Sunday, October 9, 2016

OCD A to Z: G is for Guilt

Guilt pervades the responsibility form of OCD, which I have dealt with in the past. Responsibility OCD involves a magnified sense of what you are responsible for, can prevent, or should prevent. When I was in graduate school, there was an article in the paper about a guy riding his bike around town and harassing women. I was flooded with panic that it was my responsibility to alert every woman I knew. I spent hours analyzing what I should do. Part of me knew that this was an impossible task, to warn every woman of every danger, and I felt like I was ridiculous for having this urge, and yet, the feared consequences were so scary in my mind, that I would be held responsible if any woman I knew was harassed, stalked or attacked by this man.

This guilt has a gnawing quality, an insistent agitation of the mind. I believed I was a bad person. I bargained with myself about how much action I would take, in order to relieve my anxiety and protect my friends and yet not seem crazy. OCD thinking can be incredibly inflexible and single-minded. Finally, I made copies of the article from the paper and put it in the mailboxes of several women I knew at the University. I felt a moment of relief, followed by more guilt that I couldn't know for sure they would read the article, or take it seriously and be cautious, and anxiety that I was ridiculous, and also inadequate at the same time--ridiculous for wanting to warn everyone, and inadequate for NOT warning everyone.

Somehow I worked the article into a conversation with one of my friends I'd given it to. She said that she's seen the same article already. I felt deflated and relieved all at the same time. It hadn't occurred to me that others would read the paper. There is a grain of truth in the feared consequences--someone might not read the paper and be hurt--and yet no one person can save everyone from every danger, as much as OCD might insist you can. It sucks that we can't keep the ones we love safe under every single circumstance. Yes, we may feel guilt, but that doesn't mean it is in our power to prevent every eventuality. Ironically, the people I've met in my OCD support group and readers of this blog are some of the most conscientious, kind, responsible people I've known, but OCD makes them feel they are deadly.