Monday, May 17, 2010

Am I still anxious? Does this still bother me? And other querulous questions.

Question marks on the wall

It's as if I am poking someone who is sleeping, and saying "Are you sleeping?" poke, poke, poke, and then they wake up. The mental ritual of checking on my anxiety level or sensations is one of the hardest to deal with. I'm sure that some of those reading this blog have had the experience of being consumed by anxiety about a particular obsession or topic and then getting up the next day and the anxiety is gone. I assumed that once anxiety set in, only sleep could fix it, and I would long for it to be the next day.

Even more frustrating is waking up calm, and then remembering my anxiety from the day before and having it all kick up again. My immediate response when remembering an old worry is "Damn, there it is again. Why can't I get it to go away?" It's like a staticky bit of plastic that you try to flick into the trash, and it just clings to your fingers. This is followed by having the urge to check if I am still anxious or if a certain symptom or thought still bothers me, and the more I check, the more entrenched it gets.

I would recogzine anxieties that would probably fade the next day, like fear that I'd chosen the wrong dish off a menu, and I'd be frustrated by my inability to step away from it sooner armed with this knowledge. Knowledge alone is not a match for the anxiety created by OCD. My theory is that sleeping would give me a break from poking at the anxiety, waking it up, and increasing its noisy dominating behavior. It wasn't a magical cure.

My therapist has encouraged me to let my anxiety producing thoughts into my mental space, letting the noise happen, in fact practicing introducing the noise into my mind, which is an exposure. I usually feel snarly when he suggests this, but I also recognize that the vigilant checking to make sure the intrusive thoughts aren't there repeatedly reminds me of them. And every "Damn there it is again," highlights the thought, magnifies it, makes me exquisitely sensitive to even the threat of a particularly despised thought.

I know this sounds crazy. If you are desperate to avoid a scary thought, and you forget it for a few hours, the last thing you want to hear is the idea of purposely seeking it out, and disrupting that bit of peace. But the peace is fleeting and leads to long term anxiety--I have never been able to force a thought out and make it stay out for good. I have learned that it is possible to enjoy life even with those thoughts making noise.


  1. I've been doing this SO MUCH lately. Feel pretty good, and then I start scanning my brain: "I know there's something. What is it, what is it. Oh, yeah!" Worry worry worry. Hate it.

    Good luck to you on just letting the mental noise sit there. It would be a great thing.

  2. This blog is great. I found it two days ago and this is not the PERFECT comment I wanted to write as my first but ... ! Here we go.

    So here's my question. What if it doesn't "feel" like anxiety? I have had physical anxiety in the past so I know that sensation. What I have now, what accompanies me as I move from room to room to room to room, as I check the stove knobs, as I tell myself "you're an idiot" (actually I say something much more vile than that)over and over again as I flit from task to task ...

    What I feel is not the "ice cube in chest" feeling. Or the freestyle heartbeats that greet me when I wake at 4 a.m. and worry about money. (I'm self-employed, whee!).

    What I feel throughout the day is different. So maybe it's not anxiety. Maybe I really don't have OCD. Maybe I have ADD. Maybe I'm just lazy. Maybe I blah to the 10th power.

    I feel it all in my head. But it's not the type of intrusive thoughts I experienced once in a severely bad period about 14 years ago... back then the thoughts were "different," almost physical. Not audible but wow, racing, incessant, always the same theme (work-related) and tormenting. What I experience now is more vague, something always pulling me away from my focus MIXED with self-loathing thoughts that need to be "neutralized" with the vile comments.

    Here's good news. I went back to my therapist after a 10-year break. Last week we decided yes, perhaps I do have OCD. Yes. Then I found this blog, read up on ERP and Grayson, and asked my therapist what "technique" he uses. He told me "ERP." Yay!

    So, thoughts on the "it doesn't feel like anxiety" thing?

    PS: I'm also 40ish and in the northeast.

  3. Home Alone--you sound like a kindred spirit! I'm glad you found some resonance in my blog. I'm glad you posted a comment, in spite of the fear that it wasn't the "perfect" comment! I hear you on the "what if it's not really anxiety"--remember that OCD can generate endless what ifs. You don't need to know if it's really anxiety--the OCD demands you qualify and quantify and recheck, and determine the exact nature of your feelings, but what is important is to go see the ERP therapist, and tell him about this.

  4. Great blog - just discovered it.

    I believe I fall into the Pure-O category as I don't really have any physical rituals I do.

    But if you consider reassurance, analyzing, and "logic-thinking" to reassure I was good kid that didn't do anything wrong (such as break my video game console when I accidentally stepped on it.) Then yeah - I have a pretty serious Pure-O perfectionism issues.

    As for this feeling of letting the "common-sense" or "I don't care" feeling come into me follwing an OCD spike/episode - it typically occurs days after that initial spike/trigger.

    Eventually it gets to a point, I can think about the previous episode will little anxiety or care (and even laugh about the sillyness of it), but then the whole bloody cycle repeats itself again for the next "NEW AND IMPORTANT" spike/episode - god this sucks for a teen...

  5. Welcome stucked! Yeah, the "new and important" cycle really sucks. Remember that this is the mode of operation for OCD--it will always try this trick. Exposure therapy is about calling its bluff.