Wednesday, August 14, 2013

OCD is in the Realm of Human Experience: The Painfulness of Uncertainty

Recently, a dear friend of mine had a call-back at her annual mammogram screening.  We were having lunch and she told me how anxious she was.  The appointment was the next day, and her mind was spiraling into "what ifs."  She hadn't been sleeping.

I shared my experience with OCD, and some of what my exposure therapist had taught me, about the painfulness of uncertainty for humans, about how the present moment is the only functional moment, and that if something was wrong, she would deal with it when it happened.

I told her the story a friend had told me about a woman who had breast cancer, and then during a big storm a tree had fallen on her and killed her.

Then I felt bad for telling that story.  It's not very reassuring.  But it does get at the conundrum of being human, the inability to tell the future, the uncertainty even within the narrative of having breast cancer, where something else entirely can take you out.  And my friend understood this.  She knew I didn't want anything to happen to her, but that I did want her to be able to live her life.

I had a call-back after a mammogram several years ago, and the anxiety sucked.  The more I was able to bring myself back to the moment, the more I was able to cope.  Uncertainty is painful for humans, and the desire to race ahead and resolve things is strong.

There are times when what I am obsessing about coincides with fears of people around me, and they will reassure me that I "should" be worried, that it only makes sense.  But worry isn't protective, and can erode the very life we love and are afraid of losing.

My friend was fortunate to be at a mammogram center where the radiologist reads it while you wait, and it was fine.  This is compassionate care, mitigating what uncertainty can be mitigated.


  1. Wonderful post! You've hit on such a big problem not only for those of us with OCD, but for everyone at some point: the problem of uncertainty. I like how you express what we want to do: "to race ahead and resolve things." That's it exactly. We want everything to be known and fixed so we don't have the anxiety of the uncertainty.

    I'm glad your friend got a good report.

  2. Great post! As you say, we can waste our lives worrying about things that might not even happen. It's not easy, but if we can learn to live in the moment our lives will be so much better. "Worry isn't protective"....I like that.

  3. Breast cancer is very serious- I am glad your friend is taking precautions and is taking care of herself by getting checked out.

    By the way this is my first time reading your blog- very nice.