When our children show spirit- and when I say 'spirit' I mean determination, grit, a strong sense of injustice, a look in their eye that tells me 'I am going to do this whether you like it or not' kind of spirit- Ben says to me "I wonder where they get that from"? I look at him, eyes wide open, eyebrows raised and hands on hips with an "I love the way that when any of the more challenging character traits are channelled it all lands on me" tone of voice. And he knows he's been a jerk and scuttles off to find something really important to do like stack his plates on top of the dishwasher or empty his football bag next to the wash basket.
I jest because it's fun.
Thank the Living Lord that A) I have a wonderful husband, and B) I have a feisty determination in my spirit that rises up when it matters.
I was running, and hating it this morning, but when I know it's for the greater good (ie. to help iron out some of the jellified mess that is my thighs) I can find that voice within me that says 'keep going...don't stop'! Unfortunately this voice says this exact same thing when I'm eating cake, and tells me all about the rest of the crap in the cupboard that I might like to eat. I sometimes manage to (politely) tell it to shush its noise. Other times it just becomes a bit muffled under the weight of the calories I'm consuming.
After my time with the Crisis Team I began a course of CBT. My therapist was amazing. She was ethereal and gentle with a fierce tenacity. She taught me what OCD was, and helped me let go of all the pre-conceptions I had about the illness, authenticating my feelings and helping me to understand that I thought this way because I was poorly, not because I was irresponsible, and not because the world was too scary to function in.
She introduced me to my 'OCD monster' which I found an interesting concept: my mind instantly created a picture of a little green fur-ball with big goofy fangs and googly eyes. This monster was tiny, but it would sit on my shoulder and just provoke me with its constant monologue of 'what if's' - catastrophizing, undermining, condemning, chastising, shaming. The fact it looked like a little green geeky piece of mangled up snot made the transition from fixating on, to laughing in the face of a little easier to grab hold of. And I'm grateful that my mind immediately went there.
She asked me what I thought 'being well' looked like. I told her that it was being able to walk out of my house without fear of something terrible happening. Being able to go for a whole day without having an anxious thought. Being responsible for something or someone without fear that I might accidentally cause harm to them. But instead of reassuring me that my treatment was going to get me to this place, she told me that I would never be without anxiety. I would probably never go a whole day without anxiety because we are all designed to feel fear.
Anxiety exists to stop us making choices that will potentially devastate. And thank God for that.
She taught me about some of the characteristics of OCD, and linked them to my struggles:
Avoidance and safety-seeking:
Anxiety about experiencing anxiety.
If I don't remove that object that has something red on it then it might go into someone's mouth. I will feel intolerable guilt. I will want to confess - tell someone what I did. My desire to ring the helpline will be so strong that I know I'll do it. I won't be able to sleep. I won't be able to tolerate the intensity of the sensations I will experience. And I will never know for sure if I have infected someone.
I know harm is possible. I should do everything I can to prevent it.
So just in case.
I have no evidence at all that it is blood.
But I will put the object in my bag.
Just in case.
I look on Facebook and see that there has been a car accident on the road I go down to take the boys to school every day.
Where was I at 1.43pm yesterday afternoon? I head out to check my car. I look up other accounts of the accident. I analyse my movements between 1 and 2pm.
I thought it, so it must be true.
So just in case. Just in case I have killed someone.
I check again.
I'm told to proceed with caution.
How can I be sure that the cut on his knee is because he fell over and not because his Dad beat him up? Should I report it?
Do I need to say something to staff about her yellow teeth because if I don't and she's not being cared for properly then I'll be responsible?
I heard her tell her friend that she's really stressed out. Do I need to report this in case she has post-natal depression? She might suffer in silence if I don't do anything with what I've heard?
That customer just put her phone in her bra. What if she doesn't know that can cause breast cancer? If she gets it, I never warned her. Maybe I should tell her.
Just in case.
Overestimation of danger:
A child in class has a nose bleed.
I wash all my props before I let my next class in.
Just in case.
We ascertained that my struggles came under the banner of an inability to tolerate uncertainty, ambiguity. A need for utter certainty that nothing bad would result from anything I did.
Attaining that was impossible.
We discovered that the faster I chased after certainty, the further I sunk into a impetuous world of obsessive behaviours - reassurance-seeking, cleaning, checking, googling, avoiding, checking, cleaning, rituals, reassurance-seeking, googling, checking, reassurance-seeking.
And I'd stop when it felt OK. Until it didn't again.
I sat and stared at her, longing for her to fix me. Her gentle but tenacious eyes told me very quickly that she wasn't going to. That this was going to take determination. Grit. Hard work. That the onus was on me. That she would help me to understand, show me compassion, even cry with me. But the getting better part needed to come from within me. The fire in my spirit needed to rise up, to break out and foment in the face of chaos, entrapment, unrest. I needed to learn that feeling unsafe wasn't going to kill me.
I began to learn that I could tolerate anxiety. I could sit with it. I didn't have to tell it to go away. I didn't have to judge it. I didn't have to feel panicked by it - even though everything in me told me I did.
I began to learn that I didn't need to seek reassurance. That the answers came from within me. I just needed to sit and wait for them to materialise - even though everything in me told me they wouldn't.
I began to make rules. When temptations to avoid situations and seek safety felt strong I had my perimeters. Going beyond those was giving in to, and giving voice to, that little green monster - even though everything in me told me I should.
I began to learn how to distract myself - even though everything in me told me I shouldn't.
I began to learn that through resisting anxiety-neutralising behaviours, my levels of anxiety would begin to go down.
And I began to learn that I am bloody strong.
My year of CBT turned my full-stop into a semi-colon. My life wasn't finished, it was just starting.