When Thoughts Don't Know Best

One wise piece of advice that’s been given to me is: If you want to change, start with your behaviour; your thoughts will follow in time. Although we cannot change our thoughts and feelings right away, we can modify our behaviour. This will kick-start the process of re-wiring your brain towards healthier reactions to situations. You may not feel convinced at first; you may itch to act on an impulse, or revert to old habits that feel comforting and imprisoning at the same time. But by doing what you know is right, despite the contrary state of your internal climate, you will change yourself for the better. A large part of happiness is striking that harmonious balance between feeling in control and feeling free.

Getting Control, by Lee Baer, tells all about the desperation and desire for control in life. This book covers a range of behavioural disorders that fall into the “obsessive/tic” category. But Baer's main focus is on individuals with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder  (OCD); helping them understand their condition, and rediscover themselves—their control—through a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy, active reinforcements, and family/friend support.

It can be hard to understand the true damage of the disease (which varies in the degree of severity and in type). Why can’t these people just relax—stop worrying about what’s not there? To an individual without OCD, the prospect of the house burning down if the kettle is left plugged in is less convincing than worrying about being struck by lightning. However, to an individual with OCD, just the idea alone creates great anxiety—an anxiety that the individual cannot separate from an actual threat. The house will burn down. I must check (and several times at that—perhaps some random number that arbitrarily provides a sense of relief). I am a bad person if I don’t check…terrible things will happen to me, or to my family…

People with OCD cannot control the thoughts and images that come into their head. Their brains are on permanent disc-skipping mode. The gratification that a taste of control brings often breeds ritualistic compulsions, like checking and washing. These compulsions are damaging, and reinforce the validity of the false messages assaulting the brain.

When control is gone, you crave it, and often find it in ways that are self-destructive. These forms of control trap you in a cycle of compromise. A genuine sense of control gives way to freedom. Paradoxically, in order for people with OCD to get there, they have to give up the “control” they have been clinging too, and open up to the idea that you can’t control much in life. In order to be happy, we need to accept things as they are. We must try the best we can.   

Blair Scott

Blair Scott is a Professional Writing student at Algonquin College, who loves writing poetry. In recent times, she has become interested in the analysis of various sources of health literature, and how consumers come to terms with this multitude of information. Blair currently works at a health food store, but aspires to become a freelance contract writer and editor.