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.)

HOCD Q&A with Hannah!

Well, folks, she’s back … the lovely Ms. Hannah, a former HOCD sufferer who has been featured on my blog in four previous¬†interviews. I recommend you read them first so that you can be properly introduced to her and her story.

Interview #1white blank picture in the room
Interview #2
Interview #3
Interview #4

I keep an anonymous survey open year-round for people to submit¬†HOCD questions, and when a number have gathered, I do another interview. The first question, however, was an anonymous comment on a blog post about Mae, another HOCD sufferer, who wrote, “I went to the gym a lot and if I thought a woman‚Äôs butt was hot, I was supposed to just appreciate her beauty and not doing anything else with the thought.”

Anonymous asks:¬†What did she mean when she said that she appreciated women for their beauty? Did she mean sexually or just like ‚ÄúOh they‚Äôre really pretty I want to be them‚ÄĚ? I‚Äôm trying to do self ERP so I just want to make sure.

Hannah: I can’t speak for Mae, but for¬†me, the exposure of “just appreciating a woman’s beauty” would¬†not be the equivalent of “I want to be them.” It would be just what it says and nothing more– “That woman is beautiful. I like beauty.” There might be sexual feelings or arousal there as well, but that’s part of ERP too. The important thing is to let the thought just be a thought.

Anonymous asks:¬†I’m a girl and I think I have HOCD, is it normal to picture having a husband and being calm about it then starting to picture having a wife and suddenly get anxiety over it? Thank you

Hannah: It’s normal if you have untreated HOCD! Now, after ERP, that thought wouldn’t give me anxiety. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have that thought anymore. It would be more likely for me to find myself physically attracted to a woman, but I don’t think in terms of “Oh, I wonder if I’m actually gay” anymore. ERP wiped that out of my brain– paradoxically, it did this by making me okay with the thoughts I hated and the uncertainty. Once I let uncertainty have its own way, it quit bothering me. I wasn’t a slave to it anymore; bored with me, it moved on.

Anonymous asks: Is it normal to feel LESS anxious about the intrusive thoughts after months?
Hannah: Three different answers to this question, Anon.
1) If you are not treating the HOCD with exposure therapy: yes, sure. The anxiety often advances and retreated for me in all my OCD themes, not just HOCD. But until I did ERP, things would just come back laterРand worse.
2) If you¬†are treating HOCD with exposure therapy: yes, that’s the goal. For me it took about three months of daily exposures before the anxiety went away.
3) If you¬†not treating the HOCD and you’re less anxious about your intrusive thoughts¬†but you’re actually sort of worried about that (i.e. you think you might just be growing accustomed to your “new” orientation*+), that’s also pretty common for people with HOCD. They sometimes start losing attraction to the gender they are typically attracted to. Problem here is … you’re probably not actually less anxious here. The fact that you asked the question at all reveals that there is still anxiety around the subject for you.
*I used apostrophes around “new” because although I definitely acknowledge gender fluidity, I don’t think the situation around HOCD means the same thing.
+Remember that HOCD afflicts both straight¬†and gay people. OCD doesn’t discriminate.

Anonymous asks: why?

Hannah: I don’t know, honey. Depends on your worldview how you answer this one. I like to think that pain has a purpose and that those of us who suffer from mental illnesses will one day understand what the purpose was. Even if we don’t ever find out, I still believe that.

Anonymous asks:¬†When you imagined “same-sex scenarios” in your head, did you actually think you enjoyed them?
Hannah: Yes and no. I mean, clearly, my response was tremendous anxiety, so no. But the anxiety came because I …¬†thought? … I enjoyed them. OCD is a fucker.

Anonymous asks:¬†I’m really young to have HOCD and I don’t want to tell anyone. I feel like I’m straight and I have always been attracted to the opposite gender. But now I’m scared what if I stop liking them?

Hannah: You poor dear! I was also young when HOCD first attacked me– 8th grade. What is that, 14? Everything that you write in your short three sentences indicates HOCD though. Jackie wrote a post that young people (or really anyone) with HOCD can share with their parents or loved ones so that the responsibility of explaining the disorder and what they need to treat it doesn’t rest on the sufferer. She’ll probably link it. [Jackie interjects:¬†here it is!]

Anonymous asks: Hi, I read your articles and found myself in every word.After getting to know about HOCD I had a more peaceful like very peaceful week, but now the feeling are coming back and they start seeming so real. Could it be more than HOCD?
Hannah: Thanks for reading my other interviews! It’s so nice to know they are helping people! As I said in an answer above, OCD themes come and go, and the intensity comes and goes too, at least for me. I can’t tell you how many times (especially when I was younger) I thought I had “solved” my problems. Unfortunately, what would happen is that the problem would rear its ugly head a few weeks or a month later. OR a new– usually worse– issue or theme would begin. But when I did ERP therapy, that cycle stopped.
Anonymous asks:¬†I feel very uncomfortable around lesbians and hay people because of my hocd. And part of me thinks that they are trying to make me one of them, a lesbian, by saying things like “you could go good with a girl” and it freaks me out! How do you control something like that? I hate my hocd and I’m %100 sure I have it. It doesn’t control me as much as when I first got it but I still get those nasty thoughts. These people are also a bad influence, how do I keep myself away from them?
Hannah: So, a couple thoughts here. I’m not sure if you meant that gay and lesbian people are a bad influence or if you just meant that the people you’re surrounded by are a bad influence. I hope the latter. Homosexual people are usually pretty awesome. Sure, there might be a bad apple in the bunch, but that’s going to happen with straight people too. That said, if the group of people you’re hanging around with are really, truly a bad influence on you, you need to speak up or duck out. The reason that I think you might mean that is that you said that they say things that freak you out and that you can’t control. Take the person aside and politely tell them, “It bothers me when you say X.” If you can’t say that to them, they are not very good friends. If you do have HOCD and one of your compulsions is avoidance of gay friends, then your exposure is to make sure you spend time with them. In general, the phrase “how do I keep myself away from X?” is not helpful in treating OCD of any stripe. In exposure therapy, you … well,¬†expose yourself to X.
Anonymous asks:¬†hey hannah im a fourteen year old girl whos been constantly worrying about her sexuality for about a year and a half now. one thing i can’t get over and i always revert back to is how when i was younger about 10 i would have lesbian fantasies before i would go to sleep. i dont think i ever wanted to do that with a girl however i would enjoy the fantasies. i cant seem to get over this and it doesnt seem to be a similar trait amongst straight people. could you please help
Hannah: Hi dearie! Oh how I can relate to being fourteen and dealing with HOCD! My heart goes out to you. Here is my honest-to-goodness thought: you wrote, “it doesnt seem to be a similar trait amongst straight people”; in reality, I think it’s probably pretty common and just not widely talked about. There is a scale¬†that shows a¬†person more about their sexual orientation, and it takes into account so many factors– past, present, future, as well as sexual attraction, sexual behavior, and sexual fantasies, those three being very different, and others. In other words, homosexual fantasies do not equal homosexual orientation. ¬†I thought the scale was fascinating. THAT SAID, I DO NOT RECOMMEND THAT PEOPLE SUFFERING FROM HOCD GO TAKE THIS. YOU HAVE A DISORDER THAT CAN SKEW THE RESULTS OF THIS QUIZ AND WHICH WILL MAKE TAKING THE QUIZ MISERABLE. Please do not Google it. If you Google it, baby puppies¬†will die.¬†And angels will not get their wings.¬†Instead, do exposure and response prevention therapy. It can change your life. It changed mine.
Anonymous asks: More than a month ago, I suffered from HOCD. Then my mom showed me a website that talked about HOCD, which matched my condition. At first, I thought I was in denial! That website relieved me for a month and a half, until now. Well, two weeks ago, HOCD came back again. It comes and goes. I don’t know why. Sometimes, I feel totally heterosexual, while other times, I have doubts. It’s strange. Is this actually HOCD? Thanks!
Hannah: Neither Jackie nor I can diagnose you– you need to see a professional for that– but everything you are describing (including the “it comes and goes” and “I have doubts” and the fact that you were “relieved”) sounds like HOCD. Read up about HOCD and try ERP. Since you have already talked to your mom about this, it sounds like you two have a good, safe, close relationship. Explain to her about ERP therapy (and if you don’t know about it, go to http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD and read, read, read!) and ask her to help you meet with an ERP specialist.
Anonymous asks:¬†I always have the impulse to look at girls butts and boobs and check if I’m “turned on”,did you have that problem when you had HOCD?
Hannah: Absolutely. I think this is probably THE most common compulsion for those of us with HOCD. In exposure therapy, you will need to stop the checking. It might sound impossible on the front end, but so many people suffering from HOCD and other types of OCD have done this successfully and now lead happy lives.
Anymous asks:¬†Hey, your probably not gonna answer since this was a long time, but I have liked boys my whole entire life. I was always and happy and confindent with my sexuality. Im scared for my future especially since I am young and I want a husband and kids one day. I constantly look at people blogs, forums, support group pages because I feel relief im not alone and helps calm me down. I dont hang out with my friends or go outside anymore. I know deeply im gay. This fear all started when I was watching tv and saw 2 of the same-sex kissing and then the thought “am I gay” and started to panic. I cry almost everyday because i just dont want tl be gay ever. Anyways I did have intrusive thoughts like “your gay” every single day but I just let it be there. I don’t have intrusive thoughts anymore but it’s like im still scared to be gay. Im not bothered by the thoughts anymore which scare me. I still don’t want to talk to my friends or go outside, because when I went to instagram and saw a girl that was pretty and I had this feeling in my chest I don’t know what it is but I started to have a pabic attack. Then I would constantly ask myself ” wouldn’t I have liked girls when i was younger” or ” All my life I never liked girls and I only liked boys so why am I so worried. I don’t wanna be gay. But. Anyways I’ll start asking my questions. Is it possible to just become gay by a thought? …
Hannah: No.
¬†… Does it mean im gay because my intrusive thoughts are almost gone but im still worried to be gay? …
Hannah: No.
… I used to like this boy but now I don’t feel as attracted to him like before. I feel like my attraction for boys is gone. Does that mean I turning gay. …
Hannah: No.
… Thank you if you do answer and btw I am 15 years old and a girl. Sorry if I have grammar mistakes. I just don’t want to be who I was before hocd. I don’t want to be scared to go outside or go on some social media because I might see a girl. Please help.
Hannah: The best help for HOCD is exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. Every OCD expert will tell you the same (note: I am not an OCD expert, but I still agree!). Take deep breaths and learn as much as you can about ERP. Then either find an ERP therapist or get a book written by an OCD expert that will guide you through doing ERP on your own. Jackie will link resources below.
Thanks, everyone! Great questions! Keep ’em coming!
Hey guys. Jackie here again. I want to thank all of you who posted such good questions, and I especially want to thank Hannah for generously taking the time to answer them all. As Hannah mentioned, resources follow. The very last link two links are for alternative ways to do ERP without meeting with a therapist.