This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 195.
Welcome to Your Anxiety Toolkit. I’m your host, Kimberley Quinlan. This podcast is fueled by three main goals. The first goal is to provide you with some extra tools to help you manage your anxiety. Second goal, to inspire you. Anxiety doesn’t get to decide how you live your life. And number three, and I leave the best for last, is to provide you with one big, fat virtual hug, because experiencing anxiety ain’t easy. If that sounds good to you, let’s go.
Kimberley: Hello there. I have with me a very special friend who is going to talk about something so important. So, so important. I am so excited to have with us Shala Nicely. Oh my goodness, thank you for coming back onto the show.
Shala: Thank you so much for having me. I love being here.
Kimberley: Oh my goodness. Okay. So, probably the reason that I have been so adamant about getting you onto this episode is this topic that we are going to talk about is probably one of the topics that comes up the most with my patients and clients that nobody is talking about.
Kimberley: Nobody. And I am seeing it more and more and more and more and more, which is why I wanted to have you on. So, thank you.
Kimberley: Thank you. Okay. So, you wrote a blog about depression as a compulsion. Can you tell us what does that mean?
Shala: Yes. I’ll start off by saying that this is one of the many subtleties of OCD. Sometimes OCD takes a long time to figure out. I spent years becoming a therapist. I spent years thinking about my own experience and when I was writing my memoir Is Fred in the Refrigerator?. It wasn’t until after Fred was published, that I figured out this particular compulsion that I had been doing. By identifying it, it’s been able to help me make a huge difference in my recovery, and that’s why I wanted to share it and write the blog.
Kimberley: Right. It’s so important. I mean, I can’t tell you, I’ve been practicing for many, many years and I only came across this in the last year or two. But the more I get to know it and the more I understand it, I’m just like, I feel like I see it in almost all the cases in some way. So, go ahead. Tell us what it is. Tell us what it looks like.
Shala: So, I’ll give you an example that I used in Fred, which is, when I was in my twenties, I was convinced I’d given myself HIV aids because I had gotten cut with a broken beer bottle at a party and I had spent all this time in my head arguing with OCD about whether or not that you can transmit HIV aids through that. It went on for months and months and months. While I was doing all this ritualizing in my head, trying to figure this out and prove to myself I didn’t have this disease, which this was years and years and years ago, the treatments for HIV aids are much better now, they weren’t. This was 25 years ago. I know people with OCD are still frightened of it. I was really frightened of it back then because there weren’t very many treatments for it.
And so I would spend all day long thinking about how I had given myself a fatal disease and how I was going to die. And then I started acting as though I had a fatal disease that there weren’t good treatments for and I was going to get it and die. So I would go into situations and put on a happy face and smile, but in my head, I was thinking, “Oh, this is the last time I’m going to be doing this. Oh, this is so sad. Just wait until people find out what is really going on with me.” So I would focus in those situations on how awful this was and how depressed I was and how this was going to be the last time I was going to do it.
So, I was actually acting as though what OCD was telling me, which is that I’d given myself fatal disease, was true. And the depression that came from that became the compulsion because I took that emotion and I acted on that emotion. So I started acting depressed, making depressed choices, living in a depressed lifestyle, having a depressed attitude as I went out into the world because I had given in completely to what OCD was saying.
When I realized that, again, this was after I’d written the story, after it had been published, and I started seeing this in my clients. I started recognizing I still did some of this. I’m like, “Wait a minute, it’s the depression itself, which was really propping all this up.” It’s really a very subtle form of compulsion that if you don’t recognize it can sabotage your ERP work.
Kimberley: Yeah. I would admit as a young intern of treating OCD, I think if I saw this, I would have stopped ERP and focused on depression and really worked on that, which is not a bad solution, but without really recognizing it under the lens of OCD, right? So, I would have seen it as separate. I love it.
Let me explain how I’ve seen it a lot. Once I’ve shown them your article, patients and clients have said, “I recognize in the moment that I’m having uncertainty. I try doing a compulsion to make the uncertainty go away and that doesn’t work. So, going into depression is our easy way to just exit out of uncertainty. It’s the worst-case scenario. That’s where I’m going to hang out.” That has been so helpful for people to be able to recognize that. It’s a response to not wanting to be uncertain.
Shala: And I think it’s important to differentiate between depression that comes secondary to having a diagnosis of OCD from this, because a majority of people with OCD will end up with some form of depression at some point, because it’s just so debilitating. It’s the 10th most debilitating condition in the world. So people will end up depressed just because of how exhausting it is to manage this monster in your head all day long.
But that’s very different than being depressed because you’ve decided to believe that the OCD is true because you cannot figure it out otherwise. And OCD just wants certainty. It doesn’t care what kind of certainty it gets. If it can’t get certainty, for instance, that I don’t have HIV aids, it’s just going to go the other way and say, “Well, I’m going to get certainty that she does have it,” and then go from there and then becoming depressed as a result of that obsession. So, I think that’s really important for people to understand. You can have both going on at the same time too, which makes this even more tricky.
Kimberley: Yeah. Even more tricky, but even great to know that we can differentiate the two now, because we’ll talk later about how to manage that. Now, this is where I want to look at insight because, in your blog, you talk about insight. I think that’s an important piece of this, right? Because when you first have the onset of OCD, you might recognize that this is like ego, what we would call egodystonic, like this stuff. “I know it’s not true, but I keep fearing it’s true.” Can you share how insight impacts this specific situation?
Shala: Yes. In fact, it was Jon Hershfield who introduced the two of us years ago, who helped me put this insight about insight together, because I was talking with him about this depression is a compulsion. What he pointed out is that typically, when an OCD obsession starts, you’re doing compulsions to try to prove that it’s false. If you can’t get that to work, which of course you can’t because there’s no way to prove all this stuff that I see he’s worried about, then sometimes you can start going the opposite way and trying to prove that it’s true. Really that’s the difference between insight.
When you’re trying to prove that it’s false, then you know that what OCD is saying in some part of you is nonsense. “I don’t have HIV aids, come on.” Not like in a reassuring way, just there’s a part of you that still recognizes, “Yeah, this is super scary, but this is OCD reacting to an intrusive thought. This isn’t actually a real problem.” So, you’ve got that insight there. You’re still stuck, but you got insight.
When you start trying to prove it’s right, that’s when you’ve lost insight. When you really give in to everything that OCD is saying, really hook, line, and sinker, and you don’t have any insight anymore. That’s really when this depression as a compulsion becomes a big problem. The longer that a particular obsession is maintained by doing compulsions, the more likely you are to lose insight, the longer it’s been going on.
Kimberley: And this is where it’s hard, isn’t it? Because we know the whole story of when you stare at something for too long, it starts to look weird and distorted. I think that’s very much true here. I think it’s true of depression in general and in this subtle compulsion. When we look at things as negative, we notice more and more things that are negative. Is that what you feel to be true here? Or is it just the same story that you hear over and over? Share with me how that might sound in your head.
Shala: I think it starts to sound like a soundtrack for my life because most of my rituals became internal. And the way I see mental rituals, it’s physical rituals taken inside. So you can’t do things physically because you don’t want people to see or whatever. So you start pulling it inside. The more that I would do that, the more I would argue with OCD, of course, the more I’m strengthening in it. So the more I hear it and the more I argue, it just expands to fill every waking moment. It really becomes a soundtrack playing 24 hours a day because I was doing those mental rituals. And then the longer that that went on, the more likely I was to start becoming depressed because I was losing insight, which then also further reinforces this cycle.
Kimberley: So interesting and so helpful. One thing that you talk about is emotions as a ritual. Can you share how this may play out with other emotions such as – you’ve written guilt and shame, regret and grief?
Shala: Yes. So what I’m going to do to describe this is I’m going to take you through the OCD cycle in some anatomical details, so to speak, so we can piece together how this is all happening. So you have an intrusive thought. That is not OCD because everybody has intrusive thoughts. The OCD is the next stage where OCD reacts to the intrusive thought – “Why did I have this? What does this mean? Am I going to do it? Am I going to make it come true because I have the thought?” That reaction, that’s the OCD. Of course, that makes you feel anxious. And then if you haven’t had treatment, you typically do some form of compulsion, something to try to get certainty about what the OCD is bothering you about, because this is all based on an intolerance of uncertainty. And OCD just picks content that you care about and puts uncertainty about it in your mind and then gets you stuck in that cycle.
When you do a compulsion, it tells your brain that this is a dangerous thought, “This intrusive thought I had is dangerous,” and you need to keep doing something about it. These steps just repeat on an endless loop. And then what happens is that when it repeats on the loop long enough, the acceptance of the scary thoughts that OCD is presenting causes you to experience the emotions that you would feel if those stories were true. Those emotions tend to be things like depression, as we’ve talked about, guilt, regret, shame, grief, and others.
And then in classic cognitive behavioral therapy perspective where our emotions and our thoughts and our actions all come together in this triangle, the emotions then dictate how we act, so we begin to act depressed or guilty or regretful or shamed or grief-stricken. Those emotions can then become compulsions because they’re driven specifically by believing the content of the OCD, by acting like what OCD is saying is true. That’s the definition of doing compulsions. So that’s how emotions can become part of the compulsion cycle because you start acting as though they’re true.
Kimberley: Right. This is so true and this is where I see it play out a lot, is when people have an intrusive thought that they’ve done something wrong, and then they feel... Because they start to believe it, they go into regret and then they go into confessing, right? Then they’ll go into like, “Well, I have to confess it because I’ve done something wrong,” instead of that they had a thought that they did something wrong. Or that they feel such deep guilt that they’re saying things like, “I’m a terrible person. I’m terrible. And I’m so guilty. What kind of human am I?” because of a thought like you’ve just described, how then that plays out and keeps playing out over and over again.
Let’s play out because we haven’t really talked about this, but what would the action be as a result to regret? It would be reassurance seeking or confessing. What else would you say?
Shala: Maybe going back in your mind and trying to undo it and, “Gosh, what would it be like if it had only gone like this?” Almost like a wishing compulsion that I think [14:22 inaudible] talks about in his book. All sorts of things like that.
Kimberley: What about guilt? Similar, but what about guilt?
Shala: I think with guilt, it’s a lot of self-punishment as a ritual. “I’m bad. I did something bad.” With guilt and shame, guilt is, “I did something bad,” shame is, “I am bad.” I think in this case, those can get conflated together and people just start punishing themselves. “Well, I don’t deserve this because I did this bad thing,” or “I am this bad person.” They start being very uncompassionate with themselves and treating themselves like they’re this horrible human being.
Kimberley: Right. And that’s a big part of how I see it play out is that the self-punishment is pleasure withholding, like you don’t deserve the nice-- it could be as subtle as you can’t have the nice brand of crushed tomatoes. You have to have the crappy brand because you don’t deserve good things or you don’t deserve the nice sheets or so forth. And that will make you feel-- when there’s no pleasure in your life, you get depressed, right? I think that’s a very subtle way that OCD plays out. I’ve heard lots of people will say, or the flip side is they’ll say something like, “Oh, because I have harm thoughts about my child, I have to buy them the best diapers,” which is treating yourself as if you’ve done something wrong.
Shala: Yes. You’re making up.
Kimberley: You’re making up for something that you had a thought about, right?
Kimberley: Right. It’s so subtle. What about grief? Can you kind of give an example of that?
Shala: I think with grief, it’s pre-planning things. So, for instance, I’m not kidding you, I’ve pre-planned my funeral in my head – “Well, this is what it’s going to be like. It’s going to be so sad and I wonder if this will happen and that will happen,” as though it’s an event two weeks from now on my calendar, Shala’s funeral. So I think it’s almost like you act like the loss has occurred already and you begin to start going through the grieving process.
People with OCD tend to be really empathic people, so it’s really easy to go there. It’s easy to put yourself in that, “Oh, so-and-so has died. This horrible thing has happened. Let me go ahead and get into that grief state,” because we’re just good at being able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes to imagine what something would feel like, and to feel it as though it were happening.
Kimberley: It’s so good. All right. So--
Shala: Can I say one more thing?
Kimberley: Of course.
Shala: Sometimes I think of these as fake emotion. They’re not, right? But they’re OCD-induced emotions.
Kimberley: They’re manufactured.
Shala: They’re manufactured. They don’t actually fit the truth of the situation. I’m not saying they’re fake like, gosh, the shame you’re feeling or the guilt you’re feeling isn’t real. Certainly it’s a real emotion, but I think it is induced completely by the OCD, as opposed to being induced by a situation that has happened in life.
Kimberley: I agree. And that’s where that insight is really important, right? Is to be able to catch that. I fully agree with you. I’m so glad that you recognize that because people will say it feels real, right? It feels real. And then I’ll always follow up with like, “But it’s not a fact.” But still, it’s important to have that conversation.
Now, I want to just jump in here. Before we talk about how to break this cycle, how might this play out with just Right OCD?
Shala: I can give you an example from yesterday about this.
Kimberley: All right.
Shala: I decided I was going to get these floating shelves and hang them on the wall. It requires using a drill and all sorts of things, which I can do, but I’m not very good at it. I also, I guess, was sort of distracted and I’d had problems with one of them and with the drill, as I went downstairs to do the other one. I put the shelf a couple of inches too high because I used the wrong mark on the wall, probably because I was exhausted from having drilled drywall over the place and making a huge mess upstairs. Once I got the shelf installed, I’m like, “Oh, what’s that little mark on the wall? Oh, that was where it was supposed to be, a couple of inches higher.” I am not redoing it because it made a huge mess in the wall and it’s going to have to stay there. My OCD put this little feeling in my stomach. “That’s just too high. It’s wrong. It’s horrible.” I could feel it. Like, I feel it right in my solar plexus, this little tightening, like, “Oh, we can’t stand this.”
What I decided to do, because I am not moving that, I just say, “OCD, this is great. I am so glad that shelf is at that level. I’m glad, number one, because it’s upsetting you. But number two, it actually probably is a good level because I have a big dog who likes to bounce around on the couch. This is above the couch. If it’s actually too low, he’s probably going to knock his head on it and knock it over. We’re just going to live with it. There are some good things about it being at this level, just like there’s some good things about it being at another level. I’m just going to smile and be happy every time I see that shelf.” So, when I see the shelf now, I really try to have good, positive, happy emotions about the shelf being at that level and tell myself, “We’re not changing it. OCD, if you don’t like it, fabulous.”
Kimberley: Right. But originally, was it that you would slip into a depression as a compulsion?
Shala: Yes. So, what happens with Just Right OCD that can have this same thing go on is we look at the shelf every day and go, “Oh, it’s ruined the house. The house is not perfect because the shelf is in the wrong place. If we could just move the shelf down.” And then you envision moving it down, but then you think, “Oh my gosh, it’s going to open up more holes in the drywall, and then I’ll have to fix that. I can’t do that. If I’d only been paying more attention.” Everybody can’t see this because they’re not watching the video of this, but if you can see my posture, it’s like--
Kimberley: It is. You’re getting low.
Shala: Like, “I screwed up and now it’s bad and I’m depressed.” And then every time you look at it, you have those regretful thoughts and you think about, “Gosh, how I’d like to change that.” And that causes more regret. And then that fuels the whole emotions as a compulsion cycle.
Kimberley: Which is interesting. I think this is true for any subtype. And you may correct me on this. The thought that I hear the most is, “This is going to bother me forever.” That’s where I feel like the depression as the compulsion set seen as like, “You’ll never have happiness again. This is going to be the worst.” And then you go actually, like you sunk down into that. You sunk in and you stayed into that kind of mindset. Is that an example you would give as well?
Shala: Yeah. I think with any Just Right OCD, it’s this feeling that life is somehow ruined because this thing is wrong. Ruined means forever. It’s all blurry, black and white like you were saying. So it feels not only unfixable, but unbearable, and then giving into that and then acting as though this unbearable thing has happened, then becomes the emotions as a compulsion. I think this is probably pretty common within the whole Just Right OCD thing, is having so much regret that it’s not right, then act as though that regret were true.
Kimberley: Right. Well, okay. So, that’s the perfect segue, is how do we break this cycle? How do we intervene? Where do we intervene in the cycle?
Shala: The way that we intervene in this cycle, through exposure and response prevention obviously, is doing the acting as though the content that OCD is threatening you about or bothering you about is irrelevant. Let me start out by first saying how people tend to make mistakes doing this because I think this is important.
So, as we know with exposure and response prevention, we’re exposing ourselves to the uncertainty of the obsession while not doing compulsions. If you have emotions as a compulsion, depression as a compulsion, you can do an exposure. Think you’re not doing compulsions because you’re using scripting to get out of your head. You’re not asking for reassurance. You’re not doing your physical compulsions. But you’re still bummed out, regretful, ashamed. So you’re doing it while in your head, really spending a lot of time in that emotion. So you’re really doing exposure without response prevention. You’re doing some response prevention, but you’re not doing enough response prevention. So the exposures don’t work very well.
People can get stuck in this cycle where they’re doing ERP over and over and over again and they think that they’re getting rid of all these components and they’re not getting better. It’s probably because something like this is going on in the background where they’re still, at some level, believing this and acting as though it were true. So, that’s where people make mistakes.
What we really need to do here is find that little bit of joy because it’s there. It’s probably been so covered up by the OCD, the depression, whatever other negative emotions you’re experiencing, that you don’t think it’s there, but it is there. You can take yourself back to when you were really happy about whatever it is, like, say that you think you’re going to harm your children. And you can remember times that you were with your kids where this wasn’t bothering you. So, you take yourself back to that and you think, “How was I acting? What was I doing? How was I feeling?” You find that and you go do those activities and you focus on that joy. So, when the OCD says, “Oh no, we can’t, we can’t. You’re irresponsible. We were going to kill them. We’re going to harm them. We have to focus on how bad we are,” you’re like, “Nope, I’m going to focus on how much fun my kid is having in the pool. Isn’t this great? It’s a sunny day. Really enjoying it. It feels so nice to be out here. Look how happy my kids are.” You just find all of the joy you can and you focus on the joy.
What we’re trying to do here is act as though the content is irrelevant. So, if you’re acting like it’s relevant, you’re standing in the pool with your kids going, “Oh my gosh, this is terrible. I’m going to kill them. They’re happy now. But just wait until I kill them and their mother finds out or whatever, that it was me.” Or you can be in the pool like, “This is great. I love spending time with my kids. This is awesome. Look how much fun they’re having. They’re doing so well with their swimming. They’re having a great time. They could probably stay in here until they turn blue. This is great.” You’re acting like all that stuff in your head about the fact that you might harm them doesn’t matter. And that’s the essence of good exposure.
It really takes this finding joy because you want to do the opposite of what OCD is saying. OCD says you should act depressed, regretful, ashamed. So you say, “I’m going to do the opposite of that. I’m going to act happy, jubilant, carefree.” And that’s how we do these exposures. It’s not easy, but if you get good at it, it can be really revolutionary in terms of your recovery.
Kimberley: I love this. So, I’m thinking of one particular person right now, and it’s a follower actually. What would you say, because I love everything you’re saying. What would you say to the person who then may start to do that as a compulsion too?
Shala: Yes. I think that OCD can turn anything into compulsion.
Kimberley: It’s so skilled. There’s such skill. So
Shala: Yeah. I think that that is a potentiality for anything that we do with ERP. We are not doing this to make your anxiety go away. In fact, you’re going to be more anxious while you’re trying to find this joy because you don’t deserve to be joyful. It is not responsible to be joyful. It is tempting fate to be joyful. So you’re going to be--
Kimberley: Irresponsible is the word.
Shala: Yeah. You’re going to be having maybe 5% joy and 95% anxiety if you’re doing this right. If you make this compulsive, you’re doing it to reduce anxiety. I’m so glad you brought that up. That is what we’re looking for here, is this is going to make you more anxious. And the more that you do it and really find the joy and act like you’re having fun anyway, eventually, the anxiety will subside. Who knows when? It may take hours, days, weeks, months, whatever. But that is not the goal. The goal is to be in the situation while being anxious. And the more anxiety, the better, right? Because that means you’re giving your brain a good learning experience. That means that you’re doing things that help you tame OCD and reclaim your life.
Kimberley: Right. Thank you so much for sharing that because that’s such a crucial piece – to be able to integrate joy and anxiety in the very same moment. If you could do that, you’re winning, right? You’ve won, because OCD wants you to integrate anxiety and depression at the same time. So, I love that that is the way to give OCD birth ultimately, is to show that you can do that. I love it.
So, let’s talk about one more thing. I want to be respectful of your time. Someone has had OCD for a long time, obviously, because this has gotten so stuck. They’re having a lot of this depression as a compulsion. We’re asking them to find things that used to bring them joy or look back to a time where they could integrate anxiety and joy at the same time. What are your thoughts around “Fake it till you make it”? Is that an approach that you would consider? I know you’ve talked about other ways. Would you like to share your thoughts on it?
Shala: Yeah. I mean, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the “Fake it till you make it” stand, except for if you’re saying you’re faking it, you’re saying that there is no happiness there. And that’s almost giving in to the OCD once again. So, what I like is a different way of phrasing it, which comes from a woman named Heather Hansen who wrote a great book called The Elegant Warrior. We’ve both been on her podcast. What she says is, “Show it till you grow it.” I love that because that acknowledges that the positive emotions are there. The OCD is sitting on them and squishing them and you can’t feel them, but they are there. That also reinforces this notion that the OCD, this is a bunch of content it’s making up. It doesn’t feel like that, but these are things that it has imposed upon your life to make you worry about them. But you’ve got this great life that sort of smushed down underneath it. And you just need to find a little bit of what that great life used to be and find that and grow that.
It’s almost like if you think of a black canvas and then there’s a little pinprick of light, sunlight and it comes through as like a ray. And then the ray comes through and it starts to makes the black cloth start to have the hole, get bigger and the sunlight gets bigger. And then the sunlight comes through and eliminates everything. That’s what we’re talking about here. It’s just a pinprick. It’s a tiny bit, but it’s really there. If you say you fake it till you make it, you’re not giving yourself the empowerment you deserve, that it is in you. It is there. You just don’t feel it because of the OCD.
Kimberley: Right. It is. It’s like a muscle that you grow. I agree with that. I think that that is exactly perfect for it because, like anything, if you’re trying to get 100% joy, you won’t get any joy. But if you give yourself permission-- because we can get perfectionistic about this and be like, “Well, no, this used to bring me so much joy.” So I think you’re right. It’s just little baby steps and little baby pinpricks is the way.
Shala: I’m so glad you brought that up because like all of us with OCD can make things compulsive. We can also try to do our therapy perfectly and try to do these exercises and go out and be like, “But I wasn’t totally happy. I did have some intrusive thoughts. I did feel some depression.” Yes, of course. You’re going to. So, I think recognizing this is a process and what we’re trying to do is find the 1%, the 0.05%, the 3%, the 15%, whatever it is of joy and focus on that. Yeah, you’re going to have those depressed feelings. They’ve been there for a while. By the time you have depression or other emotions as a compulsion, it’s probably been there a while.
So, this process of ERP is also going to take a while and it’s challenging and it’s hard. So, you’re not going to go out and do this perfectly. You’re not going to go have some awesome experience with your kid. You’re going to be acting as though you’re having an awesome time. You’re going to be trying to focus on that in your head. But the vestiges of the OCD and those other emotions are going to be there. Let it be there. We’re not with this trying to shove those away necessarily and not feel them. What we’re trying to do is focus on the ones that actually match the ERP, which is, if I’m going to go focus on being with my kids and having fun, that’s what I’m going to focus on. Not this other stuff that’s going on over there.
But give yourself permission to have this be a messy process because it is and do it imperfectly because you’re going to, because everybody does. It’s going to take a while, because it took a while for all of us with this to get there. It’s going to take a while to unravel it. And then even after you unravel it, it can still come back. I still have to watch for this one. If I get triggered with something that is a really high-level item for my OCD, I have to work on this sometimes too, because it’s easy for me to sink back down to this because I did it for so many years.
Kimberley: Which I’m so grateful that you share that because I think that for those-- and I want to make sure I just did it before we finish up and I want to hear about what you’re up to these days is, the treatment for this is actually similar to the treatment of just depression too. You’re working double shifts here, but in a good way. You’re working on two things using the same tool. So, do you have any feedback on that?
Shala: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I hadn’t thought about it like that before, but it’s very much a behavioral activation approach. Behavioral activation is used in the treatment of depression to help people start to put activities back in their lives that gave them pleasure and that gave them some feelings of mastery. And that’s what we’re trying to do with the added component of “And let’s focus on that pleasure. Let’s focus on that feeling of mastery. Those other feelings are going to be there, but let’s focus on the way life used to be before the depression came in.” So, yeah, it is a very behavioral activation type approach here.
Kimberley: Oh my gosh. I love it so much. It’s so good. I feel like everyone needs to be trained in this specific area because it’s such an important area that gets missed and missed and missed and missed. So, you’re like brilliant, brilliant in my mind, as you already know.
Shala: Well, thank you very much.
Kimberley: Okay. Is there anything you want to add before you tell us the way we can find out about you?
Shala: I don’t think so. I think we’ve covered everything.
Kimberley: Okay. Tell us where people can hear about you, your blog, and all the amazing things you’re doing.
Shala: They can go to shalanicely.com. On that website, you can sign up for my newsletter, which is called Shoulders Back!: Tips and resources for taming OCD. I send it out every couple of weeks and it has some sort of new resource I’ve created or been a part of every time I send it out, free resources to help people learn how to effectively tame OCD and reclaim their lives. So, that is where you can go. If you want to read more about this, this particular blog is on my Psychology Today blog. It’s called The Subtle OCD Compulsion that you might not know you’re doing. Again, you can go on my website and it’ll link back to all the Psychology Today blogs as well.
Kimberley: What about your book?
Shala: Yes. So, both books, Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life and Everyday Mindfulness for OCD: Tips, Tricks, and Skills for Living Joyfully, which I co-wrote with Jon Hershfield. You can learn more about those on my website or on Amazon or anywhere that you buy books. They’re both available on audiobooks as well.
Kimberley: Right. Let me do a plug for your book because I have had so many of my patients say it’s the first time they wanted to hand their book to everybody because it was exactly how it felt for them. I have so many clients who bought a copy for themselves and a copy for their parents because their parents were like, “Oh, this is what it’s like to be you. Now, I finally get it.” So, I’m so grateful you did that beautiful book.
Shala: Well, thank you. That’s the whole reason I wrote Is Fred in the Refrigerator? because I wanted people to understand how it feels to have OCD. If you have OCD, I wanted you to understand that you’re not alone and that there is hope that you can get better. You can tame OCD and you can reclaim your life.
Kimberley: Right. Oh my God, thank you so much for being on today.
Shala: Thank you so much for having me. It was fun.
Kimberley: Such important information. I can’t say it enough. So, so important that we’re addressing this more. I think that this can open it up to everybody having a better understanding.
Shala: Thank you again.
Is Fred In the Refrigerator: https://www.amazon.com
Everyday Mindfulness for OCD: https://www.amazon.com
Please note that this podcast or any other resources from cbtschool.com should not replace professional mental health care. If you feel you would benefit, please reach out to a provider in your area.
Have a wonderful day, and thank you for supporting cbtschool.com.
This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 194.
In today’s episode, I had the most amazing conversation with Hayden Dawes. Now, Hayden Dawes is a therapist, a PhD student. He is what he calls an “aspiring compassion warrior” – we talk about in the interview what that means. Hayden is just doing some really cool work. As I share, and we go into detail in this episode, he’s really brought out some stuff for me as I’ve watched him and learned from him. It’s been incredible to see this journey that it’s put me on.
So, I cannot wait to share this episode with you. We’re talking about radical permission, writing compassion slips for ourselves. We’re talking about being petty. It’ll make sense when we get there. It’s just such a beautiful conversation. So I’m so happy to share this with you.
If you haven’t already, please do go and leave a review. The reviews help us reach more people and gain the trust of more people. So, go ahead and leave a review wherever you listen, and let’s get onto the show.
Kimberley: Okay, welcome. I’m actually so excited to have this conversation. This was a really, really great one to me because I have with me Hayden Dawes. He is an aspiring compassion warrior – which I can’t wait to hear more about what that means – a PhD student. He is a social worker and has been practicing for many years. So, thank you so much for coming on, Hayden.
Hayden: I am so excited to be here, no one else can see us, but to see your smile, just to see a little of me. That just makes me even feel more welcome and more excited to be here. So, thank you.
Kimberley: Yeah. I’m really excited. So, let me fan go on you for a second. For those who don’t know, and you’ll hear all of Hayden’s work, Hayden has these really cool Instagram profile. I love the work you’re doing with compassion, but we’re also going to share a couple of other things that I love about your work. We’ll talk about that here very soon, but tell me about the work you’re doing around like an aspiring compassion warrior. Tell me what that means and how you are putting that out into the world.
Hayden: Yeah. So, one of the things, I was raised in the Catholic church and Roman Catholic, and I’ve looked for different faith traditions, things that felt close to me and really fit my experience. So, stumbling upon Buddhism and more contemplative practices like Quakerism and Buddhism, and finding the idea of a Bodhisattva, someone that is willing to just do the tough work of delving deeply into what it means to be human, the suffering piece to it, and learning from that experience and then trying to help others along the way as we’re all on this human journey. So, I said, “Bodhisattva is a mouthful. Why don’t I call myself a compassion warrior?” And part of that is delving deeply into my own stuff, my own pains, and challenges so that I can learn more about myself and be compassionate with that and I can be compassionate with other people.
Kimberley: Yeah, respiring. I actually think you’re a warrior. I don’t think you’re aspiring. You could drop the aspiring.
Hayden: It’s interesting. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. It’s like, I think part of the journey is like, “Am I really aligned with that completely? What does the aspiring mean?” Sometimes taking it out of like, “Let me hold closer to this idea that this is what I am.” So, I think that’s influx too, but I appreciate that.
Kimberley: Yeah, of course. Okay. So, we talk a lot about compassion here on the show, but I love those little twists that you bring into it. So, I’d love if you could share, you’re often talking about the permission slip. Can you share it with everyone, for those who don’t know what that means? Can you kind of give me a little rundown of what that is?
Hayden: Yeah. So, back in 2018, I had a friend of mine share on Instagram, a haiku a day for 100 days. I thought, “I’m not counting out all of those syllables.” But what I can do is following up on the work of Brené Brown. I was like, “I can write a permission slip to myself a day.” I can slow down and center myself and think, “If I think about the whole day that I’m going to have, what is it that I most need? What is the thing that I might need to give to myself?”
I also know from my clinical practice, and I’m sure you can relate to this, people will come in and they’ll say, “I’m thinking about doing this,” or “I’m thinking about doing that,” and like, “Sweetie, let’s slow down. You probably know exactly what you need to do.” “What do I do?” I’m like, “Yeah, you’re looking for me to give you permission to do that.” So, I thought, “Well, what if we can just skip through that step?” What would it be like for me to start a practice that I was like, “I’m going to offer myself this permission to do whatever that I might need in the world for myself.”
Kimberley: Why do you think people need permission from other people first?
Hayden: Yeah. I think there’s a lot of different factors, but I think we have a lot of different noise, societal noise about who you’re supposed to be, who you’re supposed to love, how you’re supposed to walk in the world. I think some of that noise trickles into our family spaces. A lot of us are taught to really trust our own intuition, our own inner guide. I might even argue the God that lives within us. So, we end up delegating that task to someone else because we’ve been practicing that, rather than really slowing down and listening and honoring the wisdom that dwells. I believe in each and every one of us.
Kimberley: Okay. So, I love this, and I think that’s so important, particularly for my community who have a tremendous degree of anxiety. They’ve sort of lost touch with their own guide and their own wisdom because fear runs the show all the time. And I think that’s true for anybody who has fear, but especially the folks who have an anxiety disorder. So, I love that. Okay. So, can you walk us through? What would you do? What do you say like WWHD (What would Hayden do)?
Hayden: Yeah. If I’m feeling really anxious, maybe my permission slip is, “Hayden, give yourself permission to just breathe.” Or if that feels like too much, “Hayden, give yourself permission to feel your anxiety. Hayden, give yourself permission to feel your feet on the floor. Nothing else, nothing more, just feet on the floor.” If your anxiety and sort of the thing that you need, you know you need to do is have that tough conversation. “You know what, I’m going to give myself permission to be assertive and to ask for exactly what I need.”
Kimberley: Yeah. I love that. So, it’s in that compassion realm. It’s got like the real boundary-setting one, but also the gentleness. So, there’s both those pieces to it in many situations. I know on, I think Twitter, on Instagram, you post these. Are these ones that you’re writing because you really needed to hear it yourself, or is it that you had a session with someone and you wanted to put that out for other people? How do you do it?
Hayden: Yeah. What a great question. Honestly, all of my permission slips that I’ve written are generally for myself. I want to think that is what connects with people. They know I’m not a phony. They know I’m not trying to sell them some program that I’m not trying to work myself. I have not scheduled any of my posts really thus far when it comes to my permission slips. So, the ones I put on Twitter and oftentimes the one I put on Instagram, sometimes I’ll pull back an archive of what I did in 2018, just to show people that I too am on this path, because I do think throughout my day, like, “What is it that I need?”
Oftentimes with me, and I’m sure many of your listeners can really understand this, that I am someone that does a lot. So, if anything, I need a lot more like parasympathetic energy, giving myself permission to rest, giving myself permission to foster self-love and self-acceptance. But then there might be some people that your permission slip might be a little bit more of like, you need to get up poo and you need to go.
Kimberley: Exactly. I know it’s true. It’s true. As you were saying that, I mean, my permission slips, I could write them for the next month. It would say, “I give myself permission to rest.” I know it’s going to say that, but there are other people who will need for the-- they’ll probably be able to recognize that their permission will need to say like, “Face your fears and do the scary thing.” So, that’s beautiful.
Hayden: Yeah. So, just to give you a little bit more of the story, I didn’t know how much of a big deal that permission slips would be to my work until I was meeting with someone that was helping me to think about my social media a little bit with more strategy. She said, “Hayden, these permission slips are really cool. This is something that I think I could do,” my friend, Emily. And I was like, “Really? I didn’t see it.” That was maybe two or three years ago.
And then what happened was, last spring when I felt like COVID was making our world so much smaller. I was talking to my therapist and she was saying, one of the themes that kept coming up was this sense of reminding people the autonomy that they have. And so one big facet of this is permission slips remind us that we have the ability to choose. Even if you decide not to do that thing, it’s so much more empowering to recognize that you’re choosing not to do that thing.
So then what happened was, I said, “Well, what if I open the permission slips for 14 days on social media?” My following was much smaller than it is now. I did it for 14 days, just how powerful it is to have a collective practice of people all over the world, all over the country, writing permission slips, because there’s something so magical in that by you seeing me give myself permission. It’s contagious. You then give yourself permission.
Kimberley: I agree. I think that’s why it’s so powerful, right? It’s interesting because-- and I hear people say this to me often too. I think people see therapists like, they’re got it all together, which I most definitely do not. I’m not afraid to admit it. I’m totally fine with that, but I still am shocked. I tell people, I share my story because we’re going to break the stigma that therapy is like this idea that you just get better kind of thing, like we’re still so human. I love that you’re a therapist sharing it, because I do think it helps people to recognize like, “Oh, that’s not the goal. I’m not supposed to be perfect. I’m going to be giving myself permission forever.” I love that you’re doing that.
Hayden: Yeah. It reminds me of-- I don’t know, I was jabbering about something with my therapist. She was like, “Are you trying to hack the human out of this process?” And I was like, “I’m trying to hack the Hayden.” It took me weeks later. I was like, “Gosh, she’s so right. I’m trying to do this without feeling any discomfort.” And that’s not going to be possible. How beautiful is it that I can practice giving myself permission by practicing self-compassion literally for the rest of my life.
Kimberley: Isn’t that beautiful?
Hayden: Yeah. I don’t love it, but it’s beautiful.
Kimberley: It is beautiful. I actually have a book coming out on self-compassion for--
Kimberley: Thank you. Yeah. It’s not out yet. It’ll be out in October. But a big piece of it is, if you can hold space for your pain, you’re sad because you will have pain. We’re not going to avoid it. But if you can always be that frontline person, that’s what these permission slips are, right? It’s you being at the front line.
Hayden: Oh my gosh, I love what you’re saying. Now you’re making me think. If you hold space for your pain, you hold space for everyone else’s. I think so much of the inner work really brings out an outward change. You feel so much more connected to the people in your life, maybe it’s your children, your partner, it’s your boss. And then you see the world just so much differently and you see yourself differently and you stop looking at other people’s thinking. Like you said, they have it all together and they live these beautiful airbrushed social media lives. It’s like, “Oh, we’re all trying to be a part of this world and figure it out.” And no one is ever done. If they tell you’re done, I got this for you. They’re lying.
Kimberley: Well, they’re completely in denial.
Kimberley: Right. It’s so true. So, I think I love that you’re giving this very simple but impactful tool. So, thank you. It’s so cool. It’s so, so cool. I have one more question about that before we move on to the other piece of the work, which is, do you actually write them out? I mean, you do because you’re doing it on social media, but I know with Brené Brown, she has had-- you can actually write the permission slip, like it was like, you’re getting a permission slip to leave school early from your parents. Do you write them? Are you now at a place where you can just stop and think it through? What has been your progression with this?
Hayden: Good question. No one’s ever asked me that. So, for me, I generally write them and I think that has been a good practice for me to slow down and stop. But I had a conversation with a friend who has been writing his permission slips, and he said that he’s noticing that he’ll fall into giving himself permission. And then later he can say, “Oh wow, I just allowed myself to do that.”
Kimberley: It’s just a new habit.
Hayden: Absolutely. I really have to sit back and reflect on that to think about, what are the times that I’m just allowing something to happen that I generally wouldn’t have allowed to happen before in the past?
Kimberley: Right. Oh, I love it. I do. I really do. I really encourage people to go and follow you because I do think it is-- even though I know it’s perfect for us and it’s ideal for us to be doing it on our own, I do think it’s lovely to have it be modeled for other people. I think that that’s really powerful.
Hayden: Oh, I have to jump in. I think for me, if you think-- so I actually had a class assignment where I had to really conceptualize what I think radical permission is. Honestly, I think there’s three levels to it. It’s nested within a community. And then the community has an instructional leader. I think of myself as that leader, as someone that is modeling both how to do a permission slip and also modeling how to support others with their permission slips. And then the final component of that is the self-practice.
Hayden: But one piece can exist without the other. If not, to me, I don’t think it’s radical permission. It’s just not. We don’t exist in containers. Some of the more Western mental health practices, especially in the last 30 years, are so individually focused.
Kimberley: Yeah. I know I’ve got goosebumps listening to you say that because it is so true, isn’t it?
Hayden: This is a community endeavor. I think that’s one of the elements of what makes it radical.
Kimberley: Yeah, I agree.
Hayden: But yet, one of these components can exist without the other.
Kimberley: Right. It’s the unlearning, isn’t it? Right? So, as a child, if you’re in an environment that doesn’t support this kind of work, if you’re in an environment where there are people, it is the unlearning of that. It’s so important.
Hayden: Yeah. And the unlearning, I just want to validate for people out there, is so exposing, so vulnerable, so raw.
Hayden: When you push someone trying to help you experience your own power and your own sense of autonomy over your body, your thoughts, and your ideas, and then your behaviors from that, wow.
Kimberley: Yeah. It is. It’s funny. I love when I have these teen clients and we’re talking about a concept. I can see them shaking their heads and they’re like, “Nope, nope, nope. Not going there with you. Nope. No, thank you.” They’ll roll their eyes or something. And then upon second and third conversation, there’s a body shift for them. I’m like, “Really? I can do that? Really?” Interesting, right? And then there’s a total body shift. I think, I mean, I’m just so grateful you’re doing this for people all over the world. So, it’s very, very cool.
Hayden: Thank you.
Kimberley: Yeah. Oh my gosh. Okay. I’m so geeked out right now because I love compassion, but I just really cannot wait to talk to you about this. I’m so curious--
Hayden: You can hear me fumbling around this. I just want to put that on the table.
Kimberley: I’m going to fumble too because really, I don’t-- let’s just fumble together. Right? I follow Lisa Renee Taylor and she always says “Stumble bravely.” And so I’m like, “Yes, let’s stumble bravely.”
You on your Instagram have Petty Tuesday. Now, I’ll be totally open with you. The word “petty,” I had this visceral body experience. When I first saw this, I was like, “What is he doing?” These were like petty because in my mind, “petty’ just had this connotation to it. I think again, it’s the unlearning, right? It’s the unlearning of like, “What, wait, we’re going for petty? What’s he doing now?”
Hayden: Oh my goodness.
Kimberley: But now I’m hooked on it. I love it. I can’t get enough of it. And that’s the thing, right? It’s the unlearning. So, let’s just go from the start. What is Petty Tuesday?
Hayden: So, something was happening in the national headlines and I was just like, “Really? come on.” It was like hearing about one of these talk show hosts having a really bad, toxic culture. I was like, “What on earth?” And so I just started talking on my stories about it. I literally would talk about it with my friends like, “This is a really messy situation. People are being harmed and people are being hurt.” I was like, “Not to be petty about it. I mean, Petty Tuesday.” And then people started DM-ing me and laughing about the fact that I said “Petty Tuesday.” So then I just started incorporating it because I honestly started having fun with it. It feels really playful.
Kimberley: It is.
Hayden: It’s interesting because I looked up the word “petty” and there’s all these different definitions. But the one that I really like is, it’s childish. It really is childish. It’s playful. It’s an opportunity. It’s an invitation not to take ourselves too seriously.
Kimberley: Yeah. You see, this is why I loved it. So, I have a Buddhist training too. I’ve really been working for many, many years – I had an eating disorder – since my recovery on, like trying to read petty. We don’t want petty, right? We don’t want to engage in too much anger because that’s got its own pain and suffering with it. Not that I’m saying any of these things are bad, but then you’re totally leaning in over here.
Hayden: Yeah. I think the sort of idea of toxic positivity and how broken that is, and I think there’s some wisdom about honoring our pettiness. not honoring it to be fixed to it, but to realize that there’s space for it, because you either acknowledge you’re petty or your petty will really rein you.
Kimberley: Yup. I just love-- so the reason that this showed up for me and there was a shift for me, like I said, there was a three minute, like, “What is he doing over there?” And then it was like, “Wait, what he’s doing is he’s practicing non-judgment.” And now I’m watching every Tuesday and then people are posting their petty things, and I’m just like, “This is so great.” We’re having an emotion and we’re not going, “Oh, that’s so bad. I shouldn’t be feeling that way. What’s wrong with me?” and all the things. We’re just going, “Yup, it’s petty Tuesday. That’s what we do.”
Hayden: Yeah. I think there’s something about the discipline of doing it on one day in particular that I have some people-- honestly, I completely stumbled, well, not bravely, but I stumbled into this, and now everyone’s like, “Oh my gosh, I love Petty Tuesday.” I will be honest, sometimes it’s become a piece of, I’ll use a term “brand” that I’m like, “People really like this?” but like, “No, I see myself differently than this. I see myself cross-legged on some mountain.” But everyone’s like, they’re feeling seen by it. It’s not--
Kimberley: I think it’s the opposite of the position. The permission slip, when I think about it, that might be why I’m hooked because, on the permission slip, you’re giving permission to do this beautiful thing. With Petty Tuesday, you’re giving yourself permission to be around emotions that we would usually disavow. You’ve just got this whole spectrum going on.
Hayden: You are articulating some parts of my process that I have not quite figured out yet. How much do I owe you for this session?
Kimberley: No, actually, I’m trying to figure it out myself, right? Because this is why I really think, okay, so I’m a consumer in this perspective. So this has been learning for me. And even noticing in myself like, “Oh, isn’t that interesting?” My first reaction was like, people can’t see my hand over my-- petty.
Hayden: It’s taboo.
Kimberley: Yeah. Like, “What are we doing here?”
Hayden: Yeah. I think part of it is, being a gay man, it’s like, pettiness and kind of cattiness, that’s what the stereotype is of gay men. Yet, it’s part of our culture. I think there’s this idea of why folks love RuPaul’s Drag Race is because it leans into the non-seriousness of living and how really a lot of these constructed boundaries about what’s okay to do and what’s not okay to do is socially constructed. So we have to socially deconstruct them, or to use your term, unlearn them.
Kimberley: Right. I love it, and you do it so well. And this is why I love it, because if I think I did Petty Tuesday, it would just be like a venting session. It wouldn’t look the same.
Hayden: Well, yeah. I mean, it’s interesting. I was going off about a celebrity couple that got back together. And then later, I felt guilty about that. I was like, “You know what? I felt like I went too far with that.” But this is where the compassion works, is helpful. It’s like, yeah, that might’ve been a tiny bit mean-spirited, but in the big scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal. Also, it’s like, it’s been so transformative for me to recognize that I can use my voice and the power of my ability to communicate. I might hurt people, and there are times that I have hurt people in my past. But wow, does it feel great that I can be accountable to my word and say, I’m sorry? I often think we wouldn’t need a cancel culture if we allowed more space for radical accountability.
Kimberley: Yup. I agree. No, I’m loving it. Don’t change a thing. Don’t, because I think it’s beautiful. I’m really in love with it because again, I think that even from the anxiety-- the work I do, let’s actually look at, you said toxic positivity, it’s so important to address that. I had a lot of this in my childhood. We don’t do petty. We don’t do angry and we don’t do those other things. So, I’m loving this idea of like, I can make space for all of the feelings and I can also just embrace the humanness that is petty, because I don’t think everybody’s thinking petty.
Hayden: Yeah. This morning I went to the gym. This is my petty thought of the day. okay, so the gym has music you can hear throughout the whole gym space. And then you have folks that are walking around with their phones on speaker phone so that you can hear their music, like it’s their own private boombox, and I’m like, “Isn’t that what headphones are for?” And I’m like, “Oh my goodness, whatever. Okay.” But in the grand scheme of things, this is a first-world problem, but the pettiness of me is like, “Come on now, boo.”
Kimberley: Right. So I’m liking this. This is what I’m saying. I was just actually about to say, give me your petty of the day. Yes. And my petty is probably more related to my children. I’m like, “Do I have to say it 12 times? Do I have to put your left shoe on? Come on.”
Hayden: Well, can I ask you a question?
Hayden: I hate it when people are on podcasts and they’re like, “Can I ask you a question?” That’s a pet peeve of mine and a petty, right? Like doing it after going through your petty process about, with your children, what does that do for you?
Kimberley: Well, I actually did a post on this, this week because I’ve actually been really working through my relationship with venting. I think this is why-- if I were to really look into it, you probably started this work I’m doing.
Hayden: So you owe me [28:45 inaudible].
Kimberley: I do. We’re actually even at this point, so we’ll balance the sheets out at the end of the session. But I think that it probably was. If I really think it was probably spurred by this, it’s to start to reflect on, when I open up space for this, like, I don’t want to call it a negative emotion because it’s not, but just for emotions that bring up some suffering for me, right? My instinct is to shut it down. I think what that means is it shuts down, it shuts down, it shuts down until I cut to the point where I need to vent. By that point, the boiler has gone and it’s coming out. So, I’ve been working better instead of holding space for the petty. So I don’t have to vent. I don’t want it to get to that place. Not that there’s anything wrong with venting either, right?
Hayden: I love what you just said. I’m really going to slow down and hear that because I think what it brings up for me is-- a lot of our somatic practitioners would tell us that we need the energy to keep moving. Really pettiness is just another form of energy. It’s not good or bad. It’s just another form of energy.
Hayden: And I think what you’re saying is, and what I’m hearing is like, let’s open up the space to let the energy keep moving, so that way it doesn’t become locked up like a dam, so that when it gets so full-- because I think the issue with that is it can get so full and burst. And then it starts this whole cycle of filling the shame and filling the guilt of a complete eruption.
Kimberley: Right. Exactly. So, if I step into my petty, it doesn’t feel good because of the learned judgment on that. But it’s me learning. I’m learning that if I can stay with the feeling of that – it doesn’t feel good, but it also feels good – it will save me from really not feeling good when I go into vent mode. And so for me, it’s been really-- like I said to you, I just love it. I do. I really do. I think it’s beautiful as long-- I think that the conversation we actually had on Instagram, because I did a post on this was, people’s conversation around like, but you can’t take that away from me. Really I’m at a stage in my life where I need to be a lot petty or a lot venting. I think for people, it’s different.
Hayden: Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing.
Kimberley: Oh, of course. Thank you. So, do you have bigger petty days than other days? What’s the influx of petty for you?
Hayden: I don’t think of myself as a petty person. It’s interesting that I have an experience. I think being an immigrant and being a military child and accepting life as it is, a lot of acceptance energy of things that other people might complain about is part of my story. So, I think there are days where I may have to lean on my petty and get a little bit more. But that’s anger, which feels a little bit different for me. Yeah, I might feel a little bit aggravated a little bit more often some days compared to others. It’s not something that I necessarily am probably the most tuned into. So, you’re offering me an invitation to think about that a little bit more and to contemplate on it.
Kimberley: I love it. Okay. So, is there anything that you feel like we’ve missed here? We’re stumbling bravely. Do you feel like there’s something about Petty Tuesday, the concept of being petty for people that they may want to consider as they move into embracing this?
Hayden: I think the thing that’s really important to know is that it’s vulnerable. Even being petty is vulnerable and allow your pettiness, allowing yourself to come out to your own inner pettiness because you’re unlearning something and you’re trying something else that you’ve never tried before. So, it’s going to feel scary, especially when you’re riding the wave of a new emotion. You don’t know what’s going to come out. You don’t know who’s going to come out on the other side of it. So, I really want to validate and normalize all of that. I do think there needs to be some safeguards on the other side. There’s a difference for me between pettiness and mean-spiritedness and complete toxic negativity.
Kimberley: Okay. That’s helpful to hear. Yeah. How do you differentiate that?
Hayden: Pettiness has a playfulness, for me. I think the playfulness, again, not taking myself too seriously. When you think about children playing and you think of yourself playing, for me, it’s a wide-open field of discovery and mean-spiritedness. The energy just feels like a dark cloud or there’s a monster and it’s like, “Ooh, I don’t really like that energy. I’m not judging it. I’m just saying I don’t really want more of it.”
Kimberley: Right. Yeah. I mean, I think that there’s a small shift in that it’s intended to create harm, right? It’s intended to displace whatever you’re feeling kind of thing. I can feel that too. I think that that’s a really good differentiation. I just love it, though. I can’t help it. I just laugh when I think about it.
Hayden: I mean, you’re smiling about it.
Kimberley: Yeah. That’s not it. It’s so perfect.
Hayden: There’s something fun about it. People look forward to celebrating Petty Tuesday. People are like, “Hayden, please create merch so I could wear a Petty Tuesday t-shirt,” and I’m like, “Oh my gosh.”
Kimberley: You totally should. Yeah. Again, I think it’s one of those important lessons that we have to unlearn, which is, there isn’t really an emotion you can’t touch on. Maybe that for those who are new to this day, permission slip could be, I’m going to allow myself to feel some petty.
Hayden: I love it.
Kimberley: Play with that.
Hayden: Absolutely. I think so much of unlearning and learning something new is play. giving yourself space to try it out. Commit to it and try it out. Yeah. Permission slip to be petty or to be aggravated. I mean, one of the permission slips, and this is a different emotion, that has completely changed my life was right after the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor. I wrote permission slips to myself to channel my anger to rehumanize myself in the midst of dehumanization. I did not recognize the connection.
But after that, I wrote this piece that went viral in the therapist community called An Invitation to White Therapists. It’s completely changed my world. It’s got me in conversations with mentors of mine, people that have huge followings and are famous in my world, because I gave myself that permission and to really, really experience and feel that emotion and to trust that my container, my nervous system, that my body could hold whatever might come out on the other side. I definitely think having relationships that are there to support you in your play of discovering who you might be on the other side is really important and fostering that. That’s made all the world of difference to me.
Kimberley: Yeah. I thank you for sharing that because I really do resonate with that as well. Feelings are scary. I think that we don’t give ourselves permission because we don’t want to feel what could come with that. Particularly around those conversations, those very difficult topics, I think it’s so important that we slow down, maybe write out a permission slip first. I know I have to do that all the time with social media areas. Okay, how do I navigate this conversation? Can I be okay with it being imperfect?
Kimberley: Yeah. Thank you. I’m so grateful for you bringing that up because I think that’s amazing. Okay. I actually have one more question for you and then I want you to tell people. So you’ve said when we were pre-having this conversation that you are a curator of radical permission, what is that?
Hayden: Yeah. I have to be honest. Some of this is based on Rising Strong process, a Brené Brown book, but I do think I’ve moved it forward in making it a collective practice. So, I think of myself as the curator because, do I own this? I think our Western way of we own things, like, do I own this? No. If anything, I feel like more of the shepherd of it. I hope that this lives beyond me, honestly.
So, I think I love the word “curator,” thinking about someone that is there to be a custodian of a space and of a process and there needs to be some editing. So, there has to be some power that I hold of the process because you need to make sure that it stays within the pathos and the ethos of really what the values are underpinning it. So, I think that’s why I use the term “curator.”
Kimberley: I love it. Okay. Tell us where people can hear about you. I’m so grateful for this conversation. Really I am. I could literally talk to you about this for hours, but I’m not going to take your time up. Tell us where people can hear your stuff and learn well from you.
Hayden: Yeah. So, you can follow me @hcdawes on Twitter as well as on Instagram. There is a Radical Permission Facebook group that you can search. You can also head to my website at hcdawes.com. I also have a monthly newsletter where I talk about all the things that are important to me, and I hope it offers you value. I always offer something for you to contemplate about your life, as well as there’s always a petty moment, as well as different trainings that I’ll be offering and different upcoming events.
Kimberley: Yeah. Thank you so much. Like I said, absolutely just grateful for you. You’re doing amazing work.
Hayden: Thank you.
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This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 193.
Hello, my loves, how are you?
So, recently, I’ve been having lots of conversations with my patients and my clients around one really helpful metaphor around managing mental compulsions.
Now, before we go into this, let me just do a quick overview. We have obsessions, which show up in the form of intrusive thoughts, intrusive feelings, like anxiety and uncertainty and doubt and guilt and disgust. There’s intrusive thoughts, there’s intrusive feelings, there’s intrusive sensations, which is whatever physical sensations you experience that are intrusive and repetitive, and then intrusive urges. Urges like this urge – you feel like you’re going out of control and you’re about to hurt someone or you’re about to harm someone or do something that is ineffective or not helpful in your life.
We have these intrusive thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges, and sometimes images as well. It might be a quick flash image of something scary. In effort to either solve that or remove that or lessen the discomfort of that, we engage in a compulsion. Now, the compulsion could be physical, like washing your hands or moving an object or so forth, checking something, or it can be mental. I’m really specifically, in this episode, talking about mental compulsions – the mental compulsion of trying to solve and ruminate on an obsession. A lot of you have said that mental compulsions are one of the most difficult to reduce or prevent or stop, and I think that’s very, very, very common.
When I’m talking with my patients about this, usually, they report that once they have the obsession, because we know that – let’s sort of just preface – trying to prevent the thought or suppress the thought won’t work. You’re going to have these thoughts. Thoughts suppression usually makes you have the thought even more.
We’re not talking about thoughts suppression here, but what we are talking about is, once you identify that you’ve had the thought, how much attention do you give it and how much leash do you give it? This is the metaphor I want you to think of.
When you’ve had this intrusive thought, think of the thought like a really baby puppy, like a really active bouncy baby puppy, and you’ve got the baby puppy on a leash. You’re taking the puppy for a walk.
Now often I’ll ask my patients, “When you take your puppy for a walk, particularly if you live in a suburban or city area, which I do, do you give the puppy a long leash or do you give it a short leash? As you’re walking down the sidewalk, are you letting the puppy walk down the middle of the road with a long leash, and then it jumps over the sidewalk into the garden, it pees on the garden and then wraps its leash around your legs, and then it takes you off into some at the park that you don’t want to go into? Does it walk down a street that you don’t want to walk down? Or do you keep the leash shorter? And what you’re doing there is you’re pulling it back. You’re not allowing it to go into areas that you don’t want it to go.”
Now, that’s what I want you to think of in regards to mental compulsions. Once you know that you’ve had an intrusive thought, your job is to keep that thought on a short leash, meaning you don’t explore the whole neighborhood and what it means and what it could happen, and this could happen, and that could happen, and let’s go down the rabbit hole of trying to figure this out. Instead, you want to keep it on a shorter leash. Again, in this case, you’re being really skilled in what road you’re letting yourself go down or what rabbit hole you’re letting yourself go down. The whole idea here is, keep your intrusive thoughts on a short leash.
You still have the dog. You’re not trying to get rid of the dog. You’re not cutting the leash short and going, “Runaway, I don’t want you.” You’re saying, “I have this thought. It’s going to be here. I’m going to be very intentional on where I allow this thought to go. I’m going to be very intentional on how much I let this thought be the focus of the walk I’m taking.”
As you’re walking your dog, you’re not only looking at your dog. You’re also looking at the path that you’re walking on so you don’t trip. You’re looking at the nature around you. You’re waving to the neighbor or however. You’re engaging with the outside world. You’re not just gripping and holding the leash and fighting it.
This is important for you as you manage your mental compulsion. I’m going to say to you, this may be the most important skill you’ll learn. The skill of managing mental compulsion is so important if you have generalized anxiety, OCD, social anxiety, health anxiety, depression. It’s so important that we are skilled at setting boundaries with our mental compulsions or our rumination and our worry. All of these things are the same. Worry is just a form of mental compulsion.
What we want to do is, if you notice that you’re going way down the wrong street and you’re going in the direction of doing mental compulsions, you may want to yank on that chain and say no, as you would with your dog. “We’re not going down that street. We don’t poop in people’s yards. We don’t poop in our own yard. We stay on the sidewalk.” And then the dog tries to go the other direction into that person’s garden, and you say, “No, sorry. We’re not doing that today. We’re staying on this path. You can be here. The thought can be here, but I will not let it determine what I do on my walk.”
This is so important. Just think of it. Think about when you’re in your daily life, do you allow your thoughts to be on a tremendously long leash and do they go wherever they want and they’re pulling you in every direction, or are you in the practice of shortening that leash and taking more control over where you let your head go?
Now, a major thing to remember: It’s entirely okay if you suck at this. You are going to suck at this. Please, don’t be hard on yourself. This is a practice. There are some days I am excellent at this. There are some days I am terrible at this. That is okay. It’s similar to anything in your life. You’re going to have ups and downs. But really reflect as often as you can, what’s the intrusive thought, what’s the intrusive feeling, sensation, urge, image. That’s the obsession. We don’t want to control that, but we do want to work on being skilled at how we respond. That’s the most important piece.
Be gentle. Be kind. Be diligent. Be patient. You will get this with time. Keep that dog on a shorter leash, if you can. Be gentle with the puppy on the leash too. Don’t yank on it too hard because we don’t want to get into a wrestle with our thoughts. Okay?
I love you. I hope that is helpful. Please, please let me know your thoughts on this. It’s just a metaphor, so it may be helpful for some and some maybe not for others. I just am so grateful that I get to spend this time with you.
Please go and leave a review. I know I say it every single time. I cannot tell you how much it helps me and brings me so much joy to see the reviews. I love them. Thank you so much. I read every single one. Thank you. We will give a pair of free Beats headphones to one lucky person who leaves a review as we hit a thousand reviews.
Thank you so much. I love you, guys. Have a nice walk, my friends. It’s a beautiful day to do hard things.
This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 192.
Welcome back, everybody. I am really excited to do this episode with you. It’s a little bit different to episodes I’ve done in the past, which might be why I’m really excited about it, but it is a skill I have been practicing for several months. No, maybe more than that. I would actually say closer to six months to a year, and I was reflecting on, what are the things that... I took a lot about mindfulness skills and a lot about therapy skills and cognitive behavioral therapy skills, but is there something I haven’t really talked about in terms of just lifestyle? And I thought this, of all the topics, is probably one of the things that helps me manage my anxiety and depression the most, literally the most. In fact, I would go as far as to say it has been probably one of the most important things that has helped me recover in my recovery, and I’m really excited to share it with you.
Today, we’re talking about how activity scheduling and managing your schedule can be a really important anxiety management tool. Before you completely sign off and say, “Oh my gosh, this is not for me,” please just hear me out because there is so much greatness to being really intentional about your schedule and scheduling.
A couple of reasons I say that is because, number one, if you are somebody who has a job or goes to school or has a mental illness, and that’s really, really debilitating and taking up a lot of your time, or you have children or all of the above, it’s really easy for the day to just come and go. And before you know it, you haven’t gotten done what you wanted to get done. You’re feeling more and more anxious about tomorrow. You’re feeling more and more depressed about yourself and what you’ve got to do. You’re feeling bombed out because you didn’t get to prioritize your time.
And that was exactly me. Every time I opened my eyes in the morning, I had this sensation of dread because I just was like, “Oh my gosh, today’s going to be another huge day. I’m going to run all day. I’m in a rush all day,” or “I’m going to feel anxiety all day.”
Let me tell you a couple of skills that I teach all of my clients because, as I’ve said before, this is something that they talked to me about, at least once in their treatment, is how to manage their time.
Okay. I have learned and I have practiced this, like I said, for almost a year now – the art of scheduling in a way that is in the intention of benefiting my mental health. I don’t schedule because I want to be super time efficient. I don’t schedule because I want to get a ton done. I schedule for my mental health, literally. Forgive me, if you can hear beeping car alarm, it’s been going all day. So I’m sorry if you hear that in the background.
I literally schedule for my mental health. And what I have learned, I took a whole course on this, is one of the biggest mistakes we make with scheduling is we schedule what we have to do first, and that basically means we’re prioritizing work and school and to-do’s, instead of scheduling pleasure first. So that is what I want you to practice first.
That already might be mind-blowing to you. You might be like, “Wait, what? Like pleasure? That’s important?” Yes. Schedule your pleasure time first. Look at your schedule, even write it on a piece of scrap paper. What do you love to do? Make sure you schedule that something. Even if it’s for 10 minutes, you schedule it every single day.
Once you’ve done that, then you schedule what you need to do for your recovery. It may be different for every person. Some of you may need to schedule exposures, and again, be very intentional. Let’s say you have a driving exposure. You have to go driving for your exposure and practice having intrusive thoughts, or you have to practice going and doing a certain thing that concerns you or scares you. You’re going to schedule that time first.
If you’re not someone who’s doing exposures, maybe you have to schedule time to correct your thinking or schedule your time to meditate. Schedule your time to read your mindfulness book. I have almost all of my patients read some kind of book that will complement their treatment all the time, meaning throughout treatment. Once they finish one book, I send them a book to read after that, and I tell them, “You don’t need to read all day every day.” I might ask you to read a page a day or a chapter a week, or whatever works for you, but schedule that in because really literally, I’ll give you an example.
I have a private practice and an online business, two complete businesses. I’m managing up to 15 to 20 people a week. If I worked at scheduling my to-do list first, I would never take care of myself. Never. I would only work for other people. I would only be doing a million to-do’s. I would never get any exercise. I would never meditate. I would never have any time because I would have just clogged up my schedule with that.
Reverse it. First, schedule your pleasure and then schedule your mental health practices, whatever that may be – your self-compassion practices, listening to a podcast, whatever it may be.
Now, when it comes to the things you have to do, this is going to go against some of the advice you’ve been given. I know it will. But hear me out and you can take what you want and leave what you don’t want. What I do is I sit down with a piece of scrap paper and I write a to-do list. Every Sunday, I do this. I write a list of all the things I need to get done this week. I write a list of what emails I need to write and what phone calls I need to make and what bills I need to pay, and who I need to talk to, who I need to consult with, and so forth.
Now, for those of you who compulsively list-write, we’re not writing things that are daily activities, like I’m not going to write “Brush my teeth.” I’m not going to write “Have breakfast.” I’m not going to write “Lock the door.” I’m not going to write things that I would be doing anyway. I’m going to be writing the things that I have anxiety about and that are important that I get done and that I value. I’m not writing down things that are compulsions or things I’m doing to make my anxiety go away. These are just really logical things that I have to do.
Once I’ve got everything down, I don’t keep that list. I transport that list into my schedule. Of course, I have to see my clients. Of course, I have my clients in my schedule weekly. But then from there, let’s say I needed to make an email to, let’s say my website programmer, I would put that in the calendar. Tuesday at four o’clock or Monday at six o’clock or whatever it may be. I take everything from the to-do and I put it on the calendar.
If you’re noticing now that the calendar is full, something has to go, because what’s happened in the past is you put all the to-do list in, and so the thing to go is your mental health, is your self-care. We can’t do that anymore. That’s why I’m telling you, like, that’s why scheduling is so important because if you don’t, you’re going to realize that there is actually no time for self-care and there is no time for your mental health. If that’s the case, like the whole saying is “Nothing changes if nothing changes.” So this is so important.
You may need to ask for help. I’m always talking with my patients about asking for help. Okay, you need to go out for a drive. You need to do your homework, but you also need to take the kids to school. Can you ask someone to help you? Can you pay someone to help you? Can you find creative ways where you take your kids and someone else’s kids one day and they take their kids and your kids the next day? Again, I really love to do this on the cheap, so I don’t want this to cost you money. Can you find ways to prioritize your mental health in your schedule, on the books, and open up time so that it becomes the priority?
I know I’ve told you this story before about, I was at a lunch and I was with my friends and they didn’t have children. They were all talking about these beautiful hikes that they were going on. I said, “Well, I can’t go on a hike because I have children.” He’s like, “Yes, you can. You just haven’t prioritized taking a hike. If you really wanted to, you would take your kids on a hike or you would find some time or find someone to take care of the kids so you could go on a hike. But you haven’t prioritized that. You’ve prioritized being with your kids or working or taking a bath.”
There’s no judgment. There’s no judgment to what he was saying. He was just saying, “You can do it. It’s just that you have to figure out what is a priority.” For me, that was shocking because I was like, the truth is I say my mental health is a priority, but I don’t. That doesn’t show up in my schedule that way. This was many years ago, and it was a crazy aha moment where I was like, “Huh, I say self-care is important, but it’s totally not evident by the look of my schedule.”
The other thing that I have found that’s so fascinating is, once I started doing this, I started actually realizing how much I was working or how much I was doing behaviors that bring me no pleasure. I spoke with a client about this just the other day, is I wasn’t feeling so well. I went to bed early. I laid in bed. I opened up Instagram. And two hours later, two hours later, I come out of a thick fog of Instagram and realize that I’ve lost two hours. The thing to remember here is, number one, that’s neither good nor bad because some people love Instagram and it brings them tons of pleasure. But in that moment, as I checked in with myself, I didn’t feel any better. If anything, I felt more stressed.
So what I was doing was I was engaging in behavior that I could have done that would have felt so much better and aligned more with my mental health, which again is why I say to you, please, please, please, if you take one thing away from today, please schedule your pleasure. Please schedule your pleasure, the things that bring you joy.
Now, some people say, “I can’t do those because my anxiety has taken those things away from me.” Even more reason to schedule them. If you love to read and your anxiety or your depression has sucked the joy out of reading or writing or whatever you love to do, schedule that and work at what’s getting in the way. Talk with your therapist or journal or try and figure out what’s getting in the way and work at making sure that fear isn’t your scheduler. Fear isn’t your assistant who schedules your day. That’s not cool. That’s not kind to you. Do not let fear schedule your day. Do the best you can is what I should say, because there will be times it will. But just do your best to make a deal with yourself.
We’ve talked about transferring your to-do lists onto the calendar. You rip the to-do list up, you take it away. And then your job is to do your best to stick to the calendar. It’s not going to be perfect. In fact, it’ll be far from perfect, but really look at the end of the week or at the beginning of the week, and look at your calendar and make decisions with that.
Now, of course, I understand that there is some degree of privilege involved here. I want to make sure we respect that some people don’t have control over their schedules, and that’s true for many people. But what I want to ask you is, if that is the case, where you have control, can you implement really good exercises and activities during that time, like really resting.
I just read an amazing book where they were basically saying “Schedule rest.” If you’re someone who’s working a double shift and money is tight and life is really difficult right now, maybe the first step is you just schedule rest. Maybe the only step is for you to schedule rest. Maybe we start really simple. This is a lot of change. I encourage you to take baby steps, even if you’ve got full control over your schedule. It’s really important here that we take baby steps and empower ourselves to prioritize your mental health. Believe me, it is going to make such a change.
The other thing is, and I’ll say one more point, what was really interesting to me is, I really then, once I started scheduling, noticed all the “shoulds.” Well, I should work out five days a week and I should go and help other people, and I should be putting this in my schedule, and I should be calling this person.
As you do this, ask yourself, do you really want to? If it’s not a “have to,” meaning you have to go to work and you have to go to the staff meeting and you have to show up for school and so forth, really check in with yourself. Are the things you’re doing on your schedule because you feel like you should do it, or because you want to do it, or because you have to do it? Be honest with yourself about that, because I found on my schedule a bunch of stuff. I would even say a bunch of swear words, a bunch of crap that I really didn’t have to do. I was only doing it because I’d made up a story about the fact that I should, and it wasn’t even a fact and I was doing it out of fear.
That’s why I really, really wanted to chat with you about this. Easier said than done, like I said, but really think about this. Look at your schedule. If you can – I schedule on Google calendar, it’s free –look at your schedule and ask yourself, is it reflecting the level of recovery that I am wanting?
Make small changes. This is really important. If you’ve learned one thing from today, it’s please schedule your pleasure. Really schedule your wellness. Schedule your rest. Work the rest around that.
Okay. I love you guys. Have a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful day. I believe in you. I believe you can do this hard thing. Do the best you can with what you’ve got. I am so grateful for you spending your time with me and being on this journey with me and taking me along with you. Thank you. I know your time is valuable and I’m so grateful.
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