Tag Archives: obsessions

It’s Not You, It’s Your OCD

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Have you ever tried to spare someone’s feelings during a breakup by saying, “It’s not you, it’s me”? Well, when you dump OCD for good, go ahead and tell the truth: It’s you, OCD, not me.

Dr. Lee Baer, OCD specialist, Harvard professor, and author, titled his book about intrusive thoughts The Imp of the Mind. That’s what OCD is–an unwelcome little devil that needs to be cast out with no pity. You don’t need to be polite to this rude guest. While I’m not one for making excuses, I definitely blame OCD for every terrible obsession that’s plagued me.

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But I haven’t always had this clarity: Before I was diagnosed with OCD I blamed myself, even though I didn’t understand what, if anything, I had done to deserve the intrusion. I felt helpless and scared. Then I met a psychiatrist who looked at me with compassion and told me I would be all right. Since I had taboo obsessions (Baer uses the categories of violent, sexual, and blasphemous, but I suffered  from the latter two), my doctor recommended that I read The Imp of the Mind. It was the best prescription ever. For the first time in my harrowing journey with OCD, I felt less alone. Here was a man who had heard everything from his patients with OCD and didn’t seem to bat an eye. Worried you might want to have sex with your dog? We can work on that. You’re a priest who can’t stop staring at women’s breasts? Don’t feel bad.

Dr. Baer knew how tortured his patients felt, and he helped ease their pain. He did the same for me when he documented many of their stories in The Imp of the Mind, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank him enough. So when he contacted me and asked me to share my story on his new website, I jumped at the chance. His contributions to the OCD community helped save me and made my life feel worth living again. Now I had the opportunity to help him.

OCD doesn’t define me, and it shouldn’t define you, either. You can take it down to size.

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A Must-Read for School Counselors and Teachers

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It’s no wonder people with OCD are so afraid to tell people what’s going on. In “Obsessive Thoughts: A Darker Side of OCD,” the young author says she was suspended from school after she wrote an anonymous article about her harm OCD symptoms in the high school newspaper. School officials thought she was a threat to others.

This has got to stop. I do understand the confusion and I do understand the need to keep all kids safe. But the more we know about OCD and what makes a person with OCD different from someone who will actually hurt someone, the better off our young people will be. I feel pained that this young woman had to go through this, especially after suffering in silence for so long before she took the courageous step to share her story.

Let me know what you think.

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.