Avoidance, Confrontation, and Safe Places

As people with anxiety and obsessive behavior are often wont to do, I spend a lot of time reading about my own dysfunction, on the one hand to understand it, but on the other because I obviously have to obsess about obsessing. Because sometimes obsessing about obsessing is better than obsessing about upsetting obsessions.

Ya feel me?

Anyway, recently, I was reading about what’s called “Pure O OCD” which most accurately describes my experience. Here is a pretty good rundown from the OCD Center of Los Angeles:

However, it should be noted that the term “Pure Obsessional OCD” is somewhat of a misnomer. While it may at first appear that these individuals experience obsessions without compulsions, a careful assessment almost always uncovers numerous compulsive behaviors, avoidant behaviors, reassurance-seeking behaviors, and “mental compulsions,”. These behaviors are not as easily observed as other, more obvious OCD symptoms, such as hand-washing and lock-checking, but they are clearly compulsive responses to unwanted obsessions.

This is the kind of thing I read and say: why won’t my psychiatrist listen to me when I say I have compulsive behaviors? Oh, I don’t wash my hands over and over again and therefore I don’t have compulsions? Try living in my head for a minute, madame.

The article goes on to say:

Some common examples of compulsions seen in Pure Obsessional OCD include:

  • avoiding numerous situations in which one fears the possible onset of unwanted thoughts
  • repeatedly asking for reassurance that one has not and/or will not commit an act that one perceives as being “wrong” or “bad”
  • compulsively “checking” one’s body in an effort to get evidence that one is not sexually attracted to someone who he/she considers inappropriate (especially in cases of POCD, HOCD, and ROCD)
  • silently praying or repeating certain phrases in an effort to counteract or neutralize thoughts that one considers to be sinful, immoral or sacrilegious
  • performing superstitious behaviors in an effort to ensure that bad things don’t happen (i.e., counting, tapping, knocking on wood)
  • repeatedly confessing to people, even total strangers, that one has had thoughts which he or she considers to be unacceptable
  • continually ruminating about obsessions in an attempt to prove to oneself that he or she has not done and/or will not do anything “wrong” or “inappropriate” or “sinful”

I’ve underlined the ones that I experience regularly.

My biggest problems are rumination and avoidance. Since I read this article, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own avoidance, and I’ve decided for the purposes of bettering myself to put out into the world some of the things that I avoid or have avoided because of my condition. This is a limited list to what I am willing to admit and is not, by any means, a comprehensive one. I’ve explained them where I am comfortable doing so:

  • Pearl Jam’s song “Better Man” [this song triggered the first big wave of obsessions relating to my relationship back in January]
  • Days when I am anxious or particularly susceptible to ruminating, I will not listen to any music for fear that it will trigger anxious obsessions.
  • Children
  • Family members
  • Some of my friends
  • As a general rule, I won’t look at any strangers for fear that I will find any piece of them attractive or alluring.
  • Coworkers
  • A street near my work that has the same name as my significant other’s ex. The association sometimes will send me into jealous ruminations that drive me insane and are totally unproductive.
  • People who remind me of my significant other for fear that I will find any piece of them attractive or alluring.

You’d think that avoiding triggers would be a good idea, you know? If you’ve ever quit smoking or drinking or some kind of addictive behavior, you learn to keep yourself away from addiction triggers. But it works differently with anxiety. It seems sort of counter-intuitive, but avoidance is a major part of the problem.

Using the street name as an example, I had to force myself to walk down this street and repeat multiple associations other than my S.O.’s ex’s name so that I could rewire my brain. It’s like changing muscle memory. By making multiple associations, you’re eliminating the potency of the “bad” association and therefore remove the “bad” from, in this case, the street near my work. But in order to do this, you have to confront it. You have to force yourself to be near the thing that you fear. And what I fear is the thoughts. I don’t want to think about these things. No one wants to think about their significant other being with another person, regardless of when it was or if you even knew them. But instead of it being common jealous thoughts like most people have, the ruminating is what makes it unhealthy. It’s not that I will think about it for a few minutes or for an hour.

I will think about it for days.

Weeks, sometimes.

When I write that out, when I admit that I think about such inane things as my boyfriend’s ex for weeks at a time (not constantly, mind you; it does come and go), it makes me ashamed and it makes me sad for myself. That so much of time is consumed by a person who I don’t even know and will probably never know. And who will never really have any bearing on my life.

So why do I think about it?

Well, to be honest, it probably is because I can’t fathom being a person’s first choice. That being the best thing that ever happened to a person just isn’t possible. Clearly, says my Mean Voice, clearly you are just filling in for some other person. You’re a replacement for a person who he can’t have anymore. Clearly, you’re a consolation prize. You don’t deserve happiness. You don’t deserve this amazing person. This amazing person was clearly meant for someone else.

This doesn’t just happen with jealousy. It happens with everything. Last year when I had that thought that ruined my year, I spent the entire year thinking about the thought and convincing myself that I was a horrible person who was just going to hurt someone. Sometimes, I obsess that my boyfriend doesn’t love me. Or that I don’t love him. Because either A) I don’t deserve a healthy relationship so clearly he must be lying about loving me or B) I am a bad person and am manipulating him on the daily.

Anyone who knows me or my significant other would probably say this is the very furthest from the truth.

And see, that’s just it. I can’t say it enough: the content doesn’t matter. It isn’t that I’m ruminating about my S.O.’s ex or not loving him or thinking I’m going to hurt someone – it’s the fact that I’m having the rumination IN THE FIRST PLACE. It isn’t about the actual thing, it’s about the rush of thoughts you can’t control or forget.

I think that’s why people who don’t have this problem say: well, just don’t think about it. Because I don’t think that they can conceive of a headspace where your thoughts are your greatest enemy. And because of this, you’re a prisoner in your own mind.

Because of all this, I don’t know how to trust myself. I am rebuilding. I’m telling myself it’s okay to have thoughts sometimes. That my thoughts do not determine who I am. That my thoughts and I aren’t always one. That sometimes I am a Harvey Two-Face. Sometimes I have an evil voice in my head that wins.

And I suppose once i start to accept that this evil voice isn’t a part of who I am or who I want to be, that is when the thoughts will go away.

But right now, I feel like I’m doing all this work and I’m still waiting. I’m getting a lot better, believe you me. Things are much better now. But I want my head to be a safe place. Not a place where I see disturbing images or think about my significant other with another person. I want to be my own safe place.

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