Inside The OCD Box

Having OCD is like being trapped in a box.

It starts out as a box with plenty of room to move around, OCD is only asking you to avoid a few minor things.

You think, “Okay, it’s alright that I’m avoiding this OCD fear, I have all of these things I’m not afraid of to replace it!” Slowly but surely, OCD asks you to avoid more and more things. And the more you do what OCD says, the smaller your box becomes. Before you can even realize it, your box is tiny and cramped. You can hardly move without OCD asking you to avoid more fears and thoughts. 

That’s how avoidance works in OCD. It never stops at the first thing, the OCD always grows.


On the other hand, when we tell OCD we’re not going to avoid or do compulsions, our box grows. At first, it hurts because we’re not used to stretching and pushing this heavy box that’s kept us stuck in the same position for so long. Even though it’s hard, slowly but surely we can do the things we love again. And that’s what makes it worth it. 

We want your box to be big enough to hold the whole world again, so you can do the things you love and be happy. 

When we first start facing our fears, they usually do get worse for a little while. But if we can stick that first while out, it makes a world of difference in our recovery! Get past that first stretch, and you can get through anything! 

If the first stretch turns out to be too hard, we might need a little boost. This is where medication and supplements come in handy. When starting therapy for OCD, doctors often immediately put the patients on medications. This is because they know the patients are already in pain and that that first stretch may be a lot for them. The medication dulls the anxiety to the point that patients can start doing exposures (growing their box) and make it through the heightened anxiety.

I hope you feel better soon and have the strength to fight your OCD. In the meantime, know that I’ve had severe OCD fears around thing I loved to do. And now I can do those things as much as I want, with no anxiety. I could only do that by feeling that OCD fear and doing what I want anyway. Praying for you. But I know you got this!

Kat

Ps. This was originally written to a friend in a Facebook support group. But a lot of people liked it, so I edited it a bit and published it here. I made this analogy a while ago, but haven’t shared it too much yet (I thought I needed an OCD analogy, because all the good OCD professionals have one!). 😉 

Special thanks to Zoltan for getting me to type this out! And everyone who encouraged me to post it. And Laura for being the best co-moderator ever! 😀

Pps. Check out my channel for an overview of what I did at the Annual OCD Conference. I’ll have 1-3 videos about it coming out in the next month or so. 🙂 Stay tuned and subscribe to see them right when they come out! 

You Can Resist Rituals [Fight The Bully, Don’t Feed The Bully]

Last night, possibly for the first time, I wanted to look at a picture and check my feelings as a compulsion. The urge was so strong, but I resisted. It is possible to resist compulsions. It’s incredibly hard, but possible. 

It feels like you’re putting a lot on the line, but in reality you’re not. I think the logical side of you knows that. And in five minutes, or fifteen minutes, or an hour, when your anxiety has gone and you’ve forgotten what started it in the first place, you will see that it’s true. 

In the moment, anxiety makes us feel like our thoughts are a threat. Like they must come true, because we thought them. However, that is only the result of our faulty brains. Making up meanings for thoughts that have no meaning.

In reality, thoughts are just thoughts. Everyone has them and they are harmless, to everyone. 

My therapist and I have been working on exposing myself to the root of my fear. That I might be attracted to someone taboo. This means, instead of writing out my intrusive thoughts objectively, I write out the meaning I (falsely) apply to them. 

I think that may be why this urge to ritualize was so strong.

But I’ve heard stories of people who have this compulsion. One minute of checking turns to two, then five, then ten. One photo brings feelings that are too conflicting, so add another, and another. Then it’s more than just the person you started with, it’s anyone who meets the qualifications set by OCD. 

But that is true of all compulsions, isn’t it? 

I wasn’t going to jump down that rabbit hole. I know where it ends. 

That’s why when I get a new compulsion I try my absolute hardest to resist. No matter how strong the urge is. One compulsion always turns into two. And like drug tolerance, we become tolerant to the compulsion. So we have to do more and increasingly intrusive rituals.

When you look at it that way, it’s much easier to not ritualize in the first place. 

Don’t look at rituals as momentary relief, look at them as giving OCD the foothold it needs to control you. That’s all it really is.

It is terrifying to resist compulsions, especially for the first time. However, it is necessary to recover from OCD.

Fight the bully, don’t feed the bully.

Bonus round: 

I like to think of OCD as the alien from Doctor Who that lives in electronics. If you don’t watch Doctor Who, you will have no idea what I’m talking about, but bare with me. If you do watch Doctor Who, I haven’t seen this episode in a while so I might be a bit off on the lore. Bare with me. Disclaimers aside, the alien feeds off of human’s faces because that is the “essence” of their being, so to speak. So the alien comes to Earth and goes into television screens, using satellite connections to be in many screens at once. 

When a person is sitting on their couches watching television with their families, the alien appears on the screen in the form of a woman. It screams, “FEED ME! FEEEEEED ME!” As it sucks the face off of the people on the other side of the screen.

I remember watching the episode and thinking the alien was so gluttonous and disgusting. It will do anything to eat the most faces it can.

Then I realized, OCD is the same way. OCD comes into our lives shouting, “feeeeed me!” It starts off small, but grows larger and larger as we give it what it wants. It feeds off of our compulsions. And in doing that, our essence disappears. We become the person OCD wants us to be, rather than who we want to be. We become faceless.

To stop this, we must starve OCD. We will feel it’s whining and the result of it’s hunger pains. However, in doing this, it will shrink. And we can be ourselves again.

Fight the bully, don’t feed the bully.

The Four Most Powerful Words to OCD

Lately I’ve been kicking out little (but significant) OCD compulsions I haven’t gotten rid of yet, despite it being years since they first started. 

Sometimes OCD will bring about a compulsion that initially you try to fight, but it stays around long enough that you end up doing it without even thinking. It becomes automatic.

I recently made a list of things I’ve taken back from OCD. The list includes:

  1. Singing
  2. Reading
  3. Praying, witnessing and reading the Bible with my legs crossed
  4. Praying without kneeling
  5. Praying while sitting down
  6. Driving
  7. Video games
  8. Going to my basement and being in dark places
  9. Writing without rewriting
  10. Drawing without redrawing

Some of the ones I’ve regained recently include playing video games, reading and praying while sitting down.

One of the compulsions I’ve had for years is not wearing button-up shirts. When I first started dressing modestly, OCD hopped onto my modest journey and decided that button-up shirts are immodest. It’s reasoning? Button-up shirts are too easy to take off. 

This compulsion proved to make clothes shopping hard because most actually modest shirts out that year were button-ups.

Since then I’ve casually avoided button-up shirts.

When I go shopping, being a woman who values modesty, I keep a mental checklist for what qualities I want in my clothes. When going through that checklist, sometimes a shirt will make every qualification. Long sleeves, not too low cut, etc., but it’s a botton-up. On those cases, I politely move onto the next item. In other cases, the shirt may have some buttons, but is not a complete button-up shirt. Therefore leading to a very unnessesary mental battle. 

Since I’ve been trying to kick out these ingrained compulsions, when I saw my one button-up shirt hanging innocently in my closet, I decided today’s the day to kick out this one. I’ve tried to do this a couple times before, but was never successful at wearing it out of the house. Not always because of anxiety, sometimes because the weather wasn’t right or I decided on another outfit.

Here’s how it went:

I took it out of my closet and started buttoning it up. That’s when I remembered before OCD, I used to always wear tank tops under my button-up shirts. I decided not to put one on because it will add to the anxiety around being immodest.

Then I started thinking about my button-up modesty “rule”. The reason I didn’t wear button-up shirts for so long was I believed it was a valid modesty rule. I believed it was a religious rule, not an OCD rule.

Beliefs like this is what kept me from recovery from my religious obsessions for so long. Learning what OCD thoughts look like helped me identify when a rule was really OCD. That took a long time too, and I still struggle with it. That’s why I had a spike of anxiety when I realized this rule might be a religious rule, not OCD.

If it’s a religious rule, that means I’m disobeying Almighty God. It means I could go to Hell (my most feared consequence).

Instead of ruminating, instead of trying to figure out if it’s God, I said “Well, maybe it is.”

Four powerful words for an OCD sufferer.

What helped more than learning what an OCD thought looks like, was learning that ruminating over whether it’s OCD or not  is a compulsion. Cutting that out is key in defeating OCD. 

Despite my anxiety, I pushed past the fear and I finished buttoning my shirt.

Then I promptly went to the full-length mirror to take a selfie of my accomplishment.

Writing this out has brought back my anxiety. If I were to rate my anxiety on a scale of one to ten, ten being the highest, it would be an eight. I’m having urges to figure out if it’s OCD. I need to be certain that it is. I’m resisting those urges quite well, if I do say so myself.

This is another exposure that has made me realize how far I’ve come. A year ago, when I was in an Intensive Outpatient Program for OCD (my 2nd time), I would not do exposures around religious obsessions due to my false beliefs regarding them. Now, I’m challenging my biggest fear.

To be honest, this was a bit of a flooding exposure. I only started religious obsessions 4 months ago and I’m still at the bottom of my hierarchy. When I started this exposure I was so certain that it was OCD. I didn’t expect that I would even doubt it.

OCD, “the doubting disease,” obviously had other plans.

Regardless, I already started the exposure and my anxiety is tolerable, so I’m not giving up now.

I hope one day to take back everything OCD has taken from me. I want to enjoy those things again. Although, it hurts to know I can never take back the most precious thing, lost time. Now that the time of OCD is over, I know I must spend the rest making healthy decisions to improve my life.

One of those things being avoiding compulsions, no matter how much it hurts.

And having fun outside of my house, which I’m about to do now.

Here’s my outfit of the day: