The Uninvited Return of OCD
Old OCD Rearing its Ugly Head
When I cured my OCD, it didn’t mean that the urges went away. The other day, I found myself stuck in a mental ritual when I saw someone drive dangerously. A relapse is frustrating, but it’s counter-productive to beat yourself up over it. If symptoms return, take it as a reminder that It’s just a teeny-tiny bit of OCD compared to how it used to dominate your life.
The new road more travelled
Recovered OCDers such as myself have to stay vigilant. A lifetime of reinforcing the same behavioral pathways in the brain can be overcome. We are strengthening new, healthy pathways of thought and behavior in response to stressful stimuli. But, those old pathways are still there, even as they slowly fade. Every time we give in to an OCD urge, we are slipping back into those old pathways and making it easier to get stuck in them. Think of them as actual paths through the woods. We want vegetation to grow over and obscure the paths that led us to get lost in the woods. But every time we walk down those paths we are widening them and making them more comfortable to walk down.
So… it’s important to extract ourselves and get back on our newer pathways. If you have achieved the freedom from OCD that I have, you can just remind yourself: “Oh yaaaaa… I am free of OCD; I don’t have to do this.” If you aren’t quite there with that level of certainty yet, you may have to work on recognizing OCD triggers and substitute non-OCD responses. For example, when I see somebody cut in front of me in traffic, instead of going through a ritualized series of thoughts, I can take a big, deep breath and think, “That person must really be in a hurry. I hope everything is alright for them.” It’s also helpful for me to promise myself before the next trigger that I won’t get back on that OCD path, that I’ll let it go.
Celebrate and Envision
When you are not in the midst of a struggle to reframe your thinking, remember to take the time to celebrate your progress. Feel good about where you are and where you are going. If you close your eyes and picture your future self free of OCD, and rest in that feeling of freedom and the calmness and productivity it brings, you will be training your brain to know what it wants and to know that it is possible. Your brain wants to feel good. It likes those feel-good chemicals, like serotonin. You may be engaged in OCD as a poor way to produce more of those chemicals. When you envision a future of mental health and freedom, and really allow yourself to experience those emotions, you are showing your brain a better way to get what it wants.