Wednesday, September 15, 2010

If You're Going Through Hell, Stop It

 "If you're going through hell, keep going."

Someone in one of my support groups mentioned this saying recently in reference to OCD.  I get the point (or at least I think I do) - if you are resisting a compulsion and experiencing the anxiety that it causes, keep going.  Face it, and don't try to undo it if you want to come out on the other side.  To engage in compulsions is to head back and ultimately detain yourself in OCD hell.  Trying to escape may seem like the best thing to do in the moment, but pressing onward through the anxiety is ultimately the better option.

I've heard this saying used in this way before, and I have issues with it, along with the idea that learning to deal with OCD is learning to "better tolerate feeling shitty" because its an inevitable part of life and you can't escape feeling discomfort.  Maybe it's because I still struggle with this, but I really, really don't like this point of view (and it is a point of view I have heard espoused by someone who has treated OCD professionally for years).  I find it depressing.  And it makes me feel like a failure - or like I am somehow weak and can't "tolerate feeling shitty" as well as I should be able to or as well as everyone else.

I don't like the whole "if you're going through hell, keep going" ideology because it's exactly the sort of reasoning I use to torture myself, to push myself to continue on with compulsions even if they are hellish.  I continue on precisely because I want to prove to myself that I can endure as much as anyone else, that I can tolerate "feeling shitty."  OCD is there saying, "Hey keep going.  Don't stop now.  Other people with OCD have endured worse.  Why can't you try as hard as them to do things 'right?'  Keep going.  Push through, no excuses.  Prove that you can tolerate such sacrifices, such lengthy rituals.  Prove that you can endure hell and continue onward.  And once you prove that, then maybe you can stop."  So I feel a magnetic-like pull to keep going, to push through to the end until I have performed my rituals perfectly.  Each time the option to perform a compulsion arises, it feels like a new test of my strength to punish myself, my ability to self-deny and force myself to do something no matter how much I don't want to do it, no matter how terrible it feels.

For me, a better mantra would be "if you're going through hell for no other reason than to prove that you can, STOP.  LEAVE. DON'T KEEP GOING. TURN AROUND."  In one word:  NO.

If I'm trying to prove that I am capable of enduring hell, next time just continuing through it to the other side won't be enough.  Next time I'll have to do something else to prove that I can endure even more.  Going through hell won't be enough.  I'll  have to find a way to make it more tortuous each and every time I face it.

When someone tells me me that I need to learn how to better endure the unavoidable "shit" that life brings, it's painful.  Because OCD says, "See you have failed!  You need to learn how to endure more!"  Better advice might be:  learn to stop forcing yourself to endure for the sake of proving you can endure.  It is pointless suffering that has no value.  Learn how to see the shit you could force yourself to put up with in the most difficult way possible, turn around, and go the other direction.  No really. Don't test your ability to endure pain and self-denial for no good reason.  Resist.

Anyways, I think I know what is meant when these maxims are used, but they bother me.  They trigger a touchy subject for me and my OCD, because they are already part of an approach to life that I use against myself. That I don't want to feel like I have to endure.  I feel like these sayings should be used with more discretion, and with more of an emphasis on "forgive yourself for not putting yourself through unnecessary pain."  OCD is already cheering me on, encouraging me to continue onward through my self-made hell.  I don't need more encouragement in that direction.  The last thing I need is someone saying "you aren't trying hard enough" or "you need to learn to endure pain better" because OCD scoops up these words and uses them to its advantage, to goad me on in the performance of rituals.

More often that not, I don't need to try harder.  I need to try less.  I need to learn to relent and ease up, not do the opposite.  Rituals don't make me feel 'good' for say, but they make me feel like I might be 'good enough' because if I can get through them, they make me feel I am capable of enduring hell.  The kind of "discomfort toleration" these points of view are meant to promote is actually the opposite of continuing onward in my trek through hell.  I have to learn to tolerate the discomfort of feeling like I have failed by choosing to NOT keep going, to NOT force myself to endure, to NOT consider each and every option before allowing myself to move on.  And that kind of discomfort isn't really like going through hell at all, at least not compared to going through with the compulsions.  It's like learning to resist a temptation - a temptation to see how much hell I can stand.  And when I can manage to resist, it's nothing like hell.  It's the opposite.  It's peace of mind.  It's comfort.  As long I can resist the desire to pull myself back in, to punish myself for my self-liberation, it's freedom.


  1. I really liked this post and can totally relate, even to the quote. I also suffer from OCD. It's not pleasant. I have my routines which drive my family crazy, I cannot leave my apartment until this is done three times, if it isn't done three times I cannot leave, other little quirks. It makes people laugh and shake their heads. I hate it. Then the panic attacks if I don't complete the routine. My mom was once watching an episode of "monk" and said "Whoa That's Susan", and I knew I am not alone.

    Glad to find this blog, even if it was a glitch by Google. Glad to know I am not alone. Will be back to read you. Thanks.

  2. Thanks, susan! Glad you found me, too :) glitch or not. You are most certainly not alone! There are so many people out there with OCD, some getting the help and treatment they need and others who are unfortunately suffering without really knowing that there is a name for their problems and effective treatment available. If you ever need support, just know there are lots of us OCD bloggers out here ready to provide it. Take care!



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