Friday, October 15, 2010

Health Anxiety and Hurtling into the Future

When my health anxiety starts to be active, I notice a desperate desire in myself to know the future. This isn't the far away future that I seek, but the next minute or even the next second. It's like the dog in The Grinch who Stole Christmas--he is pulling a sleigh so loaded down with stolen gifts that it flips him to the back, and he is pulled skittering down the hill. I rush to meet the future, to know it, to know what will happen next with whatever symptom I am noticing, and in the process accelerate my fear and anxiety, toppling the full weight of my OCD into the next second and minute of my life.

The dialogue goes something like this(the OCD would be in all caps, boldface, but that's too hard to read, so just try to imagine it):

Me: I feel a tightness in my stomach.
OCD: What's wrong? You need to know now.
Me: It could be appendicitis. Will it get worse?
OCD: Figure it out NOW. If you don't whether or not it's going to get worse, you will be intolerably anxious.
Me: But maybe the pain will ease up.
OCD: You can't wait to find that out. You need to act now.
Me: I know if I go on Google, I will come out of a trance an hour later, and feel even worse, but yet, I feel that sinking in my chest, my face is hot, and I'm shaky, and maybe I'll be able to diagnose myself if I go on Google.
OCD: You need to see a doctor! If you don't, this means you are negligent and a bad person.
Me: I keep checking to see if it hurts. I prod my stomach, I don't do anything else but focus on the symptom. I feel like the whole situation is contaminated with my fear. I wish I could separate the anxiety from reality.
OCD: You can do that if you just keep checking.
Me: Maybe I'd feel better if I stopped checking, and let things settle down. Why can't I stop checking? I could fix everything if I stopped.
OCD: You can't do anything right! You need to know in advance if this is serious. If you go to the ER and you are just anxious again, they will mock you, and it just proves you are defective.
Me: I have some things I need to get done, and I'm not getting anything done. A trip to the ER is going to take all day. Where is my life going? I'm a mess.
OCD: Your stomach is feeling worse. Do something NOW!
Me: Listening to you is making my stomach tighten up. If I had to guess, I'd say that's what's happening. Yes, my belly might get worse, but I'll never have a chance to find out if I don't let it alone for awhile.
OCD: You can't leave it alone, or how will you fix this?
Me: I'm going to do my errands, and if I am seized with pain, I'll deal with it then.
OCD: But you need to know what is going to happen.
Me: I can't know what's going to happen in the next moment. You are asking me for the impossible. I can guess, and I might guess wrong, but this is the human condition.

Note all the crazymaking stuff going on with the OCD! What thoughts make you jump? For me, the insistent "need to know this NOW" is most likely to accelerate my anxiety.

Related Post:
Letting the Thoughts and Feelings Be There


  1. Oh boy....I can totally relate to that need to know NOW. For me it's related to my relationship and my HOCD. That need to know NOW leads me down the mental checking and figuring out path. My rituals are all mental which makes it hard for me to distinguish sometimes! (Well - I shouldn't say that - I have definitely spent hours looking up information on the internet, and reading self-help relationship books!) For me though - if I don't figure it out NOW it's not "that means you're defective", it is "that means that something horrible is going to happen and you're going to hurt people or yourself". I feel as though life has to stop until I figure out the answer.

  2. I do all kinds of "I must know now" stuff. Not usually with health anxiety. My denial mechanism is too strong!

    But once I decide to do almost anything, I have to do it NOW-whether it's at home or at work. In today's society, it's amazing how much you can do really really fast, as long as you're willing to pay for it.

  3. That's an interesting question, one that has literally left me here pondering what the key words and phrases are that OCD uses to really get me good...and...I'm still not completely sure!

    A lot of times it's..."Yes, obviously a normal person wouldn't go to these lengths to make sure something is 'clean,' but you aren't normal! You have engaged in these excessive rituals for so long that to just decide not to do a ritual, even if recognizably unnecessary, is unacceptable. If you can just stop yourself like that, what's stopping you from not doing all your other rituals? It's all or nothing. If you stop doing one ritual, then you'll have no excuse to do any of the others because you'll have proof that you can just stop - just like that. It would be proof that if you 'really tried' to stop things you know are unnecessary and were successful, that you could have stopped all of this a long time ago. It would prove that you have been lazy. That you have been wasting your time and money away continuing on in rituals even though you know they are pointless. What's wrong with you? Better just do the can't face all that. Better to be consistent. Because if you are capable of eliminating one ritual, it is proof that you can and SHOULD stop all others. NOW. Otherwise you're just a big lazy fake.."

    Yeah, it goes something like that...

  4. I think for me, the hook has always been the feeling that "worry is protective." If I worry about it, I have a chance. If I just pretend it isn't happening, or wait, I am tempting God to prod me with an even worse affliction. Worrying about cancer will prevent the cancer. Acting like I don't have cancer even if I have a symptom of cancer (which could be any vague thing) is a sure bet to give me cancer. One day a therapist said to me, "People with anxiety feel that worry is protective." That blew me away. It depersonalized it for me -I am just another person who worries, doing what worriers do. There's no magic in it. It worked. Now I ask myself, "what am i REALLY worried about?" Sometimes it is not even the main FEAR that is torturing me. I try to take a practical approach. Take care of what I can, and leave the rest to "declare itself" down the road, one way or the other. I tell my kids when they worry about their health "Let's ignore it for now, and check back on it in a few hours. It will either get better or get worse. Then we'll know." I try to follow my own advice on that.

  5. I can SO relate to your mental conversation with the voice of OCD. For me, it isn't usually a "Know it NOW" as much as a "Do it PERFECTLY". Everything has a perfect way to be done, and I just need to keep doing it over and over until I get it right. Or planning in my head how to do it over and over until it feels "done" or "right." Makes me nutso. Mediocrity and a firm disbelief in magic are my most powerful tools. :)
    Adventures in Anxiety Land

  6. I am letting this all sink in! Like Kinder Brain said, it's a way to get distance, to realize other people with OCD do the same things--even if intellectually I know that worry doesn't protect me, it feels like it does. I also was floored by Fellow Sufferer and the implication that if you do your exposures then it means you were a fake and should've done it sooner. . .Blue Morpho--I also have the "Do it perfectly"--or more like "You can't be done yet, it's not finished, 100% perfect." I love that "mediocrity" as a powerful tool! My OCD likes to use that word as a threat, but actually it's the key to freedom.

  7. wow. just found your blog and i can't believe how great it is to see the honesty that these beautiful ocd bloggers have! this is a great post. i can relate to it all. thanks for writing it, because just finding someone i can actually RELATE to on these things is absolutely incredible.

  8. Hi Leah,
    Welcome! I'm so glad you found my blog and this wonderful community of OCD bloggers!

  9. Thanks for the kind comments on my blog. Your blog is awesome. You are not alone in this fight anymore :)