Probably one of the hardest steps in OCD recovery is accepting OCD. OCD is also known as the doubting disease as sufferers often doubt that they have OCD. The light at the end of the tunnel (moving towards acceptance) came when I realised two things:
1) I could not “switch off” my intrusive thoughts easily and they were creating great anxiety. It felt almost that these thoughts had taken control of my mind. Surely this wasn’t normal ?
2) EVERYTIME, I thought I had come to an answer in my mind and seemed to find some solace or peace for a few moments, the following thought was sure to ensue in every case – “what if …”. I realised that I was stuck in trying to find answers in my brain. When I thought I had something completely figured out, literally a few seconds later the thought “what if” would pop-out and completely burst my moment of enlightenment. My brain always managed to find a “what if”. It was exhausting arguing with myself! This was when I realised that there was something “wrong” with me
These two little observations made me realise that something was not right in my thought processes as I could not switch off (sometimes even ruminating for 8 or more hours straight) and my brain always managed to find a way of discrediting any possible solution I had come up with.
This was my “aha” moment. I had many small “aha” moments that enabled me to move from a problem focused mindset to a solution focused mindset. Ask yourself the honest question: “how long have I been trying to find solutions in my brain with no apparent resolution in sight?” I know that when we start “brain digging”, for some reason, this brings some sort of comfort and calms us down. However, this is definitely not a way forward. The way forward is in our daily routines.
If you could only learn one thing to improve your OCD
If I could share just one thing with a fellow rOCD sufferer, what would that be? The single most useful piece of advice that I could give someone would be “It’s not about finding a solution in your brain but about finding time for daily effort to be put in”. I slowly stopped trying to find answers in my brain and focused in trying to find answers in my actions. I looked for professional help. Learned more about anxiety and OCD. Started practicing mindfulness, etc.
A lot of people are stuck in their rOCD journey because they cannot commit to a daily process of change and are looking for a “magical” transformation. I get it – we have OCD we want to be better or get cured from rOCD. It is only natural. But at the same time, we are building this expectation into the brain – getting better or getting cured. We are programming ourselves to fail as we instruct the brain to check regularly if we are better or if we are cured. This will end up in disappointment as the brain will always find “evidence” of the opposite. If we focus on actions rather than results or outcomes it turns out to be a more powerful approach. We will instil patience and a daily focus rather impatience and discouragement.
Remember: Our long-term goal is to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Once we learn how to do that, we will start to enjoy life a lot more. rOCD will turn from a large stone around our neck into a small pebble inside our shoe.
There are only two options
If we really think about it, there are only two options to try and “fix” rOCD:
Option 1 – Continue doing what have been doing so far –> ruminate and reinforce the cycle
This is what rOCD sufferers tend to do. Getting lost in our thoughts, creating more anxiety in a non-ending stream of possibilities and deep analysis. This only makes rOCD worst. We develop other compulsions (specially checking types). This is not very productive and will only end up making us emotionally numb, anxious and depressed.
Option 2 – Try another approach –> commit yourself to change and break the cycle
To get better, we need to try a different approach. The very first step is to commit oneself to a change in behaviours, thoughts and actions. If we are not committed daily to change then we will never achieve our desired goal. Being committed is one of the hardest parts of the process of change. You have to be very patient to be able to achieve this. Patient because it will take time to see the results and not everything that you will try will work. Some things will not work, others will work very quickly and others very slowly. Accepting this is part of this commitment to change.
Can you identify thoughts, actions and behaviours that reinforce your rOCD addiction cycle? Can you also identify positive ways of breaking the cycle?
Relationship OCD thoughts fuel anxiety and anxiety fuels rOCD. Both of these are fuelled by OVER-THINKING. In order to break this cycle, we need to recognize when we are over-thinking…and then SLOW DOWN.You will not feel better or find the answer by thinking too much. In fact, it is only going to make it worst. You will start to feel better when you learn to STOP ruminating.
How to stop over-thinking or ruminating (changing your focus). The first two are short term fixes. The last one is more long term and is related to mindfulness.
1) Learn to identify when you are engaging in this negative behaviour. A good question to ask is “how long have I been thinking about this today?” If you have been stuck on the same topic for the past couple of hours then you know that you are overthinking.
2) Find something to distract you – music, tv show, go outside for a while – find something that lifts your mood.
3) If you get pulled in again into overthinking, GENTLY bring your thoughts to something else. Don’t be mad about it. Be nice to yourself. This is a long term skill that needs to be practised to be effective.
Take some time off from ROCD and developing resilience
Getting better from relationship OCD means thinking and focusing less and less on our anxiety and discomfort in our daily lives. Learning to slowly enjoy life and its little pleasures with our partners more. But in order to do this we need to learn how to take some time off from rOCD.
I will start with bad ways of taking time off. If you have learned a bit about CBT and psychotherapy techniques maybe you have learned about thought stopping and worry time.
Thought stopping is “forcing” yourself to stop thinking about something that causes anxiety with the help of a sensory cue. An elastic band on wrist that is stretched and released every you want to stop a thought. This literally helps you snap out of the thinking habit!
Worry time is scheduling a particular time of the day to worry about something that bothers you. Every time a worry pops up, you remember that you have a worry time scheduled and postpone the action.
Even though these techniques are useful, I do not think they are very useful in the long term recovery of rOCD. The reason for this is that they are built around avoidance rather than acceptance. Acceptance does not mean accepting these as true but rather accepting that these thoughts will occur on their own as part of natural processes that we cannot control.
OK, now for the good way of taking some time off. Let’s say, an rOCD thought comes into your mind. You either engage with it or not (i.e. discuss with yourself if it is true or not). You decide not to engage with it. You leave there and do not pay any attention to it. If you do, you just say to yourself “that is an interesting thought” and carry on what you were doing. You do not attribute it a good or bad value. It is neutral and you think of it as just being another thought. Almost like a little child wanting some attention because it is bored. This is a skill that will become easier over time – to mindfully deal with intrusive and unwanted thoughts. Doing it once will not cure away relationship OCD. Give yourself plenty of time to master this skill.
Change takes time. Change might take medication, therapy and other things but above all a quiet determination to make the most out of our present circumstance. OK, things might not be ideal but what is the next good thing?
We understand now why some people are able to cope with setbacks more readily then others. This skill (or more appropriately a combination of skills) is called resilience. Some people have it more than others. The good news is that everyone can develop these set of skills and become more resilient. Here is a link by the American Psychological Association that talks a little bit more about resilience and gives practical tips.