On being an incapable nincompoop

Last night, I quickly declared myself an incapable nincompoop. I’m aware that’s not the nicest thing to be saying to myself, but it’s also not the worst name out there.

I was beating myself up because I’m traveling today, but my original flight was canceled (among many others). I had to call the airlines (and wait on hold alongside many others) to get a different one out of Chicago instead of out of the small airport I had planned on using. Now, Chicago is pretty close by train, but there was only one flight left, and it left early. The train wouldn’t get me there on time. This meant I might have to…duhn duhn duhnnn, drive. I tried to call the airline back to see if there were any other options, but the wait was now over two hours. Oh, and the website crashed in that moment too. It makes perfect sense for this whole situation to be stressful to anyone, let alone someone with OCD.

I do drive a lot more than I used to. I’ve worked my way up my hierarchy, and I’m doing pretty dang well. I drive to and from work every day. I drive to the store when I need to and to dance class a couple times a week. But this combination of factors would be a lot. I would have to drive in a big city to a busy airport leaving at 6am and with less than twelve hours’ notice to mentally prepare. Exposure overload. And on my birthday, nonetheless. (Today is my birthday.) I could do it if necessary, but it would be a very hard thing.

I was honest with my supervisor (who already knew about my OCD and fear of driving). I said just that: I can do it if you need me too, but it would be very scary. My supervisor in turn offered to drive me to the airport. This would be at least four hours of driving for her!

So, where does my brain immediately go next? Of course, it made me feel bad that she would have to drive me. She would have to get up early and spend her whole morning toting me around. Hence, I am an incapable nincompoop since I am not able to drive myself because of OCD.

Now, I’m all for exposure therapy and pushing yourself to face your fears so you can live a values-based life, but I also don’t think exposure is the answer 100% of the time. Maybe it’s the answer 99% of the time. But sometimes for that 1% of the time, you do need help, and it’s just not the right time for pushing yourself. That can be okay too. Then, it’s the right time for self-compassion. In a panel at OCDcon about DBT, someone described it as “powering yourself up so you’re ready for the next exposure.”

With this in mind (and with the help of friends who could give outside input), I reassessed the situation. Overall, I had done a pretty darn good job. I saw the flight was canceled early, called the airline, managed to get a new flight, and had someone willing to help me get to the flight because they care about me. Even if I didn’t drive myself, I was still doing hard things. I was responsible and independent while also being willing to accept help. Perhaps, I am a capable nincompoop.

So, I spend some time reflecting and practicing self-compassion and therapy things blah blah blah. What do I realize an hour later? Oh, duh. I can’t drive myself anyway because my return flight comes into the original small airport. My car would still be in Chicago. *facepalm* All that beating myself up for nothing! But hey, at least I got almost four pages of journaling and a good cry session out of it?

What I noticed was I’m so quick to discredit my successes and focus intensely on the mistakes or imperfections. They aren’t given even close to equal weight. There ware far more successes last night than the one bout of fear, but they were thrown under the rug in an instant.

The other thing I noticed is that perhaps sometimes I present a too perfect picture of what recovery from OCD looks like. Despite this mini meltdown, I am still in recovery. Recovery does not mean being a fearless superhero. I still have emotions and hard times. Recovery is just having the skills to deal with them, whether that means exposure and facing my fears, or taking the time to accept help and power up for next time.

I’m still human, and the picture of me being scared and crying is a far more accurate picture of recovery than always standing as bold and firm as stone. We’re supposed to be scared; it’s our brain keeping us safe. We’re supposed to cry sometimes; it’s a healthy release of emotion. There is a different between pain and suffering. Pain is natural; suffering can be worked on. This was merely pain.


P.S. After traveling all day, I spent a few hours walking the Las Vegas strip by myself and made it home in one piece. Clearly, I am highly capable. You are also highly capable. Don’t let your brain lie to you.


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