I had another session of cognitive behavioral therapy with my therapist today, and I left his office with a concrete plan and determination.
After our last session, I felt frustrated about the course the therapy seemed to have taken. I didn’t feel like I was working on the obsessive-compulsive disorder. I wrote about my concerns here.
As some of you said in your comments, working on other anxiety concerns would benefit the work I was doing on the OCD.
During today’s session, we discussed the importance of staying open to working on my avoidance of conflict and my fear of anger, in addition to other sources of anxiety. But today, I wanted to work on OCD.
We focused on something that I’ve been avoiding: going through piles of papers and organizing the mess.
I have stacks of opened and unopened mail and other papers sitting on the dining table, on my desk and in boxes.
A number of anxieties keep me from going through the papers, including fear of what I might find. What if I found a bill I hadn’t paid? What if I discovered some legality that I hadn’t followed? What if I found something that would cause me to obsess over things like, did I really pay that bill? Did I check my bank statement carefully enough? Did I miss something vital when I read the insurance explanation?
In other words, what if it fired up my checking and scrupulosity rituals?
I was also overwhelmed at the thought of taking the time and making the effort of going through what seems like a mountain of stuff.
We made a plan for me to take 20 minutes this evening and sort through the papers on the table, putting them into piles to later go through more closely.
I can string together as many 20-30 minute periods as I want to, but for the purposes of therapy, we would focus on the first exercise.
My therapist and I talked about the steps I would take to do the exercise, including deciding on the categories I would sort the items into and then the actual sorting.
Then we discussed obstacles I might face.
There is the “I don’t want to do this” obstacle.
Willpower is the best way I can push through that obstacle. My therapist said something very helpful about willpower.
“Willpower is not a feeling you have. It’s action you take,” he said.
He told me a story about himself. Earlier this week, he took a walk. He decided to examine his own resistance to going for a walk and see how far he was into the walk before his attitude began to change.
He said I would just need to take one step at a time, and if I thought it would help, I could practice “watching” my own reactions and examine my own resistance.
Also, he reminded me that I was not my brain any more than I was my gut. The brain and gut were parts of me, but not all of me.
My thoughts might tell me that since I didn’t feel like doing the exercise or I felt anxious about it, I didn’t have to do it. But my brain wouldn’t learn anything from it, and I wouldn’t move forward.
He said the only thing my brain would listen to was real data. If I completed the task, my brain would make note that nothing terrible happened: I didn’t die, I didn’t get arrested and no one else was harmed.
Another obstacle I face is the fear of feeling even more overwhelmed by the task I have before me.
He assured me that no matter what, whether I was able to work for the 20 minutes or not, the exercise would be valuable because it would tell us something about my anxiety and what we needed to work on.
So, at 8:50 p.m. this evening, I started.
Anxiety level immediately pre-exercise: 5
Anxiety level during exercise: rose to 7 to 8
Anxiety level immediately post-exercise: 7 to 8
Anxiety level one hour post-exercise: 6
I was able to quickly sort the items, even opening up envelopes and glancing at the contents to know where to place them in the stacks.
I had four piles: bills to pay; items to file, such as paycheck stubs, receipts, and bank statements; items to look at and do something with soon, such as an envelope with a return address I need to record, the county personal property statement and car insurance cards I need to place in my car and purse; and items to read/file at some point.
I finished up the sorting before 20 minutes had passed, so I looked at some items more closely and sorted through a box of decorative items that I need to take to the basement.
The time didn’t pass quickly enough. I kept looking at the clock to check the time and calculate how much longer I had to do this.
I didn’t find any late bills or other items that needed immediate attention.
But I did begin to feel very overwhelmed, because I knew how much more I needed to accomplish beyond the 20 minutes of sorting.
My anxiety level did not drop as quickly or as much as it does when I do the other cognitive behavioral exercise I’ve worked on, the one where I write for 30 minutes without editing.
But I felt good that I had done as much as I had. Nothing awful happened.
And I was able to follow the exercise with a shower and then a relaxing time watching the season premiere of “In Plain Sight.” My anxiety level has dropped down to about a four now.
One step at a time. Push through the resistance. Willpower is action.