Tag Archives: compulsions

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!

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The Thin Line Between Helping and Hindering

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Notice the title of this post refers to “hindering,” not “hurting.” I hesitate to refer to any kind of help a person offers as hurtful because the intentions are good. But it’s so often hard to know what to do to help someone with OCD. After my book reading earlier this month, we opened the floor to questions. One woman, a mother of two young boys, asked how a person can support a friend or child with OCD. I told her supporting someone with OCD can feel like the opposite of supporting a friend–being too reassuring can enable a person with OCD, making it easier for the person to continue performing the compulsions that offer temporary relief and ultimately hold them back from living a full, rich life.

I shared the example of Howie Mandel’s wife washing his money for him. A spouse helping out with laundry or the dishes or making the bed isn’t a bad thing. But she’s doing him no favors by going along with his fear of touching money that other people have handled. Mandel can get by with this, I think, because he’s a celebrity. He probably has people who can handle money for him. He’s not facing his fears. And defeating OCD is all about facing the things we fear most.

But offering the “right” kind of support isn’t easy, even for me, and I have OCD. In the psychiatric community, exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is considered the gold standard for overcoming obsessions and compulsions. That doesn’t mean anyone can administer it, though. I’ve been chatting with a man who has OCD, and he’s asked me several times if I think he has homosexual OCD (HOCD) or if he might have latent homosexual tendencies. He’s terrified that he might be gay, and I think I know why: He loves his wife and has a newborn daughter he is completely enamored with. “She is the love of my life,” he said. “My everything. My air. My heart.”

Well, there you go. Losing his wife and daughter would be the absolute worst thing to happen to him, and that is why he worries he’s gay. How could he stay married to his wife if he’s gay? And then if they get divorced, when will he see his daughter? As much as I know–as much as I can know–that he’s not gay, that OCD is playing tricks on his mind, I’m not doing him any favors by constantly reassuring him. On the other hand, I’m a layperson, just another poor soul who’s been afflicted with terrible obsessions. Is it really responsible of me to try to lead some sort of halfway ERP over Facebook? Of course not. All I can do is listen, tell him I’ve been there, tell him what has helped me–to remind myself that obsessions are there because OCD is a beast, not because I’m a bad person. To remind myself that everyone has bad thoughts, but people with OCD can’t let those thoughts go. To calmly tell myself that it’s just a thought, and it holds no meaning I don’t give it. It’s hard to tell someone I can’t keep reassuring him because the relief he feels is just as fleeting as the relief a compulsion provides.

How do you offer support to friends with OCD? If you have OCD yourself, do you tell the person everything that helped you? Do you just listen? Do you offer book recommendations? Let me know! I want to be the best source of support possible, and it’s such a gray area that I will take any advice I can get.