Saturday, June 26, 2010
Doubt and more doubt: Is this anxiety? Do I really have OCD?
There are often those moments where I have a choice - to do what's comfortable and reassuring or to do what I know needs to be done to get better. I feel dirty, but then, that's emotional reasoning. I know better than to obey based on that feeling alone.
Nevertheless, I can feel myself being drawn towards the wrong decision, the decision to give in and do the thing that will make me feel safe, comfortable, and refreshingly clean. I also feel bad for being so easily lured into the OCD trap, especially when it seems like I don't experience that much anxiety and because I have the ability to sit here and calmly analyze my options. If I am this calm and rational, why am I still leaning towards making the non-therapeutic decision?
In fact, this is something I have had difficulty with since my relapse close to a year ago now. I have had different "types" of OCD throughout out my life and a myriad of different compulsions designed to alleviate the discomfort of each version that has popped up. This time it was contamination, and the OCD swept in swiftly and stealthily. It seemed almost overnight that the world suddenly became a place coated in chemicals (and later germs) fraught with danger and a responsibility to contain and minimize the risk. I couldn't function.
Looking back to when I was at my worst, I can now see that the anxiety was pretty severe, but at the time I had a hard time rating my anxiety level or determining whether I even felt anxious at all in the moment. Often I knew what I should probably do, but for some reason I just couldn't bring myself to do it. The only concept of anxiety I had (and often still have) was a feeling of reluctance or a need to do something to resolve the situation. I still dislike being asked to "rate my anxiety level" during an exposure, because it just leads me down a path of confusion, searching for an emotion that I would like to identify but can't. Clear signs of anxiety would almost be a relief. I would feel justified in my failures and in seeking help if I could just point to tangible physical symptoms of fear. Instead, I look for that feeling, fail to find it, and begin to wonder what's wrong with me. Why I can't get myself to do this? Do I really deserve help if I'm not shaking with fear or sobbing? Other people seem to suffer so much both outwardly and internally yet, even then, they make the decision to do those things they know will be best for them in the long run.
This supposed "inability to feel anxiety" makes me feel like a terrible fraud sometimes. I feel like I am choosing to have OCD, that for some very unknown reason, I am making up my symptoms. I mean, I have lost quite a bit to the disorder this past year in many different areas of my life. It is beyond me why I would ever want to lose these things by faking a disorder. In fact, it is very against my nature to let things get this bad. In the past, when undergoing intermittent bouts of OCD flare ups, I somehow managed to hold it together enough so that when I did recover, I could continue on with my life as if nothing had happened. This is the first time that I really let things just fall apart and come crashing down around me. I just felt like I could no longer maintain the facade that everything was alright. I just couldn't keep up. But even then, as soon as I tried to determine how anxious I was, it became impossible to know. It's as if I wanted so badly to feel anxiety, to have a solid excuse for falling apart, that OCD wouldn't let me have that either. I couldn't recognize my own anxiety when I was experiencing it. I was hunting desperately for the forest without realizing I was already deep in the midst of it.
I think I am just now learning to recognize when I am anxious, and then acknowledge and accept it. So much of the time I am just so caught up in thought. If I am reluctant to do something, I try to understand why I am reluctant and when the the logical me can't find a good reason, when I feel like I should be able to do this or that non-compulsively, I start to berate myself for not being able to stop. It almost seems automatic. I begin to feel like I am just being intentionally stubborn and difficult, and that if someone would just yell at me enough and in the right way, I would realize that I am making it all up. I would drop the act, and shape up. I guess it comes down to my struggle with seeing this all as a character flaw that needs to be beaten out of me, rather than a mental disorder for which I need and deserve treatment.
What has recently been very helpful for me is slowing down, recognizing that, as illogical as it may seem, even to myself, I am actually reluctant to do various exposures. Acknowledging and accepting this, I think, is helpful for me because it frees me up to encourage myself to keep going anyway, instead of beating myself up. Even if for some unknown, unfathomable reason, I am making it all up and doing exposures reveals that I'm actually a fake, I have to do my exposures anyway and take that chance of finding that out if I really want to get better. It's really no different than when people who have harm obsessions take the risk of finding out that they are murderers by putting themselves in situations that make them feel like they could cause others harm. By doing the exposures designed to combat my contamination issues, I am also putting myself in the position to doubt whether or not I really have OCD if I can successfully do my exposure homework. I just have to remind myself that whether it makes any logical sense or not, or whether it proves that I am a fraud or not, I need to do the work now and figure out what's what later. If I am really a lazy, defective, dirty person, so be it. If I am a fraud, so be it. I can deal with that when and if it turns out to be true. But right now I am wasting my life away continually trying to prove to myself that I am neither!