This is part of atwo-part series about one person’s journey from OCD diagnosis to treatment and thesearch for a more peaceful mind. Part 1 is about Diagnosis. Part 2 is aboutTreatment.
After my diagnosis with OCD, I waited two years beforefinally seeking therapy and regular care. The psychiatrist that originallydiagnosed me had recommended pharmaceuticals without mentioning the potentialbenefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the gold standard of care forpatients with OCD.
I told my first psychiatrist I was open to medication, but themedication felt too sedating, and I quit after one week.
Instead, I threwmyself into self-care, treatments, and exercise to try to manage the symptomsof OCD. I tried everything from swimming and vigorous cardio to floatationtherapy, acupuncture, and Pilates. Each of these things helped a great deal, butI still lacked a toolbox for managing the thoughts and behaviors underlying thedisease.
I was engaging in wellness activities up to three to fourtimes per week, but I still experienced periods of overwhelming anxiety,discomfort with uncertainty, and the associated physical symptoms: a racingheart, circular and repetitive thoughts, sweating, and urges to check doors andstoves. I still repeatedly worried about my parents’ safety and told them so,burdening them with my anxiety.
While I was trying tomanage my symptoms, I worried that my failure to manage the disease itself –at its deepest core - was damaging my relationships.
In February 2022, I decided to seek treatment again: thistime with a psychologist specializing in OCD. I looked up therapists withexperience in treating OCD on the website of the InternationalOCD Foundation using their therapist search tool. Research shows that, whenadministered by a well-trained professional, CBTworks better for OCD patients than medication alone.
Of the 10 therapists I contacted in my metro area, three ofthem returned my calls. One of them was an area psychologist, professor, andexperienced CBT practitioner. After an intake session, she became my therapistand began sharing concrete and proven strategies for managing my OCD.
I also contacted a psychiatrist who prescribed me Lexapro,an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). I felt a few side effects thefirst few weeks, but I’m glad I stuck with it. After two months, I feel calmer,my thoughts no longer skip like a broken record in moments of anxiety, and mysocial interactions feel more generous and grounded. My focus at work has onlyimproved. Gone is the racing heart, spiraling moods, and frenzied searches forlost items.
My therapist has encouraged me to become aware of thesituations where I perform compulsive behaviors, or that trigger obsessivethoughts, and write them down. I have found the Yale-Brown Obsessive-CompulsiveScale (Y-BOCS) Checklist, which includes 67 symptoms that may be associatedwith OCD, helpful for this exploration. When I assessed myself, I identified awide range of very different symptoms that seemed equally distributed across verydifferent thought and behavior categories.
Because of the complexity and unique nature of eachindividual OCD case, my therapist likes to avoid classifying “types” or“categories” of OCD. Many people have symptoms that transcend any category.Putting OCD into a category may also limit people’s ability to fully see theway OCD manifests in many different aspects of their lives.
My therapist alsoencouraged me to start daily mindfulness practices – short sessions to practiceawareness, acceptance, and attention – as research supports mindfulness for thetreatment of OCD.
My therapist tells me this can slowly help strengthenconnections in my brain that help me calm down, albeit very slowly, and I’mbecoming convinced. I have found the free Healthy Minds Program app tobe enormously helpful, and I can feel my mind turning to mindfulness on its own– even without the app.
My treatment has also involved learning strategies to sitwith uncertainty. Many of the obsessive thoughts and behaviors of OCD arerooted in discomfort or extreme anxiety with uncertainty.
My therapist hasencouraged me to be playful with the OCD, and allow myself to break my ownrules.
I am beginning to test the limits of my discomfort, andsometimes do things my OCD dislikes, such as leaving dishes in the sink,recycling newspapers without reading them, or using plastic takeout containers.
These may seem like small changes, but it’s all part of myjourney of healing. I have a long way to go, and I can’t say what my OCD willlook like in 20 years, but for now, I’m okay. The future has unknowns, but Ifeel better prepared for whatever is to come for me and my OCD.