Monday, November 1, 2010

Day #1: Giving Myself Permission

Well, it's that time.  Operation "Destroy My One and Only Pristine Sanctuary of Cleanliness in this Dirty, Dirty World" is well underway (go here for further explanation).  Here's a recap of day one, in my therapist's words:

  • Touched bed with unwashed hands
  • Stripped bed, put bedding on floor, then remade bed
  • Dumped dirty laundry on bed
  • Removed bedding from bay window and placed on bed
  • Confiscated sanitizers and bag of hoarded receipts
  • Sat on floor
  • Briefly touched toilet seat and handle, then returned to bedroom
  • Touched items in "condemned corner"
  • Walked on bed in bare feet
  • Touched clean clothes with unwashed hands, touched clean clothes to dirty clothes, touched clean clothes to floor and put away with other clean clothes
  • Ate dried fruit with unwashed hands
  • Touched flute with unwashed hands (esp difficult)
  • Touched all areas of bedroom in no particular order with unclean hands
  • Touched doorknobs and light switches
  • < 30-second hand wash
Doesn't that sound like fun?  Oddly enough it kind of was.  I felt kind of like a kid sneaking around, stealthily going behind OCD's back and messing things up without its permission.  It's liberating in the moment - until OCD sees the crimes that  have been committed and gets angry.  But so far I have kept that wrath in check.  I'm doing my best to jump in with both feet.  I've spent a year taking it slow, gotten a lot better, but still have quite a bit of work to do.  As my therapist said, now it's time to bring out the big guns.  And well, I don't want to have to rip apart my current life to seek what would probably be the next level of treatment - residential - so if I'm going to go for it, now's the time.  Bring it!!

One of my fears about doing exposures is that I won't feel the "right" way about it.  I'm not bawling my eyes out.  I'm not shaking with fear.  Does that mean I don't have OCD?  That's what I'm afraid of.  But I think one thing that I have learned just today is that everyone reacts differently to the challenges presented by OCD.  I have spent my fair share of time bowing down to its relentless demands, obsequiously obeying its random whims.  What I'm realizing is:  I don't have to compare my reactions to OCD and its treatment to that of others.  I don't have to figure out how I "should" be responding to be sure that I actually have this disorder.  There isn't one "right" way to react to OCD and there isn't one "right" way to respond to its gradual elimination through ERP.

So I'm slowly getting used to the idea of giving myself permission to do the things I am supposed to be doing in treatment if I think I can.  Up to this point, it has often been very difficult for me to comply with my therapist's instructions.  OCD would come up with loopholes, exceptions, endless reasons why it was unacceptable to do my homework; it would demand absolute certainty that doing this or that exposure was exactly what my therapist had intended and nothing more.  This often meant that I would agree to do what my therapist asked me to when he was around, but as soon as I started facing things on my own, the insidious questioning of OCD began:

"Wait, he didn't specifically mention this situation, did he?  This is different.  You can't do that exposure now.  He may not have anticipated this exact scenario, therefore, the exposure is off.  You have to wash.  You can't take that chance."

And soon one exception becomes two, and two becomes three, and by the end of the week I've given up on the exposure altogether because there are no longer any "acceptable" situations in which to actually do it.  Then I go back to therapy and mention all the problem situations I encountered, get reminded once again that I should be taking the risk of doing the exposure in the wrong way, at the wrong time, in the wrong situation, and feel renewed determination to do my exposures no matter what - at least until the next questionable situation arises and the process begins again.  If I want to really get better, I am going to have to give myself permission to go for it - to take the chance that I might be going above and beyond the bare minimum that my therapist asks of me (or more realistically, I'll have to actually take the chance of successfully completing the bare minimum...).  If being able to take that chance somehow proves that I don't have OCD, that I am a fraud, that I have for some self-serving reason made this all up, as I so often fear it will, so be it.  Hope no one minds if I continue to blog about the treatment of my potentially fake OCD. ;)

So what am I feeling in the aftermath of day #1 of Operation Destroy My Pristine World of Cleanliness?  Well, mostly I'm just tired.  Processing all that has happened takes a toll on my brain, I think.  Never really feeling quite "right," like I can definitively put my mind at rest and relax in the illusion of "knowing" that certain things are either clean or dirty, however short-lived that knowing is, can be draining.  (Then again, only getting four to five hours of sleep can also do the trick...). 

Things feel kind of chaotic and all over the place right now, but I have committed to not undoing what's already been done.  I'm sick of OCD, and this is my chance to really get some momentum going in fighting back.  The things that are now "dirty" will remain "dirty" and will be treated however I would normally treat them.  No avoidance, no compulsive attempts to fix the "damage" that's been done.  And that in itself is a great burden lifted.  Giving myself permission NOT to sabotage my treatment is a relief in and of itself.  The feeling that I have a "responsibility" to resist my therapist's recommendations may return as I continue forward, but I plan on doing my best to keep going despite it.  This is my chance to finally break free, to allow myself to engage in treatment as I know I am capable of doing.  So, like I said - just doing the best I can to jump in with both feet so that I can run forward without looking back.  It may temporarily feel like I am living in some strange alternate universe, but eventually it just might feel like "home" again. 


  1. YAY! Such an accomplishment! Wow - I can so relate to the fear of not feeling the "right" way about doing exposures. In my experience though, the times that I approach my exposure with sheer determination and a "screw you OCD" attitude - the anxiety is virtually non-existent! (That in itself also brings up doubts, but it's also a relief in some ways.) You've definitely shown your OCD that you are just sick and tired of letting it rule your life. I take inspiration from you. :o)

  2. It will probably feel MORE like home than it did before, once you get through the stress!

    I am so impressed with your accomplishment. In one day? Yikes. And don't stress about your attitude. You were resolved, and made up, and BLESSED to have responded so well.

  3. What an incredible struggle - very brave. Keep patting yourself on the back. No need to 'worry' about having fake OCD's - that's a symptom of OCD right there. Besides, it takes one to know one. And I'm one. Best wishes as you push forward with this challenging program of exposures.
    Adventures in Anxiety Land

  4. Thank you all again for the support!!

    Pure O Canuck - Thanks for sharing your own experience with facing exposures head-on. Reminds me not only that it is helpful to take that stance but that often the determination drowns out the anxiety in the meantime (and that that feeling of doubt that it brings about later is part of the process).

    Leah - You are so right. It should feel more like home when all this is said and done. Yes, I did all this in one day, but I have been in treatment for a year as well and have done some of these things before. No more messing around and taking my time - it's been time to get down to business for a while!

    Blue Morpho - Thank you for the encouragement. I suppose people who don't have OCD don't fear that they don't have it do they? ;) Looking forward to reading your blog, by the way!

  5. Do keep writing about your "fake" OCD - because I'm doing the same thing! :) I went to get evaluated last week, and that person said she didn't think I had as much OCD as I thought I did. I appearently am not very good at presenting the OCD side of me. My normal OCD counselor assured me that she knew I had it and if the second lady had seen what she had seen she wouldn't question my OCD. But I just "decided" that I knew I had OCD and that I had the right to think that whether the second evaluator agrees or disagrees. In the mean time, worrying about whether or not I have OCD is probably a more pleasant worry than my top anxiety causer right now, so maybe I should "dwell" on it for a while. :) Yay for the work you're doing with OCD. I wish for a residential program, but I'm not "that bad" and I'm scared of it, too, so I continue my "normal" falling apart life.



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