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: Compulsions, Doubt, & HOCD

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.

Donnann asked: How do i deal with intrusive thoughts in the form of questions which sometimes i feel like i need to answer? They give me anxiety not finding an answer either by googling or asking reassurance.

Hi friend, asking reassurance (of friends, strangers, Google, the internet, etc.) is, in this case, a compulsion. Compulsions will never be the solution for an OCD sufferer. In the moment, it might feel good, but it is not a lasting solution. I’ve shared a metaphor before about OCD as an arsonist, setting fires in various corners of our brains. Compulsions are short-sighted in that they try to put out individual fires. It is impossible to keep up this way because while you are putting out one fire, OCD the Arsonist is setting another three. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy, on the other hand, goes after the arsonist itself. Compulsions are band-aids; ERP is surgery.

Aurora asked: Is it common for HOCD sufferers to begin questioning whether they really have OCD?

Incredibly common, and not just with HOCD. I think that just about every person who has OCD of any stripe has, at one point or another (or a thousand points), wondered if he or she really does have OCD. Remember, OCD is called the “doubting disease.” It lives up to its name in the fullest sense, even down to a diagnosis. I know that, even when I was diagnosed with OCD and then read a book about it in which I saw myself over and over in the examples, I still faced that question. Everyone I know who has OCD has had this same concern. You are not alone!

Susan asked: What do you do when in church and the bad thoughts come?Also how do you stop ruminating?

This is not going to be a popular answer, but here it is: you let the bad thoughts come. You let them just be thoughts and don’t assign any special value to them. You let them exist and you do not fight them. OCD feeds off resistance. When we quit resisting, it gets bored with us. You learn how to do this in a healthy way via Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. Just twelve weeks of ERP set me free after 20 years in bondage to OCD. After I learned to stop resisting and to not give bad thoughts too much value, they quit coming as often. In the first 18 months after doing ERP, I had no obsessions or compulsions. In the years since, I do very little ruminating (maybe one or two obsessive relapses each year, no more than a couple hours each). Compared to my nearly constant ruminating for two decades, this is peace and freedom.

Briana asked: Am I ever going to find someone?

Briana, you and me both, girl. I’m window shopping on eHarmony. How about you?

Halima asked: What have I done to deserve this?

Nothing, dear one. Illness sometimes just is what it is. That said, as one of deep Christian faith, I do have lots of thoughts on this. But I don’t believe it is a punishment at all.

Halima asked: How do you manage your OCD in different times of the day when the feelings of doubt and uncertainty are the most crippling?

It has been nearly nine years since I underwent the ERP therapy that changed my life. I very rarely experience that high-intensity, crippling doubt anymore, even though I was well acquainted with it for two decades. When I do have these attacks, I go back to my ERP toolbox: I accept the thoughts, I do not assign special value to them, I refuse to succumb to compulsions, I assess what the community standard is (or ask friends if I cannot tell this myself), and then I go forward with that standard. I make this sound so easy, and I know (believe me, I know!) that this is not easy, not at the beginning. In exposure therapy, you are trained how to do this, and your brain is actually re-wired so that you are able to do this. The brain actually physically changes. That might sound scary, but for me, it has allowed me to be the very best version of myself in all ways: I am more curious, more thoughtful, more productive, more creative. ERP did not erase my questions. It gave me the tools and strength to approach them in a productive way. Before I would just chase questions around and around and around, like a dog chasing its tail.

I also think naps are awesome. 🙂

Anonymous asked: What if you do see a major loss of attraction to the gender you’ve always been attracted to but don’t see a spike in false attractions to the same sex?

This sounds like so many HOCD stories I have heard over the years. The answer is still the same: exposure therapy. I invite you to read more about this from Hannah and Mae, a couple of former HOCD sufferers who each went through ERP:

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

Anonymous asked: Hocd or never was? – I was diagnosed OCD about 7 years ago. Had many OCD behaviours, fear of aids, terrified I’d commit a crime and would be arrested, checking I haven’t hit someone with my car, checking food, washing my hands and lips because I felt dirty or was too close to something I deemed dirty. My biggest one is hocd. I was treated for it and had good success, thoughts were still there but I coped. But since starting uni and wanting a career as a beauty therapist it’s come back big time. I have a recurring obsession about a past friend who I still sometimes see that I’m attracted to her. It will kind of rotate friends and aquaintanxes until they’re spent and then come back to her as a ‘failsafe’ as my mum calls it. But recently, I foolishly looked for reassurance on a message board, and found a post that said after therapy for hocd you might find out your gay and apparently that’s ok. Now I’m terrified to do my ERP/CBT homework. I’m also thinking it keeps resurfacing because I’m actually attracted to women and must accept it. I sometimes don’t feel disgusted anymore and not anxious and that makes me even worse. I’m just so scared that I will turn out gay, have to leave my boyfriend give up on my future family with him. I’m so scared sometimes I feel not scared anymore. I’m so lacking sleep right now. I’ve referred myself to a therapist again, but I’m terrified he or she will reveal I’m gay. I’m so afraid, please help? I read your interview with a former hocd sufferer and pray that can be me soon.

This is a very common fear for people going through ERP/CBT– that it will actually “reveal” something about them, whether that is related to their sexual identity, their “life of crime,” their “evil nature,” etc. It’s important to remember that OCD goes after the things that are most important to us, the things we deeply value. That is what makes it so hard to do ERP. If OCD went after things we didn’t care about, it wouldn’t cause that anxiety and all the questions. Stop assigning special value to these thoughts (“it must keep resurfacing because it’s actually true”); it keeps resurfacing because you have OCD and your sexual orientation is of utmost importance to you, that’s all. I’ve talked to MANY HOCD sufferers, and I’ve never heard one of them say they wish they hadn’t done exposure therapy. I am doing my best not to offer reassurances in this response (I don’t cater to compulsions!), but it’s hard! I will just say that I don’t think you can go wrong with ERP.

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.)