A Letter to Pure OCD Sufferers: You are not Alone!

Posted in Uncategorized on July 9, 2015 by chrissiehodges

Dear Pure O Sufferers,

I wanted to write this letter to tell you some thoughts I have about this type of OCD.

First, I hate it. I cannot tell you how many times I have wished that I could have any other form than the one that I have. Why couldn’t I be a hand-washer? Why couldn’t I be a checker? What did I do to deserve this shameful and horrible type of OCD?

It has taken me years to get to a point where I do not associate my horrific thoughts to my character. When the really bad violent and sexual thoughts first made their appearance, I thought for certain that I had done something terribly wrong to deserve the torture. I spent years trying to repent for whatever I had done so offensive that would warrant such inhumane torment. But, I couldn’t come up with a crime equal to the punishment.  When I stand up to give speeches about my obsessions, there is always the inevitable twinge of fear before I say them out loud that questions:

What if the audience doesn’t believe me?

What if they are judging me?

What if they believe the obsessions are true or will come true?

These questions always bring me to my second thought on having Pure OCD. Did you know that a secondary fear to having Pure O is that we really don’t have OCD and that our obsessions are real? This is a very common theme among us, but one that we don’t like to talk about because we are scared. Sometimes I would think, if only I had outward compulsions, then it would be just the proof I need to convince me that this is real and not something I’m making up.

Proof, huh? Sound familiar? That’s our Pure O hard at work. I didn’t realize how common this secondary fear was until I started working as a coach and peer support with people who have Pure OCD. We worry that because we don’t display the outward compulsions that we don’t really have it. We worry that other people may not believe that we have it because they don’t see the hours of ruminating and avoidance of our obsessions that we deal with. When we start to get better or feel asymptomatic, we worry that maybe we made it up all those years and/or it really wasn’t as bad as we thought.

I’m here to tell you Pure O’s, it IS and it WAS as bad as we thought. I think about myself as a dual personality when it comes to my OCD. When I am not in an episode it is incredibly difficult to understand and remember what it is like to be in it. When I am in an episode, it is difficult to remember what it is like to be out of it. Never doubt what you have been through as real, true, and painful. Also, never doubt that Pure O isn’t priming you for a new obsession that can tailspin you into another episode.

Thirdly, I want to share with you that our triggers can be so much more sensitive than the average person with OCD. Because of the nature of our obsessions and the secondary fear that perhaps we don’t even have OCD, we are highly sensitive to comments that may not normally trigger other types of OCD.

I’ve had people say right to my face that ‘Pure O’ doesn’t exist. Their reasoning was not to imply that I don’t have OCD, it was that the term was not accurate…but oh my, how they had no idea how that statement alone tormented me. What if it doesn’t exist? What if these obsessions are true and real? What if no one believes I have OCD? What if I really don’t have OCD? These were only a few of the myriad of questions I panicked over for weeks following.

We are also more sensitive when people question our obsessions. I think it’s only natural for people to inquire about them in a realistic manner, but it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.

You let your guard down and decide to tell someone the obsession you have had for so many weeks, months, or even years and they ask the dreaded questions:

Well, do you think that’s really true? Do you feel like you really want to harm or hurt people? Have you done anything to make you believe you have AIDS? Do you really think you are gay? Do you really believe in the teachings of Satan? Do you really feel like you want to have sex with a family member? Do you really think you are a pedophile?

Just the inquiries can spiral us downward. I know that I always feel like people are ‘doubting’ my knowledge and ability to differentiate OCD thoughts from my real preferences. While I understand the need to ask these questions, they still hurt and trigger. These types of questions make us question the validity of the obsessions and whether or not we really have the disorder yet again. It can be a vicious cycle that is just as exasperating as the disorder itself.

I  wanted  to write you today to tell you that you are not alone in all of this. These are common threads that the majority of us feel.

I want to leave you with these thoughts, and I could care less if it goes against ERP and is providing reassurance, because sometimes we just need it.

Pure O fears are NOT a reflection of your character, your personality, who you fear you will become, or what kind of a human you are. They are simply thoughts that became stuck in your mind. Every person on earth has unwanted, intrusive thoughts that are similar to our obsessions, we just happen to have a miserable disorder that makes us believe they are true.

The secondary fears and personal stigma surrounding Pure O is atrocious. It’s shaming, embarrassing, and guilt producing.

Many people will never understand your obsessions, but I hope you know that there are many of us out here that understand it all and know how difficult it is to live with it. You are not alone. Trust in your treatment, trust in the ERP process, and trust that you are NOT your Pure OCD.

Pure O is hell, there is no way around it. But you don’t have to go through it alone.

For more information, please visit www.ocdonline.com or www.jonhershfield.com

Much love my fellow Pure OCD’ers!

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/ Public Speaker; ERP Coach/Effective OCD Treatment; Peer Specialist/BHI; Radio Host ‘Mental Illness Matters’

Violence and Mental Illness: It’s Not What You Think.

Posted in Uncategorized on June 27, 2015 by chrissiehodges

I sat across the table from her not knowing whether to grab her and hug her with excited empathy, or whether to grab her hand, lay my head down on the table and cry with her.

I was providing peer support to a girl in her mid-twenties who has been hospitalized 5 different times for her symptoms with OCD. The problem isn’t just that she’s not receiving proper treatment for OCD, it is more about the idea that she cannot believe she actually has OCD and cannot let go of believing she is a horrible person for the obsessions that OCD produces.

OCD, as well as many mental illnesses produce thoughts that are horrific for the individual to understand and process. In the case of having Pure OCD/Intrusive thoughts, most of the unwanted obsessions are violent, sexual, and/or blasphemous in nature. They are not a product of someone’s character. They are not a reflection of who that individual is as a human. But, it is difficult to convince the sufferer of those facts when they are being tortured by the horrifying visuals and physical sensations that come with having OCD.

I began my journey with OCD fearing bodily fluids. No, it wasn’t contamination and handwashing that most people are used to when it comes to understanding OCD. I was terrified of the substance. I was terrified of not having control over omitting substances. I would spend 8-10 hours a day at 8 years old doing nonsensical rituals that would give me a few minutes of relief from the terror of the possibility of the obsessions coming true. Later into my teenage years, my obsessions grew into darker, uglier fears. Tortuous thoughts of sex and violence that I wanted desperately to turn off and be free of. But, the harder I fought…the harder I justified that I was a good person and I didn’t mean to think these things…the stronger my disorder became. Soon, my disorder convinced me that I was too horrible of a human being to live and it convinced me that the world would be a better place without me. I succumbed to a gruesome suicide attempt, but luckily survived.

Today, I live with the OCD thoughts everyday. In the last week alone, I worried that I wanted to murder a pedestrian crossing the street in front of my car. I visualized the person lying in the street dead while I shoved my car in park and put both feet on the brake desperately staving off a panic attack and sweating through my clothes. A few weeks ago, I was in a meeting and the entire time worried I would shout out obscenities at my colleagues or grab the people next to me inappropriately. I excused myself from the meeting, splashed water on my face in the bathroom and worked through a panic attack. Last week, I was chopping vegetables at my boyfriends house and when he turned his back, I worried I may stab him through his back. I fought against the visualization. I love this man more than I can describe, but OCD doesn’t care. I put the knife on the cutting board and took a walk outside to beat myself up for being who I am with OCD.

I despise having these thoughts. They are tortuous. They make me feel like a horrible person. But, you know what? They are a product of my mental illness, just like suicidal thoughts are a symptom of mental illness. It is what I have been given and I have to deal with this the best way I can. The shame and guilt that go along with having my illness is so magnificent that I could write an entire book about it.

But, I’d like you to know something. Being in an OCD episode feels a lot like psychosis. It’s compulsive, it’s erratic, and it is scary as hell. But, do you know what I could NOT do when in an episode? I could NOT plan a premeditated crime. I could not calculate the precise amount of ammunition, time, and power to commit a massacre. Have you ever seen someone in psychosis? Have you ever talked to someone who is so symptomatic in their mental illness that they could do things out of their control? If you have, do you believe them capable of planning, scheming, and following through with a plan to take out innocent individuals over weeks and months of time?

NO!

The answer is NO!

I know it is hard to not want to blame mental illness for the horrible crimes committed in our country and all over the world. It’s an easy target and YOU don’t have to deal with it, right?

Well, I do. And so do many of my colleagues and fellow sufferers.

Everytime you blame a horrific crime on mental illness, you are putting your foot on top of my head and shoving me back down into the abyss of shame, embarrassment, and stigma of having a mental illness. Yes, YOU. I know you need an explanation…I know that you need to understand why bad things happen in this world. But, stop shifting the blame onto something that you really don’t know that facts about. Stop making assumptions just because it will feel easier to sleep at night. When you do this, especially in a public forum, it makes it harder for ME to sleep at night.

Want to know the facts?

American Psychiatric Association, 1994 ‘Research has shown that the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness’.

People with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime (Appleby, et al. 2001). Researchers at North Carolina State University and Duke University found that people with severe mental illness–schizophrenia, bipolar, or psychosis–are 2.5 times more likely to be attacked, raped, or mugged than the general population.

Don’t believe me? Why don’t you take a stroll down to your local mental health center or institute, talk to the people who suffer and listen to their life experiences. You may walk out with a different and accurate perception.

It has taken me many years of personal stigma, anger, and beatings on my self esteem to realize the truth. My OCD is a disorder, it is NOT a reflection of who I am or what I want to do or be. As much as I have sunk my feet into this truth, it is always called into question when uninformed and an assuming general public puts the label on me that because I am mentally ill, I must be violent, erratic, and not to be trusted.

If you believe this, you are sorely mistaken. And if you verbalize it, you are spreading lies and insulting 1/4th of the population.

Wake up. Get the facts. Stop blaming the mentally ill because you have no other choice or ability to find out the facts.

I left the institute the day that I provided peer support to the young girl who had Pure OCD and a tear rolled down my cheek. She has been torturing herself for over 15 years because her OCD obsession tells her she may one day abuse and molest children. This obsession is absolutely untrue and she would never act on it. There is not an inkling in her mind and body that makes sense to her, but the thoughts torture and torment her every moment of everyday. This is one of the most highly stigmatized OCD thoughts that one can have. The horrific anxiety that accompanies the thoughts are so overbearing that she feels like she doesn’t deserve to live. She thinks that because she has these thoughts that she hates and despises that she is a horrible person. She knows that she never would or wants to harm children, but why would she think about it if it wasn’t true?

Let me tell you why. It is because she has a terrible mental illness that is so horrible to live with that one can barely function, no matter what the obsession is. I was the first person that EVER told her that those thoughts were not true and that there is effective treatment. I was the FIRST person to ever tell her that she did not have to feel ashamed because of her disorder. I was the first person to EVER tell her that there is treatment and there are hundreds and thousands of people that have the same fear as she does.

I was the first person to give her hope.

Violent, intrusive thoughts are not uncommon for people who suffer with mental illness. But trust me, we hate the thoughts. We aren’t excited about them and we are terrified and ashamed that we are capable of these thoughts.

Having violent thoughts are VERY different than acting on them. It is not common for a mentally ill person to be violent. Learn the facts. Stop blaming us for the horrible things that happen in our country and around the world.

Some things just don’t have an explanation. STOP USING US AS THE EXCUSE.

Need more information on Pure O/Intrusive thoughts? Check out ocdonline.com

Need more information about pedophilia OCD (commonly referred to as POCD)?

Check out http://www.jonhershfield.com/pocd/

Thank you for reading.

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate; Public Speaker; Peer Support Specialist; OCD/CBT Coach; Radio Host Mental Illness Matters’

Saying Goodbye to your OCD Self

Posted in Uncategorized on March 15, 2015 by chrissiehodges

Everyone in the classroom enthusiastically answered the question as we went around the room. I noticed that the knees of my pants were wet now after wiping my palms on them over and over as my turn to talk approached.

Everyone is looking at me.

‘Chrissie. Chrissie? Do you want to share with us what you want your career to be after college?’

I had already been accepting into Georgia Southern University with a full academic scholarship, thanks to the HOPE Grant that had been implemented this year. I had no idea how I would even survive college, much less graduate and go on to have an actual life? High school had been absolute torture maintaining grades, a social life, and these horrible intrusive thoughts that plagued me everyday. I knew that in a matter of days all of it could disappear if the thoughts took over my world and forced me to kill myself. Managing my brain seemed like a full time job, I hadn’t even begun to think that I could take on any other real life responsibilities.

I thought quickly. I remembered the pharmacist at Publix where I was a cashier told me that I’d make a great pharmacist because I had such good rapport with customers. Yes, that’s it!

‘Um…I want to be a pharmacist when I graduate’ I said awkwardly.

‘Wow, that is impressive, Chrissie!’ she said with a hint of disbelief in her tone.

Well yea, I’d say it is impressive considering I have no idea what it would even entail to be a pharmacist.

I stuck with that pharmacy story for the rest of my high school career and even into my first year of college. It seemed fitting to me because it was unknown and foreign, just like what life would seem like outside of the monster in my head. It seemed like an unreachable goal, just like the idea that I could ever live a life free of the demons I battled every single day.

Up until my suicide attempt and OCD diagnosis at age 20, it was painful to listen to my classmates, cross country teammates, and sorority sisters talk incessantly about their ‘lives after college’. I was so envious of them. Since age 8, I had been solely focused on managing the horrible thoughts and fears that had latched onto my brain like a giant talon. There was no time to think about what I wanted for my life. There was no hope to even believe that I could have a life outside of the mental compulsions that took place for hours everyday. And somehow I knew that I couldn’t live forever this way, and eventually I would become overtaken by the intensity of the thoughts and would have to end my own life. It was heartbreaking, but it was a necessity. My 24/7 ritualistic behavior was all that I knew. Before my diagnosis, the obsessions and compulsions defined who I was as a human being. They bore into my psyche as a reflection of my character and a definition of my individuality. I had no reason to believe that there was an entirely separate entity of a being from the unwanted thoughts and the irresistible compulsions that I structured my life around. The fear embedded inside of me ran too deep to even begin to untangle. I was too terrified to believe I had a future, but too paralyzed by the unknown repercussions of guilt and fear to reach out for help. I adapted to treading the waters of agony and fear, and managed to fool even the closest people around me for years.

When I began to sink and feel the cracks in my image start to shatter, I took control by attempting to end my life with dignity by suicide. The brain disorder OCD is so convoluted that I actually believed that dying by suicide would be less tainting to myself and my family than actually exposing the debilitating obsessions that plagued me. To comprehend obsessive thoughts to the fullest, you have to understand that the fears OCD places in your mind feel larger than life itself if they were to come into fruition. In reality, the fears are non-existent and a farce, but OCD places just enough doubt into you that you will never be satisfied with certainty. The doubt is what fuels the fire of the deadly cycle. And I do mean deadly, as in the midst of an OCD cycle, death can seem like a viable and relieving option.

After a whirlwind of a year and a half of diagnosis, treatment, and stabilization, I found myself sitting at the precipice of an unknown world of possibilities occupying only a shell of a human being. Everything I knew about myself, had fostered, and carefully maintained for the majority of my life had been exposed as a lie. The life as I knew it was stripped away. I was trapped in a Stockholm syndrome of my previous life with OCD.

You’re better, Chrissie! You don’t have to pretend anymore, Chrissie! You don’t have to live in fear anymore, Chrissie! You could actually be a Pharmacist if you want, now! You can do anything you want now! You can have a ‘life’ like everyone else! You can be anything or anyone you want, now!

But I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know who I was. I had never thought about what I wanted because OCD never allowed me that luxury. I felt as if I were facing the entire world as an adult in my 8 year old body. The last time I understood reality without my illness dictating my thoughts was 13 years prior. Even though the misery of OCD chaos was anything but desirable, it was all that I knew about who I had become. The conundrum of wanting to run back to the comfortable fear was convoluting. Why can’t I just move on? Why can’t I just forget about all of this and get over it? It seemed daunting to me to take any steps into this new world and begin to learn about who Chrissie was without OCD. And, it took many, many years to work through the fears that came along with navigating life without OCD calling the shots every minute of every day.

I turned 38 a few weeks ago. I wish I could tell you that I have untied all of the knots of pain, sorrow, and confusion that I’ve held so tightly to because of OCD. I wish I could tell you that there is a magic formula for ‘getting on with life’ after OCD. I cannot. What I can tell you is that it is okay to grieve the person that you were with OCD. You don’t have to hate who you were because you hate how OCD made you feel. I can tell you that it is okay to feel afraid about life without OCD. This doesn’t mean that you somehow want to have OCD. This simply means that you do not know just yet how to live outside of the confining nature of it.

After 30 years of the onset of my disorder, I am finally learning to allow myself to feel happiness without guilt. That is something most individuals innately experience, but I learned early that I did not have permission from my brain to feel anything good without fearing the repercussions. Resting into happiness, feeling comfort in hope, and relaxing into who Chrissie Hodges really is outside of OCD without catastrophizing everything is perhaps one of the most difficult and painful processes I have experienced outside of my disorder. But, I believe I deserve it.

The tears began to drop even as I typed that last sentence. Guilt is a difficult opponent.

Wherever you are in your journey and recovery, give yourself permission to love who you are and where you are with it outside of OCD. I wish that this disorder was cut and dry and there was an easy equation that always equals peace and happiness, but that isn’t a reality. You do not have to have all the answers right now. It is okay to feel angry, sad, and grief about what OCD put you through. And, it is okay to feel fear without the disorder as well. Nothing about OCD is a reflection of who you are as an individual. You are not your illness. You are not your obsessions. You are not your OCD. You are a unique individual fighting a twisted and difficult battle that is OCD.

Don’t ever stop fighting.

Keep reaching for happiness. You deserve it.

Thank you for taking the time to read,

Chrissie

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; ERP Coach/Effective OCD Treatment; Peer Support Specialist;Behavioral Healthcare Inc; Radio Host ‘Mental Illness Matters’/blogtalkradio.com

ERP Works! So, Why Won’t You Do It?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 4, 2014 by chrissiehodges

Exposure Response Prevention is a proven method for managing symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. You would think that people would run as fast as they can toward ERP to get some relief from the debilitating effects of OCD, however many times, that is not the case.

If it works, then why won’t individuals just go for it?!

There are several reasons why people are not eager to partake in ERP. One of the clients that I coach through ERP made the comment, ‘Even though ERP works at combating OCD, it sure is a hard sell. Wow, let’s intentionally make ourselves miserable in order to get better!’, she would sarcastically remark. She is right, it is a hard sell. By committing to ERP, you are taking the risk of going against the world as you know it (even though that world may be miserable), and living with the uncertainty that it may or may not get better. It is not proven that you will not get better, but ERP can give no reassurances that it will work for an individual, and that is a difficult leap of faith when one is already plagued with anxiety and fear.

It’s possible that ERP is not for everyone, but many individuals who resist it or do not benefit from it are not fully committed to the process out of fear. I will discuss 3 common fears associated with ERP that keep individuals from partaking, and some strategies on how to combat the fears that are keeping them from getting effective treatment.

  •  What if by partaking in ERP, I find out that I really don’t have OCD—what if my fears are real and/or I am just a crazy person?

I have never met an individual who has gone through ERP that did not feel this particular fear. First of all, starting a sentence with ‘What if’ is a dead giveaway that OCD is in charge of your thoughts. And typically, this is ALWAYS how this particular fear is communicated. What does this mean? To quote the late Riley Sisson; you are being ‘OCD about your OCD’! You are giving fuel to OCD by questioning the outcome before you even start the process.

In effective ERP, you will not receive any reassurance in regards to your thoughts being real, true, or that you are not just a ridiculous and sick individual. That is how ERP works. This can be very painful and traumatic, especially if an individual is dealing with obsessions that make them feel they are questioning their ethics and morality. It is frightening to know that at the end of ERP, you still will not have a definitive answer about the obsession that plagues your life. This alone will deter people from partaking in ERP because they are driven by the need to know with certainty one way or another.

During my first session of ERP, I asked my therapist whether or not he thought my obsession was real or not, based on other patients he has had with a similar obsession. He said point blank, ‘I have no idea, but I guess that is what we are going to find out in the next few months!’ I felt like I was going to have a heart attack right then and there!

WHAT?! WHO IS THIS GUY? WHAT AM I PAYING HIM FOR?

So, I tried to bait him and asked him if he really thought I had OCD or not? He saw right through me and said, ‘I’m not sure if you have OCD or not, we will just do the exercises and see if you get better’

OH MY GOD!? WHAT? WHY WOULD HE EVEN TAKE ME ON IF HE DIDN’T THINK I HAD OCD? WHO IS THIS FREAK OF A DOCTOR? I HATE HIM ALREADY AND I HAVEN’T EVEN STARTED THERAPY!

I felt as if I were going raving mad at his lack of empathy and reassurance. But, I committed to trust the process and I jumped off of the cliff of uncertainty hoping to land in a safe and healthy spot. As I worked my way up my hierarchy the first few weeks, I found myself still worrying ‘what if my thoughts are true and/or what if I am a horrible person’, but the intensity had started to fade. The idea of having a definitive answer was starting to dissipate. This gave me some relief and hope. I could look back and understand why my doctor never wanted to give me reassurance. He was already training me to think differently and take control of my OCD thoughts even in our first interaction. ERP is a way of life, not just a one-time experience that will cure your OCD. It is tough work. It is a lifetime commitment. And it is worth the pain in the end.

Believe me when I say that you are not alone in worrying that completing ERP will somehow prove your obsession or intrusive thoughts one way or another. The idea of NOT KNOWING is what fuels our OCD, so it only seems natural to question the validity of this type of therapy that cannot answer these doubts definitively.

Some thoughts to ponder if you are stuck on this fear:

1. You cannot prove or disprove your obsessions/intrusive thoughts now with your compulsions…why not take a leap of faith and try a different method to help ease your OCD?—-what do you have to lose?

2. You will never know with certainty if your obsessions/intrusive thoughts are real or true while you are stuck in your compulsive cycle….why not take the risk of trying ERP and live with the uncertainty that you could actually learn to manage it in the long run?

3. You are stuck and miserable in your OCD cycle…what is it going to take for you to stand up to OCD, decide that you are worth it, and believe that you are strong enough to manage your OCD? Take the chance—take the risk—take back your life!

  •  If I become ‘indifferent’ and my obsessions/intrusive thoughts don’t bother me anymore like ERP will teach me to do, won’t that mean that I am ‘okay’ with having these horrible thoughts? Won’t that make me a bad person?

And here we are again…being OCD about our OCD. This is a very common fear for individuals who are contemplating ERP. Upon researching ERP, you will find out that the goal is to have the thoughts but not let them bother you. The anxiety we experience has programmed us to believe that we are so abhorred by our obsessions/intrusive thoughts that we have to somehow prove or disprove their validity. This is where our compulsions come in as a soft blanket of reassurance; and this is a blanket that we are very reluctant to give up! Asking us to resist doing the very thing that helps us to hold onto any shred of our humanity seems equivalent to cutting our hand open, pouring lemon juice into it, and telling everyone how great it feels.

When an individual is stuck on this particular fear, they are confusing who they are as a person with the thoughts which are controlled by OCD. Their fear of not being afraid of the obsessions/intrusive thoughts is fueled by a twisted OCD separation anxiety. As long as they can experience some sort of repulsion or urgency behind these thoughts, they feel as if it justifies their character or morality. Take away the urgency and anxiety, and they must be some horrible human being that wishes bad things on themselves and others! It’s easy to wish that they did not have a particular obsession, but OCD sufferers cannot see the real truth which is that they wish they did not experience the anxiety around the obsession. Why? Because the only reason the particular thought became an obsession is because it was accompanied by anxiety.

Every human being that walks the planet has intrusive and unwanted thoughts. Chances are, whatever your particular obsession is, many people have had that same fear/thought go through their mind. But, they may not have OCD.

You do.

The reason why you have your particular obsession is because it got stuck in your mind and was accompanied by anxiety. That is the only reason. There is no underlying truth and there is no way to prove or disprove that there is or isn’t.
It is important to remember that you are reacting to the anxiety and not the obsession/intrusive thoughts. The goal is to get rid of the anxiety so the thoughts can come and go without disrupting your life. Separation anxiety is normal because you do not know any other way to deal with these thoughts. However, it can be a hindrance to your recovery if you do not recognize it and commit to moving past it. Remember, the goal of ERP is not to find answers to these questions you have been tortured with for so many years. The goal is to train your mind to see the obsessions/intrusive thoughts as non-threatening. It is okay to take some time to recognize the separation anxiety, but please make sure that it is not keeping you from getting effective treatment.

Some thoughts to ponder if you are stuck on this fear:

1. If you did not have anxiety accompanying the obsession/intrusive thought, would you spend hours everyday trying to suppress the thought? No. It would be like any other fleeting thought that came and went. You are treating the anxiety with ERP, not the obsession.

2. Think about an obsession that you know other OCD sufferers may deal with that is different from yours. (i.e. contamination, responsibility, relationship OCD, etc) Do you get anxiety when you think about it? If not, does that mean that you are a bad person for not feeling anxiety? Well, if it could be an ‘intrusive thought’ and you are not alarmed with anxiety, why can’t your particular obsession feel the same way? ERP will teach you how to look at your particular obsession/intrusive thought and not experience anxiety.

3. You are stuck and miserable in your OCD cycle…what is it going to take for you to stand up to OCD, decide that you are worth it, and believe that you are strong enough to manage your OCD? Take the chance—take the risk—take back your life!

  •  I have read about/heard about the things I will have to do in my hierarchy for my particular obsession/intrusive thought. NO WAY am I doing that EVER!

I believe wholeheartedly in the old saying, ‘knowledge is power!’ unless it has to do with OCD. Just knowing that you have OCD does not make the disorder any better whatsoever, but especially knowing what you must do in order to manage it can be mind-boggling and very frightening.

We live in a time where you can find out anything you want with the click of a button. This unfortunately doesn’t always bode well for individuals contemplating ERP. Finding out what a ‘hierarchy’ looks like for your type of obsession/intrusive thought can stop you in your tracks. This is why I always encourage individuals to resist the urge to research ERP tactics before treatment starts.

A good ERP therapist does not follow just one set of rules or protocols. They assess the needs of the individual and create a hierarchy based on those needs. No two patients are the same in ERP, and every one of us must go at our own pace. Hierarchies are typically built on your own personal journey with OCD, so if you think that just because you have contamination issues that you will have to lick a toilet seat, you are mistaken.

My hierarchy was built off of my triggers of avoidance from the bottom up. There was no time limit for me to get to the top. I would work on each level until I was ready to move to the next. I knew that if I had trouble with one and became stuck, my therapist would adjust the intensity and/or the plan in order for me to be successful. I was floored by the time I was at the top of the hierarchy and I was able to do the exposure with relatively little anxiety. But looking back on how the therapy was executed, I didn’t feel surprised at all. My therapist strategically planned all of my exposures and debriefed each one until I was ready for the next step. A good therapist will work with you, not against you.

Take some time to find the right therapist for you. Make sure you have a say in your hierarchy. Be verbal about how you feel while you are moving up to the harder exposures. The therapist is there to push and encourage you, but also to support you when you feel stuck or paralyzed by anxiety. They have the knowledge to help you move through the steps toward recovery.

Some tips if you resisting ERP based on this fear:

1. Resist the urge to google ERP stories of your obsession. Remember that your ERP journey will be different than anyone else’s. Do not psych yourself out based on other people’s hierarchies.

2. Interview several therapists before you decide who to be treated by. Therapists have different styles and you will want to find a style that helps you to feel comfortable and motivated.

3. You are stuck and miserable in your OCD cycle…what is it going to take for you to stand up to OCD, decide that you are worth it, and believe that you are strong enough to manage your OCD? Take the chance—take the risk—take back your life!

There is a fine line you must walk while being treated successfully with ERP. You have to go at a pace comfortable enough to not feel overwhelmed, yet aggressive enough so that you are seeing results quick enough to stick with it. It can be a difficult and frightening experience. Having the right therapist, the right mind-set, and faith in the process is a MUST in order to have a positive outcome.

ERP saved my life. By the time I sought treatment, I was in a mindset of desperation. I was willing to do anything to be able to manage my intrusive thoughts. I was lucky that I went into therapy blind to the treatment process, as I believe that lessened my anxiety by not knowing what ‘could’ happen. I was riddled with fear and anxiety throughout most of my treatment, but I held onto hope and faith that as long as I committed and gave it my all, I would win over OCD in the end. And I did.

Don’t let these three fears or other fears surrounding ERP stop you from receiving the treatment you need in order to have the life that you deserve. ERP is the key to managing and living successfully with OCD. Make the commitment. Trust your therapist. Have faith in the process. You can win the battle.

Thank you for taking the time to read. Please contact the International OCD Foundation at http://www.iocdf.org if you are looking for a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy/ERP/OCD Specialist in your area.

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker, Radio Host ‘The Stigma of Mental Illness’ Radio, CBT/ERP Coach/Effective OCD Treatment, Mental Health Peer Consulting

Mental Illness Comes with Emotional Baggage AND Carry-Ons!

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2014 by chrissiehodges

When I graduated from college and moved on to a few jobs that I just needed to fill my time and my wallet, I desperately wanted to write a book called ‘The Terrible Twenties’. The years of my twenties were perhaps the most confusing and painstaking on my self-esteem that I have ever experienced, even compared to the torture of living with the mental illness OCD in my teens. I graduated from college—my celebrated accomplishment…and I graduated from Exposure Response Prevention Therapy—perhaps my greatest accomplishment to date. However, there were no parties thrown when I graduated from ERP. There were no ‘congratulations, we are so proud of you’. I never heard anyone say, ‘I cannot believe that you survived and now you are doing so well!’. It was an unspoken, ‘well, thank goodness the disorder seems okay now, let’s just pray she doesn’t fall off her rocker again.’ My successful therapy treatment was swept under the carpet, just like my disorder and my survived suicide attempt. I had just experienced one of the most tragic events anyone could experience over the previous year and a half and my family, my friends, and I just moved on without speaking about it, without addressing the underlying pain, and without processing the massive emotional baggage that I was carrying around on my back.

The 5-6 years following my successful ERP therapy in my twenties were horrible. I was just like everyone else that was looking to feel important and adjust in the ‘real world’ in a way that made it look like we all had it together. The problem is, there are not many people in their twenties that have it together. Why? Because, we are just breaking away from what we have always known. We are venturing out into a new world where we are defined by an identity that was told to us by our parents, family, or friends. We are learning who we are and what we want and that is a very difficult thing to do because change is hard. Learning that everything we are used to does not necessarily have to be the right way or how we want to live is challenging. The adjustment can take a toll on our personal selves, our families, and our relationships. We create a fair amount of baggage in those years just by learning from all of the mistakes we make. Unfortunately, when you spend your teenage years and part of your twenties dealing with a major mental illness, you not only have emotional baggage, you have carry-on’s as well!

You are dealing with everything everyone else is, but trying to balance the symptoms and treatment of an illness that can leave you debilitated can weigh on you negatively. You may have weird quirks, distrust in others, and massive self-esteem issues as a result of your experiences and the personal stigma that goes along with mental illness. You may have to take time off from college to get your disorder under control. You may have to drop out of college. You may have to take jobs that you are overqualified for because you cannot handle the load. You may have destructive and unhealthy relationships and friendships. You may experience extremely low times even after you have had successful treatment. And all the while, you are unable to let people know just how bad you are suffering. Sometimes, you don’t let people know out of shame, guilt, or even pride. Sometimes, you don’t tell people because you are afraid of how they will react. And sometimes, you don’t want to burden other people with your illness. That isolation can make us feel like our accomplishments—which sometimes are just getting out of bed in the morning on bad days—are not worthy of praise or adulation. This can be a lonely time. This can reinforce our emotional baggage and seriously damage our self esteem.

I am 37 now, and while I cannot offer any reassurance to y’all who are in the terrible twenties, I can tell you that you are not alone. The twenties are a difficult time for everyone, not just those of us with mental illness. They can be a time of fear, confusion, and low confidence. But, as I told an individual that I coach just the other day, one day you will look back and remember that I said that everything that you are worried about in this moment will mean nothing in 15 years and you will be a better person for having survived through this illness in the long run.

Do you believe that statement?

Here are a few reasons to convince you that I am not entirely wrong:

You will find out much later (if you have not already found out) that almost everyone is searching for meaning and to feel important, whether that is in their career, family, or spiritual life.

When I was in my twenties and trying to come to terms with the fact that I felt like damaged goods because of my mental illness, it never occurred to me that everyone else didn’t ‘have it all together’. I watched as my friends went back to grad school because they ‘knew exactly’ what they wanted to do with their life. I watched as people started careers that I assumed would be long-term. I watched as many of my friends got married and several had babies right off the bat. Just a few years earlier, I had assumed my life would end in suicide at the hands of my disorder—I didn’t think much past that! Now, here I am thrown into the world, with the idea that everything I had thought, worried about, and spent hours ruminating on did not really exist. Who in the heck was I? What in the world did I want? My entire life had been a lie! Now, I had to find out who I was and where I was going to end up and everyone else had a leg up on me!
It was shattering to my self-esteem. I entered a very long and very painful bout of anger. Why did I have to go through this and everyone else has it so easy? What did I do to deserve this? How will I ever be happy and be able to have a normal life like everyone else does?

If only I could go back and talk to Chrissie at age 25 and answer those questions!! Here’s the truth. Most people do not know who they are and where they are going at any given time. If they are lucky, they will keep learning, changing, and evolving without getting stuck into a rut of what they think they have to be. It’s one of the secrets in life I did not understand until my mid-30s (and I still think that is young!). Just because you have a mental illness does not mean that you are the only one that doesn’t have everything figured out. It gives you the extra carry-on’s in life, but it does not mean you are inferior, lesser of a human, or less intelligent. It may not seem like it in the moment, but there are many positive things that can and will come out of the perseverance and drive you have to manage your illness. These are real world qualities that many people do not experience until they are much older. Sure, you probably won’t put your brain disorder on your job resume, but just take comfort in the fact that you are clearing hurdles that in the long run will make you stronger, more courageous, and more compassionate of a human being.

If you are reading this right now and thinking that I am full of it, just take the risk and live with the uncertainty that there is some truth in this. Times can be hard during treatment and especially the years following, but trust me when I tell you that everyone is struggling with the same basic issues of who they are and where they fit in. You are unique because of your experience with your illness. It can turn into a positive if you let it.

     • Focus on having met your goals in treatment lay the groundwork for your real-world goals.

I can remember feeling a bit apathetic about my Statistics homework after realizing that the ERP for my OCD was starting to work. Who cares about Statistics, I don’t have to be bullied by OCD anymore! Well, that didn’t really work, and I ended up having to get tutored to get a decent grade in that ridiculous class. Before therapy, I did not understand how to make goals and accomplish them. I had a monster of OCD in my head that told me every step of the way that I was worth nothing and was a horrible person. Anything that I did good in my life I attributed to chance or luck. I could never see that I had any will to do good or be a good person. When I went through ERP, I started to see that when I made goals and accomplished them and could eliminate the bully’s voice in my head, it was no one but ME that was making this happen.

I could accomplish things!!

I spent months in extensive therapy and there was not a goal that I did not meet. Sure, I was terrified at every new goal set because it seemed way harder than the previous one, but I pushed and persevered through and sure enough, I could make it happen.

The best thing I did for myself during this time was to take notes on how this process worked for me. Write the goal down, freak out a bit, doubt myself, read the goal again, and commit to doing it no matter what. Each day, I would reluctantly aim for the goal and I would be terrified that I couldn’t do it. But, each day it would get easier and I would get closer to making my therapy goal for the week. All the week through, I’d document my hesitance, my fear, and my doubts. They were always the same with the same intensity even though the goals were different.

I took this type of response, reaction, and commitment into my real life outside of therapy goals. I needed to start believing that I could be responsible for good things happening. I started with my cross-country goals on my collegiate team. I thought it was a long shot, but I could not believe that if I wrote the goal down, worked very hard, never gave up and persevered that the goal could be met. I would push through the fear, the doubt, and the hesitation and each time I was meeting the race times that far exceeded the ones from the previous years. This set the tone for me thereafter. To this day, I set goals and I wait for all of the negative feelings, I make sure to commit and persevere, and the goals can be met.

Therapy goals may seem like a different world when it comes to goals in jobs, careers, family, etc., but your strategy in creating the goals and achieving them lay the groundwork for how you will operate in the world. This is something to evaluate closely and to take seriously when setting goals other than therapeutic goals. Chances are, you have spent time beating yourself down about accomplishments and your ability to be successful because of your disorder. Being able to create goals in therapy and meet them can give you the opportunity to learn strategies for success. Also, accomplishing therapeutic goals can help you to feel proud of your success. You are working at and managing a serious mental illness—this is something to be proud of and to make note of the strength and determination it takes to do this!

Therapy is so much more than getting you healthy, it will lay the groundwork for you to be successful in your relationships, career, and your life.     

     • Learning to live and manage a mental illness will give you a depth of empathy that is immeasurable.

Empathy may not be your biggest goal in life at the moment, but trust me that it is one of the most precious attributes you can attain. Majority of individuals with a mental illness develop the symptoms early in life. A vast array of emotions in response to these symptoms in the early years may include confusion, isolation, anger, shame, and judgment. And throughout the course of your journey of onset to diagnosis to treatment, at some point you may come to the realization that you know things about life that so many other people never will.

When I first realized this as mentioned above, it came in the form of anger. WHY does everyone else have it so easy? Over the years I have realized that the benefit of going through my struggle with OCD at such a young age has helped me to develop intuition, empathy, and compassion. It may sound paradoxical, but I believe that individuals with mental illness have insight into surviving pain and suffering on a level that others will never be lucky enough to experience. I do not wish the misery of a mental illness on anyone for any reason, but given my life with OCD and the lessons I have learned and the person that I have become, there is not a day that goes by that I do not feel grateful for my journey.

There are so many people who have lives that are content, but that do not understand the depths of emotion because they have not had the opportunity to struggle or work through something so terrifying that it tested every ounce of their being. There are days where I could read that sentence and throw my computer across the room in sadness and anger…but overall, it is a truth. Working through something as complex and frightening as a mental illness and being able to learn to manage it and love yourself despite takes courage, brevity, and strength beyond measure. You learn lessons about the hard realities of life. You get to experience lows sometimes that are so deep that you cannot fathom how you survived. But, the contentedness and the love and respect for life afterward soaks into your soul. A true nature of empathy is created if you allow it to manifest out of the depths of your illness.

I have never said that it is easy to live with a mental illness. Some days, I wish I could be someone else…some days, I wish that I had never been born…but some days, I have an overwhelming appreciating for the hand I was dealt. As I get older and learn how to manage the pattern of OCD, those days become more frequent and I am grateful for that.
There is much reason to celebrate your recovery. There is an absolute reason to throw a party when you graduate your ERP therapy. There is an incredible amount of respect that you deserve from battling a mental illness every day. You are stronger than anyone will ever know, maybe even stronger than you will ever know.

 Don’t ever give up. Don’t ever think that you are less than anyone because of your disorder. Try to see how you can benefit from what you have learned by managing the disorder. Never stop celebrating your victories over the disorder no matter how small they may seem. And, remember that the gem of knowledge you possess is that you understand human suffering to a degree that almost no one will ever be able to grasp.

Thank you for taking the time to read,

Chrissie Hodges
Mental Health Advocate, Public Speaker, The Stigma of Mental Illness Radio, Mental Health Peer Consulting, Effective OCD Treatment/CBT & ERP Coach

5 Things Never to Say to Someone with Pure O/Intrusive Thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized on September 18, 2014 by chrissiehodges

Let’s face it, all forms of OCD are tough to deal with for the sufferer. There is no one form that is worse or easier than the other. An OCD specialist that I work as a coach for here in Denver always says, ‘be careful what you wish for’ whenever I comment how much easier it would be to have any other obsessions than my own! The type of OCD that I have has some pretty specific triggers that are not necessarily shared amongst all forms of OCD. This can be tough on the individual who suffers, as well as the people around them in their support system. We are all sensitive to people’s words and comments when it comes to our illness no matter what form it takes, but here are a few triggering statements that you should always avoid when you are talking to someone with Pure O/Intrusive thoughts.

1. I don’t see you doing compulsions…you must not have OCD as bad as other people I have seen who have it.

This one is tough to take when you have ‘Pure O/Intrusive Thoughts’. First of all, it probably took us a long time to figure out that we even had OCD because we did not have outward compulsions that would help us identify that we have OCD. We just got these weird and horrible thoughts that we believed for so long were a reflection of our own character. Our rituals took place in our mind, and most of these rituals do not even feel compulsive. Next up, trying to communicate our disorder to others. People do not understand OCD in general and usually identify it with hand washing or checking doorknobs. Our explanation can be terrifying because we have to divulge some huge secret of a horrible obsession that has ruled our life for so many years. Our ultimate fear is that the person we are telling it to will not believe we have OCD and they will think that the obsession is real. (which I will elaborate on later in this blog). We feel the need to have to go into drastic detail about our mental compulsions in order to stave off the idea that people may not believe we fit the OCD profile because of our lack of outward compulsions. Mental rituals are absolutely exhausting. People who have Pure O/Intrusive thoughts have usually mastered the ability to ruminate and perform mental rituals for more than 12 hours per day while maintaining a life that looks just fine to the outside world. We do whatever we can to not allow our rituals and obsessions to be viewed by anyone around us. When we are told that we must not have OCD that bad because we don’t perform outward compulsions, it makes us feel like everything we have done to hide the shame and guilt of our obsessions from the world was actually a bad thing. It also makes us feel that maybe our disorder is not that debilitating and perhaps we do NOT have it that bad. We don’t have xrays, surgeries, or physical treatments to prove how bad we have suffered. It is scary to try to explain a disorder to someone that brings so much shame and guilt only to feel as if it is being minimalized in return.

Keep in mind that every person’s battle with OCD is different. OCD takes on many different forms in regards to obsessions and compulsions, but the commonality amongst all sufferers is the shame, guilt, and embarrassment. When talking to someone with ‘Pure O’, try to do your best not to exacerbate those negative emotions.
2. ‘Pure O’ doesn’t exist!

Believe it or not, I have had several people say this very thing to me. The reason why someone would insinuate that ‘Pure O’ is not a form of OCD is because there is a large gap in communication on what to call this type of OCD between clinicians and the Pure O community. Clinicians and professionals do not like the term ‘Pure O’ because it implies that this form is purely of obsessions and not compulsions. As stated above about our mental rituals, this is just clearly not the case. The obsessions and compulsions are strictly carried out in the mind by ruminating and/or rituals that can be hidden from others with repetitive thoughts. OCD is comprised of obsessions + compulsions, so it seems that if someone only has obsessions that they would technically not have OCD. I understand their point in not wanting this type of OCD to be called ‘Pure O’. The discrepancy lies in that most individuals find out about this type of OCD through websites and articles that originally referred to this type of OCD as ‘Pure O’. We are so relieved to find out that we have an actual diagnosis and that we are not just insane, that we immediately identify and label ourselves as ‘Pure O’s’. Whether or not the name is accurate, it doesn’t matter to us. Our community of OCDer’s know exactly what it means to have ‘Pure O’ and we feel connected to others that understand that title.
Other than the flaw in the name, the reason why the statement that ‘pure O doesn’t exist’ can be damaging is because of a secondary fear that we don’t really have OCD and we are just mutants. It is inevitable that when I am confronted with an OCD relapse or episode, I will ruminate for a time that perhaps I don’t have OCD and these horrible thoughts are in fact real. Mostly, I will go into some cycle where I worry that I’m ‘lying’ and ‘faking’ the disorder only to hide the fact that I’m capable of conjuring up such disgusting thoughts. This is completely normal for individuals with Pure O, however at the time, it feels very real and scary. So, anytime anyone questions the validity of ‘Pure O’ or says that they have heard that type of OCD doesn’t exist, it can send me into a tailspin of guilt and doubt that someone along the line has lied to me and made up some disorder to cover the fact that I am a horrible person. Now, this may seem dramatic…but trust me, I am not the only one that responds this way.

Please make sure you never question whether or not ‘Pure O’ is real. You don’t have to agree about whether the name makes sense, just please try to never insinuate that that type of OCD does not exist.

3. ‘Do you really believe that you are <insert Pure O obsession>?’

For the love of everything that is holy, please do not ever ever ever ask someone with ‘Pure O/Intrusive Thoughts’ whether or not they believe they are what they worry about or are capable of the act they are worried about! I would have to say out of everything that you could say to someone, this would be the most likely to send someone straight into relapse. A ‘Pure O/Intrusive Thought’ obsession has nothing to do with the individuals’ character. There is no truth whatsoever to what the person obsesses about for months and sometimes years at a time. ‘Pure O’ OCD floats around from topic to topic that may make someone’s life hell and then hooks onto something that causes the individual to question everything about who they are morally and ethically. In my lifespan of having ‘Pure O’, I have worried that I was gay, a violent murderer, a rapist, a molester, a road rage-aholic, racist, sexist, an animal abuser, wanted to partake in incest, a Satan worshiper, wanted to partake in beastiality, a cannibal, worried that I have AIDS, worried that I wanted AIDS to spread it to others, and many more things that have nothing to do with my actual wants and desires. I have gotten to the point now in my journey with ‘Pure O’ that I can see the thoughts pop into my head, but I can recognize them as OCD and not react with anxiety and worry that they are real. This has taken years of practice. Sometimes I will get hooked into a cycle, but not as often anymore. The thoughts are heinous. They surprise me that I could be such a disgusting person to think such things, and that is what the Pure O wants me to feel. I have to remember that having OCD is an illness and it has NOTHING to do with who I am as an individual. Chrissie does not want or desire those things, but Chrissie’s OCD wants her to believe that she does.

I have had several occasions where I will tell someone about a specific obsession and they will look at me questioningly and ask…’well, do you think you are gay?’ or ‘do you feel like you want to hurt people?’ Of course, the rational side of Chrissie thinks, ‘well no…duh!!’

But the ‘Pure O’ side of Chrissie is saying this:

Oh my god why are they questioning me, did they not just hear that I have a disorder, do they not believe that I have a disorder, do they really think that I am like that, do I need to explain further, no if I explain further they will think I’m trying to cover something up, do I need to direct them to a website that will prove that the type of OCD that I have is really for real and it isn’t just something that I want, are they looking at me funny, oh god they are not going to talk to me anymore because they think I am a raging and violent girl stuck in the closet and they are going to be my next victim, I’m trying to act calm but I don’t think they fully understand how this has nothing to do with me, but didn’t they hear my explanation of OCD or do they not remember what I said, maybe I should explain it again, but then they may think I am using it as an excuse…..OH MY GOD, AM I USING IT AS AN EXCUSE MAYBE I DON’T REALLY HAVE OCD AND THE DOCTORS JUST LIED TO ME TO GIVE ME SOME SORT OF FALSE SENSE OF HOPE OR TO COVER UP THAT I AM A RIDICULOUS AND HORRIBLE PERSON THAT JUST CANNOT ADMIT THE TRUTH ABOUT WHO SHE IS!!!!!

….okay, so I think you get the point.

Please don’t question people about the validity of their obsession. If they tell you what it is that they are obsessing about, they are trusting you much more than you could ever imagine. Believe me, we all wish we could hand-pick our obsessions in order to make ourselves feel better about having them, but OCD does not work that way.

4. I saw this 20/20/Dateline/Dr.Phil episode and those people with OCD seem REALLY sick…you seem pretty normal, maybe you just don’t have it as bad as other people.

This is one of my favorites. I would like to share my disdain about 20/20 and any other show like it. These shows are the best at showing the extremes of anything and everything to invoke fear and misinformation into their viewers. I have seen plenty of shows about OCD in that format and can barely sit through them. They probably shot hundreds of hours of footage and then decided to play the few clips where the individual looks completely insane and cannot function. Sure, it is good to see that side of OCD, but that side is rarely shown by an individual to the public. In fact, OCD is such a silent disorder because we are so ashamed and embarrassed about our symptoms that we do whatever we can to cover them up. Yes, panic attacks are ugly and we do not ever want anyone to witness us when we have one. But, that is a perfect scene to blast all over the television to show you how severe OCD can be. You watch these scenes and think, ‘wow, those people cannot function at all in real life!!’ This is simply not true. Most of my panic attacks and anxious moments have occurred behind closed doors. This is how I know most of my fellow OCDer’s to act when they are experiencing heightened symptoms as well. Out of view of the public. These shows are sensationalized and do not necessarily portray what life really looks like for someone with OCD, especially for individuals with ‘Pure O’.

Why is it any different for ‘Pure O’ sufferers? Most of our obsessions are gruesome and horrible. We cannot believe that we are capable of producing such horrendous thoughts. A common compensation is that we build our lives up on the outside as flawless and perfect as possible. I was so mortified by the idea that I could not control my thoughts when I was a teenager that I did everything I could to portray the life of a successful and driven young lady. I figured as long as I could cover up that I was a horrible person and keep those thoughts to myself, I could at least try to buy some time before suicide would become my only option. And yes, I knew at a very young age that if I ever had to confront and admit my thoughts to anyone, my only alternative would be to kill myself and not think twice. Individuals with ‘Pure O’ are so tortured about who they think they are according to their OCD, that they will do anything and everything to the outside world to convince others that they are the opposite. It isn’t as if we are putting up some fake front, either. I like to describe it as becoming larger than our personality in order to compensate. The individuals I meet with ‘Pure O’ are usually intelligent, driven, successful, funny, personable, popular, and down-to-earth. These traits are part of who they are, but can also be exacerbated to make up for the doubt, guilt, and anguish about what is going on inside of their head.

When anyone mentions to me that they saw some Dr. Phil episode about OCD, I usually stop them before they can talk further. If you meet someone who is diagnosed with OCD, chances are they have suffered more than many individuals will in their entire lifetime. Even though you may never see their scars and wounds, their battle with OCD deserves much respect and honor. These sensationalized shows do not even scratch the surface of what majority of people who have OCD’s lives are like.

5. Well, if you know that you aren’t or you won’t <insert Pure O obsession>, then just stop worrying about it!
Gee, is THAT ALL? Why didn’t I think of that!

I know people just like to offer obvious advice, but when was the last time you were upset about something and someone told you to just ‘get over it’ or ‘stop worrying about it’?  I bet that made you feel annoyed, right? Now imagine that you have had the same irrational, ridiculous obsession stuck in your mind for 3 years and someone says, ‘why can’t you just stop worrying about it if you know it’s not true!?’. This makes me have violent, intrusive thoughts toward that person that are unrelated to OCD. Just kidding, I am not violent (I’m reassuring myself now.) When you tell us to ‘just not worry about it’, it makes us feel like every person in the world has this capability to stop worrying at the drop of a hat and we are just weak and stupid and cannot get a grip. It actually perpetuates the cycle by encouraging thoughts such as, ‘well, why can’t I stop worrying that I had sexual thoughts about a religious figure?? Since I just cannot stop worrying easily, does that prove that I could turn into a pedophile one day? If I didn’t want to scream those racist and derogatory comments to my coworkers during the meeting today, then why can I not stop worrying that I did?’.

I look at this statement as the equivalent to someone going to a paraplegic and saying, ‘oh, it’s just your legs that don’t work, just get up and walk! It’s mind over matter!!’. That seems ridiculous, right? Well, this is what it feels like when I am told to stop worrying about something that is not under my control. We cannot just stop the cycle without applying therapeutic tools and/or medication. You cannot outthink and outsmart OCD while giving into the obsession. I can tell my sister all day long that I am worried that I wanted to run over kids in my car earlier and I know it isn’t really me, it is my OCD—however, that doesn’t make the thought and the worry stop. The more I try to convince myself that it was OCD and not the fact that I am a violent driver that likes to maim people with my vehicle, the stronger the thought gets. WELL, YOU WOULDN’T STILL BE THINKING IT AND WORRYING ABOUT IT IF YOU REALLY DIDN’T WANT TO, RIGHT? MAYBE YOU SHOULD GET IN YOUR CAR NOW AND DRIVE THROUGH THE PARK AND SEE IF YOU REALLY DID FEEL THOSE URGES OR IF YOU MADE IT UP?! MAYBE YOU REALLY DIDN’T WANT TO AND YOU JUST THOUGHT YOU DID? Thus, the argument continues.

The therapy designed to relieve and treat OCD is the exact opposite of ‘just don’t worry about it!’. It is called Exposure Response Prevention (ERP). This therapy teaches you to invite the worry and learn how to sit with the anxiety that the worry causes without reacting. If you do not react to your own brain as it is running wild with the horrific thoughts and are able to tolerate the crippling anxiety, it will begin to lessen the effect the obsessions have on you later. Each time you invite and allow the thoughts to provoke the anxiety and are able to sit in it without reacting, the effect it has on you will get lesser and lesser over time. It is a very difficult and painful therapy. Individuals with ‘Pure O’ are confronting fears that they have been ashamed of and afraid of for years. They have spent and designed their entire life around avoiding these fears. Even the idea of trying to face them can cause debilitating anxiety. However, the therapy is extremely effective and can teach sufferers to manage and live normal lives if they are willing to take the risk.

If someone trusts you enough to disclose their OCD obsessions, instead of offering them solutions, ask them what you can do and say that will help them to get control of their OCD. Now, there is a fine line between helping someone with OCD and furthering their disorder by giving them too much reassurance, but that is a topic for another blog! For now, remember never to use the 5 phrases I have listed above to someone who is battling or may be struggling with OCD.

Each one of us will struggle with something that causes us strife at some point in our life, and I believe that the more knowledge we can have to help each other, the better equipped we will all be to become better friends and supporters. I hope that this blog helps you to feel better equipped to talk with individuals who have OCD.

Please feel free to share other things that people say to you about OCD that you wish they wouldn’t in the comments below!

Thank you for taking the time to read!

Chrissie
Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker/The Stigma of Mental Illness Radio/Mental Health Peer Consulting/CBT and ERP Coach: Effective OCD Treatment

Hate the Disorder, not Yourself

Posted in Uncategorized on August 20, 2014 by chrissiehodges

One of the hardest things to do when living with OCD is to separate yourself from your symptoms. The complexity of OCD symptoms is that they are entrenched in our everyday thought patterns and behaviors, so they seem like they are part of who we are. But they are not, and it is an important distinction to understand when moving toward recovery.

I live with Pure O/Intrusive thoughts. The thoughts that I have are heinous. I hate the thoughts. They are perverted, blasphemous, violent, and disgusting. Sometimes I will have a thought and I will visualize it and then I will feel my body have a visceral reaction in disgust. My snap OCD reaction is, ‘well, if you weren’t such a horrible person, you wouldn’t have these thoughts’, followed by a zing of anxiety. WHOA, NOW! I see what is going on here…this is an OCD thought. But, sometimes if I am tired or distracted, I may second guess….Or IS IT an OCD thought or do I really feel that way? GAH! Stop it! As a almost 30 year veteran with my OCD, it is still amazing to me that it can make me do a double take.

The way that I view the thoughts now and my body reacts to them (which can be equally as unpleasant as the thoughts) is that they are all symptoms. It is hard to think of anything and everything related to OCD as just a ‘symptom’ because it all feels so real. That is how OCD cleverly designs it. It is not called the ‘doubting disease’ for nothing! OCD not only makes you doubt reality, but it makes you doubt yourself. This is a key component that is not always addressed and talked openly about enough. I have had someone describe it best as ‘being OCD about my OCD’. My OCD makes me question my character and my integrity as a human. Well truly now, what sort of person WOULD think these thoughts and have a reaction to them and not be a bad person? The answer to that is: Someone who has Pure O/Intrusive thoughts with violent, sexual, and blasphemous obsessions, that is who.

Oftentimes we forget that just because we have OCD, does not mean we are OCD. When someone has cancer, they may go through chemotherapy. There are symptoms to the treatment of chemotherapy that are universally known and quite horrible. (especially for someone like me with a throw up obsession). When a person is experiencing these symptoms, they are not worrying that they are sick and tired because they are a horrible person. When they are experiencing symptoms as a result of cancer and chemo, they don’t feel guilty and shame about having cancer. They accept the symptoms as side effects of a disease and the treatment.

Because the symptoms of our OCD are so closely tied to our psychological state of mind, we have a tendency to believe it is a reflection of who we are innately. The ‘well if it isn’t true, then why would I worry about it’ state of mind is exactly where OCD wants to keep us. When we are OCD about our OCD, we stay pigeonholed in a state of mind that holds us back from living in full acceptance and recovery. We have to keep the mindset to hate the disorder and not ourselves. WHO WE ARE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH OUR SYMPTOMS OF OCD.

I deal with the intrusive thoughts almost every day. I like to look at them like clouds floating through my mind. Some are big clouds that block the sunshine and make me doubt for a minute, some are dark and scary thunderstorms that may keep me trapped for a few hours, and others just pass by and I can get a chuckle out of what an imagination my OCD has to try to tempt me. I understand the difference between my real thoughts and my OCD thoughts because it is like clockwork how my OCD works. My body has the same reaction, my mind has the same reaction, my racing and ruminating thoughts surrounding the obsessive thought are always the same. I have learned to recognize that all of those are ‘symptoms’ of a disorder. Once you pinpoint the ‘symptoms’, you are able to separate yourself from them.

OCD does not want you to succeed. OCD does not want to you live happily without it having control over you. It will manipulate every situation to get you caught back in the obsessive and compulsive cycle. But, you are smarter than OCD. You know that who you are as a person has nothing to do with the symptoms of your OCD.

RECOGNIZE ALL OF THE SYMPTOMS

RECOGNIZE YOUR PATTERN OF REACTION

BE AWARE OF WHEN YOU ARE REACTING

SEPARATE YOURSELF FROM YOUR DISORDER

MOST IMPORTANTLY, DON’T EVER HATE YOURSELF BECAUSE YOU HAVE OCD, HATE OCD BECAUSE YOU HAVE IT.

Thank you for taking the time to read,

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; ‘The Stigma of Mental Illness Radio; CBT/ERP Coach/Mental Health Peer Consulting

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