I privately responded to a reader this morning who gets eaten up over current events, be it the government spying on citizens or news of potential calamities. She asked how to make it stop, and I gave a long answer that left out the most important point of all.
The reader’s message said, in part:
I deal with scrupulosity, ruminations over heaven and hell, conspiracy theories and intrusive thoughts. It’s gotten to the point where it’s become impossible to function when I read a new headline about what the government is doing to us. I get depressed and I get obsessed. I see my intense fear and read things about the government tracking us, and suddenly I regret all the research I did about conspiracies over many years. I don’t know if I even believe it all, but I somehow feel like the more I know, the more I can somehow save my family.
I don’t know what to do about current events. I don’t know how to save my family from government tracking (even though we’re not doing anything illegal or anything that would be of concern), yet I feel like my OCD is making me out to be this inadvertent target due to the fact that I’m always obsessively searching through conspiracy websites attempting to find “answers.” How did this stop? How do you deal with this?
I can relate to her fear of current events. It’s something that used to paralyze me on a regular basis. I felt the need to give an answer broader than the fear of current events part, because to me that’s merely a symptom of the bigger problem people like us must confront. And so I mentioned how, for me, the biggest helpers have involved:
- Building my spirituality and faith in God
- Changing my diet drastically by cutting out flour and sugar and weighing out all my portions, among other things
- Taking a class on mindfulness-based stress reduction
- Picking up a musical instrument again after 20 years
- Using music (hard rock and heavy metal, in my case) as a soothing tool
I noted how, even after adding these tools, I still struggle. Some days I forget to use some or all of those tools for a variety of reasons. Using them actually takes more energy than I have some days. And if something really big dominates the news, it will still have an impact on me. The Boston Marathon bombings come to mind.
After I hit “send,” I remembered something a friend wrote not long before she died of cancer. Renee Pelletier Costa wrote about her despair over leaving all the people in her life and how her pastor replied simply, “Then don’t leave.” That statement made her realize that in a world she couldn’t control, she could still use whatever time was left to be a blessing to others.
That was a huge point for me as an OCD sufferer. I can’t control most of what goes on in the world around me, but I can still carry on each day in ways that make the difference to family, friends and colleagues. It can be as simple as saying good morning to someone and holding a door open for them. You can talk to them about their struggles — or better yet, just listen to them. Bring them a coffee. Make them laugh. Any of these things go a long way when someone’s having a shitty day.
The NSA will keep spying on us. Stocks will rise and fall. But none of that can keep me from being there for my family, from playing guitar and doing other things that make life worth living.
To the best of my ability, I choose to be the blessing. What happens from there isn’t up to me.