Question & Dancer: What is “Normal” with OCD?

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.

My question is this.. I have hocd but whatever I do it just seems like I get afraid or concerned when a guy comes around me.. it’s like sometimes I look just to check if im attracted to them.. and it’s annoying because the action is becoming involuntary and it’s scary because people read what you send them .. and people are starting to think that I’m gay! And thats very false! What should I do to combat that?

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, which I’ve written about extensively on this blog: check out http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD, friend. Educate yourself on ERP; then seek out an ERP specialist or track down one of the books I recommend so that you can do ERP on your own. Either way, ERP is the solution.

Please read here about Self-Directed ERP.

i’ve met we a psychologist- but she doest seem to have any experience with HOCD and thus has not really been catching it’s symptoms/mentioned it, she does think i have an anxiety disorder and excessive worry- but not specifically anything on OCD. Note she is relatively inexperienced psychologist, as i’m a student and needed to find someone low cost. Not the psychologist has little experience as i’m a student and need a low cost specialist. She has mentioned CBT and ERP as helping methods though. so, what i wanted to ask is form what i have described do i sound like i have HOCD or an i in denial. I am not trying to seek reassurance but guidance, I don’t have anyone to turn to (from a very backwards society in asia) – should i be looking for an OCD specialist or a general psychologist to help me come to term with who i am?

Hi dear! You need an OCD specialist, specifically an ERP specialist. If you can’t afford to meet with one in person, then definitely track down a book (I list four on my website) that will guide you through doing ERP on your own! And kudos to you for being ultra-aware of seeking reassurance. That is one of the primary compulsions for many who suffer from HOCD– the more you are aware of it and resist it, the better! Click here to read more about the Problem with Reassurance.

Hi Jackie. I was wondering if you have any strategies to just letting the thoughts be thoughts in your head. On the web (when I looking for reassurance yes I know its sooooo bad but I can’t help it), people say to let those intrusive thoughts wonder in your mind, but do I just sit there and think nothing as those thoughts wreak havoc on my emotions? Do I just try to calmly breathe through it when my heart is beating super hard? It’s also so hard to not check for reassurance online! How did you have the strength to not reassure yourself? What did you say or think to yourself to prevent it? (I can’t afford a diagnosis, much less ERP so I’m scared that my HOCD may be actually be in denial, but I do know that I’ve had many obessions and compulsions in the past and when the professor talked about OCD, my first thought was THATS ME but then it’s also never been severe to the point where it has disrupted too much of my life. I would just cry myself to sleep most of the time when I’m obsessing)

When I read questions like this, it takes me back to specific memories– horrible, manic ones where I could not calm down, could not do much of anything except to cry and ask for reassurance. It feels so helpless and hopeless in those moments, but I promise it’s not! First of all, since you can’t afford an ERP therapist, please track down one of the books I recommend on my site so that it can guide you through ERP at home. For me, I had a set amount of time when I was intentionally practicing ERP– for me, it was about 40 minutes, twice a day (total of 80 minutes). In the grand scheme of the day, that’s under an hour and a half of putting myself through these exercises (which sometimes felt like torture). Although I did try to avoid compulsions throughout the day, it was only during these 80 minutes that I was specifically triggering myself (exposure) and resisting compulsions (response prevention). It is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. It’s hard and exhausting and feels masochistic. But for me– and for many others– it worked. And it was worth 80 minutes a day for 12 weeks in order to experience this freedom– I’m coming up on nine years of it.

Hi! I’ve been having what I (hope)think is HOCD for two months now and it’s been an intense hell for me. I’ve always been confident that I’m straight and I’ve even intensely championed for gay rights and everything. I used to read articles about gay people and watch videos about people coming out and be fine. But now I avoid all of those and even romance novels because I’m basically terrified of being aroused for the wrong reasons (like if I read a love scene from a guy’s point of view that means I want to do that to a woman when I dont!??!?!?!?). I’ve been trying to do self-ERP and I’ve read that I’m suppose to embrace those “you are gay” “you are turned on because you actually want to do that to a woman” thoughts and the arousal that comes with it. My question is, if I embrace these thoughts for 10-12 weeks, will I really be healed? I JUST WANT THIS HOCD THING TO END.

I don’t think I or anyone can guarantee that 12 weeks of ERP will work for you. But it is an evidence-based treatment, meaning that the statistics of ERP working are in your favor. One thing I can almost for sure guarantee is that if you don’t do ERP, then your OCD will not go away on its own. I suppose it’s possible; miracles do happen. But, for 99% of us in the OCD community, we had to do the hard work of ERP.

Hi Jackie! I’m doing self-ERP for my HOCD right now and although I feel like it would be best with a therapist, I can’t afford it 😦 (maybe one day!) But anyways, my question is that I know when I’m doing ERP, I’m suppose to accept and AGREE with those thoughts of “Yes, you’re probably a lesbian” (gosh it was hard to even type that), but when I’m not doing ERP, do I still have to agree with my intrusive thoughts or should I just let it float around in my head? I know for my past OCD fears (earthquake, breast cancer, blackholes, intersex, death, etc) I would just stop checking and doing my compulsions and would let the thought float around in my head (never did ERP for those things) and a couple hellish months later it would disappear, but HOCD is taking my anxiety to another level (especially since I’m 20 and never been in a relationship with a guy because I’m soooooo shy so now my HOCD is using it as ammunition). Also when I have those OCD-free moments, can I go back to thinking about my crush and the imaginary life we may have one day (wow I’m so weird, I can’t believe I confessed this on the internet) or is that counter-productive to my ERP?

No, I don’t think that’s counter-productive to your ERP. That’s the goal! But during the moments where you are doing your ERP exercises, then yes– you will want to be all in: experiencing the anxiety completely, resisting the compulsions as completely as you’re able. One thing that you wrote specifically interests me: “I would just stop checking and doing my compulsions and would let the thought float around in my head (never did ERP for those things)” … this sounds like it was ERP, friend. Letting thoughts come and not doing compulsions to alleviate the anxiety … that is what ERP is. You can do this.

Hi Jackie, I’ve recently stumbled upon your blog because I am suffering from hocd. I’ve been dealing with it for around 9 months now. I feel so lost because it’s the worst time to really be dealing with all of this. I am a sophomore in high school and all around me people are questioning their sexualites or coming out etc. I line up with all hocd symptoms and anxiety runs in my family. The intrusive thoughts just popped out of no where one afternoon. All my life I’ve liked boys! I talked to my therapist about ERP but she’s not a specialist and I’m scared to even try it. My psychiatrist prescribed medicine that ended up making me worse. Like you I am an avid Christian, but I have always been doubtful and indecisive with everything. I FEEL SO LOST. I’ve lost my hope and feel like nothing is gonna work. I have a hard time believing this could be a disorder. I feel like I should just accept my intrusive thoughts are real but that just depresses me further. What do you think?

Hi honey. If your intrusive thoughts were real, I don’t think they would be intrusive or cause this intense anxiety. For a short time, just suspend your concern that you are dealing with anything other than OCD and tell yourself, “Yes, it IS OCD, and I will treat it.” There is no harm to doing ERP even if you didn’t actually have OCD. Be kind to yourself: accept your self-diagnosis at least for three months while you do ERP on your own with a book to guide you. “Doubtful,” “indecisive,” “so lost,” “lost my hope and feel like nothing is gonna work” … all of these described ME. For nearly 20 years, this is how I would have categorized myself. And, for whatever it’s worth, my sophomore year of high school was HELL, one of the worst and hardest years of my entire life, as I dealt with all of this while undiagnosed. When I was your age, I still faced another 12 years of clawing my way through this alone before I found and did ERP. Please don’t wait as long as I did.

These three questions all reminded me of each other:

1. I have been diagnosed with OCD (HOCD) and have been doing CBT and ERP. I feel as though I am getting better and the intensity of my obsessions and compulsions has reduced but I have this strange feeling of sowmhing not being right and as whole as it use to be? My attraction and desire for relationships and such seems very reduced. It just doesn’t seem to feel or come authentically – is that normal?

2. Is it normal to feel no attraction or interest in romantic relationships when suffering with HOCD, even when recovering (reduced obsessions and compulsions, but the feeling of not knowing your sexuality and not being attracted to the gender you always have been attracted to?

3. Is it normal to become hypersensitive to the looks of your same sex with the onset of HOCD? even if you’ve known and seen the person before they just appear a lot more attractive now? Is that a symptom of a change in sexuality or another Possible HOCD Symptom?

Yes, my dear ones, all of this is normal for someone with HOCD. Please don’t give up. ERP can help.

Hi Jackie, Did you ever feel like your hocd would never end? As a current hocd sufferer, I feel a lot that it’s never going to be over. I question and doubt even the most logic of facts I’ve been told to use in order to help cope with the intrusive thoughts. Everyday it’s a new “what if” question and it makes me terrified and sad.

Hello sweetie, YES. I felt that way about all of my OCD themes … that things would always be this way and that, to me, was probably the scariest thing about it. We can go through any pain so long as we see an end in sight, don’t you think? But OCD lies to us, makes us believe there is no end in sight, and that robs us of hope and joy. Please read this blog post I wrote back in 2014: THINGS WILL NEVER BE OKAY AGAIN [& other lies I sometimes still believe].

I am 54 years old recently my ocd has become worse for last 6 months since i changed my job and because of ocd anxiety i am not able to work at present. My ocd is mostly god related i have to pray and touch god photos everytime i pass through them and think i have not prayed properly and become anxious. Also there are lots of thoughts coming and going in my head always about touching god photos etc and i am not satisfied with my praying i tried medicines and they made my condition worst,Please help me Sir

Hello friend, have you heard of ERP therapy? My OCD was also based primarily around religious obsessions; I battled this for 20 years before undergoing ERP, and just 12 weeks of ERP therapy snapped my OCD in half. The last nine years have been so peaceful, so free. Here are a few posts that might help:

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

Hi Jackie, I have been suffering from hocd for a while now. One of my biggest problems besides the intrusive thoughts and fear I can’t shake off is the EXTREME SADNESS I have. I feel like I get sucked into this dark hole where I can’t get rid of feeling hopeless and sad. I lose all motivation to do my homework and just feel angry at god. Have you ever felt this way? If so, what did you do to help yourself?

My gosh, YES. 100% yes. I am guessing that you have depression comorbid (alongside) OCD, as I did. For me, the OCD was the root issue and what was causing the depression, so when I treated the OCD, the depression alleviated as well. I talk about my anger at God a little bit in this post. Ultimately, I got so sad and felt so lost that I hit rock bottom– and God was there. He looked like a Korean psychiatrist who gave me hope, a prescription, and a phone number for a local ERP therapist.

Hi Jackie, I finally realized my problem is OCD. My question is, do people with this “doubting disease” have the capacity to have faith? I’m so worried I might lose faith altogether, because of what’s wrong with me.

Yes, absolutely! In Yes Novel (my work in progress that has been temporarily set aside), the main character has this interaction with his professor:

He nodded, headed toward the door. But before he left, he turned around and asked, “What you teach us in class, do you really believe it?”

Dr. Morgant pursed his lips thoughtfully. “On my worst days and my best days, yes. But not every day. There’s only one thing in I believe every day.”

“Doubt,” said Asa, as his teacher said, “Faith.”

“Same thing,” said Dr. Morgant with a smile.

Anne Lamott has said it best:

I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me–that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.

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.)

Messy: a Consolation

A new friend of mine admitted, “My faith is messy; it’s not a not cookie cutter story.”

Same.

But the gospel is messy. The story of the cross is not a cookie cutter one. Blood and betrayal; beauty and victory; agony, intention, determination. And for the believers, being gobsmacked with uncertainty, terror, heartache– but then the resurrection, the joy of it, the mind-blowing triumph.

This is my faith. Messy, unexpected, and everything I want.

messy-gospel

 

 

Staying with God

A long time ago, I got this question from a blog reader: How did you make the decision to ‘stay’ with God when your struggles came from that relationship?

I think I’m ready to write about that now.

White wall texture with a chair

So … for those of you who are newer to the blog, a bit of backstory: I battled with OCD– mostly of a spiritual nature– for about twenty years before I finally underwent treatment. While OCD has told me countless lies, the hardest one was that I was not loved and accepted by God and that I was going to hell. Nearly all of my battles with OCD had their root in this lie. It was– and remains– my worst thing imaginable (which, of course, is what OCD goes after).

I know that some people who have battled with OCD of a scrupulous or spiritual nature have eventually walked away from the faith. My understanding (though I could be wrong) is that the guilt and fear and, oh, lifestyle guidelines are too severe, so they end up having to distance themselves from it all in order to maintain some semblance of sanity and freedom.

As I said, I could be describing that wrong. The truth is that I’ve never understood it. My OCD centered around the idea that God was the most important person in my life and my fear was that I did not have him … or could not … or that he would refuse to have me. When that was my most intense terror, where would the relief have come from by choosing to walk away myself? I would have been willfully walking into that which was my darkest fear.

So, for me, clinging to Christ was my only hope in the midst of such darkness. Had I let go, I’d have been choosing the terror I was desperately trying to avoid.

Praise God that– while I was clinging to him, so afraid of falling– I was safe in his hands. I just didn’t know it. There is a difference between fearing that a chair will not hold you and a chair that will really not hold you. A huge difference. That said, the fear alone may keep you from enjoying the chair. But for those of us with OCD, our fears and our reality might be miles apart, but we’ve lost the ability to see that gaping chasm between them.

That’s where treatment comes in. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy saved my life and gave me new eyes to see the difference between my fears and the truth. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but 5000% worth it. Today I get to enjoy my relationship with Christ in ways my OCD prevented me from in the past.

If you want to learn more about my faith, click here.
If you want to learn more about OCD and ERP, click here.

Identity

As many of you know, I’m a college admission counselor. I recruit students to my university, attend college fairs, and read a LOT of applications. It’s very common for these seventeen-year-olds to talk about their faith in terms of actions and activities.

unsplash5I go to youth group.
I teach Sunday school.
I went on a mission trip.

I also see a lot about behavior.

I don’t drink or swear.
I don’t go to parties.
I’m committed to sexual purity.

It’s really interesting to me to think back to myself as a seventeen-year-old. At that point, I’d committed my life to Christ for about three years. I was riddled with OCD and mired down in legalism, partially due to the intense black-and-white thinking that OCD forced me into. I probably would have talked about my faith in much the same way.

Now I’m nearly 34; Christ has been my companion for many years– 20 since I made the choice to give my life to him. I’ve been through ERP therapy and set free from so many things, and I think of my faith in such different terms now.

Were someone to ask me to define my faith, I’d have to talk about my identity: I belong to Jesus. I’m a sinful, selfish, prideful, broken person who makes bad decisions and is constantly learning, but I belong to Jesus, and that is what my faith is about. I walk with Christ. He walks with me. I never tackle anything alone– not my novel writing, my persistent issues with anxiety, my career, my relationships. I have a faithful friend, guide, rescuer, and love. I cling desperately to the cross.

Don’t mishear me. I think it’s fantastic for teens to go to youth group and commit to sexual purity. I think our actions (hopefully) flow out of our love for Christ. I just can’t use my actions to define my faith anymore.

My coworkers and I were talking about this and wondering about this shift in mindset that many of us have gone through in our late-twenties and early-thirties. When you are a child, you are taught black and white. It is good to share. It is bad to hit your brother. How could a young mind even begin to fathom gray? I’m not a parent, and sometimes I’m so glad for that. I would have zero idea of how to raise a child.

This blog post isn’t a lesson or a sermon, just an observation that I wanted to share and process via writing. It’s exciting to know that my faith looks different at 34 than it did half a lifetime ago at 17, and I can’t wait to see what it looks like at 51.