I didn’t tell anyone that intrusive thoughts had started to creep in again. It was while I was writing a complicated chapter for my book “Desire-Intrusive Thoughts”. What came over me was this sudden fear of failing, and I didn’t want anyone to know.
Before my remission from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the thoughts I struggled with were fears of harm coming to people close to me. Yet, this time, they were of people mocking my desire-aversion theory. When I started responding to the thoughts with neutralising rituals again, I realised a full-blown relapse could happen. That’s when I recognised response prevention was needed.
Let me tell you what I did
On a large piece of paper, I wrote the words reassurance seeking. It was then that I saw, for the past few weeks, how I’d depended on this ritual to protect me from my fear. The absurdity is that once I again, I was relying on OCD to survive its paradox.
In other words, by writing the ritual down, I saw something crucial. It was after gaining reassurance and subsequent anxiety relief that I immediately began to obsess about the person who reassured me. My thinking was on the lines of, “Did s/he really mean what she said about my writing? S/he probably just tried to make me feel better. I need to ask someone else’s opinion.” What was crucial is that my thoughts and behaviours had become cyclic again.
For hours, I would quietly underestimate my abilities to be the author I wanted to be. Somehow, I’d let OCD get a grip on my passion. I was following its influence and mistakenly believing its judgement of me versus having conviction in my ability to write about my theory.
By trying to prove my writing was up to standard, I continued to depend on OCD to make things better. It was like I was inadvertently allowing myself to preserve an impression of some good in OCD.
I guess I thought reassurance-seeking and ruminating could help me make sense of my fear-of-failure obsession. By ruminating, especially, I figured I could find clues to see where I was going wrong with my writing, and the reassurance I gained supported that. But the rituals blinded my rational view, hiding OCD’s cunning ways that made me trust its lies, although deep down, I saw what was happening.
But I didn’t want to acknowledge it. I didn’t want to think that reassurance and ruminating would lead to nowhere
It’s because I couldn’t tolerate thinking my brand-new writing career was under threat. Of course, when I distanced myself from the rituals, I was able to see, objectively that there was no real fear to prove or disprove. When I looked at both compulsions without emotion, it helped me grasp (in the way it did before the return of symptoms) how resisting them would keep me in remission. It helped me process a different image of OCD.
It was then that I realised I had to stop justifying OCD’s lies about my capabilities and get back to writing
I didn’t need OCD’s false reassurances or hamster wheel solutions. I reminded myself that all compulsions are pointless because the obsession is empty of meaning. And because it isn’t even valid, you can never reason with it, anyway.
My come back to reality made me grab my computer and continue writing the book I nearly deleted
I even put in one or two grammatical mistakes, minor ones. I did it on purpose. In the OCD community, making deliberate mistakes is a therapy technique that looks at probability and having the confidence to live with uncertainty. For example, I told myself that the likelihood of people spotting a comma where there shouldn’t be one is close to zero. Also, if some of my readers were to see my out-of-place comma, would the world really fall apart? I think it’s more of a relief to live with probability than blowing something trivial out of proportion. I mean, all you get is an unrealistic vision of the exaggerated outcome with subsequent waves of anxiety.
Besides, I wasn’t going to allow this fear-of-failure obsession to creep in after twelve years remission from OCD and spoil my goal of becoming the author I wanted to be. And so I nipped the obsession in the bud and completed “Desire-Intrusive Thoughts” and had it published. Later, a literary critic gave it a good review, and that made my day! Still, I’ve accepted that I may get some not-so-good reviews too.
There are some great books out there, but they’re not everyone’s preferred genre
For writers who are struggling with fears similar to mine, my advice is to concentrate on a targeted audience. For example, my book has a distinctive quality to explain unwanted desire in sexual, religious and harm obsessions. Some parts of the book draw on personal accounts of living with OCD and combines with scientific information to explain my desire-aversion theory. And it dedicates a whole chapter on exposure-response prevention, the evidence-based treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Finally, I admit that not everyone in my targeted audience will agree with my desire-aversion hypothesis, and, away from OCD, I can accept that. But the most crucial thing is that given half a chance, and OCD would have snatched my dream of becoming the author I’d set out to be. As a result, “Desire-Intrusive Thoughts” might have remained an unpublished theory.