Thursday, May 19, 2011

OCD A to Z: K is For Kabat-Zinn and Mindfulness

Be Mindful

I had a hard time thinking of a K word, but then Jon Kabat-Zinn popped into my mind. I first came across Full Catastrophe Living about 10 years ago, and what stayed with me was the idea that mindfulness was about focusing on the breath, and if your mind wanders, that is normal, and bringing it back to the breath is all you need to do, even if it only stays a split second. I appreciated the rock-bottom simplicity of this, even in the midst of a very exhausting state of OCD mind.

A few years ago, I also read The Mindful Way Through Depression which comes with a CD of mindfulness exercises, and I listened to them daily for almost a year. For much of my life, depression was intertwined with my OCD, and there are many clinicians researching mindfulness as part of the treatment of OCD in addition to depression. The theory is that the more we fight with our obsessive thoughts, the more entrenched they become, and mindfulness can be an adjunct to Exposure Therapy, a way to practice letting thoughts be there and lessening their charge.

As my therapist has pointed out many times, when in the midst of OCD compulsions, I am not in the present moment. I am either in the past, worrying about something that happened, or in the future anticipating "what ifs." He believes the only functional moment is the present one. This is where we make our good decisions, respond to what's actually happening, are most alive. At first I doubted this, because I associated the "present moment" as the one where I was suffering, and compulsing. But slowly I have come to see that in that suffering I am digging into the past or racing into the future. This doesn't mean that the present moment is magical, always calm and peaceful, but it gives a better chance of getting better from OCD. My old rituals don't get me any closer to long term peace.


  1. I haven't read the Mindful way through Depression but it sounds good. Would you recommend it as a good book to read? I have often thought about buying it, but my depression is always as a result of OCD, so I guess I just thought it might not be helpful to me - only something that helped to solve the OCD problem would be useful.

  2. I definitely would recommend it. Depression has a recognizable set of downward spiraling thoughts, and it's helped me to become aware of them, and not take them at face value. My depression was partly due to my OCD, but it's still depression.