I am not:
1) A therapist.
2) A psychiatrist.
3) An OCD expert.
1) A woman who suffered from OCD for 20 years before undergoing 12 weeks of ERP therapy that gave me back my life.
2) An OCD awareness and ERP therapy advocate.
3) The communications director for OCD Twin Cities, an affiliate of the International OCD Foundation.
4) A contributor to the International OCD Foundation’s blog.
5) Jackie Lea Sommers, a young adult author who lives in Minneapolis and whose heart aches for the marginalized OCD community.
6) A follower of Jesus Christ, who offers the only true rescue. While I won’t push my beliefs on you, my Christian faith runs through every part of my life, my advocacy, my healing, so please don’t be offended if JC comes up in my conversations: he is the cornerstone of all I am, all I do.
Dear fellow OCD sufferer,
I want you to know that I understand what you’re going through. I really do.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder was my tormentor for 20 years. I know the shame and torment caused by intrusive thoughts, the enslavement to rituals and compulsions, the intense, crippling need for certainty. I remember all too well the wild evenings of obsession and devastating fear when the agony was full-throttle torture and relief seemed impossible. OCD is slavery, and I know what it’s like to be in bondage.
I have good news for you: OCD is treatable.
Today, I am free! I still have OCD, but I am in charge of it and not the other way around. I rarely have obsessions, and when I do, I am able to combat them without using compulsions. It is a completely different life. I have stepped from darkness into light, from terror into peace. In the past 6+ years since ERP, I have had only a handful of OCD incidents, and each of them has lasted only for a couple hours. When I compare this to the continual torture I experienced before, this is more than manageable.
And all this came about after just twelve weeks of intense cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a specific kind called exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP). It is recognized as the #1 treatment for OCD in the world. It is difficult– in ERP, you face your obsessions head-on and refuse to alleviate the anxiety by performing compulsions– but, believe me, ERP is not more difficult than living daily life with OCD. ERP is the correct answer to how to treat OCD. Medication can also help, and in rare cases, a miraculous healing occurs, but for the majority of cases, ERP is absolutely the way to treat OCD.
III. A Call to Action
I refuse to side with OCD, and that is why I won’t offer repeated reassurances to OCD sufferers. Even though it’s what you so desperately desire, it’s usually a compulsion– and I don’t want to be part of anything that prohibits your healing. Please believe me: I know what the throes of OCD is like, how desperate you are for any relief. It breaks my heart to refuse to offer immediate relief by aiding your compulsions– but I’m offering you something much better: long-term relief. Freedom. Joy.
Picture it: triggers that have lost their power; intrusive thoughts that, at worst, have no strength and, at best, cease to exist; a compulsion-free life. My therapist once told me to picture myself standing in a wild river: the waves are brutally slamming against your body, you’re beaten and bruised, you’re shaking from the effort of withstanding such torment. What would it feel like to quit fighting and let your body float along with the river? Relief.
If I told you such relief was available, would you want it? How hard would you work for it? Would you do anything for it? Would you be willing to face your greatest fears in order to achieve it?
When your answer is yes— or even maybe— you’ll be ready for treatment.
Treatment is hard– but not harder than life with OCD. It is challenging– but so rewarding.
If you’re ready to work, here are your next steps:
1. Go to www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD and there read all the posts that are related to you. At the minimum, read all the posts about CBT/ERP.
2. Decide whether you will do ERP therapy with a specialist or on your own.
If you want to meet with a specialist, first read IOCDF’s post about Finding a Therapist. Then, click on the “Find Help” tab at the top of the page and search the IOCDF database for a provider in your area. Interview the therapist using the questions from the first post. If the therapist does not mention exposures, walk away. Find someone who specializes in ERP therapy, if at all possible.
If you want to do ERP on your own, read this post about Self-Directed ERP Therapy.
3. Consider pairing your ERP therapy with medication. A good psychiatrist can help you with that.
4. If you’re still not sure you have OCD (many OCD sufferers struggle with these doubts) or if you want to pursue ERP therapy, then do more homework. Read one of the books I list here and spend time on the IOCDF website. Get a professional diagnosis, but keep in mind that many mental health practitioners are themselves very uneducated about OCD, so don’t settle for a misdiagnosis if it feels wrong. Do your research and meet with people who are OCD specialists.
5. Consider downloading the free app nOCD, which can help you create an organized ERP plan. This app can collect data to send to your therapist or can help you if you are doing ERP on your own.
V. One Step at a Time Toward Freedom
ERP therapy can be overwhelming. Surround yourself with a great support system (one that won’t indulge your compulsions!) and take it one exposure at a time. Don’t think about the exposures you may have to do a week from now; you might not be strong enough to do such exposures today, but in a week, you might be ready for them. Focus only on the immediate exposure.
You can do this. Don’t give up hope. Your freedom is worth it.