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When recovering from an anxiety disorder, one of the first things you want to do is avoid any triggers you can. You avoid the things that scare or trouble you, believing by doing so, you won’t give in to the fears and anxiety you are trying so hard to beat.
While avoiding triggers can make you feel as though you’re improving, true recovery requires the ability to face a trigger head on, without allowing it to control you.
As someone who suffers from severe and sometimes debilitating OCD, I am all too familiar with what my triggers are.
Unlike other anxiety disorders, OCD causes me to physically react to triggering situations through compulsions.
As I’ve mentioned before, movie theatres are one of my particular triggers. While I will attend movies at the theatre, I never do so on opening weekend or at theatres in large cities. If a theatre is too crowded and I become overwhelmed, I end up chanting a particular prayer over and over again to myself in my head, believing doing so will prevent anything bad from happening.
Giving in to my compulsions is not a healthy way of handling triggers and only serves to reinforce the power of those things that unnerve or upset me.
Deciding to confront your triggers is a huge decision, and it’s not something you’ll be able to do overnight.
It’s important to be patient with yourself and remember even the smallest steps forward add up.
Being realistic about your goals and creating an appropriate timeline is imperative to making a permanent change. If you push yourself too hard too quickly, any progress can be undone twofold.
Many of my personal triggers exist inside of the bathroom; don’t ask me why–these same things have bothered me since I was ten years old, and I couldn’t explain it if I wanted to. While some of my triggers have come and gone or changed over the years, a few have always remained the same.
I don’t like if the toilet seat is left up, the bath mat in front of the shower has to line up exactly against the foot of the tub, all cabinet drawers must be completely closed, and the front of each bath towel must hang at least an inch lower than the back. My compulsions exist around these “requirements,” and if anything is out of place before I go to bed at night, things can get hairy real fast.
When speaking with my therapist about these triggers, she assured me of one thing: trying to beat them is going to be uncomfortable. Resisting the urge to fix things I consider out of place is going to be a struggle for me, physically and mentally. I have to be willing to be uncomfortable, to feel on edge, and to believe even if I don’t react to my triggers, everything will still be okay.
This is a lot harder than it sounds, trust me.
I will be completely honest and admit, this is still very much a battle for me. Disheveled towel ends still bother me to a ridiculous extent, and I can’t help but close any cabinet door if it’s even slightly ajar, tapping it three times afterward to make sure no gap is left. Some days are harder than others, and I might not even bother trying not to do these things.
Still, I hope for change.
On a good night, I stand in the bathroom, looking at the crooked bath mat beneath my feet. I fight the urge to straighten it, fight the voice telling me what horrible things will happen if I don’t do so and give in. I think about it, think about leaving it untouched, reassure myself this thin piece of cotton-polyester blend holds no power over me, not really. I give it any power it does seem to have, and I hold the ability to take that same assumed power away.
I’m still facing these triggers, still standing in the middle of the storm. Most days, I fix what is out of place and bothersome, still not ready to face how uncomfortable recovery can be.
Some days, I walk away, leaving whatever mess lays behind me, for the time being. I might end up going back two minutes later, unable to stop myself, but I know eventually, I’ll be able to walk away without returning, without a second thought. The thing that used to trigger me will be no more than a forgotten toilet lid, left up without reason or consequence.
A simple thing, not worth another glance.
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Lindsay Abraham was first diagnosed with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder when she was twelve years old. Now more than twelve years later, she is passionate about her own recovery journey and supporting others who struggle with mental health issues. She has a job in the healthcare industry that she loves, and spends her free time reading and collecting oddities. She's also active in the pagan community, and currently has 14 tattoos. Lindsay is an avid animal lover, with two pet birds and a dog. She's a vegetarian, and is grateful every day for a husband that loves her unconditionally.
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