Monday, July 30, 2012

OCD and the “what ifs”

Last week I was driving from work to meet my husband for lunch in a restaurant in town. I drove down a street parallel to Main Street, the street the restaurant is on.
As I drove, I considered the different intersections I could turn at to get to Main Street.
One has rough patches in the right turning lane. When I make that turn and feel the car go over the rough road, I always have a moment of worry that I’ve hit someone. I drive for a moment afterwards with my eyes in the rearview mirror looking for bodies.
Another way to get to Main Street involves driving in a crowded area beside a convenience store, with people pulling in and out in cars and walking on foot. I worry about running into another car or person.
I thought, What if I take the first way and something happens? I’ll wish I had waited and taken the second way.
Then I thought, What if I take the second way, and something happens. I’ll wish I had taken the first way.
The “what ifs” were valid in that I didn’t know what would happen when I pulled up to either intersection. There was always the chance of an accident. How did I know which way to take to avoid one?
I didn’t. Whichever route I chose, I would have to live with that decision. And wonder if I had made the right one.
Making choices pulls out the old uncertainty quandary. We make choices all the time, some without thinking. With other choices, we ponder which is the best one.
We can’t ever really know which is the best choice. Everything might turn out just fine and safe with one choice. But who’s to say that the other choice wouldn’t have been even better?
So we have to live with our choices. We can do our best in the moment to make the right choices, but we’ll never really know if it was the right one or the best one. Not really.
By the way, I did arrive safely at the restaurant without hurting anyone. As far as I know.
For as Dr. Jonathan Grayson says in his book Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty, “while all of us feel certain about many things, the truth is that the absolute certainty we feel is an illusion. An event may be probable or improbable, but neither is an absolute. The inability to feel or be certain is reasonable” (p. 9).

How do we live with that?

24 comments:

  1. I don't know Tina. I'm a mess on the moment and at times like these I'm afraid of so many things. Going to the shops, afraid there might be a big earthquake, afraid my husband will never find a job, afraid of the future and so I can go on.
    When I'm not depressed I can somehow keep it all together, but now it's just so much harder.
    I'm bad though, want to be able to control everything and as you say, that simply isn't possible. For I know that even all the rituals in the world won't stop an earthquake from happening. My psychologist said if that was true I could save a lot of people. ;)
    The only way to live with all this uncertainty is to learn to handle the fear and anxiety that come with it I guess. And that's just very hard at times.

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    1. Klaaske, I'm sorry you've having a bad time now, and I hope you get to the other side of it soon. I know how hard it is to handle fear and anxiety, and I'll be thinking about you!

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  2. I worry so much too. I pulled out a book last night on OCD and was reading on this subject and what struck me was the passage on how people with OCD greatly overestimate dangers and most importantly our ability to cope with or handle anything "real" that happens.
    I think that is true, when things in my life have not gone well I did manage to handle it pretty well. Most of the things I imagine never happen so all my worrying doesn't help, it just ruins minutes and hours of my day and the enjoyment I should be enjoying in the present moment.
    I have never had the driving "I ran over someone" obsession, but it would be hard for me to apply the principle above to that.I can't say with confidence that if I hit someone I would be able to handle it .. but the reality is that every time I get behind the wheel I am taking the risk that I could get in an accident and I guess I would have to deal with it if it happened. Ugh...but it is true. At least we are not people who intentionally take additional risks like drinking or doing drugs and driving...can you imagine? I would never want to be an irresponsible person but I'd sure like to be somewhere in between that and ultra responsible. Good post!

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    1. Thanks, Krystal Lynn. It is amazing and sad how much time we waste worrying about things that never happen. And I agree that we are usually able to handle what does happen. If we could only remember that during times of high anxiety!

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  3. I make the decision and move on. With anxiety or OCD, the moving on part is difficult. We stay there and feel guilt. Even before something bad happened. The guilt can immobilize us. See what I am talking about on my old post: http://healnowandforever.net/2011/10/04/just-make-a-decision/

    Love,
    Jodi

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    1. You're right Jodi--the moving on part is the difficult part. Thanks for the link!

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    2. I hope you all will visit Jodi's link--it's an excellent post and helpful!

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  4. When I was in recovery for GAD, I learned to play games with the "what if" questions. I would keep going down the road of asking what if until I realized that hmm, nothing that bad was likely to happen. Granted, these "what ifs" did not involve leaving bodies in my wake! Even now, though, I play with the "what ifs" when I get nervous, and before I know it, I'm laughing because I start to see the illusions in my fears. It was one of the most helpful tools in my therapeutic program.

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    1. Nadine, that sounds like an effective way to get past the what ifs. So much of fear is an illusion. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. Oh Tina, you sound like me mentally going over possible routes, thinking you hit someone and looking in the rearview mirror for bodies, worried about hitting people and other cars.

    I tend to just take the route that "seems" easiest at the moment. Mostly what that means is that I avoid certain routes in heavy traffic and I'm usually running early wherever I am headed.

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    1. Elizabeth, I try to do that too. But on this particular day, I got caught up in thinking about the repercussions of our decisions and got obsessed with it. Not good!

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  6. Great post which reminds me of the quote (I forget who said it)......"My life is filled with terrible things....most of which never happened."

    Do you find mindfulness helpful in dealing with the "what ifs?" Being in the present moment is one of the few things we can truly be certain about. As far as making the "right" or "wrong" decision, I don't believe there is always a right and wrong. As you say, we have so many choices and make so many decisions all the time.....and usually all works out fine. Again, as you say, just accepting the decision and moving on is what is so hard for those with OCD.

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    1. Janet, I think mindfulness would help--if I can remember it in the moment! But mindfulness brings me to my breath, which can only be done in the moment. So that is a valuable suggestion--thank you!

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  7. What a brilliant post - and something I have been thinking about myself recently (making and living with the choices we make). You're so right, we will never know what the other side of our choices would've been like - good or bad, right or wrong ... and that all we can live with is the road we ended up choosing.

    So very matter of fact - which is what I need at this moment. Thank you for that, for this :0)

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    1. I am glad this post was helpful, Amanda. It's so hard for me to remember that I have to accept the road I've chosen, accept the choice I've made, instead of dwelling on it.

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  8. Well, I've gotten to the point where I've accepted that I will have to deal with whatever happens. Now, I'm not always at this point, but I'm there more often than I used to be. It's just that I'm making a conscious decision to not drive myself crazy anymore, because I really just can't take it anymore. The truth is we just don't know what will happen not matter what. We can take all the precautions in the world, and still miss something and something bad could happen. I just can't control it all, and when I try I make myself so sick. I really just can't live like that anymore.

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    1. You're right, Sunny, making ourselves sick is not worth it. There's only so much we can control, and bad things can still happen no matter what precautions we or others make.

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  9. I guess the easiest solution would be just to not dwell on it! Easier said than done I'm sure...

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    1. It's not easy, true, but you're right, it is the solution--not to dwell on it. It does no good.

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  10. Glad to hear I'm not the only one that feels a bump and panics, sure I've run over someone.

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    1. Oh, no, you're not the only one by far. For me, it's a symptom of my hit-and-run OCD. I don't have the horrible problems with it that I used to, but it still rears its ugly head from time to time.

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  11. Glad to know I'm not the other one who spends time trying to decide which route to take to drive some place. There is rarely (if ever) just one way to go places. Maybe that's why I often choose my "favorite" way and then drive it for months on end without variation. (I chose one way to drive to the community college for a year and a half, and then, driving to work for the next year and a half, I chose the other way, because I was tired of the first way.) You're right; we'll never know the "best" choice. And I also tell myself, even if something bad happens, that doesn't mean I made the wrong choice (even though part of me tends to think I did). I like Nadine's "What if" excersize, as well. It sometimes helps me. I also sometimes have made it rediculous, claiming that if I do such and such, the sky will change color and the sun will fall out of the sky and other nonsensical things. That helps, too.

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    1. Abigail, I tend to stick to tried and true travel ways, too, for my to and from work route. I am going to try that what if exercise. If nothing else, it will make me laugh, hopefully!

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  12. Hi Tina, I question constantly my choices and decisions too. I can't drive a car due to my medication, it gives me blurred vision, so I get taxi's and walk. Whenever I walk anywhere, I always question what way to walk. Is it safer this way? Will there be too much grass to walk on this way? Will I come across people who will look at me? It becomes very stressful trying to decide what to do. With taxi's, Is the way he's driving safe? Will we have a car accident? Will we hit someone? Will I survive this journey? So I identify with your feelings, I understand. My daily choices cause me tremendous anxiety and stress. Susan :)

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