Monday, August 9, 2010

OCD Squawking

There's not a lot of room between noticing something, and being alarmed by it when you have OCD. I was checking my email this morning, and noticed an achy feeling in the vicinity of my bladder, and suddenly it's red alert, squawk, squawk, squawk.

An early strategy at a young age was I would stop everything and focus on the sensation, which soon would lead to not feeling anything else but that sensation, and then despair that that's all I could feel. I have a diary from when I was 11, with Holly Hobbie on the front cover, a tiny lock and key and gold dusted page edges, and several entries are descriptions of things I've noticed in my body, and trying to reassure myself, "Not to worry."

By the time I was an adult, I was convinced that if I had any pressure or awareness of my bladder, then I couldn't focus on anything else, couldn't enjoy whatever I was doing at the time. As soon as my internal conversation plunged into "I can't enjoy this vacation, this movie, this walk, this concert. . .because this sensation in my body is intruding, and it's all I can think about," I would plummet into hopelessness.

Part of this is simply being human and having consciousness--we are aware we are going to die, we remember sad things from the past, we can ask "what if?" But OCD wants to control what we are conscious of, either by making certain thoughts go away, or insisting the future be know-able. Squawk. Squawk. What sucks is that some painful sensations and memories never go away, and OCD gets locked into combat with them, making them even worse, but lying and saying, "No, really, I can make this go away. Just stick with me. Don't give in. Don't do anything until I solve this with compulsions."

I do have a lot more freedom since I started doing exposures in therapy, and outside of therapy. For a couple years I would drive by a fabulous Mom and Pop donut shop on my way from therapy to work, right around the time I started to feel pressure in my bladder from the long drive, but I wanted those donuts, and I'd stop to get a couple. At first I'd tell myself to wait until I got to work, so I could hit the bathroom, and then enjoy the donuts perfectly, but they were so good, I'd end up eating them on the drive.

What I discovered is that although I preferred not having the bladder sensations, I could still enjoy other things(like donuts!) at the same time. This may not seem like rocket science, but when you have OCD, this was like knowing how to turn straw into gold, or water into wine.

What we practice we tend to get better at. My therapist likes to say this, and I sometimes find it irritating, but it took a year of practice to distance myself from bladder panic, which can sound daunting, but after 30+ years of being limited by my need to find a bathroom at all times, I am very grateful for my new freedom.

Do I have to go? Bladder Fears and OCD


  1. Thank you for posting about this. I so relate to your descriptions of your OCD latching on and squawking. I am happy for you that you have found freedom and relief. As a child I was obsessed that I had leukemia. I read so much on the subject starting at age 10 and knowing all the details just fed the fear. I also had a recurring fear at night that I had appendicitis and would need to undergo surgery. I would lay awake all night trembling. I am still afraid of general anesthesia. But I choose not to worry about it. Now, when I get a muscle twitch, my first thought is that I have ALS. I know it is that darn OCD so I try to just go on my day and coexist with the squawking. It is there, but just a distant chirp.

    As a kid I sorta liked the sensation of having a full bladder and I would challenge myself to see how long I could "hold it in" before going to the bathroom. Even now, I get lazy and don't want to stop what I am doing to go the restroom - a grown up form of "busy little girl syndrome".

  2. Enjoyed reading your blog,I just started mine about my Journey with ocd and depression!! It's good to know I don't suffer alone!!God bless

  3. I really like your donut example. While I haven't experienced "bladder panic," I have and still do find myself thinking, "Oh no, I can't enjoy x fully, if I haven't taken care of y!"

    It is sometimes a struggle to force myself to change gears when it is really necessary, to let go of trying to take care of all the things I feel could get in the way of me "feeling right" if I don't get them done first. Realizing, in the course of treatment, that I can still enjoy something even if I haven't had a chance to prepare for it "just right" has been remarkably liberating. For a long time, the more I tried to make sure I could enjoy something, by eliminating or taking care of all things that might detract from that enjoyment, the harder it became to do just that - enjoy things.

    In typical OCD fashion, the more I tried to make an experience "perfect," the more things seemed to get in the way and threaten to ruin how I felt. Just like the more I try to wash perfectly, the dirtier I end up feeling most of the time, when I tried to "protect" the things I wanted to enjoy, the more things seemed to get in the way of my ability to enjoy things!

  4. I'm not really too afraid of an accident, but more of an annoyance,that can't do it 'til I have a bathroom break sort of thing, even when I don't need to go much.

  5. Kinder Brain--I like the metaphor of a "distant chirp"--it's there, but we can still live our lives. I used to have times when I'd be reading a good book or watching a movie, and I'd be ok with holding it, mostly because I knew I was choosing to.

    Joy Cometh--Welcome! It is indeed to have companions when dealing with ocd.

    Fellow Sufferer--Again, you and I have so much in common. The "I can't enjoy x full, if I haven't taken care of y" can erode most any experience.

    ocdbloggergirl--yeah, I was not afraid of an accident at all, which shows how the feared consequences are different for different people in their ocd.


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