A Lesson in Mindfulness and the Conquering of OCD

“Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.

You’re walking in a forest. Imagine what the forest looks like, feels like…

Now you’re lying on a beach. There’s a red light that beams over your body. It fills you with a feeling. The feeling is love. Feel the love as it rushes through your body.”

Red light? Okay, well this is great. I am going to become so mindful. I’m going to be one of those people who goes home each day and meditates for 30 minutes instead of having a drink or zoning out to Netflix. I’m going to –

“Now, slowly lift your torso up and stand up from the beach. Feel the sunshine as it hits your face. Do you feel it?”

No. Nope. Don’t feel a thing. And what is this red light he’s talking about? Is it supposed to be a sun ray? A laser pointer someone is shining in my face and moving up and down my body?

“Walk back towards the forest, feeling the air brush against your skin. Find the opening in the forest you came through before.”

Wait, who is pointing the laser pointer at me? How far away are they standing?

“Walk back through the forest; take your time. Take in everything around you. Feel the leaves from the plants brushing up against your skin. Reach out and touch them with your hands. Feel the life of them run through you.”

Why the hell would they tell me to imagine myself lying on a beach with someone running a laser pointer up and down my body? 

“Okay now, open your eyes.”

The group leader had finally completed his spiel. His voice was calm and soothing.

“How do you feel?”

I felt mostly the same, but slightly sleepier considering I had my eyes shut for 15 minutes with someone talking softly and slowly at me – and still a bit annoyed about the laser pointer analogy.

It was the other group leader’s turn to speak now.

“So, let’s consider your list of triggers. What are some things that would be lower down on your list? Is there something you think you could tackle today during group? Sarah, since this is your first time, would you feel comfortable doing an exposure right now?”

Well fuck, way to put someone on the spot.

“I don’t know. I can’t really remember what was on my list.”

“Okay, well what about if we all shake the person’s hand next to us. Do you think you could do that?”

“Yes, I can do that.”

The guy next to me has contamination OCD too, so he definitely has clean hands.

“Okay, well how about we try it. Jim, will you shake Sarah’s hand?”

Her voice was coaxing and reassuring. I hated it.

We all shake hands. Both group leaders are staring at me, the woman especially.

What is she waiting for? For me to implode? Freak out? Run out of the room screaming, “I MUST WASH HANDS NOW!”

“So, how do you feel? On a scale of 1-10, what is your anxiety level?”

Because the group leader is staring at me and probably thinking to herself how exciting it all is to watch someone do something they might not want to, my anxiety is at an all-time high, but instead, I say, “I feel okay. Probably about a four.”

“Oh great! So, it wasn’t that bad for you. Now see how you feel over the next few minutes. Does the desire for you to wash your hands increase or decrease? You want to remember the anxiety; don’t try to forget it. The point is to hold on to how you feel and tell yourself that it isn’t important.”

“Yup. Okay.”

I sit and listen as the woman next to me explains how she hasn’t been able to go into work. She is terrified to drive her car because she is worried she’ll crash into someone and kill them. And how she works for a grocery store and has to pick up every single twist tie she finds – to the point of having to dig through a clear garbage bag full of old fruits and vegetables to get to one.

And the guy who is so afraid he’s going to stab someone with a knife, he has to hide them in the oven to keep his mind at rest.

Or the woman who wants to kill babies. She literally said when she was holding a baby she wanted to squeeze its neck until it stopped breathing. She has an array of other issues as well – your typical OCD stuff. Has to check whether the stove is off multiple times, has to check if the door is locked multiple times. But to a greater extent than your average person. Trust me, you don’t come to this group unless your OCD is noticeably affecting your life. (I personally believe the baby neck squeezer is in the wrong class).

Coming to this class has shown me how much better off I am than most of these people. My OCD isn’t that bad. It’s manageable. I go to work. I’m in a relationship. I’m basically fine. I leave feeling really great about myself and my condition. I probably don’t need to come back.

What is this on my bag? I better clean that off when I get home. It probably won’t come off if I just wipe at it, so I better throw it in the washing machine. But will that make the washing machine dirty if I put a bag in it? I don’t really even like this bag that much and I have another one that’s pretty similar; I think I’ll just throw it away. Be more minimalist. Great. Definitely need to wash my hands though; pretty sure I might have touched whatever it is that’s on my bag.

I get in my car – that I have no problem driving – to make my way home.

Cover by Natalia Figueredo