Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Overcompensating for OCD

So much about living with OCD is about not doing what our minds tell us we have to do. If I listened to mine all the time, I'd have to check that I haven't offended a friend. I'd have to apologize again.

I'd have to get the medical test done to make sure I'm healthy. I'd have to explain myself repeatedly to make sure I'm understood.

If not, anxiety and panic ensue. But when I get in a rhythm of saying no to my mind, it can actually be satisfying to deprive myself of this pressure.

It's part of why Exposure and Response Prevention works for some people: We expose ourselves to what makes us anxious in order that the response, the panic, subsides with repetition. And for me it does, when I work with my therapist and support group.

But suppose you have hoarding issues (patterns that are closely related to OCD). Maybe you collect everything you can find--plastic bags, Tupperware containers, pens and pencils, old keys, anything--for no real reason other the paralyzing fear that these items will go to waste.

Maybe you're afraid that letting go of these things, if it really does mean you're being wasteful, will make you a bad person. This obsession with pragmatism has your house brimming with stuff you'll never use, and you can't find the articles you actually need.

So you're this person, and say a friend offers to help you by having a yard sale. (This is really tempting for you because you've been trying to work on the hoarding for your own sake, and the clean-up for practicality's sake.)

But here's the question: You know that if you have a yard sale, you're bound to find shoppers who will buy what you have. If someone buys the pens he's probably restocking a home office. If someone buys the keys she needs them for a craft project. The items are being used, not wasted.

But are you really confronting your OCD if you're ultimately satisfying the same goal that has you hung up--absolute practicality at any cost? Aren't you just feeding the fear?

My answer to this question is: "Stop thinking!" You're taking it too far. Maybe it's a little perfectionism setting in. In any case, it's keeping you from being productive and actually making progress at cleaning your house.

The question persists: If you were REALLY trying to practice ERP, wouldn't you throw everything away, in the trash, where it's certain nobody would ever find a use for your discards? Maybe. But that's just doing the opposite for opposite's sake. If you struggled with contamination, the tenets of ERP wouldn't require you to drink urine, would they?

We don't need to overcompensate for OCD. We just need to find our comfort zones...the place where healthy minds of the world function every day.

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