Question for people with OCD
March 15, 2014 6:34 PM   Subscribe

I was never diagnosed but it is pretty clear that I have OCD. I understand that irrational guilt, doubt, and anxiety are classic issues associated with OCD. Are there any tricks or ways that anyone can say has helped them to step back and evaluate circumstances somewhat objectively to decide if guilt and anxiety towards something is appropriate or irrational? I have found that explaining a set of circumstances to people whose opinion I trust and them telling me that my concern is irrational has only helped a little. Thank You. P.S. I have already set up a first meeting with a psychologist so that base is covered.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I am not an OCD sufferer, but was a mental health counselor for years. I often recommended the book "Brain Lock," and clients seemed to find it quite helpful.
posted by thebrokedown at 7:05 PM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have a friend like that. He always used to ask me about if this or that was OK. After about the thousandth time I just said "Look. If I'm not around, look around you. Everyone else is doing it and none of them are dying from dysentery or bursting into flames from bacteria or whatever. Just look and see that people are all always doing the thing you are fretting about, and no harm comes to them".

I don't think it helped a bit. It's not about being rational. Your concerns in whatever area are obviously irrational. Someone explaining to you that it's not rational will not help.
posted by sanka at 7:15 PM on March 15, 2014

The OCD Workbook was genuinely helpful for my OCD. At least, it was as helpful as anything could be until I got therapy.
posted by Coatlicue at 7:57 PM on March 15, 2014

I had OCD as a kid -- both rituals and obsessive thoughts -- and still sometimes have what I consider a "sticky" brain. The thing that helped me the most was an article somewhere that talked about the physical differences between an OCD brain and a non-OCD brain. There were color photos of brain scans and there it was, in some color I forget, the real, non-imaginary difference that was likely in my brain.

From that point on it became a lot easier to take the power out of an obsessive thought. "Oh, that's just the OCD kicking in," I could tell myself, just as I might think, "Darn, my bad knee is acting up." Looking at it that way removes a lot of the thought's emotional power so it becomes easier to distract yourself and get out of the obsessive rut.

Also helpful was mindfulness (vipassana) meditation, where I got better at simply observing thoughts without reacting to them. Fighting an obsession makes it stronger. Instead, it's helpful to develop the skill to calmly and non-judgmentally notice the thought and let it drift by.

It can also help me to exaggerate the thought to comic proportions, to a humongous impossible catastrophe like a terrible disaster movie complete with awful dialog, to defuse it with humor.

Finally, I also learned to check into my body more often, in particular to notice my breathing. Breathing shallowly, for example, could increase your anxiety, and it's something many of us do unconsciously.
posted by ceiba at 8:32 PM on March 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

Put a rubber band on your wrist and snap it if you're stuck in a loop of irrational/obsessive thoughts. The quick pain can jolt your thoughts back on track.
posted by sweetkid at 8:43 PM on March 15, 2014

Perhaps try googling worksheets plus your type of distress such as irrational guilt worksheet. I did the same for "negative automatic thoughts" while having a worst-person-in-existence freak-out and methodically working through the sheet went from dumb to helpful in the space of about ten minutes and for about a half hours investment I have literally never had concerning thoughts about the (at best vaguely awkward) career-ending humiliation I had suffered due to being the dumbest fucker in the universe.

I don't think it mattered that my trauma was based in irrationality and the worksheet is quite rational, the actual exercise seems to work like an almost mechanical lever or lube that let my brain slip out of that groove and sort the information/memory into the box it actually belongs in.

So as not to be a tease: I had to run an icebreaker exercise as part of a group interview with many of my colleagues and bosses. I picked a bad one for the group and it got kinda chaotic. I got the job anyhow.
posted by Iteki at 12:52 AM on March 16, 2014

Consider looking in to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), or any of the widely-recommended books that cover that topic, like David Burns' Feeling Good. Understanding that thoughts power our feelings is certainly a big concept to digest, but from my experience starting on this path can bring an awareness to the internal monologue inside each of us that cause these feelings of anxiety and irrational thinking. Then it's simply a matter of reconditioning that internal dialogue, balancing it with more healthy thoughts, which will lead to more balanced feelings. It takes a ton of practice, so be kind on yourself - it's a learning process after all.

Mindfulness meditations can also help in calming one's body and mind. It's amazing what taking a step back from the active flow of life can do for you: gain perspective, sooth oneself, plus it's always nice to take a little break!
posted by Meagan at 7:32 AM on March 16, 2014

As mentioned above, mindfulness meditation can be really helpful. It helps me to notice and deal with my anxiety, and to be able to note when I want to try and do something to get rid of the anxiety (a compulsion) and decide whether to do that thing, or to attempt to sit with the anxiety instead. The more you practice this, the more you realise that the anxiety is not as scary or harmful as it feels. The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris is my favourite book on mindfulness, although this is also a great workbook that I think comes with a cd of meditations, and this new OCD workbook also has good reviews.

Are there any tricks or ways that anyone can say has helped them to step back and evaluate circumstances somewhat objectively to decide if guilt and anxiety towards something is appropriate or irrational? I have found that explaining a set of circumstances to people whose opinion I trust and them telling me that my concern is irrational has only helped a little.

In all the therapy that I've had to deal with my OCD, a big part of it has been attempting to live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether something is OCD or a real threat. I used to do the same thing as you and quiz my friends/family on whether something was an issue or not, which helped quell the anxiety in the very short term, but didn't help me long term. In therapy, I instead had to assume that anything that caused me high anxiety was OCD, and not a real issue to be fixed. My goal was to sit with this anxiety rather than perform compulsions (e.g. seeking reassurance) to try and get rid of it. The actual long term 'fix' is to learn to live with the anxiety of not knowing. This is obviously not easy, and the last thing you want to do when you're obsessing, but in the long run it can make your life so much better.

Hope some of that helps. Please PM me if you want to discuss any more.
posted by amerrydance at 10:34 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I was symptomatic I remember someone told me that if I think a thought is related to OCD, it probably is. That helped because even though I was undoubtedly still anxious about it, rational me knew it wasn't "real."

Yoga helped.

Another thing my therapist told me was that there are no shoulds. Like if I had a compulsion to do something I should not do it. But that isn't true, I am just putting artificial limits on myself that cause stress. If that makes any sense at all.

Sitting with the anxiety helps. Trying to not judge yourself too harshly for falling again to the compulsion helps.

Going on OCD forums was spiking for me, but if other people were thinking the same ridiculous things as me then I knew rationally it was OCD, nothing that I actually need to be concerned about. Of course, I still was very concerned that it was real for me, but having a fact in front of me that lots of other people struggle with this and nothing happened to them helped me.

Another thing I read somewhere was to make time for OCD in my life- like schedule in two hours of compulsions in the afternoon, and whenever I have an intrusive thought tell myself I can worry about it then. Also forgive yourself if you can't wait.

If a question begins with "what if?" it is beyond a doubt an anxiety question and my rational mind could recognize that even if I still worried about it. It just somehow made it better.
posted by tweedle at 4:03 PM on March 16, 2014

Oh and also if I go to someone with the same type of concern/question, even if the circumstances are different, I eventually could recall their response instead of asking them again.
posted by tweedle at 4:04 PM on March 16, 2014

The main trick is to tell yourself you're not crazy. What you're doing is overreacting to the same things everybody reacts to. It's just an amplified response (too "loud") and an overgeneralized response (to too many things).

How to tell if you "should" feel anxious or guilty: I agree with the post about mindfulness, letting your thoughts and feelings drift through you while telling yourself it's not necessary to respond to them in any way. You can try to think of anxiety as some music or noise you don't particularly like, but you can't turn it off.

Also, ask yourself, "is feeling anxious or guilty helping this situation at all?" There is a surrender that needs to take place, where you accept that, yeah, everything may be falling apart, and some day it's actually going to fall apart (on both a personal and cosmic level) but there's actually nothing you can do about it. It's working on needing to control everything in your environment.

If you happen to work with a psychologist who works psychodynamically instead of the CBT bandaids that everybody seems to love these days, you'll be lucky enough to be able to explore what you're really afraid of -- there's often a history of feeling very out of control and developing these habits of intense anxiety (danger) that are a retriggering of that horrible feeling that everything is going to fall apart if you don't DO (or think) something -- yet ultimately you, a mere human, are not capable of controlling everything in your world. This is the horrible conundrum/conflict that you (like the rest of us) have to come to terms with. "The rest of us" don't necessarily feel in any less danger than you do -- we just accept it and bumble along anyway, waiting to disintegrate.

(I'm not your psychologist.)
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:30 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine who suffers from OCD found The Worry Cure helpful.
posted by prettypretty at 11:43 PM on March 16, 2014

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