Would this be an example of letting my fears control my life?
June 13, 2012 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Is leaving my job because of (possibly irrational) fears an example of avoidance? Or a realization of limitations?

I have had OCD since I was a teenager. The obsessions have mostly revolved around contamination and a particular disease. I had a multi-year reprieve of my symptoms but they are back with a vengeance.

During the reprieve, I got a job in a lab where the possibility of coming into contact with this disease is higher (though we don't specifically work with any disease). Now that my symptoms are back, the disease via my job is the focus of my obsessions. I take all proper precautions but of course, as OCD people hate to acknowledge, we can never been 100% certain of anything. To me, because I have this job, my fears of contracting this disease aren't as irrational as they once were.

Up until now I have really liked my job, it's a very good job. I have felt I was good at it. But it has become an enormous source of psychic turmoil and I dread the days I have to do work in the lab. Just thinking about accessing my work email makes my blood pressure rise. I find myself increasingly wishing I worked somewhere without the possibility of disease contact so my mind could be put at ease. Surprisingly, I am functioning completely normally at work and I think my boss/coworkers would be shocked if I approached them with this.

I have already given up the idea of a job in nursing or medicine. I realize my limitations. I don't want to implode my life by leaving my job over my illness but I don't know what to do anymore and I don't want to constantly be worrying. Also, I used to fear getting this disease before I had this job. Who's to say I won't just start worrying about some other vector or get some other obsession (I have had a few)? Is it ever okay to leave a job because of irrational fears? Is this just avoidance or a realization of limitations? Though relieved, I know I would be disappointed in myself if I left. What do I do?


Relevant info: I am in CBT and while it is helpful, my OCD has gotten worse since I started. I'm not blaming the CBT for this, it could be any number of reasons (including increased job stress, moving in a month, etc). I have brought up the possibility of leaving my job, but my therapist thinks that would be foolish, he sees my going to work as a form of exposure therapy. But I am not getting better, I am getting worse and I want my job to be my job, not an exercise in anxiety-producing exposures.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
OCD sufferer here, too. I find that the main force behind my compulsions gets stronger and stronger the better I deal with them. So it seems more "rational" that I avoid the things that trigger my compulsions, only I give them different reasons. So instead of performing an action because it will keep me out of trouble (that's usually the benefit my mind creates for a compulsion, rather than avoiding disease), I will say that it doesn't matter that I perform the action, because it will set my mind at ease without the "bad" reasoning behind it, which is "bad" in and of itself.

I'd double-up on therapy and really find ways to keep at your job. As you said, if you leave this one, your compulsive mind is going to find a new outlet for this, and if you give in to the compulsion to leave (to avoid disease), that's going to shore up the idea that your compulsions are leading you toward things that are beneficial, instead of just being symptoms of something that you are working towards overcoming.
posted by xingcat at 7:54 AM on June 13, 2012


I am in CBT and while it is helpful, my OCD has gotten worse since I started.

If your OCD is getting worse, have you thought about augmenting therapy with meds? My sister suffered terribly from OCD and the combination of Lexapro + Wellbutrin + awesome therapist literally changed her life.

I say this not because I want to provide a "what worked for me will totally work for you!" answer but because I'd be concerned that quitting your job would be a band aid remedy here. The real issue isn't the lab; it is that your OCD is worsening. I think you need to address that underlying issue and that may mean moving beyond CBT.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:28 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Don't leave your job. Find a new therapist. A behaviorist (not CBT therapist) who works with anxiety and phobias. You want someone who takes a hands on approach. A therapist who uses systematic desensitization or even flooding would probably help. Behaviorists focus not on the cause of the symptons, but on directly treating the symptoms themselves. I think that would be most helpful to you now.

(Yes, this type of therapy can be unpleasant, but it is absolutely THE most effective.)
posted by catatethebird at 8:40 AM on June 13, 2012


If your OCD is getting worse, have you thought about augmenting therapy with meds?

Yeah, as I understand it, OCD responds even better to medication than depression does. It is way pharmacologically treatable. Meds aren't the whole solution, you need therapy too, but seeing as you're in therapy already....
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:06 AM on June 13, 2012


I think a lot of people, even professionals, don't understand that "exposure therapy" can actually make things way worse if you are having high levels of anxiety or even panic attacks while being "exposed." For example, there is this bridge I never liked driving over. I kept forcing myself to drive over it, triggering worse and worse panic attacks, until now I don't feel like I can drive over it at all.

If this is going on with you with your job, I think it could be totally healthy to take a break for a while. I do think exposure therapy can be very effective if you are feeling calm and okay while you are being exposed. Drugs are really great for that. I can't tell from your post if you have ever tried them, but at this point it seems like it might be worthwhile to give them a shot.
posted by cairdeas at 11:28 AM on June 13, 2012


I think a lot of people, even professionals, don't understand that "exposure therapy" can actually make things way worse if you are having high levels of anxiety or even panic attacks while being "exposed." For example, there is this bridge I never liked driving over. I kept forcing myself to drive over it, triggering worse and worse panic attacks, until now I don't feel like I can drive over it at all.

You're doing it wrong! The idea of exposure therapy is to start from a place that's so far away from the source of anxiety that you feel only a tiny bit triggered. It's not good to force yourself to be fully exposed. Although its very brave.

For the OP -- this is going to be a big decision for you -- and the truth is, you get to decide whether or not you're copping out or taking really good care of yourself. You could probably find a therapist who would support either decision.

Could you start looking for a new job before leaving this one? Will you transfer your anxiety to some other environment, or will you just feel really relieved? I'm personally not in favor of forcing yourself to confront the source of your anxiety -- but if it's something you're going to be batshit anxious about no matter where you're spending your time, then it almost doesn't matter whether you stay in this job or not, you're going to have to step up the level of support and help you're getting.

There is no right answer -- but there's no wrong answer either. I think it comes down to -- how much money do you have to make to support your health, and how does having health insurance figure into it?
posted by vitabellosi at 12:18 PM on June 13, 2012


I take all proper precautions but of course, as OCD people hate to acknowledge, we can never been 100% certain of anything. To me, because I have this job, my fears of contracting this disease aren't as irrational as they once were.

There are not enough details here for any of us to tell you whether you are being completely irrational or not, but how are you deciding that? Are you a good judge of whether you are being irrational or not? Do you trust your therapist to tell you if you're being irrational, or do you think they aren't expert enough in your work to know the risks?
posted by jacalata at 6:05 PM on June 13, 2012


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