Life with OCD: Triggers

Triggers. Ugh. Pretty much the last thing a person with OCD wants is to be triggered, right? If we’re in a good place we may be able to see the trigger for what it is, but sometimes we’re vulnerable and we find ourselves in a downward spiral. Why wouldn’t we want to avoid triggers at all costs?

I don’t know about you, but I have a very active imagination. In high school I knew we’d be watching Schindler’s List—a movie I’d absolutely sworn off because I didn’t want to be upset—and I decided ahead of time I wouldn’t actually watch it. Instead, I’d put my head on my desk and not look up for the entire period. I couldn’t possibly be upset by a movie I wasn’t even watching, could I?

Uh, yes, I could. Because I knew the movie was about the Holocaust, I interpreted every sound I was hearing to something horrific. Of course the Holocaust itself was horrific, but I didn’t even know what was going on in the movie and I broke down sobbing. My teacher called a counselor, and a counselor sent my best friend to my study hall period to check on me. All for a movie I didn’t watch.

Avoiding triggers at all costs isn’t a way to go through life. It’s taken some trial and error, but I’ve realized over the years that sticking with something that initially scares me is often better than letting my imagination fill in all the blanks, because inevitably it will go wild trying to do so. Triggers are confusing, though, and can come at any time. Some of my worst triggers have snuck in at night while I’m falling asleep. What am I supposed to do, not sleep? But others are more obvious. I can’t handle torture scenes in movies, even supposedly funny or silly ones, so for the most part I avoid them. This seems like a bad idea OCD-wise, but when I ask myself if my life would be richer if I didn’t cut out a certain type of movie or TV show, the answer is no. Am I a horror movie critic whose livelihood depends on watching, absorbing, and ultimately analyzing these torture scenes? Nope. So what am I really missing?

Last weekend, though, I showed up for an outing with my family, and the first thing my brother said was directed to his kids: “Which adult do you want to go on the Ferris wheel with, me or Auntie Ali?” A little background: Auntie Ali is afraid of heights. Auntie Ali thinks she might spontaneously throw herself off the Ferris wheel. Auntie Ali wants to buckle you in so you don’t spontaneously throw yourself off the Ferris wheel. And Auntie Ali panics every time you lift your butt off the seat, even a little.

“Ali!” they exclaimed in unison.

“Okay!” I said, thinking, Oh god oh god oh god. “Let’s get in line!”

Alison Dotson


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