Yesterday on my blog, I introduced you to Mae. Today, her story continues with a detailed explanation of her experience with exposure therapy. (For more information about ERP, go to jackieleasommers.com/OCD).
First of all, if you go to a therapist and they tell you that you are not gay or try to tell you that it’s just a fantasy, look for someone else. This person does not understand ERP and OCD. The goal of ERP is to EXPOSE you to your deepest fears. I know that sounds like the most terrifying thing, especially if your obsessions are causing so much anxiety.
I will continue to reiterate this- ERP CHANGED MY LIFE. I don’t say this lightly AT ALL. I was extremely doubtful when it first began that any change would take place. I was ready to fight this OCD beast, but I was also scared of what exposures I would have to do.
Your therapist will personalize your therapy to YOU.
At our initial consultation, my therapist helped me rate my anxiety and we started with the things that made me the least anxious and worked up front here. By the end of ERP, the things that once made me the most anxious were not as bad…
For me it began with a few different recordings, or scripts that I listened to several times per day. It also consisted of not allowing myself to continually ask for reassurance from family members, or google anything having to do with OCD. Anyone with OCD knows that the Internet is a big, dark, deep hole that is nearly impossible to escape once you enter.
I began by listening to the scripts and trying my damn hardest to not neutralize thoughts (ex: not telling myself “this isn’t me” or “I’m not really a lesbian”). I was supposed to just simply (was it really that simple?!) listen to the scripts. The first one began with my therapist recording a script in his voice. I listened to this script as much as possible over the course of 2 weeks (5-10 times per day). Some moments it didn’t cause much anxiety at all; at other moments it was EXCRUCIATING. Sometimes the anxiety was just my mind racing, while other times it was a sinking feeling or my chest would get tight. Sometimes, I just cried.
The next script was one in my voice. This one was a little more convincing and harder to listen to… I listened to this one for about 2 weeks as well.
After four weeks of scripts, my therapist and I came up with some “real-time” exposures. For instance, I didn’t avoid any articles that I saw on the Internet regarding homosexuality. I was supposed to read them or at least acknowledge them. I honestly had never really had issues with homosexuality or gay people before this thought popped into my life. I also didn’t have my heart skip a beat or a queasy feeling in my stomach when I would see any kind of news story on homosexuality before this obsession wreaked havoc on my life.
I also had to sit with different thought patterns I had. If I was with a same sex friend that I found attractive, I was supposed to just let my mind wander and let the thoughts be there. I wasn’t supposed to neutralize them or reassure myself.
I went to the gym a lot and if I thought a woman’s butt was hot, I was supposed to just appreciate her beauty and not doing anything else with the thought. The gym was probably the hardest exposure for me because there were so many different variables. I wouldn’t know who would be there on any given day. For awhile I even avoided a class taught by someone who is openly gay. I thought going to her class would make me suddenly “become a lesbian” or she would know I was having these thoughts…
It wasn’t until about my tenth or eleventh session that I actually noticed my thoughts shifting. I went to 14 ERP sessions. It all depends, but my therapist said ERP can be anywhere from 10-20 sessions.
I am going to list a few things I that have improved in my life since ERP:
12. Our family went on a big trip this past year and I was honestly dreading it all year. I thought it would be awful. The trip was actually planned right around the time OCD kicked in. I thought, “There is no way I will be doing better in a year.”
With the trip, I was worried about being away from home, I was concerned that OCD would creep back in with its ugly tactics, I thought that OCD would rob me of experiences on a trip that was intended to be lovely. Guess what?! I had a great time on the trip. It was lovely. I enjoyed it so much, which I consider a huge victory.
I want to once again clarify something. OCD will not completely disappear for many people by doing ERP. What it will do is rewire your brain. I would say my symptoms have improved by 85-90%, which is HUGE. The times that OCD likes to sneak back in are when I am stressed, tired, or duing my menstrual cycle. During these times, I remember to do lots of self care. I make sure I set healthy boundaries, take walks, baths, whatever feels best at that time to make sure I am ok.