When my psychiatrist told me that my first homework assignment for learning to cope with my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder was practicing mindfulness meditation, I felt myself deflate. I had been waiting months for the right psychiatrist, one whose long list of alma maters is composed of reputable research institutions and one who has had lots of clinical experience. It was like waiting to see the great Wizard of Oz; I had all of my hopes pinned on this greatly anticipated appointment! It was the visit that would turn the tide in my battle against my anxiety disorder and I had decided that this person would give me the magic answer and restore my brain to logic and reason. Of course, the road to successfully treating OCD is a long one usually characterized by more than learning to live in the present and breathe; some combination of cogntive-behavioral therapy and SSRIs appear to be the usual course of treatment . It had been determined by my particular healthcare team that I was not yet a case that required SSRIs and so began the process of learning to restructure my thinking and my reactions; my journey to mindfulness.
Meditation is hard for me. The gears in my head are constantly turning. Give me any scenario and I will pick it apart and show you every facet and every possibility, no matter how small the statistical likelihood; my brain will not stop. How can my mind and body be still enough to meditate? I think most Americans can relate.
Living in the present is even more impossible. My mind goes off on very long tangents to unnecessary places, such as what I would do if I were to suddenly find myself homeless or some other great and unlikely drama. At this very moment, I am fighting the compulsion to read and re-read this blogpost to ensure that I have not accidentally and unconsciously revealed the identity of my psychiatrist (would that even be a problem? In my head it would be).
I have, however, had a few rare moments in my life of truly being present and those moments were so beautiful and freeing that I am convinced that this mindfulness thing is worth pursuing. Tonight is one example: I have just returned from volunteering at a local non-profit that serves refugees and helps them transition into their new lives here in America. For the hour that I am there, my brain stops it’s unnecessary buzzing. I am fully present. I am feeling connected to the world around me, rather than isolated within my own neverending thoughts. I smell the yummy food from our potluck. I feel the chill from the open window nearby. All the while, I am fully immersed in helping someone understand American culture while I learn about their culture. This moment is for me, what art, dance, sports, and music are to others; I feel happy to be alive and privileged to witness the beauty of this human interaction. For that hour, I do not worry about whether my house is burning down because of some appliance (one of many themes in my OCD, as you will see). For that hour, I have no compulsions or obsessive thoughts. While this may not be meditation, I think it is an example of the happiness and inner peace that comes with being fully present in the here and now.
Why wouldn’t I want to strengthen this ability? And how many other beautiful moments in my life am I missing because of my anxiety?
My journey to mindfulness will not be one that has a destination; I’ve been informed that there isn’t some final point I can reach at which my OCD will be forever gone. I also know that it’s highly unlikely I will achieve some zen-like state of mind that will make me impervious to stress and worry. I do think, however, that in strengthening the mental muscles that help facilitate mindfulness meditation, I’ll have more moments like the one I had tonight. I also have such moments when I am decorating cupcakes, learning new things, when I am grocery shopping, and when I am involved with anything that happens to have glitter, fairy tales, Taylor Swift, and other elements of whimsy:)
So, for starters, here are some really great links to about mindfulness meditation and other interesting blogs I have stumbled upon about OCD: