Why I Love My (Old) OCD Clinic

I loved seeing my loved ones in Rhode Island last weekend.

When you say the words “loved ones,” you usually don’t expect that to include staff at a psychiatric hospital. This time, it does. Last weekend there was a reunion for the OCD program I went to when I was 16. Why would I fly up to Rhode Island just for a one-day reunion? Lots of reasons. First off, this was the only way I could get my father to let me visit my home state this summer. Second, I had been wanting to visit with an old friend for quite some time and this would be a good chance. Lastly and most importantly, I love and support my old hospital that much.

Most people don’t get as close to staff as I did. But when you’re in a program everyday for 6 months, let alone during a highly formative period in your life, bonds tend to form. The truth is, so much of who I am today is because of the staff at that hospital. It was where I ended up after first reaching out for help, it was where I first got diagnosed with OCD, and finally, it was where I recieved adequate treatment. The “adequate treatment” was from the staff I’m talking about today. Those were the people I spent 6 months with (7 if you count my second visit), some of which spent almost everyday in my home.

They were different from the start. For the first time in my life, I had therapists who didn’t hand me coping skills, assuming I’ll never be “normal,” so I might as well just try to avoid any illogical anxiety (no matter how debilitating). They didn’t tell me to snap a rubber band on my wrist, or mentally yell “stop” whenever I started obsessing. For the first time in my 10 years of therapy, there was an attitude of, “lets tackle this problem so you can live the life you want.”

They taught me to face my fears head on. And they’re the reason I’m the strong, determined, adventurous, confident, carefree warrior person I am today. They’re the reason I believe I can get married someday. They’re the reason I believe I can have a successful life. They’re the reason I believe I could get a PhD if I wanted to. Heck, they’re the reason I went to college to begin with!

I was homeschooled because of my anxiety. Before the OCD program, I had no idea if I could handle university classes, let alone be around so many people. Through facing fears greater than most people can imagine, I realized I can do anything if I have enough will (and act despite insecurities or fear of what people think).

They’re the reason I don’t live in fear anymore: they told me I can chose not to listen to it.

In addition to all the tools they gave me to defeat my OCD, I think the most helpful aspect was the atmosphere of the program. There’s nothing like being in a room of people, children and teens, who are supporting eachother and lifting eachother up. Meanwhile, in front of each of them is their own huge battle to face. For the first time in most of our lives, we were in a room of people who understood us. (I feel like I’ve spent the rest of my life looking for that roon again.) And the word “can’t”? It’s completely unheard of. Either you’re taking your life back or you’re not, but there’s no “can’t” in anxiety. Fighting our fears wasn’t as hard when we were in that room, either. In fact, sometimes it was fun. I guess this is proof that a load weighs less when people are helping you carry it.

The staff instilled in us an attitude of resilience, then we instilled that into eachother. But even in our worst moments, it was never so dark that we couldn’t crack a smile.

The OCD program taught me all of that and more, and these lessons have stuck with me until today. In many ways, they made me into who I am. However, I wouldn’t say I’m a different person. I would say they got rid of the barriers keeping me from being the person I always wanted to be.

My gratitude for them is greater than I can express. I thank God for them, because it was God who brought me to this hospital at just the right time. And now I want to do all I can to pay it forward.

If I have anything to say to the public in this post, it’s a massive thank you to mental health professionals. Thank you to those of you who devote you lives to helping people who probably don’t like you, and most likely don’t want your help. I know it’s not easy to be the one to carry everyone else’s burdens (especially the burdens that come along with mental illness), but you do that with grace. Most people struggle to know what to say when other people are hurting, and would rather avoid the situation altogether. You went to school to get better at it. If you’re a mental health professional, a clinician, a counselor, or a therapist, that alone makes you awesome. We need more people like you in the world, and please never stop doing what you do!

You can see why I said it’s a gratitude greater than I can express. When I try to express it, it turns into a rambling jumble of encouragment phrases.

Visiting them is an amazing way to consolidate my recovery, which, in a way, stemmed from a relationship with these people. In no way do I believe it hinders my recovery, or that my immense admiration for them is unhealthy. In reality, going back reminds me of where I came from, and why I’m still fighting. Even years later and a thousand miles away. Also, it’s a way to thank the staff that I love.

This year a documentary is being filmed on the hospital, so I also got interviewed by producers of the documentary. (There’s no guarentee footage of my interview will make it in the show, but when I have more information I’ll let you know.) That was a great experience. Not only was I saying the things I love to say about mental health, OCD, and exposure and response prevention, but I was saying those things on the grounds on which I learned them. I’ve done interviews before, but this one was unique in that way. It was also unique in that it’s for cable television.

The night after the reunion, I got to spend time with my lovely cousins at one of my favorite restaurants. It was a breath of fresh air to see the familiar faces on that side of the family. The next day, I met up with a friend from elementary school I hadn’t seen in probably 5 years. 5 years! Although it had been so long, the bond between us was still there. It was sentimental and just good. I don’t want to go into details, but seeing her was amazing.

Perhaps I went to Rhode Island focusing on the reunion, but every experience I had there was heartwarming. I feel like that’s not the best word to describe it, but when I got back that’s how I felt: warm. Warmed by seeing friends, family, and familiarity I haven’t seen in so long. Even the airport was comforting!

So, yes, it was worth it to fly up to Rhode Island for a weekend. When that weekend is full of people who build you up and lighten your load to carry in life, yes, it’s worth it.

Ps. Once again the only sunburn I got this summer was in Rhode Island, thanks to the reunion being held outside. Oh well, my skin picking tendencies like watching the skin peel off anyway. (I mean, EW GROSS! 😛 Half of you will like that comment, surely!)

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I’m Not Recovered. | & Eating Disorders

Reading about eating disorders triggers me.

It doesn’t make much sense. I’ve never had an eating disorder. I’ve never had a disordered relationship with food. That is, unless you count the times I forget to eat because I’m busy being a perfectionist (i.e. OCD ritualizing) on whatever project I’m enthralled in, or times like last week when I couldn’t express my emotions and ate a whole box of chocolates instead.

I don’t know why eating disorders strike such a nerve in me. Reading about them-although I want to learn and I’m very interested in eating disorders-I always end up painfully, heartwrenchingly, akin-to-my-darkest-bouts-of-depression sad. Like mourning for a loss I didn’t have.

Maybe it’s because I see myself in them.

I recognize wanting to please my disorder so much I was killing myself while trying to help myself. I recognize turning my back on doctors and reason because what’s in my head is much more convincing.

Tonight I read an article by someone who has an eating disorder. And they are not participating in Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

Continue reading “I’m Not Recovered. | & Eating Disorders”

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. 🙂