walk with me through exposure therapy

TW: OCD, blood, intrusive thoughts

I’m about to do something that feels insane.

My cat got a nosebleed all over my wall. I’m going to sit by the bloodstains and not clean them.

Now, reader, I don’t know how that seems to you. To me when I tell myself that, my brain says things like this:

Are you nuts? You’re a bad cat caretaker. You’re lazy. You’re just leaving the blood because you’re lazy. You don’t even have OCD. You’re lazy and selfish. Your cats are going to die because you aren’t being diligent enough.

Mind you, I’m not never going to clean that blood. I’m just going to sit with it until the urgency of I NEED TO CLEAN THIS NOW OR I AM LAZY AND MY CATS WILL DIE fades to Hey, that blood’s kinda gross – let’s clean that up.

This is exposure therapy. A.k.a., torture.

Let’s start.

This to the right is what the blood looks like.

I do want to point out here that my kitty who got the nosebleed is fine – he’s napping in the sun as I type. He just has a stubborn URI and nose irritation.

So now I sit at my desk near that blood spatter. My anxiety/guilt starts at a 8/10. And I sit, and I wait for it to decrease to about half of that. And I try not to ruminate; I’m allowed to remind myself of the facts, like that the vet said blood isn’t dangerous to my other cat. But I work hard not to ruminate, keep checking up on the blood, etc.

At the 5 minute mark I’m down to a 7/10 but I feel like a crazy person working at my desk surrounded by blood. And that thought sends me back up to an 8.

My movements are stiff because I’m trying hard to avoid touching blood; in my head I know there’s already know way I haven’t put my elbow or forearm in some of the [dried] spatter. I feel myself getting a bit shaky. I’m oscillating between 7 and 8.

At the 9-minute mark I’m calming down a bit for now – down to a 6/10. My kitty looks very cozy in the window. I think about a TikTok I saw where a man’s puppy decided to lick his bleeding cut, and no one there was freaking out – maybe I don’t need to freak out, either? (They did tease the dog for being a vampire, though, understandably.)

I feel like I’m in a cheap horror film.

And my head goes back to You’re lazy, you’re doing this for attention, this isn’t real, you just want attention. But my body doesn’t really respond this time.

At the 11-minute mark I’m down to a 5. That doesn’t mean it’ll keep decreasing linearly but I’m hopeful.

My arms feel itchy. Not sure if it’s dry skin or stress; the suddenness makes me guess it’s stress.

(Believe it or not this’ll all make me feel better?)

There are gnats in this house, and I like bugs but I wish they would go away. Why do we need gnats in the house?

At the thirteen minute mark, my kitty cat sneezes right near me and although I don’t check for blood on the furniture from it, my anxiety is back up to about a 6.

I’m looking forward to a nice lunch at 12; this helps calm my brain just a bit.

There’s blood on my calendar. There’s blood on my calendar. It’s incredible to me the way projectile blood hits certain things and skips others.

I’m going to sip my coffee, no matter how much it scares me. I won’t die.

At the 15 minute mark I am still at a 6. This makes me a little sad and stressed.

I think, thank god I have therapy at 1.

Someone in a group therapy session for OCD talked recently about how even without OCD telling them things were urgent, they’d have made the same decisions they’d made. That gives me hope; my values are to care for animals. Even without OCD I’d be caring for this animal and cleaning up his blood until he gets better. OCD just makes things even scarier when they’re already scary. I’m glad for my values.

Gratitude is something that really gives me rest. Today I’m thankful for sunshine, warmer weather, and my wonderful coworkers. And my parents, and cat rescues, and little local tiki bars. And unforeseen friendships and little joys. And at the 17-minute mark, I am back down to a 5.

I feel safer than I did at the start. And less stiff, too. But I’m not looking forward to the eventual cleaning. I’m getting hungry, I have obligations in a half hour, things are still a bloody mess… I’m feeling the world close in on me a little bit. But again, my body doesn’t react so strongly to these thoughts – and that’s a win.

At the 21-minute mark I felt the anxiety drop down to my feet like a balloon stabbed with a needle. I’m at a 4/10, and that’s half. The exposure’s over.

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