The Mind as a Tool

"The human mind is like one of those kitchen gadgets featured in late-night infomercials. It beats, twists, separates, slices, dices and otherwise transforms everything that enters it. You gave someone a carrot, but before you know it, she’s turned it into a bouquet of julienned strips."
-From "Fundraising Success"

Reading about marketing always makes me think about how my own mind and decision process works. How am I taking in life's carrots?

My mind tries to control what life gives me, either through planning or anxious fear. If my mind was a kitchen appliance it would be a industrial sharpness and strength peeler. You know, the kind that take the icky skin off carrots and potatoes. Its not like the skin is toxic, but the peeler shreds off the excess of the carrot until its only the most "perfect" orange root.

Life without carrot skin is better anyway, it promises. Just look at how much more they charge for "baby" carrots! You can do better than the grimy skin! Just watch out for your fingers...

But... my mind isnt content to just be a vegetable peeler. It wants to keep peeling, past the skin, digging into the best parts of experience, still someone finding bits of skin. Others might see that the carrot is fine now- not my peeler. It can always find more imperfection to strip away.

What happens if you keep peeling the carrot?

You are left with nothing but shreds.

What a metaphor for my life experiences and how my mind wants to control them!


"This Too" - Mantra and OCPD

I am reading the book "Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha" by Tara Brach which gives some good skills and exercises to cope with anxiety and fear.

One of the chapters deals with a woman who is obsessing constantly with cravings and rules. The authors discusses how the woman used the mantra "This too" to help her observe her moments of anxiety and obsession while not judging them, which can help to cope. "This too" will pass, and "This too" is part of me. "This too" is a thought, nothing more

Whenever she found herself obsessing on food , she observed it and thought "This too"
Whenever she wanted to check the mirror, she felt the urge to look in the mirror , she thought "This too".
Whenever she felt like cleaning crazily, or that she was a failure in life, she felt it, and "saw" it in her mind and told it "This too"

Using a mantra like this to accept at some level my obsessive desires has been very therapeutic to me, and can give me a pause before a mindlessly act on my anxiety.

What would to say to describe and soothe obsessive thoughts?
"This too" will pass? "Just a blip"? "Simply static"? Whatever it is, the pause to observe can help make life so much easier!


Movie Night - OCPD and Sitting Still

How long can I sit?

This weekend it rained. Not just rained, it poured down buckets. After coming home from an art event with friends, I was soaking wet. My boyfriend and I had been hoping to head back out into the night, but my sopping hair and deluged sidewalks of the city made this seem more that a little bit discouraging.

So we had a movie night.

We fired up On Demand pay per view, and settled in to watch a romantic comedy.

Problem- OCPD doesn't really like to sit still. Movie or none, I kept looking around the living room finding this to do. Corners to clean, dog toys to put away.

Then it was making popcorn. Butter, salt, perfect amounts, perfect bowls. Then the clean up. Then some sodas, then I was chilly and just had to get a blanket from the other room...

See the problem?

I couldn't sit and watch the movie for more than 20 min without feel compelled to "perfect" the experience in some way. All my activity only served to keep me distant from my boyfriend - physically and emotionally. Plus, I missed some really good parts of the movie.

Finally my boyfriend grabbed my hand.
"Leave the dished, just until the credits roll"
He had never been more right.


Comfy at Home? - OCPD Perfection

Clothes are a big deal to me. I spend a lot of time on the "right" outfit. But at home, I love to get comfy. The problem for my obsessive mind can't let go. My "comfy" outfits are just as thought out, planned and perfect as what I wear to the office. I have my "rules".

OCD Rules such as:
No baggy pants with a baggy shirt
One bright item (such as a hotpink sweatshirt) per outfit
Can't be monochromatic ( Blue tank with blue sweats? No way)
If eating ,wear items that are ok to stain and spill on (I'm messy)
If around my boyfriend, wear a low cut top for extra fun

...These are real. Even writing them seems crazy. 90% of the time, no one sees me in my matched combination. No one appreciates the not too bright leggings with coordinated t-shirts. But I can't eat or relax if my outfit is "bad" even when no one will ever see it.

Sometimes, choosing my "comfy" clothes is more effort that actually getting home in the first place.


Being with Myself

"We're so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it's all about."--Joseph Campbell, The Power Of Myth

I put so much value on perfection in my outer actions and appearance. I am constantly putting time and effort into behavior and ritual. Life with OCPD means "getting it done right".

I am always trying to be more efficient, more effective, more perfect. So many days go by where I run from one thing to the next, cramming in all the behaviors that make my life feel in control. But there is no joy in that.

OCPD people tend to try to maximize everything, and push themselves to be the best. But what is "Best"? Maybe the best thing to do would be to simply "Be"

From a article on Reality Sandwich by Xander Stone
"Because we lack a true connection with our inner being, we are terrified of being alone, or of being at rest, and paradoxically, through our compulsive obsessions with the frenetic, technology-driven pace of life, we have alienated ourselves from ourselves."

It's too hard for me to "Simply Be" when I have a million things I am obsessed with doing or planning. Is it scary to simple be still? A little. But I am going to try to remember that the joy of being alive is not in "Doing" but in "Being".

Reasons to Not - Fear and OCPD

Yesterday I had a job interview. I was excited, but then the OCPD thoughts and the anxiety crept in:

"I should cancel,I don't need a new job. What if I mess up, and they tell my current work?
What if they tell me I'm not cut out for this?
What if I run into them on the street someday, and it's awkward?
My hair is flat, my outfit is cheesy and my nails are chipped...."

You get the idea. A million reasons to not go.

But all those justifications come down to one thing. An emotion. The intellectual mind, analytical and obsessive, comes out in me as paralyzing. If I let it.

The emotion was covered up by the obsessive thoughts. To tap into the emotion is to realize the root of my anxiety and helps to overcome it.

I was afraid of the interview. Afraid of failure, or of change. So my mind was playing with my OCPD to mask it. Once I realized I was really just afraid, it became easy to be more rational, and to accept my fear and deal with it.

I found a million reasons not to go, but one good one to push though. Fighting the fear, and winning, is always a good thing.

My comfort zone was stretched, but I got though it. For a good article on pushing though the fear, check out this Mind Publications article.


The No Control Cafe - Nightmare for OCPD

I found this on kottke.org :
In Kashiwa, Japan, there was briefly an unusual cafe where you receive whatever the person in front of you ordered...and you're ordering for the person behind you.
"The Ogori cafe was an unforgettable travel moment, and an idea that has stuck with me: It was a complete surprise in our day. It encouraged communication between total strangers or, in this case, members of the Kashiwa community and a couple of weird guys from Oregon. It forced one to "let go", just for a brief moment, of the total control we're so used to exerting through commerce. It led you to taste something new, that you might not normally have ordered. It was a delight."

A delight? How about a challenge designed by my therapist to push all my buttons. Food, social interaction, lack of control, pressure to decide, judgment from others.. wow.

I kinda want to go. I want to see how I would do! How would you cope?


Heavy Load - Burden of OCPD

This morning getting ready for work, I was rushing - just like I do every morning- all around my apartment. When you spend a day out and you walk everywhere, it can take a bit of planning to put together a bag for the day. That said, I try my best to not be so obsessive of needing a million things for any situation. I force myself to keep it light, and my shoulders and back thank me. (Want proof?)

Every day I have my "List" of tasks, and I know what I need to accomplish them. This is normal. What causes problems is when I over-plan for a crazy amount of tasks, and then feel like a failure when I can't fly around the city accomplishing them all.

Time is always moving a bit too quick for me to catch up. I can't cram it all in. Just like my overstuffed bag, my hours, and my mind, can't fit it all in. Instead of my shoulder hurting from a massive satchel, my mind hurts from my pressure of a million tasks.

Single-Tasking my Mind and OCPD

I found an article on "Single-Tasking", which is the opposite of multi-tasking. I am always trying to do a million things at once, often resulting in none of them getting done very well. Or I end up injuring myself in a frantic rush!

Well, the author Phylameana Lila Desy states that:

Multi-Tasking = Being Less Mindful

Well, duh. But to me, in my OCPD world, I'm always trying to be more effeicient, and more perfect. Plus, rituals and obsessions cause time to slip away from me. How could I ever manage without multi-tasking??

Really, I should ask myself: "How can I live without being mindful of my actions?"

I already know the answer. When I rush though and mindlessly act, I make mistakes. I cut myself off from the moment, and I disconnect from my emotions. Multi-tasking, and my focus on "efficiency" is just another way to say that I am escaping from my "being" into my "doing". Heavy I know.

The author says her mantra will be "Return to Focus" to bring herself into one task. I like this. Instead of obsessing , trying to rush, or worrying anxiously about a million things, I am going to try to "return my focus" to the moment, and the one task I am doing, in the here and now.


My Lens, Your Lens - Projecting my OCPD

At work, I share a cubicle with a very calm guy, who never seems to snack or use the bathroom. As anyone with OCPD knows, calmness doesn't come easily when I am always obsessing and going though different behaviors. I feel like I am always eating in front of him, or checking my phone, or doing a million other little things, all while he stays totally still, only his fingers clacking and clicking.

Eating is the worst for me. When I want a snack, I feel like he must notice be unwrap my Luna bar. He must think I'm a pig, I think. He must think I'm compulsive and twitchy. He's watching, noticing...Everything I notice about myself.

A friend pointed out to me what I'm projecting what I notice onto him. It's me who watches what other people eat, judging them. It's my own obsession that would make me note how often my co-workers use the bathroom. Everyone has different emotional triggers they notice. For a shop-a-holic, they might notice what I wear each day, and couldn't care less about how many Luna bars I eat.

Projecting what matters to me onto others and thinking they MUST feel the same can cause a lot of suffering that isn't necessary at all. We all look at the world though our own lens. I made the mistake of thinking my cubicle mates lens was the same as my own.


Channeling the Anxiety River

The first time I read the description for OCPD, I felt like it was a profile of a driven CEO, self-regulating and exacting toward perfection. But that only works if the obsessive thoughts are channeled into something, like a business, a artwork, or on a body, without taking over the rational mind.

I'm working on channeling my anxiety into something that works for me. I want to obsesses, but if I obsess only on my body or clothes, it leaves me vain. The key to channeling perfectionism is to disperse it, and watch myself for those tipping points where it takes over.

My anxiety and obsession is like a big rushing river. Its totally out of control, and can wash over everything in its path if I goes untouched. It's constantly fed by drops of emotional rain, filling and swelling. The current seems to have a mind of its own.

I can change the river, even if its strong, though effort. It may take force to push back the current of anxiety and negativity, but if I do, I can harness the power of my true self, and allow the world around the river to thrive.

I can build a dam for my self, though being mindful and aware of my internal world. But even the best dam can be overtaken after a big rainfall, and my emotions can run high as floodwater after a stressful day.

I can take my perfection rituals, try to spread them around and play with it, controlling the impulse rather that letting it control you. If I want to focus, maybe I choose to write, or fix a tedious software problem. But I choose. I try to watch myself, keeping some distance between my true self and the part of me that can easily spiral into total fixation.

It's self-discipline, and self awareness. I often feel like a tiny child with a finger in the wall of a dam, ready to burst, taking my rational control out in one sweeping flood of panicked emotion. And I remember, even the best dam needs a patch of fresh cement once and awhile


Memory and OCPD

How looking back on what mattered help me in the present?

There have been a lot of days where my mind can't let go of one thing. Maybe its getting a certain tea for later, or cleaning that dusty corner, or perfecting a decoration on my wall. It could be something productive, like finishing a paper perfectly. The thoughts around that obsession start from when I get up until either it gets resolved, or I fall asleep again.

But when I look back on my days, I don't remember the tea I got, or the purse I just had to have, or how perfect that dusty corner was. The obsessions that, in the moment, seems all consuming, fade with memory.

How it is possible that the emotion around something others may see as inconsequential is raw and deep to me, right then? As focused on that obsession as I may be, still it pales in the larger scheme of my life. The purse I was so sure I just must have didn't matter as much as the movie I took it too. The dusty corner that just had to be clean didn't matter to the people I had over. And worry I felt all day around the meal wasn't what I remembered about the candlelight dinner a year later.

I want to keep that perspective in those moments when I am driven to obsessive behavior. Will I really remember this little detail that I am so fixated on in this moment a year later? How about a week? Or even tomorrow?

Memories are made of moments, full of actions, people and experiences. Feelings of anxiety can only really exist in the present, and time is always moving forward. It helps to remember that today's obsession might be only a pale shadow tomorrow.


Unsend, Unfriend, Undo - OCPD and Regret

Clicking is too easy. A simple click on a "Send" button or a "Friend" request can send me into a spiral of second guessing and regret. In a online sphere of connection, my social anxiety and controlling OCPD can make it hard to brush off mistakes.

An ex who is now my "friend"? Should I respond to his message? Or not? Too late once the button is clicked....

How many times have I wanted to take back a email because it wasn't "right"? And its not just Facebook stalking and late night bravery toward former flames.

Applying for jobs online is equally fraught. I can't even say how many times I've sent a resume and cover letter, only to discover seconds later it contained a small mistake. But everyone does these little things. It's my mental reaction that makes it unbearable.

I feel so anxious and can't stop wishing and searching for a way to "take it back". I become a failure in my own mind. Time and technology has pulled the situation out of my control. Again and again I play out scenarios and outcomes, searching for a way to justify or make right. But in the end, only time makes my cycle of regret face.

Sometimes, there is no undo.


NY Times- Understanding the Anxious Mind

There was an AMAZING article in the NY Times Magazine this weekend called "Understanding the Anxious Mind". Its enlightening and inspiring so I'm re-posting a good part:

We meet a doctor, Kagan, who studied babies for ones that were anxious ,then checked back in as they were teens:

"Kagan suspected...that the most edgy infants were more likely to grow up to be inhibited, shy and anxious. No high-reactors among the first 18. They gazed calmly at things that were unfamiliar.

But the 19th baby was different. She was distressed by novelty — new sounds, new voices, new toys, new smells — and showed it by flailing her legs, arching her back and crying. Here was what Kagan was looking for but was not sure he would find: a baby who essentially fell apart when exposed to anything new."

Baby 19 grew up true to her temperament. This past summer, Kagan showed me a video of her from 2004, when she was 15."
From a freaked out baby to a teenager that sounds all too familiar:
“When I don’t quite know what to do and it’s really frustrating and I feel really uncomfortable, especially if other people around me know what they’re doing. I’m always thinking, Should I go here? Should I go there? Am I in someone’s way? ... I worry about things like getting projects done... I think, Will I get it done? How am I going to do it?"

Her voice trails off. She wants to make a difference, she says, and worries about whether she will. “I can’t stop thinking about that.”
Wow... that's was (is?) me. I always beat myself up for not doing "enough" and set standards that are impossible. I can't change the world to a more perfect place, and that can drive me crazy. I wonder if I was a baby who didn't like new things?
But... its not all biology!
"...Nor does every brain state spark the same behavior: some might repress the bad feelings and act normally; others might withdraw. But while the behavior and the subjective experience associated with an emotion like anxiety might be in a person’s conscious control, physiology usually is not. This is what Kagan calls “the long shadow of temperament.”
So my temperament can cast a long shadow... but its not a sentence to a lifetime of back-arching and crying from childhood onwards. I may be predisposed to be anxious, but that doesn't mean I'm powerless.

I may do another post of other parts of the article... so stay tuned :)

Read the whole article here!


Before Bed - OCPD Rituals

Most peoples bedtime rituals include brushing teeth, washing off the face, and crawling under the covers. PJ's optional.

For me, its slightly more complicated. My nightly tasks around the house can combine to form an exhausting litany of washing, cleaning and organizing for the coming day. The "bathroom" part, the final step toward dreamland, has been shortened and un-ritualized, but only through hard work. I used to lie in bed, eyes still open if I thought "Did I use enough night cream?" "Should I floss more?" "Should I pluck my eyebrows a bit more?"

It was ridiculous, but it happened. I had to consciously relax my mind. Some night I started to force myself to skip steps, just to prove a lack of eye cream wouldn't ruin me for the next day. Slowly, the obsessions waned. Sometimes now, I fall asleep, make-up still on, in my skivvies. And my dreams come all the same.


What's Sacred to Me?

Looking honestly at priorities is very helpful to align daily life, and to overcome feelings of obsessive rules. But to simply rearrange the tasks or goals of a day can lead to more obsession, and at least for me, doesn't hit home at a deep enough level for me to feel less anxious. The book "Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism" by Andrew Harvey is amazing in general if you are interested in philanthropy and world changing idea, and I was surprised to find it contained some relevant exercises to cope with my own anxious and feelings.

It looks at a few simple things to start doing literally right now to start creating a better world by starting within the self.

Rather than asking "What are your priorities" it asks "List 10 things you consider sacred right off the top of your head. Don't think too much".

This cut past my daily to-do's and goals, and made me think about what I hold sacred to my life, what I cherish, protect and value. These are my true priorities.

If I'm honest, part of me holds Perfection as sacred, along with Efficiency and Power. Is this conducive to making the world "better", inside or out? How do these concept work out when I also hold God, Family and love to be sacred?

Many people feel they want to prioritize the "good" values and leave behind the bad, but for me looking honestly at what I hold dear has helped to move toward a balanced and less anxious life.

After all, if God and love are most sacred, the voices of self-judgment should be drowned out in the pursuit of these more noble virtues.