Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Distraction is a Good Thing

Here I am distracting myself with water
Whether you have OCD or not, you've probably heard that distractions are a bad thing. They take your eye off the prize! They keep you from fulfilling your potential! They do all manner of unspecific things to your life, leading you on a spiral of chaos that will only lead to you never facing a challenge head on! Okay, you've heard all that. If you have OCD, you've also heard distraction isn't good for your recovery. I want you to consider that perhaps distraction isn't a bad thing at all.

As a crappy student, I was always distracted. When I was younger, bullies and my efforts to keep my head down, metaphorically, distracted me. When I got older, I was distracted by boys, drugs (very mild, folks; calm down), rock 'n roll and all other manner of mild mayhem. Sure, if I had focused, I would have done better in school. Maybe I would have been happier or more successful now that I'm in my 30s. Nobody knows, so let's not speculate. I do know this, I was going to be distracted to some degree no matter what. Telling people distraction is bad is the same as telling them farting is disgusting. You've just made them feel bad about something they're going to do naturally.

Now for the other side of my distraction story, which is actually distracting me from work. When I fully realized I had OCD, professionals told me that ERP (exposure and response prevention) is the way to go. Most proponents of this method would tell you distraction is bad. Distraction helps you avoid the problems you are having, reinforces the "badness" of your OCD fears, etc. In some ways, they are right. In order to do an exposure, you have to be present, but what about when you are not doing an exposure or your anxiety is more generalized?

Here we get to the part where I tell you it's okay to use things like music, television, video games, family time and exercise to distract yourself from your mental illness. Firstly, your entire life is not an exposure. Sometimes, you need to reset your brain before you can get better. You need to break the loop of worry and reaction by just doing something else. This applies whether you have a mental illness or not. Do you have a cold and feel like shit? You're not going to dwell on it and tell yourself it's okay all day. You're just going to watch a movie and be miserable. The movie helps you forget that you're miserable for a moment. Sick people deserve that break.

I haven't fleshed out this idea as much as I would like to, but some thoughts don't need more than a few paragraphs. You get my meaning. Don't feel bad that you had to play a video game to keep your panic at a manageable level. Don't beat yourself up about needing some down time after a tough exposure. You don't need to live in your illness all the time. By all means, show up for your exposures. Be present. Challenge yourself to face your fears. Just don't forget to unplug when you're done. Really. You're not going to get in trouble or hurt your recovery. I promise.