Living with an Anxiety Disorder can rob us of our confidence. The experience of distressing OCD thoughts can make us feel like we are a horrid individual. When the intense emotions of fear, doubt and sadness are with us every waking minute of the day they can effect our countenance as well as our behavior. While it’s true that we certainly don’t choose the emotions we are feeling or the intrusive thoughts that shove in, we are still able to control of how we act.
With OCD we will often avoid the things that trigger the fear. With the constant and nagging doubts we will begin to shy away from life itself. When we feel desolate and sad we may choose to isolate ourselves and curl up in a ball in bed. All of these choices reinforce our anxiety and depression. If our brain is saying “be afraid” and we choose to act afraid we are validating that fear. If our brain is full of doubt and we constantly search for reassurance we are validating that doubt. If we feel full of sadness and walk around with drooping shoulders, messy hair and grungy sweat pants, we are validating the depressed feelings.
One of the things that my psychologist told me to do in regard to all of these painful emotions was to “act as if” I felt the opposite. Basically I took it to mean that I was supposed to fake it until I make it.
I had serious doubts that this would be at all helpful until I remembered a day in my past when I was going through a very debilitating period of Pure O – OCD. (I didn’t know it was OCD at the time.) I was in bad shape. I was barely able to eat and my weight had plummeted to 115 pounds which, on my large frame of 5′ 8″, made me look like an anorexic. I slept about 3 hours a night and spent my days in constant mental warfare against the distressing thoughts. I was assaulted by panic attacks over and over throughout my day and if I went anywhere in public they only got worse. And it was right in the midst of all this torture that my mom, bless her heart, thought it would be good for me to go on an all day shopping trip with my sister in laws in Detroit. The others had already cleared their schedules, the day was planned and all they were waiting for was for me to agree to it. “UGH!!” I knew what my mom was up to. I knew that the shopping trip was for my benefit and that she was counting on me to go.
I’ll tell you what; I absolutely dreaded every single aspect of this outing. I had zero desire and zero interest in going. My vision of this trip would be me sitting in the back seat of the car experiencing one panic attack after another and being completely drained by the time we arrived in Detroit. I figured by then I’d have a migraine, be overcome with nausea unable to eat my lunch, barely able to walk without passing out and they’d probably have to take me the ER because it would appear to them that I might actually be dying. The panic attacks, (I didn’t know what they were back then), made me feel like I was dying so I was pretty sure I’d act like I was dying.
Long story short, since I couldn’t come up with a valid reason for not going and since I wasn’t about to tell anyone about the “craziness” that had been going on inside my head I was forced to give in and agree to going. I had no idea how this day was going to play out and spent every day leading up to it full of dread.
I remember the night before the outing, as I was praying; just surrendering the whole ordeal to the Lord: “Lord I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this, but I know I have to do it. I know I should do it. Please just show me how to get through it. Make me strong for one day, for the sake of my family.” When I got up the next morning it was as though in my surrendering to my fate I felt calmer than I had in months. I suddenly had it in mind that I would just do my level best to fake enjoyment, to pretend I was calm and confident, to smile even though I felt sad, to laugh even though I hadn’t felt a moment of happiness for a very long time. I thought it would be the right thing to do these things so that I wouldn’t wreck the day for everyone else. I had no idea if I could pull it off but I was determined to do it.
I picked out a nice outfit, put on my makeup, fixed my hair, looked into the mirror and tried on my very best smile. As I looked in the mirror, the young woman staring back at me with that confident smile gave me a boost of hope that I hadn’t felt in a very long time. Maybe she could pull this off! She stood up straighter than she had in months, she put her shoulders back, chin up, grabbed her purse and went and sat on the couch waiting for her family to arrive.
It was nothing short of miracle that by the time my family arrived I had morphed back into my old self and what was even more amazing was that I felt a sense of happiness and anticipation of what fun the day might hold in store for the four of us. That whole day I made the choice to “act as if” I was confident, happy and enjoying my time with my family. Every single time the fear would try to push me back into rumination I ignored it and kept on “acting as if”.
The day was a truly miraculous for me. God had provided a way for me to not just get through it but to revel in it. You know how it is when winter just hangs on and on even into March and it’s just been so harsh, bleak and freezing for days on end that you just wish you could be suddenly transported onto a sunny beach with 80 degree temperatures and balmy tropical breezes? Well that’s the best analogy I can come up with to describe what it felt like to be relieved of the symptoms of my disorder for one whole day. The winter of my OCD had melted into summer. I wish I could tell you that from then on I was fine but that’s not how it played out. I did eventually get better but the process was much more gradual. But years later when my psychologist was instructing me to “act as if” the remembrance of this one day provided the evidence I needed to follow her counsel
Using this seemingly simple tool; “act as if” has led me to believe that my brain will eventually catch up to my behavior if I refuse to let my pain filled emotions dictate my choices. This is no easy task. It’s hard to press through anxiety. It feels wrong to ignore intrusive thoughts. It’s seems silly to slap a smile on your face when your heart feels crushed. It takes grit and perseverance to “act as if”, but if we keep on practicing we will be surprised to find that over time our feelings really do catch up to our actions.
I don’t want to imply that I do this perfectly. I have my bad days too. That’s okay. I find that it’s best to put the bad days and hours behind me and allow each day to be a chance for a fresh start a new opportunity to “act as if.”