Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Knowing when to Stop

Green Lake depth contour map, 1938
Yesterday I took a walk at lunch in beautiful spring weather. I went a different route and realized that the streets cutting back toward work were all no outlet, and if I kept going, the next several blocks were all no outlet as well. I actually turned around and went back the way I came. This goes against the gut level desire to "finish" my walk, to do it right the first time, to never turn around, but affirms the wise part of my mind which sees that the "finishing" comes at a cost of exhaustion and being late.

I have come a long way. 7 or 8 years ago, my husband was out of town, and I had very little experience with this, since he'd been afraid to leave me alone with my anxiety, I decided to go for a walk at a local park, also on a lovely spring day. As I started to walk along the lake's edge, I started obsessing about when to turn around and go home. Non-OCD considerations would've been, 1)I'm tired 2)It's almost lunchtime 3)I have other things planned to do later on.

I'd been feeling freaked out about my husband's absence, and OCD compulsions have an anesthetic quality that I had used as a way to cope with painful feelings for so many years. So here I was, walking around a lake, getting more and more tired, telling myself that surely I was almost at the turning point in the path and would be headed back to the parking lot, and I needed to keep walking, because the thought of turning back filled me with an anxiety.

A remnant of my saner self pointed out I had no map, no idea of how long the walk around the lake was, that my feet hurt, I had no water, and no hat in the sun, but my OCD world constricted to one foot in front of the other foot. I was sweating yet chilled at the same time. I felt a surge of envy when I saw other people walking the trail, seemingly calm, out for a "walk" not an exercise in following a random thought.

There are points in the middle of an OCD compulsion where I am acutely aware that my actions are compulsive, and yet feeling an urgent need to continue in order to ward off the even more acute anxiety. When I finally limped to my car, my muscles were seizing up and I was in a state of utter self-loathing. Later I discovered that the path around the lake is 7 miles. 7 fricking miles. Looking back I can feel compassion for the intensity of my anxiety, but at the time I took this a sign that I was truly defective.

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