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!
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! 😀
1) My slutty friends (TOTALLY JOKING, my friends are great!)
Anyone who’s been on Facebook during engagement season knows the frustration of watching your friends one by one get married off. I was thrilled for the first one, but by now I’m totally over it. It seems that every 19 year old on my friends list got married this year. This isn’t a bad thing and I’m super happy for them, but it gives the opportunity for a lot of obsessions.
You don’t have to be married to bother my OCD, though. Pictures of unmarried couples trigger the anxiety as well.
What’s worse than that are the people constantly posting jokes about “Netflix and chill” and some poor girl “wanting the d.” I’ve seen posts of incredibly sexual drawings that have left me ruminating for hours.
2) Sappy love songs
My OCD can be triggered by even the smallest mention of love. There was a point where I couldn’t even listen to the most innocent of love songs without getting anxious. Whatever happened in the song would always end up in my mind. And, in proper OCD tradition, it would happen with the wrong person. My mind would play out every scene in the song with me and that person. It makes it hard to listen to the radio because I never know what song is going to trigger me next. Don’t even get me started on the blatantly sexual songs.
3) Cute Couple Pictures
Much like the love songs, pictures of couples give me intrusive thoughts. Once again, these pictures could be anywhere. It is all but impossible to avoid them. Not that I should. The more I expose myself to these things, the less anxiety I will have in the long run because I’ll get used to them.
But right now I’m ranting so I’m not thinking of those truths. Let me rant in peace!
4) Stumbling Upon Sexual Education/Blogging Sites.
It seems every few days a friend posts a link entitled something along the lines of “Top 50 Kinky Sex Moves!!!11!!1!!1!” and “What He Wants In Bed!!!1!!1!11!” When I see these things, my anxiety spikes. For some stupid reason, I then get a terrible urge to look at the article for reassurance that it’s not as bad as it sounds. Which, of course, makes everything worse. So now I’m reading about the latest sex moves and my OCD is overjoyed to take in the new material.
This also happens when I walk by an issue of Cosmo in the grocery store. That magazine is basically my nemesis.
5) How Can I Enjoy Law and Order: SVU?
I have a confession to make that everyone probably knows already. I love Law and Order: SVU. I love Olivia Benson’s hardcore attitude and seeing everyone’s story lines unfold. It’s a guilty pleasure. However, it is so hard to sit through episodes that talk about rape. Which is nearly every one.
When my sexual obsessions first became more prominent, they were mostly about rape. It was also mysteriously around the time that I started watching SVU. Which came first? I’m not sure. But having these intrusive thoughts has hindered my enjoyment of the show and any show like it. Especially the more graphic episodes. Once again, it gives my OCD new material.
6) Accidentally Stumbling Upon Porn
That pretty much says it all.
This was especially hard in my Tumblr days. Oh, Tumblr.
You may have noticed a lot of these have to do with the internet. Ever since I was twelve, I’ve pretty much lived on the internet. It has always been my safe haven. A place to go to where I had friends and people who supported me, when I didn’t have that in real life. Websites like Tumblr were my go-to places when I was depressed. Unfortunately, websites like Tumblr also made my depression worse. Being on the internet all the time led to me never leaving my house, which made me feel even more lonely.
Now the internet hurts me in a new way. What was once a safe haven is now a minefield filled with triggers. Youtube is my main source of entertainment, but even on there it’s hard to avoid sexual content. Just watch one PewDiePie video and you’ll see what I mean.
7) Researching OCD
This problem may only exist for mental health bloggers/vloggers, but researching OCD really triggers my sexual obsessions. To no ones surprise, the types of OCD that trigger me are usually sexual related, such as HOCD. I sometimes find descriptions of intrusive thoughts and compulsions too graphic for me. Or sometimes a story of recovery will involve things OCD doesn’t want to hear about. Sometimes these things create more intrusive thoughts and worries. I continue despite this, because I know people need to be educated on these topics.
8) Avoiding Important People
When I was having intrusive thoughts about a therapist while in the OCD Intensive Outpatient Program, it was hard to even sit in a room with him. If he got too close to me or touched me, I would immediately freak out inside. But I couldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t risk someone knowing I have these embarrassing thoughts.
What made it even worse was that he was my favorite. I loved working with him. We would do exposures for my social anxiety every day and I couldn’t just give him up to OCD. (My determination to continue working with him despite OCD is a good thing, of course.)
It got worse when the thoughts moved on to my psychiatrist. If I had not been doing my exposures, I would dread seeing him because of the terrible anxiety I had leading up to the appointment. One night before an appointment with him, I just started bawling my eyes out because the anxiety was too much to bare. The next day my psychologist and I started doing exposures around seeing him.
It’s the association anxiety that hurts the most. Intrusive thoughts are one thing, but it’s the people and objects associated with the thoughts that give me the anxiety that makes it hard to live my life. There could be a trigger around any corner to cause intrusive thoughts and anxiety. Albeit, the more I work on my intrusive thoughts with exposure and response prevention, the less daily triggers I have.
I have to say, I’ve come a long way from those exposures. It took me two years, but I finally was able to tell my psychiatrist one of my thoughts. And at our last appointment I hugged him and had no anxiety. I would love to still be working with him about these thoughts, but I’m now 1,000 miles away.
Other people with sexual obsessions might avoid people of the same sex, opposite sex or children. Since my OCD tends to focus on a specific person, I just have one person I severely want to avoid. However, I am so glad that I didn’t avoid him. By not avoiding him, I was able to have great conversations and make huge progress with my OCD. Through medications and exposures.
Everything on this list triggers my intrusive thoughts. At one point, I would have avoided all of them, but now I do it anyway because I’m not about to let OCD dictate what I do.
The biggest thing that has helped my sexual obsessions was talking about them. If you’re struggling with sexual obsessions, please tell someone. The more details you can give, the better help you can receive. Trust me, if your therapist is any good, your therapist is not going to judge you.
If talking to someone is too hard, try writing them down. Writing down scary thoughts takes some power away from them and helps you separate them from yourself. Because you are not your thoughts. You are not your OCD.
You are not your OCD.
Thank you for putting up with my rant! I hope it enlightened you on some of the struggles those of us with sexual obsessions have. It certainly helped me to get my feelings out.
See you later and hopefully with something more coherent,
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:
Praying, witnessing and reading the Bible with my legs crossed
Praying without kneeling
Praying while sitting down
Going to my basement and being in dark places
Writing without rewriting
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.
Throughout my life, I’ve been afraid of many things. I thought my fear was something to hide from. An actual threat. Everyone taught me, hide under the covers. Do what you need to do to not feel anxious.
But that doesn’t solve anything, does it?
Tonight I am inspired by the Biblical passage of 1 Samuel 17, the story of David and Goliath. When David was sent to bring food to his brothers fighting the Philistine army, he was thrust into a situation that had caused every Israelite soldier to cower in fear, literally run away from the battle.
The nearly 10 foot tall Philistine Goliath was once again threatening the Israelites. He proposed that their armies do not fight, but if any Israelite was able to beat him alone, the Philistines would become Israel’s servants. However, if they lost, the Israelites would become the Philistine’s servants.
David, visiting his brothers in the battle line, asked what was going on. The soldiers told him the story and the great prize from King Saul; Saul’s daughter and exemption from taxes and service in Israel (That’s like no jury duty, woohoo! They should implement this in America, just saying).
David starts out bravely insulting the Philistine. Instead of rallying with him, David’s brother gets angry. He calls David conceited, his heart wicked. If that is true, David’s conceit was was obviously an advantage on that day.
When Saul heard of David’s remarks, Saul summoned David. David, the young boy, the shepherd from Bethlehem, boldly offered himself up fight Goliath.
Without armor, without experience, David approached Goliath. Goliath mocked him, “Am I a dog? Is that why you’re coming at me with sticks?” But David’s stick was not a stick. It was actually (drumroll please) a shepard’s slingshot. While the slingshot didn’t even compare to Goliath’s spear, sword and javelin, David had another weapon. David announced:
I’m coming to you in the name of ADONAI-Tzva’ot, the God I the armies of Israel, whom you have challenged. Today Adonai will hand you over to me. I will attack you, lop your head off, and give the carcasses of the army of the P’lishtim (Philistines) to the birds in the air and the animals in the land. Then all the land will know that there is a God in Israel.
Do you think David was fearful when he approached Goliath? The Bible does not say, but David’s bravery was greater than what fear he might have had.
This story teaches us to do what we desire, even when we’re fearful. In life, we will have amazing opportunities that will intimidate us. How we make that decision should never be based on the fear we feel, but our desire to take that opportunity. This is bravery! By pushing past fear, you’re already braver than those hundreds of Israelite soldiers.
If you want to do something, feel the fear, but do it anyway! Feel the fear, but do it anyway. If we ever want to get where we want to be in life, we need to push past fear.
In Exposure and Response Prevention therapy, we gain the tools to fight the giant that is OCD. Our slingshot, if you will.
Sometimes OCD feels like a giant Goliath. Sometimes we want to run and hide (or compulse and avoid). However, that will never solve the problem. That will never win the war. No obsession you face can ever be solved by a compulsion. On the contrary, every obsession you face can be solved by acceptance. To fight OCD is to surrender to it.
Sometimes this seems impossible. However, if you believe in such things, Matthew 19:26 in the Bible says that with God, all things are possible. A phrase I brought up a lot in the OCD clinic.
So with your slingshot and possibly with Adonai-Tzva’ot (Lord of Hosts), you can fight any Goliath in your life.