Monthly Archives: February 2015

OCD Coverage in Print and on TV

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This has been a big week! On Monday this article in The Atlantic came out, which I was so honored to be interviewed for so I could share why I think throwing around the term “OCD” is a problem.

And on Tuesday, my appearance on Australian daytime talk show The Daily Edition aired. It was filmed live, and I was so nervous! The hard part about going on live TV to discuss an anxiety disorder is all of the anxiety you feel before, during, and after. It’s natural to feel unsure about something like that no matter who you are–pile OCD on top of it and the nerves can reach a fever pitch.

Despite all of that, though, I’m so glad I did it. Within minutes of wrapping the interview I got an email from a woman in Australia who’d just seen the segment. She said, “I have what you have. Are you all better now? Is there hope?”

I told her I’m much, much better and that, yes, there is hope. The reason I talk about this admittedly embarrassing topic, even to a reporter at a national magazine and to hosts of a national talk show, is that I needed to hear what I was saying before I was diagnosed with OCD. Long before. The more people I can help, the better, even if it’s just one person at a time.

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Tuesday Q&A: Chrissie Hodges

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This week we’re chatting with Chrissie Hodges, who I presented with at the OCD Conference in July 2014. I “discovered” Chrissie on an OCD Awareness Facebook page during the OCD Conference in Atlanta in 2013. She was recapping her experiences, and boy was I jealous! I couldn’t believe how many wonderful connections she was making in the OCD community—and once I knew she had a radio show all about the stigma of mental illness, I wanted to connect with her. Long story short, we hit it off when I appeared on her show and we’ve been in touch ever since. She was my trusty roommate at the conference, and we learned even more about each other then. I shared things with her I’d never told anyone before, so you know she’s gotta be good at drawing people out of their shells with compassion.

You’ll learn so much more about this amazing advocate by digging right into our Q&A, so I’ll stop blathering on!

ChrissieQ: You and I met when you interviewed me on your radio show, The Stigma of Mental Illness Radio. Tell us why you started this show.

A. I began the show when I was approached by a colleague who is into podcast radio who believed that I would be a good host. I was terrified! I initially told her no and then went home and freaked out that I had missed the opportunity! Luckily, she knew I needed to freak out and helped me figure out the logistics. Originally it was supposed to be a platform for individuals to tell their success stories, but it has turned into so much more! It has helped with my personal healing process, it is an incredible source of education, and its sole focus is abolishing stigma.

As we talked that day—you in Colorado, me in Minnesota—we learned that we had a lot in common. We both have pure O, for one thing. But you don’t just interview others with OCD. Have you had any particularly eye-opening interviews?

My first mind-blowing interview was with Chris Young, who is walking across the UK raising awareness about mental health. He has borderline personality disorder. His ability to be so candid and thoughtful about things that I didn’t understand and perhaps had my own stigmas about, such as cutting, lying, and disassociating, really marked a turning point for me and how I look at mental illness in general.

How has hosting your radio show helped you through your own recovery from mental illness?

How hasn’t it helped me is a better question! Mostly, it has confirmed that I am not alone in the emotional roller coaster of living with and dealing with mental illness and stigma. There are so many areas of my recovery that were overpowered by shame and guilt, and hearing that other people experienced the same things as I did has helped me learn to love and accept myself and my diagnosis.

RadioIt took you a while to realize you had OCD. How did you finally make the connection and get the proper diagnosis?

I was not diagnosed until I survived a suicide attempt at the age of 20. I was hospitalized for injuries and then spent time in a psychiatric hospital. I was diagnosed within 48 hours of describing my symptoms. I have mental rituals and compulsions, so my illness was virtually undetectable by anyone around me for 12 years prior to the suicide attempt.

After you were diagnosed you went through exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. I know how difficult that process can be, but I also know how glad you are that you did it. Why do you think ERP is so helpful in overcoming OCD?

ERP is a retraining of your brain. Before you are diagnosed and accept treatment, it is almost impossible to untangle the web that OCD has created in order to cope. ERP, although difficult, gives you a bit of a bird’s-eye view of what is really going on—even though it is hard to understand and even believe it is working in the moment.

What was the hardest part of ERP for you, and how did you get through it?

The hardest part of ERP were the secondary fears that come with OCD while in treatment. What if I really don’t have OCD? What if ERP proves I don’t have OCD and that my obsessions are real? What if my OCD is untreatable? What if I am the exception to the OCD treatment rule and cannot be helped? These were just maddening! But they are part of the process of learning to take the risk and live with the uncertainty.

You basically had long-distance ERP because your therapist was in another state. How did he help you stay accountable to the therapy when you didn’t meet in person?

My therapist was the only OCD specialist I could find on the Internet in 1998 and he specialized in my particular type of OCD. He was in New York and I was in Georgia. We did phone sessions weekly for several months. He was tough and strict on me from the very first moment we had contact. He said that if I wasn’t doing the homework, he would know immediately and he would not work with me. I was so desperate for help and he put the fear of everything holy in me so I took it very seriously! In the end, I believe that as long as a therapist is competent in how ERP works and the patient is willing to commit 100 percent, it doesn’t matter if it is in person or over the phone, it will work.

You’ve devoted your career to helping others with mental illnesses, OCD in particular. In addition to your radio show, you’re also training to be a peer specialist. What does a peer specialist do?

I am a peer specialist. I just got certified two weeks ago in Denver. [Editor’s note: Woo hoo!] A peer specialist uses their experience with a mental illness to help others navigate their way toward and through recovery. I look at it as a mentor of sorts. It is a person who lives successfully with their mental illness and can inspire encouragement and hope to those who are in the different stages of recovery.

Why did you decide to become a peer specialist? 

I had been working as a coach for Effective OCD Treatment with Matty Myles, helping clients with ERP plans, and loved the opportunity to be in the trenches with people who are fighting through their illness. It gives me the opportunity to be a cheerleader and see positive change firsthand. I wanted to take it further and work with all types of mental illnesses. I started doing some research, applied for a job, and here I am!734104_10151442647068554_1214475491_n

Tell us about Outreach Community in Denver (OCD).

Matty came up with the OCD acronym (he’s a punster!). Matty Myles and I are very passionate about connecting people who have OCD to foster community support. We wanted to nurture an environment of fun as well as education for people to have others to reach out to when they need information and support.

You’re also a public speaker—and a fantastic one, at that! Not only are you educating others about mental illness, I imagine it’s therapeutic for you as well. Has speaking so openly about your OCD symptoms served as exposure?

Yes, but it is still difficult for me. Pure O/intrusive thought obsessions bring a great deal of shame and embarrassment, which is why many of us kept them silent for so many years—we equated them as a reflection of our character sometimes even after diagnosis and treatment! I still get a twinge of fear and shame when I talk openly about some of the details of my obsessions, but it gets easier little by little. I try to remember that there could be at least one person in the room that is suffering and needs to hear my story to ask for help–that helps me to wipe out any reluctance I may have about full disclosure.

If you could give others with OCD one piece of advice, what would it be?

Just one piece! That is hard! My advice to those with OCD is that recovery is possible for anyone—you are not an exception! But recovery does not come without some really difficult work. Make the commitment to ERP and trust the process!

Tuesday Q&A: Julie Burnfield

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This week we’re chatting with Julie Burnfield, who runs a podcast called Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder with her husband, Andy. I kept seeing Julie and Andy at the conference in July 2014, but I never met them—it wasn’t until after I was back home in Minneapolis that we connected and Julie invited me for an interview. It took a while to coordinate our busy schedules, and in the meantime we got to know each other via email and Facebook.

JulieJulie writes beautiful poetry about her life with OCD, loves spending time with her husband and daughter, and inspires her listeners and Facebook followers with her message of hope and courage.

Thanks for being here, Julie.

Let’s get right down to it: You have OCD. How long do you think you’ve had it, and when were you diagnosed?

I can remember aspects of my OCD as early as 4 or 5 years of age when I would have to confess all the bad things I had done in my day to my dad as soon as he came through the door at night. If I didn’t confess, the buildup of anxiety (I called it a tummy ache at the time) would worsen and worsen to the point where it was unbearable. I was diagnosed with OCD when I was 22 years old. I knew there was something wrong with me all through high school and college but never had a name for it until I switched my major to psychology and we came to the chapter on OCD—lightbulb moment!

Can you share some of your obsessions and compulsions? Did you have any that seemed harder to overcome than others?

I have had pretty much every type of obsessions and compulsions over the years. They seem to morph from one kind to another; just when I think I have a handle on OCD in one part of my life it moves to another new part and I have to start learning to deal with it all over again. I have had contamination issues, checking, mental contamination, ruminations, intrusive thoughts, homosexual OCD, relationship OCD, pure O, pedophile OCD , religiosity, etc.

The hardest to deal with and to overcome was the pedophile OCD. I chose not to have a child for 10 years after getting married because of it and then when I did eventually have a daughter it was extremely hard to deal with and overcome; I still have many bouts with it when it can really get me down. I think it’s the hardest to deal with because my daughter is around me all the time and always in my head. Also, she is the person I care most about in the world and so having those types of OCD thoughts about her make them the most excruciating.

Once you knew you had OCD, how did you begin to recover from it?

I went to a psychiatrist to get medication and although it took quite a few medications to find the right one for me I persisted and that made all the difference. I also started going to therapy and there again, although it took a number of therapists to find the right one, I persisted and when I did eventually find the right one she made all the difference.

podcastYou host a podcast, Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, with your husband. What made you decide to start it?

One day my husband bought some recording equipment on a wild hare to record a show with his best friend about nerd stuff! After that didn’t pan out he randomly asked me one day if I would ever think about recording an episode where I talked about my OCD. My first response was “Hell no!” Well, 114 episodes later you can see how well my initial response panned out! We recorded one episode and it kind of went from there. I started to really enjoy recording, and talking to Andy about my OCD was very cathartic. We never thought anyone would listen to our little show, but now we have about 500 listeners a week and almost 1,200 followers on Twitter. We first started doing episodes about my story and then when we were done with that we started interviewing other people with OCD, and other people in the OCD world such as doctors, therapists, and other experts in the field. It has been an amazing run and I hope we keep doing it for another five years.

Has interviewing so many other people with OCD helped you deal with your own symptoms? 

It really has. It has helped me realize that I am not alone and that whenever OCD makes me believe I am experiencing something new or “unique” I can reach out to others I have met through the podcast and run my symptoms by them and quickly realize that there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to OCD, and just knowing that fact makes me feel so much better. Having people to connect with through our podcast has been the biggest blessing I could ever imagine. I never imagined that I would have such an incredible support group of friends to which I can turn at a moment’s notice, friends who have been where I am and on whom I can lean and know that they understand completely.

Are there any episodes that really stand out for you, any interviewees you really connected with?

I really connected with Shannon. the content of our OCD is very similar and we clicked from the very beginning. I count her as one of my main confidants and my go-to girl when things are getting rough. I actually had the pleasure of meeting her a few years back when she made a trip to Texas to meet me; it was so much fun and honestly the first time I had ever physically met another person with OCD.

I also connected with Aubrey and have met and hung out with her and her family numerous times as we both lived in Texas at the same time. Her strength is always a source of encouragement to me and her resolve after everything she has been through in her life inspires me to this day.

How are you doing now? Do you still sometimes struggle with obsessions or compulsions?

It has been 14 years since I was diagnosed and about 12 years since I have been on one medication or another. Yes, there are definitely times that I still struggle. I would say that my main struggle now is with pure O. My obsessions and compulsions are internal, mental, and although they are not seen to the world they are still very real, and very real to me. There are triggers that sometimes still bother me like being in a hotel room or touching someone on my “dirty list,” but I find that now that I have the tools to fight these obsessions I can overcome them for the most part as opposed to being completely paralyzed by them in the past. I don’t think we are ever cured—we just learn to cope, learn how to be ourselves despite our OCD.

You’re back to school to get your master’s degree in counseling, and you plan to specialize in the treatment of OCD. What led you to this decision?

The last few years have been very rough for me both physically and mentally. I have had cancer, blood clots, job crises, and major spikes in OCD just to mention a few. Funny how when bad things happen to you it forces you to reevaluate your whole life. That was my experience and when I did so I thought about my life and where I want to be when I’m 40. The answer was not that I still wanted to be at my current job doing the same thing I have for almost 15 years. I want to make a difference in the second half of my life and though I feel I have done so through the podcast, I can only go so far in helping people and telling them they aren’t alone. My help so far has been limited to shared experiences of OCD and I decided that I wanted to take the next step to be able to help people with OCD even more, to do so in a professional manner. My undergrad degree is in psychology and so starting my master’s in counseling in order to get my LPC and LMFT certifications seemed like the logical next step. I am almost finished with my first class and am loving it more than I could ever imagine. Three years and I will be ready to start my own practice and be able to help the OCD community even more.

You recently got an incredible tattoo. What’s the message behind it? 10917902_10155078129465431_5233358205391873201_n

The tattoo means Faith…Hope…Love…I’m still here. The semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life. Don’t end it. Start new. Check out projectsemicolon.com. It is a faith-based movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction, and self-injury. The reason I got the tattoo was because on my left forearm I have several very severe scars from cutting when I was in my early twenties. I wanted something meaningful to cover them up and that is why I chose the design I did. I’m still here, my story hasn’t ended, and just because I have the history I do doesn’t mean my story is over. There is always hope and now I see hope instead of scars every time I look at my arm.

If you had one piece of advice to offer someone with OCD, what would it be?

Reach out, don’t turn inwards. You are not the only person who has felt the way you feel, you are not the only person in the world who has thought the terrible things you have thought. There are people who know exactly what you are going through and people who want to help. It is only by coming together that we realize we are not alone. OCD is such an isolating disorder that’s what it wants to do, it wants us to think we are depraved and disgusting and alone. The truth is we are not. We have a mental disorder. A mental disorder is nothing to be ashamed of any more than diabetes or cancer is. You are not alone…someone cares.

Tuesday Q&A: Shannon Shy

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Welcome to Tuesday Q&A! Last week I began this new series with Jessica Bishop, a young woman with OCD who’s working to create awareness of OCD and reduce stigma. This week we’re hearing from Shannon Shy, author, attorney, former marine, obsession slayer, and all-around awesome guy.

Shannon

Photo courtesy of Patti Lowery, The A2A Alliance

I met Shannon in July 2014 at the OCD Conference in LA. I recognized him from his professional Facebook photo, and luckily I was presenting and rooming with a woman who knew him, and she introduced us. I liked him immediately because he was funny, and because I had already been following his Facebook page and often thought, “He took the words right out of my mouth—but made them more inspirational!”

As the weekend continued on, I liked Shannon more and more. He was kind to everyone, without exception, and he contributed insight to several sessions. I was blogging for the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) over the course of the conference, and I noted in one post that he and Jeff Bell should be eligible for sainthood. They’re that good.

Let’s hear more directly from Shannon.

You’re in a good place in your life now, but you struggled with OCD for a long time. What made you finally seek professional help?

Hi, Alison. Thanks for inviting me to your blog and congrats on publishing your book! You are helping many people.

What made me finally seek professional help? OCD started to really affect me after my first son was born in 1992. I was 29 years old and a captain on active duty with the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton, CA. For the next five years I progressively got worse. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew something was wrong. The intrusive thoughts and the compulsions to ease the anxiety became more intense and more frequent. I was afraid to seek professional help because I didn’t know what the Marines would do with me if I had some kind of mental health issue. Looking back on it now, I know that it was OCD that pretty much assured that I wouldn’t seek help by telling me that I would get kicked out of the Marines, lose my career as a lawyer, and ultimately lose my family.

By October 1997, the thoughts and compulsions dominated my every waking moment.  I was now a Marine Corps Major at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. It had gotten to the point where I didn’t want to leave my house or interact with anyone. I was trying to hide my quirky behaviors and I was embarrassed every time I approached someone “in charge” to let them know of the problem or impending disaster that OCD presented to me. My wife and a colleague had separately approached me a few times to politely nudge me into to seeking help. I responded repeatedly that it was just stress.

Finally, one morning in October 1997, I was driving to work and got into an endless loop where OCD had convinced me that I had heard a gunshot and that someone was probably dead or dying. OCD even gave me a possible assailant. After I drove in circles for about 45 minutes or so banging my fist on the dashboard and screaming “What’s wrong with me?!!,” I found two police cars and let them know what I had heard. They stared blankly at me and assured me it was okay. It was at that point that I knew I was done. I sat in my car and cried. With OCD’s help, I had boiled my options down to three: 1. Live like this forever; 2. Commit suicide; or 3. Seek help and lose my career and family. In reality, options 1 and 2 were non-options for me. I wanted to be my old self and I loved life and my family too much to end it. I chose the best bad option. It was the smartest decision I have ever made.

My readers will want to know what type of obsessions and compulsions you had. Did you have a “worst” obsession you really struggled with?

BeOkay

The basic themes of my obsessions were a fear of harming others and being responsible for the safety of others (including animals). In my first book, “It’ll be Okay”: How I Kept Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) from Ruining My Life, I catalogued the obsessions and related compulsions into 16 different categories. As I said earlier, by the time I was diagnosed in 1997, the thoughts and compulsions consumed my every waking moment. I didn’t have a worst obsession. They all haunted me. After I started treatment, OCD gave me a few other despicable and disgusting thoughts dealing with religion, violence, and sex. I got worse before I got better. But eventually I got better. Way better.

How did you “come out” with OCD?

Initially, after I was diagnosed, I only told a few people that I had OCD—my wife, my sisters, my boss, and a few officers at work. I wanted to tell others just to let them know that there was a medical reason as to why I had been acting the way I was acting, but a good friend of mine (another Major) told me it was no one else’s business. (He used more colorful language in getting his point across.) So I decided to tell no one else unless I had a legal or medical reason to do so. I went on with my life and I kept getting well.

Fast-forward to 2006—I was having dinner with a colleague while on travel and she confided in me that she had OCD really bad and didn’t know what to do. I said to her, “There is something that you don’t know about me” and I told her my story about how I was able to overcome OCD. She wrote me months later and told me that I had changed her life. She told me I really needed to tell my story publicly. I had always had a goal of writing a book, so I decided to tell my story about OCD by writing a book. In 2009, I published “It’ll be Okay”: How I Kept Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) from Ruining My Life (Authorhouse, 2009). My objective with the book was quite simple. I told myself that if I helped at least one person I would consider it a success.

How did you get involved with the IOCDF?

I had not heard of the IOCDF until after my book came out. When the book was published, I was searching the Internet trying to find someone to review it for me and I stumbled across Jeff Bell, one of the spokespersons for the IOCDF. I sent Jeff a note and he agreed to take a look at the book. He contacted me shortly thereafter and told me about the IOCDF. Jeff said the 2010 IOCDF annual conference was going to be held in Washington, DC. He thought that because of my military background (at this point I had retired as a Lieutenant Colonel) and I lived in northern Virginia, he would recommend to the IOCDF Board of Directors that I be the Keynote Speaker at the conference. The Board extended me an invitation and I accepted. I was overwhelmed by how powerful the conference itself was and the tremendous impact it had on all who attended. After that, the IOCDF asked me to be on their Speakers Bureau and in 2011 the Board asked me to become a Board member. It really is an awesome organization. (So I blame this all on Jeff Bell. LOL.)

You have a popular Facebook page, Shannon Shy–OCD Can Be Defeated. I’m Living Proof. You offer inspirational advice to hundreds (if not thousands) of people with OCD. What gave you the idea to start this page?

After the book came out, I made a few appearances here and there and spoke at the subsequent IOCDF conferences, but I didn’t feel like I was sufficiently continuing the conversation with the people that may need help. In November 2012, I finally figured out that I wasn’t taking full advantage of social media with regard to my OCD outreach. I had a personal Facebook page and a Twitter account, so I took the next step of creating a page about defeating OCD. The idea is relatively simple. I go on just about every day and post something that is hopefully insightful about OCD or motivational and inspirational to those who struggle and their friends and family members.  The idea took off. I believe it is followed in close to 50 countries now. I get lots of comments on the posts and I get lots of private messages from folks looking for help. I feel very honored and humbled that people find my words helpful. I try to answer everyone who takes the time to write.

Hope

And what was the impetus for your second book on OCD, Hope Is on Your Side: A Daily Motivational Journal for Those Affected by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (Tate Publishing, 2014)?

Knowing there is a much larger audience outside of Facebook, I decided to continue my outreach by writing a book based on the concept of my Facebook page. The book is a yearlong compilation of daily messages, which gives the reader the opportunity to record his or her thoughts about what the message means personally. The book also challenges the readers to set a goal (about anything) every seven days and to write down two meaningful steps the reader will take to accomplish the goal. I hope folks find this one helpful as well.

You often say that you were able to overcome OCD because you learned how to separate yourself from the disorder: “I am not OCD. OCD is not me.” How did you realize how important this mindset was? And why do you think it is so helpful?

My psychologist, a Navy Lieutenant, had given me a basic strategy: 1. Identify the OCD thoughts; 2. Don’t resist the thoughts; 3. Resist the compulsions. Separating myself from OCD was a natural evolution as I went through treatment in trying to identify the thoughts. I kept thinking of OCD as this other entity that was trying to destroy me and my family. OCD became my enemy. I did not give it human status; it was just something other than me. I would tell myself “I am not OCD. OCD is not me.” (I’m honored that you use that line as the beginning of the first chapter in your book, by the way.)

I realized that separating myself from OCD was particularly effective and helpful because after I would identify a thought as an OCD thought, I would attribute it to its rightful owner, OCD. I told myself that I did not have to take responsibility for OCD’s thoughts. They were not my thoughts.  It became one of my five Ground Rules in my strategy for defeating OCD.

Do you apply the same strategies to every obsession, regardless of its nature?

I called my strategy “Ground Rules and Checkpoints.” I integrated the Ground Rules into my daily life. The Checkpoints and questions I would ask along with them helped me implement the Ground Rules. The Ground Rules are:

GROUND RULE #1: Remind yourself in implementing all Ground Rules that you don’t have to be perfect. The objective is to manage OCD to the best of your ability.

GROUND RULE #2: Think of OCD as an entity separate from you. Think of OCD as your enemy and that you are in a battle to protect yourself and your family.

GROUND RULE #3: Identify the thought as an intrusive, irrational thought and attribute the thought to its rightful owner, OCD.

GROUND RULE #4: Allow the intrusive, irrational thought. Do not resist the thought.

GROUND RULE #5: RESIST the compulsion, no matter the pain! RESIST, RESIST, RESIST!

In answer to your question, yes, I applied the strategy the same way to all thoughts and compulsions.  I tried to stay consistent and I tried to be persistent.  I tried to stay consistent and I tried to be persistent. It took the guess work out of it for me and really frustrated OCD.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. But I stayed in the fight. Eventually, OCD loosened its grip on me.  In 2003, my doctor and I weaned me off of my medication (Luvox) because I realized it was my cognitive behavioral strategy that was the key to my ability to manage OCD and the key to my long-term sustainment. I haven’t taken medication for OCD or been treated by any mental health professional for OCD since 2003. The thoughts and compulsions became relatively non-existent. In fact, I’m proud to say that I haven’t had an intrusive repetitive OCD thought since 2010. People often ask if I’m worried about a relapse. The answer is “no.” If it happens, it happens. I know what to do.

If you could give just one piece of advice to someone struggling with OCD, what would it be?

My doctor told me that it was possible to get better. I believed him. I saw this as hope. It became my beacon and lifted me when I was struggling mightily, particularly when I was at my lowest. So believe with all your heart that it is possible to get better. Let hope be your beacon. Stay in the fight.

Tuesday Q&A: Jessica Bishop

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Welcome to the first of a new series I’m launching today, Tuesday Q&A! The “Tue” in “Tuesday” kinda, sorta rhymes with “Q,” doesn’t it? (Humor me.) Over the past few years, I’ve met some pretty amazing and inspirational people in the OCD community, and I want to share some of their stories with you.

Jessica

Let’s kick it off with Jessica Bishop, a 24-year-old who has OCD—and who’s working to spread awareness and give others hope.

Jess, you’re such an inspiration. I chose you for my first Q&A because you recently completed residential treatment at McLean Hospital in Boston and are now doing well back in the “real world.” How did you realize this more intensive type of treatment was right for you? Did you try other treatments first?

I realized that this type of treatment was right for me because I was attending therapy three times a week, which did not help. I then ended up in a few other programs before realizing I needed help in order to function.

You were there from August 26 to November 9. Were you nervous about checking in to McLean for an extended stay?

I was actually very excited. I wasn’t nervous because I was ready to get help and get my life back, understand what was going on and how to manage it.

Describe a typical day at McLean.

A typical day at McLean OCDI unit starts at 8:30 a.m., on the dot. Morning group and goal setting starts; appointments and symptom-specific groups along with daily coached ERP sessions are from 10 to 12. The days were hard, long, and tiring. But I kept pushing myself through and saw positive outcomes with the help and support from my peers, my behavioral therapist, and my family therapist, and the guidance from amazing counselors.

Can you share some of your obsessions and compulsions with us? Was there one that was harder to deal with than others?

Some of my OCD types are contamination, emotional contamination, perfectionism, iteration fears, health anxiety, and intrusive thoughts. Many of my rituals involve checking, counting, reassurance seeking, and asking. My hardest types are irrational fears of glass ketchup bottles and bars of soap. I still believe that the ketchup is poison and it will attack me. When it comes to bars of soap it has nothing to do with germs or dirt, really; my OCD tells me that it’s washing away people’s positive qualities and turning them bad, even if I am just looking at it.

Living among so many people who actually understand OCD must have been so comforting, but the main goal was to re-enter your regular life and apply what you learned. How was the transition for you?

Being at OCDI was very helpful being surrounded by others who understood me and even had the same multiple OCD symptoms. The transition out for me was not as easy as I was hoping; it took a while to adjust and still some days are easier than others. But I have the tools that I try to utilize and put to work on a daily basis according to my values.

TherapyDog

McLean has therapy dogs. Tell us more about them and how they helped.

The therapy dogs made a huge impact by providing positive support by playing and letting us pet them, give them treats, and take them for walks. They helped me the most when I was feeling sad or upset and their presence calmed me down. Pets are one of the best types of therapy; they are so innocent and cute!

What advice do you have for anyone who’s considering entering a residential treatment program?

My best advice would be to trust your treatment team! Don’t leave anything out and fight through the hardest days as those are the best days to reward yourself with learning, achieving, and competing goals.

You recently started a blog. What inspired you to start writing about your experiences with OCD?

I did just start a blog. I am inspired to help others understand the true meaning of being “so OCD” and to help end the stigma.

What’s next for you? Do you have long-term plans for advocacy?

I don’t know what is next for me at this time. I am currently working on treatment and ERP still with my outpatient team and I am finishing college to get my bachelor degree. I plan to continue to further my education and involvement with OCD, mental health, and expressive therapy.

If you could share just one piece of advice with someone who’s struggling with OCD, what would it be?

The best advice I would have to give out would be to remind yourself that OCD just wants power, it likes to lie and take over. Don’t let it—use mindfulness and grounding techniques to get by, take your thoughts, emotions, and feelings with you wherever you go, sit with them, and continue on. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how you felt, but how you lived. And there is help and there is hope!