I'm lazy about exposures. When I'm feeling generally ok, when OCD thoughts are at a minimum, I fool myself into thinking I don't need them. Was this one of those times?

What do you think--should I have kept watching? What would you have done?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hosting a Party: OCD Exposures en Masse

This weekend we're having a gathering at our house. There will be lots of people--family, friends, maybe neighbors--more visitors than we've ever hosted here. Am I nervous? Not really. But will there be exposures? Mmmmm, yep. Here's what I'm doing to keep OCD from crashing the party.

  • I'm stopping obsessions before the first guest arrives. If I'm feeling the tug of irrational fears today, I'm working hard to squash them before the weekend. I've had intrusive thoughts about the pesticides I use on my landscaping, and of course I've mentioned the occasional nagging cooking ritual. If I'm planning on wearing a dress, baking cookies, and playing music, why wouldn't I plan on thinking positive thoughts?
  • I'm committing to keeping busy. It's hard to talk to everyone, but it's easy when I have an excuse to: If I stay moving, I'll move quickly away from the OCD thoughts that might interfere with my good time. Whether I'm preparing snacks, holding a baby, or just sitting and chatting, I want to keep myself distracted from OCD.
  • I'm not going to plan conversations. I've already said I have a lot to plan, but a person with relationship OCD like myself should not try to map out where conversations will go. I might say something embarrassing. I might offend someone. Yes, it's possible. I accept that.
  • I'm not going to be surprised. If any of the above does not work out as I hope it to, I won't be surprised. Every time I let OCD surprise me I'm in for some trouble. I'm ready if the stress of the situation, the excitement of entertaining so many guests, and, by the time the evening winds down, fatigue leave me vulnerable.

And then again it might be a splendid, OCD-free evening! Here's to hopin'.