I “met” Mae online about a year ago, when she reached out to me after finding my website. What began as some advice-giving developed into a friendship, and it’s been incredible to watch Mae blossom over the last year as she underwent the difficult, incredible choice of exposure therapy to treat her OCD.
She used to read the “Interviews with a Former HOCD Sufferer” (Interview #1, Interview #2, Interview #3, Interview #4), and this weekend I asked her if she would be willing to tell her own HOCD story on my blog. She graciously agreed.
Today she’ll share more about her experience with HOCD, and tomorrow she’ll share about her experience with exposure therapy. Mae is terrifically detailed and vulnerable in her story, and I know that will benefit so many of my blog readers.
Where do I even begin…
I’ve always been a bit of an “internally anxious person.” When I look back on my life, i had different unwanted thoughts, but it was much easier to dismiss them.
One night after a particularly stressful week at school, my husband and I were having sex (which is normally quite enjoyable!) and the thought “what if I’m a lesbian?” popped into my brain OUT OF NOWHERE.
I could not sleep. Eating was extremely difficult. I lost 20 pounds. I felt like I was in a continual fog. From the moment I woke up to the moment that I attempted to fall asleep, I had continual thoughts surrounding this theme. Sometimes my brain would get bored with the “what ifs” and it would twist and turn things to different things like “you don’t really love your husband” or “hey, check out that co-worker’s butt.” I would walk through a store and continually ask myself, “Is that woman attractive or do I find that man more attractive?”
Every piece of my identity that I had ever known seemed to be crashing before me.
Sometimes I didn’t feel physical anxiety, it was more of a mind game. My head was CONSTANTLY racing with so many competing thoughts. It was extremely exhausting.
Every little thing became an obsession. “Did I like my best friend, she has great boobs and she is smart.” “My instructor at the gym is a lesbian, does she know I’m having these thoughts?” “I’ve always liked boys, I even remember my first crush in elementary school.” “Do I dress feminine enough?” Every.little.thing. consumed me.
OCD likes to latch onto something that is central to our identity or a theme that is close to us. This thought was all consuming for 3-5 months. I tried EVERYTHING. I did mindfulness exercises, I prayed, I tried to eat “whole foods,” I did acupuncture, I worked out SO much, I tried essential oils, I tried natural supplements. I was desperate, but SO SCARED to go on meds and SO SCARED to try ERP. [Jackie interjects: ERP = exposure and response prevention therapy. This is the frontline treatment for OCD.]
I went to three different counselors before I found one that truly did ERP. Do not be dismayed if that freaks you out. I didn’t really understand what ERP was until the tail end of my therapy search. I thought CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and ERP were the exact same thing. They are not. ERP is the BEST possible thing you could do for yourself. I cannot say that I am “cured” or that I waved a magic wand and my obsessive thoughts went away. What I can say is this, for 13 months I felt like I was in hell on Earth in so many ways. I can now say the only time the obsessive thoughts bother me is during my menstrual cycle. Sometimes I will still get a bothersome though outside of my cycle, but now I’m able to let the thought float on by. Whereas 13 months ago these thoughts consumed SO many hours of my day. These were hours that I could have been enjoying time with family, friends, my husband, and I could have been enjoying delicious food too! I had ZERO appetite for quite some time. It sucked.
I can now say that 90% of my life is great thanks to ERP and medication. I understand and honor any individual’s choice on medication. I was very, very skeptical of going on meds. I finally had to acknowledge that a combination of ERP therapy and medication helped SO much.
I’ve accepted and acknowledged that its perfectly normal and ok to enjoy someone else’s appearance (same sex or opposite). We are sexual beings created to admire beauty. I still fully love my husband and find him incredibly attractive. Do I still admire some women’s butts or their outfits? YES! And, instead of that thought and admiration cycling out of control into n endless number of questions I let the thought be there.
I have written my ERP therapist since finishing session with him. I continually have told him how grateful I am for the work and transformation that took place in my life. Therapy sessions are over, but ERP is a continual practice. It gives you tools in your toolbox to live a healthy life, one that isn’t consumed by doubt, questioning, and anxiety.
The biggest thing I want each of you suffering with HOCD to know is: You are brave. You can do hard things. ERP is scary, but if you are willing to put in the hard work and effort the flip side is incredibly worth it.