First, a note from Jackie: I hear from more OCD sufferers about HOCD than about any other kind of OCD, and nearly every story– when boiled down to its bones– looks the same. In the past, I’ve interviewed “Hannah” (she’s asked me not to use her real name on my blog, though she’s very forthcoming about everything else!) about her experience of having HOCD and being set free from it through ERP (exposure and response prevention) therapy.
And now … a few more questions for Hannah.
Hannah, do you see any common themes amongst HOCD sufferers?
Hannah: YES!! I really, really do. One, a lot of HOCD sufferers seem to have a trigger at some point in their young adult or early adult years, and then they go back to their childhood and start collecting “clues.” In other words, something that happened at the time that they haven’t thought about since (she kissed a girl friend on the cheek, for example), but then when they think about it now, it plagues them (“Oh my goodness, that kiss on the cheek was the first indication that I was gay!”). This is obviously unhelpful and unproductive. Two, a lot of HOCD sufferers tend to lose their attraction to the gender they are normally attracted to. This is scary for them, of course, and seems to enforce what HOCD is telling them.
Did this happen to you?
Hannah: No, but it seems to happen for most HOCD sufferers
Do you know anyone who is homosexual who has HOCD?
Hannah: I do. He is a gay man who loves men, but he has HOCD and gets terrified that he is straight. Even though HOCD stands for “homosexual OCD,” it actually doesn’t only attack straight people. OCD can affect anyone.
I agree with you there. I am online friends with an atheist who has scrupulosity, and most people would think that is an incongruous combination. So, Hannah, I’ve been hearing from some HOCD sufferers who are quite young (under 18), living with parents, and unsure how to approach treatment. What do you suggest?
Hannah: I can completely understand not wanting to tell your parents about your struggles– in fact, when I was going through HOCD, I never told my parents. I didn’t tell anyone until many years later. So I get that. But hopefully those young people can tell their parents that they are struggling with OCD, leave out the HOCD details, and still get help. I think it’s best to meet with a therapist who specializes in ERP therapy, but– as you say on your blog– you can do ERP therapy on your own if you’re very driven. [Jackie interjects: see this post for more info!] The important thing is that, one way or another, you do the exposures of ERP therapy.
Recently, I saw an interview with Elizabeth McIngvale, spokesperson for the International OCD Foundation, in which she said, “With the appropriate treatment (ERP or ERP and medication) you can gain control of your OCD and learn to manage your illness.” I loved that, no matter what, she was insisting on ERP therapy. I know you did ERP therapy. Did you/do you take medication too?
Hannah: I do. Every day. But just like you’ve said before, Jackie, I would choose ERP over meds, if I could only pick one.
Blog readers are looking for hope. Can you give them some hope?
Hannah: A lot of hope! I’m an adult woman who once struggled with HOCD, but today I am 100% sure of my sexual identity. I can even be turned on by women and still know– without a doubt– that I am straight. This is achievable. But it takes the hard work of exposure therapy. But even though ERP is hard, it’s worth it.
What is your best advice?
Hannah: Research, not reassurance. In other words, learn as much as you can about OCD, HOCD, and ERP therapy, but don’t resort to the compulsion of asking anyone (including the world wide web) for reassurances. Study HOCD like a medical subject, not from an angle of “Somebody tell me what I want to hear.” Reassurance feels good for about ten minutes; then you go off in search for more reassurance. It’s a compulsion, and it’s unproductive and ultimately unhelpful. Instead, learn about HOCD and how to treat it (ERP), then DO IT. You can research broken bones– or you get get it set, get a cast, have it heal. Push yourself to get the help you need. There is no other solution besides ERP therapy, so what are you waiting for?
Thanks, Hannah! As always, it’s a pleasure to have you on my blog!
Friends, if you have questions for Hannah, please post them below. And please read my letter to OCD sufferers at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD-help.