Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ramble: Tryptophan Girl

I touched the top of a package of chicken a few hours ago. And I haven't washed my hands yet.

How is this meaningful? Well, I worry. A lot. I spend most hours of most days with one worry or the other either front and center in my brain, or waiting in the wings, merrily waving every few minutes to be sure that I can see him.

I recently realized that most of the foods that I crave and have thought of as "my foods" all my life--milk with various starchy junk foods, sunflower seeds with oversweetened iced tea, peanut butter and jelly on squishy white bread, turkey sandwiches on similarly squishy white bread, and, of course, chicken (usually with rice) are packages of tryptophan-rich foods plus carbs. Which, according to Google, help produce serotonin. Which is good for reducing worry cycles.

Oh. Now you tell me. So I've been self-medicating all my life? No wonder I'm round.

And, yes, I wash my hands too often, and I check doors, and I worry about bigger things that are harder to see as irrational and I demand that other people reassure me about those worries. OCD genes flowing down the family tree. Further Googling tells me that the cycle of obsession leading to compulsion leading to following the compulsion leading to temporary relief is, in the long run, about as addictive as a smoking habit. Every time I comply with a compulsion, whether it's washing my hands or demanding reassurance or rehearsing all the details of "did I do that right?" in my mind, I'm training my brain to demand another fix.

I think. This is, admittedly, all coming from Google. But the respectable-looking sites all seem to agree: Complying with those compulsions is not only bad in the moment, because you wasted thirty seconds running back to check the door, but they're bad in the long run, because you train your brain to demand the comfort of the compliance, like a baby who never, ever seems to be able to get himself to sleep without help.

I don't know what I'd recommend for the baby, but I think it's time to let my brain cry it out. I've kept a conscious level of control of the little OCD rituals--I won't let myself wash my hands or check my doors more than I did last week or last month. But that just seems to let the worry emerge in areas where it's less clear that I'm being irrational, and that's worse.

So I think it's time to stop merely holding my ground, and start making progress. No more washing my hands for no good reason. No more checking that I've locked the door--never, not even once, has it turned out that I hadn't locked up, so the check is clearly irrational, even if my mind is gibbering at this very moment that it's not.

And when those big, less defined worries come up, the ones where it's less clear that I'm nuts? I think it's time to accept that someday, before I die, I might actually do something wrong and somebody might actually be mad at me. But that the consequences will probably be less than the consequences of spending my entire life with the worry of the day tapdancing in center stage. So, no more making absolutely sure that I've done every conceivable thing to resolve the issue, no more rehearsing the details over and over in my mind, no more endless impossible-to-satisfy quests for certainty.

Now I'm going to go drink a vat of milk and eat a cookie or three. I'm not giving up the tryptophan yet.

Image: By Unisouth. Wikimedia Commons.


  1. good for you! give yourself a(n) unwashed pat on the back!


  2. A tricky challenge, especially as there are so many encouragements to us to keep washing our hands (by manufacturers of hand-washing products, in the main!). Good luck with breaking the cycle.

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

  3. Good for you! I too have suffered from anxiety and repetitive thoughts. I tried SSRIs and they worked but I wasn't comfortable taking them long term. They did give me breathing room to recognize my issues were all in my head and experience how other people feel, living anxiety free. Now I just try to recognize the issues when they happen and tell myself to chill.

  4. I try, I really do, but even now, knowing the OCD and its baggage well, I still check the locks and play the old "was I truly understood?" tune in my head daily.
    Yesterday, having left the house, gotten in the car, driven down the drive and halfway into town, I made my husband turn around and take me back home so I could "check" the back door. Yes, of course it was locked. Sigh. I feel for you.

  5. Thanks, Musette! I managed to keep the hand unwashed until it was time to eat something. That seemed like a Normal People Strategy. :)

  6. Hey, Anna! This is true. I have so far managed to avoid the determined efforts of the advertisers to convince me to use antibacterial products all over the house, and I'm not dead yet. :) So I figure that I can safely avoid marketing advice even further.

  7. Yo, Anonymous! Breathing room sounds like a nice goal. :)

  8. Hey, Christine! I think that the key for me, not that it's remotely easy to use, is to stop telling myself "nothing bad is going to happen", because my brain is never convinced of that. The new philosophy is "Yeah, something bad might happen, but you have to cut this out and take the risk anyway."

    Yeah, I need more milk now. :)

  9. Ok, I'm sorry, but I missed from paragraph two on, cause I can't stop wanting you to go wash your hands. Now.

    Right, it's what? 6 days later? But, still, I'm looking at milk and thinking of raw chicken. And freaking.

    LOL, no really, tho, I can relate. I did ask my husband to pick the "to go" box off the booth seat at the restaurant today, because, um, ewww. But I try to limit the double checking and hand washing too.

    I didn't even know that the "was I truly understood?" tune played into this until Christine said so! I need more milk, too. =)

  10. Yo, Amy! Heh. :) I did wash them before I had that cookie, on the premise that if I'm going to _touch food_, that's when a rational person washes their hands. I think.

    Yes! Milk! It's not possible to break these habits without milk.

  11. Eh, I always think of my sisters' kids, one was obsessively clean, and those children ended up with major allergies; the other would pick up a banana that fell on the sand at the beach and give it to her child, and that one grew to be a big strong bruiser, and incredibly smart, too...

  12. If it makes you feel any better, I'm sure that a huge amount of people suffer from OCD to a greater or lesser degree. Good for you battling with your demons. I'm sure that being open about it helps too. Once upon a time it was a complete taboo to discuss this kind of thing. So good on you.

  13. Yo, IndiePerfumes! Yep, I try to keep in mind that, yes, I Have An Immune System. Though the germ worries tend to be the most easily conquered...

  14. Hey, MPL! It's pretty obviously genetic in my case - when we were kids, we could judge Mom's stress level by watching whether she was washing fruit with soap or not. :) Hopefully I can knock mine down a fair little bit.