Inasmuch as OCD utilizes a singularity, worry is multi-faceted and layered. An obsession or repetitive worry, the kind that I have, begin with my mind’s uncanny ability to hyper-focus on a single thing – whatever it is – for what seems like ages. It starts with that singularity and builds an entire universe of worry – worry about literal things, worry about potentialities and (un)likelihoods. The simplicity of the singularity is almost hilarious, once you can unravel the multitude of tangled yarns that make up the knot of anxiety.
The difficulty resides in, not necessarily stopping the trigger (this is easy with practiced, life-long avoidance skills), but changing the thinking patterns surrounding the anxiety once the machine has started. By the time I’ve reached an emotional overwhelming (sobbing uncontrollably) or an anxiety attack, I’m already surrounded by that tangled web of yarns.
But despite the complexity of the knot, I always have to start somewhere. It’s a large undertaking. Have you ever had 20 different things to do that, at the very least, felt urgent and important? You put your head between your hands and look around maniacally at all the things you have to do and the thought crosses your mind: Where the fuck do I start?
You have a tangled web of yarns to unravel and you have to start somewhere, right? So you pick a thread. Do you cut it? Do you try to untangle it? It’s hard to say, with my experience with OCD and abnormal anxiety, whether or not it’s better to untangle the yarn or cut it. Often times, as a way to cope with the mess that is an anxiety attack, I would visualize (a good method for coping, by the way) a knot of tarn on the inside of my head between my ears.
I would simply start cutting lines. And then I think from there I would begin the huge undertaking of untangling. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to just set it all on fire, but if I do that, I can’t learn from it, can I? I’ll never make progress if I don’t try to understand the silly, ridiculous connections my mind makes from one ear to the other.
So I cut the severely irrational lines. “Everyone is going to leave me.” That’s a nonsense statement. I mean, when you think about it, it is true. At some point, everyone in my life will be gone from me, whether by their death, my own, or simple expiration of relationships. But that’s a fact of life, and worrying about it is more of a waste of time than anything else.
“My boyfriend is cheating on me.” That’s also a nonsense statement. Mostly because it’s far from the truth and highly unlikely. Is there a chance that he could at some point be unfaithful? Sure, maybe there’s a small possibility; much as I’d like to, I can’t predict what he is going to do next week, next year, or 10 years from now. But given the circumstances of our relationship and his own desires about me and his own life, I know that evaluating this statement is worthless and unproductive. So I cut the line.
“I don’t deserve to be happy.” This might be worth looking at. I’ve learned to stop cutting lines look at strings of thought that my therapist might ask me questions about. This is something we might spend a lot of time talking about in a session. So instead of cutting the line, I untangle it from the knot. I start telling myself positive statements about how I do deserve to be happy. I try to speak over my Mean Voice and tell myself that I am a good person. That I work hard, in many aspects of my life, including my job, my friendships, and my relationship and I deserve to have these people in my life. That this condition is not a judgment set down by the universe. That I don’t deserve to have this condition and that it is merely a part of me that needs to be rewired.
As I write this, I realize that this method of getting through the web has changed over time. And that my capability to sever lines of thought and dismiss some of the severely irrational thoughts fairly easily is not a static ability. It has changed over the course of my work in therapy and self-awareness. A year ago, I know I spent time trying to unravel the statement “My boyfriend is cheating on me.” I had to work through that line of thought and figure out where that worry came from and nurture myself away from negative thought patterns and self-judgment. Now, I know that what my boyfriend may or may not do is not a reflection of my self worth.
At some point, very early in my recovery “Everyone is going to leave me.” is something I also had to work through. My irrational fears of abandonment drive a lot of my abnormal anxieties, to the point where, if my significant other leaves the room when I am upset, my overwhelmed emotional state will manifest into an anxiety attack. Sometimes this is a statement I do have to take head on. It’s a large part of the issues that I have, and many times even during non-spike times, I have to nurture myself through that abandonment fear.
Maybe sometime soon “I don’t deserve to be happy” will be a line that I cut instead of the small knot that I untangle. After all, evaluating these statements and working through them take a lot of time. The time I spend in the throes of a full-blown obsessive web of shit (involving crying, an anxiety attack, and self-abusive thoughts) has reduced dramatically over the course of the last year.
But that tangled web of obsessive nonsense is a Beast, regardless of my recovery. When my anxiety spikes and I lose control of myself emotionally, it looms over me as a challenge as big as it felt when I first walked into therapy. But I see myself differently than I did then. I see myself as almost wholly separate from my condition. That my condition, while it may never be eradicated or completely cured, is manageable and it does not make me who I am. That tangled web of lies that my mind tells me is not a reflection on what I think, believe, or feel. And I’m learning to trust myself and believe that it does not determine my worth.