Did I commit that horrible crime? Did I hit that innocent pedestrian? Did I cheat on that exam?
The answer, of course, is no. But as OCD sufferers, our minds are equal parts creative and callous. As my OCD mind churns out the latest falsehood, that nagging sense of doubt remains.
In reality, OCD stands for obsessive compulsive doubt. The doubt–that second guessing–fuels our disorder. At times–and in a somewhat amusing twist, I have even doubted my OCD diagnosis (somehow that feels appropriate).
For decades, I have struggled with doubt. As the latest OCD thought gurgles in my overtaxed mind, my OCD mind goads, “Matt–maybe, just maybe this thought is real.” And as any OCD sufferer knows, the thoughts feel real–often painfully so.
And so the vicious cycle begins.
As OCD tickles my mind, it pulls me back into its ether. With a furrowed brow and an array of legal pads, I would endlessly debate the latest distressing thought. The goal: to “figure out” OCD and, in turn, extinguish the all consuming doubt.
A hard-learned lesson: a furrowed brow and army of legal pads cannot extinguish doubt and those accompanying pangs of anxiety (trust me, I have tried).
Here’s the thing: Intellectually, I understand that certainty is an illusion. Doubt is a fundamental part of everyday existence. From our biggest philosophical questions (Does God exist?) to everyday minutiae (Did I lock the garage door?), doubt pervades our lives. And, truthfully, doubt can even be a positive, prompting us to be more careful when completing tasks. Case in point: Doubting my math abilities, I am much more careful when completing any task involving numbers. Carry the one, Matt.
But there is a difference between intellectually understanding–even appreciating–doubt and the quicksand of panic when OCD hits. When OCD is at its deafening worst, its doubt suffocates. Coupled with shaking anxiety, OCD’s doubt has left me cajoling–even pleading–for relief (“Just let me get through this exam”).
So what can you and I do? Other than, of course, not be diagnosed with OCD.
My main recommendation: don’t debate the devil. You cannot–I repeat, cannot–outdebate OCD. It is undefeated. Look, I understand the temptation to analyze–and then overanalyze–the intrusive thoughts. We (and I am including myself here) want to understand the meaning of our horrible thoughts. Here’s their true meaning: You have OCD. That is it; these thoughts mean that you have OCD. Nothing more–even if your doubt wants to attach a more hidden, sinister meaning.
My other recommendation: identify early and often. If it is a doubtin’ thought, it is an OCD thought–and not worth your precious time and energy. And if you don’t know whether it is an OCD thought, it is an OCD thought–and, once again, not worth your precious time and energy. My trusted counselor, Dr. McCann, taught me to immediately label an incoming OCD thought as a “nonsense” thought. Other labels (“braintrick,” “mind trick,” “obsessional thought”) work too; regardless of the label, it is important to identify the thought for what it is: bullshit.
OCD–and the accompanying doubt–represent the ultimate mind trick. It is the ringing false alarm with a malfunctioning off switch. But you–yes, you–have the ability to turn off the alarm (and, more specifically the incessant OCD chatter in your mind).
No doubt about it.