Lines in the Sand: The Exhausting Cycle of OCD

Hannah Breckenridge · October 29, 2018

Just imagine…

 

you are building a sand castle on a beach. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a dog running toward you. You panic and do the only thing you know to do: draw a line in the sand with a stick and hope the dog does not pass. Of course, the dog blows right through your barrier. So, you run a few feet and draw another one… and another one… and another one. You keep this up until you are out of breath and left with a small circle around yourself and the sand castle.

 

Sound familiar? Maybe this will jog your memory…

 

Instead of enjoying her time with her new baby, Jasmine spends her entire day worrying that she may “snap” and hurt her daughter. When she isn’t monitoring her mind for new thoughts that might indicate an intent to harm, she is tending to her lines — “So long as I don’t visualize drowning my daughter, I am not a threat.” “If I did visualize drowning my daughter, that would mean I crossed the line and might act on my thought.” — to ensure she is crystal clear about what counts as an “unsafe” thought. However, the image of her drowning her baby undoubtedly pops into her head, cuing Jasmine to avoid giving her daughter a bath at all costs.

 

Those of us with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) tend to view certain non-threatening thoughts, feelings, sensations, urges, etc. as potential threats. We establish “safe” and “unsafe” zones in our minds and only feel safe while our minds remains on the “right” side of the line. We also tend to spend an ungodly amount of time — time better spent tending to our castle — monitoring the threats and redrawing lines.

 

Then we worry about whether or not our thoughts, feelings, etc. crossed a line.

 

“Should I be worried if…?’

 

And we feel violated/dirty/icky/uncomfortable/etc. when our minds inevitably cross a line. So, we scramble to draw new lines. In doing so, we taunt our thoughts, feelings, etc. (which are only limited by our imagination) with our pure panic. In essence, we invite our thoughts, feelings, etc. to come closer and closer to that thing we are trying so desperately to protect.

 

But my sandcastle is really important!

 

We are each trying to protect something that we hold dear. Frequently, our prized possessions are things that others take for granted: life, health, safety, relationships, identities, comfort, etc. So, we draw lines…

 

“So long as I don’t think/feel/etc. __(insert thought/feeling/etc.)__, I won’t __(insert feared outcome)__.”

 

And, for a while, it seems to work. We feel an immense amount of relief.

 

“I am safe now. There is no way __(insert thought/feeling/etc.)__ can get me here.”

 

But fear has a way of making us small…

 

Here’s the downer: Even if we are successful at protecting our prized possessions from, so called, “threats”, we are only left with two possible outcomes:

  1. We are left standing next to our neglected sand castle in a circle that is too small for life OR
  2. Our circle becomes so small that we trample our own sand castle.

 

The seeming inevitability of the destruction of our castle and violation of our safety often leads to feelings of hopelessness. (It is no wonder OCD and Major Depressive Disorder are frequently comorbid.)

 

The good news.

 

The right tools and guidance make it possible to live a line-free life. Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), and mindfulness, you can learn how to stop drawing lines in the sand and embrace the uncertainty that is inherent in daily life. If you are ready to stop drawing lines in the sand, give us a call.