Several days after Abby’s passing, I was driving to work listening to Still Alice. Alice’s memory was failing even more at this point in the book. Mine wasn’t so great either. I was still getting used to Abby’s being gone and the new routines in our home for our three other pets, Milo, Murphie, and Bella. Then, all of a sudden as I was listening to Alice completely forget something incredibly important for her job, I heard in my mind:
“Did you pick up your pills off the kitchen table this morning? I bet you forgot them, just like Alice forgets stuff. Now they are going to be sitting there all day, and I bet Milo and Murphie will knock them off the table (you know how cats are) and Bella will eat some of them (as dogs will eat anything) and then the cats will eat the rest of them, and they will all die. And it will be all your fault.”
On a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being maximum anxiety, I was instantly at a 9. I thought, “Oh my gosh, maybe I did leave pills out!” I had just picked up a prescription for medication for my lovely acid reflux that morning. I dumped all the pills out on the kitchen table and divvied them up into 3 different bottles. I remembered putting the pills in 2 of the bottles, but did I do the 3rd? Or, did I really leave the 3rd set of pills there on the table?
I just couldn’t remember. And what’s worse is that I had really been forgetting things lately, probably due to all the stress.
The more intensely I searched my memory, the higher my anxiety went. The good thing is that I recognized this was OCD. Well, I was 99% sure it was. The bad thing was that other 1%.
I got to my destination and called my husband:
“Honey, it’s me. I’m having a really bad OCD moment. Could I talk with you about it?”
“Sure,” he said. If they gave out sainthoods to the living, Corey would definitely get one for supporting me through my OCD recovery. He also knows as much about OCD as I do, and he understands the nuances of my particular OCD. I explained what my OCD was telling me.
“That sounds like OCD to me,” he said.
“I know. But I have been forgetting things lately,” I countered.
“That’s true. But I can’t believe you would just leave pills all over the table.”
“I can’t either. But I also can’t get home to check. And I know checking would be a ritual.” I paused. “I know why OCD is doing this. Because we recently lost Abby, it knows I’m going to be worried about our other pets. And it knows I’m tired and grieving. So it’s using scary content and my mental state to get me to start checking again. I just know that’s what it is. But,” I hesitated, “OCD has got me all wrapped up in its stupid content right now, and I still want to check.”
Silence came from the other end of the line. I know that Corey was thinking of all the things we’d both been forgetting over the past several months. Weighing the potential reality of our recent stress-induced forgetfulness against the probable falsehood promoted by my OCD.
Corey said, “We probably shouldn’t do this, because we are reinforcing your OCD, but I can go home for lunch. I’m sure the pills aren’t there, but just due to recent events, I will check.”
“Thank you!” I said. “I’m so sorry for involving you in my ritual. Let’s agree that we will not do anything like this again, where we listen to my OCD, for the entire rest of 2014.”
“Agreed,” he said. And we both laughed, because neither one of us could believe we were going to do this ritual!
About an hour later I received the following text from Corey: “OCD is a #$@&%*! Everything is fine.”
I replied: “I’m going to write an Aha! Moment about this and expose OCD being a #$@&%*! Thank u for helping me even if we did do a ritual!”
I realized that this whole time, OCD had been using Still Alice as a weapon against me. Getting me to avoid reading it. Getting me to do mental rituals, analyzing whether I might have signs of early onset Alzheimer’s. Getting me (and Corey!) to start doing physical checking. OCD had made a lot of headway in a short period of time. But now that was over.
I was back in charge. And I was reading Still Alice with great relish. I wanted to read it, because I was using it against my OCD! It wanted me to be think about early onset Alzheimer’s? Good, that was a great opportunity to practice my ERP! As I was reading I would say, “I may or may not have or get early onset Alzheimer’s. My forgetfulness may indeed be an early sign of the disease. Who knows? I have no control over that. But I am not going to do any mental or physical rituals. Thank you, OCD, for this opportunity to practice being with my anxiety, so I can put you back in your place.”
So how’s that for some wholehearted imperfection and vulnerability? I gave in to my OCD rituals—terrible! I got my husband to participate with me—even worse! You know what I think about all that? Oh, well. It happens. It’s not going to become a habit. And I learned a lot that I will be able to use for my benefit, and hopefully my clients’ benefit, in the future.
Recovery is not perfect. And the danger of having OCD and being in recovery is that I might try to make my recovery perfect, because OCD loves perfection. So in a way, by giving in to my OCD, I actually outsmarted it: I’m still in recovery…it’s just that I’m in a better recovery, because it’s truly not perfect.