Healed Not Cured: OCD Remission & Relapses

I got an email this past weekend from a lovely blog reader who has found victory over obsessive-compulsive disorder through exposure therapy. It’s such a joy any time someone shares a story of freedom, and it does my heart so much good. It reminds me of the reason I preach the benefits of ERP therapy. It reminds me of when I first went into OCD remission back in 2008.

But I also find it important to mention that while the person with OCD has experienced healing, it does not mean that they are cured. In the vast majority of cases, OCD is never cured; it is treated and maintained. What does this mean?

First of all, it’s definitely something to celebrate. I revel in my remission, and in fact, after eight years of this freedom, sometimes I even find myself taking it for granted. It’s a victory to come out of exposure therapy with a new tolerance for uncertainty. It’s a joy and a relief and, for me, at least, a whole new life.

But it doesn’t mean that I don’t have OCD. 

not you again

There are days of intense stress where I buckle a bit and find myself having some obsessive thought patterns or even resorting to old compulsions. This disorder is mostly dormant in me … but it is still in me. And it can wake when I am stressed or fearful. Every once in a while, there is something that will trigger my OCD, and it’s like there’s a CLICK in the way my brain works, a little BLIP in the new system.

But, usually

  1. I recognize it for what it is. I am able to do this because of ERP.
  2. I do not beat myself up over it or assume “all is lost.” It’s merely a step back. I don’t have to start the race over.
  3. I refuse compulsions. (Notably, I allow myself to ask a group of people [usually my coworkers] ONE TIME for what they would deem the appropriate response, and then I DO IT, whatever they say. I know that when my OCD is triggered, I have a hard time understand what is or isn’t a valid response. So I give the decision to others.)
  4. If it’s particularly bad, I listen to my ERP audio track.
  5. I go to sleep, as early as I need to. It is–almost without fail–better in the morning.

I don’t mean this to be bad news–not at all; rather, it’s just something to take note of, something to have in the back of your mind for those stressful days, for those moments when your OCD wakes up and starts to whisper in your ear.

Here’s some anecdotal data about my remission and relapses:

  • In the first 1.5 years after completing ERP, I didn’t experience obsessions or practice compulsions at all.
  • In the years after that, I have had about 1-2 relapse incidents a year.
  • Each incident has lasted on average just a couple of hours. One lasted about two days.

This is nothing compared to my life before ERP. This is manageable. This is freedom. This is remission.

This is good news, people.

If you want to learn more about the exposure therapy that got me to this point, you might want to check out the following links:

jackieleasommers.com/OCD: a collection of my posts about all things OCD
jackieleasommers.com/OCD-help: a letter from me to OCD sufferers, along with a list of next steps
jackieleasommers.com/twin-cities-OCD: resources for OCD sufferers living in or around Minneapolis and St. Paul

Better than a Bandaid

“Healing” cancer with a Bandaid is the same as “healing” OCD with compulsions.  In short, you’re not healing ANYTHING.

In other words, all those things that obsessive-compulsives do to alleviate the tremendous anxiety they feel?  Not helpful.  Asking for reassurance, obsessive confessing, reciting prayers and phrases, repeating rituals that make you feel “okay” or “balanced,” washing your hands, etc.– they are just Bandaids plastered right over the cancer of OCD.

To effectively go for the “root” of OCD, you have to resist those compulsions.  Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy is recognized as THE best treatment for OCD.bandaid

Skip the talk therapy.
Skip the (many) reassurances.
Skip the rituals.
Skip the confessions.

Go for the jugular with ERP.

Related posts:
A Detailed Post about ERP
Preparing for ERP Therapy
ERP & Imaginal Exposures

Medication vs. Exposure Therapy

meds vs erpI have always been honest about my personal experience with OCD on this blog.  Faithful readers are well aware of my mama-bear protective instincts in regard to my medication.  I take Prozac, Effexor XR, and Risperdal each day and am utterly unapologetic about it.

That said, I completely understand that others have their own reasons (personal, medical, or otherwise) for avoiding medication, and that is perfectly fine by me (so long as no one tries to rob me of my meds, haha!).

People sometimes ask, Is it possible for me to treat my OCD and avoid medication all together?

While the answer varies from person to person, the best response I can give is that YES, it has been done with ERP (exposure and response prevention therapy) alone.  In fact, were I pushed to choose between my three daily doses of meds or my 12 weeks of ERP, it would be one of the easiest decisions of my life to choose ERP.

Every person is different.  I have an obsessive-compulsive friend who treats her OCD with only meds– she has never undergone ERP.  The son of one of my blogger friends uses only his tools gained from ERP– no meds.  Then there’s me, a girl who wants(/needs?) a full arsenal to treat her disorder.

So, what will it be for you?

The best treatment is ERP, hands down.  Start there.  See how you do.  If you can find an OCD specialist whom you trust, you may try to fold meds into the mix if you find that you need them.  It’s (unfortunately) a trial-and-error kind of thing.

Will you be okay without meds?  Maybe.  You’ll have to discover that for yourself.
Has it been done before?  Absolutely.

Hope that is helpful!