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

Question & Dancer: August 2017

question-and-dancerI’m an artist not an expert, one who is learning to embrace questions more than answers.

These are some questions I got last month. Ask yours here.

Is it normal for you to feel as though you’re losing your attraction to the sex you’ve always desired bc of HOCD? I know I want to be with a man and only a man but focusing on checking and reassuring myself has started to make me lose my passion for the opposite sex:( will my attraction ever come back (I hope so)? And is it also normal to lose your sex drive bc of HOCD? 

Friend, you are describing HOCD. All this is typical for HOCD and can be treated with exposure therapy. The joy and passion that you so desperately want can be yours again if you work hard through ERP.

I’ve done ERP and reduced my HOCD symptoms drastically. Yet, I still have some worries about my sexuality. I’m no longer sure if this is normal lingering of OCD doubts or a real concern- my compulsions are less but i still do remunerate and  try to imagine my self in a same-sex relationship to cope. I don’t know if this inability to find clarity means that there a real concern as well as the OCD. 

Hi dear, it sounds like you are on the right track! I say keep up the hard work of doing exposure therapy– and don’t forget the “response prevention” part. That means keeping yourself (as best you can) from all the ruminating and checking. I am not a therapist, but I know that for my own ERP, I practiced approximately 40 minutes a day for 10 weeks before everything “clicked” for me.

Hi Jackie, I have hocd. Unfortunately there are no OCD specialists near me or anyone certified to do ERP training. The therapist I see now is only a trauma specialist but it was the best I could do. I know I can always do ERP on my own but I’m too scared and it feels too overwhelming. What should I do?

I can completely understand feeling scared and overwhelmed, my dear one. How would it feel if you were to just begin by exploring ERP, by learning about it but not actually doing it yet? I would recommending getting a book about ERP and reading it strictly for the sake of education. You will still be moving yourself forward, and perhaps it will take some of the fear and mystery out of ERP for you.

I recommend a few books to choose from here.

Hi, recently I’ve been seeing a lot of hocd related questions on your blog. Does it surprise you how many people suffer from hocd? Most people don’t even know what it is, or even believe it to be a real issue. 

You know, at first it surprised me, but after a couple years of hearing from primarily HOCD sufferers, I am no longer shocked. I suspect that people might end up on my blog because HOCD is not talked about as frequently elsewhere on the internet. I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that if you google HOCD, my blog appears twice on the first page. This month I received 16 questions via my blog, and 15 were about HOCD. I promise you: it is very, very real.

my OCD is currently under control but i wonder how it is i’ll ever learn to live with this mind of mine? the endless doubt- never knowing whether something is just OCD or Real?

Hello dear one, wow, I can remember feeling that same way, and for SO LONG too. Life is no longer like that for me, and I trust that you can have the same experience. Part of it for me was having doubt lose its power over me (this was via ERP therapy), and part of it is starting to recognize which of my thoughts fit the “community standard” and which did not.

I talk a little about “community standard” here.

Jackie, I feel so lost and scared. I’m a female with hocd and there are sometimes when I get terrifying thoughts like, I should just try being with a female and not care because I might like it, and then I see a female I know in my head. My worries never end. Besides doing ERP, what other advice can you give me?

Well, of course ERP is always my #1 suggestion. Other things that might help can include medication like an SSRI. Many people with OCD have found relief via mindfulness, but that is not something I have explored much on my blog, since I always recommend ERP. If you are not ready for exposure therapy, consider at least taking the time to read a book about it. Education is a great weapon against OCD.

Jackie, the phrase “don’t knock it till you try it” is really scaring me because I have hocd and this is making me feel like I should try a same sex relationship!!
😦

I know what it’s like to have a phrase seemingly take the rug out from under my feet. But try not to assign so much meaning to a phrase. There are certain things that phrase makes sense with– like trying new vegetables or taking an art class. There are plenty of things it doesn’t make sense with– like trying cocaine or quitting your job to start a crocodile petting zoo. It’s just hard for someone with OCD to sort through it all. The best suggestion I have is exposure therapy. Lots of details here.

Hi Jackie, I have had hocd for a while now. I was texting a friend from church (we are both females) and suddenly I got a thought that, I keep checking my phone because I want her to text me back. I like the attention she’s giving me etc. it’s got me all worried now that maybe I’m crushing on her? Or this is attraction?

Hi dear, this is so similar to many stories I have heard about how HOCD suddenly flared up for them … thinking a friend looked pretty that day, wanting to hear from someone, etc. We assign too much meaning to it. Theoretically, I’m sure you know that most people love attention from their friends, love to hear from them, especially if the conversation is an exciting one. But most do not suddenly worry that means they like that friend romantically. That is where someone with OCD shows how differently their brain is wired. You can rewire it through ERP.

Okay I am 100% sure I’m straight but this is where it gets weird. For some reason nothing was turning me on so instantly my mind thought I was gay. Dumb, right? I thought it’d eventually go away but it got worse. When I’m not thinking about it I can watch normal videos fine but when I watch a video of a male and it pops up I think I’m about to get turned on but mind you, I’m completely soft.

I know this can feel so scary, as if you’ve lost all attraction, but that is commonly reported by people with HOCD. The only question you (technically) asked is, “Dumb, right?” To which I would say, “No. Not dumb. Just HOCD.”

Hi Jackie, I have hocd and it’s terrible. Every time I hear or watch something that just has a normal positive message of, “be your true self, never hide who you are and love yourself ” I automatically think that I’m gay and should come out and not be afraid. Is this just my OCD?

It sure sounds like it. Many people with OCD twist well-intentioned words, giving them too much meaning. The best thing that you can do for yourself is pursue exposure therapy. Read more at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

I’m a female with hocd. Why does it FEEL like I’m gay when I know I don’t want to be with girls, when I know I don’t want to be in a relationship with them? Often times my brain feels like it tries to convince me to even like a pretty girl I know! Please help I’m so confused 

It feels that way because of OCD. In non-OCD minds, there is a gate that opens and closes easily– thoughts can come and go as they please, and with fairly little stress. But in an OCD mind, a thought enters and the gate locks shut, which means that that thought just goes around and around and around and around. It is hard to find relief. With exposure therapy (ERP), that gate begins working properly again.

I’m worried. I have hocd and sometimes when I do get my attraction to guys back I’m a female btw, I now worry I’m bi??? Because I’m still thinking about girls and being afraid to look at pretty ones and worrying if I might like one. So I’m all confused that now I’m bi since I’m thinking about both??

I know that this probably sounds like the opposite of what you want, but the truest relief and freedom comes from not having to be certain about these things. I detail the benefits of that here. Please, please read it. I think it might help to make ERP make more sense.

Jackie I have hocd and I’m scared because I keep getting groinal responses every time I look at girls. It feels so automatic like I can always expect for it to come and I’m so aware of it. I have read that a lot of other people experience this too but I’m still pretty worried. 

It feels like your body is betraying you, doesn’t it? You’re right– that’s a very common experience for those with ERP. Start by not assigning it too much meaning, and please read these interviews with Hannah, who formerly struggled with HOCD. I think they will help.

Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
Another Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Third Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Fourth Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
Q&A with Former HOCD Sufferer

Hi I’m 15 years old, I’ve never thought I was gay/bisexual before. Always like boys (I’m a girl by the way). Never had a girl crush. But now everytime I see a girl I think Could I kiss her, have sex with her or could i see a future ( like dating or marriage) with her? Whenever I think about it I frown and get upset. I have OCD/Anxiety disorder, which I was diagnosed with.

Hi dear, a very common experience amongst those with HOCD. I recommend ERP. This might help: https://jackieleasommers.com/2015/07/29/hocd-a-letter-to-loved-ones.

Hi I’m 14 and I found out I have OCD I’ve told my parents and I had a really bad panic attack bc of thinking I will hurt my family then months go by and my sister called me a lesbian to impress her crush. Then I have theses thoughts of being bisexual but I’m not bc I like guys and not girls I freak out bc if I see a girl who is pretty my thoughts are all like your bisexual and I know I’m not 

Hello friend, I’m so sorry that your sister did that. I’m guessing she didn’t know what kind of agony it would cause for you. Please read this post and consider sharing it with your family if you think it might help: https://jackieleasommers.com/2015/07/29/hocd-a-letter-to-loved-ones.

Is it part if HOCD to experience an errection while watching gay porn? Like first there is an extreme tension in the chest followed by an errection. 

Yes, this can definitely happen! Exposure therapy is the answer!

Jackie, I have hocd and I’m worried about the whole “sexuality is fluid” thing. I know it’s different for everyone, but the it’s scaring me that I often see for example, celebs who have been with the opposite sex, just start relationships with the same ones and say they like it? So now I’m wondering, well what if I do the same, and I end up liking it too?? 

Hi friend, I hope this post will help.

Hey. So I know that many of us look up to celebs and think they’re very pretty or love their movies and songs etc. I have hocd, but I’ve always really liked Jennifer Lawrence. I was watching an interview of hers and suddenly it made me feel like I am gay for her and wouldn’t mind being in a same sex relationship with someone like her. Now I’m very confused/worried. Help??

Is it causing you anxiety? If so, it may very well be HOCD. Check out these posts about it and see if you can relate!

HOCD
A Closer Look at HOCD
Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Big Ol’ HOCD Post
Another Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Third Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Fourth Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
Q&A with Former HOCD Sufferer
HOCD Story: Meet Mae, Part One
HOCD Story: Meet Mae, Part Two

Hi Jackie, I’m a teen with hocd. Recently I decided I’m not gonna be scared of the thoughts and to stop avoiding stuff that triggers my anxiety. However, as I was doing exposure today by watching a coming out video which explained how the girl didn’t enjoy sleeping with men, I suddenly got worried wondering. well what if I’m the same? I’ve never had a bf. How do I know I’ll even like it??? 

I know that people with HOCD can see or hear one thing and then– BAM!– their minds are off to the races, so to speak. You are doing the right thing by not avoiding stuff that triggers your anxiety; next, you need to stop doing things that alleviate that anxiety (the compulsions, whether that means seeking reassurance, checking your body for reactions, etc.). This is how exposure therapy works. Read more at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

I consider myself a straight man suffering from HOCD. i am completely cured, but when I think of having romantic attraction to same sex, i feel grossed out but at the same time I feel a sensation in my groinal area. It has occurred atleast 3 times now. I have not experienced anything similar for girls being a boy. So, is this a sign of being gay or is this just a groinal response?

Does it cause intense anxiety for you? That sounds like HOCD. You say you’re completely cured, but OCD is not cured typically (though I have heard of a couple miraculous recoveries). Usually it is just managed and maintained.

Hi! 4 years ago my obsession about my sexual orientation started. A couple of months ago I heard about HOCD & felt completely identified. I was wondering whether is possible to have this disorder without being previously diagnosed with OCD. I’ve been through my past trying to find OCD signs & some things made me think that they were ocd’s behaviors. I also went through anorexia. What do u think?

Remission
Healed Not Cured: Remission & Relapse
OCD in Remission
Life after Treatment
When to expect a relapse
Am I Bitter?
Lies I Sometimes Still Believe
Managing OCD-in-Remission

Im a female with hocd but I’m not trying to ask for reassurance, but more so recognize the way OCD likes to behave. Whenever I read a book or watch a video in the perspective a guy, and he’ll be talking about a girl, just ordinary stuff, it makes me feel as though I’m in his situation and I can see myself with the girl, and it makes me anxious. Is this my hocd? 

Sounds like it, yes. I’m a young adult author, and right now, half of the book I’m writing is from the male perspective. It can definitely be interesting to write about “oh she’s so gorgeous,” etc. 🙂 If the anxiety becomes intense, please don’t hesitate to pursue exposure therapy, which you can learn about at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Do you know many people who did self-oriented ERP and succeeded? Thank you very much Jackie :D.

The best example I know is Shannon Shy, who is now president of the board of directors for the International OCD Foundation. Follow him here. He is endlessly encouraging.

Thanks for all the questions, folks! If you have questions for me about anything (but especially faith, creativity, and mental illness), add yours here.

As I said, I’m an artist not an expert. I will leave you with these, some of my favorite questions in one of my favorite poems, “Questions about Angels.” Click here to hear Billy Collins himself read it. (P.S. It starts with questions, ends with a dancer.

Question & Dancer: When OCD Makes You Doubt You Have OCD [& More]

question-and-dancerI’m an artist not an expert, one who is learning to embrace questions more than answers.

These are some questions I got last month. Ask yours here.

 

Is it normal to become hypersensitive to the looks of your same sex with the onset of HOCD? even if you’ve known and seen the person before they just appear a lot more attractive now? Is that a symptom of a. change in sexuality or another Possible HOCD Symptom?

This is very common. Many (most?) with HOCD will be hypersensitive in this way; some seek out opportunities to “check” their reaction to the same sex (if the person with OCD is straight– obviously, this would be the opposite if the person with OCD identifies as a homosexual person) while some avoid that gender entirely. Both checking and avoidance are compulsions. Follow my HOCD tag here.


I am 54 years old recently my ocd has become worse for last 6 months since i changed my job and because of ocd anxiety i am not able to work at present. My ocd is mostly god related i have to pray and touch god photos everytime i pass through them and think i have not prayed prope rly and become anxious. Also there are lots of thoughts coming and going in my head always about touching god photos etc and i am not satisfied with my praying i tried medicines and they made my condition worst,Please help me Sir

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is the very best treatment for ANY form of OCD, including this. My OCD was also related to my faith; I suffered for 20 years before just 12 weeks of ERP gave me back my life (and a growing relationship with my God). Lots of resources available for you at www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD!

Is it normal to feel no attraction or interest in romantic relationships when suffering with HOCD, even when recovering (reduced obsessions and compulsions, but the feeling of not knowing your sexuality and not being attracted to the gender you always have been attracted to?

I hear this all the time!

Hi Jackie, I have been suffering from hocd for a while now. One of my biggest problems besides the intrusive thoughts and fear I can’t shake off is the EXTREME SADNESS I have. I feel like I get sucked into this dark hole where I can’t get rid of feeling hopeless and sad. I lose all motivation to do my homework and just feel angry at god. Have you ever felt this way? If so, what did you do to help yourself?

Hi friend, sounds like you might be dealing with depression in addition to OCD. The same thing happened to me. Sometimes the depression is a result of the OCD– treating the OCD effectively will “remove” the source. But sometimes that’s not the case; in such a case, it can be more important to deal with the depression first in order for the sufferer to gather strength to fight the OCD. An OCD specialist can help you with this. Perhaps this is a personal preference, but I always recommend treating depression with medication. Depression is a chemical issue, so I fight back with chemicals, often an SSRI. For those who can’t afford a prescription, the supplement 5-HTP is the closest natural alternative to an SSRI.

Hi Jackie, Did you ever feel like your ocd would never end? As a current hocd sufferer, I feel a lot that it’s never going to be over. I question and doubt even the most logic of facts I’ve been told to use in order to help cope with the intrusive thoughts. Everyday it’s a new “what if” question and it makes me terrified and sad.

Yes yes yes yes yes. This was actually one of the biggest horrors of my OCD: the fear that it would always be that way, that it would never end. I’ve written a post specifically about this.

Hi! I have one question: could HOCD bounce to another theme even though I’ve been dealing with it for two months and eventually couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t as severe as it was for the first month? Sometimes I feel like my attraction men is back (I’m a girl) but I still react negatively when HOCD thoughts come up. HOCD targets my insecurities as well.

Theme hopping is pretty normal, at least it was for me. I would spend maybe three or four months obsessing about something until it was basically like my brain would collapse— maybe it was the mental equivalent to the body passing out from pain. It would quickly find something new. It always would. That’s why we don’t treat the theme– we treat OCD.

a week ago I was still dealing with HOCD, but while putting my niece down for a nap, I had a sexual intrusive image of her followed by “should I…?” ever since then my mind has been obsessing about this nonstop. I know what I am capable of and would never harm a child. I can’t stop googling, crying and asking for reassurance. What should I do? Does this sound like POCD?

Indeed it does! And, if you read the answer just above this one, you will see that often OCD hops from theme to theme until it is effectively treated with exposure therapy. ERP is always the best course of action; many more details and resources at

www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD. You are absolutely correct in knowing that you would never harm a child. You wouldn’t. In fact, if you were that kind of person, you would not be “googling, crying and asking for reassurance.” I am not worried about you being a pedophile. I only want you to be treated for OCD, friend. You can do this.

I think I have had HOCD for about 6 months now, and my attraction still hasn’t come back for men. However, before I would get major spikes when reading coming out stories, and reading online forums would say something along the lines of HOCD is just a cover up for those in the closet. I no longer feel major spikes when reading this material though. Is my mind is coming to terms with being gay?

HOCD is a theme of OCD, an anxiety disorder; homosexuality is a sexual orientation. They are not the same thing at all. The first is an illness; treat it with exposure therapy.

In general, are our thoughts representative of our true selves?

Not when someone has OCD.

I’m so scared and tired. I don’t know how long I can take this.

Don’t give up. But do seek treatment. I remember being in your shoes– exactly those shoes. Exhausted, terrified, living either at a fever-pitch of anxiety or else at a low flat-line of depression. But I got rid of those shoes in 2008. I will never walk in them again. 

Is it possible that you can develop mental illness like OCD, even though you might not have issues with OCD in the past? I also have another question: do you think people who second guess whether or not they OCD take longer to seek treatment or even a diagnosis? Plus, could cultural and community surroundings prolong getting help?

I’m not sure if I have any friend with OCD who would say that they have had it from birth– or at least, that it hadn’t manifested itself from birth. For many of us, there is some sort of trigger that kicks into gear at some point. Mine began at age seven.

And yes, statistics estimate that it takes 14-17 years from the onset of OCD symptoms until someone is correctly diagnosed and effectively treated. For me, it took twenty.

I think that number is affected by pride, doubt, how few people (even therapists!) know to direct an OCD sufferer to exposure therapy, and how difficult exposure therapy is. In addition, cultural and familial stigma also prevent people from getting treated.

I know a family– the most incredible, amazing family– in Michigan. When their pre-teen daughter exhibited symptoms (obsessions and compulsions), the parents immediately sought help, learned about OCD and ERP, and got their daughter into an intense ERP program at the Mayo Clinic. I praise God that my beautiful young friend M didn’t have to suffer for 17 years before all that happened. I praise God for parents like R and D.

I realized one of my compulsions is ruminating, but its so hard to catch myself ruminating until Ive ruminated for a good hour. Ive tried to catch myself early but I’m wondering if you have any tricks to stop it from happening? Its hard because rumination just happens immediately after a scary thought&I dont even realize I’m doing it until its too late (rumination also decreases my anxiety)

I had some compulsions that were auto-responses, and the trick my ERP therapist offered to me to stop it didn’t seem like it would work. Except it did work. When I realized what I was doing I would say, “NO!”– interrupt my thoughts this way– “I don’t need to do XYZ right now.” Sometimes I would have to do that multiples times just in the course of a minute. But it worked. My auto-responses eventually stopped.

I feel so alone in this (HOCD), i feel like i’ve lost all identity and sense of self. I’m getting treatment- its not the best, (I am a student so i cant afford much) but i don’t feel much better. I don’t know what to do, i feel so lost

I am so sorry you feel this way, but you are still fighting. You are looking out for yourself and keep seeking help, and I am proud of you. When you say you’re getting treatment, are you referring to exposure therapy (ERP)? If not, that is what you need to do. Talk therapy is not helpful in treating OCD. ERP, on the other hand, can be done on your own.

I believe I am suffering from HOCD but I am terrified to go to a therapist for them to tell me I am gay. I have a wonderful girlfriend that I do not want to leave and do not want to do anything sexual with men. However I’m scared that I am somehow lying to myself although I’ve been perfectly straight my whole life. Any advice for me?

Yes, read one of these books and see if you can identify yourself. If so, then do the exercises. Listen to yourself: you love your girlfriend and don’t want to do anything sexual with men … yet you are concerned. That is HOCD, friend. (And yes, you will feel a short flood of relief from my saying so … but you will begin to doubt it again soon. That will continue to happen until you treat it with ERP.)

Stop Obsessing by Edna Foa

Amazon | B&N | Fishpond

Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by Jonathan Grayson

Amazon | B&N | Fishpond

The OCD Workbook by Bruce Hyman and Cherlene Pedrick

Amazon | B&N | Fishpond

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders: A Complete Guide to Getting Well and Staying Well by Fred Penzel

Amazon | B&N | Fishpond

Hey, I have a question for you, Jackie (I love your website, by the way; it’s insightful and it’s helped me a lot in recent months). Is this guy a charlatan, or is this actually good advice for someone suffering with HOCD looking to use ERP as treatment? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJ7RfcRrXS8 I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thank you!! 🙂

Not a charlatan. His steps were basically think about your fear (Exposure) and feel the discomfort (Response Prevention). This is what ERP therapy is. His later steps talk about doing this again and again until it no longer is so upsetting. This is how ERP happens. You can see all these details in the story of my own experience with ERP. Even more details here.

This is regarding HOCD. I was wondering if it is possible to have wondered if you are gay in your childhood. I started freaking out about my sexuality around 8th grade. I am 20 now… still freaking out and still unsure of what I am. I’m scared to be gay and I was wondering if HOCD makes you looks into your past for evidence of being gay and actually believing it?

This can and does happen with HOCD. This happened to Hannah, who has been interviewed on my blog several times. Her HOCD kicked in in junior high as well.

Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
Another Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Third Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
A Fourth Interview with a Former HOCD Sufferer
Q&A with Former HOCD Sufferer

I have had Hocd in and off for three years and I often doubt that i have it. I often find that I have fairly bad spikes and want reassurance… what is the best way to stop yourself from compulsively confessing or seeking reassurance?

I am assuming that you have read all the other responses above and so you will now know about ERP therapy. I recommend finding a group of supporters who will help hold you accountable– my friends knew exactly what my main compulsions were (mine also were confession and seeking reassurance), and they knew that they should not “aid and abet.” Remember that when you perform compulsions, you are actually siding with OCD and against yourself.

Thanks for all the questions, folks! If you have questions for me about anything (but especially faith, creativity, and mental illness), add yours here.

As I said, I’m an artist not an expert. I will leave you with these, some of my favorite questions in one of my favorite poems, “Questions about Angels.” Click here to hear Billy Collins himself read it. (P.S. It starts with questions, ends with a dancer.)

Question & Dancer: What is “Normal” with OCD?

question-and-dancerI’m an artist not an expert, one who is learning to embrace questions more than answers.

These are some questions I got last month. Ask yours here.

My question is this.. I have hocd but whatever I do it just seems like I get afraid or concerned when a guy comes around me.. it’s like sometimes I look just to check if im attracted to them.. and it’s annoying because the action is becoming involuntary and it’s scary because people read what you send them .. and people are starting to think that I’m gay! And thats very false! What should I do to combat that?

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, which I’ve written about extensively on this blog: check out http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD, friend. Educate yourself on ERP; then seek out an ERP specialist or track down one of the books I recommend so that you can do ERP on your own. Either way, ERP is the solution.

Please read here about Self-Directed ERP.

i’ve met we a psychologist- but she doest seem to have any experience with HOCD and thus has not really been catching it’s symptoms/mentioned it, she does think i have an anxiety disorder and excessive worry- but not specifically anything on OCD. Note she is relatively inexperienced psychologist, as i’m a student and needed to find someone low cost. Not the psychologist has little experience as i’m a student and need a low cost specialist. She has mentioned CBT and ERP as helping methods though. so, what i wanted to ask is form what i have described do i sound like i have HOCD or an i in denial. I am not trying to seek reassurance but guidance, I don’t have anyone to turn to (from a very backwards society in asia) – should i be looking for an OCD specialist or a general psychologist to help me come to term with who i am?

Hi dear! You need an OCD specialist, specifically an ERP specialist. If you can’t afford to meet with one in person, then definitely track down a book (I list four on my website) that will guide you through doing ERP on your own! And kudos to you for being ultra-aware of seeking reassurance. That is one of the primary compulsions for many who suffer from HOCD– the more you are aware of it and resist it, the better! Click here to read more about the Problem with Reassurance.

Hi Jackie. I was wondering if you have any strategies to just letting the thoughts be thoughts in your head. On the web (when I looking for reassurance yes I know its sooooo bad but I can’t help it), people say to let those intrusive thoughts wonder in your mind, but do I just sit there and think nothing as those thoughts wreak havoc on my emotions? Do I just try to calmly breathe through it when my heart is beating super hard? It’s also so hard to not check for reassurance online! How did you have the strength to not reassure yourself? What did you say or think to yourself to prevent it? (I can’t afford a diagnosis, much less ERP so I’m scared that my HOCD may be actually be in denial, but I do know that I’ve had many obessions and compulsions in the past and when the professor talked about OCD, my first thought was THATS ME but then it’s also never been severe to the point where it has disrupted too much of my life. I would just cry myself to sleep most of the time when I’m obsessing)

When I read questions like this, it takes me back to specific memories– horrible, manic ones where I could not calm down, could not do much of anything except to cry and ask for reassurance. It feels so helpless and hopeless in those moments, but I promise it’s not! First of all, since you can’t afford an ERP therapist, please track down one of the books I recommend on my site so that it can guide you through ERP at home. For me, I had a set amount of time when I was intentionally practicing ERP– for me, it was about 40 minutes, twice a day (total of 80 minutes). In the grand scheme of the day, that’s under an hour and a half of putting myself through these exercises (which sometimes felt like torture). Although I did try to avoid compulsions throughout the day, it was only during these 80 minutes that I was specifically triggering myself (exposure) and resisting compulsions (response prevention). It is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. It’s hard and exhausting and feels masochistic. But for me– and for many others– it worked. And it was worth 80 minutes a day for 12 weeks in order to experience this freedom– I’m coming up on nine years of it.

Hi! I’ve been having what I (hope)think is HOCD for two months now and it’s been an intense hell for me. I’ve always been confident that I’m straight and I’ve even intensely championed for gay rights and everything. I used to read articles about gay people and watch videos about people coming out and be fine. But now I avoid all of those and even romance novels because I’m basically terrified of being aroused for the wrong reasons (like if I read a love scene from a guy’s point of view that means I want to do that to a woman when I dont!??!?!?!?). I’ve been trying to do self-ERP and I’ve read that I’m suppose to embrace those “you are gay” “you are turned on because you actually want to do that to a woman” thoughts and the arousal that comes with it. My question is, if I embrace these thoughts for 10-12 weeks, will I really be healed? I JUST WANT THIS HOCD THING TO END.

I don’t think I or anyone can guarantee that 12 weeks of ERP will work for you. But it is an evidence-based treatment, meaning that the statistics of ERP working are in your favor. One thing I can almost for sure guarantee is that if you don’t do ERP, then your OCD will not go away on its own. I suppose it’s possible; miracles do happen. But, for 99% of us in the OCD community, we had to do the hard work of ERP.

Hi Jackie! I’m doing self-ERP for my HOCD right now and although I feel like it would be best with a therapist, I can’t afford it 😦 (maybe one day!) But anyways, my question is that I know when I’m doing ERP, I’m suppose to accept and AGREE with those thoughts of “Yes, you’re probably a lesbian” (gosh it was hard to even type that), but when I’m not doing ERP, do I still have to agree with my intrusive thoughts or should I just let it float around in my head? I know for my past OCD fears (earthquake, breast cancer, blackholes, intersex, death, etc) I would just stop checking and doing my compulsions and would let the thought float around in my head (never did ERP for those things) and a couple hellish months later it would disappear, but HOCD is taking my anxiety to another level (especially since I’m 20 and never been in a relationship with a guy because I’m soooooo shy so now my HOCD is using it as ammunition). Also when I have those OCD-free moments, can I go back to thinking about my crush and the imaginary life we may have one day (wow I’m so weird, I can’t believe I confessed this on the internet) or is that counter-productive to my ERP?

No, I don’t think that’s counter-productive to your ERP. That’s the goal! But during the moments where you are doing your ERP exercises, then yes– you will want to be all in: experiencing the anxiety completely, resisting the compulsions as completely as you’re able. One thing that you wrote specifically interests me: “I would just stop checking and doing my compulsions and would let the thought float around in my head (never did ERP for those things)” … this sounds like it was ERP, friend. Letting thoughts come and not doing compulsions to alleviate the anxiety … that is what ERP is. You can do this.

Hi Jackie, I’ve recently stumbled upon your blog because I am suffering from hocd. I’ve been dealing with it for around 9 months now. I feel so lost because it’s the worst time to really be dealing with all of this. I am a sophomore in high school and all around me people are questioning their sexualites or coming out etc. I line up with all hocd symptoms and anxiety runs in my family. The intrusive thoughts just popped out of no where one afternoon. All my life I’ve liked boys! I talked to my therapist about ERP but she’s not a specialist and I’m scared to even try it. My psychiatrist prescribed medicine that ended up making me worse. Like you I am an avid Christian, but I have always been doubtful and indecisive with everything. I FEEL SO LOST. I’ve lost my hope and feel like nothing is gonna work. I have a hard time believing this could be a disorder. I feel like I should just accept my intrusive thoughts are real but that just depresses me further. What do you think?

Hi honey. If your intrusive thoughts were real, I don’t think they would be intrusive or cause this intense anxiety. For a short time, just suspend your concern that you are dealing with anything other than OCD and tell yourself, “Yes, it IS OCD, and I will treat it.” There is no harm to doing ERP even if you didn’t actually have OCD. Be kind to yourself: accept your self-diagnosis at least for three months while you do ERP on your own with a book to guide you. “Doubtful,” “indecisive,” “so lost,” “lost my hope and feel like nothing is gonna work” … all of these described ME. For nearly 20 years, this is how I would have categorized myself. And, for whatever it’s worth, my sophomore year of high school was HELL, one of the worst and hardest years of my entire life, as I dealt with all of this while undiagnosed. When I was your age, I still faced another 12 years of clawing my way through this alone before I found and did ERP. Please don’t wait as long as I did.

These three questions all reminded me of each other:

1. I have been diagnosed with OCD (HOCD) and have been doing CBT and ERP. I feel as though I am getting better and the intensity of my obsessions and compulsions has reduced but I have this strange feeling of sowmhing not being right and as whole as it use to be? My attraction and desire for relationships and such seems very reduced. It just doesn’t seem to feel or come authentically – is that normal?

2. Is it normal to feel no attraction or interest in romantic relationships when suffering with HOCD, even when recovering (reduced obsessions and compulsions, but the feeling of not knowing your sexuality and not being attracted to the gender you always have been attracted to?

3. Is it normal to become hypersensitive to the looks of your same sex with the onset of HOCD? even if you’ve known and seen the person before they just appear a lot more attractive now? Is that a symptom of a change in sexuality or another Possible HOCD Symptom?

Yes, my dear ones, all of this is normal for someone with HOCD. Please don’t give up. ERP can help.

Hi Jackie, Did you ever feel like your hocd would never end? As a current hocd sufferer, I feel a lot that it’s never going to be over. I question and doubt even the most logic of facts I’ve been told to use in order to help cope with the intrusive thoughts. Everyday it’s a new “what if” question and it makes me terrified and sad.

Hello sweetie, YES. I felt that way about all of my OCD themes … that things would always be this way and that, to me, was probably the scariest thing about it. We can go through any pain so long as we see an end in sight, don’t you think? But OCD lies to us, makes us believe there is no end in sight, and that robs us of hope and joy. Please read this blog post I wrote back in 2014: THINGS WILL NEVER BE OKAY AGAIN [& other lies I sometimes still believe].

I am 54 years old recently my ocd has become worse for last 6 months since i changed my job and because of ocd anxiety i am not able to work at present. My ocd is mostly god related i have to pray and touch god photos everytime i pass through them and think i have not prayed properly and become anxious. Also there are lots of thoughts coming and going in my head always about touching god photos etc and i am not satisfied with my praying i tried medicines and they made my condition worst,Please help me Sir

Hello friend, have you heard of ERP therapy? My OCD was also based primarily around religious obsessions; I battled this for 20 years before undergoing ERP, and just 12 weeks of ERP therapy snapped my OCD in half. The last nine years have been so peaceful, so free. Here are a few posts that might help:

OCD & Christianity
(or other religious scrupulosity)
OCD, ERP, and Christianity
I’m a Christian and Take Meds!
Unashamed of my OCD
Is the thought from OCD … or God?

God’s Sovereignty, OCD, the Cross, & His Purposes
Is Mental Illness a Spiritual Issue?
Is ERP Sinful?
OCD & Faith (or Lack Thereof): a Double Interview

Hi Jackie, I have been suffering from hocd for a while now. One of my biggest problems besides the intrusive thoughts and fear I can’t shake off is the EXTREME SADNESS I have. I feel like I get sucked into this dark hole where I can’t get rid of feeling hopeless and sad. I lose all motivation to do my homework and just feel angry at god. Have you ever felt this way? If so, what did you do to help yourself?

My gosh, YES. 100% yes. I am guessing that you have depression comorbid (alongside) OCD, as I did. For me, the OCD was the root issue and what was causing the depression, so when I treated the OCD, the depression alleviated as well. I talk about my anger at God a little bit in this post. Ultimately, I got so sad and felt so lost that I hit rock bottom– and God was there. He looked like a Korean psychiatrist who gave me hope, a prescription, and a phone number for a local ERP therapist.

Hi Jackie, I finally realized my problem is OCD. My question is, do people with this “doubting disease” have the capacity to have faith? I’m so worried I might lose faith altogether, because of what’s wrong with me.

Yes, absolutely! In Yes Novel (my work in progress that has been temporarily set aside), the main character has this interaction with his professor:

He nodded, headed toward the door. But before he left, he turned around and asked, “What you teach us in class, do you really believe it?”

Dr. Morgant pursed his lips thoughtfully. “On my worst days and my best days, yes. But not every day. There’s only one thing in I believe every day.”

“Doubt,” said Asa, as his teacher said, “Faith.”

“Same thing,” said Dr. Morgant with a smile.

Anne Lamott has said it best:

I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me–that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.

Thanks for all the questions, folks! If you have questions for me about anything (but especially faith, creativity, and mental illness), add yours here.

As I said, I’m an artist not an expert. I will leave you with these, some of my favorite questions in one of my favorite poems, “Questions about Angels.” Click here to hear Billy Collins himself read it. (P.S. It starts with questions, ends with a dancer.)