Some days are hard. This is true, of course, not just if you have OCD or any another mental illness. It’s just a fact of life. Some days are more difficult than others for a myriad of reasons, some of which are predictable and others of which just happen.
But I’ve found that some days are harder for my OCD in particular. I’m just more on edge. More anxious. More hyperaware.
Triggers and Anxieties
Recently I found myself faced with one of these days. I started worrying about how we hadn’t given my kids a bath in a few days because we went on a last minute date on bath night. I began to think about how dirty their underwear must be. I had my son change his underwear before getting dressed for school, and then convinced myself that his underwear probably had the dreaded “skidmarks”– and of course he carried the underwear through the family room to the dirty underwear laundry (likely brushing it up against the couch) while naked…. because boys. So I was on edge.
Following that, I was going to wash his church shirt which had suspicious brown stains all over it and dirt (?) stains on the cuffs. I was just going to soak it before washing it, but the more I inspected, the more dirt I saw, and I considered it a lost cause. I threw it out.
Like I said, hard morning. Hard day.
But then I felt really bad. I had made a “commitment” to my doctor that I wouldn’t throw out clothes anymore, and I just did. And on top of that, I did it almost as an impulse. I felt really ashamed, like I failed at something that really wasn’t that difficult. And throwing out that shirt wasn’t a particularly huge deal to me. Those stains were most likely chocolate or dirt (he had been out with our bunnies). I didn’t really think they were, well, you know. But I still just threw out the shirt!
I guess it’s good on the one hand to feel this disappointment when you know that you gave into a compulsion that you could have resisted (or even a compulsion that has become a habit). But it’s also important to learn from the experience and not dwell so much on the “failure” that you lose sight of the goal, which is to overcome the OCD, resist compulsions in the future, and stay uncomfortable.
When is feeling bad effective? Or is it ever?
Dwelling on CBT failures too long and beating yourself up over them isn’t really productive in the long run (just like spiritually dwelling on our mistakes or sins doesn’t move us forward, it just keeps us depressed and feeling badly about ourselves).
Of course, we want to learn from these mistakes. So when a hard day comes along and you find yourself giving into obsessions and engaging in compulsions more than you know you ought, take a deep breath, tell yourself “I know I shouldn’t have done that and I’m going to do better next time” and then move on. Don’t allow your regret to become a new obsession.
The obsessive compulsive disorder loves when we narrow in and begin worrying or stressing out about something. I read a fascinating article in the recent newsletter from the International OCD Foundation (iOCDF) by Dr. Fred Penzel about how OCD sometimes interferes and tries to take over CBT/therapy… It can happen, so try to resist and be aware of that. Don’t let your failures become breeding ground for new obsessions.
Learn from your hard days, forgive yourself of your mistakes, and try again. We aren’t perfect in our recovery, and we aren’t expected to be. Just try to improve over time, even if a few back steps happen every now and then. It happens. Keep going.