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The Real Salad Days

I have finally found something worthy of my obsessiveness.

No, not those smoldering thoughts. Or overbearing feelings.

Instead, my obsessiveness is directed at something decidedly non OCD: self care. And if there is something to be obsessive about, well, I have finally found it.

OCD waxes and wanes–indeed, the disorder is more unpredictable than Trump’s latest monologue. There are weeks–even months–when OCD fades into seeming oblivion (of course, there are other weeks when OCD rages like a violent inferno). An important–and learned–discovery: OCD’s volume fluctuates based on–you guessed it–self care.

For many of us, self care is an oxymoron (“Self care? Man, I am just trying to get through the day,” you mutter). OCD’s sheer relentlessness–it seizes on any weakness with a stunning vengefulness–is exhausting. As OCD–that tyrannical critic–harangues, we marinate in frustration and self-doubt. And while those self-defeating thoughts and feelings percolate, we engage in counterproductive behavior (irregular sleep, inconsistent exercise, unhealthy eating habits). Our default coping mechanism: to not cope–and wish/pray/cajole OCD away.

I know–all too well–about unhealthy coping strategies (and the futility of wishing OCD away). When my OCD was at a fevered pitch, my behavior (subsisting on Metropolitan Market cookies; a vampire-like schedule) fueled its shrieking histrionics. Even if I didn’t realize it–and, at the time, I didn’t, I was complicit in OCD’s reign of terror.

My conversations with close friends battling OCD reinforces my thinking: We have more power than we think against our mental illness. When chatting about OCD, a friend and I will lament our “thought of the day” before invariably moving onto relationships, jobs, family issues. But when one of us in the throes of an OCD spiral, the questioning veers to “Are you taking care of yourself?” And, in many instances, the answer is, “No, my diet is more State Fair than spinach. And don’t get me started on my sleeping (non)-schedule.”

I have learned–sometimes painfully–that self-care means self-preservation. And, over time, I have substituted all nighters (my late mother joked that I had the schedule of an overnight trucker) for 11 PM bed checks. Exchanging salads for Sun Chips (and my beloved Met Market cookies), I have improved my diet as well. And, not surprisingly, my OCD is now more whisper than wildfire–as long as I take care of myself.

Sure, you and I have a biological quirk–one that spits out bizarre, nonsensical thoughts at the most inopportune time. And when we try to control these thoughts, we compound our emotional turmoil. There is a sense of helplessness–even panic–at OCD’s capriciousness and, at times, outright cruelty. To manage our illness, we have to relinquish control at a very fundamental level. Lesson (painfully) learned–with the mental scars to prove it.

But–and this is huge but–we do have a significant amount of control over OCD. Yes, OCD ebbs and flows–but we determine its potency. Or, at the very least, its volume.

So when that paralyzing OCD thought pinballs through your mind again? Turn down its volume–but only after you turn down that Met Market cookie and all night Netflix binge.

The Real Salad Days

Matthew Loeb

Matthew Loeb is a recovering attorney, part-time graduate student, and full-time mental health advocate. He shares stories and strategies about living--and thriving (at least some days)--with OCD.

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APA Reference
Loeb, M. (2018). The Real Salad Days. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Nov 2018
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