OCD Week Day 7: What I Have Learned from My OCD
- We are constantly mired in a pit of uncertainty from which our brain tries to protect us.
If I went out for a drive right now, I could crash my car and die. I could swerve to try to miss a deer and plunge into oncoming traffic. Or somebody might not be paying attention and run a red light and hit me in an intersection. A mass shooter could attack my workplace, a nuclear war could start, someone could attack me in the street. A previously undetected meteor could strike the Earth, or a previously unbelieved in all-powerful being could strike me down. Future generations could view some current action of mine as abhorrent based on the morals of their times and refuse to look upon me positively. You can’t tell me that none of these will happen. In fact, some of these things will happen to some of us, eventually (sorry). Guaranteeing these possibilities won’t happen is denialism, and most certainty is disingenuous. Accepting them without letting them take over your life is the best way forward.
2. In many cases, certainty is only a feeling.
True certainty is something we see happen in the real world and comprehend after the fact. Before then it is speculation. And given the fickleness of memory, certainty is more tenuous the further away in time you get from the occurrence of the event.
3. Uncertainty has the potential to espouse kindness.
How much can you really hate someone’s thoughts on something or response to something if you recognize that you can’t guarantee your position is the correct one? And when you see that the person in question is also just a fallible human being trying to make sense of the world, you can feel empathy for them.
4. Life is absurd, but suicide is always irrational.
With all this uncertainty, can you really make sense of the world in away that matches up with how it actually works? Probably not, but who cares. All you can do is realize it and accept it. Thanks Albert Camus (another person whose works triggered my OCD really intensely and gave me a lot of meaningful insight. Don’t let your fears prevent you from living life!)!
5. Silver linings are essential to recovery, but don’t force positivity.
I could look at the hours upon hours I have spent in OCD loops as lost time, but what would that bring me? My experience with OCD has played a part in making me who I am today, and my struggle with it has allowed me to reflect so much on the world and on my life. I have at times experienced immense mental torment, and I have had a voice in my head that attempts prove my evil simply based on thoughts in my head. I feel an incredible sense of solidarity with those who have experienced the same due internal or external factors. I’ve learned so much just this week when doing research for some of my writing, something that never would have happened if I didn’t have OCD!
There are arguments that one of the keys to overcoming trauma is being able to reframe narratives of hardship around the personal ability to overcome rather than the negativity the experiences have wrought. This doesn’t mean denying the negativity — it just means reflecting on how you have learned and grown in your response to the negativity. (I’m linking an excellent TED Talk on this in the comments!)
6. I can overcome anything, and so can you.
I graduated college, went off my medication, and moved to a new country before returning home in an instant after the outbreak of a global pandemic. Of course that stressed me out. I would be more surprised if it didn’t. I’ve spent hours a day ruminating on the meanings of thoughts my head has produced, worrying that I might be the worst kind of person, and fearing that I could pose a danger to those around me. My anxiety systems have been worn down to the bone, my mind has been beaten and exhausted. And I’m still here. And you are too. We have all had our hardships; the number of people who have told me about their own struggles with OCD that I had no idea about since the beginning of this week has been mind-blowing to me. Even more have reached out about other mental health struggles. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.” But why should we be quiet or desperate about our hardship?
My ability to withstand mental struggle is not particularly special or noteworthy. I know this because desperation is so often quiet. How many more struggles have I not heard about? I can’t know the answer to this question, but I do know they are out there, and anyone I speak to, anyone I laugh with, and anyone I clash with could have an internal world that is actively on fire. That fact never excuses harmful behavior, but it does provide a pathway for healing, a pathway that requires vulnerability, compassion, and allowance for mistakes. My ability to withstand desperation is not unique. I have simply made my desperation loud as part of an attempt to transform the desperation of myself and others into reconciliation.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me or commented on my OCD posts over this past week. I have been able to grow closer to each and every one of you. To anyone who is struggling, you are strong and you are loved. You can make it through whatever you are facing. I hope everyone reading this has found at least part of the series helpful and informative. I look forward to many long years getting to grow alongside you. You are all part of what has made my life so wonderful! Thank you again so, so much.