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Jerry Seinfeld appeared to me in a vision and counseled me to start meditating. More accurately, I read his interview in Judd Apatow's book, Sick in the Head, in which he espoused the benefits of transcendental meditation. Coming from someone who is not only outrageously successful, but is also known for being annoyingly well adjusted, I wondered if this was the answer to winning the daily battles I waged against my OCD and anxiety. Could it be that meditation was the Yogi version of a Kickstarter campaign that would give my career a boost as well? I was ready to try it for thirty days and find out.
My OCD is on the spectrum somewhere between an adorably neurotic rom-com character and Howard Hughes. I am lucky enough not to be debilitated by it, but I certainly have my own brand of crazy. (For the record, I can call myself crazy. If you try to do it, I will box your ears. )
Would you like more insight into my particular brand of OCD? Buckle up, because I'm going to go ahead and assume that you just nodded vigorously.
You know when you check your alarm before bed to make sure that it's set to AM and not PM? I do that. Every two minutes for about an hour.
If my bath towel is not folded in a particular way, I'm worried I'll get into a car accident that day.
When I'm on the treadmill, I walk for 25 minutes and 25 seconds or else disaster will strike my personal life.
A week or two before my period, my OCD spikes and every minute is a minute spent trying not to have a panic attack over something stupid, like water spots on the counter. My OCD and anxiety are directly linked. They have the most symbiotic of relationships. If I'm not going through the motions of my rituals, I get anxious. Likewise, if I'm anxious about something, the need to perform my rituals increases.
On the surface I am a high-functioning, rational, and happy gal who has her life together. Underneath, I am spending 25-50% of my days trapped in the hell that is cognitive dissonance due to my compulsions.
If Jerry Seinfeld's secret to life could give me a better way to spend 100% of my days, I was all in.
As I researched transcendental meditation, I learned that it isn't something you can do on the fly. TM was going to cost me money, the sanity it takes to find a decent parking spot downtown, and my preciously quiet weekday evenings. As a parent, writer, and someone who just got into Narcos, this was not ideal.
Lucky for me, I have a brilliant therapist friend named Mandy who knows about these things. If ever I reach Oprah levels of influence, she will be my Dr. Phil. The wiser, more hilarious, better-looking, female, non-bozo version of Dr. Phil.
Striking out with TM, I turned to Mandy for guidance. She sent me a link to some mp3 files designed for twelve-minute meditation sessions. There was a guided track and one that was just music. The best part was they were free!
Game on. Thirty days. Twelve minutes a day. This was happening.
On day one, I set myself up in front of the fireplace. Ear buds in, sitting crisscross applesauce, I started the track. The voice told me to imagine picking up a stick. I chose a wand. He instructed me to write in the soft sand at my feet. I made colorful fireworks in the sky.
Doing things my own way worked. By day two I had a mantra. By days three and four my head was a noticeably more positive place. When I did housework, I was no longer thinking, "It will never be clean enough," I was just cleaning. Many of my visualizations may have resembled forest scenes from the Twilight movies, but I was clearly good at enlightenment business.
During a session in my second week, I felt myself moving as I meditated. Floating, even. For the briefest of moments I thought I might actually be levitating. It turned out to be the onset of a head cold, but I was not deterred. Not even when my sessions during that head cold turned into accidental naps. This was working for me.
Ready to double down on the process that was making me feel more at peace, I was curious what would happen if I approached my sessions with specific questions. Could I get answers in addition to peace?
My first question was linked to a social anxiety loop I was stuck in. It isn't uncommon for people with OCD to fixate on conversations or interactions and have those repeat for extended periods of time. I wanted out of a particular loop. As I meditated, I realized that if I put more positivity out, I would see more positivity return to me. I also figured out how to internalize interactions while still releasing the unproductive emotions that came with those interactions.
It was time to really test this twelve-minute business. I was going to turn it loose on my career. During my first attempt, I visualized myself taking steps and creating ripples with my feet. It was nice, but not exactly a GPS Voice Guide leading me to Successville. I figured I'd try again.
The second time I saw myself approach a cottage. Inside the cottage was a quill, parchment, and a map on a bulletin board. There was a place marked "Where I Want To Be" and a place marked "Where I Am Now." In between those two places was a variety of paths. Ideas of what those paths and trails represented came to me. The feeling of being stalled dissipated. I felt inspired.
This thirty-day experiment was definitely working.
Perhaps I was getting cocky, thinking I had mastered meditation and was now immune to the pressures of the world. I was still indulging in my OCD rituals, but managing to confine that indulgence to the more harmless ones—the ones that I do without thinking and looping and obsessing and stressing. To let go of every compulsion completely would feel like letting go of me. I wasn't sure I wanted that.
So there I was, floating through life, more gracious, more patient, and probably sexier (this is how good I was feeling). And then, on the evening of my 26th day of this experiment, something triggered my anxiety. I felt the coil tighten and the tunnel vision began to limit my view.
When I am at my lowest it feels as though someone else has moved into my head. My life becomes a movie I am watching, not participating in, and that asshole in my head makes it hard to see what's in front of me, to hear what people are saying. Making new rules for myself and indulging in those compulsions becomes all-encompassing. I make and remake my bed over and over again. I give myself weird dietary parameters. I am not myself. I am at the mercy of a jerk who has claimed squatter's rights in my brain.
On Day 27, I walked into my room, shut the door, and sat in front of a window. On went the therapist-approved music, crisscross applesauce went my legs. As I listened to the music that was supposed to help me feel ultimate relaxation, I cried. I cried through the whole twelve minutes, mentally scrambling to get a handle on who I was, pushing that dark passenger out of my head so I could have my brain back.
At the end of the twelve minutes I opened my eyes. I released the boulder of anxiety that had taken the place of my heart. I breathed in and then out.
This experiment was only intended to last a month. I gave Jerry Seinfeld and Mandy thirty days to make me better. While my OCD has not been cured, I have a new tool to help me deal with it when it overwhelms me. I have a thus far foolproof way to shoot down the circling vulture that is my anxiety. Meditation has given me an excuse to be still and the bravery to release the negativity that once clung to me.
As for my career, I'm not swimming Scrooge McDuck-style through gold doubloons and fielding a constant influx of calls from the powers that be, but I can see opportunities I could not before. I can see how they form a path, leading me from Where I Am Now to Where I Want To Be.
And, if there's one thing the images from my meditation sessions have taught me—you know, besides that I clearly watch too much television and too many movies—it's that the answers are all there. I just need to take a deep, cleansing breath, close my eyes, and wait for them to appear.