Meet the new president of OCD Twin Cities! I’ve served in the role for the last nine years, and after a series of changes in my life it’s time for someone else to take over. That someone else is the very accomplished and well-suited local therapist William Schultz. Not only does William treat OCD with a passion for helping his clients lead a life not ruled by OCD, he has lived with the disorder himself and understands firsthand how scary it can be. Let’s hear from William!
You’re an OCD therapist in the Twin Cities area. Why did you decide to focus on OCD?
I feel like it’s a combination of at least two things: First, it’s the area of mental health that I know the most about, so it seemed natural to focus my services in that area. And, a closely related second reason, is that OCD is the mental disorder I lived through. And, based on many client reports, it seems that my having lived through OCD very much helps me understand and support others currently struggling with OCD in their healing process.
How long did you have OCD before you were diagnosed, and how did you realize what you were going through might be OCD?
My OCD began in 2007 but I didn’t realize it was OCD until 2012. I realized this after I began graduate school in clinical psychology. I was reading about anxiety disorders, came across the OCD section, and instantly thought: “That’s me!”
You’re taking over—for me!—as president of OCD Twin Cities, the local affiliate of the International OCD Foundation. What do you hope to accomplish?
For me, much of what I hope to accomplish will evolve after consultations with you, past, present, and future board members, and other members of the Twin Cities OCD community. If I had to point to just my own thoughts and priorities, those would include: Doing our best to help those who don’t realize they’re experiencing OCD learn that they aren’t “going crazy” or a terrible person but, instead, someone suffering from a very challenging mental disorder.
Let’s say someone with OCD approaches you and says, “I don’t want OCD to rule my life anymore, but I’ve heard the exposures in ERP can be really hard and scary.” What would you tell them?
Oh. I feel like I could write pages and pages about this. In fact, I’m about 100,000 words into my memoir of my own experience with OCD, where I do my best to communicate my thoughts and feelings about this and related questions. Nevertheless, if I had to be concise, I think I’d say something like: It’s true that exposures are challenging and scary. And it’s also true that no one in the world can 100 percent guarantee your fears won’t come true. However, it’s also true that OCD has taken an enormous amount from you already. And we know from the research that OCD rarely goes away on its own. And so if you don’t participate in ERP (or some other form of therapy), it’s likely you’ll have OCD for the rest of your life. For me, that—a vision of the future where I have OCD for the rest of my life—was the scariest thing.
So I say: If I’ve got to risk something bad happening to me, I’d prefer to risk my (extremely unlikely) OCD-related fears happening rather than risk obsessing and compulsively behaving, day by day, until my time is up.
What do you wish people knew about OCD, whether they have it or don’t, whether they’re clients or other therapists?
Haha…so many things! Here’s a couple for a start: First, OCD often latches on to things we care about deeply. That’s one of the reasons it hurts so bad: OCD constantly tells us a story where the things we care about most are destroyed, or the things we don’t want to happen most end up happening. One way I’ve tried to describe living with OCD is it’s like being cooked alive. Each day can feel like your body is on fire, with the OCD constantly bombarding your mind with scary thoughts, images, and stories.
Second, many people with OCD have a lot of shame around their OCD. For example, my largest OCD theme centered on the intrusive thought that I might be bit by a rabid bat and not realize it. Since I was afraid I would be bit by a rabid bat and not realize it, I was constantly scanning my environment for signs of a bat. Since I constantly scanned my environment, I often saw objects or items on the ground. Which then triggered the thought, “That might be a bat, and that was near you, so it might have bit you without you knowing.” This, in turn, motivated the compulsive behavior to go carefully check the item or take a picture of the item. So, to illustrate what I mean by shame, imagine going back in time to when my OCD was very severe. I’m walking in a parking lot of a gas station and I see an item on the ground. I have an intrusive thought, “That could be a bat.” So now I need to go verify it’s not a bat. But I can’t just give it a quick glance, because then I’ll have the intrusive thought “Well it didn’t look like a bat, but are you sure you correctly saw it? Maybe it looked like a piece of garbage but was actually a bat? Or maybe it was a piece of garbage but there was a bat underneath it?” So I’d have to really get close to the object and spend a good amount of time looking at it. Now imagine that you’re also at the gas station and you see me doing this. You might wonder, “What the hell is that guy doing?” If someone had asked me (which did happen a few times), I felt tremendous shame around being honest. I didn’t feel I could say “Oh, well, I’m carefully checking this piece of trash on the ground to verify it’s a piece of trash and not a rabid bat that bit me without me knowing.” I, like many with OCD, have some sense that my fears are unrealistic and my compulsive behaviors very strange. But the “what if” of OCD can easily push that aside. So many of us with OCD find ourselves in a tough spot where, on the one hand, we really feel like we might be at risk of something terrible happening unless we compulsively behave, and, on the other hand, we feel like our thoughts are “ridiculous” (a word I don’t endorse but, in the past, said myself and hear my clients say all the time) but feel we “have to” compulsively behave anyway.
If you could share just one piece of advice with someone who has OCD, what would it be?
You don’t have to be trapped inside of OCD forever. Find an OCD specialist that feels like a good match for you and do your best to collaborate with that person in your healing process.