The Sound and the Fury

by Matt B. on October 13, 2014

In this episode, I undergo a difficult OCD episode while reading Faulkner’s novel – and totally miss the irony. Also discussed: OCD experiences always feel the same, and different from everything else. Why, then, is it so hard to respond effectively?

Rough Transcript

Hey everybody, welcome to Episode 2. Tonight is a Monday night and things seem to work in these patterns that are so predictable and so surprising all at the same time. If you step back, you know, if I step back, I can see the arc or rather the loop, the loop — just a slinky loop across time; the repetitive pattern. It’s just so identifiable and so obvious from any kind of distance but within it, it’s devastating every time.

Tonight, I was reading The Sound and the Fury. I’m just blown away, really, by the first chapter. I’m just diving in and had this really tremendous half hour kind of at the height of I don’t know, all kinds of emotional intensity and had this spacious, aerial perspective on my own life and felt like I was carried along in in the stream of something beautiful and bigger than the crap that I worry about most of the time. And when that sort of stuff happens, when those moments arise, OCD seems a lot smaller. It seems like a much tinier fraction of my mind and my day.

And of course I get cocky, you know, like Icarus, cause I’m already lifted halfway up to the sun and I think I can just fly the rest of the way there on my own or the very least or around in the clouds without any danger and then it crosses down.

Things kind of, it’s not like I’ve fall back to Earth it’s almost like I get suck down by a vacuum or something in Earth. There’s this exhilaration back out of the heights and down toward the Earth.

You know, in this case, it was something mundane– because it’s always something mundane. It’s always fear fastening on, something tiny and blowing it up into something that again dangerous and quicksandy. You know how it was just tonight? It was picking my nose and then worrying that my knuckles had scraped against my eyes and damaged my eyes and thus made it less likely, or maybe even impossible for me to have the kinds of intense and beautiful reading experiences that I just had that I… now I had this gorgeous half hour that I’d never have again but I would never have it again because I fucked up. And for me that’s the second layer and it’s something that I’m sure I’m going to talk about a lot over the next well, over many episodes do I have? That’s going to be a theme that returns and returns because that’s how OCD manifests.

There’s the fear that something’s gone wrong or something is about to go wrong or something might go wrong if I don’t avert disaster. But then there’s the second order of fears about how I’ll feel if any of that happens. How I’ll feel about myself how I’ll self-condemn forever, how I’ll deserve to feel all the horrible and desiccated feelings that I feel because I fucked up. And of course these fears about how I’ll see myself and how I treat myself obey many of the same rules or patterns or I guess protocols of OCD bullshit OCD thinking in the first place but for me it’s a particularly potent aspect or element of the cocktail.

So, anyway, I picked my nose and I mean it’s always the most humiliating things, isn’t it? It’s not like, I don’t know. If there was almost somewhere that OCD can manifest in a way that still left us, allowed us to feel noble somehow, right? But it’s got this way of stripping. Stripping not just a good feeling away or optimism or even in, neutral feeling away, but it’s got a way of humiliating us in the process to– or at least for me. But I know it’s more than me too. So anyway right now, I’m worried that I’ve fucked up my eyes with my thumbs that shouldn’t have been in my nose in the first place because of I’ve been an adult, someone who’ve grown beyond age of eight, I wouldn’t be picking my nose in the first place.

And, you know and then of course, I’ve got you know grease in my fingers. And do I, you know nothing obvious, nothing big invisible but certainly, or probably, or possibly, something suspect—“Do I go wash my hands? Do I just go ahead and type instead and risk it all, risk fucking up my computer with my now-greasy hands that I’ve gotten greased in the course of doing something I shouldn’t have been doing in the first place?” I mean you can see how, for me anyway, this perfectionism– because that’s what it is, the sense that I never should have fucked up in the first place and that everything that happened in the cascade of events since then is all my fault and that at any number of points along the way there were moments when I could have intervened and halted the relentless march of destruction and I didn’t manage to do it and so now I’m in, you know, this progressively tinier and more self-cannibalizing mental space.

So right, there I am sitting, wondering, “Do I go wash my hands?” or “do I go ahead and type?” I sat and thought about it for a second or didn’t think about it and just finally let an impulse kind of win the day and I went and washed them but then felt like maybe I drive them too hard, I felt like a twinge of pain and thought, “Well, do you know that’s what you brought on yourself. You know, if this whole thing hadn’t started and if you’ve been wiser at any point along the way, you wouldn’t be acting compulsively now.” You would have known, you would have been able frankly, to step back and get the aerial distance I was talking about before. You would have been able to see this force rather than, you know, being hung from one of the trees or falling out of the branches or something.

And you know, thankfully tonight, I had a thought that mitigated some of it for just a minute– or actually softened it for maybe more than a minute. And that thought was, “This feels the same. This is exactly how it always feels. It always feels like this.” It always feels like fear. Fear that isn’t connected to anything else. It’s not connected to any actual, physical sensations or experiences out there in the world. That’s not quite true but I knew in a moment.

My psychologist actually help me see this distinction at one point. He pointed out to me that OCD episodes, at a certain level, always feel the same, at least for me, and they always feel different than any moment in which something has actually gone wrong.

I think of the time that we first discussed this. I was worried about my eyes a lot as I am again now and he said, “You know if something is actually wrong with your eyes, you’ll know. You’ll feel the need to go to the hospital. You’ll be finding yourself taking action. You’ll find that your body and your mind sort of kick in and respond appropriately as necessary.” None of those things are happening. Instead, in this case, it feels like I always does which is that I, if I slow it down and I look at it, or manage to slow it down or I managed to slow down or I managed to… Anyway, I look into feeling slowed down, I can see that this is exactly how the pattern works. It’s the exact same sequence of panicky feelings, incipient thoughts, more vivid thoughts, thoughts that then intensify the worries and the cycle and the vortex sort of intensifies from there and circles and ever in word and ever tighter on itself.

But it’s sort of unmoored from anything else. It’s just its own perpetual motion machine. Thinking that thought was helpful. It dimmed the brightness, the harsh brightness of the lights and you know, as tends to happen, the episode is probably on its long fade out now. It’s sort of a long, long tale. These things often linger. But talking about it here in this form helps us well, might help as much as any particular thought ever could.

And in a way it’s a funny thing as I’ve been preparing to launch this podcast, I’ve looked around on iTunes and I don’t actually see many others. I see there’s a podcast called living, I think it’s called Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, in which a couple discuss the ways that OCD affects the woman’s life, she has it, and their life, I think as a couple as well and it’s a really great thing they’re doing. I don’t remember their names, but you can find the podcast on iTunes. And I’m struck in a way because I am having a wonders you know, if this feels as good as it does to me to just say it, just say what’s happening and try to share some thoughts and perhaps some insights about what’s happening. When I have the whirlwind thought to gather those thoughts. I’m wondering if it could be useful to others.

I wonder if psychologists are recommending to people that they narrate their experiences into their own microphones even if they never do share them on iTunes or whatever. And I’d be curious to know if other folks out there have had this impulse and it lead me to record or share in any particular way but really just I guess, I just mean to download the thoughts and the experiences that they, or we go through. Whether it’s to a trusted partner or friend or ally, whether it’s in your journal, whether it’s in some other medium that works for you. I’m really grateful to know whether any of that is a tactic that’s in your arsenal and something that you use. All right, enough for now. Talk to you soon.

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