5 Months of OCD Questions

Back in November, I noted that 99% of the questions I’m asked are related to HOCD. So I tried to write ONE GIANT REPLY (which you can read here), but it didn’t stop the questions from pouring in.

Frankly, I was exhausted and overwhelmed by HOCD questions, especially when I felt like I’d shared everything I could on the subject. But of course, everyone wants a personalized answer. I understand that, but I’m also not an HOCD expert or any kind of therapist.

So I let the questions sit for a while. Especially when I have a link to the above article right in the form where people can ask their questions.

But today, home sick on the couch, I wanted to tackle some more. A lot more. ūüôā

Here we go.

I’m doing self-directed ERP now but I don’t know when should I stop doing exposure works. Do you have any clue?

I do. When you begin, you should rate your anxiety level 0-100. Continue to rate your anxiety level before, during, and after each exposure. Keep doing the exposure until your anxiety level drops to 50% of your original level.

Since my onset of OCD, I’ve become plagued with these fears and dark thoughts…especially the feeling that i am an a ‘bad’ person. Who will hurt others or myself. i feel unworthy and yearn to be the person i was before this illness- light and ‘good’ and kind. I fear greatly that I am an awful and terrible person. Is this normal and what can be done to help?

It is normal for OCD. ūüôā This sounds a lot like a combination of harm OCD plus hyper-responsibility plus depression, if I had to guess! ERP therapy will help. Check out http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

I don’t know anymore if it’s compulsive or not.. I used to watch different kinds of porn like gay or cuck*old to figure out what I may like.. I watched it but didn’t think about it a lot afterwards but felt disgusted.. like hijacked..maybe I’m looking for an excuse.. Just tried to sleep when images of a porn came and scared me.. like that must be the final proof that its not HOCD.

Proof that it’s¬†not HOCD? To me, being scared or feeling wrong about it is proof that it¬†is HOCD. ERP will help!

Please read https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/11/01/hocd-4-steps-to-freedom.

I live in a country where there is probably no erp therapy available (I’d be very surprised if there was), and these apps you listed are for iOS, i have an Android :(. Do you have any other tips/resources for self therapy? Thanks ‚̧ much love. I appreciate what you are doing :))

(My kind of ocd is religious one if that matters, I’m a christian)¬†

Hello dear one, yes, if you have Facebook, try the Pax the OCD Bot (just search it in your Facebook searchbar). This article might also help: https://jackieleasommers.com/2014/10/05/self-directed-erp-therapy.

You don’t have any intrusive thoughts then? Or you do, and just don’t care?

I don’t have them nearly so often! When I do, I am usually able to pass them off now because ERP has re-wired my mind not to give them more worth than they deserve. On the occasion (usually once or twice a year) that the intrusive thoughts do get to me, I use my ERP tools and exposures and usually can get past it within a matter of hours and a good nap.

What is erp, to be honest? They expose you to your fears until you don’t care/find they annoying? Sorry for my ignorance

ERP is exposure and response prevention therapy. Here are some links where you can learn more:

About CBT/ERP
Gaining Certainty through Embracing Uncertainty
Resisting treatment?

What life was like before & after CBT
Obsessing vs. Brainstorming: before & after
A Detailed Post about ERP
ERP is the RIGHT Answer
Better than a Band-Aid
Embracing Uncertainty
What CBT was like for me
Will treatment change me?
Why You Need CBT/ERP
Have Reservations about ERP?
Preparing for CBT/ERP
ERP & Imaginal Exposures
Uncertainty is the Key
The Problem with Seeking Reassurance
Finding a cognitive-behavioral therapist
Medication vs. Exposure Therapy
Can’t afford CBT/ERP?  Try this app or do self-directed ERP!

¬†I already am no longer afraid at my thoughts, no longer check, i just find them to be annoying as hell. Will i live with this “annoying friend” forever? Ugh. (i mean i believe one day God will heal me but while He doesn’t, will i just have to tell my brain to shut the hell up everyday? Man is that annoying). Thanks ūüôā

Essentially, are you saying that you still have intrusive thoughts but they don’t cause you to perform compulsions? This is just real life, unfortunately! Everyone has ugly thoughts that come and go. The important thing is that when they come, they can also go. If you have a hard time letting them go, then ERP is your answer.

I’m afraid to go thought erp because my ocd is the religious kind. Is the doctor going to “make” me (i know no one can make anyone do anything, it’s just a manner of speech) do bad things (ex denying Jesus, wich i wouldn’t do not now not ever but my brain keeps shouting at me to do so)? I rather live my life like hell then actually going to hell, thank you

Completely understand that. Here’s a fictionalized version of how I had to approach such a tricky concept:¬†https://jackieleasommers.com/2012/09/05/tipping-point-my-entry/

I really don’t want to be gay and I used to be so confident in my sexuality (I’m a girl btw) I just recently got a boyfriend and I didn’t like him that much but I still kinda liked him and I thought being with him would make me know I’m not gay but for some reason I just don’t want to hang out with him does that make me gay¬†

Doesn’t make you gay at all. Probably just means what you said it does: you don’t actually like him that much. Don’t date a boy as a compulsion to prove your heterosexuality. Date a boy because you truly care about him. ERP can help with both HOCD and ROCD. Check out http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

I think I have HOCD but I’m not sure. My therapist is doing CBT but I don’t think it’s ERP and it’s making me anxious. Like what if this therapy goes know where and just becomes me talking about my problems.(what happened with my last therapist). Should I trust that she knows what she is doing? Her Website says she does CBT so by saying she does CBT does that mean she is also an expert on ERP?¬†

CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is the umbrella term, and ERP (exposure and response prevention therapy) falls beneath the CBT umbrella. The best way to know if your therapist knows what he or she is doing is by educating yourself about what ERP looks like. I suggest reading the posts at http://www.jackieleasommers.com and also going through the list of questions to ask a therapist at https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/treatment/how-to-find-the-right-therapist.

am I actually recovering from HOCD? I am trying to manage my intrusive thoughts and no checking as well. I’m feeling much better however what’s causing me anxiety is that all my straight attraction is gone for a toss. I have had no history of experimenting with girls or having a crush on them. But I feel¬† scared. I have always wanted to be with a guy. Will my attraction for guys ever come back?

ERP cannot change your sexual orientation. But I do hear from many sufferers that their attraction to others (the opposite gender if they are straight and have HOCD; same gender if they are gay and have HOCD) vanishes for a time. It’s normal for OCD.

Hi Jackie, I’m not having any kind of anxiety over my thoughts anymore. So I woke up and I got a feeling which said “I want to be lesbian” but there was no anxiety that followed. Which freaked me out. And today I was like okay fine, what if I am? That doesn’t change anything. But i know i want to be with a guy. Does that mean I’m recovering or does it mean I’m gay? I want to be with a guy.

This is meant gently and tongue-in-cheek, hon: “there was no anxiety” is followed immediately by “which freaked me out.” Which means there was actually still anxiety. ūüôā Your thought process here is actually correct! But I suspect it will still be bothersome for you until you do ERP. This will help:¬†https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/11/01/hocd-4-steps-to-freedom.

G~Always thought of myself as straight,loved women and the female body always had 100s of crushes. Lately ive watched some gay porn and it actually has excited me to a certain point and i hate it so much.have felt like i would enjoy doing certain things and cant believe im thinking like this. Even been losing my attraction for the female body which i used to be crazy for. Is all this hocd related?

Very, very consistent with the HOCD experience. ERP can help! https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/11/01/hocd-4-steps-to-freedom/

So I’m a 16 year old and a female, for he past few months I’ve been having a thoughts like “what if I’m bi?¬Ě Or a lesbian?” I know deep down that I’m not but these thoughts are making me think I am. I’ve always liked guys my whole life and have had crushes on them. I’ve never had a crush on a girl or liked one either. It makes me anxious every time I’m around a girl could it be HOCD?

Sounds exactly like HOCD! Exposure therapy can help: https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/11/01/hocd-4-steps-to-freedom/

I keep on crying idk what to do I feel alone I keep on thinking about having s*x with other girls but when I think about i get discussed I’m only 14 years old I can’t be going through this please give me advice on how to control it or get rid of it please I cant even look at my friends anymore without thinking do I like hereading? It’s really uncomfortable and weird I can’t stop crying please help

Oh you poor dear! OCD is hard at any age, but to be 14 and dealing with it … and with something as personal as HOCD … so uncomfortable and lonely and difficult. Exposure therapy can help. It’s up to you whether you’d like to tell your parents what you’re dealing with in detail, or whether you’d like to just tell them you’re confident it’s OCD but you want to discuss details only with a therapist, or if you’d prefer to do ERP on your own. Here are some links that might help:

Can’t afford CBT/ERP?  Try this app or do self-directed ERP!
https://jackieleasommers.com/2015/07/29/hocd-a-letter-to-loved-ones/
Also please considering trying Pax the OCD Bot on Facebook. Just look it up in the FB searchbar and enable it. It’s a computer program, but feels like you’re chatting with a therapist for real!

Is it a normal symptom to feel an urge to kiss the same sex then get extreme anxiety during hocd? I feel so lost.

That is almost the literal definition of HOCD! ERP therapy can help: https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/11/01/hocd-4-steps-to-freedom/

Jackie, I need help. My boyfriend and I are believers and he has been struggling with OCD. Much of it is related to his faith. He just graduated Bible college and he can convince me it’s all spiritual warfare. I’m exhausted, he is too but he doesn’t think he’s OCD. I’ve looked all over for a therapist who does ERP near Rochester NY and I can not find a male. He won’t go to a woman. Plz help!Thanks

My OCD specifically attacked my faith. It goes after the things that are most important to a person, so that makes sense that– for someone like your boyfriend who cares about scripture and God– it would attack that in his life. I hope he will read through the following posts:

OCD & Christianity
(or other religious scrupulosity)
OCD, ERP, and Christianity
I’m a Christian and Take Meds!
Unashamed of my OCD
Is the thought from OCD … or God?
God’s Sovereignty, OCD, the Cross, & His Purposes
Is Mental Illness a Spiritual Issue?
Is ERP Sinful?
OCD & Faith (or Lack Thereof): a Double Interview

The past year I have been struggling with a¬† fear of selling my soul through intrusive thoughts. I recently had a thought that if I didn’t write everything I write in perfect grammar, then my soul belonged to Satan. I didn’t fight the thought as I usually do, and this was before I learned that I was supposed to ignore the thought. Does that mean that I meant the thought?

I’ve had similar thoughts before. I think most people have, except that for those of us with OCD, it’s far harder to say, “Well, that was ridiculous!” and move on. ūüôā ERP therapy changed my life in this manner; I’m not being dramatic. I hope it will help you too. Lots of details at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

I think I am suffering from hocd I’d like to talk to you about it please

Hi friend! I am not a therapist. Here’s how to find one:¬†https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/treatment/how-to-find-the-right-therapist/

Also consider trying Facebook’s Pax the OCD Bot. It’s just a robot, but it feels like chatting with a therapist!

Is it normal to feel false attractions and feelings towards the same sex with OCD. I was clinically diagnosed by 2 doctors with OCD yet I still doubt I have it and am scared that some things aren’t OCD even tho I never felt them before this obsession started. Sometimes I notice that the “attractions and feelings” are just normal feelings and such but they feel really real and unwanted and scary.

This is all normal for OCD. In fact, doubting that you have OCD is also normal for OCD– I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone with OCD who hasn’t doubted that they truly have it! Exposure therapy is the key to disarming the doubt. Check out http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Continuing from the false feelings and attractions thing. So they don’t feel good and I get them for my sister and mom too!!! And objects like random objects! They confuse me because they feel like attraction or something but I know it can’t be cause it just doesn’t make sense but it can feel pretty real. How do I know for sure they aren’t real??? What if I’m bi/gay??? I fear both I fear all attra

cont’d below

Continuation again these attractions and such Do not feel good no matter how much my mind convinces me they do like I don’t lay back and just think about them and be happy no I fear them and hate them and when they show up it’s like LEAVE ME ALONE YOU RUON MY LIFE. Ok do u think I really have hocd???? How do I know for 100% sure I don’t feel anything for the same sex I don’t want to feel anything¬†

OCD is a real beast, isn’t it? It goes after things that are most important to us, like our personal sexuality and even the pure feelings we have toward our families. You can take down this beast of an illness with exposure therapy. Check out http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Our son, Nick is 17 yrs old, turned 16 yrs old, and developed signs of depression. He appears to have HOCD. Older brother revealed to family that he was gay. Nick was then 13. Nick was a very social and talkative kid until the last 2 yrs. One love – very gifted competitive swimmer. Seeing a therapist and psychiatrist,, taking meds- not seeing great results. No ERP close by? Struggling terribly.

First of all, it’s clear you are an amazing parent. Great work!! ERP is truly the answer here, and the great thing about it is that you don’t need a professional in order to do it.

Read this post about self-directed ERP. Also consider the free app nOCD or the Facebook bot Pax the OCD Bot. They are both amazing tools.

Hi jackie, I’m suffering from i think religous OCD, i keep on praying until i am satisfied with my praying. Also i am thinking about Jesus Christ is different from God, can you help me please? Thanks jackie

The important thing here is to understand that OCD is an illness, treated like an illness. You don’t treat OCD with learning theology. You treat it with ERP therapy and meds, okay? Once you do that,¬†then you will be able to enjoy your relationship with Christ and dive wholeheartedly into theology in a healthy way. Check out¬†https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/07/25/does-my-erp-therapist-need-to-share-my-faith.

I am being treated by a Psychiatrist for depression/anxiety. I am also rather sure i have OCD, as I have all the symptoms but I am afraid to tell my doctor about my intrusive HOCD related thoughts as they are strange and taboo. I am also worried she will think I am crazy and maybe not know about HOCD. My HOCD is also under control now and that making me procrastinate telling the DR. Any advice?

I can appreciate the fear that goes into telling someone about taboo intrusive thoughts. If your therapist or psychiatrist is an OCD expert, they will not be shocked at all. This is common territory within OCD. Unfortunately, many doctors and therapists are still unfamiliar with OCD/HOCD and end up giving awful advice that only makes things worse. The more you educate yourself on OCD and HOCD, the more you will be able to recognize whether or not your therapist/psychiatrist knows about it!

This article may help: https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/treatment/how-to-find-the-right-therapist/

Dear Jackie, sorry for another HOCD question (I am a straight male), I know HOCD can make you feel a loss of attraction to the sex you’ve always been attracted to, but can it make you fearful of that sex? This occured after reading an account from a female perspective of HOCD that got me really confused, like I’m now afraid of women despite wanting to be attracted to them like my normal self.

I hear narratives like this all the time. I always say “normal for OCD.” ūüôā ERP can help, friend. Check out http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Hi Jackie,

I’ve been suffering with hocd or what I think is hocd for just over 3 years. I have just recently started to see a cbt therapist. I was wondering when you went through this did you have a nagging feeling constantly in your head. Also how did you accept the uncertainty that all of this brings to get rid of the obsessional ruminations.¬†

First of all, check out¬†https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/treatment/how-to-find-the-right-therapist. It’s important to find a therapist who truly understands OCD and how to treat it with exposure therapy.

Secondly, ERP therapy is how you learn to accept the uncertainty. It takes about 12 weeks, and it’s very hard, but it’s life-changing. It re-wires your brain back into a healthy pasture. ūüôā

Hi I’m not sure if Hocd or am I gay or bi I keep checking gay porn hundred times a day but my mind telling me I like it but I have no arousal then when switch to female I get aroused instantly so I can’t figure what going on¬†

The key word here is “checking”– that is a very, very common compulsion. ERP therapy can help:¬†https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/11/01/hocd-4-steps-to-freedom/

Was diagnosed with other types of ocd, but now not sure if I have HOCD or gay? Always had crushes on boys/had straight relationships.I feel like my personality is straight but once I started worrying I was gay i put pressure on sexual arousal to men/penises and now it feels like I’m no longer sexual attracted to men but am to women..emotionally speaking/crushes never wanted to be with a woman.¬†

You can have OCD and then experience many different “themes” within it. For me, until I treated OCD with exposure therapy, my themes just got harder and worse as I went along untreated. Once I treated OCD for one theme, it took care of them all. ūüôā Read about it at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Hi Jackie I’ve think I’ve been suffering from pocd but I can’t tell it started once I graduated high school I’m an 18 yo male I had never worried I was attracted to kids but now I’m constantly worried about it all of a sudden I started having thoughts of kids but in sexual situations and they tormented me I’m seeing a therapist and she says it’s ocd but I’m scared it’s not

Ahhh, the doubting disease … where it even causes us to doubt whether we have it! What you wrote is the textbook description of POCD, and it means that you actually value healthy sexuality and would never hurt a child. That’s why you have all the anxiety and torment! (A pedophile would enjoy it.) Exposure therapy can help, even though it is really difficult. It’s 12 hard weeks, but it is wayyyyy better than a lifetime plagued by such thoughts. Check out http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Is this HOCD or am I in denial?¬† I am 13 and I suffer from depression and anxiety, a month ago I thought to myself ‘what if I’m gay?’ Which stared this torment. I had never had any crushes on girls only guys and I felt it getting worse each day. Now I feel like I have no orientation but still an plagued with thoughts images and sensations. I don’t know if it’s the antidepressant or I’m in denial.¬†

May I introduce a third option? What if it’s not the antidepressant OR denial, but you just suffer from HOCD, a treatable illness? ERP therapy can help, truly:¬†https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/11/01/hocd-4-steps-to-freedom/

Hi Jackie, I was in therapy but left because the exposures were too scary: he wanted me to ‘agree’ with my thoughts…I was worried I was aroused by horrible sexual intrusive thoughts, so I would say “yes, I was turned on by that!” I saw that this is basically what you did?¬† I thought saying “maybe I was” would be effective, too…or even “it’s just OCD.”

I completely understand this. Here’s a fictionalized version of how I was able to side-step things in ERP and still beat OCD:¬†https://jackieleasommers.com/2012/09/05/tipping-point-my-entry/

hi

Hello buddy. ūüôā

I’m a 16 year old girl who is struggling w HOCD. I am 99% sure I have HOCD. However, when I read about the difference between gay and HOCD or even about gay, my mind makes me feel like I am truly relating to the gay side of things even if I relate more to hocd when it comes down to it. Is that normal?

OCD/HOCD will make you doubt everything. Does the idea give you anxiety or stress? If so, that’s very telling! Try to take deep breaths and continue to read up on HOCD. Knowledge is powerful!

Hi Jackie, this question is also about HOCD, it’s just that I can’t find anyone who at the moment has the same problem. Not only am I scared of people of the same sex but also of people of the opposite sex because I’m so worried I might not be attracted to them. So basically I am avoiding both genders.. What should I do? Should I be doing ERP for both?

As you can see, I was asked this question (or something similar) by two other people even in this thread! So you are not alone. ūüôā Do ERP for HOCD, and it should eventually kick everything else’s butt too. I did ERP specifically around my religious/spiritual obsessions, but it also took care of any other themes I was experiencing too, because ultimately ERP is restoring a healthy brain wiring to you.

Hi Jackie i am 15 year old girl and i feel like am going crazy. I think i am dealing with HOCD i never been diagnosed with ocd before but am not sure i been dealing with this ever since i was 13 but i never told anyone or gotten help. I feel like it’s different this time i feel like am always in denial. I have lost my attraction to the oppsite sex it it depresses me.i always had crushes on guys

You’re not crazy. As you can read above, what you’re going through is a very common experience within HOCD, even down to losing attraction to the gender you’re usually into.

It’s up to you whether you’d like to tell your parents what you’re dealing with in detail, or whether you’d like to just tell them you’re confident it’s OCD but you want to discuss details only with a therapist, or if you’d prefer to do ERP on your own. Here are some links that might help:

Can’t afford CBT/ERP?  Try this app or do self-directed ERP!
https://jackieleasommers.com/2015/07/29/hocd-a-letter-to-loved-ones/
Also please considering trying Pax the OCD Bot on Facebook. Just look it up in the FB searchbar and enable it. It’s a computer program, but feels like you’re chatting with a therapist for real!

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

A Metaphor for Obsessive-Compulsives

A new friend came over to my apartment the other week, and we got to talking about Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy, and I shared a metaphor with her that I’d like to share with you now.

We put out fires, but what we need to do is shoot the arsonist.

arson

The problem with attempting to “solve” an OC’s obsession is that, as soon as it’s solved, a new obsession will take its place. ¬†In that way, you’re only putting out fires, not dealing with the root issue, which is an inability to handle uncertainty. ¬†For years and years, I watched my obsessions hop from one thing to the next. ¬†My compulsions– and even my talk therapy sometimes– were shortsightedly stamping out the flames in one corner of my mind while OCD set a new fire in another corner.

How can you possibly manage to keep up that way? ¬†It’s not sustainable.

That’s why I agree with so many of the OCD experts in this country that the best way to fight OCD is with Exposure and Response Prevention therapy. ¬†ERP is so very different from most standard therapies. ¬†In it, obsessive-compulsives are exposed to a trigger that prompts in them deep anxiety; then they are¬†not allowed to respond with an anxiety-easing compulsion. ¬†Instead, they are forced to sit in that discomfort. ¬†Doing this repeatedly actually re-wires the obsessive-compulsive’s brain in a way that they learn to live with uncertainty and their quality of life improves dramatically.

It’s been four years since I turned my attention from the bonfires to the disorder that was¬†setting¬†them.

It’s been a¬†good four years.

ERP & Imaginal Exposures

I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about Exposure and Response Prevention therapy¬†(ERP) and how different my life is after I underwent an intense 12 weeks of this type of cognitive-behavioral therapy. ¬†ERP is exactly what the name says it is: you are¬†exposed to something that will trigger your obsessions and then you are¬†prevented from responding with a compulsion that will relieve your anxiety.

For example, someone who has contamination obsessions and hand-washing compulsions might be made to touch garbage and then is¬†not allowed to wash her hands. ¬†Instead, she sits with that anxiety, feeling it intensely. ¬†If someone has HOCD obsessions and seeking reassurance compulsions, she might have to look through a Victoria’s Secret catalog and is¬†not allowed to ask, “Am I gay? ¬†Am I straight?”

So, what happens when you have Pure-O obsessions? ¬†What if your obsession is that you will kill your newborn daughter and your compulsion is to stay away from her crib? ¬†What if your obsession is that you’re going to blaspheme God and go to hell and your compulsion is repeating a prayer in your head?

Then what? ¬†You can’t¬†really¬†kill your daughter (um, big DUH there, but you get it!) and you can’t¬†really go to hell, so how in the world are you able to practice an exposure then?

"little sad song" by *TrixyPixie on deviantART

“little sad song” by *TrixyPixie on deviantART

Imaginal exposures, baby.  Brilliant and brutal.

In situations like these, what you might be expected to do is to write down all the ways you could kill your daughter, read it into a digital recorder, and then¬†listen to it over and over. ¬†Or maybe you’ll create a story in which you go to hell, where you’re forever condemned, and you¬†read that story again and again.

If you’re an obsessive-compulsive, trust me, these imaginal exposures are going to FREAK. YOU. OUT. ¬†They will be so triggering and so terrifying that your anxiety is going to spike, no problem.

Meanwhile, no compulsions allowed.

Meanwhile, ERP is re-wiring your brain.

Meanwhile, you’re stepping toward freedom. ¬†And “all” you had to do was listen to a story.

This was my particular brand of ERP actually.  I had to listen to my recording for about 80 minutes a day until my anxiety levels (self-measured at the beginning, middle, and end) decreased by 50%.  For the first ten weeks or so, my anxiety levels were NOT dropping, and I very nearly gave up.  I mean, why put myself through this misery and terror every day if it was doing no good?

But then.

Sometime during week eleven, those anxiety levels started to drop. ¬†I developed a whole new way of looking at my intrusive thoughts. ¬†I tiptoed up to OCD. ¬†I can still remember the day when I was listening (again) to that horrid recording, and instead of feeling anxious, my thought was, “This is getting so¬†annoying.

And then I laughed … because … because¬†finally. ¬†You know what I mean.

OCD Stockholm Syndrome

First things first, I am a guest blogger on Monday at my friend Hannah’s blog, Prayers of Light. ¬†Over there you can read a little something I wrote about Digory Kirke, about finally getting to hear the rest of the story. ¬†Fellow Narnia geeks like me and Hannah are more than welcome to check it out!

Let’s talk about OCD Stockholm Syndrome, yes?

OCD.  Obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Stockholm Syndrome.  When hostages love their captors/abusers.

OCD Stockholm Syndrome.  When obsessive-compulsives ironically cling to the disorder that holds them in bondage.

“OCD Stockholm Syndrome” isn’t a real term, but it’s a real thing– and one I don’t think we talk about that often. ¬†It’s confusing and senseless, and I don’t claim to understand it myself. ¬†But this blog is in the business of shining light in dark places (mmm, lights all around!), so I thought I’d write about it.

I hate OCD. ¬†I really do. ¬†I think it is an ugly, vile, reprehensible disorder that steals joy and leaves people in shackles. ¬†So, tell me why it is that, after my cognitive-behavioral therapy was over, I asked my therapist, “Do I still have OCD?” and when he said, “Yes,”¬†I felt relief.

I think I was worried about what I would lose. ¬†OCD had woven its way through me and entangled itself so deeply through me that a big part of me was worried that I would lose my¬†personality if I lost OCD. ¬†I also thought I’d lose my¬†reputation as the “thinker” amongst my circle of influence. ¬†As a Christian, I worried that I would lose my¬†desperation for Christ if this disorder vanished because, after all, hadn’t it¬†motivated me toward loving my God?

Once I watched a talk show where an audience member asked a question to the girl on the stage suffering from anorexia. ¬†The audience member had formerly been through treatment for anorexia herself, and she asked (with incredible insight), “Sometimes don’t you feel like anorexia is your best friend?” and the girl on the stage answered, “Yes.”

At the time that I watched this talk show, I had not yet undergone ERP, and I remember thinking, I understand that.

It’s bizarre, I know.

When I communicate with other obsessive-compulsives, there is often a theme of therapy-avoidance that runs deeper than just a distaste for the hard work and anxiety that characterizes Exposure and Response Prevention therapy.  There is this deep-seated worry that ERP will not only erase OCD and anxiety from their livesРbut a part of themselves.

I didn’t like to talk about this with people because it seemed so contrary to everything I stood for. ¬†How could I hate OCD with everything inside of me– and yet still cling to it with such a quiet desperation? ¬†It made no sense, and even to this day, I still have not figured it out.

freedom

But I wanted to talk about it on my blog because it’s a real thing– a real thing that¬†sometimes prevents sufferers from the relief that is available to them. ¬†I don’t know a lot about this strange phenomenon, but I do know this: I was worried about losing my personality, reputation, and desperation for Christ, but now that my OCD is under control, I am finally the Jackie I was supposed to be; I am still a deep thinker but now my thoughts are productive and not circular, and I actually have a¬†greater capacity for deep thought because I am not sent reeling in terror by my thoughts; and I finally feel the nearness of God. ¬†Whatever was lost doesn’t compare to what I gained.

Life is Risky Business

riskyquoteThe sooner we acknowledge this, the closer we are to freedom.

If you’re an obsessive-compulsive who fears uncertainty,
please explore my website to learn about
cognitive-behavioral therapy, your next step.

 

Preparing for ERP Therapy

Lately, I’ve been talking to some brave, amazing people who are planning to tackle cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), specifically exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP). ¬†I know it’s the right next step, they tell me. ¬†Any advice?

Glad you asked.  Here are my suggestions as you prepare for ERP.

1. Read and research! ¬†Don’t go into this (incredible but difficult) therapy with your eyes closed. ¬†I believe that the more you know about what ERP entails and what will be expected of you, the better. ¬†In fact, I have a friend who had done enough research on it that he realized only one or two sessions in that he knew more about ERP than the therapist did– instead of wasting time, my friend was able to stop meeting with that therapist and find an expert in ERP.

2. Have an open heart. ¬†ERP is¬†not the same as talk therapy. ¬†You will be given homework and made to go through exposures that are¬†intended to spike your anxiety. ¬†Before I started ERP, my psychiatrist gave me this advice: “Think of a mother, Jackie. ¬†A mother would do¬†anything to help her child. ¬†You must be willing to do¬†anything to help yourself.” ¬†By its very¬†nature, you will be expected to do things that you do not want to do (AT ALL). ¬†Do them anyway.

3. Surround yourself with the RIGHT support system. ¬†What you need are cheerleaders, people who will be your biggest fans and encouragers. ¬†What you absolutely do NOT need are enablers– because they will only be hindering the ERP process. ¬†Educate your closest friends about what ERP entails and ask them upfront to not baby you or enable your OCD. ¬†When they offer you reassurance or do anything to enable your obsessions and compulsions, they are siding with your disorder¬†against you, instead of with you against your disorder. ¬†This is going to be hard for both sides. ¬†Tough love is not fun … but it is¬†good.

4. If you’re the kind of person who prays, pray hard.

For those of you who have experienced ERP, what advice would you add?

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When Thinking Hurts

wanttostopthinkig

I remember days when my brain worked like a manic assembly line, working, working, always working– and not in a good way. ¬†Those days, I’d carve out time reserved for obsessions, for list-making, for mental reassurances. ¬†Car rides were killer– especially those long stretches on boring I-90– and could throw me into panic mode. ¬†At night, I’d lie awake in bed, drowning in circular thought.

And that was the thing: my mind was racing, but it never got anywhere. ¬†Ten minutes or an hour or a week later, I’d still be chewing on the same things, exerting so much effort for no gain.

I was programmed. ¬†When there was a moment, a pause, a hesitation, my head would fly to a dark place. ¬†And then it would battle its way back out. ¬†Over and over and over (and over and over and over and over and over …). ¬†So useless, so fruitless, and so much energy spent, so much time wasted.

The by-products of OCD are not worth the efforts.

These days, my mind is still working hard– but in a good, healthy, productive way. ¬†I listen to audiobooks while I get ready in the morning, in my car, while I exercise, as I fall asleep. ¬†I let the wonder of literature engage my mind and thoughts, and it feels healthy, like solving a difficult puzzle or marveling at philosophy. ¬†I write every day– blogging, poetry, my novel– and it’s like climbing a mountain. ¬†My brain is a muscle, flexing and growing stronger. ¬†My conversations with friends are deep and meaningful and far more important than just seeking out temporary comfort. ¬†

When thinking hurts in a bad way, you need to re-wire your brain.

In the Moment

It’s one thing for me to declare over my blog to a primarily anonymous audience, “Dear obsessive-compulsives, this is what you should do.”

But then comes the moment when your friend says, “Hey, can you talk to my friend on Facebook? ¬†Here’s her name.”

It’s not that I’ve never been there before, the frenetic chaos of an obsession. ¬†I know what it’s like to feel that furious terror, to¬†need to know that things will be okay. ¬†I get it. ¬†I really do.

But I know the other side now. ¬†I know that reassurances aren’t going to get this girl anywhere. ¬†Know that discussing her obsession is like clipping off the leaves of a weed, when what we really need to go for is the root.

In that moment– those wild minutes of obsessive pandemonium– it’s¬†hard to talk calmly, to keep redirecting someone back to the idea of treatment, to feel like you’re doing them¬†any good. ¬†In fact, you imagine they’re thinking,¬†No, you’re not getting this. ¬†You don’t know what I need.

But I do.  Because I do get it.  Because I was there.  Because I tried for years to put a quick bandaid over the cancer that needed to be cut out.

Breathe, I tell her. ¬†Breathe tonight, and then educate yourself tomorrow. ¬†It’s time to go for the root.

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