what it was like

B.C.B.T. (Before Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy):

I was in bondage to obsessive-compulsive disorder for over fifteen years; I was depressed, overwhelmed, scared, sad, and I felt guilty all the time. I was terrified of thoughts and wallowed in grief and terror for over a decade.

Doubt and this lingering wrong feeling were the normal for me; it was only for small periods of time (sometimes even seconds) that I felt peace.  I worried about ridiculous things– like that I might cause someone to kill him/herself or that I would sexually abuse a child.  I wondered if Jesus was really Satan and if people were really demons, if everyone was pretending to be my friend just so that it would hurt worse when I found out the “truth.”  I woke up in the morning and felt sick to my stomach within a few seconds.

I worried about hell, about my soul, about whether or not my prayers could reach God.  I wondered if writing fiction was the same as lying and if writing about the hard things in life was displeasing to God.

This niggling feeling of unease was constant– sometimes it was at the back of my mind, lingering there in the background, and sometimes it was at the forefront, screaming at me like a siren that SOMETHING IS WRONG.  Peace was fleeting and momentary, and I had to keep asking after it: do you think this is okay?  Do you think this was wrong?  Do you think I’m going to heaven?  Do you think I should worry about this?

I cried a lot.  Sometimes I fell asleep with quiet tears, and sometimes I would WEEP and KEEN while my roommates could do nothing to comfort me.

It was a cycle of horror: I would obsess and stress about A Particular Issue for two to three weeks, until I had completely exhausted myself in every way, and then it would fade into the background.  But only for awhile.  It or another obsession would attack again in a week or so.

I felt alone and scared and not even the gentle hand of a friend on my back could bring relief.  I felt deep confidence that I was condemned and doubted everything else.  At times, I lost my grip on reality and thought I was really, sincerely losing my mind and would end up in a straightjacket or room with padded walls.

I felt hopeless.

A.C.B.T. (After Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy):

I hated almost every minute of CBT and (at the time) thought my therapist was a BEAST, an unfeeling monster.

But twelve weeks later, I was in charge of my OCD and not the other way around.  I knew that I had been a victim and not a monster.

I am living in freedom, I do not suffer from intense intrusive thoughts nor do I feel the need to perform my compulsions to relieve any anxiety, and the quality of my life has improved SO SO SO much.   I don’t have to confess everything all the time or seek reassurance from my friends.  I don’t doubt the tiny decisions I make each day.  I am okay with uncertainty.

And I know it’s not a cover-up!  I know that CBT didn’t work like a band-aid, covering up my problems and making me blind to them.  It worked like an electrician: it RE-WIRED my brain.  Now I can think like a “normal” person.

I still have bad days, just like everyone else.  Sometimes I am sad, bored, cranky.  I fight with friends and hurt because of it. But it’s all in the normal course of life; I experience these the way that others do.  I begin each day at zero instead of at -1000, handicapped so that I have a million miles to make up before I can even deal with things the way others do.

GLORY TO GOD for leading me to CBT, which has UNLOCKED MY PRISON. I am MYSELF now: joyful, creative, secure in my relationship with Christ, and not living behind a mask. My smile is REAL, and I love my life and my God and myself! I give credit to Jesus Christ for such an incredible rescue. Thank You, Lord, for two years of freedom; I am looking forward to an eternity of it.

Would you like to learn more about CBT?  I am happy to answer any and all of your questions with complete honesty.

51 thoughts on “what it was like

    • CBT stands for cognitive-behavioral therapy, a specific kind of therapy that is very different from the regular “talk” therapy. Within CBT, there is a specific type called ERP or Exposure and Response Prevention.

      Essentially, the therapist finds out what the client’s triggers are and the OC’s reaction (compulsion) to the trigger. Then the therapist makes the OC go through an exposure (in other words, be triggered!) and then PREVENTS the OC from performing the compulsion … so it’s just what it sounds like: exposure and response prevention.

      It. Sucks. But it is a life-saving tool.

      It re-wires your brain and teaches you to live with uncertainty (which is the bane of the OC’s existence). It is awful to go through but amazing to have GONE through. It’s how God rescued me.

      Does that (brief) description make sense? I should do a post about CBT.

  1. If your description of what it’s like to live with OCD before and after CBT doesn’t convince sufferers to seek help, I don’t know what will. Isn’t it amazing, that after suffering for 15 years, 12 weeks of the right kind of therapy changed your life? Good for you and thanks for spreading the word about how treatable OCD is.

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    • Oh yes, all of those– and others (which I don’t want to say because it will only get your head moving into bad directions!). My brilliant cognitive-behavioral therapist is here in the lovely state of Minnesota.

  7. I genuinely want to try CBT, but I was reading another post that a doctor had written to someone with a similar problem as me (they didn’t get anxiety over their thoughts, the thoughts were just there all the time because they knew it was OCD. They didn’t worry but it still controlled their life) and the doctor said that CBT wouldn’t help, as you need to generate enough anxiety. I just wish there was a way to get my anxiety back so I could do ERP and CBT (wow never thought I’d say that!) now I’m just numb.

  8. HELP!!! I suffer from severe ocd.. I have a two year old and it has gotten worse since he was born although I’ve suffered for 15 years. It rules every aspect of my life. I know there is help I just don’t know where to find it. I’ve been to numerous counselor s over the years but still no relief. Who do I go to???? PLEASE HELP!!!! I WANT MY LIFE BACK!!!! HELP!!!!!

    • Hi Rachel,
      There is hope and help! Have you tried exposure and response prevention therapy? It’s the #1 treatment for OCD. You can look for an ERP specialist in this database (http://ocfoundation.org/treatment_providers.aspx). Be sure to find someone who does EXPOSURES. Not talk therapy. I have a lot of information about ERP here: jackieleasommers.com/2013/11/10/a-detailed-post-about-erp. Please do read that post and let me know what questions you have!

  9. Jackie,
    My 18 year old son has been suffering from what we now know is OCD. Specifically Scrupulosity with pure-o compulsions. Thank you for that term. I now have more to research. He has been through partial hospitalization twice and is seeing his second psychologist. The first thought it was just anxiety and the second has been helping somewhat but it wasn’t until very recently that she said she thought it was OCD. I have been in contact with a support group leader affiliated with the OCD Foundation. She helped identify his type of OCD and gave some medication increase suggestions. I contacted his psychiatrist and she agreed to the increase just last week. He is having such a hard time and feels so defeated. If I can get him to school he can’t function and wants to come home. His current psychologist doesn’t do ERP. We live in MN and I would so appreciate the name and contact info. of your psychologist. So glad I found your posts. I have stacks of things I have printed off and look forward to reading previous posts. Thank you for any help you can provide!

  10. Hi Jackie. Thanks so much for your blog. One of my biggest obstacles in finding the right treatment is my obsession about whether or not I actually have OCD — I always feel like I must be making it up, or I’m lying, or that I must just want attention, and so I mentally “check” to see if I really have OCD, or, like, even reading your blog and commenting here feels like a compulsion, like I’m feeling guilty right now for typing this because what if I don’t actually have OCD? So then when I start thinking about treatment I feel all this guilt and self-doubt. But there’s a part of me that knows this means I must have it, right? I JUST CAN’T BE SURE. I don’t have many rituals that exist outside of my mind, at least not that I’m aware of, but who knows anymore. I just don’t know how to go about things, or what ERP would look like for me… since the compulsions are mostly mental… it all feels so tangled and overwhelming. But I live near the Twin Cities and my therapist (who doesn’t specialize in OCD but has helped me a lot with the mood swings I go through) wants to help me find someone who specializes in treating this. IF I actually have it. I am not sure. Help! What do you know about this “pure-o” type of OCD?

  11. Hi Jackie. Just reading that there actually exist people who have managed to conquer scrupolosity already feels like a huge relief to me. Thank you very much for this! I was particularly struck by your comment that you no longer have to confess everything all the time, something which I myself have been struggling with quite intensively for a while now. May I ask just how exactly you nowadays deal with that issue? I mean what is you do or think about when you are being overcome by the nagging sensation that you have committed yet another sin even if you clearly haven’t. And how to you go on about your life when occasionally you have actually sinned, for instance by hurting other people verbally or otherwise treating them unkindly?

    Thank you very much for whatever advice you have to offer in regard to these questions.

    • Hi Joe! I no longer have to struggle with these things– for real! I battled this for twenty years, and then after doing 12 weeks of ERP therapy, I didn’t have any obsessions or compulsions for a year and a half. Now, I have about 1-2 obsessive bouts a year, but it’s NOTHING like it used to be. ERP changed everything for me. I hope you’ll consider it. There’s lots more information about ERP at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD!

      • Hi Jackie. Thank you so much for your swift reply! I have been going over your writings frequently in the past few days and I honestly feel that it has already positively affected my thinking in regard to religious OCD. I will definitely consider ERP treatment, especially since I have finally come to realise that I cannot overcome this disease all by myself. If it is not too much to ask tough, you could perhaps enlighten me a bit further on the following issue: From reading your posts I gather that ERP actively encourages patients to live with intrusive thoughts and the desire to confess imagined sins. But what does it have to say about genuinely committed sins? You see I struggle profoundly with the concept of simply ‘ignoring’ or not repenting for sins which I just know to be true, like purposefully upsetting other people….

        Once again, thanks a lot for your helpful counsel and guidance.

      • In my experience and the experience of most others with OCD, they can tell the difference between “I have really sinned here” and “This is something that no one else would feel the need to confess.” This is called the community standard. So you always opt to go with the community standard, and before you do, you ask God to cover the whole experience in grace.

        I would start with, “Lord, I’m terrified to do ERP, scared that I might be leaving my sins unconfessed, but I am willing to try this scary treatment in order that I can live a better and more productive life and have a closer and healthier relationship with you. So, I’m going to go with the community standard, Lord. If no one else would feel the need to confess it, I’m not going to either. I’m going to try this for twelve weeks. Please cover this experience in your grace.”

        Thoughts?

      • It think it is really great advice to try and avoid confessing things which other people would not normally confess to. I also thank you for encouraging me to ask God to cover my treatment experience in his grace, even if that means not immediately and specifically confessing everything I believe to be a sin. On that note, I was wondering if ERP does nevertheless provide for some sort of general confession at a set time each day or week. The reason I am bringing this up is that in my attempts to deal with sin, my mother once recommended that instead of seeking God’s forgiveness all the time I should limit the need for doing so to at the most one time per day, for instance as part of my daily prayer before going to bed. I have found that this approach has somehow managed to reduce my agony over unconfessed sins during the day, although I can’t know for certain whether this will also work over the long run.

  12. That would be something to talk through with your ERP therapist. It’s not wrong to ask forgiveness for our sins, of course– you’re only going to try to prevent the compulsive confession/asking for forgiveness. Talk it through with your ERP therapist for sure!

  13. Thank goodness for this blog. I have a son whose life has been turned upside down by severe ocd. My heart aches for his silent, overwheming pain; pain which he shares with no one. He has suffered with ocd for a few years now. I shared your website with him so he could see he is not alone. The thing I worry most about is if he blames himself, as if this were his fault. Blessings to you for being so candid with your experiences.

    • Oh you’re so sweet! I hope that you will help your son get into Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy, which is the frontline treatment for it and has provided relief even to very, very severe cases. It has set me free! Blessings!

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  16. I currently have the obsession of not understanding the sin thing, why are we guilty of it, i feel like God is responsabile and I don’t understand what Jesus did for me and i feel guilty…for not feeling guilty, for not seeing my sins….i feel like God is rresponsable for our sins and i don’t understand why is He angry with people because of their sin..and the whole adam and eve story

  17. I feel like this is the worse think to obsess about, like I don’t understand anything about what god did for me…like the whole meaning of christianity and It feels so bad, because I don’t know how to live like that. I feel angry with God for letting us sin and then punish us for that. I can’t stop thinking about this and the problem is that if I accept it in my mind…I don’t feel comfortable again, because deep there in my heart I know God is good and He can’t make mistakes, and that the biggest proof of love is letting the other to choose. So it’s really… a nightmare. I do feel better hearing you same you’ve been there too, because i keep hearing of people with this problem but none of them have had the exact fear I have and most of them are feeling guilty for something that they feel or think, while i actually feel guilty for not feeling guilty or responsible..I just don’t understand how God can let us be like this, knowing that it makes us see Him as a mean God..

  18. Yes, probably everything that can be out there. From the unforgivable sin to not having the Holy spirit, not believing enough, not truly believing, I don’t even know exactly. but this one that I have right now it feels like the scariest. It is like a blockage, like for all other fears I could go to God but with this one, He is my problem. It is very encouraging, though, that others feel the way you feel and that other people have been there too. I think the most difficult problem with OCD is that you cannot relax and believe that it’s ok, God loves you just like that. Even if you don’t understand anything anymore, even if you feel like you hate Him, etc. and it feels so scarry because you see other people around you that do understand Him, that are so happy because of what He did trough Jesus and you feel so bad for not being able to be like them.
    For me…it’s just like something doesn’t click in my brain. And the most terrible thing is the fear that you’re going to loose your faith because of the situation you’re in.

  19. I am goinig to check out about this ERP thing. I am not sure somebody does it in my country, but I am sure some people know about it. I was on medication 2 years ago for anxiety and panic attaks but i only took the med for a year. Now i’m not taking anything because honestly, I’m ashamed to go to the psychiatrist again with the current problem. I see a therapist, and it’s helping me but he can’t prescribe drugs. Anyway..the thing that you have this site and you write about this problem of yours…you are such a blessing for many! and thank you for answering me 🙂 It was just the other days when I asked God to show me someone who has or had the specific thing I have. so….Thank you again 🙂

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  21. I just want to say one more thing. I see that this ERP method helps to understand that you don’t believe what you think and that those are not your own thoughts. But in my case, my thoughts are my real feelings and fears, I feel like I do believe them, which makes it even scarier. I am not trying to seek assurance now ( I know this is why I can’t reply anymore, because of the last thing I wrote) but to understand how exactly this method is going to help me.

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