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.

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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.

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:

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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

Guest Post: My ERP Experience

With her permission, I am sharing a comment from ashley1234567890, one I found particularly insightful.

And here she is …

I went through ERP and had fantastic results. It was a huge blessing for me, and I thank God that he gave me the courage to try it.

I am no expert, but i did have a really bad case of OCD, which got a lot better after ERP, so here are my recomendations, that in hindsight, were key to my success.

NOTE: my ocd did not get worse with ERP (it got so much better) even though the treatment was very intense!

If you qualify for ERP therapy, and you are considering it, then do not let fear keep you from going. The only caveat is to make sure you find an expert who treats ERP because it is specialized therapy. For example, my therapist was willing to meet me outside of their office for exposures, because my ocd spiked at a particular place. I also recommend finding someone who has experience with whatever ocd you are facing. For example, my therapist had experience with germ ocd, harm ocd, religious ocd, sexual oreintation ocd, etc… so i knew they were highly qualified. they should also give you exercises so you can do your own exposures.

As for ERP, It seems counterintuitive at first, since the patient will go through exercises and narrations that are asking them to run towards their fears (instead of running away from them), which in turn causes anxiety to spike, and while super anxious the patient will be asked to temporaily stay in that state while resisting compulsions that are normally used to reduce the anxiety. If you face the obsession and not give in to the compulsion, then the cycle breaks, which in turn makes you less anxious. That is where “exposure and response prevention” comes from.

My treatment was gradual at first (small fears first then you move onto bigger ones) also, my initial exposures were designed so that anxiety was moderate so I could handle it, and then over additional sessions, they were changed to more intense ones.

For me, it took me about 12 sessions to complete treatment. I noticed some big gains after the first couple of sessions so i knew it was helping. After treatment i am a new person. I still have the ocd, triggers, and the spikes, but it does not cause much distress anymore. Before ERP my distress level was a 10 and it was constant. My life sucked.

So heres an example of what what ERP might look like. let’s say you have germ OCD. You may be asked to touch a door knob and not wash your hands afterwards for 5 minutes. As the sessions go on, and you grow stronger, you may be asked to do the same excercise, then refrain from washing for 15 minutes. Eventually, beloeve it or not, you will be able to do the excercise then not wash at all! Or, one exposure may be a narrative, where you write a short story, and in this story you get a little dirty, or exposed to germs, etc… over the treatments, the story may get more and more disgusting and intense, so you will be in a situation that gets really dirty, and theres no place to wash up etc…

As the sessions and exposures go on, the anxiety for each trigger gets weaker, which in turn makes the spikes less intense. Consequently for me, the ocd got better over time.

Again, the key is to find a qualified expert who has a lot of experience in OCD and ERP, because you will be asked to do things that will make you feel temporarily uncomfortable and the therapist will need to work with you at the right pace so that you are not overwhelmed. They should be willing to leave their office to do an exposure where you need it. So for example, if you are afraid of heights they should be up for going with you to a balcony etc… to face that fear.

Like some of the previous comments, I was anxious before starting too, and I was scared that it would make my condition worse. But i was wrong! that’s just the ocd trying to keep you in the bad place.

In fact thats how i first came across this blog. Jackie had wrote some content on ERP and it gave me the confidence to try it. Thank you jackie you are such a blessing from the Lord! Hopefully this post will do the same for someone else!

Question & Dancer: OCD & Family, Romanticizing Mental Illness, and What to Expect in OCD Remission

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.

How do you explain OCD to your family? Especially when you’re not sure whether or not your family has mental illness?

First I’ll say that I think that it’s up to each individual to determine whether or not they’d like to share– and how much. With OCD, many of our obsessions are taboo, which– quite honestly– makes the idea of sharing seem terrifying. I hear from a lot of younger sufferers too, who are under their parents’ roof and parents’ health insurance, which complicates treatment.

I heard from so many teens with HOCD that I wrote this post in 2015 so that they could share it with their parents and not have to say a word themselves. I’d be happy to write a general OCD one, if you guys think that would help.

As for me? I gave my mother a copy of Kissing Doorknobs by Terry Spencer Hesser– a copy in which I had underlined all the quotes that resonated with me. At that time, it was the best I could do to explain what I was experiencing. These days, I’m more articulate– but I have lived for longer with my diagnosis, been through treatment, and come out shame-free. I know many aren’t there yet.

Is HOCD a physical illness as well as mental?

Briefly, yes.

Hi, does OCD make you want to confess something even when it’s not true?

I have Pure-O, and confession was one of my biggest compulsions. I would confess to bad thoughts, things I thought might be sinful, anything that my OCD took and throttled me with. And yes, sometimes those were things that I didn’t even need to apologize for. But the anxiety would grow so intense that the only “release” was to confess. I got a lot of weird looks in those days.

Here is the thing: if you (like most people with OCD) can understand when you’re thinking or doing something off (you know it is not quite logical, even if you have created a weird sort of logic for it; or if you know it is something that the general public would not care about or confess), then don’t. This is fighting back against your OCD with the tools of exposure therapy. It will, for a time, feel like the anxiety will go so high that things will never be okay again, but that is the lie of OCD. The anxiety will diminish, and you will be okay. Stay in the cold pool long enough to adjust, and eventually the water will not feel cold anymore. But this can only happen by staying in the pool.

I read your post about OCD and creativity. Could those two ideas be linked to intelligence?

Great question. You’re likely referring either to this post or to this one.

Research has shown that high IQ is correlated with anxiety. Anecdotally, many people with OCD are also very creative (did you know popular YA authors John Green and Maggie Stiefvater both have OCD, along with unpopular YA author Jackie Lea Sommers? ;-))

HOWEVER, OCD is not something to be embraced. I know that in the past, I thought if I didn’t have OCD, I wouldn’t be as funny or quirky or creative. John Green, in a talk I once heard, shared that he also had that false understanding for a time– that his OCD was what fueled his creativity. He’s written about that here. Please read it; it’s very good.

The point is that– whether or not there is a link between OCD (bad, awful thing) and creativity and/or intelligence (good, excellent things)– we need to be careful not to romanticize mental illness or to give props to it. If you are smart or intelligent, kudos go to you, not to the disorder.

I treated my OCD in 2008, and now I am more creative, more me, more productive, more intelligent. So it wasn’t OCD that made me what I am at all. In fact, OCD was holding me back. Don’t romanticize mental illness. Treat it.

Hi…this is a weird question, but I’m worried ERP won’t work on one of my particular obsessions. I made some account on a website and now feel the compulsive urge to delete it because maybe I don’t like the username and it’s “contaminated.” But at the same time, I don’t want to delete it because I’ve invested some time into building it up (it’s a writing website, more articles you write higher rating you get)…but I’m worried if I don’t delete it, this anxious feeling will never go away!

That is a lie: the anxious feeling will go away … and possibly sooner than you’d think. ERP works great for situations such as these. You can do this.

With OCD, can it be possible that you don’t know the difference between what thoughts are even yours anymore or the OCD’s?

That is possible– and sometimes happens to me when I’m in sort of a manic state.

Most often, I can tell the difference. I know that one thing feels a bit ridiculous. And this is a hallmark of OCD (except in very young children): that people with OCD usually have some understanding that what they are obsessing about is not something that most people would worry over.

My ERP therapist taught me to look at these things through the lens of the “community standard.” That is, how would most people react in this situation? Because if my reaction is way off from that, then for ERP, I need to go with the community standard instead, even if it’s scary or hard.

When I am in the throes of an obsession, I sometimes can’t tell what the community standard is. I have literally sat down my friends or coworkers, explained the situation, asked for the standard response, and then BELIEVED IT and DONE IT, no matter how difficult. Because this too is part of exposure therapy, the very best treatment for OCD. (If you’re not familiar, you can read up on ERP at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.)

I have thoughts about death and how we will all disappear after this…and if life is meaningless or not I’m diagnosed with OCD and i had HOCD , harm ocd , etc… Is that a new theme or is that something new ?

This sounds like an existential theme of your diagnosed OCD. This was a huge part of my own experience, and what my first novel is about! See http://www.jackieleasommers.com/truest.

With your OCD, do you ever feel that you’re wearing a mask everyday?

Not anymore– but before, YES YES YES.

I used to talk about this with high school students in the midwest, and I would read this poem aloud.

I’ve been struggling with ‘Pure-O OCD’ for a while and because my compulsions are almost exclusively mental, I’m afraid I’ve been automatically engaging the negative sensations associated with the thoughts I get. Although I know the thoughts are very irrational, I can’t seem to be mindful enough to sit with the negative emotions and not have them affect my mood. Little by little, over the years the thoughts are triggered by almost any activity I’m involved in and I feel like I’m running around in a circle and not making much progress. Activities and events that are supposed to be enjoyable are viewed by my brain as hurdles and obstacles to overcome. As far as CBT goes, I tried following the 4-step method by Dr. Schwarz which help a little to put me in the right mind set but I haven’t had much sustainable success. Being a Christian, I feel like I’m wasting time giving in to the negative pull the thoughts I get have on my behavior, which in turn, rob me of valuable time spent acting as a true follower of Christ. Based on your experience with Pure O, what would you say is the best CBT method to effectively manage it? Is it ERP or mindfulness, or a combination of both? Thank you

While I know a lot of OCD sufferers who practice mindfulness, the #1 treatment recommended by all OCD experts is ERP (exposure and response prevention) therapy. Your story sounds so, so, so, so similar to my own. I went around in circles for 20 years before doing ERP. After just 12 weeks of ERP, I have had tremendous freedom, peace, joy, and spiritual growth for the last 9 years. You can do this!

I hope you’ll take the time to read my post about Post-ERP Spiritual Growth. It really summarizes all the healthy changes that came about in my life and faith after treatment. Blessings!

I feel like I might have OCD..maybe ROCD for a while, but that cleared up so I’m unsure about that. I’m 13 years old (a girl) and I think I have been dealing with hocd since the end of 6th grade (11 years old). I have been with my boyfriend for 7, almost 8 months. This hocd is getting better…I think. I always feel like there is another person in my mind telling me that I’m gay. I sometimes don’t feel as disgusted as I usually do when that happens, and that scares me even more. I wish I could tell my boyfriend, but I feel like he would think I actually am gay. Also, Recently i have the tendency to look at girls’ butts and boobs! Is this normal? Is it not hocd? It bugs me so much, and I feel so disgusted and guilty. I’ve never wanted to kiss, date, or do anything sexual with a girl. Whenever I see a girl, I think “she’s pretty.” And then I start questioning myself. And I think “is she attractive? Do u want to do stuff with her?” And soon it calms down. But it comes back as quickly as it goes. It’s so scary. I want it to go away for good. I told my dad two years ago when it wasn’t as bad. So he doesn’t know the full story. My mom knows and I told her recently. She doesn’t understand how horrible it is. I don’t want to tel her everything I question and feel because I don’t want her thinking that I am gay. Even though she would be fine with it. But I’m not. I want that therapy. I’m on medication for anxiety, but it’s not helping too much. This hocd causes me anxiety and depression. I went through a really bad period of this about a month ago, for two weeks. I wanted to die, and I’d use my nails to scratch myself. I don’t know what to do. I wish I could tell my parents, friends and boyfriend, but I don’t know what they would think. Please help me. I want an OCD free life.

Oh sweetheart, please read my answer to the first question above. I think it will help you. Consider sharing this post with your parents. ERP works; it truly does. You are thirteen and have so many exciting things ahead of you– your whole life! The earlier you treat OCD, the sooner you can get to enjoying things again. If you really feel like you can’t tell your parents about your OCD, and if you’re driven, you can treat it yourself at home, using one of the books listed in this post. Don’t give up, honey. Gosh, I can remember being in the same hell that you’ve been living in when I was your age. It feels so horrible and hopeless and exhausting. But you won’t be there forever. ERP will help. Hang in there.

Want to know more about consequences of years of compulsive behavior and thinking haunting life…even after ocd is gone

This is a really good question, one I’ve not been asked much before.

First things first, OCD is very rarely ever gone. Except in the case of a miracle, OCD is a chronic disorder that a sufferer has until death. That said, ERP therapy can subdue it to the point where it feels gone, which is just about as good as the real thing, right?

I’ve written a pretty detailed post about remission and relapses here. While I think it will answer an aspect of your question, the spirit of your question seems to be: what lingers?

For me, not much. (Thank God!) OCD has little to do with my daily life anymore. That said, there are seasons (and in fact, I’m in one right now) when it is like opening a rarely used door in my life only to find that OCD has actually been chilling out there for years, just waiting for you to reenter that old room. (For me, it’s dating. I haven’t dated in a while, and so I haven’t had to deal with the whole ROCD thing. It’s okay. I’m battling it, and I have all the confidence in the world that I can subdue it because I’ve done it successfully now for nine years.) For me, the 12 weeks of ERP therapy I underwent had a far longer-lasting influence on my thought patterns than the 20 years of obsessions and compulsions that came before. It is that powerful. Learn more about ERP 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.)

 

Question & Dancer: Compulsions, Doubt, & HOCD

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.

Donnann asked: How do i deal with intrusive thoughts in the form of questions which sometimes i feel like i need to answer? They give me anxiety not finding an answer either by googling or asking reassurance.

Hi friend, asking reassurance (of friends, strangers, Google, the internet, etc.) is, in this case, a compulsion. Compulsions will never be the solution for an OCD sufferer. In the moment, it might feel good, but it is not a lasting solution. I’ve shared a metaphor before about OCD as an arsonist, setting fires in various corners of our brains. Compulsions are short-sighted in that they try to put out individual fires. It is impossible to keep up this way because while you are putting out one fire, OCD the Arsonist is setting another three. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy, on the other hand, goes after the arsonist itself. Compulsions are band-aids; ERP is surgery.

Aurora asked: Is it common for HOCD sufferers to begin questioning whether they really have OCD?

Incredibly common, and not just with HOCD. I think that just about every person who has OCD of any stripe has, at one point or another (or a thousand points), wondered if he or she really does have OCD. Remember, OCD is called the “doubting disease.” It lives up to its name in the fullest sense, even down to a diagnosis. I know that, even when I was diagnosed with OCD and then read a book about it in which I saw myself over and over in the examples, I still faced that question. Everyone I know who has OCD has had this same concern. You are not alone!

Susan asked: What do you do when in church and the bad thoughts come?Also how do you stop ruminating?

This is not going to be a popular answer, but here it is: you let the bad thoughts come. You let them just be thoughts and don’t assign any special value to them. You let them exist and you do not fight them. OCD feeds off resistance. When we quit resisting, it gets bored with us. You learn how to do this in a healthy way via Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. Just twelve weeks of ERP set me free after 20 years in bondage to OCD. After I learned to stop resisting and to not give bad thoughts too much value, they quit coming as often. In the first 18 months after doing ERP, I had no obsessions or compulsions. In the years since, I do very little ruminating (maybe one or two obsessive relapses each year, no more than a couple hours each). Compared to my nearly constant ruminating for two decades, this is peace and freedom.

Briana asked: Am I ever going to find someone?

Briana, you and me both, girl. I’m window shopping on eHarmony. How about you?

Halima asked: What have I done to deserve this?

Nothing, dear one. Illness sometimes just is what it is. That said, as one of deep Christian faith, I do have lots of thoughts on this. But I don’t believe it is a punishment at all.

Halima asked: How do you manage your OCD in different times of the day when the feelings of doubt and uncertainty are the most crippling?

It has been nearly nine years since I underwent the ERP therapy that changed my life. I very rarely experience that high-intensity, crippling doubt anymore, even though I was well acquainted with it for two decades. When I do have these attacks, I go back to my ERP toolbox: I accept the thoughts, I do not assign special value to them, I refuse to succumb to compulsions, I assess what the community standard is (or ask friends if I cannot tell this myself), and then I go forward with that standard. I make this sound so easy, and I know (believe me, I know!) that this is not easy, not at the beginning. In exposure therapy, you are trained how to do this, and your brain is actually re-wired so that you are able to do this. The brain actually physically changes. That might sound scary, but for me, it has allowed me to be the very best version of myself in all ways: I am more curious, more thoughtful, more productive, more creative. ERP did not erase my questions. It gave me the tools and strength to approach them in a productive way. Before I would just chase questions around and around and around, like a dog chasing its tail.

I also think naps are awesome. 🙂

Anonymous asked: What if you do see a major loss of attraction to the gender you’ve always been attracted to but don’t see a spike in false attractions to the same sex?

This sounds like so many HOCD stories I have heard over the years. The answer is still the same: exposure therapy. I invite you to read more about this from Hannah and Mae, a couple of former HOCD sufferers who each went through ERP:

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

Anonymous asked: Hocd or never was? – I was diagnosed OCD about 7 years ago. Had many OCD behaviours, fear of aids, terrified I’d commit a crime and would be arrested, checking I haven’t hit someone with my car, checking food, washing my hands and lips because I felt dirty or was too close to something I deemed dirty. My biggest one is hocd. I was treated for it and had good success, thoughts were still there but I coped. But since starting uni and wanting a career as a beauty therapist it’s come back big time. I have a recurring obsession about a past friend who I still sometimes see that I’m attracted to her. It will kind of rotate friends and aquaintanxes until they’re spent and then come back to her as a ‘failsafe’ as my mum calls it. But recently, I foolishly looked for reassurance on a message board, and found a post that said after therapy for hocd you might find out your gay and apparently that’s ok. Now I’m terrified to do my ERP/CBT homework. I’m also thinking it keeps resurfacing because I’m actually attracted to women and must accept it. I sometimes don’t feel disgusted anymore and not anxious and that makes me even worse. I’m just so scared that I will turn out gay, have to leave my boyfriend give up on my future family with him. I’m so scared sometimes I feel not scared anymore. I’m so lacking sleep right now. I’ve referred myself to a therapist again, but I’m terrified he or she will reveal I’m gay. I’m so afraid, please help? I read your interview with a former hocd sufferer and pray that can be me soon.

This is a very common fear for people going through ERP/CBT– that it will actually “reveal” something about them, whether that is related to their sexual identity, their “life of crime,” their “evil nature,” etc. It’s important to remember that OCD goes after the things that are most important to us, the things we deeply value. That is what makes it so hard to do ERP. If OCD went after things we didn’t care about, it wouldn’t cause that anxiety and all the questions. Stop assigning special value to these thoughts (“it must keep resurfacing because it’s actually true”); it keeps resurfacing because you have OCD and your sexual orientation is of utmost importance to you, that’s all. I’ve talked to MANY HOCD sufferers, and I’ve never heard one of them say they wish they hadn’t done exposure therapy. I am doing my best not to offer reassurances in this response (I don’t cater to compulsions!), but it’s hard! I will just say that I don’t think you can go wrong with ERP.

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.)

 

 

 

Why Meds?

A blog reader emailed me and asked, “If you are okay with sharing this, could you tell me why you chose to stay on your medication after ERP?”

My response:

For me, meds are a chemical tool to slow my serotonin reabsorption. ERP is a physical tool in that it rewires the brain and a mental tool in that it gives me a new mindset toward uncertainty. I’m grateful for ALL my tools. 🙂

 Also in my toolbox: prayer, deep friendships in which I can be vulnerable, essential oils when needed, Ativan when needed, talk therapy for non-OCD anxiety, and self-care (i.e. naps and ice cream).


 What I’m trying to say is that God has given me an extensive amount of assistance. Some tools only come with privilege or money (having insurance and a paycheck to pay for meds and therapy … and ice cream, ha!); some from transparency (I have the greatest friends); all are sheer grace.


I’m at a stage of my life and faith where my hands are open to all the grace I can get.

Thoughts on ERP, Writing, & Uncertainty

Uncertainty.

For so many years, it was my enemy– or so I perceived it, especially because full-blown clinical obsessive-compulsive disorder made me fear and reject uncertainty even more than the average bear. Everything in my life was about pursuing certainty, answers, black & white.

And, of course, I was miserable.

In 2008, I went through the harrowing but ultimately beautiful process of exposure therapy, which took my OCD out at the knees, giving me the bandwidth to live with uncertainty, questions, and all the shades of gray.

It’s only recently that I’ve recognized exposure therapy as the training ground (or maybe even battle ground) that would let me later pursue my dreams of being an author.

A hard truth: writing is full of uncertainty. 

uncertainty2

Not just writing– but publishing itself too. There is this crazy-making stretch of life in the middle of writing a book that feels both unclear and perpetual. What is this book really about? Who are these characters? Can I do this? Can I finish this? Is this story going to matter to anyone but me? Is this going to even matter to me? Will my writing group like it? Will my agent? My editor? Readers? Will I find success? Will I get another contract?

The writing life is, for many of us (and especially for younger writers), a world in grayscale: a constant state of uncertainty that we have to persist in in order to find any relief or success.

For as many days as I think I’m totally failing at life and writing, I have to remember what it would have been like to be writing and publishing before exposure therapy, back when uncertainty was unbearable. I’m not even sure how it would have been possible to be doing what I’m doing now without exposure therapy laying the groundwork for me to bear the not-knowing, let alone to thrive in it.

“The world doesn’t work that way.” I hear myself and other OCD awareness advocates saying this to sufferers all the time. In context, we mean, “Life inherently is full of uncertainty. You cannot eliminate it.”

The truth of that hits me over and over again in the field of writing.

Exposure therapy was the terrible, grueling practice for the writing life. Uncertainty is rampant; I try to keep my arms open.

 

Worth Saying Again & Again

Exposure therapy is the best avenue we know of for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Close up of hand drawing gears mechanism with chalk

ERP (exposure and response prevention) is what every OCD expert will suggest as the frontline treatment for sufferers.

It works.

It’s hard and scary, but it works.

Catering to compulsions is a band-aid on cancer. It treats symptoms. It cuts leaves off a weed.

ERP is chemotherapy. It goes after OCD itself. It digs out the root.

On this blog, you’ll only hear OCD treatment recommendations for:
1. ERP
2. ERP plus praying for a miracle
3. ERP plus meds
4. ERP plus meds plus praying for a miracle.

You can learn all about ERP therapy at jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

A Reunion with My ERP Therapist

For OCD Awareness Week, OCD Twin Cities had an event– a panel of OCD experts plus one special guest: yours truly. Interestingly, one of the experts on the panel was my own ERP therapist and personal hero, Dr. Chris Donahue. I have not seen him since the last day I graced his office with my presence on the day I finished ERP therapy back in 2008, though we have communicated via email, and I have sent many, many people his way for help.

I only joined the panel for the last fifteen minutes or so. For the majority of it, I was in the audience. There was this weird dichotomy going on for me: on the one hand, I was listening to this man who saved my life, who changed everything for me, who pulled me out of darkness and into light, out of slavery and into freedom; on the other hand, his voice is the voice of my exposures (I did imaginal therapy, listening to an audio recording … and it was in his voice), which were some of the most difficult things I’ve ever, ever had to do in my life. So there was this push-pull thing going on while he spoke.

Then, later, I joined him. I was able to sit next to my hero and publicly tell an audience, “This is what this man did for me. This is what life was like before, and this is what life is like now, and they are unrecognizable.” I turned to him and said, “Thank you.” He said, “You’re welcome.” It was a simple exchange … but so layered. So many things going on in my head and heart.

In any case, I am grateful. With every year that goes by of freedom, I more and more shed my identity as someone in bondage. ERP therapy saves lives. For some of us, it changes everything. It did for me.

For lots more information about OCD and ERP, go to jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

dr donahue 2