I am afraid all of the time. When someone asks me, in a would-be comforting manner, “What’s the worst that could happen?” I have a response. Accidents, crashes, illness, death, nuclear war.
I worry about my loved ones every time I know they leave the house. I was the kid that poked my cats and dogs when they slept to make sure they were breathing. I say I love you at the end of each call or email just in case it is my last email to that loved one. I read about diseases and symptoms in order to self-diagnose or diagnose my friends and family (which makes me very popular).
One of the things I most regret about my graduate school life, is that I never really published anything. I was afraid to put it out there, to be criticized yes, but also what if I’d accidentally plagiarized or infringed on a copyright? I had these visions of getting sued, thrown out of school, never getting a job, and so on until death.
I worried about accidentally breaking every academic rule in the book.
These fears were unrealistic. You don’t accidentally break these rules in an important way. But l let that fear eat away at my stomach, my sleep, and my ability to make my work public.
I have done research and writing I am proud of. I am sad that I never published it. Maybe one day. Now I’m doing other work and I am determined not to let these kinds of doomsday fears stop me anymore. I am at a point where it is a greater risk to avoid doing something like posting these thoughts, connecting with others, sharing my work than it is to actually do it. It’s absolutely terrifying, but at least I’m not going to regret not doing it.
A lot of these fears are a product of my OCD and anxiety. I over think about everything I have to do. I plan to leave at 8:20 to get somewhere by 9:00. I know exactly when to leave, but yet, I still think about it.
I wonder if the train would be late. Should I leave earlier, just in case? If I do, will I be there really early? If so, should I run an errand nearby? Or should I do it after? If I do, will I have time before my next appointment? When I can I do my other errand, which is nowhere nearby? Should I do it another day or just get it over with because it’s the only time I’m planning to be in that part of town?
I will stay up late the night before thinking about it. I will wake up early, worried that I’ll sleep too late and miss the train.
My brain will not let it go, no matter how prepared I am. I’m exhausted by all my fears and worries. The meds help with this kind of thinking, some days more than others.
Like everything chronic, there is no cure to this. There are things that help. But some days are still going to be rough. I continually have to take care of these illnesses and myself.
I know that some things trigger these thoughts or worries more than other and I try to avoid those some of these triggers or manage them.
Here are some of the tweaks I make to my life to avoid triggering my OCD and anxiety:
1) I try not to overschedule my life or overburden my to do list.
I don’t make too many appointments back to back anymore. I don’t add too many things to a day. I take off things from my to do list. I’ve found it’s better for me to skip some to do items or appointments than to worry obsessively about them for days until they’re done.
2) I write it all down.
I schedule everything with Google calendar. I put it all out there to take pressure off of my brain. If I write it down, I am teaching my brain that it doesn’t need to remember everything on its own. It has backup!
3) I ask for help.
I have a support network, but too many times I forget to ask for help. I believe that I have to do it on my own. But whenever I’ve asked for help, people have been there for me. I know if I need someone to take over a class or share notes or give me a ride, they will be there for me.
4) I invest in my sanity.
Sometimes if I’m really worried about being on time, don’t know the route and think the subway might be delayed or inconsistent at that time of day, really don’t want to miss my appointment or a number of other reasons keeping me awake at night, I give myself permission to take Lyft. It’s not an everyday solution, but it can make the difference between stressing out for a day or more in advance and not worrying.
5) I pay attention to how food and drinks make me feel and consume them (or not) based on how I know they affect me.
It turns out that caffeine makes me even more anxious than I already am. I don’t like coffee but even black tea, which I love, makes me more anxious. So I drink it on days I feel okay and don’t have many other triggers, if I really want it and I don’t drink a lot at once. Sweetened drinks and some sweetened foods give me migraines (among other things) so I don’t drink soda or juice anymore and I try to eat sweetened foods in small portions or pick things with less sugar in them.
Especially combined, these things can help me manage my anxiety, OCD, and even my physical conditions. Everything affects everything else. Anxiety makes my physical illnesses worse, which in turn makes my anxiety and OCD worse. These five adjustments help me address both the physical and the mental and interrupt that cycle where I can.