I want to do great things but my brain won't let me
September 15, 2015 12:07 PM   Subscribe

How do I develop more "grit" and push harder against life's challenges? Difficulty: OCD.

I have suffered from "pure O" OCD for a little over 10 years. This manifests as a mental TV show of horrific, violent images that are extremely disturbing to me. I'm not fearful that I'm going to do any of these things, or that these things are going to happen to me or anyone I love. It's just a "Clockwork Orange" mental torture chamber intermittently all day.

I have done a lot of cognitive therapy, to mixed results. Some days are better than others, and through a variety of symptom management techniques I have been very very successful at being completely functional. I do well at my job and take care of what needs to get done.

But it feels like I'm on a certain plateau that I will never rise above, because of the emotional energy I have to use up to be functional. I've just been getting really discouraged about my ability to push forward on developing my career and ambitions when I feel like my own brain is constantly stabbing me. Yet I see other people who have experienced all kinds of worse life challenges and setbacks and continue to push and push and push through, no matter what.

How do I develop that kind of strength of personality?
posted by MetaFilter World Peace to Human Relations (9 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
This might be a dumb question, but have you tried meds? I found that they were AMAZING for getting rid of the horror show images for me in a way no sort of strength of personality could ever do.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 12:12 PM on September 15, 2015

I'll skip over the obvious questions about possible medication since I'm sure a zillion other people will raise it. Do you think you're the kind of person who might respond well to a structured system like GTD or one of the many similar systems?
posted by Wretch729 at 12:14 PM on September 15, 2015

Don't compare your struggle to others', first.

A lot of things have gone into any movement I've made forward. (With some steps back, no doubt about it. Right now I feel like I'm hopefully getting back on track.) I can't say what exactly has contributed, but I think some of it is:

- Choosing a clear goal that's achievable given constraints and resources.

One ongoing mistake I've made has been misjudging my resources and overshooting goals. E.g., "sure, I can take a full course load, even though I'm tired all the time and can't access help for this huge problem that's been dogging me forever and is coming up in these courses". In that case I hoped - and thought I could - handle demands. Maybe I would have if I didn't have additional stressors, but I ignored their impact. I knew I wouldn't be able to get a certain kind of help exactly when I needed it. Stubborn, don't be stubborn. A smarter approach would have been to bite off only as much as I knew *for sure* that I could chew. Unexpected things just happen sometimes, though - all you can do then is keep your head down and trust that you'll figure something out. (And then work to figure something out.)

- Social support. I don't think I could have accomplished even the little I have so far without the encouragement of friends and family during tougher times. Sometimes, it was hard to admit I needed help, but they were glad to be there when I did. (Again, don't be stubborn :) Reach out.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:52 PM on September 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

What is your general state of health? Are you eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly?

As someone who has dealt with a lot of anxiety for decades, taking good, regular care of yourself can be very helpful for getting to a stabilizing baseline if it isn't something that you are doing now. Once there, it should be easier to stretch yourself to see what you're really capable of. I strongly recommend some structured-but-boundary-pushing activities that allow you to stick your neck out, but not hugely. For me, Sierra Club Outings were a great place to start doing this.

Having spent a lot of time as a methodically cautious nervous wreck, spending a week in a tent in the high Arctic hundreds of miles from civilization and coming back in better shape than when I left was transformative.

Wishing you peace and some relief from this.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:57 PM on September 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

(I meant: it didn't help me to think about improving my character, as an isolated problem, and it did help to think about processes (and external resources).)
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:00 PM on September 15, 2015

For the more general question of how to deal with knowing that you have to do more maintenance day-to-day just to stay even, you may have to just accept that you have a condition that makes certain things harder for you. That doesn't mean that you can't keep chipping away at that rock; but don't compare your progress to someone who got a wider chisel and a bigger hammer.

Developing resilience has been a big challenge for me, too. I have gotten better through practice and acceptance. I have to start over quite a bit. I have to tell myself "tomorrow is another chance to do it right" a lot. I change my organization system as soon as the old one doesn't work - I used to think of that as a failure, but now I just recognize that "it's time to change my routine" and get on with finding a new way to schedule my time and priorities without beating myself up about it. I've accepted that when some stressful event disrupts my routine, it's going to take me a couple of days, maybe a couple of weeks, to get on an even keel again. Judging myself for it doesn't help. Accepting that I need time to process things does help.

As I've learned to accept my limits and give myself the things I need without (as much) judgment and resentment, I've been able to give more emotional and mental energy to the things I want to do and to be. I really have made progress - not "rocket to the moon" progress, but forward momentum, for sure.
posted by hiker U. at 1:30 PM on September 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Seconding looking into medication -- helping you get past plateaus you can't get past with therapy alone is precisely what it's there for. Also, to maintain the level of functionality you describe with that severity of symptoms, it sounds to me like you're already starting out with a great deal of persistence and personal strength.
posted by ariadne's threadspinner at 2:17 PM on September 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have Tourette Syndrome, which is neurologically very similar to OCD (and shares overlapping symptoms and a high rate of comorbidity. I have posted about how I deal with my intrusive thoughts many times before. I especially recommend this comment.

posted by Juliet Banana at 9:04 PM on September 15, 2015

Bloody OCD.

I just want to reach out and say, you're amazing for battling with it so well and being functional and doing what needs to be done. The level of grit and strength you are demonstrating already is more than many people who haven't suffered Pure O could ever understand.

I think it's natural to look at having bad thoughts as being a failure on one's own part. "How could I let myself have that thought?!" I do that too. But the fact is, it's like having a physical illness - it's not happening as a result of our own actions, it's just something that is wrong with us. Please don't see your intrusive thoughts as a personal failure. You have an illness. It may be better some days and worse some other days, but it's never your fault. However, the fact that you are battling it so consistently and have never allowed it to stop you from being functional is entirely down to you.

I am not currently on medication so I can't recommend that from personal experience but I do think it is worth looking into.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:40 AM on September 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

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