Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Doing Exposure and Not Looking Back

Reality:  there's really only one way to find my way back, and it's not by constantly retracing where I've been...
It's that time again.  I'm stuck in that post-home session funk where I try to decide what to do next - whether to dig myself out or to give up for the day.  I'm going to try to sort my thoughts out about it here so I can do what I need to do to get better!

Today I did a lot of good exposure work with one of my therapists.  The big exposure of the day was...showering!!  Woo.  My showers are now under 30 minutes but still heavily ritualized, meaning that I do everything in a very specific order, in a specific way, a specific number of times.  Deviation from this routine or lack of focus while completing it can lead to repetition until I'm sure I got it "right."  Well, today we took a nice big wrecking ball to my shower regimen.  And this is how we did it:  my therapist timed me as usual, but instead of just calling out how many minutes I had left at certain intervals, this time she called out what to wash and when.  And trust me, the order was so wrong. I didn't get to wash the "right" number of times, and I didn't get to wash everything the "right" way.  It felt very haphazard but at the same time freeing.

Oh, and then she had me put the same clothes back on (which actually happened to be the t-shirt and sweatpants that I had been sleeping in from the night before since I woke up only shortly before she arrived)!  That seemed so wrong in its own right.  I was "recontaminated" in my mind by putting those same clothes on.  Furthermore, I don't usually allow myself to do any type of housework or exposures until I have changed out of the clothes I have slept in and gotten dressed for the day.  It's not really a contamination issue, so much as a rule that I just arbitrarily keep because of OCD.  So continuing about my day in the same clothes I was wearing before showering, the same clothes I had been wearing since I went to bed the night before, was doubly wrong by my standards.  And yet here I am, wearing the same sweatpants and the same t-shirt.  I recognize that these rules are arbitrary but I still feel a sort of gravitational pull to follow them.  At least I do now.  Right after I did all this exposure, I felt disturbingly fine, which is why I ran into even more problems!

Indeed, it was the LACK of discomfort I felt that bothered me immediately afterward.  What a surprise (not).  Ironically, I am usually more at ease and find it easier when I AM bothered by an exposure than when I'm not.  When I don't feel discomfort or when something doesn't seem difficult, I'm not quite sure what to make of it.  Part of me is thinking, "Awesome.  Not so bad.  I'm getting better."  But an even more insistent part of me is thinking, "Woah, woah, woah, hold up!  Not so fast, you.  Think about how you did things wrong.  Try to remember all the ways in which you are now unacceptably contaminated.  You can't proceed unless you know all the ways in which you did things wrong.  You need to know this so you can make informed decisions about what is okay or not okay to do afterward.  To not perform this mental ritual is sheer carelessness."

Of course, the latter voice is that of OCD, luring me into the trap of performing mental compulsions to be "certain," to be "sure" I know exactly what I did "wrong."  This need to know and the retracing I want to make myself do are what I need to resist.  And it's not that it's actually that hard to keep myself from doing these rituals.  What's hard to resist is the feeling that I should make myself perform these compulsions whether or not I actually feel a need to.  Often, I don't necessarily feel any particular need to retrace, but I do feel a need to try to make myself feel like I need to.  Confused yet? 

Anyways, the point is that, when I don't feel the need to perform compulsions directly after a big exposure, I feel the need to seek that feeling out.  So after my shower today, as I sat talking to my therapist, I wasn't sure what to make of my lack of disturbance.  Sometimes I think that when I do an exposure for the first time, it takes a while for the realization of what I have done to sink in, for me to fully process what we did.  It's not until later when I try to go about my day as normal that I start to feel the urge to avoid coming on, the desire to just give up until tomorrow when I can shower again and get a fresh start.   That's what I'm feeling right now.

Problem is, wishing I could just do nothing until my shower tomorrow is incredibly soul-sucking in the meantime.  I feel the weight of the things I "should" do on my shoulders.  I want to get things done, and the lack of productivity begins to grate at my psyche.  As much as it seems "wrong" to do what I am supposed to do in my current unresolved state, I know I should.  In fact, that word is perfect - "unresolved."  That's how I feel.  To feel resolved I would need to engage in a number of compulsions first - shower again (the "right" way) and change clothes, or at least think through the steps of my earlier shower and enumerate all the things I did wrong.  Then I could figure out why it is or isn't okay to proceed with my other planned exposures for the day.

I have already given into this ritual a little bit.  In trying to determine why I feel "off" right now, I have gone back and explained to myself, in writing, why the things I did seemed wrong and what rules I broke.  And yet there is so much more I could retrace, more I could identify as being done incorrectly.  But while writing this, I've also begun to realize it's that uncertainty of not knowing exactly what I did "wrong" that I need to face.  I need to embrace the unresolved feeling that has grown throughout the day (the feeling that I wanted and didn't have earlier, funny enough) and accept that I don't know every way in which things I did things "wrong," nor do I need to know. 

And with that, I am off to do the rest of my exposures, embracing the unresolved feeling I am currently carrying!


  1. Your post makes perfect sense. I understand the desire to get comfortable with the gray area, the murky gritty parts of healing. To live with a dissonant experience and not immediately get that vague feeling of nausea. I also get that part about feeling strange when things don't feel strange - that OCD tells you that you 'should' feel strange, now, and when you don't it's a sign of worry. OCD wants to make sure we never, ever let our guard down and just be. Seems to me like you are doing really hard work. Hope it keeps going well for you!
    Adventures in Anxiety Land

  2. I thought about you yesterday when living with a "contaminated" kitchen. It wasn't that I really thought myself or my room-mate would get ecoli, so maybe I just thought it was gross not to decontaminate the kitchen?

    And yeah, it makes sense (with OCD) to want to figure out what you did "wrong" and right. Mental rituals seem hard to skip (not that I'm much more willing to skip a physical ritual). I'm impressed by your perseverence in fighting OCD.

  3. Just stumbled upon your blog. I have struggled with OCD and it has also been very intangled with an eating disorder. Your fight against this is so inspiring.

  4. Just looking through some of your older posts. This one hit home where you say, "I'm stuck in that post-home session funk where I try to decide what to do next - whether to dig myself out or to give up for the day."

    I start all my days like that. The last couple of days, I've just given up, but I'm determined to dig myself out today. It's just that the later it gets, the pointless it seems. I'll berate myself later if I don't get on with it, though, because "the lack of productivity begins to grate at my psyche" also.



Related Posts with Thumbnails