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.
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.