Such Great Heights

You know, the dolls that open up and another one is inside that one, and then another one, and another one. That’s how it feels to rationalize OCD thoughts. 

Or it’s like whack-a-mole. Maybe the dolls are a little too organized, but sometimes those thoughts do run in threads and follow topics. Other times they don’t and just pop up out of nowhere. 

I remember my earliest obsessions started before high school, but I can’t remember exactly when. Some of my more terrifying ones centered on what I was afraid I might do to myself or others. 

Heights ended up being a big one. At first I tried to rationalize that one. It legitimately is somewhat scary to be on a ski lift. But here’s the difference, I was never afraid the lift would break or the wind would blow it sideways. I was afraid, terrified even, that I would freak out and jump to my death. 

Once it started, it didn’t stop at ski lifts. I was afraid of balconies, amusement park rides, windows in high buildings, and not just a little afraid for myself, but wake up from sleep scared for everyone. My fear extended to others. I remember vividly being absolutely terrified that my dog was going to jump out the window of our car while we were driving. I couldn’t even handle a small crack in the window. I had to hold her. It was panic attack level fear and a visceral physical reaction. 

Once that fear rooted in, my brain wanted to rationalize it. Whatever I had feared actually could occur. It was, after all, within the realm of possibility. So it’s not always completely far fetched. And yet, that’s how OCD hooks you. The anxiety didn’t go away once I reassured myself with one thing. I had to keep going back to be reassured over and over and over again. It just continued to worsen. Whatever compulsion I did to ease the fear, that was like a drug. Compulsions can be mental or physical, and both are only temporary fixes. Almost instantly I would need to be reassured again and again. 

Once I got rid of one obsession in one place though it only migrated to another. 

Eventually though, my height obsession made way for different obsessions and different ones after that and so on. It always managed to make its way to something I cared about deeply. It ultimately latched on to the people I loved most and the relationships I treasured most. 

It’s a long complicated story, but more recently it caused real harm to someone I cared about deeply. 

When you love someone, it doesn’t just go away when you stop a relationship with that person. For the most part, you still care, and those feelings don’t just disappear. But they can fade, like a favorite shirt or pair of jeans. 

Someone I loved was in a bad situation, a complicated situation. It was a volatile relationship that had all the markings of an abusive relationship headed for serious disaster and self destruction. Both parties were often to blame but one kept crossing lines and every time she did she would justify her violent actions. It was tough to watch. My friend loved her dearly and when she was well, she was amazing, but she couldn’t sustain that for very long. 

On its own it was heartbreaking. I tried to become a source of support, but I didn’t know what was the right thing to do and I also started to let my OCD fear take over. The situation was scary. It was a volatile and dangerous situation, but my OCD reactions paralyzed me far beyond the reality in front of me. 

I was terrified of what would happen to my friend on a near daily basis. That is the difference between reality and OCD. I was constantly thinking of ways I could be helpful or protective or just even get her away from him in any way. My mind was constantly assuming that the absolute worst had happened. It was all I could do to avoid the crushing and overwhelming feelings of dread and anxiety. I’d spend days not moving. 

It was not helpful to anyone. Not until I started back up with therapy, mindfulness meditation, and consistent yoga practice was I able to bring my fears back into reality. 

Very bad things between the two of them did happen. It was, after all, a volatile abusive relationship, but my fear of it happening didn’t cause it and it certainly didn’t prevent it. Nothing I could have done or did would have changed the outcome. All my fear accomplished was to drive my friend away. 

It’s still a fear I have. At least that’s what my brain keeps telling me. And that could be the case, it could just be my OCD brain. But abusive relationships are also cyclical. Because there’s most often so much love (it feels like more sensational love than ever before experienced, but it’s not real), it clouds the abuse. It dilutes it so it doesn’t seem that bad. 

I know all of this because I was obsessed with knowing everything I possibly could learn about abusive relationships. My knowledge now I guess is sort of helpful. OCD is a double edged sword like that. I wasted so much time obsessively consuming that knowledge though. Reading, rereading, searching, and always seeking a solution. 

What I didn’t realize is that I was being driven by my own inner feelings of turmoil to find a solution to stop my feelings of dread and anxiety, and not to help. Once I changed that focus to actually helping and not just to ease my own anxiety, I had already done damage to the friendship. I still hold out some hope that I can, at some point, salvage something meaningful, but it’s hard to believe some days.

The fear is still there and that’s something I’m going to have to live with and use my ACT skills to overcome. 

Accept that the feelings and intrusive thoughts are there.

Commit to following your moral center, your intended focus, what drives you and guides you.

Therapy- know it’s a process and it’s not going to happen overnight.

I hope this helps someone. If you’re reading this, and you think you might have OCD, don’t wait until it ruins your relationships or your life. You can’t get that time back. Get help now. You will not regret it and you are not alone. 

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