I am just so excited about blogging! It is really amazing to read so many other’s stories of their recovery journey, no matter what it is.
I first started cognitive behavioral therapy for OCD in the summer of 2013. At least I think it was 2013. I was so happy that I found someone who could help me navigate the dark waters of OCD and my mind. My therapist helped me write scripts for my ERP exercises (exposure and response prevention-brief description in previous post). I read those scripts pretty much every day. I even recorded them so I could listen to them in the car. I practiced a lot of positive self-talk and my new paradoxical beliefs.
The real problem with anxiety is that when our bodies flip on our fight-or-flight response, our brain tells us to do whatever we can to make it go away. It does make sense that if a bear jumps out of the woods and tries to attack us, we need that emergency fight-or-flight response to survive. However, my brain flips on the emergency response to almost EVERY thought that scares me. So we are talking about multiple times a day. OCD pushes a delightful thought in my mind, like, “maybe you want to have an affair”. Automatically my stomach begins to hurt, my breathing quickens, and my brain tells me, “At all costs we have to prevent this from happening. We cannot cope with these thoughts. Do something. DO SOMETHING!!!!” Enter compulsions. For me, compulsions are usually mentally “checking” my thoughts and emotions to make sure I do not want to do whatever scares me. Sometimes I will say a comforting word aloud or try to distract myself with cleaning or some task. My brain tells me that I cannot cope with any kind of anxiety and that the only way to survive is to do my compulsions. Through my cognitive-behavioral therapy I learned that my brain and OCD actually lie to me A LOT. Going against what my brain shouts at me to do to deal with anxiety is a paradox. I had to teach myself a new way to face anxiety. Some of the paradoxes I have learned are:
- I can handle this. I can handle this anxiety. I am strong enough.
- I want to allow anxiety in so that I can gain skills to get better.
- I want to “bring on” even more anxiety so I can recover.
- It is okay to feel really anxious right here, right now.
- Anxiety is just a feeling. It cannot really hurt me.
If you are like me, I really didn’t think that these thoughts and attitudes were safe. And at first, they don’t feel safe at all. Just because I tell myself these things, (even today, 3 years in recovery) does not mean that my anxiety magically goes away. I still have to remind myself of these thoughts and practice. If you are skeptical, (I don’t blame you at all!) just start by playing with the idea that your brain may be lying to you about certain coping mechanisms. Here’s an example. Entertain the thought that “it is possible that I can be okay even if my house is not perfectly in order. I may be anxious about it, but anxiety isn’t bad. It is just a feeling and it can’t hurt me.” Our emotions can lie to us too. I’m sure we have all been in a situation where we feel angry and say something we regret later. Or, when we look back on that situation, we think, “Man, I really blew that way out of proportion.” Acknowledging our emotions is healthy. It is great to recognize that you are angry. No good will come of suppressing that. However, when you allow your emotions to dictate your actions, it becomes very unhealthy. It is fine for me to step back and say “Wow, I feel really anxious and uncomfortable right now.” But, my emotions cross the line when they begin to bully me into doing compulsions. I encourage you to play with these paradoxes. We tend to believe that everything we think is true. Perhaps we are wrong and that can be the key to unlocking some freedom for yourself. I know I sure discovered how wrong I was about my beliefs and thoughts regarding anxiety.
*I learned some other great paradoxes and tips on this website: http://www.anxieties.com, click on “panic attacks”