No Shortcuts

When Jeff Bell, spokesperson for the International OCD Foundation, spoke for our OCD Twin Cities event, one of the things he said that really stood out to me was that there are no shortcuts in treating OCD.

Woman and maze

That’s true, or at least it was in my case. I wanted easy answers: for deep theological conversations to solve my problems, or for comfort and reassurance from friends to be enough, for an hour-long conversation with a therapist each week to take away the anxiety, for an easy prescription to fix everything.

I definitely did not want the hard answer: exposure and response prevention therapy.

My psychiatrist didn’t mince words in his description: “It will be hell.”

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life, but one of the most necessary and most rewarding. For me, there was no shortcut to healing, and since I was already living in OCD hell, the best way out was to keep going.

So, believe me, friends: I get it. ERP therapy is hard, so hard. You might think you won’t survive it. You might think your loved ones won’t survive your going through it. You might think it’s sinful or disgusting, and your exposures are probably going to be loathsome and repellent to you.

If you need to, go ahead and look for shortcuts. I know I had to.

But in the end, there were none for me, and I’d only wasted time looking for them.

While experiencing it, ERP was hell. But on the other side? It was my rescue.


OCD Scrupulosity: Is ERP Sinful?

is ERP sinfulSometimes people with religious scrupulosity fear that ERP therapy itself is sinful. It’s true that ERP therapy will definitely ask you to do things outside of your comfort zone, things that will probably make you sick. (This is how ERP works, and it is crafted specifically around your own deepest anxieties.)

But once embarked on this ERP journey, I think it’s unwise and counterproductive to try to convince yourself (or convince others … or let others convince you …) that your therapy is not sinful. (After all, the whole point of this therapy is to embrace the uncertainty!)

If you are a Christian and concerned about ERP therapy, I suggest you say a prayer like this then dive in headfirst:

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.

There were definitely times when I (and others– wow, that was hard!) wondered if I was doing something wrong with my ERP exposures, but in my heart of hearts, I knew that this was my last and best chance at freedom and health and hope. I held onto that and pressed through, and I will tell you this: every. single. thing. in my life is better post-ERP, in particular, my spiritual life is now thriving and healthy. I am growing in my faith. I have the joy of salvation. I trust Christ more.
And I believe that ERP was God’s tool to bring me into this way of life.
To learn more about OCD, ERP therapy, religious scrupulosity, go to
Image credit: Fernando Rodriguez


comorbidDo you know the term?

Co-morbidity is the presence of one or more other disorders co-occuring along with the primary one. For those of us with OCD, our OCD is often co-morbid with depression. The depression seems to usually be a result of the OCD (as opposed to the other way around).

On their website, the Stanford School of Medicine writes:

Patients with OCD are at high risk of having comorbid (co-existing) major depression and other anxiety disorders. In a series of 100 OCD patients who were evaluated by means of a structured psychiatric interview, the most common concurrent disorders were: major depression (31%), social phobia (11%), eating disorder (8%), simple phobia (7%), panic disorder (6%), and Tourette’s syndrome (5%).

They also say:

In Koran et al.’s 1998 Kaiser Health Plan study, 26% of patients had no comorbid psychiatric condition diagnosed during the one year study period — 37% had one and 38% had two or more comorbid conditions. These proportions did not differ substantially between men and women. The most commonly diagnosed comorbid conditions were major depression, which affected more than one-half, other anxiety disorders, affecting one-quarter, and personality disorders, diagnosed in a little more than 10%.

OCD is enough of a beast on its own, but the truth of the matter is that many who struggle with OCD are fighting other demons too.

In my experience, OCD and depression teamed up against me, though, as I wrote before, the depression was secondary to the OCD (in that it was caused by the OCD). Some days I would be full of intense, manic fear caused by OCD, and other days all my sharp edges would be dulled by depression and a feeling that nothing in the world sounded exciting or worthwhile.

I’m so grateful that when ERP helped me steal power away from OCD, the upshot was that depression was defeated too.

For (lots!) more about OCD and ERP, go to


Image credit: Gerald Gabernig


Not a Therapist, Just a Resource

unsplash5It’s true: I know a fair amount about OCD. I experienced it for 20 years, I successfully went through ERP therapy, I wrote an (unpublished) novel about a character who struggled from it, I am part of the leadership team for OCD Twin Cities, and I blog about it regularly.

But I’m not a therapist.

I’m only a resource. I can tell others what I know, what I’ve experienced, what to look for in an ERP therapist, what books might be helpful, etc.  But I cannot walk them, hand-in-hand, through exposure therapy. I have to remind others AND MYSELF of this. Often.

To those of you who blog about OCD and ERP, do you have this same problem?  How do you handle it?

For (lots!) more about OCD and ERP, go to

Image credit: Unsplash

Sweet Freedom

freedom in redAlison Dotson, president of OCD Twin Cities, and I were emailing recently about how sometimes we feel as if we say the same thing post after post, article after article, especially since they usually involve our own stories with OCD, and history doesn’t change.

But I reminded her that even if we’ve heard our stories over and over, someone else might be hearing it for the first time. Not to mention that sometimes those of us with OCD need to hear the truth multiple times before it is finally able to sink into our heads and hearts.

So here it is again:

I was in bondage to obsessive-compulsive disorder for twenty hellish years. I was plagued by ugly, intrusive thoughts that caused me intense anxiety and even terror. Many days I felt completely out of control of my own thoughts, and I hated the ugliness that polluted my mind. I was sad, lonely, depressed, lost, engaged in an ongoing war where the battlefield was my own brain.

And then an amazing psychiatrist named Dr. Suck Won Kim gave me not only a prescription but also the phone number to a cognitive-behavioral therapist in the area, along with the warning that ERP therapy “will be hell” and the encouragement that I had to do it anyway.

And I did. For twelve grueling weeks, I practiced the exposure therapy assignments set out by Dr. Christopher Donahue, and after twelve weeks of hell … I was free. Free for the first time since I was seven years old. I could barely even remember what freedom felt like, what it felt like to be master of my own thoughts, to rule over my OCD instead of having it rule me, and so it was actually a little scary at first.

But let me tell you: you get used to freedom, joy, and light pretty darn fast.

The last five years have been magnificent.

Please, please ask me questions if you have them.

For (lots!) more about OCD and ERP, go to

Image credit: Jesus Solana

THINGS WILL NEVER BE OKAY AGAIN [& other lies I sometimes still believe]

It’s been about five years now since I underwent the Exposure and Response Prevention therapy that changed my whole life, and those five years have been amazing: I have so much freedom, so much joy.

But 20 years in slavery to OCD does leave behind some residue, and I’m only now beginning to recognize those areas of my life where that’s true.

One thing that I’m sure most OCD sufferers will understand is the obsessive thought that things will never be okay again, which sometimes has a tail of until I do X on it, so often resulting in a compulsion. It’s actually kind of hard to explain this feeling to someone who doesn’t have OCD because it’s difficult to express how in that moment, you can sometimes see no way out. The fear is crippling, the anxiety so intense that we shatter beneath it and either cave in to a compulsion to temporarily alleviate the ugliness of that moment or else fall into a stupor of depression.

Things will always be like this.
I will never feel comfortable again.
I’m going to always think of X now when Y happens.

It’s such a black and white way to look at things– and so terribly short-sighted! If we can learn to push through the discomfort without performing a compulsion, we are legitimately shocked on the other side when that “truth” we so adamantly believed 24 hours ago is no longer true.

Even though OCD is no longer my master, there is fallout from years stacked upon years of thinking this way. 

Just the other week when I was writing in Duluth, I saw myself play through this entire scenario. I got frustrated with a scene I was trying to re-write, and I decided, I absolutely cannot do this; I will never be able to do this right. Then I succumbed to compulsive behavior (all without realizing it!) by emailing my editor and asking for more details. The next morning, I had an email from her: “Let’s talk this morning. We can find a solution. You should be comfortable and happy with what you write.”

And so we sent back and forth a few emails, and things were better.  You know, those same things that would never be better. Yeah, those ones.

All this panic that I have been experiencing is because I feel like control is being taken away from me. What does a person with OCD hate the most? Uncertainty.

So, while in some ways this anxiety that I’ve been experiencing is quite different from my OCD (in fact, I would go so far as to say that it is not OCD; it does feel different), I guess I’d have to classify it as a repercussion or consequence of years of obsessive-compulsive thinking and behavior.

Now that I have recognized that, I am hopeful that I will be more mindful of that thinking. I want to be able to say to myself that my reaction is programmed behavior from years of reacting thus, and that– just like so many things connected to OCD– it too is a lie.

For (lots!) more about OCD and ERP, go to

not ok but it's ok

Image credit: unknown

A War in the Mind

war in my mindI remember the Sunday mornings in church when my mind was a war zone.

An intrusive thought would show itself, and with my Pure-O compulsions, I’d mentally bat it down (usually with repetitive prayer).  I was a ninja with my compulsion moves, but OCD was just as fast and furious.  Back and forth, back and forth, like a relentless game of Whac-a-Mole.

And no one knew.

All these happy people around me, worshiping God, taking in the sermon, happy and safe in their suburban church sanctuary– and, for me, it was a battle field.

Pure-O: so invisible, so dark, so exhausting.

I praise God that those days are a part of my past.  If you want to learn how I survived (and WON) this war, click here.  Your mind doesn’t have to be a scary place.

For (lots!) more about OCD and ERP, go to

Image credit: unknown.

Choosing Treatment: a Parable

bandaidOnce there was a man named Mr. Jones.  Mr. Jones found out he had a brain tumor.

Experts told him, “Mr. Jones, you need to have surgery, followed by chemotherapy.”

But Mr. Jones said, “No thank you.  Surgery is hard.  Chemo is hard.  I’d prefer to just meet with someone to discuss my cancer once a week.  Also, I’ll apply a fresh bandaid to my forehead every few days, for good measure.”

“That won’t help, Mr. Jones,” the experts told him.  “You really do need a very specific treatment for your condition.”

But Mr. Jones was insistent: he preferred the easier “treatment.”

So he met with a therapist to discuss his cancer, and he applied and reapplied bandaids whenever he was feeling worried.

It didn’t work.

And the moral of the story is this: ERP is the best way to treat OCD.


For (lots!) more about OCD and ERP, go to

Image credit: F2 Images

The Invisible Fight

There’s a scene in C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, and Caspian land on an island inhabited by invisible people who seem to be enemies.  The group talked over their best options for escape and realized they would likely need to fight:

“Surely,” said Lucy, “if Rhince and the others on the Dawn Treader see us fighting on the shore they’ll be able to do something.”

“But they won’t see us fighting if they can’t see any enemy,” said Eustace miserably. “They’ll think we’re just swinging our swords in the air for fun.”

Couldn't find the owner of this awesome pic, but I love how many stories it tells.

Couldn’t find the owner of this awesome pic, but I love how many stories it tells.

It makes me think of OCD. Not only of OCD but other mental illnesses too.

People often cannot see the evidence of a mental illness, and so they think we’re just “swinging our swords in the air for fun.”  It’s difficult– because the enemy is so very, very real, and the stakes are high (sometimes it’s literally life-or-death), but since mental illness is invisible, the fight doesn’t always warrant the respect it’s due.

For some of us, we look perfectly “normal.” We go to work, we smile often, laugh at our friends or co-workers.  And for some of us, the battle against intrusive thoughts is almost entirely internal (especially for those of us with Pure-O, whose compulsions are usually also invisible).

I am not at all trying to pit visible illnesses against invisible ones; every individual struggle matters.  My point is just to say this: you don’t know what the person next to you is fighting. Be kind to all people.


For (lots!) more about OCD and ERP, go to