What It’s Like, How to Live with It
When I was thirteen, I believed that I would never be happy in my entire life. I hit puberty in an environment dominated by Italian-American males. Yelling, bullying, the risk of getting punched in the upper arm, not to mention name-calling specific to me and my “nutty” behavior were all part of daily life.
This, in addition to the unfairness I perceived between the male and female members of the family (they make the mess, we clean it up) made me terrified about my own prospects.
Fear is in fact the trigger for obsessive-compulsive behavior. I survived the remaining years in my parents’ home by compassion for myself, and the belief that with time I could get a handle on my excessive orderliness and cleanliness.
Years later, I was fortunate to connect with an incredibly talented therapist, who relayed some important things to me:
- Anxiety is a highly complex mechanism that can take on a life of its own.
- There is no cure for O.C.D., it is hard-wired into your brain. It may take other forms as life goes on, like workaholism.
- O-C behavior is a reaction to the perception of threat.
I will admit that a tear rolled down my cheek during this conversation, but then, hopeless optimist that I am, I latched onto the third point: the perception of threat. This appeared to me to be something over which I could exert some control.
I wish it was as easy as learning the Bogart-banishing spell: Riddikulus! But that is the general idea.
Drugs exist to treat anxiety and O.C.D., but they just mask it, take the edge off. More importantly if you are an over-achieving type, you may want to tackle the problem on your own. It is hard work.
If you think of your thoughts as a rambunctious kid throwing tantrums, and yourself as a parent who rushes to quell the problem at any cost, then you need to become a different kind of “parent.” You need to let your thoughts throw their tantrums, while you wait patiently, arms crossed. This is O.C.D.-style meditation.
Yeah, meditation, you hear about it everywhere, but who has time for it? Maybe there’s an app…?
I read a great book on meditation by the late Indian guru, Osho, What is Meditation? He simplified it for me immensely. He said you don’t need to do yoga or sit in a certain position to meditate, any more than you need to kneel and fold your hands to pray. He also noted that only Americans would buy books on “How to Relax.” You relax, he explained, by doing nothing. This seems obvious, but to me it was obviously brilliant.
Turning off your brain requires training, and it isn’t easy. Sitting still and pushing your thoughts away just doesn’t work. Let them out, let them run around like wild horses until they run out of energy. You don’t need to succeed the first time!
It can be helpful to play a scene in your mind. I picture my thoughts as little stones being carried by a rapidly moving stream. When the stream slows down, the stones settle in its bed, and the waters continue on, unburdened, to meet the sea.
But before you do this, you need to accept yourself. Be a witness to the triggers of your behavior. Notice the “threats.”
I made the fear-love cards shown above a while ago, when I realized that, corny though it sounds, love is the force that conquers fear.
The idea of the card is to keep it where you can see it. The fear side represents your resistance to begin, to try, to risk, and to succeed. The love side represents your openness to embrace whatever comes your way with acceptance, energy, and courage. You need to decide which side to turn up at the start of your day. The fear side should be turned up at the end of the day, as a reminder.
If you love yourself, you must find the time to do nothing, let the wild horses out until the field is clear and the grasses are swaying. Love will come in and fill the void.