In case you haven’t noticed, the last two years haven’t been the most uplifting (eye roll). People who have never struggled with depression or anxiety, are now struggling. Those with underlying mental health conditions are experiencing major setbacks and are being thrown into a mental state that they may have thought they were immune to by now. The amount of death that has happened over the past two years is, by far, the most I have seen in 41 years, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Granted, as I get older, I will know more people who die – something that I am still struggling to wrap my head around.
As someone with OCD, I don’t have a period at the end of my thoughts. My thoughts sort of just…keep going. They are endless revolving doors that sometimes move so fast, I won’t even try to stop them in fear of getting my hand chopped off…metaphorically speaking. So, instead, I stand there and watch the doors (thoughts) go around, and around, and around, and around again. At times, I’ll get the balls to try to jump into one of the moving sections to find my way out, and onto the public streets again (again…a metaphor – work with me here).
I’m sharing the following story in hopes that it helps someone feel less alone out there. After all, we’re all just trying to figure it out with the cards we’ve been dealt, am I right?
OK, onto one of my more epic OCD “Nina moments”.
Last week, I was watching Netflix in bed on my phone. My husband was downstairs watching his shows – ya know…like the classic married couple in 2022. Typically, he comes up before I go to bed (I’m the night owl in the relationship). Well, as it neared 1:00 am, my heart started to race. I even paused my Netflix show! (Trust me – that takes a lot). I had this dark and heavy feeling that he may have died downstairs, and I wouldn’t know unless I went down there. I sat up in the bed with my phone in my lap, staring at the door. I had tears welling up in my eyes, and knots in my stomach.
If he’s dead, I’ll scream. No, I can’t. I’ll wake the kids, and that is NOT how I want them to find out. Should I call 911 first before waking the kids? What if the sirens wake them up? Fuck, I should be down there right now. What if his heart just recently stopped, and I can keep him alive by doing CPR right now? Ugh. Our kids will be destroyed! My heart (and life) will shatter in a million pieces! I can’t do this. I can’t go down there. I have to go down there. Nina – hurry the fuck up and just go!
I walked downstairs, and I could hear my heartbeat in my ears – you ever have that? Such an eerie feeling. My husband listens to the TV with headphones in, so he doesn’t wake the kids. It was silent as I walked apprehensively down the stairs. I headed toward the kitchen and was about to take a left into the living room. A thousand images popped into my head.
Would he be slumped over? Would his eyes still be open? Will his bodily functions have already given out? I can’t have my kids see him like that. Oh my God, I want to vomit. Please, please be alive.
I turned the corner. There he was. Eyes wide open. Alive and well.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have told my husband about the entire mental fuck I had just gone through, because he’s heard enough of those over the last 18 years. However, this time just felt heavier than normal, and way too real. I walked over to him, sat down on the couch, melted into his chest…and cried. Poor guy was just trying to watch his Netflix series, and I come in like the ultimate cockblock. He held me as I recounted the entire five-minute mental ordeal that felt like five hours. Truth be told, this wasn’t particularly “new” to him, so he understood that it would take me a few minutes to get over his “pseudo death” and move onto something else…like the house randomly caving in. Ya know – the usual.
With over three decades of living with my brain, I could come up with a multi-volume series of stories just like that one – and I know I’m not alone. About 2% of the US population has OCD, so I’m actually 100% sure I’m not alone. Along with a lifetime of these bouts of mental fuckery, I have also spent my entire life figuring out how to work with my mind, and not against it. As a kid, I tried to escape my own mind daily. As an adult, I try to understand how to exist with it. Ironically, this is the same mindset I have when coaching clients. Helping them not to be afraid or ashamed of their thoughts, desires, or fantasies – but rather learn to understand them and find ways to exist with them in a healthy way.
For me, it all revolves around a lack of control. So, things like terminal illness and death. I mean, let’s be honest – none of us know when any of those will happen, how, or what it would “feel” like. So, we’re left with two options: 1) Live in a state of constant panic and fear, resisting life tooth and nail, or 2) Work on developing confidence in our innate resiliency.
Spoiler alert: I’ve chosen the latter. For what it’s worth, here’s what I’m learning…
Resisting what we can’t control gives us a false sense of security. We somehow believe that if we resist it – fear it – obsess over it, we will somehow be more prepared or experience less emotional pain if it were to happen. I mean, can you imagine if that were true?
My husband just passed away suddenly, but I’m totally fine because I spent the last decade obsessing and worrying about it. Whew! That was a close call! So, what’s for dinner?
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Yet, many of us who obsess over this stuff have yet to consciously accept its absurdity. So, how do we practice accepting it, you ask? We stop focusing on what we don’t know and focus on what we do. Here’s what I know:
- Nobody dies from emotional pain – although it may feel like it in the moment.
- Death is not the opposite of life, it’s a part of it (I heard this recently, and it made me think).
- Although the pain of losing a loved one can be brutal, the world keeps spinning whether we want it to or not.
- None of us can get through life alone. We are relational beings who require connection. There are over 7 billion people on earth, and the internet allows us to connect with most of them. This also serves as a reminder that during the darkest hours of our lives, there will always be someone who shows up to turn on some lights.
- All living things are resilient. People, plants, and animals. Period. We have to be. It’s a survival thing.
- There is no way to worry ourselves into invincibility.
Some closing thoughts…
Practice focusing on what IS. Easier said than done, but worth it – trust me. Come up with a phrase (or two) that isn’t cheesy and that you can say to yourself when you get stuck in the fear. My go to is, “I’m resilient. If that happens, I will somehow handle it.” Take the time to come up with something that you can resonate with. I’m not a very spiritual or woo-woo person, so I needed something concrete.
Once you say the phrase, then it’s time to distract, redirect, and trace another pathway in your brain (literally – neuroplasticity is a thing. Google it). For me, I have three things I can do that require enough mental energy from me that it’s difficult to think of anything other than what I’m doing in that moment; painting my nails, coloring, or creating digital content/images. If you saw how many nail polishes I have, you’d believe me on this one.
Again, these can be a million and one different things, but get to know what works for you. Maybe it’s reading, watching Netflix, checking out the latest TikTok dance challenge, going for a walk, volunteering at a dog shelter, cleaning, etc. Every time a thought comes into your head that puts you back in that out-of-control space, go back to your phrase, your distraction, and the redirect. We can even be cool and make it an acronym – PDR.
Look, this world has knocked us all on our asses over the past two years. We can either sit with the dog shit on our shoes, or we can figure out a way to wash it off. I don’t know about you…but I’m heading for the hose. Meet ya there <3