Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What should I do next? OCD Indecision about what to do when.

so what now graffiti
So what now? This question could stop me instantly. As a college student, I dreaded weekends and holidays, when I had more control over what I could do with my time, because of an obsessive fear that I would choose the wrong thing at any given moment, and be haunted by my mistake, and have to live with intolerable anxiety. Then I got a job working alone, a self-directed, independent position, with no coworkers, and my OCD got worse. Now I had to decide what to do each and every moment, and I was petrified that I would choose wrong.

My compulsion was avoidance of making the decision, through web searching, researching, analyzing and waiting until I felt "just right" about taking an action. If there was an urgent deadline, I could meet it, because I could feel the "rightness" of completing that assignment, but inbetween these islands of clarity was a rushing river of confusion and overwhelm.

On my days off I would stay in bed after the alarm with an ominous sense of inadequacy. What would I do with my day? Would I screw it up? How would I know which things to do and when? Once out of bed, I might think of something to do, and then feel a pervasive dread that I might be making a mistake, and I'd put off doing anything(which of course is a decision in itself). I'd get ravenous because I couldn't decide what to eat for lunch. I'd turn on the tv and flip channels for hours as a distraction. The only thing that saved me from web searching was my slow dial-up connection.

When I started ERP Therapy, I started to realize that I wanted to know for certain what my next action should be, but most people without OCD didn't get stuck on this. From my perspective, it seemed that non-OCD people were randomly guessing what to do next, and that scared me. I also realized that in my indecision I wasn't getting anything done, and I was losing whole swaths of my life to the ritual of choosing "perfectly."

One of my first Exposures that occurred to me, was making a schedule for the day, with a 15 minute time limit, and then following my schedule. I did this for several months, and I learned a lot from it. First, some of my choices were better than others, but I got a lot more done by "guessing" what I might need to do, and in what order. Second, the urge to make a "perfect schedule" was very strong, as was the desire to perfectly follow the schedule, and I practiced purposely choosing something that didn't feel "exactly right," or deviating from the schedule. Third, it helped to record a script about what I was losing when I gave into my compulsions, primarily the direction of my own life, and abdication to the OCD. I felt distress giving up my illusion that I really could choose the right things if I just tried hard enough, but also relief.


  1. Just stumbled across your blog b/c I'm avoiding making several decisions (and am therefore distracting myself by surfing the web...)

  2. Anon--Oh, I've been there! Hope you were able to make your decisions--I try to remind myself that avoiding a decision is actually decision in itself. . .

  3. i'm really glad i found your blog. you just hit one of my biggest OCD issues. while i knew that i probably wasn't the only one with this exact form of OCD, it was kind of disheartening to only find literature about hand-washing or checking doors or some elaborate routine to make sure harm isn't done to others...you get the picture.

    i think spend about 3 hours a day thinking "what now - what should i do? what did i plan to do" "am i forgetting to do something?" etc.

  4. Anon--I'm glad you found my blog! It helped me a lot when my Exposure therapist was very familiar with my indecision form of OCD, and knew how to treat it! Jon Grayson's book Freedom from OCD helped, as did find an ERP therapist through the IOCDF.

  5. I am also glad I came across your blog. Decision making is currently my biggest OCD issue. I feel like I end up wasting a lot of time trying to make decisions. Therefore, time management becomes a huge issue for me. I also have a fear that my OCD will inhibit my ability to hold down a steady job. I am curious if anyone on this site has had to leave a job b/c of their OCD or not been able to keep a job?

  6. Hi Anon--Welcome! I have found that OCD can interfere with just about anything, but that with treatment, there is hope. I was able to keep a job, but trying to decide which tasks to do first resulted in huge procrastination, and I felt like I was only one step ahead of disaster. Exposure therapy has helped immensely--practicing making decisions even if I don't know for certain if it's the right one.