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! 

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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.

Peer Support In Recovery (Alternate Title: Recovery Buddies! Yay!)

2015 was different for me in many big ways. I moved 1,000 away from my hometown, my YouTube channel flourished, I’ve found a hobby I’ve actually stuck with (YouTube), I got my first new therapist in two and a half years, and I beat OCD like I never could before. However, the most beneficial difference for me is the mental health community I have found online.

In the beginning of 2015 I went to a reunion for my OCD program. Seeing kids I hadn’t seen in years doing things they couldn’t do two years ago inspired me. Hearing them talk about their recovery gave me hope. Hope I’m not the only one out there in this stage of recovery from my OCD. I had longed for friendship for so long, but hadn’t found it.

The day I left the OCD IOP program (the first time), I cried. Not because I was worried about my OCD getting worse or acclimating to life without daily support, but because I was worried I wouldn’t make friends.

I had never met people who understood me before that program. People who understood the intense anxiety I felt. People who understood how terrifying and intrusive OCD is. I met a lot of teens there and we all bonded over our struggles. We talked about recovery in it’s earliest stages, which is what made it so beneficial to see them talk about it two years later with obvious improvements.

An aspect of recovery that psychologists often seem to neglect is the peer support. In the program, we’d be with kids like us every day. To be honest, watching them grow is more motivating than any amount of CBT worksheets. Some kids could work with a therapist for ages on one subject, but it wasn’t until another kid explained it that they understood. There is a trust between two people with the same illness, a trust that could never be replicated between a patient and a therapist.

After the program, that trust was ripped away from us. They didn’t have a support group for patients, which is a vital error on their part. Perhaps having peer support would stop many teens from going back.

It was also hospital policy that patients weren’t allowed to have each others’ contact information. However, at the reunion we were no longer patients, so I didn’t mind giving away my number. 😉 Texting my friends from the program helped me have some of the support I desperately wanted, but conversations were few and far between and it felt odd to bring up recovery.

That’s when I started getting messages on my channel from people who also wanted support. Some of them had been in a program like mine and felt lonely without their peers. E-mailing these people helped me as much as it helped them. We quickly became each other’s support systems.

Then came OCD Week. Around that week I was introduced to the Twitter OCD community, which is actually quite huge. You’d think 140 characters would inhibit how much support you can give, but that’s proven wrong when you meet the kind OCD bloggers, speakers, and activists who use Twitter as a means of spreading awareness and hope.

Having them is what changed my 2015 from the previous years after my OCD diagnosis. If you need a pick-me-up, motivation to do exposures, or just have a lighthearted OCD musing you’d like to share, they’re always there for you. They’re the most understanding and recovery oriented people I have met in regards to OCD. Especially on the internet where false information runs rampant, we need resources that support recovery from mental illness. These blogs, twitters and my friends in the YouTube mental health community do so.

Last year I made my first recovery vlog where I talked about wanting to make friends, but having trouble because of my social anxiety. Once again, mental health advocacy has opened up opportunities I never could have had before. The opportunity to know somebody who understands.

Thank you to all that has been a friend to me this past year, I hope I’m a good friend to you too. 🙂

Kat

Ps. I intend to make a master post of all the OCD resources I mentioned for my YouTube subscribers because there are very few recovery oriented OCD YouTube channels out there.
Pps. This is a collaborative art project the other patients and I made at the reunion. I'm so proud of how far we've come, including the program itself.

Pps. This is a collaborative art project the other patients and I made at the reunion. I’m so proud of how far we’ve come, including the OCD program itself.

Writing Smut With My Psychologist

And then it dawned on me: I am writing smut. 

Alas, those years of dancing around it in fanfiction are over. The days of awkwardly closing the page is gone. The innocence of my words is no more. 

When I began treatment for OCD, I never knew this was even an option. Of course, before I was diagnosed with OCD I thought it was about perfectionism. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I would have never thought the horrific images in my head were a result of a disorder known for handwashing. Learning about Harm OCD let me know I do, in fact, have OCD. And that I am not alone in having horrific thoughts about people harming me and me harming others. At the time, these thoughts nearly destroyed me. The lead me to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Nowadays, I don’t even flinch. 

But my harm OCD getting better made the way for an even more repulsive monster. 

Now, my sexual obsessions didn’t come immediately after my harm obsessions went away. In between I had scrupulosity and perfectionism OCD to work on. However, because my harm OCD had gone away by the time I got treatment, I never learned how to deal with OCD symptoms that don’t produce overt compulsions. Regardless, at the end of my treatment OCD decided to give me a going away present. A new obsession, one it knew it could use to control me. Because how was I supposed to tell my psychologist I have intrusive thoughts about one of my therapists raping me? It was more than scary, it was embarrassing. Embarrassment kept me silent longer than it should have and my sexual obsessions became a problem. 

Once I figured out I could not handle my sexual obsessions on my own, I told my psychologist. We started out doing exposures about the therapist in question, then moved onto the thoughts themselves. Exposures changed as my sexual thoughts changed focus. Fast forward two years and I’m writing smut with my new psychologist.

I suppose I should clarify, I do not enjoy writing this smut. In fact, it makes me incredibly anxious. The point of Exposure and Response Prevention therapy is to 1) expose you to your fear and 2) prevent you from responding with an action to reduce anxiety. Since my fears are about being raped by or having sex with people I know, I can’t directly expose myself to those fears. Instead, we employ a wonderful tool called a “script exposure.”

Script exposures involve writing out the worst possible scenario of a fear you have. If you have a fear of becoming a failure, you’d write a script about losing your job, your house getting foreclosed on and you living as a hobo with not even a cardboard box to keep you company. Then you would read that repeatedly. Just writing that out may not make you anxious, but if you fear becoming a failure and have OCD, it’s sure to kick your anxiety into overdrive. To someone not familiar with Exposure and Response Prevention, you may wonder why people with OCD would do this. The answer is simple, when you expose yourself to something enough, you get bored. Like if you were to watch the same horror movie over and over again, at first it’s scary, but by the tenth time you’re falling asleep. However, my OCD fear is not of failure or horror movies. It’s sex. Hence why I’m writing smut with my psychologist.

It’s not a common thing I suppose, writing smut with your psychologist. But I’ve learned there are some pretty weird things allowed in Exposure and Response Prevention therapy, that you just would not see in traditional talk therapy. For example, when I was in an OCD Intensive Outpatient Program, they had a whole folder devoted to images of vomit (we can talk about emetophobia later). At first I found it strange, but now I’ve embraced it and when someone tells me they eat off of the floor or stare at strangers for an exposure, I don’t question it. 

When I started writing smut with my first psychologist, it was petrifying. And, much like with the fanfiction, I could not write out parts about the actual sex. My new psychologist knows how to give me the push to write the hard parts. My scripts are looking smuttier and smuttier every time and at this point I’ve embraced the weirdness of ERP so much, I’m not embarrassed about it.

In fact, I almost want to shout it from the rooftops. Because people with embarrassing obsessions are keeping silent and it’s hindering their recovery. Some of them don’t even know they have a disorder they can recover from. I want to encourage everyone out there to talk about their weird thoughts because I now know they’re not weird at all. Literally every person on this planet has intrusive thoughts about sex and harm. The difference between them and I is that I have OCD. Meaning, my mind latches onto these thoughts and they get stuck in my mind and cause me extreme anxiety. 

If you have ever had a weird thought, write it as a comment on this blog. 

(By the way, this is an exposure for me too.) 
I’ll start: I have intrusive thoughts about kissing my former psychiatrist. 
Stop being embarrassed about thoughts you can’t control. Had a thought of having sex with your best friend? Normal! Had a thought that you might have a crush on your English Professor? Cool, me too! Had a thought about having sex with your pet? Oh well! 

Embrace the weirdness. 

Embrace the exposure. 

Embrace the anxiety. 

Embrace the anxiety and you will live.
Because life starts at the end of our comfort zones. 

Becoming comfortable with talking about my obsessions did not come easily. It took me a long time to tell my former psychologist what my thoughts were about, let alone the details of each thought.

But it got easier with, you guessed it, exposure. The more I talk about it, the easier it gets. 

The biggest help to me in this ongoing exposure was starting my video blogs on Youtube. When I started vlogging, I knew I had to talk about my thoughts so I could help other people experiencing similar thoughts. I’ve made this written blog so I can expand on the topics in my videos and hopefully talk about OCD in a little more detail. 

Anyway, I know starting off a blog with a post about taboo thoughts is a bit bold, but I hope you stick around!

Oh, my name is Kat, by the way. 🙂