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 😦
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 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 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’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: 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, 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, 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!

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.)