When we live with a mental illness like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, we fight ourselves every day. We become conditioned to do so. I wake up every morning already in fight mode, already exhausted by the knowledge that every move I make, starting with getting out of bed, is going to be a battle. A battle between OCD and my mind. And while I’m told I shouldn’t identify with my OCD, OCD does live in my mind, so fighting OCD often feels like battling myself.
OCD doesn’t only fight my own mind, it’s watching and criticizing the actions of those around me. And when my partner encourages me to embrace the uncomfortable and fight my OCD, my OCD will fight them right back.
I’m so used to fighting myself and my OCD, I often have to remind myself that I don’t need to fight everyone else too. I have to remind myself that when I’m asking my friends and family to support me, I’m asking them to go against all of their instincts when it comes to comforting a loved one. I am often so caught up in my own fight that I forget that everyone else is fighting too. They’re fighting for me and they’re fighting their own battles.
Because just as fighting OCD goes against our instincts, so does supporting those with OCD. A common safety behavior across many types of OCD is seeking reassurance. Asking someone else to validate my decisions, to tell me that I’m not doing something wrong, or to confirm what my eyes are seeing and tell me that I am not touching something dangerous. When you see a loved one in distress and they ask you for reassurance, your instinct is to give that to them. Unfortunately when we give in to those safety behaviors we are feeding the OCD.
I can tell my support team not to accommodate my OCD all I want, but I know it’s easier said than done. I know I’m asking them to watch me be tortured by my mind, watch me panic in absolute terror, and do nothing. Just be there. That’s their fight. All they want to do is to help me move on, help me be comfortable. But we all must embrace the uncomfortable. In fact what I should do, and what they should do by not accommodating, is create that discomfort.
Again, this is easier said than done. And to make matters worse, OCD is conniving and manipulative. OCD recognizes their reluctance to add to my discomfort and teams up with my own desire for reassurance, to fight for that accommodation and for those safety behaviors that it demands of me. OCD manipulates me to believe the safety behaviors are necessary. And OCD manipulates them to believe that in order to help their loved one, they must accommodate as well.
“Sometimes to win the fight, we must first stop fighting.”
To beat OCD I need to stop fighting my support team and I need to stop fighting myself. When I spend hours and all of my energy fighting to stay on top of all the contamination and perform all of my safety behaviors, it’s easy for me to feel like I’m fighting the good fight. I’m fighting to keep myself and others safe. But in reality I’m only fighting myself. If I listen carefully, my voice is back there, disagreeing with everything that OCD is telling me. So the reason I feel like I’m running with all my might but getting nowhere, the reason my OCD keeps getting more powerful and I keep getting weaker the more I fight, is because OCD has tricked me into fighting myself. Sometimes to win the fight, we must first stop fighting. Stop fighting myself long enough to gain the strength needed to outsmart OCD. Give up some of the safety behaviors to gain back some of the power.
… easier said than done, but worth it in the end.