OCD and Paris

by dan freedigitalphotos.net

by dan freedigitalphotos.net

Over the last few days we have seen the world caught up in terror over the tragic events in France. The way I feel is reminiscent of 9/11, though not as intense. Still, at times I find myself walking around in a bit of a daze, with that feeling of anxiety churning away in my stomach. My heart goes out to all those who have been directly affected by these horrific actions.

I watched the news reports as they came in. I heard survivors interviewed. I heard detail upon detail. I saw pictures. And then I did what I should have done earlier. I shut off the television.

For me, the current media is too much. It’s too graphic, with far more information than is necessary for most people. Of course, this is just my opinion. This is not a criticism of news reporters. I realize many of them risk their lives to make sure the world has accurate information. I’m just saying, for me, it’s too much to handle.

Which of course makes me think of those with obsessive-compulsive disorder or anxiety disorders. How are they affected? How do they maintain their well-being during times such as these? Do they, like me, avoid the news as much as possible?

Anyone who has had treatment for OCD has likely heard the phrase “avoidance is never the answer.” I even wrote an article about avoidance as a compulsion four years ago.

This is different. I don’t think avoiding potentially triggering news reports is the same as avoidance as a compulsion in OCD, where those with the disorder avoid people (such as friends, loved ones, or acquaintances), places (such as malls, certain buildings, public restrooms), and things (flying, driving, certain clothing –  anything!) that might provoke anxiety. Maybe I’m wrong, but  I feel that avoidance as a compulsions limits your world and strengthens your OCD, while avoidance of these news reports I’m talking about allows you to keep your world going; to continue on with your life.

Even without following the specifics, events such as those of the past days can obviously cause many of us, not just those with OCD or anxiety disorders, to become rattled. What do we do? What can we do?

I don’t have the answers. I try to continue to see the universe as friendly and not focus on the negative.  I try to accept the uncertainty of life, not get caught up in the “what-ifs” of the past and future, and just focus on what matters most – the present. Neither of these is easy to do when we are surrounded by so much turmoil and suffering.

So I continue on the best I can, as we all do. And I hope for peace. I’d love to hear how those of you with and without OCD deal with these times of crisis.

Maybe we can help each other.


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10 Responses to OCD and Paris

  1. Hi Janet,

    First, I want to say thank you. Thank you for all your hard work which is making the world a better place for those of us with OCD. It’s important work, and I am VERY grateful for all you do!

    I see nothing wrong with limiting your exposure to the media coverage of Paris. In fact I think limiting your exposure is healthy. Perhaps listening to the news on the radio or reading about it is preferable to television in cases like this. We wouldn’t expose young children to the graphic images they show on television news. Why should we expose ourselves to too much of it? I think if we watch too much of this stuff, it tends to desensitize us to the significance of these terrible events.

    I have been in treatment for OCD for over 25 years. One of my excellent psychologists once told me: “you are what you eat” when it comes to choosing what you expose yourself to in life. (He was referring to what you read, but I believe the concept can be expanded to life in general.) Certain things are worth avoiding deliberately simply because they’re bad our health or state of mind. To me watching this kind of news on television to much is analogous to playing too many violent video games. As mentioned it tends to desensitizes us.

    One of my OCD challenges is that I get anxious when I read about the negative side effects that are possible from some of the medications that I am on which treat OCD. That’s a completely different animal than the Paris television coverage is. That’s something that I need to work on with ERP. In this case, OCD is trying to trick me into believing something is more dangerous than it actually is. This is a cognitive distortion. This is OCD based anxiety as opposed to legitimate anxiety that occurs when we hear about acts of terrorism. I think it’s important to understand the distinction between OCD based anxiety and legitimate anxiety.

    In regards to your question about how we cope with terrible events like those in Paris, I wish I knew easy answers, but I do not.

    If you believe in a higher power, you can fall back on one of my mother’s favorite sayings: “God has a plan.” Faith can be a powerful thing. In fact one of my psychologists told me about a patient he had who defeated OCD primarily by putting her anxiety in God’s hands.

    OK, so what can each of us do to help fight terrorism? I only have a couple of ideas about this. The first is to vote for people who believe that we need a strong defense policy. The second is to participate in volunteer work to help people like our disabled veterans, or to make charitable contributions to organizations like police and fire departments. I consider these things to be direct ways for us to support our own national defense.

    Then there’s the question of how we cope mentally with this nightmare called terrorism. That’s a hard question. One thing we can do is lean on our friends and loved ones… lean on our “support network”: get our feelings and fears out there in the open and talk about it. Support one another. Sharing ideas with others helps us keep perspective. Another tool that is available to some of us is our faith in a higher power.

    This is where I start to run out of ideas. I personally question whether the “human race” is smart enough not to destroy itself… either through acts of war, or other things like poisoning this beautiful planet we call Earth.

    Once we have done all that we can to personally fight terrorism, we need to train our minds to emphasize the positives in life, without putting our heads in the sand regarding the negatives. We have to have hope for a better future, and we all need to contribute what we can towards making that hope a reality. We also need to cherish every single positive thing in life, and we need to do that every moment of every day.

    Bottom line: Focus on the positive and cherish all the positives in life all the time. Help where we can… and hope for the best.


    – Paul

  2. Hi Paul, Thank you so much for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful and wise comment. I absolutely agree with everything you say and you make some wonderful suggestions. Yes, we must cherish all the positive things in our lives! Thank you for sharing and I’m wishing you all the best.

  3. ednagilbert says:

    Agreed! Focus on the positive! I’ve been struggling with this too. There is so much negative in the news. Not that I’m ignoring, belittling, disrespecting those impacted… I just know that I can’t handle the barrage of coverage. I sometimes feel guilty for not watching but remember that I’m not really helping the situation but simply observing either. Take care!

    • Thank you for sharing Edna, and I appreciate your comment. I think we all need to do what works best for ourselves, so we can continue on positively with our lives. Hope to hear from you again!

  4. Susie says:

    I have OCD (germ phobia and lots of checking). When I saw on the TV news reports about the Paris attacks I was in and felt shocked – esp. the aspect of the attacks occurring in so many different locations of Paris; as if the ISIS message was: you can’t go to a cafe, you can’t go to a concert, you can’t go to a soccer match. You can’t go anywhere.
    I especially felt saddened by a photo I kept seeing (mainly online) of the face of a young woman being led away by police from one of the venues attacked and the look on her face….was of utter, absolute terror and horror; and I felt so sad for her and the other survivors too; having to go on living with such a trauma replaying in their minds. I also imagined they must have felt, especially at the concert for some reason, that during the shooting, which reportedly lasted for a full 15 minutes, that it must have felt like a nightmare they were having when everything feels real, the helplessness, that paralyzed feeling when you want desperately to move your body but can’t, or you try everything to get out of a bad situation but can’t, or a feeling of suffocation or disgust….
    Then their realization that they weren’t asleep or dreaming or having a nightmare at all. On that Friday night all of them were wide awake. It was real. Real bullets. Real panic. No escape.
    If they had one consolation (at least the one that I imagined for them) it was that as survivors they did not suffer alone (So often the horror of a trauma is that it is suffered alone and that awful, isolating feeling that you alone know what it was like). So at least they have others who understand their feeling of what it was like and what they went through and that they can share their feelings with each other.
    For me, more recently and several days after the Paris attacks had taken place, I watched my usual TV news program and there was more of the whole Paris attacks again as more information had been discovered so that the entire show was devoted to the attacks and instead of sadness like before, I now felt myself getting really pissed off. I had been in a good mood all day before I watched this program but then immediately after the show was over I felt pissed, angry and then quite depressed about the whole situation.
    Of course, I should have gotten out of my apartment, distracted myself with some pleasant activity, but even before I was diagnosed with OCD I have always been a mood driven person. Instead of doing what needs to be done, or what makes sense, or what would be logical to do, I’ve allowed by moods to dictate how I act/react to my world. So when the Paris attack story hit me and I felt angry then depressed, I indulged somewhat in my depression – it was how I felt. I didn’t feel like enjoying life. I was too depressed by my depression. I do know cognitively that often the mood or feeling will FOLLOW the action. Putting this into ACTION is difficult for me. Anybody else feel this way. Share if you want.
    I do have days where I feel I MUST unplug EVERYTHING electronic. All the news, and broadcasters, and joksters all talking, talking, talking to each other, themselves, the audience; it feels like sometimes they are shouting and shouting at me and honestly, for sanity’s sake, I just turn it all off – for days at a time sometimes and listen to classical music if I must listen to anything.
    A good avoidance!

    • Thank you for sharing, Susie. As others have said, I think unplugging everything electronic can actually be a healthy avoidance and allow us to continue on with our lives as best we can….each of us has our own tolerance! Thanks again for your insight.

      • Sue Ann Haag says:

        Dear Janet,

        Any suggestions as to HOW to DO what I know I should do, (as in getting out of the house and going for a walk when the Paris attacts news was too overwhelming);
        or all the other avoidances of tasks I do instead of doing the ACTUAL task -all the while knowing that avoidance doesn’t work.
        The self-help books and counselors advise me what to do/when, and I nod in agreement because of course I know, I know….Why do I have such a hard time Doing it? How can I learn to approach discomfort when I would “rather not unless I absolutely must?” (usually after much avoidance and the situation or task has gotten worse…).

      • Hi Sue Ann, It’s a great question and I think one we all struggle with on various levels. I’m not a therapist and I don’t have any amazing advice but I think a lot of it comes down to incentive. We all feel ambivalence over different things (we want to lose weight but we want that piece of cake too). I think it comes down to “How much do you REALLY want to get better?” When your incentive outweighs your fears (http://psychcentral.com/lib/understanding-recovery-avoidance-in-ocd/) you can push yourself harder and do what you need to do………hope this makes sense and good luck as you move forward!

  5. Susie says:

    Thanks for the reply. Incentive; yes I forgot that one; I’m thinking my avoidance comes down to lack of discipline – a variation of my usual default of “laziness.” I think too, it’s the “bother factor” ie, how much of a bother I envision some task being and my addiction to oh so badly preferring always the more easy, soothing, comfortable, enjoyable thing I’d rather do instead. And no wonder it is such a bother – to the point I avoid, avoid, avoid and then compulse, compulse, compulse.
    This cleasing and washing is a supreme bother to me – a savage bother and so, no wonder I avoid.
    (Something I did not anticipate; the physical toll catching up with me. After years of near constant tension and insane contortions when I would re-wind actions in my head and physically when I wasn’t certain I had or hadn’t touched something I thought was dirty, contagious, bad – well the effect on my body chronic pain more or less daily. So now, cleaning like I used to is becoming more and more physically impossible. I wonder how others may be dealing with this….)
    Once-in-a-while I do remember that place deep down in my cave of caves, down in the light-less mind-shafts inside me where I KNOW how overblown all my super-cleaning and washing and worrying is; how unnecessary it is (but only in retrospect mind you).
    Ironically, my Sister doesn’t believe I have OCD – so outlandish it seems to her – as if it’s one big 30 year on-going practical joke I’m pulling. Perhaps her disbelief is because of my own awareness of my OCD (which is, after all, the hallmark of OCD – that we know we may act crazy but we must carry out our compulsions anyway). I told her this about knowing being a hallmark but she still can’t wrap her mind around some of my behaviors.
    “You actually drove back and checked?” she once asked me when I told her about my fears of hitting people with my car. I wonder if others have family or friends who don’t believe them about their OCD.
    Yes, it is incentive. How much do I want to be better? Surely with the pain OCD has already wreaked upon my life and my family and friends, how could the pain of going through ERP sessions be any more painful? What, in heavens name, could be more of a bother than my current compulsions? If only I could feel safe, be sure …stay tuned….

    • Your last sentence sums up OCD……if only you could be sure. You can’t be sure; none of us can, and so you are chasing something you can’t catch. As someone who doesn’t have OCD it is very hard to understand why someone would choose to live with the disorder rather than go through the “pain” of treatment. Surely living with OCD is worse than going through ERP therapy. The bottom line is I have NEVER heard from anyone who regretted committing themselves to ERP therapy and getting better. The only regret I hear is that they didn’t do it sooner. Good luck!!

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