Julie Miller's Mental Health Blog

“O” is for Obsessive Compulsive

Posted on: June 2, 2010

“Obsession” is mental preoccupation.  There are also tons of songs by this same name.  And a perfume, I think.  Maybe the word sounds or looks good, but it is one of the more unpleasant experiences an individual can experience.  Why?  An obsession is rarely about something really fun, pleasant, or helpful.  Sometimes, maybe, but among most of us, it’s irrational and unpleasant.

An obsession to smoke.  Can’t think about anything else until that mental obsession is relieved by smoking.

An obsession with a person.  Can’t think about anything else until there is relief, such as going out on a date with her.  Or having sex with him.  Or beating my wife because I think she’s having an affair.  (This last example will probably raise some eyebrows.)

An obsession to drink, use drugs, spend money, gamble, clean, count, etc.  All mental obsessions which increase anxiety until they are acted upon.  Then there is a sense of relief, and the central nervous system is regulated.

The central nervous system (CNS) becomes disregulated through a variety of means.  I’m stressed.  I’m running on empty.  Something happens at home that’s upsetting.  A the boss yells at me at work.  A car cuts me off in traffic.  I spill my coffee on my clean white shirt.  I may have difficulty regulating because I didn’t learn good skills as a kid, or I had caregivers who used alcohol or drugs to regulate, and I never learned anything else.

Maybe I’m depressed.  My emotional “shock absorbers” are shot.  My system is not “regulated,” meaning that it’s not running smoothly, on all cylinders.

To survive, my CNS must seek regulation.  I’m a creature of habit, as all homo sapiens are.  What has worked for me in the past will be automatic.  Whatever has helped me feel relief will be my first choice. Cleaning, counting, rituals, smoking, drinking, snorting, spending, controlling others, violence, eating, gambling, masturbation, pornography, sex, restricting, purging, etc.

Other options?  Tons.   Moderate exercise.  Meditation.  Music.  Playing the piano.  Bubble baths.  Self-manicures.  Chopping wood.  Carrying water.  Weeding.  Painting a room.  Sewing a shirt.  Hand quilting. Petting your dog.  Playing with your cat.  Teaching your fish a trick (yes, they can be trained).

But these alternatives won’t even occur to me unless I notice the disregulation and examine what triggered it in the first place.

The first step is always “notice.”  And yes, it sounds stupid and annoying.  But truly, it’s the first step.

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