Increasingly I am uneasy about writing on this blog unless Emma is an active participant. In other words, no longer can I sit down and write something the way I once did four or five days a week, even if it is about autism in the most general sense of the word, without Emma giving her views. After all, this is her neurology (and her blog) and not mine. I can write about how our different neurologies intersect, even overlap at times, but without her weighing in, I am left feeling so uncomfortable I just can’t do it.
I just read Emma this paragraph and this is what she typed:
“You can continue, giving an example of how you cope with your obsessive-compulsive urges and ask others to share their experiences with this too.”
“Oh,” I said, a little surprised by where this was headed, “I wasn’t thinking about writing about that.”
But you see, this is the thing… I have another blog, Where Art and Life Meet, and that’s the blog where I can write about whatever I feel like, but this one… this one bearing my daughter’s name… this one is hers, not mine. So every time I write something on Emma’s Hope Book I am a guest and I’m hyper aware of that. I am here only because Emma has given me permission to be.
So this morning Emma has asked me to write about coping with my “obsessive-compulsive urges” and so I will.
When I think about the things I become obsessive-compulsive about it is less about a particular thing and more about anxiety, worry and stress. It is the process that occurs in my brain that reminds me of a scratch on a vinyl record causing the needle to skip, playing the same few notes over and over again until someone comes, lifts the arm with the needle and allows the song to continue. My mind gets caught in the skip and it can get stuck there with just about anything, a word misspoken, a misunderstanding, an idea of something I did, but wished I’d done differently, or something I’d like to do but haven’t, I can get stuck on a conversation, something that was said to me that hurt my feelings, or something I said that I worry might have hurt another or it might be something I want to do, but have not yet accomplished.
The worst times for my obsessive thinking are in the evening hours or late at night. There is always anxiety, often stress, combined with worry and as I spiral, it often feels as though I were falling down through blackness, bouncing from one awful thought to the next, unable to grab onto anything to steady or break my fall. It feels terrifying and there’s an aspect of feeling completely out of control and yet trying desperately to regain control of not just myself, but of all my surroundings.
Over the years I’ve learned some tricks that mitigate how bad things get with varying degrees of success. The first is to remind myself as I’m falling into the blackness that these are just fears and feelings and not facts. I can listen to them, but remind myself that they will wear themselves out eventually and I do not need to believe them. Listening and believing are two separate things. This sounds much easier than it is. Sometimes reminding myself of this helps and I’m able to detach enough that I can calm myself but often it does not.
Sometimes the best I can do is identify the obsessive-compulsive thought, label it, accept that I’m having it and sit tight until it passes. When I was in a particularly dark place many years ago, I would outright lie to myself. I used to tell myself that for the next five minutes I would not give in to the compulsion, but after the timer went off, I could do whatever it was. Then the timer would go off and I’d set it for another five minutes, promising myself again the same thing until the urges passed.
Some other things I’ve done that have been intermittently helpful are talking to others who understand and who are also obsessive-compulsive, meditation, writing, reading, taking a walk, exercise, or learning something new, like studying a new language, some sort of mindless activity like knitting or crocheting.
Obsessive thinking, the kind where your mind feels as though it were spinning out of control, where you go from one stressor to the next like a pin ball, ricocheting from one thought to the next then finally calming yourself down only to have your mind latch on to another dreadful thought, is a private kind of hell that if you’ve never experienced this, you cannot really have any idea what it’s like. It’s a feeling of desperation, horror and self betrayal all rolled up into one. And the self talk usually makes it worse because the self talk can be so brutal and cruel.
Emma has asked that I invite others to share their experience with “obsessive compulsive urgings” and so I am. Please keep in mind sharing your experience with obsessive compulsive thinking and what has or hasn’t worked for you is not the same as advice giving. Advice giving can be annoying, particularly if the person giving the advice takes on an attitude of superiority. This is not the place for that.