Why "71º & Sunny?"

I consider 71º to be the perfect temperature. Not too cold and not too hot. I also love perfect sunny days. The vast majority of days are not 71º & Sunny and yet, all days were created by God's hand and they are still gifts, even if they don't fit my ridiculous definition of perfection. My struggle with OCD has at times imprisoned me in an impossible attempt to achieve perfection. I'm now learning to love all kinds of days that don't even come close to 71º & Sunny.

Please leave me a comment below. I really want to know what you are thinking!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

What Is The Right Question?

In July, 2010, I had the privilege of attending the International OC Foundation Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. I actually went by myself. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I had been in CBT for about 10 months. I was starting to get better. For so long I had been very needy and dependent on family members. I needed to know I could do something alone.

The trip to D.C. went well, and the conference was interesting. I met a really nice woman at the conference and we sat and chatted for a while. I even bumped into a few friends from a previous support group I had been a part of.

The real problem was the trip home on the Amtrak train. Everything was going fine, until the train made a stop. A young couple boarded the train with their newborn in a carrier. There were only single seats available, so I offered to move to allow them to sit together as a family. I reached into the overhead luggage compartment to move my carry on bag out of the way for them, and that is when I saw it. A loose screw. It was screwed into the overhead luggage compartment to keep the plastic cover in place. I saw the screw and thought, "Maybe I should screw it back into place. No, no one else would do that and this couple is waiting for me to move so they can sit." So I did nothing with the screw. I found a new seat nearby and sat down. Right in view of this little family and the overhead luggage compartment.

The dad opened the compartment to put their luggage in and that is when the terrorizing anxiety struck. I was just sure that somehow the dad would hit the loose screw and that the screw was going to fall directly into the baby carrier and that the baby was going to pick up the screw and choke to death on it. So I agonized about whether I should go over to the couple and mention that there was a loose screw and that they should make sure it didn't fall into their baby's carrier. Deep down, I suspected that this was totally OCD. I was sure that everyone on that train was going to think I was completely insane if I mentioned this screw to the couple. But then, I started to berate myself. "What kind of Christian are you? You don't want to protect this baby? You're a horrible human being." When throwing questions like that at myself, the only answer is that I am a terrible person. What kind of person doesn't want to save a baby? I was horrified and ashamed of myself.
These thoughts tormented me for almost an hour; back and forth, back and forth. That's when it hit me. This was the first real time that I was totally consumed by OCD and yet I was able to find some rational thinking in spite of it. It was like a light bulb went off, when I realized I was asking myself the wrong questions. If I ask myself, "Don't you want to save a baby?" of course, the answer has to be yes. I've stacked the deck with that kind of question. There is only one conclusion to that question. But then I understood that the real question I had to ask myself was, "Would anyone else see danger in that loose screw?" Ah, now that was the question I should have been asking myself all along.
I don't think anyone would have thought one way or the other about that loose screw. The baby's dad was an adult. He could see that loose screw as well as anyone when placing his bag in the compartment. There would have to have been a precise order of occurrences for that screw to pop out and land right in the baby's carrier. I guess what I'm saying is that in retrospect it would have been an unlikely set of circumstances to pose a danger to that baby. Somehow, my OCD mind made it a likely, no, a probable, scenario of danger. That's what cognitive distortions will do to you. All or nothing thinking. Catastrophizing. It's hard to see reality when distortions blind your vision. Even with my new awareness however, I still continued to struggle with whether I should approach the parents or not. That tricky, tricky OCD.

In case you're wondering, a little while after I realized my cognitive distortions, the family got off the train. Everyone was fine and in good health, including that precious little baby. Now as for myself, I continued the rest of the trip alternating between sky-high anxiety and utter exhaustion. Nevertheless, I was so excited with my "aha" moment. That's when I started to grasp that perhaps something good was beginning to take place in my brain.


  1. What an excellent question in and of itself: "What is the right question?"

    We do tend to stack the deck against us. If we don't want to respond to a compulsive urge (like picking up a stick on the sidewalk), then we often tell ourselves that we are uncaring and selfish. But you're right. Why not ask: Would anyone else find the stick dangerous?

    It seems that those of use with disorders like OCD, GAD and depression tend to turn on ourselves first, blame ourselves first. It's so sad. But you had a wonderful "aha" moment. Thank you for sharing it and teaching me something that I hadn't thought of!

    1. Hey Tina! I'm glad this was helpful for you. You are so right about blaming ourselves. I am always the first one I think of having done something wrong if things aren't perfect. Trying to stop doing that. I'm also working to take "perfect" out of my vocabulary. It doesn't really exist anyway.

  2. Wow!!Congradulations!! Good for you! I'm so happy for you. That was a really good break-thru. Of course you were exhausted after all that mental work. Next time will be easier, i hope.

    1. Thanks Karin. It definitely was mental work. Sometimes it does get easier now. Sometimes I still forget to ask myself the right question. But I guess it takes time to change habits that have developed over 4 decades.

  3. Oh, I just love this post.........so many lessons in it. And I love the idea of making it a point to "ask the right question." The right question can certainly put things in perspective. Thanks for a great post!