Ben Norris

🧠 Always being tested

I had a realization last week that made me laugh.

As I mentioned earlier, I waited for a while for my therapist to arrive for my therapy session last week. I played sudoku while I waited, which wasn’t quite enough to quiet all the internal chatter.

I started thinking about what I was going to tell my therapist about how things had been going. That’s usually a wasted effort, unless I had a major event that I needed help working through.

When I first started therapy, I would take in a printed outline of everything I wanted to talk about. My therapist invariably asked questions that got us off discussing something else, which I learned later was a deliberate exercise to build my tolerance for uncertainty.

As I thought about what I wanted to discuss, I started to think about the fact that she was late. I knew that this too was often a deliberate choice on her part to keep me guessing and uncertain.

I wondered if her being so late that day was a test. Maybe I was supposed to be saying something about it. Maybe she was doing it just to see what it took for me to get upset with her. Maybe I wasn’t passing the test yet by staying calm and understanding every time.

The distress of that possibility pooled in my gut and I recognized its taste and texture on other thoughts flitting around in my mind. A lot of thoughts. I began to be overwhelmed by the weight of all those possibilities for failure.

The thought clearly came to me—“I wish all of life was not a test.”

I realized that in nearly every area of my life, I felt scrutinized and judged for failing. Constantly.

Then it hit me.

I was trying to be right. All the time.

As soon as this became clear, I started laughing. Of course I was trying to be right—that is the core of my OCD. I feel immense pressure to do the right thing, and have to figure out what that right thing is in any situation so that I can do it.

When we started my therapy session, I told my therapist about my realization that I felt like all of life was a constant test. She starting laughing immediately.

So you realized that you have you OCD? Good for you.

As she has told me time and time again, insight is one of the first casualties when OCD flares up and I am symptomatic. Observations that would be totally clear to anyone else become impossible for me.

Jocko talks about this as a storm cloud that hangs over you. Anyone outside of it can see that the storm is just around you, and you could get out of it. But when you’re in it, it’s nearly impossible to see clearly what is happening.

The key to get out of this is just what Jocko says—get outside yourself and help someone else. Some days this is harder than others, but this is the goal.

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