Question & Dancer: When OCD Makes You Doubt You Have OCD [& More]

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.

 

Is it normal to become hypersensitive to the looks of your same sex with the onset of HOCD? even if you’ve known and seen the person before they just appear a lot more attractive now? Is that a symptom of a. change in sexuality or another Possible HOCD Symptom?

This is very common. Many (most?) with HOCD will be hypersensitive in this way; some seek out opportunities to “check” their reaction to the same sex (if the person with OCD is straight– obviously, this would be the opposite if the person with OCD identifies as a homosexual person) while some avoid that gender entirely. Both checking and avoidance are compulsions. Follow my HOCD tag here.


I am 54 years old recently my ocd has become worse for last 6 months since i changed my job and because of ocd anxiety i am not able to work at present. My ocd is mostly god related i have to pray and touch god photos everytime i pass through them and think i have not prayed prope rly and become anxious. Also there are lots of thoughts coming and going in my head always about touching god photos etc and i am not satisfied with my praying i tried medicines and they made my condition worst,Please help me Sir

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is the very best treatment for ANY form of OCD, including this. My OCD was also related to my faith; I suffered for 20 years before just 12 weeks of ERP gave me back my life (and a growing relationship with my God). Lots of resources available for you at www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD!

Is it normal to feel no attraction or interest in romantic relationships when suffering with HOCD, even when recovering (reduced obsessions and compulsions, but the feeling of not knowing your sexuality and not being attracted to the gender you always have been attracted to?

I hear this all the time!

Hi Jackie, I have been suffering from hocd for a while now. One of my biggest problems besides the intrusive thoughts and fear I can’t shake off is the EXTREME SADNESS I have. I feel like I get sucked into this dark hole where I can’t get rid of feeling hopeless and sad. I lose all motivation to do my homework and just feel angry at god. Have you ever felt this way? If so, what did you do to help yourself?

Hi friend, sounds like you might be dealing with depression in addition to OCD. The same thing happened to me. Sometimes the depression is a result of the OCD– treating the OCD effectively will “remove” the source. But sometimes that’s not the case; in such a case, it can be more important to deal with the depression first in order for the sufferer to gather strength to fight the OCD. An OCD specialist can help you with this. Perhaps this is a personal preference, but I always recommend treating depression with medication. Depression is a chemical issue, so I fight back with chemicals, often an SSRI. For those who can’t afford a prescription, the supplement 5-HTP is the closest natural alternative to an SSRI.

Hi Jackie, Did you ever feel like your ocd would never end? As a current hocd sufferer, I feel a lot that it’s never going to be over. I question and doubt even the most logic of facts I’ve been told to use in order to help cope with the intrusive thoughts. Everyday it’s a new “what if” question and it makes me terrified and sad.

Yes yes yes yes yes. This was actually one of the biggest horrors of my OCD: the fear that it would always be that way, that it would never end. I’ve written a post specifically about this.

Hi! I have one question: could HOCD bounce to another theme even though I’ve been dealing with it for two months and eventually couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t as severe as it was for the first month? Sometimes I feel like my attraction men is back (I’m a girl) but I still react negatively when HOCD thoughts come up. HOCD targets my insecurities as well.

Theme hopping is pretty normal, at least it was for me. I would spend maybe three or four months obsessing about something until it was basically like my brain would collapse— maybe it was the mental equivalent to the body passing out from pain. It would quickly find something new. It always would. That’s why we don’t treat the theme– we treat OCD.

a week ago I was still dealing with HOCD, but while putting my niece down for a nap, I had a sexual intrusive image of her followed by “should I…?” ever since then my mind has been obsessing about this nonstop. I know what I am capable of and would never harm a child. I can’t stop googling, crying and asking for reassurance. What should I do? Does this sound like POCD?

Indeed it does! And, if you read the answer just above this one, you will see that often OCD hops from theme to theme until it is effectively treated with exposure therapy. ERP is always the best course of action; many more details and resources at

www.jackieleasommers.com/OCD. You are absolutely correct in knowing that you would never harm a child. You wouldn’t. In fact, if you were that kind of person, you would not be “googling, crying and asking for reassurance.” I am not worried about you being a pedophile. I only want you to be treated for OCD, friend. You can do this.

I think I have had HOCD for about 6 months now, and my attraction still hasn’t come back for men. However, before I would get major spikes when reading coming out stories, and reading online forums would say something along the lines of HOCD is just a cover up for those in the closet. I no longer feel major spikes when reading this material though. Is my mind is coming to terms with being gay?

HOCD is a theme of OCD, an anxiety disorder; homosexuality is a sexual orientation. They are not the same thing at all. The first is an illness; treat it with exposure therapy.

In general, are our thoughts representative of our true selves?

Not when someone has OCD.

I’m so scared and tired. I don’t know how long I can take this.

Don’t give up. But do seek treatment. I remember being in your shoes– exactly those shoes. Exhausted, terrified, living either at a fever-pitch of anxiety or else at a low flat-line of depression. But I got rid of those shoes in 2008. I will never walk in them again. 

Is it possible that you can develop mental illness like OCD, even though you might not have issues with OCD in the past? I also have another question: do you think people who second guess whether or not they OCD take longer to seek treatment or even a diagnosis? Plus, could cultural and community surroundings prolong getting help?

I’m not sure if I have any friend with OCD who would say that they have had it from birth– or at least, that it hadn’t manifested itself from birth. For many of us, there is some sort of trigger that kicks into gear at some point. Mine began at age seven.

And yes, statistics estimate that it takes 14-17 years from the onset of OCD symptoms until someone is correctly diagnosed and effectively treated. For me, it took twenty.

I think that number is affected by pride, doubt, how few people (even therapists!) know to direct an OCD sufferer to exposure therapy, and how difficult exposure therapy is. In addition, cultural and familial stigma also prevent people from getting treated.

I know a family– the most incredible, amazing family– in Michigan. When their pre-teen daughter exhibited symptoms (obsessions and compulsions), the parents immediately sought help, learned about OCD and ERP, and got their daughter into an intense ERP program at the Mayo Clinic. I praise God that my beautiful young friend M didn’t have to suffer for 17 years before all that happened. I praise God for parents like R and D.

I realized one of my compulsions is ruminating, but its so hard to catch myself ruminating until Ive ruminated for a good hour. Ive tried to catch myself early but I’m wondering if you have any tricks to stop it from happening? Its hard because rumination just happens immediately after a scary thought&I dont even realize I’m doing it until its too late (rumination also decreases my anxiety)

I had some compulsions that were auto-responses, and the trick my ERP therapist offered to me to stop it didn’t seem like it would work. Except it did work. When I realized what I was doing I would say, “NO!”– interrupt my thoughts this way– “I don’t need to do XYZ right now.” Sometimes I would have to do that multiples times just in the course of a minute. But it worked. My auto-responses eventually stopped.

I feel so alone in this (HOCD), i feel like i’ve lost all identity and sense of self. I’m getting treatment- its not the best, (I am a student so i cant afford much) but i don’t feel much better. I don’t know what to do, i feel so lost

I am so sorry you feel this way, but you are still fighting. You are looking out for yourself and keep seeking help, and I am proud of you. When you say you’re getting treatment, are you referring to exposure therapy (ERP)? If not, that is what you need to do. Talk therapy is not helpful in treating OCD. ERP, on the other hand, can be done on your own.

I believe I am suffering from HOCD but I am terrified to go to a therapist for them to tell me I am gay. I have a wonderful girlfriend that I do not want to leave and do not want to do anything sexual with men. However I’m scared that I am somehow lying to myself although I’ve been perfectly straight my whole life. Any advice for me?

Yes, read one of these books and see if you can identify yourself. If so, then do the exercises. Listen to yourself: you love your girlfriend and don’t want to do anything sexual with men … yet you are concerned. That is HOCD, friend. (And yes, you will feel a short flood of relief from my saying so … but you will begin to doubt it again soon. That will continue to happen until you treat it with ERP.)

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

Hey, I have a question for you, Jackie (I love your website, by the way; it’s insightful and it’s helped me a lot in recent months). Is this guy a charlatan, or is this actually good advice for someone suffering with HOCD looking to use ERP as treatment? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJ7RfcRrXS8 I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thank you!! ūüôā

Not a charlatan. His steps were basically think about your fear (Exposure) and feel the discomfort (Response Prevention). This is what ERP therapy is. His later steps talk about doing this again and again until it no longer is so upsetting. This is how ERP happens. You can see all these details in the story of my own experience with ERP. Even more details here.

This is regarding HOCD. I was wondering if it is possible to have wondered if you are gay in your childhood. I started freaking out about my sexuality around 8th grade. I am 20 now… still freaking out and still unsure of what I am. I’m scared to be gay and I was wondering if HOCD makes you looks into your past for evidence of being gay and actually believing it?

This can and does happen with HOCD. This happened to Hannah, who has been interviewed on my blog several times. Her HOCD kicked in in junior high as well.

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

I have had Hocd in and off for three years and I often doubt that i have it. I often find that I have fairly bad spikes and want reassurance… what is the best way to stop yourself from compulsively confessing or seeking reassurance?

I am assuming that you have read all the other responses above and so you will now know about ERP therapy. I recommend finding a group of supporters who will help hold you accountable– my friends knew exactly what my main compulsions were (mine also were confession and seeking reassurance), and they knew that they should not “aid and abet.” Remember that when you perform compulsions, you are actually siding with OCD and against yourself.

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.)

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. ūüôā

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.)

 

 

 

The Problem with Seeking Reassurance

For years, one of my biggest compulsions was seeking reassurance.

Do you think I’m going to heaven? ¬†Do you think it was wrong I did such-and-such? ¬†Do you think I hurt so-and-so’s feelings? ¬†Do you think yadda yadda yadda …

My obsessions were like burns, and when someone would reassure me that things were okay, it was like sticking my burned fingertip under cold running water. ¬†The relief felt real … but it was¬†temporary.

Ten minutes later, I’d want to ask again.

(And quite often I¬†would … sometimes to where I would frustrate my family and friends. ¬†They would sigh deeply and look at me with these terribly sad eyes and repeat, “Jackie,¬†no.”)

It functioned just like all compulsions– it provided a temporary relief from my obsession, but then it gets out of control. ¬†I didn’t realize it at the time (and neither did my friends), but all they were doing was enabling my OCD.

What would have been better (although much, much harder for both the OC and the friend) is to say, “Look, there are a lot of things we can’t know with certainty. ¬†What you’re afraid of is POSSIBLE … but it’s not LIKELY. ¬†Let’s look at the available evidence.” ¬†Of course, no obsessive-compulsive wants to hear even an ounce of uncertainty … uncertainty doesn’t soothe the burn like cold water.

At least, not immediately.

But as you introduce the idea of uncertainty into your life, and you learn to embrace it, what happens is that you start to heal.  It is hard for EVERYONE, but it is BETTER.  Reassurance only leads to seeking more reassurance.  Uncertainty leads to acceptance and healing and a new life.

Now, of course this is difficult. ¬†Who wants to say to a crying child, “Something bad MIGHT happen if you don’t organize your locker”? ¬†Or to a terror-stricken young adult, “It’s POSSIBLE you could catch a life-threatening disease if you don’t wash your hands right now”? ¬†Or to someone who is weak with guilt, “We can’t KNOW for SURE that God didn’t heal your mother because of something you did”? ¬†It’s agony all around.

But it is better.  Healthier.

And then you can follow things up with, “What evidence do we have available to help us make decisions? ¬†Other students have messy lockers, and they usually go about their day just fine. ¬†Even if you did get sick today, it probably wouldn’t kill anyone– in fact, lots of people have been sick at your workplace in the last year and no one has died. ¬†It’s more likely that your mom died due to her illness than to your actions that aren’t connected.” ¬†Obviously, these are hard. ¬†They don’t erase uncertainty. ¬†And that is the point.

Remember, uncertainty is the key to healing!!  That is why obsessive-compulsives need to surround themselves with cheerleaders not enablers, people who are willing to do the hard business of tough love, even in the face of tears and terror.  It means anxiety in the short termРbut joy in the long term!

thoughtful girl