I have friends who spend a lot of time raking the same problems over the coals in their heads over and over again. The worry consumes them. I always tell them, “Don’t over think these things. That’s how you get the tumors and shit.” I know, because I used to let worry incapacitate me.
This shouldn’t surprise readers of this blog. I’ve described it before. OCD is very much about worry spinning out of control. If it’s something routine, like sending an editor a flawless story, it’ll eat away at a lot of precious time. I used to write a story, read it back aloud, polish it, read it aloud again, then I’d still be afraid to file it for fear that it wasn’t absolutely perfect. I got home late many nights and lost a lot of sleep because of it.
When it was about health, I’d make myself sick for real by fixating too hard on what MIGHT happen. That’s when the anxiety attacks would come. In 1991, after a colonoscopy to monitor the Crohn’s Disease, I was informed that my colon was covered with hundreds of polyps — more scar tissue than polyps, but something that had to be kept an eye on. I was advised to get a colonoscopy every year to ensure it didn’t morph into colon cancer unnoticed. Good advice. So I let more than eight years pass before a bout of bleeding forced me to get one. Until then, I wasted a lot of time in fear that every stomach cramp, however small, was colon cancer. I’d spin it in my head repeatedly, rationalizing why I shouldn’t get the test. Just following doctor’s orders in the first place would have saved me a lot of over-thinking. That was clear when I had the test and found out everything was fine.
I’ve spent too much time thinking about plenty of other things. It ages you.
But I’ve learned something in my recovery from OCD and the related binge eating addiction: When you learn to stop over-thinking, a lot of things that used to be daunting become a lot easier. You also find yourself in a lot of precious moments that were always there. But you didn’t notice them because you were sick with worry.
I’m a lot happier now that I quickly file an article right after writing it. I move on to the next item on the agenda more quickly and am a lot more productive at work as a result. Does that mean my stories need more editing? Not that I’ve noticed. But hell, that’s what editors are for anyway.
By making doctor appointments and just getting the next blood test or colonoscopy, I do away with a lot of physical pain that worrying used to cause me.
That doesn’t mean I never worry or think about anything. What’s the use of having a brain if you never think about things? There are also a lot of people out there who don’t do nearly as much thinking about their lives as they should.
But there’s a fine line between useful thought and white noise, and my challenge has been to keep myself on the right side of that line. I’ve learned to pick my mental battles more carefully.
It’s easier said than done. If you’re a chronic worrier and someone tells you not to worry you want to punch that person in the face, right? I sure did. When the worry is rushing out of every corner, you can’t even begin to figure out how to shut the valves.
I eventually did it by getting years of intense psychotherapy. I had to peel back each layer of worry and figure out how it all got there. It sucked. A lot. Every painful memory of childhood came to the surface and I had to deal with it head on. Prozac definitely helped. Without getting all the therapy first I don’t think the medicine would have worked as well as it has. In the end, all the Prozac did was fix the flow of my brain chemistry, which was hopelessly out of whack from years of self-abuse.
Delving into the 12 steps through OA was huge, too. Eliminating flour and sugar from my diet cleared out my head in ways I never thought possible. Sugar and flour consumed in massive quantities gummed up my mental gears as bad as any bottle of whiskey would have done.
Letting God into my life was the most important move of all. [See “The Better Angels of My Nature“]
Yeah, I still worry about things. But not like I used to.
It feels better that way.