Realising You Are Ready To Tackle Your Oldest Enemy
I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. You need to know that for this post to make sense. It’s an anxiety disorder which brings obsessions into the mind of the sufferer (maybe “Is the door locked?” for example). These cause anxiety, which then leads to the sufferer carrying out compulsions to make the anxiety go way (checking the door is locked). The trap is that in checking that the door is locked, the sufferer embeds the obsession anxiety cycle even more deeply. That’s a simplistic view of a complex issue, but it will serve for now.
I have suffered with computer/internet-based OCD from the time that I first had the net way back in 1998. These have taken many forms but nearly all of them relate to security/maintenance fears: Is the security software I installed working, does Windows confirm that it's working, did I log out of that website, has that icon on my desktop changed or moved since I last booted, did my PC shut down or did I accidentally put it into Sleep mode? I could sit here for an hour coming up with all kinds of examples and that is no exaggeration, I’ve done it before as an exposure exercise.
To a non-sufferer, it might all seem quite baffling or even silly, and I can understand that. The thing is, an anxious mind can twist anything into an “issue”, and even if you know something is silly or not really worth worrying about, a body flooded with anxiety has a funny way of convincing you otherwise. Periods of external stress can make this even more pronounced, so you are always at the mercy of life (who isn’t), even in the midst of trying to recover.
I had a bout of PC related OCD this morning, something that thankfully has become only occasional rather than daily. There are always the little niggles but not usually the stuff that causes outright heart-pounding anxiety. This morning was somewhere in the middle on that scale, not a niggle but bad enough to make me feel drained and like I was slipping. I could feel my mind branching off into “Do I check again, do I check this too, when do I do it, do I delay it?” etc. While I took time out to rest on my bed, I came to an important realisation: I actually felt ready to eradicate this variant of OCD from my life once and for all.
In the last few years, I have found a number of techniques and approaches that actually help me shift my mental states without being avoidance-based or reassurance seeking. I won’t go into them here as this is turning into an unintended essay as it is. It’s taken twenty or so years for me to get to this point, by way of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, counselling, applying the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mindfulness, my own adapted version of Yoga nidra, self-compassion and other things I may be forgetting. My OCD reaches into many areas of my life, but to date I have gotten on top of my lock checking, tap tweaking, gas oven checking to name only a few. It was overcoming the little things, the almost inconsequential things, that helped me gain a momentum in living with my fears and slowly accepting that this is how things are for now, and before I knew it, I had passed through those too.
The biggest areas left to overcome are my PC/Net-based issues and issues around writing and being a freelancer. As I rested on my bed awhile ago, I realised that even after this morning’s flare up, I felt able to go the other way, to turn away from the compulsions that threatened to drag me down paths that I didn’t want to go (again) and head the other way, to overcoming all of the little niggles and rituals that make up my computer use. My god the energy that would save me! Even if it didn’t save energy, it would make one hell of a difference to my mental health and creativity. There is always a fear attached to my use of a computer, something I live with day in day out, something that I unintentionally feed with tidbits of respectful fear, rather than the compassion to bring it along with me while I work, and to let whatever happens, happen.
So that’s what this post signifies. It’s a way of putting into form something I intend to act on, to make it more concrete than a passing rush of adrenaline or a temporary mood. I want to reclaim some mental power and full productive use of my brain once more, rather than it chugging along like a computer running a 100 simultaneous anti-virus scans at once. Maybe I can get back to being myself in the process too.