You And Your OCD

I thought of you at the Anxiety Disorders Association conference last weekend. What, you say? Me? Well, yes, in a way, you! At conferences like this, one can get a little lost in the myriad choices of workshops and seminars that are offered, so I decided to focus on OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) seminars and sharpen my skills around treatment in that area.

So I?ll bet you?re wondering why I thought of you. One key principle and starting point in working with anyone suffering from OCD is this: are you willing to learn to tolerate uncertainty? You see, OCD sufferers may have an obsession?what if I get sick from touching that doorknob??and then develop a compulsion?washing hands incessantly?to try to create some CERTAINTY that they won?t get sick. It?s a vicious cycle because CERTAINTY is elusive and, at the end of the day, unattainable, even if the client increases the compulsions to the point of sterilizing their home and never leaving it!

Most folks who don?t have OCD live with uncertainty with relative ease. It actually may occur to anyone that touching that doorknob may make them sick, but then they are able to shrug it off. But, just as OCD sufferers tend to develop obsessions around things they really care about, most everyone else tries to assure certainty in some part of their lives. I often see it when non-OCD clients are trying to make a decision about something very dear to them. In those moments, uncertainty about the outcome of their choice becomes untenable.

You see, all of us long for certainty and none of us can effectively get it in most areas of life. How many people a decade ago felt certain they would be able to pay off their mortgage? Or were certain their spouse would be faithful? Or that their loved ones would live to a ripe old age? If we waited around for true certainty, none of us would buy houses, or get married, or let our kids go skiing. Too risky! In many people of faith I know, believers wish that God would hit them over the head with a clear, certain, choice nearly every step of the way. I have come to believe that is because of that little bit of OCD in all of us. It goes something like this: if God makes clear the answers to me, then I don?t have to live with the uncertainty that maybe I made the ?wrong? choice. You see, uncertainty is everywhere, and at some point, all of us are challenged to tolerate it, just like my OCD-suffering clients. How about you? In what areas are you seeking certainty where it cannot be found?


For a great website on OCD, click here. If you think you are suffering with it, get an evaluation with a professional who works with OCD clients and who uses ERP.

Click here for my page on anxiety treatment.

Being Tricked

Learning to treat anxiety is making me a better spiritual director. I didn?t expect that.  Learning David Carbonell?s (an anxiety expert) Panic Trick has been one part of this. The trick of panic is when your brain gets tricked into thinking that an experience is dangerous, when actually, that experience is merely discomfort. In treatment, I often ask clients who are experiencing anxiety symptoms like a racing heart, ?is this danger or discomfort?? The goal of treatment is to change the relationship that the client has with her anxiety symptoms. Rather than fearing her symptoms, she can acknowledge them as unpleasant, but ride them out without alarm.

I made a connection when working with this idea to a concept I run into often in spiritual direction. I call it the Desire Trick. The trick of desire is when your soul gets tricked into thinking that what it desires is actually what it needs. When the soul gets tricked like this, a person?s relationship with their desire gets tweaked. Consider it; a desire to be accepted by a girlfriend becomes demanding or a desire for stability becomes a workaholic drive. Both anxiety and desire can trick people into compromising their values and ultimately, wrecking their lives. That trick can be powerful.

Unhooking from the trick takes intentionality and focus. I watch, often in awe, as anxiety clients slowly loosen their grip on the idea that their anxiety symptoms will kill them. Retraining their minds in this matter is often like steering a barge with an oar stuck in the water off the back. The challenge for any of us regarding our deepest desires can be just as sluggish and difficult. The idea of living a contented life without certain things/accomplishments/relationships, etc? is, quite simply, untenable to us! Watching the trick of desire untangle in a person?s soul is often the task in spiritual direction. Seeing this parallel has heightened my awareness that we humans so easily and so deeply attach to our thoughts and ideas. Often, that attachment gives our lives purpose and meaning, but sometimes, it is our very undoing.

To see David Carbonell talk about the Panic Trick, go to this link:

Will Ferrell

Last September I went to see the Broadway musical, ?The Book of Mormon?.  Before the show started my friend and I noticed that Will Ferrell was sitting right down the row from us. After the show, as we all filed out of the theater, I was probably about five feet from him at one point and, naturally, I debated whether to speak to him or not. This sent me into a pitch of anxiety: my heart started racing, I got breathless, I noticed I was trembling a little and feeling hot and a tad bit sweaty. For a moment I thought my best opener was to say, ?hey, we have the same birthday!? (which we do, off by just one year) but this sounded decidedly stalkerish in my mind. In the end, I let him pass by me and disappear into his Hummer Limo in peace.

I?m always grateful for experiences like this because they help me understand what so many of my clients with anxiety struggles deal with every day. For many of them, those very symptoms can be induced by a crowded grocery store, driving over a bridge, being in a confined space, using public transportation, or the simple task of talking to a stranger. The difference in my experience and theirs is critical though. When I felt all of those anxious feelings I didn?t think they were dangerous, I thought it was perfectly natural to become flustered and anxious in the presence of such comic greatness! But for so many of my clients, when they feel their hearts racing or they become sweaty, they think they are in grave danger. David Carbonell (an expert on anxiety) calls this the way ?anxiety literally tricks? us.

Sally Winston (another anxiety expert and my colleague at ASDI) said this at a meeting today, ?Anxiety itself is neither helpful or hurtful, it is our response to anxiety that is helpful or hurtful?. Treatment for anxiety begins here; with understanding that effective anxiety treatment focuses on our responses to anxiety symptoms.

Perhaps now is the right time for you to get treatment for your anxiety.


For more information:

My David Carbonell quote comes from the first page of this fantastic website: