There has been some curiosity surrounding the relationship between having responsibilities and the severity of OCD. Specifically, does having certain church callings (like Primary or YW President, let’s say) make the OCD worse? Or, more generally, does having a lot of things to do make OCD more or less bearable?
I want to thank my psychologist for his advice, which led to the title of this post. Basically, he told me that a few things tend to trigger OCD: big changes, stress, and free time. I think this makes sense, but it can also be a little confusing when taken in the context of church callings.
For example, my initial full on, debilitating OCD occurred after I moved to a new state and went from having roommates to living alone for the first time (big change). I also had a (stressful) internship and a lot of (free time) when I wasn’t doing that internship. So, the OCD took over and flourished.
My recent contamination OCD came on after having a miscarriage (change and stress) and when my husband (who normally works from home) went out of town (change and stress). We also lived on rural island with not much to do and I didn’t have a big church calling (free time).
But what about Church callings?
So why does the context of having church callings throw a bit of a wrench into this seemingly foolproof OCD-predictor? Well, starting a new church calling, especially one with great responsibilities, would tick off the “big changes” and “stress” boxes while simultaneously filling up that “free time” problem. As time goes on, though, the big change of the calling wears off, and it becomes a part of your routine. In addition, “stress” can come and go, depending on the day or situations you face.
To me, it comes down to this idea of stress versus busyness.
If you can somehow make it so that your responsibilities (whether church, job, or other) keep you busy but do not stress you out, then you are golden. This is basically an ideal state to keep the OCD in check. When you are doing things, you have less time to think and stew over obsessions. You don’t have as much ability to engage in your compulsions when you are out of your house helping people, going to meetings, or serving in general. However, problems can arise when it becomes stressful to do these things.
So how can you be busy but not stressed?
Well, that’s a good question! Any suggestions? I think delegating as appropriate can help, as well as being organized and having a plan. At least for me, if I am prepared and know what I need to do and when, the stress lessens and I can just go down my to do list and, staying busy, check those things off. Sure, certain things on that to-do list might trigger specific OCD issues, but if I have to do them, I tend to power through and make it work somehow.
For me, the stress of “having to be at church” every Sunday while Primary President was a bit of a problem—I worried about my kids getting sick or myself getting sick during the week and not being able to make it on Sunday. What would happen? How would things get taken care of properly?
I’ve found that coaching yourself on issues like this can work wonders, as can having an “emergency” plan in place. Identify what about your job/calling/responsibility stresses you out and then work backwards from there to see how that problem can be solved. Remember, the OCD loves to bring up worst possible scenarios, but these worst possible scenarios are also highly unlikely. And, at least with church, I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter if the ball gets dropped because someone is there to pick it up: counselors, teachers, other leaders, parents, etc. Even though you may feel like everything is on your shoulders, it’s not. It’s okay if the load falls off every so often and someone else has to pick it up. Don’t be stressed about it.
What is my conclusion then?
I guess that there is a fluidity to life: what starts out as a big change gradually becomes part of your daily life. You can come up with “escape routes” to your stress and actively coach yourself out of stressful circumstances. Free time can be filled with positive activity to prevent the OCD from eating up your life.
So, I don’t think that having OCD should necessarily prevent you from holding callings or doing big things in your life. Sure, there are times when you might be in crisis mode with your OCD. At these moments (days, weeks, months), you might need to take a step back and get some help before attempting to conquer the world. You may need to say “no” to an invitation to be Pioneer Trek Parents or to go on a youth temple trip. But if you are taking steps and succeeding (even in small ways) in the fight against your OCD, having a calling or other things to do can actually be highly beneficial.