Question & Dancer: When OCD Makes You Doubt You Have OCD [& More]

question-and-dancerI’m an artist not an expert, one who is learning to embrace questions more than answers.

These are some questions I got last month. Ask yours here.

 

Is it normal to become hypersensitive to the looks of your same sex with the onset of HOCD? even if you’ve known and seen the person before they just appear a lot more attractive now? Is that a symptom of a. change in sexuality or another Possible HOCD Symptom?

This is very common. Many (most?) with HOCD will be hypersensitive in this way; some seek out opportunities to “check” their reaction to the same sex (if the person with OCD is straight– obviously, this would be the opposite if the person with OCD identifies as a homosexual person) while some avoid that gender entirely. Both checking and avoidance are compulsions. Follow my HOCD tag here.


I am 54 years old recently my ocd has become worse for last 6 months since i changed my job and because of ocd anxiety i am not able to work at present. My ocd is mostly god related i have to pray and touch god photos everytime i pass through them and think i have not prayed prope rly and become anxious. Also there are lots of thoughts coming and going in my head always about touching god photos etc and i am not satisfied with my praying i tried medicines and they made my condition worst,Please help me Sir

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is the very best treatment for ANY form of OCD, including this. My OCD was also related to my faith; I suffered for 20 years before just 12 weeks of ERP gave me back my life (and a growing relationship with my God). Lots of resources available for you at www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD!

Is it normal to feel no attraction or interest in romantic relationships when suffering with HOCD, even when recovering (reduced obsessions and compulsions, but the feeling of not knowing your sexuality and not being attracted to the gender you always have been attracted to?

I hear this all the time!

Hi Jackie, I have been suffering from hocd for a while now. One of my biggest problems besides the intrusive thoughts and fear I can’t shake off is the EXTREME SADNESS I have. I feel like I get sucked into this dark hole where I can’t get rid of feeling hopeless and sad. I lose all motivation to do my homework and just feel angry at god. Have you ever felt this way? If so, what did you do to help yourself?

Hi friend, sounds like you might be dealing with depression in addition to OCD. The same thing happened to me. Sometimes the depression is a result of the OCD– treating the OCD effectively will “remove” the source. But sometimes that’s not the case; in such a case, it can be more important to deal with the depression first in order for the sufferer to gather strength to fight the OCD. An OCD specialist can help you with this. Perhaps this is a personal preference, but I always recommend treating depression with medication. Depression is a chemical issue, so I fight back with chemicals, often an SSRI. For those who can’t afford a prescription, the supplement 5-HTP is the closest natural alternative to an SSRI.

Hi Jackie, Did you ever feel like your ocd would never end? As a current hocd sufferer, I feel a lot that it’s never going to be over. I question and doubt even the most logic of facts I’ve been told to use in order to help cope with the intrusive thoughts. Everyday it’s a new “what if” question and it makes me terrified and sad.

Yes yes yes yes yes. This was actually one of the biggest horrors of my OCD: the fear that it would always be that way, that it would never end. I’ve written a post specifically about this.

Hi! I have one question: could HOCD bounce to another theme even though I’ve been dealing with it for two months and eventually couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t as severe as it was for the first month? Sometimes I feel like my attraction men is back (I’m a girl) but I still react negatively when HOCD thoughts come up. HOCD targets my insecurities as well.

Theme hopping is pretty normal, at least it was for me. I would spend maybe three or four months obsessing about something until it was basically like my brain would collapse— maybe it was the mental equivalent to the body passing out from pain. It would quickly find something new. It always would. That’s why we don’t treat the theme– we treat OCD.

a week ago I was still dealing with HOCD, but while putting my niece down for a nap, I had a sexual intrusive image of her followed by “should I…?” ever since then my mind has been obsessing about this nonstop. I know what I am capable of and would never harm a child. I can’t stop googling, crying and asking for reassurance. What should I do? Does this sound like POCD?

Indeed it does! And, if you read the answer just above this one, you will see that often OCD hops from theme to theme until it is effectively treated with exposure therapy. ERP is always the best course of action; many more details and resources at

www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD. You are absolutely correct in knowing that you would never harm a child. You wouldn’t. In fact, if you were that kind of person, you would not be “googling, crying and asking for reassurance.” I am not worried about you being a pedophile. I only want you to be treated for OCD, friend. You can do this.

I think I have had HOCD for about 6 months now, and my attraction still hasn’t come back for men. However, before I would get major spikes when reading coming out stories, and reading online forums would say something along the lines of HOCD is just a cover up for those in the closet. I no longer feel major spikes when reading this material though. Is my mind is coming to terms with being gay?

HOCD is a theme of OCD, an anxiety disorder; homosexuality is a sexual orientation. They are not the same thing at all. The first is an illness; treat it with exposure therapy.

In general, are our thoughts representative of our true selves?

Not when someone has OCD.

I’m so scared and tired. I don’t know how long I can take this.

Don’t give up. But do seek treatment. I remember being in your shoes– exactly those shoes. Exhausted, terrified, living either at a fever-pitch of anxiety or else at a low flat-line of depression. But I got rid of those shoes in 2008. I will never walk in them again. 

Is it possible that you can develop mental illness like OCD, even though you might not have issues with OCD in the past? I also have another question: do you think people who second guess whether or not they OCD take longer to seek treatment or even a diagnosis? Plus, could cultural and community surroundings prolong getting help?

I’m not sure if I have any friend with OCD who would say that they have had it from birth– or at least, that it hadn’t manifested itself from birth. For many of us, there is some sort of trigger that kicks into gear at some point. Mine began at age seven.

And yes, statistics estimate that it takes 14-17 years from the onset of OCD symptoms until someone is correctly diagnosed and effectively treated. For me, it took twenty.

I think that number is affected by pride, doubt, how few people (even therapists!) know to direct an OCD sufferer to exposure therapy, and how difficult exposure therapy is. In addition, cultural and familial stigma also prevent people from getting treated.

I know a family– the most incredible, amazing family– in Michigan. When their pre-teen daughter exhibited symptoms (obsessions and compulsions), the parents immediately sought help, learned about OCD and ERP, and got their daughter into an intense ERP program at the Mayo Clinic. I praise God that my beautiful young friend M didn’t have to suffer for 17 years before all that happened. I praise God for parents like R and D.

I realized one of my compulsions is ruminating, but its so hard to catch myself ruminating until Ive ruminated for a good hour. Ive tried to catch myself early but I’m wondering if you have any tricks to stop it from happening? Its hard because rumination just happens immediately after a scary thought&I dont even realize I’m doing it until its too late (rumination also decreases my anxiety)

I had some compulsions that were auto-responses, and the trick my ERP therapist offered to me to stop it didn’t seem like it would work. Except it did work. When I realized what I was doing I would say, “NO!”– interrupt my thoughts this way– “I don’t need to do XYZ right now.” Sometimes I would have to do that multiples times just in the course of a minute. But it worked. My auto-responses eventually stopped.

I feel so alone in this (HOCD), i feel like i’ve lost all identity and sense of self. I’m getting treatment- its not the best, (I am a student so i cant afford much) but i don’t feel much better. I don’t know what to do, i feel so lost

I am so sorry you feel this way, but you are still fighting. You are looking out for yourself and keep seeking help, and I am proud of you. When you say you’re getting treatment, are you referring to exposure therapy (ERP)? If not, that is what you need to do. Talk therapy is not helpful in treating OCD. ERP, on the other hand, can be done on your own.

I believe I am suffering from HOCD but I am terrified to go to a therapist for them to tell me I am gay. I have a wonderful girlfriend that I do not want to leave and do not want to do anything sexual with men. However I’m scared that I am somehow lying to myself although I’ve been perfectly straight my whole life. Any advice for me?

Yes, read one of these books and see if you can identify yourself. If so, then do the exercises. Listen to yourself: you love your girlfriend and don’t want to do anything sexual with men … yet you are concerned. That is HOCD, friend. (And yes, you will feel a short flood of relief from my saying so … but you will begin to doubt it again soon. That will continue to happen until you treat it with ERP.)

Stop Obsessing by Edna Foa

Amazon | B&N | Fishpond

Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by Jonathan Grayson

Amazon | B&N | Fishpond

The OCD Workbook by Bruce Hyman and Cherlene Pedrick

Amazon | B&N | Fishpond

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders: A Complete Guide to Getting Well and Staying Well by Fred Penzel

Amazon | B&N | Fishpond

Hey, I have a question for you, Jackie (I love your website, by the way; it’s insightful and it’s helped me a lot in recent months). Is this guy a charlatan, or is this actually good advice for someone suffering with HOCD looking to use ERP as treatment? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJ7RfcRrXS8 I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thank you!! 🙂

Not a charlatan. His steps were basically think about your fear (Exposure) and feel the discomfort (Response Prevention). This is what ERP therapy is. His later steps talk about doing this again and again until it no longer is so upsetting. This is how ERP happens. You can see all these details in the story of my own experience with ERP. Even more details here.

This is regarding HOCD. I was wondering if it is possible to have wondered if you are gay in your childhood. I started freaking out about my sexuality around 8th grade. I am 20 now… still freaking out and still unsure of what I am. I’m scared to be gay and I was wondering if HOCD makes you looks into your past for evidence of being gay and actually believing it?

This can and does happen with HOCD. This happened to Hannah, who has been interviewed on my blog several times. Her HOCD kicked in in junior high as well.

Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
Another Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Third Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Fourth Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
Q&A with Former HOCD Sufferer

I have had Hocd in and off for three years and I often doubt that i have it. I often find that I have fairly bad spikes and want reassurance… what is the best way to stop yourself from compulsively confessing or seeking reassurance?

I am assuming that you have read all the other responses above and so you will now know about ERP therapy. I recommend finding a group of supporters who will help hold you accountable– my friends knew exactly what my main compulsions were (mine also were confession and seeking reassurance), and they knew that they should not “aid and abet.” Remember that when you perform compulsions, you are actually siding with OCD and against yourself.

Thanks for all the questions, folks! If you have questions for me about anything (but especially faith, creativity, and mental illness), add yours here.

As I said, I’m an artist not an expert. I will leave you with these, some of my favorite questions in one of my favorite poems, â€śQuestions about Angels.” Click here to hear Billy Collins himself read it. (P.S. It starts with questions, ends with a dancer.)

This & That

First of all, the winner of the Rupi Kaur book is … Brienna! Congrats!

I know I have a lot of advantages. But right now, they all feel diffused by the failed negotiations I have occurring with my uterus. CRAMPS SUCK.

I have had so many fun opportunities to speak lately: spoke at a high school where students were reading Truest; spoke at a local university for a group of lovely journalism students; spoke at the 20th anniversary of Inkstone, the literary magazine whose staff I was on in my undergrad years. I was able to share a few scenes from Salt Novel, and they went over GREAT, to my joy and relief!

Remember how Truest is coming out in Germany? I saw the German cover!

Don’t you just love that mouthful of a title?! It means something akin to “Fortune or Whatever May Come.”
I have so much to do. Alas, I am curled up in the fetal position, waiting for my Ibuprofen to kick in. TMI, maybe. Sorry if so. Thanks for letting me be real in this space.

Guest Post: My ERP Experience

With her permission, I am sharing a comment from ashley1234567890, one I found particularly insightful.

And here she is …

I went through ERP and had fantastic results. It was a huge blessing for me, and I thank God that he gave me the courage to try it.

I am no expert, but i did have a really bad case of OCD, which got a lot better after ERP, so here are my recomendations, that in hindsight, were key to my success.

NOTE: my ocd did not get worse with ERP (it got so much better) even though the treatment was very intense!

If you qualify for ERP therapy, and you are considering it, then do not let fear keep you from going. The only caveat is to make sure you find an expert who treats ERP because it is specialized therapy. For example, my therapist was willing to meet me outside of their office for exposures, because my ocd spiked at a particular place. I also recommend finding someone who has experience with whatever ocd you are facing. For example, my therapist had experience with germ ocd, harm ocd, religious ocd, sexual oreintation ocd, etc… so i knew they were highly qualified. they should also give you exercises so you can do your own exposures.

As for ERP, It seems counterintuitive at first, since the patient will go through exercises and narrations that are asking them to run towards their fears (instead of running away from them), which in turn causes anxiety to spike, and while super anxious the patient will be asked to temporaily stay in that state while resisting compulsions that are normally used to reduce the anxiety. If you face the obsession and not give in to the compulsion, then the cycle breaks, which in turn makes you less anxious. That is where “exposure and response prevention” comes from.

My treatment was gradual at first (small fears first then you move onto bigger ones) also, my initial exposures were designed so that anxiety was moderate so I could handle it, and then over additional sessions, they were changed to more intense ones.

For me, it took me about 12 sessions to complete treatment. I noticed some big gains after the first couple of sessions so i knew it was helping. After treatment i am a new person. I still have the ocd, triggers, and the spikes, but it does not cause much distress anymore. Before ERP my distress level was a 10 and it was constant. My life sucked.

So heres an example of what what ERP might look like. let’s say you have germ OCD. You may be asked to touch a door knob and not wash your hands afterwards for 5 minutes. As the sessions go on, and you grow stronger, you may be asked to do the same excercise, then refrain from washing for 15 minutes. Eventually, beloeve it or not, you will be able to do the excercise then not wash at all! Or, one exposure may be a narrative, where you write a short story, and in this story you get a little dirty, or exposed to germs, etc… over the treatments, the story may get more and more disgusting and intense, so you will be in a situation that gets really dirty, and theres no place to wash up etc…

As the sessions and exposures go on, the anxiety for each trigger gets weaker, which in turn makes the spikes less intense. Consequently for me, the ocd got better over time.

Again, the key is to find a qualified expert who has a lot of experience in OCD and ERP, because you will be asked to do things that will make you feel temporarily uncomfortable and the therapist will need to work with you at the right pace so that you are not overwhelmed. They should be willing to leave their office to do an exposure where you need it. So for example, if you are afraid of heights they should be up for going with you to a balcony etc… to face that fear.

Like some of the previous comments, I was anxious before starting too, and I was scared that it would make my condition worse. But i was wrong! that’s just the ocd trying to keep you in the bad place.

In fact thats how i first came across this blog. Jackie had wrote some content on ERP and it gave me the confidence to try it. Thank you jackie you are such a blessing from the Lord! Hopefully this post will do the same for someone else!

Everything

I was going to post today about the resurrection and what it means to me, but I hardly know where to start. How can I summarize “everything” into a blog post?

It’s an answer I try to show every day, in my choices, my speech, my words. 

Thank You, Jesus. Let my life praise You.  

Why is it Called GOOD Friday?

Screenshot_20170414-191853
Growing up, I was always confused about why the Christian church called this day Good Friday– the day that Jesus Christ was put to death. I knew the story: the blood, the nails, death on a cross, the method used for criminals. I had learned about crucifixion in gory detail, and how the one crucified would struggle to breathe in such a position, how Christ would have needed to lift his body weight just to get a breath– his body weight pressing against the spikes nailed through his feet. I knew about the hours of darkness, the quaking earth and breaking rocks. About the curtain of the temple being torn in half, top to bottom.

My family would go to a Good Friday service, the front of the sanctuary bearing a cross adorned with a drape of purple fabric. Sometimes we would hold a railroad spike in our hands. We would always take communion: a small tab of bread to represent Christ’s broken body, a small sip of grape juice to represent his blood.

And I would wonder: why is this good?

I remember as a passionate, deep-thinking, sensitive child thinking, I wish I could have stopped this nightmare.

My God had been ridiculed, beaten, and killed. Why was this good?

……………………………………

Friday is good because of Sunday.

Because Friday was not God losing the battle– it was part of the battle plan all along. It was a well-conceived, strategic move before the checkmate.

Because, as I said above, the curtain of the temple was torn in two— this represents our direct access to God, where before we needed a priestly intercessor.

No matter what it looked like on Friday– the end of the world, I’m sure many of Christ’s followers thought, and certainly the end of hope— Sunday was just around the corner. Sunday, the resurrection, the culmination, the checkmate, the victory. It was all part of a master plan, one that we– nearly 2000 years later– can see in full, even if our brothers and sisters at the time could not. We can see the rescue waiting just around the corner. We can say, This is good.

……………………………………

Years ago, I attended a conference where I heard a sermon by Louie Giglio that I will never forget. It profoundly moved me and helped to shape my worldview. The bottom line of it is this: when the bottom drops out of life, we can still have hope — because of the cross.

If you will do just one this for me this entire year, would you please watch 1 minute and 38 seconds of this sermon? I’d love to have you watch the entire thing, but please at least watch from 24:45 to 26:23.

From the foot of the cross, the cross appeared to be the worst thing– from the perspective of history, we Christians see it as the best.

And we can trust that God is at work even in the times that are hardest. This is why I have hope.

……………………………………

This is so core to my identity that I put it into my book in the form of a parable.

Silas tells West that he believes that God is in control, even over the bad things, and she asks him why.

“Writers know that the climax comes before the resolution.” He was quiet for a second, then said, “Not just in fiction, either, West, but in real life too. How many times has the worst thing turned out to be necessary? Or even the best? Rescue wears masks, you know. It’s why people say it’s darkest before the dawn. Sometimes things take a long time to make sense. Could be years and years—or only a weekend. Or they might never make sense. But that doesn’t mean you stop trusting that the world is being rescued.”

Or only a weekend.

Good Friday, everyone. I’m looking forward to Sunday.

Maundy Thursday

Thinking of the passion this morning.

JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hematidrosis (also called hematohidrosis) is a very rare condition in which a human being sweatsblood. It may occur when a person is suffering extreme levels of stress, for example, facing his or her own death. Several historical references have been described; notably by Leonardo da Vinci: describing a soldier who sweated blood before battle, men unexpectedly given a death sentence, as well as descriptions in the Bible, that Jesus experienced hematidrosis when he was praying in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44).

Cutaneous hemorrhage
According to Dr. Frederick Zugibe (former Chief Medical Examiner of Rockland County, New York) it is well-known, and there have been many cases of it. The clinical term is hematohidrosis. “Around the sweat glands, there are multiple blood vessels in a net-like form. Under the pressure of great stress the vessels constrict…

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Preparing for ERP Therapy

I find myself constantly coming back to the basics: exposure therapy works; it is hard but not harder than life with OCD; prepare your support system.

Blessings to everyone who tonight is battling this enslaving disorder. I think of you all the time. Today I had multiple opportunities to share about the freedom I have found. It is always good for me to remember what I have come through and how much joy was on the other side.

It was worth walking through the fire. I have NEVER regretted ERP.

JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

Lately, I’ve been talking to some brave, amazing people who are planning to tackle cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), specifically exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP).  I know it’s the right next step, they tell me.  Any advice?

Glad you asked.  Here are my suggestions as you prepare for ERP.

1. Read and research!  Don’t go into this (incredible but difficult) therapy with your eyes closed.  I believe that the more you know about what ERP entails and what will be expected of you, the better.  In fact, I have a friend who had done enough research on it that he realized only one or two sessions in that he knew more about ERP than the therapist did– instead of wasting time, my friend was able to stop meeting with that therapist and find an expert in ERP.

2. Have an open heart.  ERP is not the same…

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Rupi Kaur’s Milk & Honey, Empowerment, & a Giveaway

In some ways, 2017 has come at me hard. I’ve had less motivation and time to write than I’ve had in years. Online dating is like a battlefield. I’m still figuring out my sleep patterns.

But then again, I’ve been made stronger: I am figuring out how I work best, experimenting with different schedules, reading a book every week, learning so much about writing and otherwise. I am taking control of online dating, and I am treating myself well. I am learning how to honor myself, if that makes any sense. It probably doesn’t.

Let’s just say that this week was intense. So many tears, so much persuasion from men. I have cried with shame because of how weak men have made me feel, but I have also cried with celebration because– in spite of their best efforts– I have made my own decisions. I have respected myself even when I’ve not been respected by men– and then I have actually turned around and demanded respect.

I’m becoming empowered.

rupi kaurLast week, I read Rupi Kaur’s incredible collection of poetry, Milk and Honey. I read it in one sitting– just breezed through so many pages letting them administer to my heart– and when the book was over, I felt so much stronger because of it that I bought a second copy.

For you.

Ladies, if you need some strength, please comment below. You don’t have to tell me details, but please tell me how I can encourage you, pray for you, support you, etc. One of you will win my second copy of Milk and Honey.

Please remember:

dragon rupi kaur

I Will Say This

I read Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur today in one shot. I adored it. It was raw and empowering.

Online dating is still happening. My squad of new friends is incredibly eclectic, and honestly, they are making me love the internet. I adore my new friend J, who rocks awesome wheels; my friend S from Kashmir; my friend J2, two weeks sober. Where else can you talk to some guy online and then see him in your local Chipotle a few days later? I have met a BDSM master, a Universalist, a man whose parents were rebel fighters against Fidel Castro, and the funniest single dad, who also understands my anxiety.

I’ve also met a ton of creeps. (Click here ONLY if you are willing to see men become feminist mince-meat.)

I’ve read a handful of great books– reviews to come soon.

Novel revisions: I needed a new approach, especially in the past week, when I was basically smacking my head against a wall over and over and over … and then feeling guilty about it. I decided to not write on weeknights and to tackle revisions on the weekends, at least for this precise season.

In fact, that is what I am off to do now! Send creative energy and good thoughts my way!!

xoxo Jackie