relationship OCD

The Tangled Web of Obsession

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.

Seasonal Depression and Obsession Over the Years

It’s the beginning of February, which means I made it through January without losing my mind (though, I think a couple of times I came close). January is the toughest month of the year for me. Every year, the same week, I get severely depressed and my obsessions become a constant problem. Two years ago and one year ago, I ended up back in therapy on the same exact day of the year. My cycle of mood is THAT pedantic. Same day every year, I get virtually suicidal, because the second I have several suicidal thoughts, I rush into therapy. I don’t fuck around. I’ve been to rock bottom before. I’m not going there again.

Anyway, two years ago, at the end of January, is when my really disturbing thoughts occurred. (You can read about this incident in more detail on a previous post.) Last year, at the same time, I was obsessing about breaking up with my awesome boyfriend whom I love. A thought that so very obviously did not align with my desires. It drove me mad for weeks.

And this last week or so, I’ve been trying to beat off obsessions with a stick. I’m becoming more efficient, and I can DEFINITELY function now in a way I couldn’t before (last year, I was sobbing in the bathroom for half of the day – not an exaggeration). Now, I can talk about my obsessions with my significant other and tell him what’s going on. I can work, cry a little in the bathroom if I need to, and move on relatively quickly.

This weekend, I had a tough day. Like, a really bad day. I was on the verge of panic several times. But the operative phrase here is “on the verge.” The day was awful, and I felt terrible shame and guilt (Oh no, anything but shame!). But it didn’t form into full blown panic attacks. My hyper-focus on my feelings and actions fueled my Mean Voice and then I felt guilty for having “bad” thoughts. It was a bad spiral that lasted the entire day.

I bounced back from it, though. My obsessions are still threatening to bug me, I’m hyper-focusing on myself in a way that isn’t productive, and now I can feel the old jealous thoughts starting to threaten the edge of my emotional periphery. My mean voice is more active than it has been previously.

Luckily, I have more tools. I have been seeking reassurance less and less (correct me if I’m wrong), I’ve taken notice that I apologize compulsively regardless of whether or not it’s merited and if it’s already been forgiven, and I’ve been working to try and correct these behaviors on a daily basis. I’m taking vitamin D supplements, and I’ve been using one of those light therapy lamps as often as I can remember. The vitamin D helps immensely.

A year ago, I couldn’t control my head. I was wrought with grief over my obsessions and crying incessantly. And while I do still feel guilt and shame over my obsessions sometimes, I’m learning to forgive myself.

That awful obsession I had two years ago that started all of this? I don’t worry about it anymore. It doesn’t affect me. Fuck you Mean Voice, I’ve forgiven myself for it. Therapy is working. The work I’m doing on a daily basis is converting into long-term growth. I can see my growth week over week, month over month, and year over year. Yes, sometimes, it gets a hold of me and I get tired. I am tired of dealing with this bullshit. But I am not my obsessions anymore. I can feel myself splitting off and moving away from being a part of the Mean Voice. It is isolated in my emotional being and tucked away in a corner for now while I try to deal with it. And forgive myself for it being a part of me.

Hopefully, this time next year, I won’t have any obsessions at all.

Baggage, Jealousy, and the Shame Caused by Both

Recently, I had a breakthrough that might be categorized by most people as a completely unimportant event. I had an “impure” thought and said it out loud when it occurred. My significant other didn’t react perfectly to it, and immediately I began to feel shame for A) having the thought, B) expressing the thought, and C) potentially hurting his feelings. It was one of those moments where I had a hard time articulating what I meant, and there was a blip in our usually-very-effective communication. I got nervous as I was trying to explain, and he seemed to let it go, but my stomach tied in knots and I began to feel guilty. Instead of wallowing in the guilt and abusing myself in my head, I said to him “Now I’ve made myself upset.”

Expressing this, for me, is an extreme challenge. Because I had completely circumvented my rumination process and got right to the point: I was ashamed for what I had said even though the thought, feeling, and expression of it was completely normal. I think the standard issue with obsessives is that they think the thoughts they are having (that are upsetting) are abnormal and that other people don’t experience them.

The truth is, most people have disturbing thoughts all the time. Mostly everyone empathizes with a villain momentarily, or perhaps has an image of being violent towards a person, or has sexual thoughts about inappropriate people. But the difference is, most people are able to ignore them, or even don’t realize they have them. Because I (and other people like me) are so obsessed with perfection, purity of thought is of the upmost importance. At some point, in my mind, I made the connection that having a thought makes something true.

This aggravates a lot of standard feelings and thoughts I have, specifically in my relationship. Because of my previous experiences in relationships, I somehow have put all the responsibility on myself for this relationship to succeed and, because of my penchant for perfection, and irrational paradigms of what it means to be a good partner by people who treated me poorly in the past, I have unreasonable standards for how I am supposed to behave.

Case in point: jealousy. This is probably the most obvious issue I have in trying to exist in my relationship with obsessions. Most of my obsessions are wildly untrue and fabrications of an incredibly warped reality in my head. I can talk myself down from them easily because they are counter to behavior (by myself or my significant other). Jealousy is different because it exists almost entirely internally. My significant other does not do anything that really merits a jealous reaction (what I mean is: he doesn’t flirt with other people, doesn’t talk about other people in such a way as to raise red flags, is faithful and shows no interest in the doings of most other people). Jealousy is simply common for most people in any kind of relationship. It’s natural to feel like we cannot fulfill the people we love in every way they need to be fulfilled. It just isn’t possible.

But, because of how my previous significant others reacted to jealousy, I have categorized it as “bad girlfriend behavior” in my head and therefore punish myself for having jealous thoughts. Almost everyone I know has some minorly-serious jealousy about one of their significant other’s exes. Why not? Why shouldn’t you be jealous that your significant other, at one time, loved and slept with another person? Of course it’s upsetting.

My problem is not the jealousy itself (or the ex, for that matter); my problem is that I cannot tolerate a single thought about it. And because my mind is so efficient with making associations (thank you English degree) and has such a vivid memory, it’s hard for me to break connections or forget about things I’ve heard.

My poor boyfriend, in the midst of all this, has to deal with my coming home one day, sobbing and telling him that thoughts about his ex, who I don’t even really know anything about, have plagued me all day.

I try to contextualize it. If I think about my exes, it isn’t a fond thought. It usually isn’t even an angry or resentful thought (unless I’m considering one who was emotionally abusive). A memory of an ex is usually, for me – since I’m constantly psychoanalyzing myself – a way for me to explain my own behavior to myself. “Why do I hate myself for feeling jealous? –Well, self, because your ex-girlfriend did shit constantly on purpose to make you jealous. Or your ex-boyfriend cheated on you relentlessly and lied about it. Self, I think that’s a fair reason to chastise yourself for feeling jealous.”

I had a realization recently: I have never been the primary desire in an adult romantic relationship until now. Everyone who I have had an intimate relationship with has either A) openly desired another person or people or B) slept with other people.

If I’m being honest, I’m ashamed that this still has an effect on me. I feel stunted. I feel like a fucking thirteen year old. Everyone around me seems to have no fucking problem letting go of their baggage or getting over shit or dealing with day to day relationship things like jealousy and here I am obsessing over my boyfriend’s ex existing somewhere and relentlessly not forgiving myself for having somehow failed in the past as a mate.

As if all of the ways I was mistreated in my past are my fault. Of course they’re my fault. Because I’m unworthy of a good life or have somehow misbehaved in those relationships and caused my significant others to be driven away from me.

No wonder I’m so petrified that my anxiety will drive my boyfriend away from me. Because I’m the only one responsible for the success of this relationship.

I know what the solution is. I have to forgive myself. For what? Not being perfect? For being with shitty people in the past who certainly didn’t create my emotional problems (I had OCD long before I met them) but didn’t do anything helpful and in some cases may have made it all worse? That isn’t really their fault either. Life isn’t fair and sometimes you’re incompatible with people you end up with for a time.

But then I say to myself: how do you forgive a person who was abusive? Who has made you so fearful of having normal emotional reactions that it causes panic? And then I have this self-hatred that comes from these thoughts – I hate that someone I used to be with could have such control over who I am today, even though they may have been manipulative and abusive.

Is the expectation that I shouldn’t have baggage from an emotionally abusive and sexually coercive relationship too high of an expectation? Is this me being too hard on myself?

All of these very normal, common relationship difficulties that we all have to learn to navigate through and on top of it, I’ve got to deal with an incredibly visceral fear of abandonment AND the baggage of an emotionally abusive relationship. And I somehow expect myself to just be over all of the hardship that I’ve somehow managed to endure. Don’t get me wrong, I have grieved the death of my father, and I have gotten over the pain of the previous relationship, years and years ago. But these are the things that drive my panic, and I have to confront them.

I know my significant other. I know that he will not abandon me or mistreat me. This confidence in him is not the same blind, repressive trust that I put in that abusive and manipulative ex. I know that. My boyfriend is not the same as the people in my past who have hurt me (however they have hurt me). He is a safe place.

And I suppose that’s why I feel so much shame for all of it: the unfounded jealousy, the obsessions, the occasional anger towards people who have mistreated me in the past. It makes me feel stunted an incapable. And most importantly: it makes me feel like a bad girlfriend.

A few days ago, in a fit of PMS-induced emotional outburst, I said this to him: “I feel like a bad girlfriend.” And I couldn’t articulate why. I’m not perfect, that’s why. And the rational, reasonable side of me feels terrible for the abnormal, Mean Voice-induced Child Me. When the machine is running at full speed, I’m in a constant state of being two people at once. The Me that understands how this all functions and wants to comfort the other Me who is screaming and angry and sad and afraid. I’m trying to nurture that “lesser” side of me. I’m trying to drown out my Mean Voice and talk to it the way I would talk to my boyfriend or a close friend or any person I loved.

I have to learn to love that “inferior” side of me instead of ridiculing it. Because, after all, it IS still a part of me.

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.

Life Without Meds and the One Thought that Ruined My Year

Last week, I stopped taking my daily low dose of klonopin. I’ve been up and down, had a couple anxiety attacks, and faced my standard non-medicated, 4 AM, wake-up worry. But, in truth, I don’t mind all that. I can deal with escalating anxiety at work or whatever it is that might cause some frantic moments. (Though, when I’m in those moments, I would say that they are a living hell and I’d do anything to not have them.) Honestly, what bugs me out more than anything is having the thoughts.

While on my medication, mostly the thoughts were only around when I was stressed out. Now, they come and go as they please. For several days, I felt great. No problems, no thoughts. Now I feel like I’m back to square one.

Though, if I’m being honest, I’m not back at square one. I’m doing better. I can live without meds right now. Six months ago, I couldn’t go a week without a panic attack. Now, I’m not letting the anxiety get out of hand. And that’s more than I could’ve said for myself even just a few weeks ago.

More than anything, it’s the shame.

Shame for having thoughts. Shame for doubting myself. Shame for letting the doubt take over. Shame that I can’t handle this better than I am. Shame that, even for a moment, I might buy into a delusional thought. Not in the sense that I actually think it’s reality. That isn’t the case. It’s that…I worry that it’s real. Which is different than believing it’s real.

The content of my thoughts generally has to do with honesty. And perfect behavior. My particular brand of obsession has mostly to do with lying to myself, lying to people I care about, and being caught up in self-worth battles that never seem to end.

Am I good enough? Will I ever be good enough? What if I hurt somebody?

Last year, I was working in a toxic environment that constantly devalued me and made me second-,third-,fourth- guess my self-worth. When I started working there, I thought I had finally found my Place outside of college. And at some point, it became apparent that I was not of value, despite all of my hard work, overtime, and dedication.

I (along with my coworkers) knew I was getting laid off for about six months before it happened. Going into work every day was like…walking into the deepest reaches of hell. Everyone around me was depressed and anxious. People were clearly not coping well. And on top of it, our management didn’t seem to give a shit about any of it.

At some point, very shortly before I was laid off, my anxiety disorder started (probably not as suddenly as I think it had). I had a singular, instantaneous thought. One. Single. Thought. I ruminated about this thought for…a day straight. I’m not comfortable with sharing what the thought was, or what the rumination was. But, essentially, it was this: I had a thought about hurting someone I care about.

I thought that I was a horrible person who was going to hurt someone I love.

It threw me into this horrible, isolated depression. I couldn’t tell anyone. How could I tell someone that I had thoughts about hurting someone? I’d become a pariah.

I felt totally alone.

I started thinking things like “what would happen if I jumped in front of that train?” And as soon as those thoughts came, I called a therapist that very day. I knew I was headed down a destructive road.

I was shaking when I walked into my therapist’s office. I thought somehow I had already done something wrong. As if having the thought itself was committing the action. But it isn’t. It isn’t the same.

My therapist told me recently: “I knew the moment you told me about the thought that you weren’t going to hurt anyone.”

People with OCD commonly have disturbing, depraved thoughts that are totally contrary to things they would actually do. Usually, these thoughts are triggered by stress or trauma. But the problem is that the person focuses so much on purity and perfection that the thought itself is like committing the action.

The person I had the thought about…I still struggle to be around them. It makes me hesitate to be near them. It makes me question my morality, who I am, what I’m capable of. I’ve avoided that person for the better part of a year and a half. And nobody close to me or that person (outside of a very, very few people) knows about it. They must think I’m being selfish, because I’m not around as much.

And I can’t tell them, or anyone around them, why. I risk alienating myself from the people close to me. Because of one thought.

Do you have any idea what that feels like? To think you are the worst kind of person? And truly believe it?

Essentially, I protect the people I love from myself.

The thought never happened again. Only that one time. But it’s the worry that it will come back that drives me away from the person it was about. Other “intrusions” (as I call them) alienate me from other people that they involve. Likely, I have so many anxiety attacks around my boyfriend because so many of my obsessions thematically involve him, my feelings for him, and his feelings for me.

But I love him more than I need avoidance. It isn’t even fucking close. And, honestly, I think working through the anxiety that is brought on by my relationship (however healthy and fantastic it is) is making me stronger. It’s making me confront my anxiety and deal with it head-on. And, honestly, I couldn’t do that if he didn’t grant me the safe space to be honest. I can tell him some of my thoughts. I can have a conversation about them. I feel as though I can trust him to never judge me for them.

This monster that lives inside me, I’ve isolated it. It used to be a fog, or a poison, inside of me. Now, I’ve pushed it into a corner. I’ve located it, I’ve named it, and I’ve got its number. I’m done with this mean voice. I’m done giving it power. And I’m done letting it ruin my life and my relationships.

For any of you who have mean voices, loud or quiet, beat them back with everything you have. I believe in you, even if you don’t.

Broken Patterns, Obsessions with Longevity, and the Problem of (Un)Certainty

I’ve written about how obsessions work for me, how they make me feel, and why I have them. For the most part, since I’ve been in therapy, I’ve managed to severely reduce the frequency and potency of my obsessions by not allowing them to have power. I’m getting better at truly ignoring them, or by just letting them happen without having them affect me emotionally.

But I haven’t really explored the sort of long-range obsessions that plague me. Some obsessions happen for a day or an hour. But some go on for months. They’re usually just thematic, and unspecific. Like…a recurring dream that happens every day for three months. These obsessions are usually less potent, calmer, and easier to ignore (in the sense that I can carry on with my everyday).

Every couple of months, though, they’ll change. And that’s where the anxiety with long-range obsession occurs for me. For three months, I’ll have a minor, background obsession about – well, the last few weeks it’s been: my significant other’s ex. I really know nothing about this person, nor do I know much about their relationship, but the obsessions are more like minor ruminations.

I get on a ground-out track of thought processes, and let my brain do its thing: How did he feel about her? Does he miss her ever? Is anything about me the same? What if I’m just a replacement for something he misses? These kinds of thoughts drive me mad. Because no one wants to think about their significant other with another person, regardless of who that person is. Regardless of what my reality is. I think thoughts like these are common for many people – I just happen to think about them more actively. Or, the difference is, I spend the energy trying to find some sort of conclusion utilizing evidence.

This month, that obsession has converted itself/evolved into: what if my significant other doesn’t love me enough and doesn’t know it? This is a dangerous obsession. Because it’s totally impossible to disprove. If the obsession simply were “what if he doesn’t love me?” I could use a series of syllogisms and evidence sets to override this obsessive doubt. I could have a conversation with the Doubtful, Mean Self and say: “If he didn’t love you, he wouldn’t do A, B, C, D, E…and all this other stuff he does all the time. He very obviously loves you and treats you well, so this thought is bullshit, and you know it.” But the addition of “he doesn’t know it” will withstand this set of evidence. The conversion of the previous obsession into the new one presents a new challenge: Is this real doubt? Is this a real red flag? Or is it Just. Another. Obsession? If it’s real doubt, I need to actually evaluate my relationship – a pretty big deal. But if it isn’t real – if it’s a delusion conjured up from the darkest, most jealous and insecure parts of my psyche – the content doesn’t matter.

I’m going to repeat this for any of you who struggle with obsession as my therapist repeats to me: the content doesn’t matter.

The more likely scenario is that this is just another obsession. But, the logical difficulty here is that there’s no way to prove that it is just another obsession. Usually, this is the core of why obsession is so difficult to overcome: the impossibility of disproving the obsessive thought.

Most obsessions require certainty. A person with an obsessive mind will set a parameter of: I must know with absolute certainty that [my spouse loves me, my boss approves of me, I care about my family, etc.] Here is where the obsessive mind becomes problematic. How CAN you know this with absolute certainty? You can’t. No one can. Everyone pretty much always lives out life accepting that grain of doubt that exists in all of us. Life is simply imperfect. The person who is obsessing sets an unreasonable exception (i.e. perfect logical evidence and proof), an expectation that can NEVER be reached, and has therefore set themselves up to fail. If I set the standard that I must know with absolute certainty that my significant other loves me unconditionally, through and through, my mind won’t be satisfied. Because although my significant other could (and does) tell me over and over and over again how much he really does love me and wants to be with me, the truth is, neither of us can really know with 100% certainty. That’s just the reality of life right there. It has nothing to do with our relationship. This uncertainty causes me to seek reassurance constantly, a behavior that’s very common in people with OCD.

But, let’s for a second imagine his frustration with having to constantly tell me this over and over again. Imagine how this must make HIM feel. To know that I am gripped by these irrational doubts. It makes me sad, the potentiality that my thoughts have to hurting his feelings, regardless of how resilient and impervious he is to them. I know he can handle my anxiety most of the time. I’m just terrified of the moment when his patience runs out. But, I digress.

To someone with an obsessive mind, or – more specifically – with OCD, imperfection is unacceptable. Imperfection and doubt cause anxiety. The same with pattern and consistency. I have an incredibly difficult time accepting a change in pattern.

Every Friday, my team gets free bagels. My manager brings them in, and I set them up for everyone. It’s been a part of my weekly routine for months. Today, my manager wasn’t in and passed on his title of Bagel Santa to one of the other managers. The new Bagel Santa, not usually in as early, didn’t know how Bagel Friday was handled every week and went ahead and set them up without me.

When I found this out, my entire emotional well-being came to a crashing halt. I was devastated by this tiny, tiny, insignificant event. On top of it, when I tried to express my frustration and anger (irrationally, at this other person) to a couple of my friends, I could tell they were thinking that I was blowing things out of proportion. I could tell they didn’t want to listen to my irrational rampage. It was incredibly alienating.

For the record, I was blowing things out of proportion. But, also, I have had a really bad week; this was just kind of the icing on the cake. Setting up those bagels gives me a sense of stability. It also makes me feel useful. So when that stability is yanked out from under me, I freak out. And on top of it, some people can’t understand that. Because my friends reacted in a way that wasn’t up to my standards (i.e. validating my feelings), my anxiety over it compounded. I was behaving imperfectly. I couldn’t handle myself. And I was getting down on myself for not handling the situation well.

Dudes, this bagel thing upset me so much, that I actually had to go to the bathroom to cry so I could let out.

Imagine my self-embarrassment; my self-harassment: “You’re crying over bagels, you little baby. Get yourself together.” This is how I speak to myself in these instances. But, frankly, as much as I am empowered and in charge of my emotions, getting down on myself for getting upset is the real problem. I felt misunderstood, I felt unheard, and on top of it, I was ashamed.

It wasn’t until I spoke to another friend, who has difficulty with obsession (and, additionally, a family member with autism), that I felt understood. She recognized that just the dramatic change in event alone was enough to drive me out of rational and into irrational, suddenly-heightened anxiety. She gave me the permission to be upset. It was the validation I needed.

Immediately after, my significant other gave me the permission to complain about the event later, which was extremely helpful. Because it A) indicated that the event was of enough importance (to me, and therefore to him) that it meant he was willing to set some time aside to hear me bitch, and B) therefore, validated my (albeit irrational) feelings and made me feel less ashamed. I was then able to bring myself back down from an 8 to a 5 and put the anxiety off until later.

The truth is, by later tonight when I am allowed to complain…I probably won’t need to. This, my friends, is how I overcome anxiety, emotional distress, and the driving force behind my obsessions: my mean voice. Not by pushing the feelings down or ignoring them, but by taking hold of the emotions, screaming at my mean voice to fuck the hell off, and say:

No, you will not control me.