Question & Dancer: HOCD Edition

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.

I’ve gone through CBT and recovered somewhat from very intense HOCD. However due to the intense stress i have been through for the last few months and still do experience i find that i am behind on my university work. I have the options to defer my exams but am ashamed to do so as i would have tell friends and family that i have been struggling. I. any advise?

Defer your exams, dear. Take help and grace when it is offered. If your friends and family ask about what’s going on, you can simply tell them that you’ve been dealing with some anxiety and stress, but that you’re working through it with someone. If they pry, that is on them. It is your story, and it is your right to share it or not share it. That said, I have found so much freedom and so much support in being honest with my closest friends and my family.

If this post helps, share it with those trusted people.

I’m doing self- ERP of just scrolling through my feeds and reading/acknowleding LGBT stuff. However, after 3 days of mild anxiety and generally feeling like it wasn’t as scary anymore, I came acorss a post that spiked me and I (disappointingly) did my complusions (aka internet searching and reassuring myself). How did you deal with major setbacks in your ERP?

First of all, please try to not think of this as a major setback, friend. This is just part of the healing experience; everyone has good days and bad days, even people who don’t have OCD. Be gentle with yourself. Here are a few posts I’ve written about relapses and setbacks:

Healed Not Cured: Remission & Relapse
OCD in Remission
Life after Treatment
When to expect a relapse
Am I Bitter?
Lies I Sometimes Still Believe
Managing OCD-in-Remission

Can OCD go from mild to moderate? I feel like my OCD themes from when I was a child were not as stressful as the one I have today (I’m an “new adult” I guess, from book genre terms), and I was just wondering if that’s a thing?

I would say so, yes. For me, the longer my OCD went untreated, the more my obsessions seemed to elevate in intensity. I would guess that part of that was because I was growing and learning and becoming wiser. OCD goes after the things that we value most, so it naturally makes sense that– as a new adult– you are figuring out those values and that OCD will find new targets as you do so.

Don’t delay treatment. For me, the obsessions and anxiety got worse and worse (though, of course, there were times of reprieve … but don’t mistake that for OCD being gone; it is just taking a break and gearing up for the next big attack!) until I did exposure therapy.

Why You Need CBT/ERP

I am a long way into my CBT and have recovered to a large extent, but i wanted to know if you could describe what some of the common feelings/lingering HOCD symptoms that remain during the later stages of treatment. I have limited anxiety and compulsions but i still feel this sense of uncertainty about my sexuality, and i don’t know it that should still be there this late into treatment(6 weeks)

Honestly, it sounds like you are way ahead of where I was at 6 weeks in. For me, something finally clicked at about week 10 or 11. After that, nothing in my life has been the same. Please keep up the hard work!

Hi Jackie! I have HOCD am trying to do ERP on my own (temporarily)! I’ve been exposing myself to all types of things.I started getting bored with some of it so I thought I’d make it harder, if I exposed myself to woman in a swimsuit I would ask “am I attracted to her? am I aroused by her?” and start imagining scenarios to see if I liked it. Is this ERP or a checking compulsion? I’m confused.

Looking at the woman in a swimsuit is the exposure– but asking those questions is a compulsion. Try looking at the woman, thinking through a scenario, but NOT judging anything or assigning meaning to it. Tell yourself they are just thoughts. I wonder if it would help for you to read my ERP script and then try copying it but for your own compulsions? I used this script for my imaginal exposures.

I’ve been going through what I think is HOCD and have recovered to an extent due to ERP and CBT. But I still have doubts about whether it was ever OCD or whether it is a real sexuality crisis (I still have spikes but not much anxiety). I was wondering if this is normal in OCD recovery and if you knew any steps I could take therapeutically to help overcome what I think is a last hurdle.

Hello dear one, I’m not sure if those of us with OCD ever seem to make it over the last hurdle. It might be more helpful to think of “the next hurdle.” Don’t be discouraged by that please: I promise that my life post-ERP is incredible and nearly obsession- and compulsion-free, but I also know that I do still have OCD, and I have little setbacks at least once a year. A couple questions above this one, I posted several links about remission and relapses that might be helpful for you to read!

My HOCD has got better with ERP (self-directed, as i cant afford a psychologist) but i still have spikes and now feel like i’ll ever know my sexuality (definitely not with the clarity i did before) i’ve tried hard to accept that maybe i’m bisexual, but i cant and end up remunerating on that as well. Any advice on what i can do now? I just want the joy i had about relationships and love back:(

ERP is meant to make you more comfortable with uncertainty, not to take away the uncertainty. I know that sounds awful (ha!), but it really isn’t. Please read this post, friend:

Gaining Certainty through Embracing Uncertainty

Hi jackie, Im a TOCD and HOCD sufferer. HOCD is ruinning my life, at first it did feel like ocd but now it seems so real that I actually feel Im gay which makes me sick because Ive always been boycrazy. Im 18 years old and never been in a relationship which gives ocd a lot to work with. And I cant feel attracted to boys anymore which is the most scary thing ever for me. Att: rosie

Hi, its rosie again, the thoughts that used to make me sick dont disgust me anymore, and I cant picture myself in a future relationship with a boy, which scares me a lot bc is all that I ever wanted, i used to watch lesbian porn but never thought of being in a relationship with a girl other than friendship, i dont know what to do Im depressed and lost, all i want is my heterosexual life back.

Hi Rosie-dear, I thought I’d reply to both of your questions at once. First of all, this is all very, very normal for an HOCD sufferer. I am not saying that it doesn’t suck (it does!), but it’s all common to the experience, and I hope you can find comfort in that. Secondly, please find hope in knowing that many, many HOCD sufferers who were in the same shoes as you are now experiencing freedom and joy and confidence in their sexuality via exposure therapy. If you go to http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD, you can read a LOT more about what exposure therapy (or ERP) is, how it works, and how you can even do it on your own (with the help of a library book) instead of a therapist.

I have had questions about homosexuality and curiosity about it when I was little and this is what scares the hell out of me now. No straight person would repeatedly question things like that, would they? Lesbian porn made me orgasm faster than my preferred gay porn (I’m a straight girl that likes gay man porn and I think thats normal). That has nothing to do with anything, right?

I would imagine that most straight people do question that. And straight people with HOCD repeatedly question their sexuality. (By the way, I’ve heard from so many people with HOCD who have gone back and combed through their childhood to find evidence. This isn’t helpful.) I recommend reading a book about OCD and seeing if it sounds like you. Chances are very high that it will. If so, then consider exposure therapy, either on your own or with a specialist. At http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD, I have info about both types.

Jackie I’m so done with all this hocd stuff. I’m not strong enough to deal with this. I’m sad everyday and I have so much doubt. I feel like, as a female who has been straight her whole life, I can never see myself liking boys again. I just want to give up and accept I’m gay :(((

You say you want something and then follow it with frowny-faces, so I don’t believe you. This is what I believe, because it matches with where I was at for so many years: you want to be sure; you want either black OR white, but you do NOT want to wait in the gray. The gray, the uncertainty, is what gives you anxiety. And this is the root of OCD, dear one. But guess what, the rescue and the freedom is actually found in the gray area. That sounded so impossible to me. It might sound that way to you too. But uncertainty is how you beat OCD, and you do it via something called exposure therapy. Please read the following:

Gaining Certainty through Embracing Uncertainty
Embracing Uncertainty
Uncertainty is the Key

I remunerate endlessly about whether I am having an actual sexuality crisis or HOCD. Any idea as to what distinguishes the two? because, i simply cant tell anymore.

Anecdotally, my friends who are gay would probably not have called it a crisis. My friends with HOCD definitely would because of the intense anxiety that accompanies it. Have you read any books about OCD? Please do. I bet you will find yourself in the pages.

Jackie, I’ve had hocd for a year now and I don’t really know how much I can handle anymore. Recently I’ve been going through a phase where I wonder if I’m bi. I am a 17 year old female who had never questioned her sexuality. It’s on my mind a lot even if I’m in the stages of waking up from sleep the thoughts of being gay run in my head before I even open my eyes. I feel hopeless:(

Hi dear, please don’t feel hopeless. You are 17 and have the world ahead of you, and I promise there is hope. If this is causing this kind of anxiety, it is very likely to be HOCD. Have you had a chance to read a book about OCD yet? I recommend something like the following. Don’t let yourself get too anxious to do this. Remind yourself that you are simply collecting information at this point.

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

Jackie, I feel a lot of trouble turning to god during my hocd time. I feel distant from him and can’t attend church much because I’m a busy teen with school. I feel like deep down inside I still wonder if hocd is really a disorder and I’m doubtful of God being able to help with stuff concerning sexuality. Every time I try to pray i just hear “you can’t pray the gay away” in my head

Firstly, this is a verse I held dear to me during the worst seasons of OCD: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” This is from 2 Timothy 2:13. I don’t believe that “praying the gay away” is what you are trying to do, dear. I know this feels hard to do because the theme of homosexuality is what is at the forefront of your mind right now, but remember that that is just a theme— the real issue here is OCD. It can theme hop actually, so we focus on OCD, not on the theme. OCD is the root. Pray about OCD. Pursue ERP. And then pray about that as well. 🙂

Lord, I am terrified about what I am being asked to do through this therapy, and I worry that it might be sinful.  But there is at least some part of me that believes this is connected to OCD, so please cover over all I have to do with your grace. I am doing these things in the hopes of restoring my right and healthy relationship with you. Please be honored by my therapy and my choice to fight for my freedom (which you won on the cross) and my relationship with you (again, made possible by the cross). Be glorified in my therapy, and cover anything sinful with your incredible grace. Make me strong enough to complete my exposures. Provide the strength I need to press through this scary therapy, and let these hard exposures and choices (that may sometimes seem wrong to me) glorify you. Amen.

Regarding, false attractions with HOCD. I feel these strong inclinations towards certain women (only celebrities) who i admire and find myself continuously worrying/checking if it’s more than that. I feel like I’m denying a crush. It doesn’t feel like a natural crush, like i usually have. But i do recognise that i have a genuine obsessions of sorts with them. Could this be another HOCD symptom?

I think so! It sounds so similar. Does it give you anxiety? Do you try to do something to make the anxiety go away? (Could be almost anything– telling yourself that you don’t actually like these celebrities, picturing yourself kissing them to “test” your reaction, etc.) If so, that sounds like HOCD to me.

Jackie, I have had hocd for a really long time now and I honestly feel like it never gets better. Im a girl and I feel like I will never like another guy again. It honestly feels like torture because I feel like I’m gay and I just need to accept it. I’ve been praying so much but I never seem to see God’s hand in this aspect of my life. What do you think?

I think that God is always at work, even when we don’t feel him or see what he is up to. So, it’s okay if you don’t have faith enough to believe that right now– I have faith enough to believe it for the both of us, and I am excited for what he will do in your life, dear. I undersatnd what it is like to feel like things will never get better. I promise I get that: I suffered for 20 years, 15 of those being undiagnosed. But just 12 weeks of ERP therapy broke my chains. Have you looked into this yet? Read up about it at http://www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD!

I am doing ERP and CBT – albeit on my own, guided by a book, but i have this need to come out as gay or bi-sexual (even though i know i am not). In some ways i feel like i’ll never be free/ rid of my obsessive thoughts till i do this. it like i want to confess to something i know i am not/haven’t done. Is this normal with HOCD and is there any way to deal with this, like a specific CBT technique?

Confession is actually a pretty common compulsion– and here, it feels like what you’re talking about would fall under this category. Remember that in ERP, you need to do your best with the RP (response prevention)– in other words, resist the compulsions. In your case, this would be the compulsion to confess or to come out. If you keep doing your exposures and keep resisting the compulsions, your brain wiring will change in the very best way. Keep it up. Don’t give up or give in.

Hi,I need help! I think i have hocd but i’m not sure. All started when a classmate put her head on my shoulder. In that moment i was so scared, my heart beat really fast and in that moment I thought if i was lesbian. I always had crush for boys, but i never had a boyfriend. At the beginnig this things last for like two days, and then i was okay. But now is like a month that i live like this.

You should read some of the HOCD stories on this website! Your story sounds very similar to Hannah’s– she thought her friend looked pretty one day … and then her mind was “off to the races” for months. I’m sure you feel alone, but you are not. First of all, please note that all but one of the questions above are in regard to HOCD. Secondly, please read these stories. I think they will really help give you some clarity and direction.

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

 

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.)

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’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.)