The Energy of OCD
I’m back! I have been a bit scarce around the internet this past month, having been away to visit my Dad. It was a really beautiful trip. If you’re going to visit Ontario, go in late September / early October.
I have fallen behind a bit with my cross posting, so first things first: Those who are *not* subscribed to my podcast, you can subscribe if you wish and automatically receive the episodes as soon as they’re released. This is really handy when a podcast isn’t on a consistent release schedule.
The nice thing about having a mobile device like a smart phone is you don’t have to *remember* to download your favourite podcast, it will automatically update. Then the next time you’re in the car, or taking the dog for a walk, or working out, you can check your device for new episodes – and surprise! There’s a new Joyful Telepathy episode out there for you!
Okay, on to today’s topic.
I want to talk about the energetic aspect of OCD (Obsessive – Compulsive Disorder.) I’m not talking about the “oh I like to have my desk in perfect order, I’m so OCD.” I’m talking about “I have to check my stove three times to convince myself I turned it off, and even THEN I may still worry about it all day.”
Real OCD has a huge impact on people’s lives, and it can take a lot of different forms. I didn’t really know much about it until I got together with Sweetie.
By the time we met, Sweetie had gotten her own OCD under control. There was a point in her life where OCD would hold huge chunks of her day hostage. She would tell me about the time it used to take her to get ready – her routine involved cleaning her soap.
“It’s soap, it’s self-cleaning, isn’t it?”
Well, that’s not really what cleaning the soap was about.
She tried to explain, “I felt like the soap was contaminated. And whatever had touched the soap, that had to be cleaned too. It was all about protecting myself from this contamination I sensed on whatever object I was worried about.”
I’ve talked about this idea before – the idea that objects hold some of the energy we, ourselves, were bringing or carrying the last time we came into contact with it.
I’ve also talked about this idea that sensitive people can also be spongy – they can absorb what’s around them and carry it around with them.
Sweetie is extremely spongy.
I’ve observed this about her while she’s worked at different jobs. If a co-worker has a chronic shoulder issue, she’ll start to feel that shoulder problem by the end of the week – or sometimes even by the end of the day. She might feel it once she sits on a chair this coworker was occupying for much of the previous day.
A few years ago while she was working at the hospital, one particular week stands out in my memory. Sweetie started to complain of swelling and pain in her hands. By the end of the week, her knuckles were visibly enlarged, swollen and painful to the touch. It turns out that a particular patient in the hospital, who had been going through a lot of linens (which Sweetie then laundered) had severely swollen, arthritic hands.
That’s when I *really knew* that Sweetie was experiencing a level of energetic sponginess that is new to me.
From what I’ve observed, sponginess seems to be related to a tendency to go inward, retreating from the energy that seems harsh or over-stimulating. Most people who have met Sweetie tend to describe her as shy. She’s not shy at all. She’s just very quiet, observant, and her attention defaults to her inner awareness.
That’s partly why the OCD manifestation tends to come up for her. For Sweetie, what’s going on in her inner, subtle awareness is *louder* to her than someone right in front of her. Someone could be sitting right in front of Sweetie, behind a desk with a sign that says “Customer Service” – but if that customer service person was exuding an energy of “don’t bother me”, Sweetie wouldn’t even register this person’s existence. Not even if she was in need of customer service. By default, she sees the energy first.
It’s part of what makes her an amazing partner. She can tell when people are lying. Me, I always default to giving people the benefit of the doubt, but she will have the number of a sales person or a dirty business owner within a few minutes of speaking to them. This came in very handy when we had our coffee roastery.
Last night, Sweetie was telling me that before she had an understanding of “energy”, she was responding to it with her OCD patterns. The soap held remnants of the energy she had cleansed herself from the day before. Whatever she’d picked up from everyone else around her, her boss, her co-workers, random Torontonians on public transit – that had all gotten into her clothes and on to her body. She would wash it all off, and not want to pick any of it back up again.
Like a surgeon scrubbing up, she’d methodically wash, avoid touching the clothing she’d worn that day, get a clean towel and into a clean set of clothes.
In the difficult days where the OCD was eating large chunks of her day, she could spend hours just to feel OK and safely clean.
This is not the only way in which OCD affected her life. By contrast, she went through a paper hoarding period. If she opened her wallet and an old receipt fluttered to the ground, even if it was blown into traffic, she would have to retrieve that receipt, and keep it. Indefinitely. To her, letting that receipt go, throwing it out, was creating a vulnerability. Someone else could find that receipt, and gain knowledge about her. Of course it’s not intellectually rational, but when you look at this behaviour energetically, it does make some logical sense.
You handled that receipt. It represents a transaction, as well as an interaction in the world. If you’re someone who feels like the energy of the world is infringing on your boundaries, if you spend hours every day just cleaning the world off of you, yeah – that receipt becomes a part of yourself abandoned to the litter of the world. You have to hold on to that.
I kind of get it. Here’s a visual of what I’m thinking.
The dark green circle is your physical body. The light green is the physical body’s energy field – some call it the aura, some call it the energetic body – whatever you want to name it. Some people can physically see this energetic field. Sweetie can see it, although she sees it more easily in the dark.
Some people will also say this aura has many different, very specific layers. Sure, we can go with that. But what I’m really interested in is at what point to you, as a unique person, sense an invasion into this field?
I don’t physically see this field, but I sense it, and sometimes my brain will translate this to an image in my mind. I used to play with this energy when I was little. Here’s a quick little test you can do with a friend to figure out where your energetic field, or aura, is around your body.
Close your eyes. Have your friend move their hand slowly, closer and closer to your skin. Start with the arm, then the leg, then foot, then hand, then head.
You say “stop” when it feels like that person is just about to touch you. Take your time, and just have fun. We don’t play these weird fun little games as adults, do we? I used to do this kind of thing all the time as a kid.
Anyway, see if you can discover a consistent distance off your skin where you tell your friend to stop.
I have found this distance changes, and sometimes it’s different depending on what’s going on in my friend’s body. For example, I remember one time my friend Meghan had a broken wrist. She would say “stop” pretty consistently about six inches off her skin (I remember we were outside in winter, so this would be about three inches away from her snow suit.) But around her wrist, she would say “stop” if I got anywhere near it, even though her wrist was in a cast, under a scarf, under her parka. Even with her eyes closed and a toque pulled over them, she could always tell when I was getting close to this vulnerable injury, even though I never ever actually touched it. Touching was against the rules.
Look, not every kid is into snowball fights. Yes, I was a weird kid! Man, in retrospect, what a weird game to play!
Okay, so the point I want to illustrate is that some people have a consistent ability to sense when someone else is encroaching into their space, without looking. Many people have a boundary. For some people though, it’s their skin. I think those people who would never say “stop” their green circle is solid. And that’s just fine!
Now, scroll back up and look at the orange radius in that picture. That’s the “personal space” hula hoop we were taught about as kids. When we have our eyes open and we’re moving around in the world, that’s where we’re comfortable having people. The thing about this hula hoop though, is there is some social push-back if that radius is too large. Maybe you’re most comfortable if people stay at least six feet away from you. That’s my personal space radius for non-friends. Don’t come within droplet transmission distance.
But that’s socially unacceptable, isn’t it? You can’t expect everyone to stay six feet away from you at all times. So I had to adapt, but I think that may be one of the reasons I don’t find parties or crowded rooms to be invigorating.
The pink entities in there are other people – mainly their energy, depending on how much “space” they take up, energetically.
The more sensitive you are, the more porous your energy field, the more you’re going to be affected by other people.
Here, we’re just talking about physical people around you – we haven’t even touched on the energy other people or events leave in the environment that you can also pick up.
Sweetie has found a lot of grounding and mindfulness techniques to be incredibly healing and helps her manage her brain’s tendency towards OCD, which is a real blessing. OCD can take various forms, and unchecked it can really take over your life.
I have a theory about why and how energy and sensitivity is shown in extreme OCD behaviour. It’s an extension of my physical body theory.
I think that a part of some OCD behaviour is an intuitive response to feeling this vulnerable and energetically sensitive. Before Sweetie really thought about energy lingering and attaching to things, she just perceived the clothing she wore out for a few hours as dirty. She could feel the previous day’s encounters on the clothing, but she didn’t have a framework of energy concepts to understand this feeling of “dirty”.
Likewise with her desire to hoard little slips of paper – it was really about her feeling vulnerable to other people. If someone else found this paper that had *her* energy on it, they could know something about her. It would create a little energy connection there. She wanted to avoid that. So, without thinking about it in energetic terms, she tried to manage this energy input with the physical objects involved. Wash the clothing. Clean the soap. Keep all the papers. It was starting to all pile up on top of her.
This was over ten years ago, maybe closer to twenty years ago now. Sweetie hasn’t had to struggle with obsessive-compulsive behaviour affecting her life, but as a sensitive person, it will always be a potential behaviour. Similar to how depression will always be a potential to me, or how extreme anger is a potential for others. We all have our tendencies, and I wonder, how much of those tendencies could be helped with an energetic understanding, incorporated into our evidence-based therapies?
Yes, let me reiterate: If I struggle with emotions (like grief or depression) I go to counselling. Please understand that energy work is not a *replacement* for evidence-based, useful, medical assistance. So go find a counsellor and if you don’t like that one, find a different one. In my 20s, I once went through three different counsellors before I found one I clicked with. I’ve had to shift through physicians too – sometimes it’s all about getting in front of the *right* person.
But consider the spiritual and energetic part of our ailments too. Spiritual care can be so helpful for our mental health care. You don’t have to choose one over the other (no matter what David Wolfe might post on his facebook page.)
OCD is absolutely a physical brain issue – it’s a groove worn so deeply into our neural pathways that it can be a real hassle to change. It was around the time of her recovery that Sweetie started to study energy shifting techniques, like grounding, clearing, and protecting her energy field. It really helps her to remind herself to check how much she’s feeling actually *belongs* to her.
“Is that my shoulder ache, or have I picked this up from my coworkers?”
Those of us who are empathetic can relate to this idea on an emotional level. Is this my stress, or have I absorbed this from someone else?
We are all connected. This is a universal truth that resonates through thousands of years of spiritual practice all over the earth. What we have not agreed upon yet is *exactly* what defines our separation? Or why do we experience separation differently?
I think how separate we are from others’ influence and energy depends on who we are, how we are calibrated energetically. Some of us, like Sweetie, are spongy. We need to always ground, clear and protect.
Some of us may be islands, and search for this illusive connection others talk about. That’s okay if you don’t pick up other people’s emotions or body ailments. That’s actually a great thing! Very convenient!
I wonder about politicians sometimes, or people high-up in corporations who seem completely detached from the impact of the decisions they make. I wonder, “How can they sleep at night?” I *literally* wonder how they can sleep, because while I was training as a nurse, I could not sleep. The gap between what care a patient SHOULD receive and what I could see they were getting was too great for me. I couldn’t sleep, knowing that.
I wonder whether those people who *can* sleep at night, if they’re just completely, utterly impermeable. Maybe they are, maybe that’s how they occupy their bodies, energetically. They could be the polar opposite of empathetic me, or Spongy Sweetie. Maybe there’s just no energetic feedback for them to experience, because their energetic fields have become diamond-clad, impenetrable. I wonder.
Well, what do you guys think?