The snail in my last post made me think of another creature, the rabbit. I read the newsletter of the International OCD Foundation for 5 years, and though there were many accounts of ERP working, it always seemed to be for people who had physical rituals. Washing hands. Counting. Reciting Prayers. I didn't think I had any rituals. It was all thoughts going on in my head, just obsessions.
Once I started working with an ERP therapist, I began to realize that one of the ways I tried to make obsessions go away was to freeze like a rabbit. If somehow I stay still enough, and avoid going on with my day, or my life, then I can make the anxiety go away. The very thought of carrying on sent a shot of of anxiety pumping through my veins.
This is where I ran into difficulty with Cognitive Behavioral strategies. I joined an anxiety support group in graduate school, and the psychologist in charge introduced us to ways our thoughts can be distorted, like "all or nothing thinking," or "emotional reasoning." We were to fill out worksheets identifying our thoughts and disputing them. At first this was a relief to know there were others who had similar ways of thought, that I wasn't completely alone in this, and that perhaps being able to label the thoughts would help them go away.
But as with much in OCD, this wasn't enough. It was as if I needed to freeze like the rabbit, hoping to fool the predator. I would fill out my worksheet, get a moment of relief and then try to hold my thoughts still and prevent them from spiraling out again into anxiety. OCD wanted absolute certainty that a feared consequence won't happen. Even the slightest chance of a catastrophe and the OCD wanted to gnaw at it and figure it out, and my goal was to prevent this exhausting process from happening, compounded by an OCD perfectionism that demanded I dispute the thoughts "perfectly" and got into an existential debate about which thought to start with and making sure I got every single one.
Ritualizing in my Head: Retracing
OCD and Transitions
2 days ago