Monday, November 1, 2010

Your one wild and precious life: OCD and Trusting Your Heart

less internet, more art!
My exposure this week has been to get into my studio first thing in the morning, rather than get on the computer. In the irony that is OCD, I love being in my studio, but the ritual of distracting myself on the internet has worn a groove in my brain, so I put off making art. I've been leaving a voicemail with my therapist once I get myself into the studio. My mornings have been a chant of "eat breakfast, go into studio, call Leonard" with varying amounts of squawking from the OCD, but I've made a lot of art, which is good, because starting next weekend I have 7 craft shows in 7 weekends!

My love of art gives me a lot of strength for fighting the OCD. When I make art, I am in the present moment, and I rely on my intuition, my eye, my hands, my heart. Yes, the OCD intrudes, with delaying my studio time, or getting stuck on what to make next, or not wanting to take a break because I might not get myself back to the studio. But the self I am when creating art, is the self that is whole, and strong, and wiser than my OCD.

It took a long time before I let myself be an artist. When you've had OCD as long as I have, it intertwined with so many aspects of my being, and with my troubled family. I assumed that if I liked doing something, that this was irrelevant. I've met others recovering from OCD with a similar sense, and who also, like me, felt lost when contemplating what they might like to do, rather than what the OCD wants. Combined with my perfectionism and wanting to do things right on the first try, and my fearful thoughts of worthlessness, it was a struggle to experiment and try things out, but I loved art, and this love gave me strength to persist in making it, even though I wasn't certain it was what I "should" be doing.

The OCD chimes in with "Are you sure you love art? Maybe you don't really. Maybe you can figure this out. Start assessing the quality of your passion. What if you really should be doing something else, like when you felt called to be a minister. Maybe God is angry with your decision to be an artist." I did two semesters of seminary in a quest to banish the persistent thought that God wanted me to be a minister, in spite of my lack of any real desire to be one. I feel closest to God when I am creating art. My leap of faith is to trust my experience. This is akin to standing too close to the edge of a steep path up a cliff, and feeling woozy, but this is my one life, and OCD is lying when it promises complete safety.

I'd love to hear your story of what you love. Take your best guess, the smallest inkling if that's all you have. Think of it as an exposure.

Here are some lines from a poem, "The Summer Day," by Mary Oliver, that speak to me, and hopefully to you:

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


  1. Great post! I struggle with this too! Not only from a hobby perspective but also a career perspective. For the last two years my OCD has gotten so bad that I felt I had lost touch with a lot of what is important to me. I am starting to get that back now. That said, OCD makes me doubt even the smallest "idea" that I have about something I might actually, truly like. I can say though that when I am knitting and doing pottery I have noticed that I am able to be in the moment, and that is a very therapeutic feeling. I hope to continue to build on these realizations - whether I am able to make a career out of them or not. I know I would be a happier person even if I could pursue them as hobbies. OCD definitely takes away one's ability to truly get in touch with what one loves. I was thinking today that sometimes I don't even know who I am because my OCD creeps in to make me doubt virtually every aspect of my existence (values, desires, etc).

  2. I love to do almost any kind of craft, but more, I love to write. I don't have to ask myself why anymore, I just know it is supposed to be, even if I never get the stuff published. Great poem snippet, too!
    Adventures in Anxiety Land

  3. Yeah, it is hard for me to figure out what I like. Currently, I like eating jellybeans, but I've ate all the ones in my house and am taking a health break. I like playing guitar - sometimes. I like painting, but it's usually too much work to get started. I like dancing, but that requires energy. I think maybe today I'll try... using clay to make something for my dollhouse. OCD and Depression really have influence in the world of hobbies and heart desires. I don't know what I want for my career yet, either, so for now I stick with what I have, working with kids.

  4. Pure O Canuck--I've learned that my ocd demands a PhD thesis to prove if I like something, but if I take my best guess, and listen to the small voice of my inner self, that it is a much better guide.
    I also feel present when knitting. That's cool you do pottery.

    Blue Morpho--That is so cool that you know you want to write!

    Abigail--Sometimes I can ease myself into doing something even when my energy is low by saying "just for 5 minutes"--and I think of it as an exposure--which is ironic, since the task is to do something I like doing. . .

  5. It's difficult for me to determine what I love. I want everything I do to be purposeful. Productive. I do know I love to train and present to others - I seem to be able to build others' enthusiasm.

    When I was able to file having a perfectly clean home in the back of my mind and live with some disorder, I thought I had beat the off-hand diagnosis I received many years ago of borderline OCD.

    I think I might be very wrong.

  6. Queen--Thank you for coming over to leave a comment! I think one of my biggest hurdles to figuring out what I loved was wanting everything to be "important" instead of looking at what actually gave me joy.