Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sensitized for Instant Response: Ruining the Day

Billboard advertisements for 7Up and Pure gasoline
This week I've been getting stuck in fear of ruining my day, that doing something "wrong" will contaminate the rest of the day. I'm so used to making up rules for myself as to what constitutes a good day, and the OCD has me sensitized to any thoughts of "you did that wrong" or "you should've done something else," that before I even realize it, I'm reacting to the thought, wanting to eradicate it.

When I think those kinds of thoughts, I tend to take them at face value, as if they were true and credible, and with power to change the entire quality of a day. The closest metaphor is contamination. One of my feared consequences is that if I choose an imperfect action, it will spread to the rest of the day, and can't be cleaned up. My compulsion is to undo the thoughts of having messed up by either ruminating on them, analyzing them, or going into habitual websearching as a distraction. And then, ironically, OCD causes the very thing I fear--this compulsing ripples through the day and takes up my time.

I asked my husband yesterday if he thinks this way, and he said no. He might do something that ends up being a waste of time, but then he moves on to something else. He doesn't have fears that if he somehow goes awry, it will haunt him. For me, it's very basic stuff, for which there is no handbook or optimal schedule. When to take a shower. When to eat lunch. When to take a walk. When to run errands.

I have a big fear of wasting time. If I have errands to run, I get mired in figuring out how to do enough at a time so I don't "waste time." The fact is that sometimes we waste time. It's as if the OCD decrees that I live in a universe where I don't ever make a mistake or take up time doing the activities of daily living, and the insidious part is that for a long time I truly believed that I could find certainty as to what I should be doing in any given moment.

In the past, I also feared ruining a day by having intrusive scary and anxious thoughts. I've gotten better at recognizing them as part of my OCD, and not getting into a power struggle with them, and eroding all possibility of being present in my own life, but the thoughts of doing things perfectly slip in under the radar, and I do get into a battle with them. I see more exposures in my future, choosing things to do in a day, and doing them, and facing the fear. I'm edging towards this, in spite of my aversion.


  1. Lovely post, as usual!

    I can relate to this a lot, even if my fear of "wasting time" isn't as strong as yours. Somehow just recognizing that, this fear of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time was also part of OCD, allowed me to move on more freely.

    Today of all days, on Christmas, I can relate to the possibility of "ruining" the entire day. I the past I spent a LOT of time both physically (buying the perfect gifts/putting enough effort into the process) and mentally trying to fend off the possibility of the day being ruined. Everything had to be just so.

    I had to have my bed made, and I had to do it before unwrapping presents, because it was Christmas and it wouldn't feel "right" if I didn't. I had to have my hair done and a nice outfit on, because I might not be able to enjoy Christmas if I didn't. I had to have time to shower and put on make-up before our family dinner, because it was Christmas. All had to be perfect - because it was Christmas.

    As it turned out, I became the slave of my mind's whims. If I had the thought, "Oh, I have to do 'x' before I do 'y,' or Christmas won't feel 'right' and then it will be 'ruined,'" then off I went to do whatever it is I felt must be done to keep the day untainted. I suppose, in the end, that all my efforts did was prevent me from genuinely being able to relax and enjoy the holiday, fully present and not so stuck in my head. Because I was constantly trying to make sure my actions, and thoughts, and everything around me, was perfect, I spent a lot of unnecessary time defending my enjoyment and, in the the process, making it harder to enjoy.

    Anyways, since I have learned about OCD, I've tried to be a bit more nonchalant about Christmas. I still have a terrible time making decisions and worry whether I have bought enough/the "right" gifts, but there's no more staying up til the wee hours of the morning on Christmas Eve, finishing the last of the presents I felt I "had to" make if Christmas were to be "right."

  2. Yeah, Christmas day seems particularly tough. I spent part of Christmas Eve doing ocd homework on forms from my counselor stating my fear ("I will celebrate Christmas wrong and therefore be a bad Christian") and "evaluating the evidence". That helped me on Christmas. I purposely opened a gift on Christmas day, because that might be more "evil." Yes, I got out of bed, made myself open it, and went back to bed. Ocd complicates things so!

    I do worry about contaminating my days. I think that is an excellent word choice. It's not my "main" issue right now, but I can understand. Not "wasting" money is another fun issue that makes shopping more interesting.

  3. Wow - your insight impresses me so much! When I read this post I had to really think about it! I know I definitely spend a lot of time beating myself up if my days aren't "productive enough". But - your contamination analogy was great. I think I used to be much worse at this, but over time I have (inadvertantly) challenged myself to not let "one bad apple spoil the lot" - if one yucky thing happens in my day - the whole day isn't "bad" or "ruined". It's not all or nothing. I still struggle with making my day "worthy enough" though. I love how you point out just how much OCD permeates other areas of our lives. That "just right' feeling I always attributed to hand washers, or checkers etc - not to people with Pure O.

  4. Fellow Sufferer--It's ironic that holidays are sometimes easier for me to let things flow, because I've practiced exposures related to "ruining Christmas" but regular days still slip under my radar. "Defending your enjoyment" is an apt way of describing what happens when my ocd is really active. I'm glad you didn't stay up all night with gift wrapping!

    Abigail--Well done on opening a gift even though it was "evil"!

    Pure O--I think that "pure o" ocd has a lot more in common with other forms, just that it's less recognized.

  5. Thank you all of you
    I recognise a lot of this.. challenges my thinking which is the best thing!