Healed Not Cured: OCD Remission & Relapses

I got an email this past weekend from a lovely blog reader who has found victory over obsessive-compulsive disorder through exposure therapy. It’s such a joy any time someone shares a story of freedom, and it does my heart so much good. It reminds me of the reason I preach the benefits of ERP therapy. It reminds me of when I first went into OCD remission back in 2008.

But I also find it important to mention that while the person with OCD has experienced healing, it does not mean that they are cured. In the vast majority of cases, OCD is never cured; it is treated and maintained. What does this mean?

First of all, it’s definitely something to celebrate. I revel in my remission, and in fact, after eight years of this freedom, sometimes I even find myself taking it for granted. It’s a victory to come out of exposure therapy with a new tolerance for uncertainty. It’s a joy and a relief and, for me, at least, a whole new life.

But it doesn’t mean that I don’t have OCD. 

not you again

There are days of intense stress where I buckle a bit and find myself having some obsessive thought patterns or even resorting to old compulsions. This disorder is mostly dormant in me … but it is still in me. And it can wake when I am stressed or fearful. Every once in a while, there is something that will trigger my OCD, and it’s like there’s a CLICK in the way my brain works, a little BLIP in the new system.

But, usually

  1. I recognize it for what it is. I am able to do this because of ERP.
  2. I do not beat myself up over it or assume “all is lost.” It’s merely a step back. I don’t have to start the race over.
  3. I refuse compulsions. (Notably, I allow myself to ask a group of people [usually my coworkers] ONE TIME for what they would deem the appropriate response, and then I DO IT, whatever they say. I know that when my OCD is triggered, I have a hard time understand what is or isn’t a valid response. So I give the decision to others.)
  4. If it’s particularly bad, I listen to my ERP audio track.
  5. I go to sleep, as early as I need to. It is–almost without fail–better in the morning.

I don’t mean this to be bad news–not at all; rather, it’s just something to take note of, something to have in the back of your mind for those stressful days, for those moments when your OCD wakes up and starts to whisper in your ear.

Here’s some anecdotal data about my remission and relapses:

  • In the first 1.5 years after completing ERP, I didn’t experience obsessions or practice compulsions at all.
  • In the years after that, I have had about 1-2 relapse incidents a year.
  • Each incident has lasted on average just a couple of hours. One lasted about two days.

This is nothing compared to my life before ERP. This is manageable. This is freedom. This is remission.

This is good news, people.

If you want to learn more about the exposure therapy that got me to this point, you might want to check out the following links:

jackieleasommers.com/OCD: a collection of my posts about all things OCD
jackieleasommers.com/OCD-help: a letter from me to OCD sufferers, along with a list of next steps
jackieleasommers.com/twin-cities-OCD: resources for OCD sufferers living in or around Minneapolis and St. Paul

20 thoughts on “Healed Not Cured: OCD Remission & Relapses

  1. Jackie, thank you so very much for this post. It is sure to bring hope and understanding to many with OCD. What you are sharing, healing but not cured, is what I try to explain to all my OCD patients. I plan to share this in my practice!

  2. I needed to hear this. The use of the word “cured” is very tricky when it comes to OCD. Personally I think the word is over used when people describe OCD success stories.

    Thank you! Hearing you describe your success in detail is VERY helpful!


    • Oh, I’m so glad this was helpful, Paul! Thanks for stopping by the blog. I agree with you: “cured” is a tricky word. Honestly, the only people I’ve met who have a CURED case of OCD, it’s been pretty miraculous and unexplainable. It’s better for me to talk about it in other terms!

      • Hi Jackie, could you write a post about those miraculously cured cases? It’s not that I hope for miracle since it’s rare. I’m just a little bit curious 🙂 Thank you.

      • You know, the only person that I have met in real life who was miraculously cured was my former OCD psychiatrist, International OCD expert Dr suck won Kim. That brief experience of hell was what inspired him to study OCD and treat over 3,000 OCD patients. If it wasn’t him who had told me that story, I might not have believed it. But this man knows more OCD than just about anyone on the face of the Earth. So…? Plus I am a Christian, so I always leave room for the Spirit to work! 🙂

      • It’s miraculous 😀 But if it wasn’t for that miracle, we might not have had a great OCD expert haha. Had he had OCD since childhood?
        Btw, Does OCD always genetically pass from family members? Like, my parents and my relatives don’t even have OCD or any anxiety disorder. I’m the only one in my family who has OCD so I’m a little confused. Do you know anything about this?
        Thank you Jackie :).

  3. What a wonderful article! Thank you so much for posting it! I’ve been helped sooo much by this site, and have referred so many people to it! This article is especially timely because for the past six months I’ve been struggling hard with an obsession after having several years in which I thought I was basically “cured.” It’s been a hard dose of reality, but I’m slowly learning how to manage it – again! I’m curious, once things started clicking for you when you were doing ERP, did you find that you had a quick recovery? I mean, did you have a lightbulb moment and suddenly stopped being bothered as much by things, or did you still have to keep doing ERP? I know everyone’s experience is different, but I guess I’m trying to figure out if things suddenly just “click,” or if the change is more subtle? Basically, how do you know when to stop doing ERP?

    • I’m so glad this resonates with you! You’re right, it’s different for different people. But most of the people I know did ERP for about 12 weeks. For me, it clicked about week 10 or 11, haha! After it clicked, I had a pretty good year and a half. I think you’re supposed to do Erp until your anxiety level is cut in half of what it was when you started. I have some posts about my experience with Erp, but I think they might be under the tag CBT. Check them out!

  4. I know I asked you in the past about HOCD and CBT, and know you speak highly of this treatment, with good reasons! But I had one question that came out of nowhere a few days ago. I’ve been abused by a narcissistic person pretty much all my life, and said person really isolated me from pretty much everyone, even my own person and dreams, if I can say it that way.
    I feel incredibly stuck and it feels like I’m never going to be able to get free.
    Do you think CBT is something that can help? I think I read about it somewhere, but I’m not sure.
    Sorry if this is a tricky question for you.
    You’re still amazing even if you can’t answer this. 🙂 x

  5. How do you deal with intrusive thoughts that could be true, i.e. “I will never make it as an artist and I have no other career options due to my condition.” Exposure therapy helps a little, but sometimes it seems to slide into depression rather than freedom. I don’t know, maybe a dumb question.

    • Not a dumb question! I think my OCD-related intrusive thoughts have such a different feel to them than anything else. I used to not be able to differentiate, but now I can. For a legitimate thought that is just ugly, I often turn to friends to remind me of what is true.

  6. Hello 🙂
    I’ve been doing ERP for OCD guided by my therapist and recently, I had a bad trigger on the nOCD app where someone said that my OCD is basically a denial and once I accept it, I’ll be happier etc. This has set me back really badly and I want to cry and feel like my anxiety has sky rocketed. When such triggers occur, they make they process of ERP so much harder because they make you doubt you even have OCD 😦 What’s your advice to push forward?

    • People are idiots. Sometimes I wonder if these are the same people who deny the holocaust and think cancer is a conspiracy.

      I think EVERY PERSON I KNOW WITH OCD has doubted if they truly have OCD. It’s one of OCD’s best weapons. Ignore the ignorant, and keep doing your ERP. There is joy and clarity around the corner!

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