My husband was away, and I was feeling anxious. I've come a long way since the time I walked 7 miles around a lake in order to ward off the anxiety of being alone for a week, but I'd been having physical aches and pains in the weeks leading up to his leaving, and my OCD was stirring.
Feeling achy and anxious, I started searching for movies on Netflix. This was my way of avoiding searching for the meaning of my symptoms, but still, compulsive and exhausting. Working my way through the alphabet and the numbers, using the arrow keys to navigate to one letter at a time.
Bud Clayman majored in film in college, but thoughts that scared him, and depression infiltrated his life. OC87 refers to 1987 when he built his life around attempting to control the world around him, and the thoughts within him.
I was moved by Bud Clayman's persistence in making this film about his life now, after 30 years of OCD, depression and Asperger's, which involved dealing with people, dealing with his intrusive thoughts, indecision, anger and grief. I particularly liked the scene he wrote where he played both "Good Buddy" and "Bad Buddy" in a riff on a scene from Lost in Space. Part of this is in the trailer for the movie, the Bad Buddy telling the Good Buddy that he isn't capable of living without him, but Bud Clayman is capable of living his dream, even with the spectre of OC87, in the midst of the imperfections.
What this film reminded me was that to spend the week trying to figure out if my symptoms were a physical problem, or whether it was OCD, and freezing myself into a block of worry was a manifestation of my illness, and not what I want in my life.
In one scene, Bud asks a woman what films she likes, and she asks him the same question, and his answer is that Ordinary People is the best movie ever made. He describes how OC87 evolved out of a desire to describe how therapy had helped him, how it was a safe place, and how Ordinary People resonated with him, in its depiction of therapy.
Ordinary People is one of my favorite films, and I hadn't expected it to come up in Bud Clayman's film. I saw it when I was 12 or 13, several times, mesmerized. Netflix had it, and I watched it next. I'll write more about that.
This photo is called Uncertainty by Rieke Photography. From the time I had access, over 20 years ago, I was searching on the internet for answers to my uncertainty. I know the feeling of the keys under my fingers, the gentle give of each key when I depress it, the hope that I will get THE answer for my fears.
For a long time, I was glad I had dial-up because at least I was thwarted in compulsive web searching at home, even though I still had it at work. The fact that I have high-speed internet at home now, and do not spend all my time searching, is quite amazing to me.
In the thick of my OCD, before I got any treatment, I couldn't imagine stopping my searches. If I had a health symptom, I searched for answers. If I was trying to figure out an unanswerable question, I searched for answers. I remember when Google first appeared. I was a librarian, and word spread fast that there was this new search engine with a magical algorithm that worked exceedingly well.
But even Google couldn't solve my OCD, because the reassurance I was seeking was a mythical oasis that vanished as soon as I got close. I will grant though that it was through Google that I found the International OCD Foundation. I joined, and started receiving their newsletter. The irony is that I subscribed to the newsletter for 5 years, all the while compulsively searching about OCD, instead of seeking treatment.
Eventually, when I reached my lowest point in 2006, I finally put it together that Exposure Therapy might work for my mental obsessions and health anxiety, and found an Exposure Therapist.
Part of my Exposure Therapy involved stopping a search before I felt "done" and staying with the wave of anxiety until it ebbed. There are still days when I am feeling stressed, and search Google as a way to dull the anxiety, but it is not my default position, hands poised on the keyboard.
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.