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
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.