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?


  1. I'm like you. I would have changed the channel. I think exposures are a good thing, but if I don't know something exists, I don't worry about it. For me, knowledge isn't's grounds for worry. Now, if it was concerning something you will handle every day, you should have gone ahead and watched it. But honestly, these scenarios are not typical...if they were, it wouldn't be good I say you're better off not watching it, and good for you to realize it right from the get go. You probably slept better, at any rate. :D

  2. I read this and then went off to contemplate. So now I've come back and read it again and I still don't feel like there's a definitive answer. Sure, maybe it would have been helpful to watch it once you realized it made you anxious. And yet, why invite new worries into your life? You won't really have a practical reason to ever think about this again.

    Sometimes you've just gotta save that psychological energy for the day to day stuff. I'm curious what other people think.

  3. I think I probably would have done the same as you .. watch a few moments then switch over. When I try exposure magical thinking takes over and I start believing that the reason I'm confronting something is because it's going to happen to me. Then my anxiety goes through the roof.

  4. Shana,
    Good thought about this not being something I would encounter everyday. But sometimes it's a challenge to try to beat OCD, no matter how it presents itself.

    BeatOCDBlogger, I think it's a good point to save my energy for day-to-day stuff.

    I still don't know where I net out, though. I think maybe next time I'll watch it and report what happens! Hm--an experiment... ; )

  5. I'm sorry but I don't think we should feed our minds garbage anymore than we should feed our bodies garbage. If you put garbage into your mind then your mind will be filled with garbage.