Ok guys let me start by saying i'm really confused and worried. I have been diagnosed with OCD combined with low self-esteem, and I do agree with a lot of what my therapist has said, but I have some doubt too. I'll try my best to explain my issues.
When I don't understand something, and it can be literally anything- how a landscape is formed; how real world news links to economic theory that I've learned; how a ticket machine works etc, I get a surge of anxiety which taps into the self esteem ' your'e stupid for not understanding this ' is basically what is happening, which forces me to engage in compulsions ( figuring the stuff out).
So what really convinces me the most that I have OCD is the fact that I do go through a step by step process each time a 'spike' of anxiety occurs when it comes to not understanding something- I figure it out, which does indeed relieve the anxiety and give a surge of relief and self-validation.
I also get anxiety spikes when I sway from what should be an 'obvious opinion', What I mean by 'obvious opinion' is an opinion or viewpoint, that given my upbringing, I should adopt with no problem. For example, I've been brought up with my family telling me gay marriage is fine, so when I read something which discusses the 'other side's' viewpoint, and I feel myself swaying towards disagreeing with gay marriage, it's like a moral code is broken, and I feel so anxious until I can 'figure out' an opinion, if this makes sense?
Another example of an 'obvious opinion' would be something like watching a movie where vampires try to take over the planet, now it's obvious that the vampires are evil, but then I start to think ' hey, if I were a vampire, with a vampire's upbringing, i'd do it too' which triggers an anxiety-provoking thought ' you're stupid for thinking this, really stupid' , then I get anxious and try to come to a soild viewpoint on it.
As you can see the link with low self esteem is evident because I feel so inadequate, I guess years ago I tried 'becoming someone better' , and I started to model people who I admired, who had certain traits- such as being opinionated and assertive, and being smart too.
Ok, so it seems clear that I do go through a cycle so to speak: I read/see something that gives me an anxiety spike by not understanding it, and try to reduce anxiety by figuring it out.
I had to drop out of university as I couldn't handle the stress of it, I took a gap year in order to sort this out. The problem is , my therapist has said to go and engage in ERP, which obviously means increasing tolerance to anxiety over time and not engaging in compulsions ( so I have to try and not figure things out).
The issue is that now that I have no 'pressure' ( no degree/exam to study for) I find it very hard to actually find much anxiety. The symptoms do appear to be very correlated to stress, and 'how much I need to know' whatever it is. So for example I was doing a geography degree prior to dropping out, during that time I was scanning the whole world around me for all things geography: I would look out windows at landscapes, and If I couldn't understand how a mountain formed, I would get a massive surge of anxiety, and thoughts telling me ' you're stupid, going to fail this degree', of course this fed through into simply reading textbooks- if I didn't understand a homework then again i'd get lots of anxiety.
The doubt I have is whether this is OCD, or massive worrying? I wouldn't be in denial at all of having OCD, or ashamed of it, it's just I can't help but notice that whenver i've dropped out of uni, the things which used to cause anxiety no longer cause as much?
I would really appreciate someone replying, as I feel pretty confused,
OCD is sometimes called the Doubting Disease and you are experiencing first hand why. One of the problems we sufferers of OCD encounter is an abnormal need for certainty in relation to whatever our worries are. When it comes to our obsessions it feels like the only way to dispel the anxiety is to prove to ourselves that there is 100% chance our fears are untrue. That sets up an impossible standard and traps us in a spiral of doubt.
I'm no medical professional, just a guy with OCD, but it sounds to me like you have to big fears.
1) Being dumb
2) Being wrong
The first drives you to compulsively try and understand everything, and when you can't or struggle it feeds your fear. But really are you setting up a fair standard for yourself? It's impossible for someone to understand everything. There is just to much out there for that to be possible. Beyond that its entirely possible that there are things you might never understand no matter how hard you try. Some people just don't get some subjects. In order to start dealing with your OCD you need to accept the idea that when it comes to some things you might not get it sometimes, and you are better off moving on with your life than giving in to a compulsive desire to understand everything. It's not a bad trait to seek out knowledge and work hard at learning something, but you need to cut yourself some slack and stop worrying about how smart you are. One of the best things you can do to help yourself get better is accept that you are who you are. Smart or dumb, you are still a good person and dwelling on your intelligence isn't helping you live a meaningful life.
In a way that's connected to your second fear, the fear of being wrong. Lots of people struggle with their views on any number of issues throughout their life time, and despite what some people would have you believe changing your mind is not a crime. Again it gets back to certainty. You need to accept that it's ok to change your mind, it's ok to be uncertain.
Accepting uncertainty is a key factor in managing OCD, and yes it's easier said than done, I still struggle with it sometime and I've lived with OCD for more than 20 years. But you can make the conscious choice to accept uncertainty, and your CBT should help you with that. When you have a worry, say that you might change your mind about something, admit to yourself, "Yeah, I might change my mind, so what?" Don't try to make the worrying thought go away or argue it away, that's just giving in to the OCD. Accept that you are feeling anxiety and move on. It's hard, especially at first. But it's the way to get better.
As to your question about ERP and not feeling stressed right now, well congrats on not feeling stressed, that's a pretty nice feeling huh? It's not surprising that with less stress your anxiety is less, OCD often worsens in stressful situations as you've experienced first hand. Remember that recovery from OCD is a lifelong process so even if you don't have the opportunity now to engage in exposure you might in the future. Sometimes it helps to seek out stressful situations and use them as opportunities to practice your techniques. You might do this by forcing yourself to read articles that present contradictory views to what you consider to be obvious opinions then don't allow yourself to engage in your mental rituals of reassurance. When you find yourself presented with a situation you think might induce your worries, even just a little, run towards it and not away from it.
One of my anxieties revolves around violence and harm. I get together with friends once a week and we do dinner and watch anime in the evenings. After a recent OCD spike I had it turned out the new series we were starting was a serious one and would have content that might trigger my worries. No normally I'm fine watching this stuff, but I knew I was still not fully recovered from my latest OCD spike. I could have just avoided the show, no one would have blamed me, but that would have meant giving in to my OCD. So I MADE myself go and watch and sit through my anxiety. At first it was challenging as the anxiety spiked, but by reminding myself it was just my OCD and not letting myself hide from it or engage in compulsions, the anxiety faded and before long I was able to watch and enjoy an interesting story with friends.
Exposures don't need to be major incidents, you can find small stuff like I did and confront your OCD that way too. Every little bit helps.
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