“Are you going to throw away my notebooks? Really?” I lamented. “This seems totally unnecessary.”
The counselors solemnly nodded their heads–and then proceeded to toss my yellow pad notebooks into the nearest trash receptacle.
I was aghast, although I concealed my bubbling emotions with a thin, plastic smile. You see, I toted my yellow pad notebooks everywhere; they were the adult equivalent of my favorite blanket. On my yellow pad notebooks, I scribbled “answers” to my latest (and most feared) OCD thoughts.
These notes were indecipherable to everyone but yours truly. But for me, these yellow pads were critically important–providing “answers” to my daily OCD riddles. I would spend hours digging into my mind’s recesses and then jotting down notes to recall/recreate the troublesome OCD thought.
My thinking: If I could just “figure out” these distressing thoughts, I could eliminate the paralyzing doubt boiling inside me.
Despite the trusted supply of yellow pad notebooks (and endless hours analyzing my obsessive thoughts), the doubt lingered–an ever-present reminder of OCD’s stranglehold. I couldn’t “figure out” my obsessive thoughts–despite my unwavering desire to unlock their seemingly important meaning.
A hard truth: I was chained to my notebooks, devoting countless hours to “logic out” the illogical.
When the counselors casually tossed my notebooks away, I was worried–if not panicked. “These notebooks have important information–the type of information that helps me with these irresistible OCD thoughts,” I stewed. “What am I going to do now?”
I would have to face OCD without resorting to my trusted notebooks–my default coping mechanism when OCD bulldozed. When I protested, the counselor(s) insisted that I was fully capable of handing OCD’s slings. “Matt, OCD is a willing accomplice but you–and you alone–make the conscious decision to write in those notebooks,” they gently admonished. Of course, they were right–but how was I going to cope with OCD’s suffocating anxiety without my tried and true coping strategy?
The notebooks signified my mind’s futile attempts to “logic out” the horrific OCD thoughts. For every thought that I could unlock–a rare but celebratory moment, there would be another 30 threatening my mental stability. Indeed, the notebook compulsion represented a Pyrrhic victory; one that provided a temporary balm to the current “thought of the day” but reinforced a counter-productive–even unhelpful–coping strategy.
On its face, my notebook strategy made sense; I wanted to do something–anything–to temper the paralyzing anxiety. And like any compulsion, my “quick fix” notebook strategy provided relief–a counter against the irrepressible OCD thought monster. But like any “quick fix,” my decision had consequences. Shunning ERP, CBT, and mindfulness techniques, these notebooks–and my rigid adherence to them–tightened OCD’s grip. If I wanted to successfully manage OCD, my notebook compulsion was not a long-term solution–or even a medium-term solution (or, truthfully, even a 10 minute solution).
While I helplessly jotted down notes in those yellow pads, you might recite numbers in a certain sequence. Or continually wash your hands. Or religiously check the obituaries for that person you accidentally killed. The list of “quick fix” compulsions are endless–and, in a sense, understandable considering OCD’s venomous wrath.
But here is a harder truth: While OCD can be relentless, our compulsions–spanning notebooks to number sequences–ignite OCD’s inferno. So here is my recommendation: toss that (figurative) notebook into the trash. In the process, you might find the answers–OCD and otherwise–that you have been searching for.