Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wishing as an OCD obsession

I went to two undergraduate colleges. The first was a state university.
I left after two years because I told myself I was homesick and wanted to go to college closer to home.
I lived at home and attended a local college for two years and finished my degree.
The real reason I left the state university? I was suffering from deep, untreated depression and increasing symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I thought going home would help alleviate my pain.
I have regretted the decision for the many years since I made the change after my second year at the university.
The university was more prestigious than the smaller college, and I have wished I had stayed. Perhaps I would have had more and better job opportunities, I’ve thought. Perhaps I would have done better in life. Perhaps I would be happier now. So goes my thinking.
I never attributed this type of thinking to obsessive-compulsive disorder until I read about wishing in Dr. Jonathan Grayson’s Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty.
Grayson names several functions of rituals, one of which is wishing: “Everyone has dreams, hopes, and wishes; these lie at the core of our creativity and humanity’s greatest achievements. However, when we pursue an impossible wish, it can lead to our downfall” (p. 40).
He uses as an example a man who left college for a short time because of his OCD. “He constantly obsessed about the events of that year and how much better his life would have been if he hadn’t dropped out. In other words, he was constantly wishing he could undo his negative experience.” (p. 40).
That example struck a chord in me. I realized that my thoughts of regret—which I still had 27 years after graduating—were based on an obsession. I have been wishing that things could be different, haunted by my decisions, playing over in my mind how things might have been.
But I’ve been wishing for something impossible. I can’t go back and change the decision I made.
With the realization that my thinking was an OCD obsession, I’ve been working on ending the wishing.
Getting away from this type of wishing is giving me a new attitude. Instead of spending time regretting the past, I am slowly getting better at focusing on the present and what is in front of me. I am getting better at focusing on things that I do have control over.
  And I’m getting better at facing the fact that there’s no certainty involved here: I don’t know that my life would have been better if I had stayed at the state university. It might have been better. It might have been worse.
I’ll never know. And I don’t need to know.

Have you held on to wishes for too long?

24 comments:

  1. This is a post that hits home with me since my OCD symptoms have always been about obsessions and intrusive thoughts and not compulsions.

    I think at times we hold on to wishes just to have something to hang on to and not because we really want to know what could have been. At least that's happened in my case.

    Once again, thanks for sharing so much and I think you are right where you belong. :)

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    1. Thank you, Ally. That's a good point--we don't always want to know what could have been as much as we just ruminate.

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  2. Hi Tina, yes I too have held on to some of the things I wish I would have done or not done. Two of which are leaving college in my third year because my depression, home sick and other factors. And the other leaving good job at a pretigious company because of anxiety related issues. Letting go of the past and focusing on the present is very good advice. As time goes by im my life, I focus less on what was or should have been and I am having gratitude for the things I do have and accomplished. Not always easy, but has certainly helped me move forward im a more positive light.

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    1. Madison, that is a wonderful attitude, to have gratitude for what is and what we have accomplished. Thank you for sharing that.

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  3. Oh yeah. Strangely, last night over dinner I was having a conversation about how sometimes I wish I had decided to pursue a certain career path and my husband (the wise owl that he is) pointed out that had I done that, it probably would have taken us in different directions because I could not have done that and moved every two years, which he had to do as a member of the military. Which means we would not have the children we have and they are precious to me, We will soon celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary and my marriage is a huge blessing..so would I give all that up for a different career path? No. OCD aside, I think many people tend to do the "what if I had? "
    Thanks for the reminder, I feel today I will recognize and be happy in my "present" moments.

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    1. Thank you, Krystal Lynn. I am so very, very grateful for what I have now, too.

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  4. Interesting post, Tina. I think people with and without OCD have regrets, of course, but it's the degree of well, obsessing about them that separates us. I often think, "I should have done this," or "I wish I had done that," but then I usually let it go because I know it's nothing I can change. As I age, I am realizing more that it's all the bumps in the road, and the events unplanned, that just might get us to where we are supposed to be.

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    1. Sound advice, Janet. The acceptance of the bumps in the road has become easier for me as I get older.

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  5. Regret over past decisions is a waste after you gather the lesson they offer. if they are not let go, they keep you stuck.

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    1. Yes, Jodi, the lesson is so important, and then let it go.

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  6. I regretted not trying harder in college - I coasted by with Cs quite a lot. Later, when I got my masters, I made sure I put my full effort into each class so I'd never look back with any regrets and would be proud of every single grade I got.

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    1. Lisa, that's wonderful that you knew beforehand that you didn't want regrets with your master's because of your undergraduate experience.

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  7. I sometimes feel bad about giving in to my wish to have children. Don't get me wrong, I love them with all my heart and I know they love me too, but it just feels selfish at times as they had a pretty hard childhood because of my problems. And even though I was only diagnosed years after I had my kids, it still feels like I made the wrong decision at times. But I can wish for ever and ever, it's not going to change a thing for them and then I just try to focus on the fact that we did survive it all, together, and that we somehow managed to grow into a very close knit family anyway.

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    1. Klaaske, that is the important thing. That you have a very close family. That is a true blessing.

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  8. Sometimes I have dwelt on things that were humiliating, but I realized I have to make myself stop.

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    1. Kristina, I have done the same thing, and it's not helpful at all.

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  9. What a great post for me to read. I sometimes go back over certain decisions I've made and think about what would have happened if I made a different choice. For the most part, I'm happy with the major decisions I've made in my life, but there are a few.... You are right, that does me no good. Thanks for the reminder--I had not thought of it in terms of wishing. Very helpful.

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  10. That's right. It could have been much worse. I have to believe there is a reason for everything that happens and that even our mistakes somehow work for good in our lives. I remember once a friend wanted to move so badly and when the house she wanted fell through, I ever so gently suggested that tt was probably for the best because who knows? Maybe her neighbor would have been a child molester or something.

    I think God protects us from a lot of things. I'm glad you're learning and growing. It's exciting to see this.

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    1. Grace, Thank you. I agree that our mistakes can work for good. They all have lessons in them, if we make the effort to find them.

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  11. I switched colleges at the last minute as a freshman. Meant a different degree (AA in Modern Languages as opposed to Deaf Education degree) and very different timing (the first would have probably been in 4 or 5 years, instead I'm still working on my slow path towards a bachelor's degree). But some people who knew me met someone from the college I almost went to and didn't, and they said it was a good thing I didn't go. Well, maybe that's reassurance.

    Actually, one of my biggest regrets is quitting dance lessons as a teenager. It had some to do with my mom recommending that I smile more while I was probably coming down with depression, and for sure I didn't feel like forcing smiles. I've what-ifed about that, but you're right; I can't know what "would have" happened, and I can't change it.

    But how are you managing to stop your wishing? Do you do intentional exposures to certain thoughts, or do you just try to stop the continued review of the wish?

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    1. Abigail, I just try to stop the review of the thoughts when they come up. I try to just let the thoughts go--not stop them per se, but I try to move on to other thoughts.

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  12. This is a GREAT post! I never thought about these type of thoughts as obsessions and believe me I have them!

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    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. It was a surprise to me, too.

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