A woman sits in the doctor’s office. Rocking back and forth, she has tears in her eyes. “What’s wrong with me?” she says. “I’m… I’m not sure,” the doctor says. That’s never what a patient wants to hear.
Frustrated, exhausted, she leaves. She gets in her car, pulls onto the road, and drives straight to her local psychiatric facility. She’s had enough. “Throw me in a padded cell!” she says to the nursing staff, “I’m crazy and there’s nothing else to do about it.”
A doctor eventually comes in to welcome her to the retreat. She is friendly and has a reassuring air. The frantic patient instantly calms down. Here is someone who will know what’s wrong with me, she thinks. She’s right. The doctor runs a handful of tests and claims the woman has paranoid schizophrenia. It’s not the diagnosis the woman was hoping for, but at least she now knows what she’s dealing with.
A house ablaze
Two years later, the woman still finds herself struggling. Regular tasks like doing the laundry set her off. She can’t leave her home for fear that the coffee pot will catch fire in her absence. The coffee pot is unplugged. It’s sitting on top of the fridge. She put it there so that there was no way it could cause a fire. Logically, she knows this. But somewhere in her mind, she doesn’t believe it.
She sits at home all day, staring at the coffee pot, terrified that at any moment it could erupt into flame.
The woman still visits the psychiatric facility from time to time. Mostly to see her doctor. The doctor is a calming presence in the woman’s life. A confident figure who empathizes with the woman and tells her it will be alright. The doctor has the answers and the woman is thankful for them.
The thing is, they’re the wrong answers.
Working through OCD
Brain Lock by Jeffrey M. Schwartz is a book about dealing with OCD. I’m reading it because I have diagnosed OCD and anxiety. I’m actively working through it as I write this. Thanks to medication, it’s been manageable. Nothing like how it was in the past.
I’m grateful for that.
I know how much worse it could be. For instance, in his book, Schwartz details a real-life story similar to the woman above. She is at her wit’s end. She knows something is off, but she can’t figure it out. Eventually, she finds a doctor who issues a diagnosis far more extreme than her reality calls for. However, she accepts the diagnosis and goes into treatment for it.
Two years later she hasn’t improved. She eventually finds Schwartz and learns she is actually plagued by OCD, a simple misfiring in the brain that fills her with intrusive thoughts and compulsive reactions.
She finally found the answer she was looking for, but it took many false prophets to get there.
The promise of the cult
Humans have a terrible need for answers. We want to know the why of all things. Our curiosity spans from the big questions down to the most minuscule of wonders. We want to know the meaning of life and what happens after. We also want to know the healthiest food to eat and the proven tips for running a successful business.
And we are willing to accept answers from whoever seems to have them.
That’s why cults gain so many followers. It’s a situation where one person “knows” the secret to all things. Or if not all things, at least the big ones. And it’s that confidence in the unknown that makes them so appealing.
The problem isn’t in finding someone with answers. Walk around a city long enough and you’ll find someone who can do that. Normally they’re living in a tent on the side of a busy street. No, it’s not just a matter of finding anyone willing to weigh in on your problem.
The tricky thing is finding the right person with the right answers.
In an episode of Friends, Ross grills Phoebe about evolution. Phoebe isn’t so sure evolution is real. Ross, being a paleontologist, is stunned. How could she not believe in evolution? After much antagonism, Phoebe replies that for the longest time, humans knew the earth was flat. The brightest minds accepted it as truth. They were wrong. And, she continues, couldn’t it be possible they were wrong about evolution too?
Ross begrudgingly agrees to a gloating Phoebe.
She makes a great point. We really don’t know if facts hold true until they’re proven so. In the meantime, it’s probably a good idea to hold onto those facts lightly. To accept them as truth today while knowing full well a better answer may be uncovered tomorrow.
Last year I read some books praising the low-carb lifestyle. They spoke of how all carbs were bad and should be shunned. It made a lot of sense. As soon as I finished the books, I changed my diet entirely. I ate barely any carbohydrates. My food intake was made up entirely of fats and proteins. Cheeses and meats.
After living like that for a month or two, I threw the idea aside. Not only was I not seeing a positive change in body fat, I didn’t feel all that great while on it. It was also incredibly boring. I had no nutritional variety. It was maddening. This is a simple example of accepting something as truth only to learn of its falseness later on.
Continue to learn
We want the answers to everything. As soon as we find them, we accept them as truth and move forward. But that may not give you the results you’re looking for. Recall the woman with the false diagnosis. Had she accepted her fate, she still would be trying to treat a disease she didn’t have.
A better approach is to:
- Reevaluate your beliefs,
- Seek out better ways for doing things,
- And continue to learn and test.
It took two years, but the woman eventually questioned her diagnosis. She sought outside help. She learned of her true problem (or a closer version to her true problem) and took steps to remedy it.
Her life improved because of it.