Thursday, 22 November 2012 2 comments

ACT and Cheer up your hearts

One of the challenges with scrupulosity, is that it creates a paralysing, even damning, feeling. It makes you scared to make choices or be trusting in something. I’ve been so consumed with thoughts of

‘Have I done something wrong?’
‘I have done something wrong! Oh no my life is over.’
‘Will God not help me?’
‘Have I done something in the past I still need to repent of?’
‘What’s the real meaning of life?’
‘Why doesn’t God just help me or answer me?’
‘I have to be so careful so that God does not have a reason to punish me.’

These thoughts put your thinking and state of mind somewhere other than ‘HERE’, not in the present moment, and so concerned about existential questions or past or future events that you are stuck and can’t progress in even the simplest of tasks that are right before you.

There are many things I don’t do either because I am scared they will create problems in the future due to them not being acceptable behaviour to God or because I can’t seem to feel right about engaging in an activity until I sort out the BIGGER questions rolling round in my head.

The thinking is that I’d feel much better if I could just resolve all of the questions I have before I move on and live my life. This is the trap! There always seems to be something I can feel bad about or something that needs questioned.

In my experience, the advice given to those with scrupulosity is they need to work on ‘acceptance’. Acceptance that you won’t always have the answers and that certainty cannot be achieved in some things, even when you are dealing with God.

This can seem counter-intuitive to a member of the church. We are always told to seek to understand things, get answers from God through prayer and scripture study and gain a ‘knowledge’ of truth. The scriptures are full of people who have felt unworthy or helpless or with questions and the stories show their determination and endurance to get an answer, which never fails. Yet because I have OCD I am being told I need to just ‘accept’ that there’s stuff I don’t know or things I might not be able to get an answer to?

I could write a massive blog post on the above paragraph alone, but I won’t bore you with my mental gymnastics around the subject of doubt and it not seemingly being acceptable in church circles, maybe because of the strong and constant use of terms such as ‘I know’, and ‘without a shadow of doubt’.
Here is where I currently am in the process of overcoming this problem – to try and not question worthiness and existential stuff on a daily basis. It is stopping me from doing anything good with my life, RIGHT NOW. I’m in a state of inaction in many respects as I’m wrapped up and consumed with the thoughts listed above.

From reading the scriptures I have been really interested in this idea of ‘action’. A doctrine of the church that is unique to the Book of Mormon that everything that God has made, including humans, can either act or acted upon.

In 2 Nephi 2:14 it tells us

 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.

Now this is not what you would call a principle unique to ‘church’ as it is evident within science that this is an obvious principle of existence. Everything acts in it's own way and is acted upon by many forces. However, I call it a ‘doctrine’ unique to the church because with bringing it into the scriptures we are saying it has some importance and bearing on our understanding of ourselves as Children of God.

I can tell you outright that with OCD I feel very much ‘acted upon’ and don’t feel so much that I am free to ‘ACT’ for the reasons I’ve explained above.

In another scripture, 2 Nephi 10:23, we are told

Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.

So here we are to understand that we are definitely one of the creations that was created to primarily ‘act’ and not be acted upon. So I am to ACT. The other thing I get from this scripture is that first and foremost God wants us to ACT, even if our actions may lead to ‘everlasting death’.  It is our right and privilege as Sons and Daughters of God to choose, and to ACT. Anyhting that prevents us acting is not helpful to our purpose.

Having scrupulous thoughts and doubts stop us living, acting and choosing what we will do today or tomorrow as we are so focused on the questions and doubt. We have somehow lost the tolerance to accept that we might have or will do something wrong and don't know with certainty some things with spiritual significance. This causes us to be overwhelmed and unable to ACT.
Another scripture in D&C 58:27-28 says

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

I am to choose things with my own free will. I get to choose what I will do and for what motives. I am not to feel constantly restricted and compelled to do things by the Church or commandments. Not only am I supposed to ACT according to my own free will, but I have been given all the power already to do so. God wants me to make choices based on what I want, what I know and what circumstances I am in.

Here's a thought - God doesn't want to give you answers to everything. The real exercise is that he has given us the power within ourselves to do things and choose things, and he wants to see what we are going to do with it. Being crippled by doubt and fear, which OCD gives us, is not expected and is not necessary to progression.
I have the opportunity and the power to ACT for myself. I have certain things to help me along the way such as church and scriptures, but at no point does God expect me to hit a state of inertia out of fear of Him or because there’s a few unanswered questions. He’d rather we ACTED, despite our previous wrongs and regardless of whether we get the future stuff wrong.

We are ultimately learning how to best be ourselves and how can we do that unless we ACT in the way we want to? While this may involve looking to God and asking some deep questions occasionally, it is not to become so burdened by fear and doubt that we don’t live and even enjoy this mortal existence.

Buddhist teaching has a principle of ‘Mindfulness’. This is being accepted as an effective psychological tool in Western society. It’s all about living and experiencing the moment. I believe that this is what we need to do. Then the bigger eternal questions and doubts will all come out in the wash, and meanwhile we have built our lives and lived in a way that means we have become something and gone somewhere. Take the risk that you aren't worthy and take the risk that you might be wrong about something. That is the purpose of our existence and it’s ok to feel life’s simple pleasures in the process. What use are we if we can't do any good because we are so concerned about being good?

Now while Wikipedia is not the ultimate, all knowing power of the internet, the following page is a good intro to mindfulness. Please check wider sources if you wish to know more.

I'd be interested in any feedback or disagreements you have with what I've shared above. I'm always open to corrections and constructive criticism. I'm learning here too.
Tuesday, 13 November 2012 2 comments

The difference is INTERPRETATION

If I was to use the rather grim, but useful, example of a war to illustrate the challenge of interpretation, hopefully I can help explain the challenge I and other OCD sufferers face.

Firstly, in any circumstance that take place there are some key FACTS that can be established. These are points that are not open to interpretation in the common usage of the word. *

In the example of war such FACTS would be things like, a war is taking place and can be confirmed by going to where it’s happening, groups of people are fighting against each other and people are dying in the battle.

Even with these FACTS there is much we don’t know that is left for us to make a judgement. This can go lead to many questions, such as

·         Who is the good guy in this war? Is side A or side B the ones in the right?
·         Why is the war even taking place? What are they fighting for?
·         Are those dying actually martyrs for a good cause and therefore paying a reasonable price or are they victims of someone else’s evil designs?
·         Should we condemn or support the war?
·         Do we have any moral obligations to fight ourselves?

Our ability to reason and interpret events is largely based on our previous experience, current circumstances, deductions based on the things we know and very often we interpret something based on the way it makes us feel.

Now with every person we all have different experiences, different circumstances and different levels of understanding. So despite the FACTS of war listed above, many people can interpret and think very differently about the reasons, purposes and outcomes of that war. Each person can then feel completely correct despite someone else having a different interpretation.

This leads us on to the concept of TRUTH. If there are so many opinions, so many ways of seeing the same thing and so many possible interpretations, how can we know what the TRUTH is? Is there just one right answer?

For OCD sufferers the FACT is that we have a thought or a feeling that distresses us to the extent of real panic and despair. This leads to either a fight to find the TRUTH (which actually never resolves the problem) or feeling compelled to act in a certain way to elminate the threat, panic and despair.

The thoughts are deemed as being significant (the first way we interpret) simply because of the fact we had the thought. It is interesting to note that we are not experiencing any thoughts that are unique to an OCD sufferer. The intrusive thoughts which create doubt and worry for us are the same thoughts your average person has. The difference being the interpretation that it has significant meaning, while others dismiss, rationalise or take no notice of it.
As these are intrusive thoughts which are accompanied by intense emotional responses of panic, fear and upset the next interpretation is that they are true or say something about who we really are.

If we try to dismiss the thought or try to accept a re-interpretation of the thought an OCD sufferer can feel they are ignoring a real problem or potentially lying to themselves. Surely thoughts with such a seemingly powerful impact can’t be wrong, despite the fact that is exactly what we want them to be? You are compelled to prove them wrong or do something to make them feel less right.

In the throws of OCD and when you are trying to recover from it, this is where the challenge lies: How do you know if your interpretation of a thought or event is or isn’t correct, especially since the feelings that come are leading you to think the most personally upsetting interpretation?

The desire to deal with or question the thought,  can only lead in one direction, and that is to try to elminate the uncertainty by confirming what’s right (TRUTH) or performing some physical or mental compulsion to try to ease the negative feelings. These can be things like washing your hands repeatedly to try and feel sure that you will not be infected by any deadly germs. Sometimes these compulsions can be completely unrelated, for example checking that the lights are off several times in order to feel more sure that your family will not die in a car crash.

I can’t tell you how many times a day I ask myself what is RIGHT or what is TRUE and then begin questioning the answers I come up with.

There seems to be no room for ambiguity or uncertainty in the OCD world. We can’t have a thought or concern and leave it open ended.

The trouble is that most of our lives are filled with ambiguity. Seeking to eliminate uncertainty is virtually impossible in all of life’s events. We operate on principles such as faith and hope in all instances. When I leave to go to work in the morning, I don’t know if I will make it successfully but I still leave the house and go trusting I will get there.

OCD is picking on some potentially ambiguous thoughts and expanding their importance and meaning to us as individuals. We need to tackle the immediate interpretation our senses and emotions place on the thought by either learning to ignore the thought or consider other possibilities that help challenge constructively the initial interpretation. Challenging the thoughts can be difficult as there is a fine line between re-enforcing the obsession through analysing the thought and trying to realise that it’s just a thought with probably no hidden meaning or significance.

One observation I have is that people with OCD are often very clever, caring or concerned individuals with high standards that often only apply to themselves. OCD would be impossible in the person who doesn’t care or ultimately enjoys the horrible things our minds focus on. The distress and panic felt should be a comfort in the sense that it shows we really don’t enjoy what is intrusively being put in our minds.

The ability to care and be concerned are positive qualities and are for the benefit of all who would be a recipient of your time and talents. OCD is a disorder that is seeking to take advantage of these positives and take you down negative paths.

This is not an easy ride.

We have help out there such as medication, Mental health professionals, CBT, Books and our own sheer tenacity. If you are religious, this can be a great source of strength also.

I wish for all OCD sufferers the very best and the ability to gain the skills to accept and live with the thoughts this condition imposes upon us. This is the start and main way to overcome this disorder.

Interpretation is an important skill and goes to the very core of our understanding of who we areand, paradoxically through trying not to interpret as an OCD sufferer, in time we can heal and we will have our concerns and thoughts in a better perspective.

*(Maybe someone dealing with philosophy or a philosophical flavour of OCD would argue,and greatly fear, that everything is ultimately up for interpretation. Such types of philosophical OCD are difficult to cope with. )
Friday, 9 November 2012 2 comments

Psychotherapy Appointment 3

I’ve spent the last three weeks reading the first two chapters of the book given to me in my last appointment.

Chapter 1 was just an introduction to what OCD is, while Chapter 2 starts asking you to identify what obsessive thoughts you have and what compulsions you perform.

I have 4 obsessive thoughts that are predominant

1)      God doesn’t exist and therefore I am living a futile existence
2)      Because I’m a sinner I am bringing God’s punishment and harm upon myself and my loved ones.
3)      I am living in nothing but a society where morals and religion are social constructions.
4)      I am living a lie because I have the above thoughts/doubts yet I try to maintain my life as it has been.

You will see from the subject matter it’s very Religious and Scrupulous in nature. The extra challenge is that these can be normal concerns for many individuals, so to accept them as more than normal thoughts for me, and are the result of OCD, it’s slightly harder to come to terms with. It creates an additional anxiety inducing thought that maybe it is purely a crisis of faith and I am faking OCD.

The real clue that it is OCD is that I can’t stop thinking about these thoughts, also they can come with severe anxiety that almost cripple me. They are against what I want to believe and what I have based my life on.

When it comes to compulsions, things are a little bit more muddled. I’m not a hand washer and I’m not a door checker as such, although I have the experience where I’ve checked a door a number of times. Here’s what I do –

1)      Try to think  about it and get an answer so that I have certainty. This is like a mental compulsion. Mull it over in my mind until it is resolved.
2)      Challenging my thoughts with questions like ‘Why did I think that?’ ‘What does that mean?’ ‘How significant is this?’ ‘What does this say about me?’
3)      Avoid things that might trigger the thoughts and panic. These are things like avoiding reading scriptures or not going to non-essential church meetings.
4)      While I can avoid reading scriptures, I am often compelled to read religious material or medical material online during high spikes of anxiety, to try and feel better or get answers to why I feel so bad.
5)      Internally shouting ‘STOP’ and trying to dismiss thoughts as unimportant.
6)      Needing to talk to others and get reassurance on the thoughts that are troubling me. This used to be manifest in the need to confess sins to a priesthood leader. I repeatedly confessed some sins, and even dug back into my childhood to find things I possibly may have done. I don’t feel the need to confess so much these days.

The interesting thing is that any relief the above 6 things give, it is only temproray and things can revert back to the obsessions within a matter of minutes sometimes.

These two chapters have given me a lot more to think about other than this analysis of thoughts and behaviours. It has raised some interesting questions for me and I have a few thoughts I will maybe share in separate blog entries.
Monday, 5 November 2012 0 comments

Discover yourself: Keep a journal

I came across this article on the other week and it felt like a bit of a personal lesson as well as one I should share, an article called 'Discover yourself: Keep a journal'"discover+yourself"

This confirmed for me some of the reasons why I should write down my thoughts, life events and OCD challenges. It confirmed that which I felt when I was first started reading about writing therapy which led to me starting a blog.

Two bits that really stood out to me were as follows -
He feels an urge to write that comes from within—an urge to express, to understand, to improve, to establish the validity of his experiences and his existence. When he sits at his typewriter to crash out a few quick pages or when he spends a quiet hour on a Sunday to catch up on the last few days, he is spending valuable time with himself, listening to himself.

One quite specific to OCD was

“Writing can help you express some of the emotions—until you can let go of the feelings, learn from the experience, and consider appropriate alternatives.”

This is also one of the key pieces of advice my psychotherapist advised as part of OCD. Write down your thoughts, warts and all. Also write down anything you can think of that counteracts the negative, intrusive thought.

I can really promise that this process can help alleviate the pressure from the mind. That which you are striving to keep to yourself and within your own head is controlled a little better as you write it down. This could quite often help replace the compulsion that may follow as it reduces the anxiety you try to appease with the compulsive behaviour.

It's not always easy to write. I personally have feared that the thoughts will assume some further reality or greater hold as I put it on paper, but this I can promise is not true.

 I have started and stopped several times in the past few months, but it's something I'm willing to keep trying as the small glimmers of strength or control I have felt as a result of spilling my head on a page has been worth it every time.

I hope this article can be of some help.