Question & Dancer: September 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.

Recently I’ve found out a website called This Way Up which offers an online CBT course to help people self-treat OCD. The link is here:
https://thiswayup.org.au/how-we-can-help/courses/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/
Do you think this is helpful? The price is very reasonable, especially for those like me, who live in a developing country that doesn’t have any OCD exert.
Thank you very much!!!Hi friend, hmm … it’s hard to say without being able to access the materials. However, I will say that their description of ERP has a faulty premise. They say, “People with more than one episode of OCD and who are ready to confront their fears very gradually to find out that what they fear does not occur.” That makes it sound like exposure therapy is intended to make you certain, when the reality is that exposure therapy is intended to make you okay with uncertainty. Don’t get me wrong: I know that the first one sounds better, especially to someone with OCD! But certainty (in the way OCD sufferers want it) is not actually possible, and it’s far, far, far better to start moving down the path of accepting that. Ironically, it may actually provide you with more certainty about some things!

That said, I would rather recommend to you the nOCD app, which is FREE and put together by people I trust, people who deeply understand OCD and ERP. Click here for more info.

I wanted to know if hocd can start at 11 years old. Also, can an hocd sufferer fear the social repercussions of coming out. I wanted to know this because I am 13 and I’ve never had a boyfriend and a crush. But I’m not attracted to the same sex either. This causes me great anxiety. Does this sound like hocd or a person in deep denial?

Hi dear, personally, my OCD started when I was about seven years old (and HOCD is one theme of OCD). That said, if you are not feeling attracted to either gender, you might just be too young (it varies SO MUCH from person to person– I have friends who were boy-crazy at age 6 and friends who didn’t care about men until they were in their 20s) or you might just be asexual. Neither of those is wrong, by the way. But if you are suffering from intense anxiety, you should certainly pursue a diagnosis, whether it’s OCD or something like generalized anxiety disorder. Talk to your parents about seeing someone about your anxiety. You don’t even have to tell them what it is about.

I also have another question, what’s the difference between denial, internalized homophobia, and hocd. Its gotten so bad I wonder if its actually hocd.And can hocd cause false attraction and arousal, even though I know I’m not attracted to the same sex. I feel like Iread reassurance so much that I feel like I have everyone else’s symptoms of hocd. It causes intense anxiety. I don’t want to be gay.

I am not an expert on any of these subjects, although of course I know a bit about HOCD simply because I know so much about OCD. What you’re doing– seeking reassurance, checking, etc. to decrease the anxiety– is a textbook description of OCD though. Definitely pursue getting a diagnosis and doing exposure therapy! I know it can be scary (terrifying!!) to talk about this, and for some reason, HOCD feels even more “taboo” to many sufferers than other OCD themes.

Hello, sorry I keep posting, I also wanted to know how do I know I’m not gay. ( I’m a girl.) And do gay people worry about these types of thoughts. I worry so much I get cold sweated, . And when it passes, I feel drained mentally. I fear that at school that I will fall in love with a girl. Which makes me feel frustrated and depressed. My family on both sides have anxiety and ocd. Please answer!

Hello dear, again, what you’re describing sounds a lot like HOCD, but you would need a psychiatrist or psychologist to diagnose you officially. Consider these posts, okay?

HOCD: Letter to Loved Ones
Doing ERP On Your Own
nOCD, an ERP App/Hero

My HOCD left shortly but came back and now I’m scared. My thoughts seem to be so real when I know they’re not. I only want to be with men but I can’t help but look at clues that lead to what if all along I’ve been gay unknowingly. I’m trying to seek help but I’m only 16 and am too scared to ask my parents for help bc they never believe me when I say something’s wrong. 

Hi dear one, firstly, as hard as it is, I recommend not thinking about these things as “leaving” and “coming back.” If you have OCD (which is sounds like you do), it doesn’t come or go– although various obsessions can!– but OCD can be subdued and maintained through something called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. Please read all three of these posts, which I think will be helpful for someone in your situation:

HOCD: Letter to Loved Ones
Doing ERP On Your Own
nOCD, an ERP App/Hero

Hi Jackie! I’ve been doing self-directed ERP for HOCD and taking an SSRI and i am feeling much better right now. However,  I was wondering if you could give me some insight on using the ‘community standard’ as a therapy tool? I think it could be helpful to me (as you too have pointed out to me in a reply to one of my questions). Some examples of applying it maybe?

Yes! This is a great question. Here is an example from my own life. When I bought my new house, I thought briefly about scraping off the popcorn ceiling in the living room and even tried it on a small spot. When someone mentioned “asbestos,” I started freaking out that with that small spot I’d cleared, I had somehow released all this hazardous material into the air in my home. I was worried that every time a friend came over to my new home, I’d be exposing them to this– and what caused me even MORE fear was thinking that I really wouldn’t KNOW if I was slowly killing my visitors until they actually died. I could tell that this was my OCD, though– taking something tiny and making it into a HUGE DEAL. So– the deal with the “community standard” is to basically ask “Would the majority of people in my community (excluding those with anxiety disorders) agree with me that this was a huge deal?” I suspected the answer was no. The next day, I lined up three of my dear friends, laid out the situation to them, and asked what they suggested I should do. All of them said, “Meh, move on. No big deal.” So, you see, the community standard was that this was not something to worry about … and so I was not permitted to worry either. (This might sound impossible at first, but with practice, it honestly gets easier. Sometimes I literally assemble a “community” and go with the majority– but usually I can tell on my own what the standard would be. If I know that anyone without an anxiety disorder is going to say “Um, that’s weird. Why are you worried about that?” then I already know the community standard.)

Does that make sense?

Jackie, Imma about to die. I started with HOCD, Harm OCD, now its trasgender Stuff, the deal is, i was sexually abused, bullied, so hard that i wanted to be a guy as a young kid cause being a woman was hard, have had attracion for women, it all leads as i am a butch lesbian woman. Where is god?

Oh my dear, dear, dear one! I am so sorry for the pain you’re in. I know that OCD is tormenting, and to deal with that alongside the other trauma you have experienced, … it’s just too much. Are you in therapy, friend? I would make this a priority. If money is tight, look into walk-in therapy clinics in your area. There is a lot to unpack in your life. As to your question of where is God … that is a question I myself asked for years and years and years as I felt so alone and so abandoned. It wasn’t until much later that I felt I could answer that question. For me, God was there all along, sustaining me in my unsustainable years and quietly guiding me toward the freedom I found through exposure therapy and in remembering just how much Jesus suffered and how much he could relate to my agony. That answer might not feel useful to you, and I wouldn’t blame you if that was true. Please don’t give up. In addition, take a look around and try to keep your heart open to people you sense you can trust. God works through people like this too– people who are full of compassion, patience, joy, and wisdom. Keep your eyes wide open, friend.

I am also a Christian struggling with OCD. My OCD takes many forms.  Currently the worst is obsessing over the safety of the entire world. Coughs-what if someone is choking? Small items like change on ground-child could choke? People not driving perfect-could be a accident.  List goes on!  Recently began ERP. Feeling so anxious and sick all the time.  How’d you handle this during treatment? 

Hello! I have a book character who has the same OCD themes– in fact, in one scene, he is systematically chipping away at the ice on the Minneapolis sidewalks, scared someone would slip and fall. In another scene, he is thinking about a guy at a bus stop who was smoking, wishing he had said something about the dangers of smoking, and wondering if there was a way to find that person again. Of course, I think that you and I (even with our OCD!) theoretically realize those are a bit much, yes? And yet, I have been where you are, feeling the weight of the world on my own shoulders. It’s exhausting. You are doing the right thing by pursuing ERP. In ERP, your anxiety will likely flare up and get a bit worse before it improves. But please hang in there. Try for 12 weeks straight and see how you feel. For me, 12 weeks later, I was living an entirely different life.

Hello, I have been diagnosed with HOCD twice. It is causing me so so so much anxiety. I have lost all attraction to men and now worry I was never attracted to men in the first place. I’m now worrying that I’m not coming out because of what my boyfriends friends would think, which I know is a coming out tendency. I’m worried that I’m thinking this as it’s not an hocd tendency. I want my old life bk

It’s not an HOCD tendency? I think just about every person I’ve ever known with HOCD has had those same thoughts actually. Everything that you describe sounds like textbook HOCD … in fact, you’ve been diagnosed with it. Twice. Next step: ERP!

I’m an 18 yr old male suffering from (I’m under the impression that it is) HOCD for a couple of weeks, now. I’ve managed to mostly calm anxiety/panic attacks, but I still get uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, and groinal responses when looking at guys (especially my friends.) I’m scared that this means that I actually am attracted and am just hiding it. Does it? If not, what can I do to stop it? 

Hi friend, the anxiety and panic attached to this makes it far more likely that you’re dealing with HOCD than anything else. The best treatment for HOCD (or any type of OCD) is exposure therapy, which you can do with a therapist OR on your own, with the help of a book, OR by using an app. Check out these links:

HOCD: Letter to Loved Ones
Doing ERP On Your Own
nOCD, an ERP App/Hero

I don’t have access to any OCD therapists so I’m unable to know for sure if I have HOCD or not. Over time I’ve been doing small things to stop my anxiety over gay thoughts (and it seems to be working.) But no matter what they keep interrupting everything I do, and now I’m beginning to worry that my lack of anxiety means I secretly want to be gay. I’m even starting to doubt that I even have HOCD.

“Unable to know for sure” … this is the core of OCD, friend: having intense anxiety over uncertainty. And since OCD is the doubting disease, it might not surprise you that almost everyone who has it has doubted at one point or another if they really did have OCD. 🙂 Have you done your research? Here are a few places to start:

HOCD: Letter to Loved Ones
Doing ERP On Your Own
nOCD, an ERP App/Hero
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
HOCD Story: Meet Mae, Part One
HOCD Story: Meet Mae, Part Two

Thanks for all the questions, folks! If you have questions for me about anything, ask here.

As always, I 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: 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.

Compendium

I was just writing up a giant blog post about Charlottesville, and I decided to sit on it for a day or so before posting. So, even though this post might be about everything BUT Charlottesville, know that it is at the forefront of my mind and in the center of my heart. I am just wanting to ask a friend to read my post before it goes live. ❤

OCD Study
Last week, I read about this Cambridge study, which found that OCD sufferers might be able to find relief through watching someone else perform their compulsions. The article suggests that maybe a video series could be created to help bring relief to sufferers. This actually troubles me because it ignores the root issues– and I think that you run a HUGE risk of now having those videos become the new compulsion. Compulsions are NOT the solution to OCD– they are a temporary alleviation of anxiety that will almost always become an uncontrollable monster in their own right. In exposure therapy, on the other hand, immediate relief is not the goal. The goal is learning how to live with uncertainty (which is ultimately what causes the anxiety for OCD sufferers) and letting that new way of behavior re-wire the brain for more long-lasting relief. Exposure therapy is clearly the better option.

Salt Novel
I feel so good about where I’m at with this, and especially since we decided to push all the deadlines back a tiny bit. I believe this means it will come out early 2019, which feels far away, but truly, I think it’s perfect timing. I want this book to be the very best it can be, and I’m so grateful for an editor who is on the same page!

Work
Work has been absolutely insane this summer. For those of you who don’t know, my day job is working in enrollment at a local university. We have been up 12% in visitors this year, even as three of our coworkers left this summer for other jobs. Busier than ever, fewer people, plus adding to that interviewing, hiring, and training. It’s just been wild. I’ve worked there 14 years, and we’ve never had a summer like this one.

Reading
Has been slower than I’d like. I finished Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott, which was lovely and like having an auntie whisper healing words over you. I am reading The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock right now, and next up I’m excited to dive into If Birds Fly Back by Carlie Sorosiak (check out the incredible cover!).

Balance
This is the key, isn’t it? How do I balance writing, recruitment, healthy routines, and finding time for the greatest set of friends on earth? I guess I’ll start by being grateful.

20991582_10101869764754350_592358811_o

 

Question & Dancer: This & That

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.

I have hocd, and I’m a 17 year old girl. I was wondering, is it weird if I still get crushes on guys during this? sometimes I doubt if I even do like them and the feelings feel fake and forced. Other times, no. Since my hocd started I haven’t been able to really like a guy. If I do, my crush goes away quickly. This makes me worried and makes me think that I can never truly like a guy ever again. 

Dear one, not weird at all. HOCD will do whatever it can to confuse you. Please be sure to read about HOCD and ERP at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Hi Jackie! My question concerns telling my significant other about my HOCD. I have already told him a bit about my same sex attraction fears (around 1.5 yrs ago) but at the time, I didn’t realize it was HOCD. Now that I know HOCD is the culprit I am wondering if you have any advice as to how to explain… I am afraid he won’t believe its HOCD and indefinitely doubt my affection for him. 

This is definitely up to you. I think this is the one of the hugest fears for someone with OCD. I did write a letter you can give to your SO to try to explain things better. It’s available here: https://jackieleasommers.com/2015/07/29/hocd-a-letter-to-loved-ones.

I just want to say, a massive thank you. I´ve been on hell for the past six months, or maybe more. i even thought about killing myself. and i trully did search for so many blogs, but they are mostly about guys so i didnt feel like i found answers. But this is the first site that is from a girl. Made me feel like there is hope. I hope eventually i get to tell you how truly straight i feel i am.

Thank you for your sweet message. I promise you there is hope, and I look forward to hearing from you after you’ve undergone treatment. In the future, if you are feeling suicidal, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with them here.

I feel like I have accidently made vows to give up things that i enjoy and i didnt want to give them up. I have OCD, but would the vows be binding? For example: “if i step on a crack, i have to stop doing this activity” but sometimes i feel like i mentally agree to it for a split second after the thought comes in my head. Like its 90% intrusive, but 10% my intentional.

I experienced this intrusive vow-making too, back when I was in high school, and it was a dark, dark time of my life. I don’t think that you are bound to these because it is OCD making the vow, not you. In any case, it is better not to focus on “solving” the vow-making but on treating OCD with exposure therapy. Best wishes!

Another vow question. I just feel so stressed because I really feel like I have to give up my two favorite activities according to the vows. After that I am left with no form of enjoyment. Even when I try ERP,  i feel like i am sinning by breaking promises to God and I dont even enjoy doing the activities anymore because of the anxiety.I feel like there is no hope. What do I do?

I also worried that my ERP might be sinful. I hope this post will help you: https://jackieleasommers.com/2014/08/03/ocd-scrupulosity-is-erp-sinful.

Hi Jackie, I have hocd. What worries me a lot is that I don’t have any attraction to guys (I’m a female). I want to like someone but I feel empty and don’t feel any attraction even though they might be perfect for me. What do you think?

Hello lovely, this is perfectly normal for someone with HOCD, and you can defeat it with exposure (ERP) therapy, which you can read about at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD. There are resources there too in case you can’t afford therapy but would like to do it on your own.

Jackie, I’m a female with hocd. I know it is common for people to lose attraction to the opposite sex during this, but will I ever like another guy again?? It honestly feels like I won’t. 

Oh dear one, yes, I truly believe that you will. ERP therapy can help. You are not alone by any means, and I hope that as you read through the questions in this post, you will see that.

Hello! I believe that I have been suffering from HOCD for the past 8 years (this started when I was only 12, unfortunately). I’ve never been diagnosed or treated. However, my question is: is it normal/common for OCD compulsions to change over time?? 

Yes indeed! As obsessions and compulsions shift, we call this “theme hopping,” and you can read about it here: https://jackieleasommers.com/2014/01/19/theme-hopping.

I’ve been told I have HOCD. I have worried about this  on and off. My first time I was 12 & I remember crying to my parents & I think I said something along the lines “I’m staying straight & then I don’t have to be made fun of” now that scares me because that means I’m afraid of society & that’s what gay people go through. Now I feel like I want to be straight just for society reasons. Please help

It is very common for people with OCD to think back on old memories (even ones that have never bothered them before) and suddenly become fixated on them. Sounds like your experience is very consistent with OCD/HOCD. Have you explored ERP therapy? You can read about it at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD!

Hi, I’m a 16 year old girl who has been suffering with HOCD for roughly 8 months now. I have come to the conclusion that the only way to overcome this is through therapy, but I’m scared to ask for help and recieve it. How do I ask my parents? I feel like if I sit them down to ask them for help, they will assume that I’m coming out or they’ll try to get too much information out of me. Help!

I hope that this will help, my dear: https://jackieleasommers.com/2015/07/29/hocd-a-letter-to-loved-ones.

How can I begin ERP for my HOCD by myself?

Hi friend, you can read about self-directed ERP therapy here: https://jackieleasommers.com/2014/10/05/self-directed-erp-therapy.

Should I open up to family & my boyfriend about my HOCD? It terrifies me to think about telling them about it. Can I deal with it alone?

You can choose to do whatever makes YOU feel most comfortable. Please don’t overthink this (I know that’s a silly think to say to someone with OCD, but I want to give you permission to do what you choose). The links in the answers to the two questions just above yours will be useful (I hope!) in choosing whether it is a better option for you to tell your family and boyfriend or whether to go after ERP therapy alone. Best wishes.

Jackie, I’m scared. I had a dream last night in which I married a female I know. (I’m a female with hocd). It was very detailed, including me being with her in bed. This is the second time this female has appeared in my dreams, I have no idea why. I was unhappy in my dream but I’m lost and terrified that this is a prediction to my future???

I know why: because you have HOCD and have been obsessing about this. It makes sense that it would carry over into your dreams. In this interview with a former HOCD sufferer, she talks about having the same experience: https://jackieleasommers.com/2013/10/20/interview-with-a-former-hocd-sufferer. It is not a prediction of your future, dear. It is natural for our waking concerns to sometimes leak into our dreams.

Can HOCD turn into straight OCD, i´ve spent many times on internet which made it worse. and since truly gay ppl have straight ocd, its now like i kinda have that. To be honest i am about to take sleep pills. Hope there is light

There is light. I promise. Firstly, if you are feeling suicidal, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with them here. OCD can twist and morph through the weeks and years, so that is not unusual. It will do what it can to make you miserable until you learn to be comfortable with uncertainty. The best method for doing so is the evidence-based approach of ERP (exposure and response prevention) therapy, which you can learn about at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Where’s the best place to get diagnosed in the Twin Cities? I’m positive I have HOCD but I’ve never been diagnosed with any form of OCD and I’m worried I’m in denial.

Hi friend, here are a couple resources for you:
https://jackieleasommers.com/twin-cities-ocd
https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/07/24/qa-with-an-erp-therapist

If I’m struggling with hocd, do you think I should stay away from psych forums? I’m already getting help for therapy and medicine though. But do you think it’s my way of just reassuring myself? 

Yes, I really do think it is unhealthy for you to be on the psych forums. Part of your ERP should be avoiding compulsions, and I think this way of seeking reassurance is one. I’m so excited for you that you’re doing therapy and meds though! Are you doing ERP and not talk therapy, I hope?

Please read the following: https://jackieleasommers.com/2014/11/16/talk-therapy-vs-erp-therapy.

I have Hocd been going for 4 months.i always got aroused from girl and lez porn,but I did not wanted to do anything with girls.I once thought about kissing a girl and these things are fuelling my hocd.Yesterday I was horny.I decided to watch lesbian porn to check and I got really aroused i tried to think about having sex with a girl and I felt real arousal like i feel with men.Is my hocd or Im bi?

Does it feel intrusive and unwanted? This is part of how we define OCD.

What do you think of group therapy like DBT for OCD? Specifically hocd

I’ll admit that I’m not very familiar with DBT, though I have heard great things about it, especially in regard to treating things like borderline personality disorder. The evidence-based #1 treatment for OCD is exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Have you read, “All the light we cannot see” by Anthony Doerr? “Everything Everything” by Nicola yoon? And “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand? Those are very good reads. Also, what’s your most favorite book of all time? 

I have read the first two, and I own the third book, but I haven’t had a moment to read it yet! My most favorite book of all time? Man, that’s difficult! I am going to go with Saving Francesca and its companion The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta. But everything Marchetta writes is magical. I also love The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. (Sorry, it’s just so hard for me to only say one!!)

https://jackieleasommers.com/2014/08/04/read-these-10-novels-and-we-can-be-friends

Jackie I’m scared. I find myself constantly fearful because of my OCD. I have hocd, and I’m always terrified of the “what if..” although I have never questioned my sexuality, I feel as though nothing helps convince me I’m not gay. Some days I’m just depressed. My mind also wanders a lot. I’m not ready for ERP, but what should I do?

If you are not ready for ERP, the next best thing you can do is start to learn more about OCD and ERP. Education matters. It’s an incredible way to fight back. Track down some books and learn. You begin to steal back power this way.

I’m a female junior in high school, and I sometimes feel hopeless if I will ever get a guy. Every where I look people are in relationships. I’ve never had a boyfriend or even a first kiss. I know god always has a plan, but how can I trust him and know I won’t be alone forever?

Hi honey. I’m 35 and single. I completely get it, I promise. In fact, just this last week, I found myself asking my friends this same question, “will I be alone forever?” I guess that is where trust comes into play. We just don’t know, do we? BUT I do believe that when we love and honor God and follow him, he is the one who gives us our desires– in two ways. He gives us the actual desire– and then fulfills it too. I am being inarticulate. Let me try again. I think that God has given me the desire to be in love. I trust that he will also fulfill that God-given desire with a partner.

Is it normal for HOCD to play a part into ur relationship and make u question ur feelings for a person when u know in ur heart that you love/are attracted to them? Where when ur having guilt&questioning yourself about ur sexuality bc of HOCD u feel like maybe ur not in love w ur s/o or that ur not attracted to them when you know you are but ur intrusive thoughts try to make u think otherwise. 

HOCD and ROCD both cause havoc in relationships, yes. The best thing you can do is to treat the OCD itself with exposure therapy. You can do this, if not for yourself then for your relationship.

I have had HOCD it’s only getting worse. im starting to feel like I’m not in control of my mind. Sometimes Ill convince myself I want to be w a girl when really I just think they’re pretty! I feel like I have to accept being gay to get rid of these awful thoughts&everytime I try to I get so mad bc I know that isn’t me. I’ve always wanted to be with a man, never a woman. I’m scared of my own mind. 

Oh dear one, you are not alone. I promise there is help and hope and light. In exposure therapy (ERP), your brain gets rewired in a healthy way, a way that allows room for uncertainty. That might sound terrible, but it is one of the greatest gifts ever: to be able to let thoughts come and go without having to be sure about everything. It’s a new life. It’s freedom. Please read more at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

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.

Q&A with an ERP Therapist

Erin VenkerMeet Erin Venker. I know her through the leadership team for OCD Twin Cities. Erin is lovely, thoughtful, and smart– and she has a unique experience of having OCD and being an ERP therapist. I’m so pleased to be interviewing her on my blog today!

Tell us a little about your background in regard to OCD, Erin.

I first had symptoms in 5th grade but I wasn’t officially diagnosed until 7th grade. At that time, my OCD was mostly rituals of “breathing in” and “swallowing on” the letter A so I would get A’s in my classes. I also did a lot of magical thinking, for example, having lucky and unlucky colors. It soon evolved to include repetitive praying and confessing to mom thoughts, worries, and “bad” things I did, or else I believed something bad would happen. I frequently had horrible intrusive thoughts, both sexual and violent. That period of my life is fuzzy; I just remember it was extremely painful. Daily life was exhausting. I thought I was a horrible person and in constant fear that something bad was going to happen to my family.  I was too embarrassed to talk about my intrusive thoughts, so I didn’t realize that was a part of my OCD until years later.

In college and post-college, my OCD evolved into primarily mental symptoms with rumination, trying to“figuring things out” by replaying scenarios over and over in my head, a constant fear of offending people, and reassurance seeking.

What led you to become a therapist? What are your educational credentials?

I didn’t receive the proper treatment for OCD until 14 years after I was diagnosed. It was at the OCD conference in Boston where I learned that exposure and response prevention therapy was the evidence based approach to successfully treat OCD. I also learned there how common taboo intrusive thoughts were, and that was a huge relief. I decided to become a therapist to help raise OCD awareness and expand the availability of treatment.

I received my master’s in counseling psychology at the University of Saint Thomas and have attended several workshops on exposure therapy. I currently work under the supervision of Dr. Vernon Devine who has 46 years experience treating individuals with anxiety disorders while I work toward my license as a professional clinical counselor.

What services do you offer, and what is payment like?

I specialize in OCD, agoraphobia, hoarding, body dysmorphic disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorder, basically all forms anxiety. I use exposure and response prevention therapy and integrate mindfulness and some dialectical behavioral therapy techniques.

Due to the rising costs of health care, insurance benefits have increasingly become more complex. Self pay ensures that the client’s records and diagnoses are entirely confidential documents as I will not have to submit them to insurance or a third party payer. The content of the sessions stays between myself, the client, and Dr. Devine.

Treatment often involves appointments that need to be longer than an hour, multiple sessions a week, at-home sessions, and public exposures. Self pay allows for treatment freedom as well as the time to get to the root of the problems the client is facing. It makes treatment much more effective. Typically treatment lasts no longer than three months before going to an as-needed appointment basis.

What are the benefits of exposure therapy? How does it work?

Exposure therapy works by essentially helping you confront what you fear the most. For example with contamination OCD, I’ll have clients work on touching and interacting with whatever they believe to be contaminated. If a client has a mental obsession fearing that they are attracted to a family member, we will make a script that they are in fact attracted to that family member. Basically whatever they avoid to protect themselves from their fears, we work up to doing that by creating a hierarchy. We start with whatever trigger the client finds the least distressing and expose them to that trigger until their anxiety decreases. We then gradually move up the hierarchy until the client is ready to confront the most difficult exposures.

Can you briefly describe how you guide a patient through ERP, especially what the first couple sessions might look like?

In the first session, I get to know the client, gather some background information, and go over an assessment I have them fill out before the appointment. We go over details about their presenting symptoms and explore their triggers.  We then begin to build a hierarchy of ways to expose the client to the thoughts, images, objects, and situations that they find distressing and provoke obsessions/compulsions. ERP is no walk in the park, but it is an evidence-based approach that has shown to be incredibly effective.

Many of my blog readers are very concerned about being judged by a therapist who doesn’t truly understand OCD. What advice would you give to them?

Know that whatever intrusive thoughts or rituals you have, no matter how embarrassing, weird, or perverted you believe they are, I guarantee they are extremely common in OCD, and thousands of individuals have similar if not the same thoughts and compulsions. Everyone has intrusive thoughts– people with OCD just get them stuck in their head and distressed. Whatever you find most upsetting, OCD will latch onto it and continuously project it in your head like a song stuck on repeat.

Find a therapist who truly understands OCD. It breaks my heart when I hear about individuals who saw a therapist, tell them about sexual or violent intrusive thoughts they are experiencing, and the therapist does not recognize these symptoms as OCD. This can create further isolation, shame, and hinder the therapeutic process.

Erin Venker 2One last question: reassurance is often a compulsion for OCD sufferers. How can a therapist practice compassion without reassurance? What is your approach to this?

I use a lot of humor in treatment. I try to help clients notice when there OCD is sneaking up on them. Depending on the context and the individual, I will push the exact opposite of the reassurance they are seeking.

I have a rule of thumb that in the appropriate moment, I will only reassure once. I know you are not a pedophile, this is the one and only time I reassure you. After that, it’s all about accepting uncertainty. Well, maybe that thought does mean you want to kill someone, let’s make a script of it happening. At the same time, I validate the client that ERP is extremely difficult, and what they are doing is brave and hard work.

Thank you so much to Erin Venker for a great interview! If you are in the Twin Cities and think you could benefit from working with Erin, click here for her contact information. 

Question & Dancer: I Promise There is Hope

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.

Ok I am so confused lately. I am a 27 year old male and has had what I consider to be HOCD for at least 4 years now When I was younger people used to ask if I was gay, and that never bothered me until more recently since I started to have this OCD. More recently however I am starting to doubt myself because it is starting to feel realer and realer. Wanna do ERP but I am very anxious about it.
I was so anxious to do ERP too! In fact, I almost bailed partway through– right before everything ended up “clicking” for me. Read up about it beforehand so that you have an idea of what to expect. I always say that you will be ready for ERP when the hell of daily life with OCD is worse than the anxiety over ERP. I will say this: it was one of the greatest things I have ever done for myself. Twelve weeks of ERP vs. twenty years of OCD (with no end in sight)? There’s a clear winner there.
Can HOCD actually begin to feel real? At the start, it caused me loads of anxiety but now I’m starting to believe it and it scary 😦
Hello dear, yes, I think that most people with HOCD get to that point. I’m sorry for all your fear and anxiety. ERP can help.
Hi! I did the harder exposures for HOCD (I’m a girl by the way) and it really terrifies me to the point of tears while doing the exposure of looking at a androgynous female. It bothered me immensely but I stayed with it. However, I felt fearful and anxious at the same time because I actively avoid it because of the fear of attraction. Is that still HOCD?
If you are fearful that you are sexually attracted to females, it’s quite likely HOCD, yes. I remember crying while doing exposures too. Please don’t quit the exposures– but also, please do be kind to yourself. Give yourself a treat: ice cream, a nap, a new pair of shoes. What would you do for your best friend if he or she was going through all this? Treat yourself just as kindly. But don’t give up on the exposures.
Hi Jackie, I’ve had hocd for over a year now and it’s been rough. For the past three months I’ve been using this new medication and I believe I’ve gotten better. But, whenever I get my intrusive thoughts my brain doesn’t spike much of a reaction anymore and I’m not as scared. This is making me worried because I feel like my fear shows I’m not gay but now I’m not so sure. Can medicine do that?
I feel like this is such a nasty paradox with OCD! We get so much torturous anxiety– and we hate it– but then, if the anxiety lessens or goes away, we start to fear there’s a reason behind that. Please remember that the goal is to not have those extreme reactions when you have intrusive thoughts, so you are moving in the right direction! Thoughts are just thoughts. Everyone has weird thoughts, but most people can just let them go, whereas for those of us with OCD, we hold onto them and give them too much meaning and make ourselves sick ruminating. Let the thought just be a thought. It is good that the anxiety lessens in time.
Jackie, is this a compulsion? Every time I get worried about my hocd thoughts, my reaction is to go God and pray that I’m not gay. I know I don’t want to be gay. I just want to be a straight female and have a guy. But I feel like god is my only true hope for getting better although I’ve been doubting him a lot with all of this hocd stuff
Ritualistic prayer was also one of my compulsions. I would pray to “ward off” blasphemous thoughts and curse words that would pop into my head. But I also could tell a difference between my true, heartfelt prayers and the automatic ones that I was using as a compulsion. I kept doing the former, but the latter ones, I stopped. At first, because it was so automatic, it was very hard to stop, but I would actually interrupt myself and think No. I do not need to pray ritualistically. I didn’t think it would work– but it did!
How long did you personally have hocd for?
I had a brief bout with HOCD in junior high. My primary obsessions through the years were religious ones though.
Jackie I feel like my hocd gets MUCH worse when my period roles around. Could this be true? I just feel way more depressed and my intrusive thoughts get more frequent and intense.
I really do believe this can be true, even though I don’t know enough about the science behind it.  But on my period, my hormones are all out of whack, and everything seems more intense and stressful and emotional for me. I feel sadder and lonelier on my period, and sometimes I have bad cramps, so I’m in actual pain and cranky about it. I am definitely not my best on my period or in the days right before it, and I’ve had the same experiences with my OCD being worse then (I’m not sure if it’s worse– or if I’m weaker– during those days!).
Jackie I’ve had hocd for a while now. How did you stay strong? How did you not cave in and truly lose hope by believing you’re gay?
I spent 15 years with OCD before I was finally diagnosed, then another five before I began the exposure therapy that gave me back my life and freedom. How did I stay strong during that time? Honestly, I was not strong a lot of that time. I cried a lot, but I also surrounded myself with the most incredible people: family and friends and mentors and roommates who let me lean on them in my weakness. My Christian faith is also a ballast for me, although OCD went after that pretty hard, and I had to rely on the faith of my friends and family, if that makes any sense. Make sure that you have an incredible support system, one that won’t enable you but that will let you be honest about your struggles and will love you, even in your darkest, weakest, most hopeless moments.
I lived with my friend Desiree for seven years, and she saw me through some of the very worst times with my OCD. She wrote this post about it, in case you’re interested!
Jackie, my therapist and my mom both say I try and convince myself that I’m truly gay ( I have hocd). I just can’t help being very doubtful all the time. Even when I like a guy through all of this I still doubt if everything is fake. Advice?
This is what the doubting disease does– it poisons everything! The very best advice I have is to treat it with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, which can be done with a specialist or on your own with the help of a book from the library. Be sure to check out my posts at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD for more details and book suggestions!
Hi Jackie I’m a female and I have had hocd for nearly 13 months now. I stare at girls so much! In my head I constantly hear myself saying “wow she’s so pretty” and I can’t stop thinking that. It haunts me later in my day as I keep seeing any girl in my head from school. What should I do?
This is what OCD/HOCD will do until you either switch to another obsession or treat it. I recommend treating it with exposure therapy! Please check out my posts about HOCD and about ERP at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD. It changed my entire life.
I’ve had hocd for a long time now and I know ERP is the right thing but I’m too scared to do it. I just don’t feel mentally mature or ready enough to do it. What do you think? Should I just face it head on?
This is such a good question. I didn’t feel ready for it for a while either. When I felt I had exhausted all my other options, I knew it was time. Most of the time, ERP is not done via “flooding” (which is what I think you mean by “face it head on”) but rather via a strategic hierarchy. You start with the things that make you least anxious and work up to the doozies later on. I think this is probably the best way to go after ERP; it builds confidence early on when you win a few smaller victories, plus your brain begins to change, giving you more tools for attacking the harder things later. I remember on my first day with my ERP therapist, he said we would work up to X, and I thought, “If you think that I will EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER do X, you’ve got another thing coming, mister.” And yet, about 12 weeks later, I was there. Terrified, yes. Anxious, yes. But it had gone from being utterly impossible to being possible-but-scary. And after that, my OCD snapped in half. I’ve had freedom for nine years now.
How do I know if my therapist is good? Upon graduating college, I have developed extreme anxiety and HOCD. I found a therapist who preaches ERP but does not have good reviews online. I met him for the initial consult and liked him but how do I know whether I should trust him.
Do the reviews say that they don’t like him personally or that he doesn’t know his practice? You don’t need to like an ERP therapist for ERP to work. In fact, at the time, I thought my ERP therapist was a monster. (Now he is my hero.) Our personalities did not jive and, of course, he was asking me to do things I didn’t want to do (this is the nature of ERP therapy!). Make sure that you have educated yourself on what ERP should look like, so that you will be able to recognize if he is guiding you correctly. As far as whether or not he’s likable … meh. Not what matters in this situation.
Read about my reunion with my ERP therapist, seven years after I last left his office.
I feel really sad. Some days my hocd is not that intense and I’m sure I’m straight but other days its bad.When I’m convinced I’m gay, I get very depressed. I withdraw and stop doing anything, and spend the majority of my time in bed. They tell you in therapy that if you hate the idea of being gay, that you don’t like the idea of being with the same sex then you’re not gay. Do you agree with this?
I hate to speak in too wide of generalities, but if I am interpreting your question correctly, I would say yes IN GENERAL. Again, I don’t know that it is helpful to speak in such wide-spreading generalities. I did ask some of my friends (both with HOCD and others who are gay) to answer a variety of questions so I could compare them. I thought the results were interesting. Friend, please consider exposure therapy to treat your HOCD. It is the #1 treatment for OCD recommended by all OCD experts, and it changed my life. I know those depressed days spent in bed all too well. You can move past this.
Is there really a light at the end of the tunnel? I feel hopeless. I have hocd and hate my life because I just feel depressed. I want to be better but I can’t bring myself to give effort. I get told, happiness is a choice. But I feel like this doesn’t apply to people who suffer from OCD?
Friend, I promise there is light. And hope. And freedom. Exposure therapy can help you get there.
Ahhh yes, the choose happiness thing. Blah. Let me say first that I agree with you.
Here is my post entitled I Don’t CHOOSE to be Unhappy. Later, post-ERP, I wrote a post where I talked about choosing to be happy. The very next day I posted again and this time included what I called a “thoughtful caveat”:
P.S. I want to clarify: this post is not in contradiction to this one. I still believe that many people with brain disorders do not have the capability to simply choose to be happy. But I am finding in my own life that medication and OCD treatment and talk therapy and prayer are tools that are making that more and more possible for me. I am one of the lucky ones who has had so many opportunities and resources. They are opening up new doors for me that were locked even just a year ago. Would love to hear your thoughts.

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.)

nOCD, an ERP App/Hero

If you’ve spent time around this blog, you know that I wrestled my life and freedom back from the clutches of obsessive-compulsive disorder in 2008. (Read more about my story at jackieleasommers.com/OCD).

From the onset of my symptoms to my diagnosis: 15 years.
From my diagnosis to appropriate treatment (ERP): 5 years.
From treatment to freedom: 12 weeks. (<–Read that again please.)

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is powerful, friends.

On average, it takes OCD sufferers 14-17 years to get the correct diagnosis and treatment. This is not okay. 

So many OCD sufferers cannot afford treatment. In some countries, ERP therapy is simply not available. In fact, in some countries, the stigma associated with having a brain disorder like OCD is so strong that sufferers would not dare admit to needing help. This is not okay. 

The creators of the nOCD app felt the same way. One contacted me and said, “Our goal is to reduce the time it takes for people with OCD to get effective treatment (from decades to minutes).” He said, “One thing advocacy has shown me is the need for OCD treatment in other countries! There are people in Bangladesh, India, etc that have literally nobody! My team is actually building a 24/7 support community within nOCD to combat this issue.”

The app is FREE and, I-hope-I-hope-I-hope, going to change the world.

Some of the very best things about this app:

nocd.jpg

Right now it’s available for iPhones, but this fall, the Android version will come out. Please check it out here. And be sure to tell me what you think!

xoxo Jackie

Question & Dancer: HOCD Edition

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.

I’ve gone through CBT and recovered somewhat from very intense HOCD. However due to the intense stress i have been through for the last few months and still do experience i find that i am behind on my university work. I have the options to defer my exams but am ashamed to do so as i would have tell friends and family that i have been struggling. I. any advise?

Defer your exams, dear. Take help and grace when it is offered. If your friends and family ask about what’s going on, you can simply tell them that you’ve been dealing with some anxiety and stress, but that you’re working through it with someone. If they pry, that is on them. It is your story, and it is your right to share it or not share it. That said, I have found so much freedom and so much support in being honest with my closest friends and my family.

If this post helps, share it with those trusted people.

I’m doing self- ERP of just scrolling through my feeds and reading/acknowleding LGBT stuff. However, after 3 days of mild anxiety and generally feeling like it wasn’t as scary anymore, I came acorss a post that spiked me and I (disappointingly) did my complusions (aka internet searching and reassuring myself). How did you deal with major setbacks in your ERP?

First of all, please try to not think of this as a major setback, friend. This is just part of the healing experience; everyone has good days and bad days, even people who don’t have OCD. Be gentle with yourself. Here are a few posts I’ve written about relapses and setbacks:

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

Can OCD go from mild to moderate? I feel like my OCD themes from when I was a child were not as stressful as the one I have today (I’m an “new adult” I guess, from book genre terms), and I was just wondering if that’s a thing?

I would say so, yes. For me, the longer my OCD went untreated, the more my obsessions seemed to elevate in intensity. I would guess that part of that was because I was growing and learning and becoming wiser. OCD goes after the things that we value most, so it naturally makes sense that– as a new adult– you are figuring out those values and that OCD will find new targets as you do so.

Don’t delay treatment. For me, the obsessions and anxiety got worse and worse (though, of course, there were times of reprieve … but don’t mistake that for OCD being gone; it is just taking a break and gearing up for the next big attack!) until I did exposure therapy.

Why You Need CBT/ERP

I am a long way into my CBT and have recovered to a large extent, but i wanted to know if you could describe what some of the common feelings/lingering HOCD symptoms that remain during the later stages of treatment. I have limited anxiety and compulsions but i still feel this sense of uncertainty about my sexuality, and i don’t know it that should still be there this late into treatment(6 weeks)

Honestly, it sounds like you are way ahead of where I was at 6 weeks in. For me, something finally clicked at about week 10 or 11. After that, nothing in my life has been the same. Please keep up the hard work!

Hi Jackie! I have HOCD am trying to do ERP on my own (temporarily)! I’ve been exposing myself to all types of things.I started getting bored with some of it so I thought I’d make it harder, if I exposed myself to woman in a swimsuit I would ask “am I attracted to her? am I aroused by her?” and start imagining scenarios to see if I liked it. Is this ERP or a checking compulsion? I’m confused.

Looking at the woman in a swimsuit is the exposure– but asking those questions is a compulsion. Try looking at the woman, thinking through a scenario, but NOT judging anything or assigning meaning to it. Tell yourself they are just thoughts. I wonder if it would help for you to read my ERP script and then try copying it but for your own compulsions? I used this script for my imaginal exposures.

I’ve been going through what I think is HOCD and have recovered to an extent due to ERP and CBT. But I still have doubts about whether it was ever OCD or whether it is a real sexuality crisis (I still have spikes but not much anxiety). I was wondering if this is normal in OCD recovery and if you knew any steps I could take therapeutically to help overcome what I think is a last hurdle.

Hello dear one, I’m not sure if those of us with OCD ever seem to make it over the last hurdle. It might be more helpful to think of “the next hurdle.” Don’t be discouraged by that please: I promise that my life post-ERP is incredible and nearly obsession- and compulsion-free, but I also know that I do still have OCD, and I have little setbacks at least once a year. A couple questions above this one, I posted several links about remission and relapses that might be helpful for you to read!

My HOCD has got better with ERP (self-directed, as i cant afford a psychologist) but i still have spikes and now feel like i’ll ever know my sexuality (definitely not with the clarity i did before) i’ve tried hard to accept that maybe i’m bisexual, but i cant and end up remunerating on that as well. Any advice on what i can do now? I just want the joy i had about relationships and love back:(

ERP is meant to make you more comfortable with uncertainty, not to take away the uncertainty. I know that sounds awful (ha!), but it really isn’t. Please read this post, friend:

Gaining Certainty through Embracing Uncertainty

Hi jackie, Im a TOCD and HOCD sufferer. HOCD is ruinning my life, at first it did feel like ocd but now it seems so real that I actually feel Im gay which makes me sick because Ive always been boycrazy. Im 18 years old and never been in a relationship which gives ocd a lot to work with. And I cant feel attracted to boys anymore which is the most scary thing ever for me. Att: rosie

Hi, its rosie again, the thoughts that used to make me sick dont disgust me anymore, and I cant picture myself in a future relationship with a boy, which scares me a lot bc is all that I ever wanted, i used to watch lesbian porn but never thought of being in a relationship with a girl other than friendship, i dont know what to do Im depressed and lost, all i want is my heterosexual life back.

Hi Rosie-dear, I thought I’d reply to both of your questions at once. First of all, this is all very, very normal for an HOCD sufferer. I am not saying that it doesn’t suck (it does!), but it’s all common to the experience, and I hope you can find comfort in that. Secondly, please find hope in knowing that many, many HOCD sufferers who were in the same shoes as you are now experiencing freedom and joy and confidence in their sexuality via exposure therapy. If you go to http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD, you can read a LOT more about what exposure therapy (or ERP) is, how it works, and how you can even do it on your own (with the help of a library book) instead of a therapist.

I have had questions about homosexuality and curiosity about it when I was little and this is what scares the hell out of me now. No straight person would repeatedly question things like that, would they? Lesbian porn made me orgasm faster than my preferred gay porn (I’m a straight girl that likes gay man porn and I think thats normal). That has nothing to do with anything, right?

I would imagine that most straight people do question that. And straight people with HOCD repeatedly question their sexuality. (By the way, I’ve heard from so many people with HOCD who have gone back and combed through their childhood to find evidence. This isn’t helpful.) I recommend reading a book about OCD and seeing if it sounds like you. Chances are very high that it will. If so, then consider exposure therapy, either on your own or with a specialist. At http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD, I have info about both types.

Jackie I’m so done with all this hocd stuff. I’m not strong enough to deal with this. I’m sad everyday and I have so much doubt. I feel like, as a female who has been straight her whole life, I can never see myself liking boys again. I just want to give up and accept I’m gay :(((

You say you want something and then follow it with frowny-faces, so I don’t believe you. This is what I believe, because it matches with where I was at for so many years: you want to be sure; you want either black OR white, but you do NOT want to wait in the gray. The gray, the uncertainty, is what gives you anxiety. And this is the root of OCD, dear one. But guess what, the rescue and the freedom is actually found in the gray area. That sounded so impossible to me. It might sound that way to you too. But uncertainty is how you beat OCD, and you do it via something called exposure therapy. Please read the following:

Gaining Certainty through Embracing Uncertainty
Embracing Uncertainty
Uncertainty is the Key

I remunerate endlessly about whether I am having an actual sexuality crisis or HOCD. Any idea as to what distinguishes the two? because, i simply cant tell anymore.

Anecdotally, my friends who are gay would probably not have called it a crisis. My friends with HOCD definitely would because of the intense anxiety that accompanies it. Have you read any books about OCD? Please do. I bet you will find yourself in the pages.

Jackie, I’ve had hocd for a year now and I don’t really know how much I can handle anymore. Recently I’ve been going through a phase where I wonder if I’m bi. I am a 17 year old female who had never questioned her sexuality. It’s on my mind a lot even if I’m in the stages of waking up from sleep the thoughts of being gay run in my head before I even open my eyes. I feel hopeless:(

Hi dear, please don’t feel hopeless. You are 17 and have the world ahead of you, and I promise there is hope. If this is causing this kind of anxiety, it is very likely to be HOCD. Have you had a chance to read a book about OCD yet? I recommend something like the following. Don’t let yourself get too anxious to do this. Remind yourself that you are simply collecting information at this point.

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

Jackie, I feel a lot of trouble turning to god during my hocd time. I feel distant from him and can’t attend church much because I’m a busy teen with school. I feel like deep down inside I still wonder if hocd is really a disorder and I’m doubtful of God being able to help with stuff concerning sexuality. Every time I try to pray i just hear “you can’t pray the gay away” in my head

Firstly, this is a verse I held dear to me during the worst seasons of OCD: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” This is from 2 Timothy 2:13. I don’t believe that “praying the gay away” is what you are trying to do, dear. I know this feels hard to do because the theme of homosexuality is what is at the forefront of your mind right now, but remember that that is just a theme— the real issue here is OCD. It can theme hop actually, so we focus on OCD, not on the theme. OCD is the root. Pray about OCD. Pursue ERP. And then pray about that as well. 🙂

Lord, I am terrified about what I am being asked to do through this therapy, and I worry that it might be sinful.  But there is at least some part of me that believes this is connected to OCD, so please cover over all I have to do with your grace. I am doing these things in the hopes of restoring my right and healthy relationship with you. Please be honored by my therapy and my choice to fight for my freedom (which you won on the cross) and my relationship with you (again, made possible by the cross). Be glorified in my therapy, and cover anything sinful with your incredible grace. Make me strong enough to complete my exposures. Provide the strength I need to press through this scary therapy, and let these hard exposures and choices (that may sometimes seem wrong to me) glorify you. Amen.

Regarding, false attractions with HOCD. I feel these strong inclinations towards certain women (only celebrities) who i admire and find myself continuously worrying/checking if it’s more than that. I feel like I’m denying a crush. It doesn’t feel like a natural crush, like i usually have. But i do recognise that i have a genuine obsessions of sorts with them. Could this be another HOCD symptom?

I think so! It sounds so similar. Does it give you anxiety? Do you try to do something to make the anxiety go away? (Could be almost anything– telling yourself that you don’t actually like these celebrities, picturing yourself kissing them to “test” your reaction, etc.) If so, that sounds like HOCD to me.

Jackie, I have had hocd for a really long time now and I honestly feel like it never gets better. Im a girl and I feel like I will never like another guy again. It honestly feels like torture because I feel like I’m gay and I just need to accept it. I’ve been praying so much but I never seem to see God’s hand in this aspect of my life. What do you think?

I think that God is always at work, even when we don’t feel him or see what he is up to. So, it’s okay if you don’t have faith enough to believe that right now– I have faith enough to believe it for the both of us, and I am excited for what he will do in your life, dear. I undersatnd what it is like to feel like things will never get better. I promise I get that: I suffered for 20 years, 15 of those being undiagnosed. But just 12 weeks of ERP therapy broke my chains. Have you looked into this yet? Read up about it at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD!

I am doing ERP and CBT – albeit on my own, guided by a book, but i have this need to come out as gay or bi-sexual (even though i know i am not). In some ways i feel like i’ll never be free/ rid of my obsessive thoughts till i do this. it like i want to confess to something i know i am not/haven’t done. Is this normal with HOCD and is there any way to deal with this, like a specific CBT technique?

Confession is actually a pretty common compulsion– and here, it feels like what you’re talking about would fall under this category. Remember that in ERP, you need to do your best with the RP (response prevention)– in other words, resist the compulsions. In your case, this would be the compulsion to confess or to come out. If you keep doing your exposures and keep resisting the compulsions, your brain wiring will change in the very best way. Keep it up. Don’t give up or give in.

Hi,I need help! I think i have hocd but i’m not sure. All started when a classmate put her head on my shoulder. In that moment i was so scared, my heart beat really fast and in that moment I thought if i was lesbian. I always had crush for boys, but i never had a boyfriend. At the beginnig this things last for like two days, and then i was okay. But now is like a month that i live like this.

You should read some of the HOCD stories on this website! Your story sounds very similar to Hannah’s– she thought her friend looked pretty one day … and then her mind was “off to the races” for months. I’m sure you feel alone, but you are not. First of all, please note that all but one of the questions above are in regard to HOCD. Secondly, please read these stories. I think they will really help give you some clarity and direction.

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

HOCD Story: Meet Mae, Part One

HOCD Story: Meet Mae, Part Two

 

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.)

3 Things I Want to Say to My College Self

  1. Quit being so damn proud and ask for help.
  2. There is more gray than you would imagine– and it’s a good thing.
  3. Give more grace. 

college

Ask for Help

Look, I know that all your life you have prided yourself on your intelligence– how you can figure things out on your own, how your mind is such a steel trap you don’t need to use a planner, how you don’t take shortcuts in anything (except maybe gym, ha!). But things are gonna get harder and harder and harder, girl, and the sooner you learn how to suck it up, ask for help, and accept that help, the better it will go for you. In fact, you will feel even smarter— which makes sense, since it’s wise people who collect resources and use them. Quit trying to get to the Everest summit without oxygen. Utilize your mentors, the counseling office at your college, the weekend extension given on that writing assignment. One day, you will be so happy to have tools and to use them. One day, you will see that it was always smarter to humble yourself and ask for help. The sooner you learn this, the happier you will be.

Gray isn’t the Enemy

The truth is that you have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder– OCD– which is making you so incredibly uncomfortable with anything that isn’t black or white. And if something is gray, the uncertainty of it makes you wild with panic, enough that you will think yourself in circles until you are able to move that gray along the spectrum, one way other other, to black or to white, so that you can breathe again. But the truth is that the sooner you learn how to sit with the gray, to let it be, to learn how to breathe even in the midst of uncertainty– that is where you will find relief and freedom.

Grace

First of all, you’re a bit of a self-righteous jerk right now, aren’t you, Sommers? Because you don’t accept help from others, and because you force everything in your world to be either black or white, and because you have scrupulosity (sit tight, you’ll learn more about this in a few years), you sometimes act like you have cornered the market on Being a Good Girl. Please stop. It is in your weaknesses that God’s power is made perfect. It’s in your humility and vulnerability that you draw others and help them open up. The mask of perfection that you wear feels so necessary right now, but it’s when you take that off that you will start experiencing deeper friendships. It’s when you show the darkness of your heart and find that you are still beloved that you will taste that richest flavor of being known. Give grace– to yourself and to others. This is the better way.

Dear 16-Year-Old Me

Dear sophomore-in-high-school Jackie, who just spent Thanksgiving sobbing on Grandma’s bathroom floor,

I promise you: it won’t always be like this.

It’s hard to imagine that now, I know. Doubt has been clawing at your mind for nearly a decade already, and now, this holiday, it seems like it’s finally captured you, a relentless grip you can never escape from. Everyone else is upstairs eating turkey and playing dominoes. Soon you’ll have to gather yourself together—thank goodness you don’t wear mascara yet—and head back upstairs to fake it. All you know is that something is wrong with you—your mind is in slavery, and you fear you’ll never find freedom. It’s not true. Oh, it’ll be a while still, about twelve more years, but you’ll find freedom. Believe me.

Here’s the truth. It’s OCD. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. You always thought it meant someone who washed their hands too much, someone who was a neat freak—and that was absolutely not you (I hate to tell you this, but even in your thirties, you still can’t keep your room clean), so you never gave it a moment’s thought. And now, in 10th grade, you’re only starting to learn how to use this wild thing called the internet. I know it’s not going to occur to you to Google “I think bad thoughts.” Scratch that. Google won’t even exist until next year.

Unfortunately, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. You’re going to wander down so many ugly alleys, obsessing over hell and your identity and the nature of reality. You’re going to believe that you’ve literally gone crazy, and no one on earth can keep record of the tears you’ll cry. But you’re going to write about it—all of it—and it’s going to be such lovely therapy for you in the interim. (Minus, of course, those months when that bastard OCD made you wonder if fiction was sinful like lying and you couldn’t go near your poetry or prose without feeling sick over it.)

You’re going to fill notebooks in high school with dramatic diary entries and over-the-top poetry. You’re going to go to college and study writing and pour your heart and energy into the creative work you’ll encounter there. You’ll even center your senior project—a memoir piece—around your battle with OCD, only you won’t have a name for it yet. But when the bottom drops out of your life in those years after college, you’ll finally be diagnosed, and it’s then that you’ll turn to writing novels.

Exposure therapy will save your life. And so will writing. So will Mom and Tracy and Megan and Cindy and Erica and Desiree and Ashley and God.

This holy amalgam will make you free. You won’t even know what to do with all the freedom, a surfeit of it, washing over you like a baptism, swilling out the pain, leaving behind … writing.

And so you’ll write. You’ll write stories that are raw and painful but hopeful. You won’t be able to write the ending to your first novel without having gone through the hell of OCD first. You’ll look back and say, Now I see. Same with your second novel.

So, for right now, teenage me, hold on. Find hope wherever you can, especially in others—they will keep you alive. And write. In every moment, good and bad, write. Let writing be your refuge and rescue. Give up the stupid show of pride. You’re going to need so much help; learn to ask for it. Find a place in your life for gray; throw your arms open wide to uncertainty. This will save you.

Love,

Jackie, now 35, free and writing

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