Question & Dancer: I Promise There is Hope

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.

Ok I am so confused lately. I am a 27 year old male and has had what I consider to be HOCD for at least 4 years now When I was younger people used to ask if I was gay, and that never bothered me until more recently since I started to have this OCD. More recently however I am starting to doubt myself because it is starting to feel realer and realer. Wanna do ERP but I am very anxious about it.
I was so anxious to do ERP too! In fact, I almost bailed partway through– right before everything ended up “clicking” for me. Read up about it beforehand so that you have an idea of what to expect. I always say that you will be ready for ERP when the hell of daily life with OCD is worse than the anxiety over ERP. I will say this: it was one of the greatest things I have ever done for myself. Twelve weeks of ERP vs. twenty years of OCD (with no end in sight)? There’s a clear winner there.
Can HOCD actually begin to feel real? At the start, it caused me loads of anxiety but now I’m starting to believe it and it scary ūüė¶
Hello dear, yes, I think that most people with HOCD get to that point. I’m sorry for all your fear and anxiety. ERP can help.
Hi! I did the harder exposures for HOCD (I’m a girl by the way) and it really terrifies me to the point of tears while doing the exposure of looking at a androgynous female. It bothered me immensely but I stayed with it. However, I felt fearful and anxious at the same time because I actively avoid it because of the fear of attraction. Is that still HOCD?
If you are fearful that you are sexually attracted to females, it’s quite likely HOCD, yes. I remember crying while doing exposures too. Please don’t quit the exposures– but also, please do be kind to yourself. Give yourself a treat: ice cream, a nap, a new pair of shoes. What would you do for your best friend if he or she was going through all this? Treat yourself just as kindly. But don’t give up on the exposures.
Hi Jackie, I’ve had hocd for over a year now and it’s been rough. For the past three months I’ve been using this new medication and I believe I’ve gotten better. But, whenever I get my intrusive thoughts my brain doesn’t spike much of a reaction anymore and I’m not as scared. This is making me worried because I feel like my fear shows I’m not gay but now I’m not so sure. Can medicine do that?
I feel like this is such a nasty paradox with OCD! We get so much torturous anxiety– and we¬†hate it– but then, if the anxiety lessens or goes away, we start to fear there’s a reason behind¬†that. Please remember that the goal is to not have those extreme reactions when you have intrusive thoughts, so you are moving in the right direction! Thoughts are just thoughts. Everyone has weird thoughts, but most people can just let them go, whereas for those of us with OCD, we hold onto them and give them too much meaning and make ourselves sick ruminating. Let the thought just be a thought. It is good that the anxiety lessens in time.
Jackie, is this a compulsion? Every time I get worried about my hocd thoughts, my reaction is to go God and pray that I’m not gay. I know I don’t want to be gay. I just want to be a straight female and have a guy. But I feel like god is my only true hope for getting better although I’ve been doubting him a lot with all of this hocd stuff
Ritualistic prayer was also one of my compulsions. I would pray to “ward off” blasphemous thoughts and curse words that would pop into my head. But I also could tell a difference between my true, heartfelt prayers and the automatic ones that I was using as a compulsion. I kept doing the former, but the latter ones, I stopped. At first, because it was so automatic, it was very hard to stop, but I would actually interrupt myself and think¬†No. I do not need to pray ritualistically.¬†I didn’t think it would work– but it did!
How long did you personally have hocd for?
I had a brief bout with HOCD in junior high. My primary obsessions through the years were religious ones though.
Jackie I feel like my hocd gets MUCH worse when my period roles around. Could this be true? I just feel way more depressed and my intrusive thoughts get more frequent and intense.
I really do believe this can be true, even though I don’t know enough about the science behind it. ¬†But on my period, my hormones are all out of whack, and everything seems more intense and stressful and emotional for me. I feel sadder and lonelier on my period, and sometimes I have bad cramps, so I’m in actual pain and cranky about it. I am definitely not my best on my period or in the days right before it, and I’ve had the same experiences with my OCD being worse then (I’m not sure if it’s worse– or if I’m weaker– during those days!).
Jackie I’ve had hocd for a while now. How did you stay strong? How did you not cave in and truly lose hope by believing you’re gay?
I spent 15 years with OCD before I was finally diagnosed, then another five before I began the exposure therapy that gave me back my life and freedom. How did I stay strong during that time? Honestly, I was not strong a lot of that time. I cried a lot, but I also surrounded myself with the most incredible people: family and friends and mentors and roommates who let me lean on them in my weakness. My Christian faith is also a ballast for me, although OCD went after that pretty hard, and I had to rely on the faith of my friends and family, if that makes any sense. Make sure that you have an incredible support system, one that won’t enable you but that will let you be honest about your struggles and will love you, even in your darkest, weakest, most hopeless moments.
I lived with my friend Desiree for seven years, and she saw me through some of the very worst times with my OCD. She wrote this post about it, in case you’re interested!
Jackie, my therapist and my mom both say I try and convince myself that I’m truly gay ( I have hocd). I just can’t help being very doubtful all the time. Even when I like a guy through all of this I still doubt if everything is fake. Advice?
This is what the doubting disease does– it poisons everything! The very best advice I have is to treat it with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, which can be done with a specialist or on your own with the help of a book from the library. Be sure to check out my posts at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD for more details and book suggestions!
Hi Jackie I’m a female and I have had hocd for nearly 13 months now. I stare at girls so much! In my head I constantly hear myself saying “wow she’s so pretty” and I can’t stop thinking that. It haunts me later in my day as I keep seeing any girl in my head from school. What should I do?
This is what OCD/HOCD will do until you either switch to another obsession or treat it. I recommend treating it with exposure therapy! Please check out my posts about HOCD and about ERP at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD. It changed my entire life.
I’ve had hocd for a long time now and I know ERP is the right thing but I’m too scared to do it. I just don’t feel mentally mature or ready enough to do it. What do you think? Should I just face it head on?
This is such a good question. I didn’t feel ready for it for a while either. When I felt I had exhausted all my other options, I knew it was time. Most of the time, ERP is not done via “flooding” (which is what I think you mean by “face it head on”) but rather via a strategic hierarchy. You start with the things that make you least anxious and work up to the doozies later on. I think this is probably the best way to go after ERP; it builds confidence early on when you win a few smaller victories, plus your brain begins to change, giving you more tools for attacking the harder things later. I remember on my first day with my ERP therapist, he said we would work up to X, and I thought, “If you think that I will EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER do X, you’ve got another thing coming, mister.” And yet, about 12 weeks later, I was there. Terrified, yes. Anxious, yes. But it had gone from being utterly impossible to being possible-but-scary. And after that, my OCD snapped in half. I’ve had freedom for nine years now.
How do I know if my therapist is good? Upon graduating college, I have developed extreme anxiety and HOCD. I found a therapist who preaches ERP but does not have good reviews online. I met him for the initial consult and liked him but how do I know whether I should trust him.
Do the reviews say that they don’t like him personally¬†or that he doesn’t know his practice? You don’t need to¬†like an ERP therapist for ERP to work. In fact, at the time, I thought my ERP therapist was a monster. (Now he is my hero.) Our personalities did not jive and, of course, he was asking me to do things I didn’t want to do (this is the nature of ERP therapy!). Make sure that you have educated yourself on what ERP should look like, so that you will be able to recognize if he is guiding you correctly. As far as whether or not he’s likable … meh. Not what matters in this situation.
Read about my reunion with my ERP therapist, seven years after I last left his office.
I feel really sad. Some days my hocd is not that intense and I’m sure I’m straight but other days its bad.When I’m convinced I’m gay, I get very depressed. I withdraw and stop doing anything, and spend the majority of my time in bed. They tell you in therapy that if you hate the idea of being gay, that you don’t like the idea of being with the same sex then you’re not gay. Do you agree with this?
I hate to speak in too wide of generalities, but if I am interpreting your question correctly, I would say yes IN GENERAL. Again, I don’t know that it is helpful to speak in such wide-spreading generalities. I did ask some of my friends (both with HOCD and others who are gay) to answer a variety of questions so I could compare them. I thought the results were interesting. Friend, please consider exposure therapy to treat your HOCD. It is the #1 treatment for OCD recommended by all OCD experts, and it changed my life. I know those depressed days spent in bed all too well. You can move past this.
Is there really a light at the end of the tunnel? I feel hopeless. I have hocd and hate my life because I just feel depressed. I want to be better but I can’t bring myself to give effort. I get told, happiness is a choice. But I feel like this doesn’t apply to people who suffer from OCD?
Friend, I promise there is light. And hope. And freedom. Exposure therapy can help you get there.
Ahhh yes, the choose happiness thing. Blah. Let me say first that I agree with you.
Here is my post entitled I Don’t CHOOSE to be Unhappy. Later, post-ERP, I wrote a post where I talked about choosing to be happy. The very next day I posted again and this time included what I called a “thoughtful caveat”:
P.S. I want to clarify: this post is not in contradiction to this one. I still believe that many people with brain disorders do not have the capability to simply choose to be happy. But I am finding in my own life that medication and OCD treatment and talk therapy and prayer are tools that are making that more and more possible for me. I am one of the lucky ones who has had so many opportunities and resources. They are opening up new doors for me that were locked even just a year ago. Would love to hear your thoughts.

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‚Äôm an artist not an expert. I will leave you with these, some of my favorite questions in one of my favorite poems,¬†‚ÄúQuestions about Angels.‚ÄĚ Click here¬†to hear Billy Collins himself read it. (P.S. It starts with questions, ends with a dancer.)

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‚Äôm an artist not an expert. I will leave you with these, some of my favorite questions in one of my favorite poems, ‚ÄúQuestions about Angels.‚ÄĚ 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. ūüôā

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.)

 

 

 

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 writingРbut 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

Thoughts on Freedom of Various Kinds

I moved yesterday. All went quite well.

I first moved into my old apartment in 2008, right as I started to write Lights All Around, my first novel. Those walls have seen so much, including complete and utter breakdowns, my experience with ERP therapy, the writing of Truest, and the writing of first drafts of two other novels. (WhoaРI wrote four novels in seven years? Sheesh. Had not thought of it like that before.)

The new house is still undergoing renovations, and it’s all a big old mess, but it’s¬†my mess that I¬†own, and I love it. I can see its potential so clearly, and I’m so happy.

Moving means packing and unpacking, and that means finding a million lost things in the dark corners. I’ve found so many things– journals, stories, etc.– that show so clearly the pain of and enslavement to my OCD. Today I read a journal entry dated 2006 that said something to the effect of, “I am still the pot who asks the Potter, ‘Why did you make me this way?’ I wonder if I will ever know. I wonder if I will ever experience freedom.”

I want to tell that girl, Two more years. Hold on.

Of course, that’s my past. I know so much more now, nine years after that journal entry was written. I have joy and freedom and a book deal with HarperCollins. I did the hard work of ERP therapy and reaped all the benefits of it– a whole different life. So, I don’t need to say that to my past self; instead, I will say it to you, you who are enslaved to your own obsessive-compulsive thoughts, who are lost and in slavery to OCD, who wonder if there is a point to it all or if you will ever see the light again:

Hold on. There is freedom available. Hope. Joy. Light. You can learn about ERP therapy here. I pray it will be the key that unlocks your prison, just as it unlocked mine in 2008. Today I find purpose in my past of OCD; I find happiness in daily life; I find freedom– or freedom has found me. Thank you, God.

How fitting to be reminded of my freedom on Memorial Day weekend. I am grateful, so grateful, for every freedom. I remember.

Self-Directed ERP Therapy

???????????????????????????????????????If you’ve spent any time hanging around this blog, you know that I’m a huge proponent of treating OCD with Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy, which is the¬†best treatment available. It’s the first and¬†only*¬†treatment¬†I recommend.

People often balk at it, which I understand: it’s difficult. Very difficult. People want an easier option. But I wouldn’t recommend a bandaid for a cancerous tumor, and I won’t suggest anything else.

But I’m too embarrassed …

But I can’t afford it …

But there are no ERP specialists in my area …

Those are all¬†very valid reasons for seeking another treatment option, but the GOOD NEWS is that you can do¬†ERP on your own,¬†if you are committed to it, and¬†if you’re willing to work hard.

It’s still important to have an expert guiding you, so please track down one of the following books:

Stop Obsessing by Edna Foa
Amazon | B&N | Fishpond
Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by Jonathan Grayson
Amazon | B&N | Fishpond
The OCD Workbook by Bruce Hyman and Cherlene Pedrick
Amazon | B&N | Fishpond
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders: A Complete Guide to Getting Well and Staying Well by Fred Penzel
Amazon | B&N | Fishpond

With the help of one of these books, you can be starting your own ERP journey for under $50 (most under $20!).

Read the whole book from cover to cover and do all the exercises. Throw yourself wholeheartedly into pursuing wellness, freedom, and peace. You can have your life back. Believe me. I languished in the hell of OCD for 20 years before just 12 weeks of ERP therapy broke that torturous yoke. This can be your story too.

If you’re not convinced, go to jackieleasommers.com/OCD and read my posts about ERP. Then drop me a comment or an email with your questions!

* I think medication can definitely help tooРbut ERP is a better option than meds, and in my (non-MD) opinion, meds should come alongside ERP, not ever replace it.

Co-Morbidity

comorbidDo you know the term?

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

On their website, the Stanford School of Medicine writes:

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

They also say:

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

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

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

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

For (lots!) more about OCD and ERP, go to jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

 

Image credit: Gerald Gabernig