Anxiety Mastery Program

Letter to My OCD

You promised, you promised, you promised. Endless promises. Empty promises. I am learning, if I have not by now, that you do not keep your word. It is all empty. And that you really don’t care about me at all. Your only interest is you yourself, and wanting me to feed you.

Oh, yes, there was a time when I believed you. You came into my life and beckoned me to follow your way, promising me safety, security, good health, good luck, perfectionism, satisfaction, in sum: a good, comfortable life. My life would move predictably forward, and I would not have to face all the painful uncertainties in life. Yes, I believed in you. I spent endless hours and energy trying to please you. I tried so hard. I gave up on many things in my attempts to satisfy you. I thought if you were satiated, you would give me the peace I yearned for. Yet I never got the things you promised. Difficult things still happened in my life and . . . I still felt anxious, fearful, and uncertain. You did not deliver.

You said, “Do it only this time, I will rid you of your anxiety and anything bad that may happen. Trust me, feed me and all will be fine.” And I believed and trusted. And I ritualized. Even when ritualizing made me feel better and maybe less anxious, I was still deep down terrified, knowing that you were just ensnaring me more. And when I felt better (oh, for such a short time!), before I could turn around and relax, you whispered yet another fear into my ear, and there it went again. You could just say, “Boo!” and I would deliver you scare juices. That was what you wanted, those precious scare juices. You whispered a threat, or told me something was unbearably incomplete or uncomfortable, or that I wouldn’t be able to tolerate the uncertain outcomes of my decisions, or the anxiety, or something else, and I fell for it, again, and again, and again. Many times I asked myself, “Why am I still giving in?” But then the shear thought that something bad would happen would scare me out of my wits, being convinced that I could not handle it, and there I went and delivered to you again the rituals, giving you scare juices.

Sometimes you asked for a quick ritual; it seemed the price to pay was low. (Of course, now I know the price is never low!) Other times I would try to repeat the feedings (= compulsions/rituals) over and over, wondering, “Will this satisfy my OCD to give me the certainty I want?” You were impishly wringing your hands, feasting on my scare juices, happy not to give me “sure” answers. It was your way of trying to get me to give you more and more.

When I tried to resist, you placed more demands on me, and you ensnared me with different promises. When I thought I mastered in keeping you out of one area, you would invariably find another way in. When I got fed up with one empty promise, you tried to allure me with another one. It became just another way to enslave me; again the promises followed by let-downs. It was never enough. You wanted more, more, more. You are insatiable!

But I got other things in the process. A belief that I was a freak with the result of my withdrawing from people, being riddled with self-doubts, self-loathing, often thinking I was this evil person, deserving of nothing good. The ensuing lack of confidence resulted in missing well-deserved opportunities. I did not trust to take on challenges. When I did perform and work hard, I put out much more time and energy than needed. I lost time, precious time, time that will never return. I could have lived more; I could have enjoyed life more . . .

How do I know you really don’t care about me? Evidence. If I had to focus on a difficult task at work, or had to study for an exam, or face another challenge, did you really leave me alone? I begged you, but you kept whispering those awful threats. You did not care about me succeeding. And you don’t give a hoot for my well-being. With the nourishment of my scare juices you want to become fatter, bigger, bolder, and it is the only thing you care about. My life was truncated by you in many ways. Anything good I have achieved or anything good in me, has occurred in spite of you.

After a long series of disappointments, I just wanted you to go away. I did not want you in my Life Bus. Now I realize that you are just like other unwanted passengers on the Life Buses of people. Each and every one of us has something we don’t want, be it a physical condition or illness, an emotional problem, or an interpersonal problem, or the lack of a significant other.

Now in this new era of my life – with more wisdom – I hope to find ways not to rely on you any more, even if you coexist in my mind. I want to live life fully, which means fully facing all that life throws at me: the good and the bad with all the uncertainty it entails. They are going to come anyway. I no longer want to live with false promises, with illusions and beliefs that I can avoid all that is painful and unpleasant. I want to live more fully, and when the pains and disappointments invariably come, I trust that I will find someone to listen to my discomfort, to soothe and mitigate my despair. I only need to reach out. In connecting with others, I will find that I, too, can carry the pain. But at least I want to be in pain for real ailments, not imaginary ones.

And while you will not disappear, I know that you will become small and weak and shriveled if I do not keep feeding you scare juices. I have to strive to never let you run my show. I have to be so mindful, because you are a master at finding a way to sneak in. I will have to keep my guard up, always, always.

My choice? I can live for you and fears, or I can live a life like everyone else on the planet: full of ups and downs and uncertainties. By doing so, I will live my life, my own unique life!

 Elke Zuercher-White, Ph.D., ABPP