Paranoia Was My Destroyer

by Bill Brenner on September 21, 2011

There’s a particularly insidious side of my OCD that I have to fight hard to contain, because it’s the thing most likely to destroy me. This is a story about paranoia.

Mood music:

Let’s start with a definition from Wikipedia:

Paranoia is a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion. Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory beliefs, or beliefs of conspiracy concerning a perceived threat towards oneself.

Anxiety and fear once played a major role in how my OCD manifested itself. I would become so full of fear about people, places and things that I would see conspiracies against me around every corner.

My time as night editor of The Eagle-Tribune is a perfect example.

Working the night shift and then waking up after only a couple hours of sleep each night to spend time with the children eroded my sanity to the point where I was absolutely convinced that the day staff was conspiring against me.

I’d sit at home working the scenarios over and over in my head. I was certain that anything that went wrong with the morning deadline cycle would be blamed on me because of something I may or may not have done the night before. That turned into a constant feeling that a conspiracy was afoot to get me fired.

I would think about it day and night, ruining God knows how many precious moments with my wife and kids. I was right there with them at home or on family vacations. But mentally I was somewhere far away and dark.

Going further back to my late teens and early 20s, I would grow obsessed about what people thought of me: how I looked, how I talked and walked. I lost a lot of sleep worrying about something I took as a certainty: that people were talking about me behind my back, making fun of my mannerisms.

My mind would spin and spin until I was too much of a wreck to do anything but sleep.

I haven’t suffered with this stuff nearly as much in recent years because of all the work I’ve done to get my OCD under control. I’ve faced a lot of fears and killed them in the process. That has made me far less anxious, which in turn has made me far less paranoid.

But once in awhile, especially if my sleep is off, some of it will nudge its way back into my head. Not fear or anxiety, but a nagging feeling that somewhere people are talking about me, complaining about something I may have said or did.

I have to be on constant alert for those moments. You could say I have to be paranoid of the paranoia.

I’ve found some valuable weapons in the fight against this demon:

–I try most nights to be in bed as soon as the kids are in bed, so I can read or just fall asleep. When I get enough sleep, a lot of the wreckage in my head is cleared out.

–I hang on tight to a diet devoid of flour and sugar. The main reason is to control a binge-eating disorder. But as a pleasant byproduct, the absence of these things from my body has also had a clarifying effect.

–I’m always working at prayer. I don’t do it nearly as much as I should, but when I do, God finds a way to set my mind at ease.

–I make time to talk to fellow addicts and mental illness sufferers because when I help them sort out their emotions, I have less time to drown in my own mental juices. Besides, a lot of people do the same for me and giving it back is the least I can do. This is a double-edged sword though, because when you let enough people vent their emotions on you, the load can get heavy indeed.

–I have regular visits with my therapist, though I often suck at remembering when my appointments are.

What I’ve just mapped out isn’t perfect. Sometimes it’s very easy not to do the things I know I should do. In fact, that’s happened more in recent months.

But it’s like any kind of self improvement. You don’t have to perfect everything all at once. You can take baby steps and get to where you need to be.

The paranoia, like one’s addictions, will always be doing push-ups in the parking lot.

Sometimes, it will sneak up behind you and kick your ass.

But if you kick its ass more than it kicks yours, you’ll be winning the war.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Skully Johnson December 10, 2012 at 5:55 am

Wow, this is a powerful entry. For me especially, this is just amazing for me to read. I can relate to your entry so much.

The phrase you mentioned “paranoid about paranoia” is something that I feel that I struggle with everyday.

I remember worrying about how I walk, how I talk, and always are paranoid that people are talking about me behind my back–making fun of what I am doing.

The list can go on . . . as I am sure you can relate too 🙂

Today, I have realized that I have symptoms of ADD, OCD, and the consequences of these things. I have decided that know that I understand myself a little bit better, I now know where to start to make sure that these things no longer will take over my life. I have always known that there is some kind of definition and a means to resolve the problems I have been dealing with–and now I know. You share with others, so I decided to share a little with you. And most of all, thank you for sharing!

paul June 15, 2013 at 4:01 am

great post this, sums a lot of us up i think.

Chris June 16, 2013 at 3:29 am

Thanks this post really helped me I’ve been worrying people are looking at me a lot lately and so I find my self constantly looking at other people to check they are not looking at me, then when they catch me looking at them I then get paranoid they think I’m dogging them up and will come after me. Wow just reading this back sounds so stupid I mainly suffer with ocd and in my 30s.

David August 29, 2013 at 11:54 pm

All I can say through my tears, is thank you.

a brrd December 3, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Yes to everything. I have lived with OCD all of my life (almost 40 years), and I only just started taking meds for it very recently… because of paranoia about meds! There’s a healthy amount of paranoia, but there’s a self-destructive amount, and the latter is what I have. I often feel alone in the world, and have probably lost many opportunities to make friends for the fear that I’m almost constantly under persecution by someone or something. It’s tortuous. It’s also ironic, because my ultimate ideals are for the world to be a peaceful, friendly place, but my own mind creates a horror story that others are out to get me. Fortunately, I finally recognize that a lot of what I THINK is going on is not. (And also starting to remind myself that, even if what I think is going on actually is, living with the paranoia is probably worse.) And so I am working on it, with meds, with therapists, with 12-Step program, and with my fellows & HP in general. And I am beginning to experience some relief, thank goodness! Thanks so much for this article and for your honesty, fellow traveler. 🙂

Alec December 12, 2016 at 11:20 pm

This perfectly captures the problems I face as I am currently finishing up my undergraduate college career. I’ve lost friends because of late night paranoia arguments that they are conspiring against me, which I feel emotionally, but can rationally tell myself that I’m thinking irrationally about the situation. I am blessed to have friends who can understand my feelings, and I’m seeking therapy to help combat these paranoid feelings.

The worst though is definitely dating for me. I often revisit text messages or replay dates in my head to nitpick at everything that went (or could have went) wrong. I often take the blame, and it becomes an emotional cry fest (WAY blown out of proportion from how the date actually went).

It’s really tough to accept that maybe I need medication for it, as I am averse to medicated treatment from fear of losing control of myself, but I can’t really think of anything else to combat it.

Chrissy December 24, 2016 at 4:44 am

Hi I’m new to this. Age 49 and just diagnosed with ocd. All my life I just thought it was pmt. also with this is fads with food . I’ve lost 3 stone think I’m right all of the time. At the minute only a few hours sleep does me. Like yourselves I constantly think I’ve said the wrong thin. Got a great go who said no your not going mad you don’t have bipolar you are just you and a bit different. I love reading all your stories.

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