What Does Compassion Look Like?

Heart in the stone fenceMany, many OCD sufferers have been contacting me lately: they want to share their story, seek advice, and– in many cases– seek reassurance. Do you really think this is OCD?

My answer is pretty standard for those I believe are truly dealing with OCD. I tell them I’m not a mental health professional but that, in my experience, what they are describing sounds a lot like other cases of OCD. I encourage them to seek out ERP therapy.

They write back: So you really do think this is OCD?

But I know this routine.

It’s usually a compulsion, their asking repeatedly.

I explain this to them, remind them that I’ve already told them what I think.

I just want to make sure, they say. You really, really think this is OCD?

I explain again that their asking me over and over is not healthy for them and that they need to do ERP.

A week later, they’ll message me and ask again. I become a broken record, refusing to give in to their compulsions and doling out tougher and tougher love:

* I’ve told you what I believe and what is the solution. I have nothing more to add.
* Can you see that you’ve asked me X times now? That is a compulsion– seeking reassurance– and I’m not going to give in to it. It’ s unhealthy for you.

Or, in some cases, I won’t respond. What more is there to say?

This troubles me.

On the one hand, I know what it’s like to be gripped with the incredible fear and doubt of OCD. I know how it dials up to a fever pitch, and how desperately you just want. some. relief.

But I also know that compulsions are a short-term non-solution that only exacerbates things. I know that ERP therapy is the long-term solution.

It puts me in a really rough spot. I fear that I come across as cold, hard-hearted, tough, even rude. The years since I underwent ERP therapy have brought such intense clarity to my thinking that sometimes it’s hard for me to empathize in the same way I once could. Don’t get me wrong. I remember the 20 years of OCD hell. I haven’t forgotten. But the almost seven years since my own successful treatment have made me more confident in just about every way– including in what the appropriate treatment for OCD is. I won’t budge on it. I won’t recommend a band-aid. I can’t.

And I can’t cater to compulsions. I did that for myself for too many heartbreaking years, and I won’t give in to something that perpetuates prison for other sufferers.

In my desperate desire for their freedom, I think I come across too tough.

I don’t know the answer to this. I’m frustrated: with myself, with others.

But I know that compulsions kept me locked up and ERP set me free. That’s the line I draw in the sand. Maybe I’m being too tough on hurting souls. But I would be a liar if I gave out band-aids to cancer patients. That’s why I refuse to parry to compulsions.

For those of you involved in advocacy, is this a problem that you’ve had to face? How have you managed it with grace and compassion? I want to fight the good fight, but I feel so frustrated and tired.

This week, I counted up all the emails that the OCD community and I have batted around for the last two years, and it was near 2500. I’ve decided that– for the time being– I can no longer respond to these emails. It’s pushing me into an unhealthy place. I closed the messaging option on my Facebook page and posted this message on my Contact page:

Due to an overwhelming number of emails about OCD, HOCD, ERP, and the like, I am no longer able to respond to personal messages about these matters; I’m not a therapist, and though it honors me that you’d share your story with me, I’ve found that I am not in a place where I can handle such stories in a healthy way. I invite you to read my message to you atwww.jackieleasommers.com/OCD-help. It is everything that I would say to you in an email. I wish you all the best as you pursue freedom from OCD. Godspeed.

These actions have given me a sense of both freedom and failure, but I hope people will understand.

5 thoughts on “What Does Compassion Look Like?

  1. I think you have made a wise choice Jackie, based on everything you say in this post. I also get a lot of emails (not nearly as many as you do, though) and I do the same thing when it is obvious writers are looking for reassurance. I basically come out and say “You are looking for reassurance and I’m sorry but I can’t be a part of that.” I don’t feel like a failure; I feel as if I’m doing the right thing.

  2. I would definitely not count that as a failure, but, in fact, as a win. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that my own recovery/sanity has to come first, and it’s often hard for me to draw a firm boundary when I need to. But. Every time I do, I feel better than if I had kept trying to reassure and comfort others.

    Your recovery/sanity should come first as well. Showing compassion for yourself is the first step.

  3. I could have written this. I was so debilitated by OCD that I thought I was the worst person ever afflicted with this disorder. Now, however, having become an advocate and a therapist specializing in the treatment of OCD, I act as you do. I will not give in to helping others perform their compulsions as I know it isn’t healthy for them in the long run. Yesterday I took my cousin to our local OCD support group meeting. He suffers so much that it makes my heart ache to watch. Get into the car. Open the car door. Slam the car door so that it nearly popped my eardrums. Open the car door. Repeat slamming. Repeat all rituals. He begged me to leave the windows rolled down because he is afraid that gas exhaust fumes will be sucked into the car. I permitted a very short drive with the windows down, and asked him just how many drivers he had personally seen keel over from fumes while driving. Hmmmm, he had never seen a single one. I told him that I was cold and that this was my car, and if I were to pick him up (because he is too afraid to drive to my house, so I go the opposite direction to get him), then I was calling the shots, and we were driving with the windows up. I pointed out, that it is, after all, January. When we arrived, I asked him if he was still alive. His wife has left him due to his illness, and still he doesn’t seek out help, always excuses. It’s too expensive, blah, blah, blah. I told him there was no price on mental health and it saddened me so much to see someone I care about be so miserable. It was making me miserable just watching him! He’ll start therapy for a little while, but never sticks with it. He is so afraid. I tell clients, look, ERP is not going to be fun, but how much fun has life been lately anyway? The one thing that always gets me is people who are in such pain that they would rather die than continue to live in the horrific grip of OCD. Then, when we are working on assignments together, like perhaps walking in front of the “aisle of death”, (smile), otherwise known as the part of the hardware store where chemicals and fertilizer is kept, I hear, “Oh no! I couldn’t possible do that! I might get sick and die!” Uh,,, didn’t you just tell me you would rather die than live with the misery of severe OCD? Well, I’ve run on, but I totally support you Jackie in your choice to back off. I have to stop myself when I realize I am working harder on the client’s problem than they are themselves. Oh, and interestingly enough, yesterday’s topic of discussion at the support group was motivation. As long as those around him or her enable the sufferer through providing reassurance or participating in rituals, there remains little motivation to get better. Feel free if you wish to refer to my Facebook counseling page, because I am trying to post at least two articles per week on the various aspects of OCD. Thanks for being such a trooper and inspiration to me. God bless you.

  4. Pingback: If you have a question … | JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

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