by Denis Asselin
In confinement no one can hear you scream. I know from experience.
It’s frustrating to be required to isolate and reduce a bigger world to a restricted one, especially if you suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and/or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). For many, being stuck in static, familiar surroundings may even trigger memories when isolation was a daily occurrence — even without a pandemic. My family and I remember how our son Nathaniel’s social life shrank during his struggle with BDD. Close friends, social interactions, and outings slipped from his life as he took refuge in the predictable space of his room. His disorder became his only companion, and it was a bully.
This may be what is happening in your life, too.
Our COVID-19 lives come by chance, not choice. Early in my own life, however, the decision to confine came by choice. At 18, I joined a religious order where a year of confinement was a required part of the initiation process. I survived, but barely made it through the ordeal. Saranac Lake in the New York State Adirondacks is not a thriving metropolis. The winter was long, cold, and cruel. Darkness reigned both outside and in my spirit. Our group of 30 novices spent days in silence, meditation, prayer, and work. The days felt like an eternity, but strangely enough, the weeks and months flew by. And I did in fact survive (I’m writing this blog, right?).
You can survive, too.
The goal of the novitiate (a kind of spiritual boot camp) was for me to pay closer attention and to get to know myself better — to uncover the inner landscape of my being, discover and enjoy my restricted setting, and explore non-judgmentally who I really was below the surface of my public persona. This 12-month journey was definitely not for the faint of heart. Did we ever talk? Yes, about an hour each day. Did we play? Hard and often. Did we develop unknown talents and creativity? Definitely. Did we learn who we are, why we are, and how we are? I believe I did.
Today’s confinement offers the same invitation. In early March I found myself going to the calendar and crossing out appointments, social events, and outside commitments, feeling a sense of satisfaction and liberation from it all. A new simplicity of daily life crept in. But as in novitiate, some form of a “schedule” provides structure and purpose to my day. And of course, it requires adherence to resolutions. This is not the one or two snow days from school we all wished for in our childhood. Open-ended aimlessness doesn’t work so well over months, so self-discipline becomes a must, and we need to welcome the limitations.
To embrace this New Reality not of our choosing, we can say “yes” to change with radical acceptance. In life, there are things we can change and things we can’t. It matters how we frame the challenges and respond to them. BDD sufferers don’t necessarily have to slip back into isolations of the past. Yes, it does look familiar, but there are more available tools for coping now. For me, I go outside often to witness the beauties of the emerging spring where I find signs of hope. I walk — in the local parks, in circles around the house and neighborhood, and even, as Jane Austen’s characters often suggest, occasionally “take a turn about the room.” My world might be smaller in acreage, but not my spirit.
Each June, the BDD/OCD Community looks forward to the 1 Million Steps 4 OCD Walks, held all across the country. Since its creation in 2013, participation in the Walks has increased and the positive atmosphere has grown. The Walks have become our common witness — that we’re not alone and that we can beat OCD and related disorders. Although the annual Walks are on pause this spring, they will return in time. They may look different when they do, but all the walking teams will unite for the cause. It takes a committed community to win the fight.
In the meantime, we can practice at home. Build inner strength. Recognize what works for each of us and commit to it wholeheartedly. Reach out for the resources that IOCDF offers through its copious COVID-19 outreach — webinars, Town Halls, virtual support groups, and more. We can hold ourselves accountable each day, and remember, we are not alone.
So let’s benefit from confinement as preparation and good training by staying in shape physically, psychologically, and spiritually. We can all move forward both literally and figuratively, walking with love and possibilities.
Denis Asselin, walkingwithnathaniel.org