Monday, October 24, 2011

OCD and Serenity

Serenity Prayer Stone

I've been thinking about the Serenity Prayer this week.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
A lot has been going on and I am dealing with it. My skin biopsy came back benign, and I didn't have the backwash of figuring out whether I'd made a mistake in calling the dermatologist, and being "oversensitive." I took my best guess, and the moment before calling was worst, but I also was accepting that I couldn't diagnose cancer by checking my ear constantly, and that felt so much better than standing in front of the mirror, holding a handmirror and a flashlight and contorting myself to get a glimpse. My mother was back in the hospital for the second time with fluid under her lung, and although I was concerned for her, I didn't research the procedure.

The challenge I always had with the Serenity Prayer is the last line, the "wisdom to know the difference" between what I can and cannot change. In my obsessiveness, I would attempt to definitively figure this out, because I had to be right, or I was a failure as a human being. I had the illusion I actually could have a 100% success rate in predicting whether I could change something, or whether I needed to accept it. Over the last few years of ERP treatment for my OCD, I've come to see that this prayer actually ASKS for the wisdom to know the difference, and this implies that at times we will fail in distinguishing this.

There are some aspects of the 12 Steps that I really resonate with, particularly the idea of life becoming unmanageable when in the power of the disorder. Part of me really hoped that I wouldn't have to deal with uncertain symptoms, health problems, or my mother getting older, and my despair when these things happened was overwhelming. I ritualized to try and make the anxiety go away. Research heart surgery. Research skin cancer. Check my skin. Over and over. But we are embodied creatures, and our bodies are not immortal, and can be injured. The enormity of this is catastrophic when you aren't getting any help for the OCD. The compassion of my therapist, my husband, members of my support group, and blog readers helped me see how much of a burden this can be, and encouraged me to find some kindness for myself.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

OCD A to Z: Z is for Zero

Vintage Teal Zero Fan


I finally made it to Z! I started this OCD A to Z series in May, 2011. In thinking of a Z word, zero came to mind. For those who have suffered with OCD anxiety, there is a longing to feel zero anxiety ever again. Zero tolerance. Zero it out. Zilch. I remember my deep disappointment when I started Exposure Therapy, when my therapist said that we can't rid ourselves of all anxiety, that humans don't get that option.

OCD anxiety can be so intense, and my belief was that I couldn't cope with any more anxiety in my life. I also had a subset of existential obsessions about why there was suffering in the world, and a fear of strong feelings, with a belief that those would kill me. OCD is sneaky in giving the illusion that it's possible to escape anxiety entirely if you just do the rituals correctly. What I have learned in therapy though is that the wish to eradicate all anxiety is far more corrosive than the actual anxiety of life. OCD is such a heavy burden to add to the stresses and griefs of being human, and it is possible to thrive and get better and deal with the dictatorship of OCD rituals, and live life, in spite of difficult and painful things that happen.