This was also published on Treatmyocdblog.com, the blog for the app nOCD: Ten Tips for Recovering from OCD
Almost exactly two years ago today was the day I first told a psychologist about all of the fears and rituals I had been struggling with, and subsequently got a diagnosis of OCD. Though I’ve had OCD since elementary school, that summer two years ago was when I was able to really start working toward recovery. In that time I’ve learned a lot, made progress, had setbacks, and made some more progress.
Though I’m not quite where I want to be at the end of treatment yet, things are immensely better than they used to be. And though I still have rituals and obsessions I’m working on, no relapse brings me back to the beginning because I know how to deal with them now. Knowing about OCD and the treatment is a huge piece of getting better. I have always believed knowledge is power.
With that said, I feel it wouldn’t be right for me to not share some of what I have learned over the past two years if it could possibly help someone else beat the monster that is OCD. I’m open about my experiences because I want to give back for all of the people who helped me when I read or heard their stories. Here are ten tips I’ve learned for recovering from OCD. Here’s to sharing and fighting together.
Ten Tips for Recovering from OCD
1. Make peace with your diagnosis
For some people, myself included, we had been struggling with undiagnosed OCD for years. As a result, the official diagnosis and a name for our symptoms is an incredible relief. For others, this is not the case and a diagnosis feels like a shameful label or a burden. In either case, it is important to make peace with your diagnosis.
Whether it is your own diagnosis or the diagnosis of a loved one, know that this is not your fault. Know that you are not your OCD; it is not your identity. Know that you are a person who is so much more than these anxieties and compulsions. One day they will feel much smaller and the real you will reign.
Whether you have just been diagnosed with OCD or have been trying to access treatment for years, I cannot stress enough how important it is to find a therapist who knows exposure and response prevention therapy, or ERP. This therapy involves doing exposures: gradually facing your fears and sitting with the anxiety until it comes down, rather than ritualizing. If there is not someone in your area or if this is not within your financial means there are many workbooks out there for learning about ERP and creating your own exposures.
Though there are usually other pieces and techniques involved in treating OCD, any OCD expert will tell you ERP is key. Exposures are hard and require bravery, but they truly have the power to change lives. I’ve experienced it myself where with time I was doing noticeably less compulsions and I could do things I never would have dreamed I’d be able to do.
3. Be diligent with your homework
So yes, the point of exposures is to purposely stress yourself out and no, that isn’t particularly fun. When your choices are either do what you usually do (rituals and be stressed) or do something new (exposures and be stressed) it can be hard to choose something new. But with time I promise exposures become easier. They even become almost fun as you see yourself making progress and start to view OCD as a villain you are challenging.
When I’m lacking motivation to do exposures I find it helpful to look at my two options in a different light: short-term suffering vs. long-term suffering. Whether I pick rituals or an exposure I’m going to be stressed either way. However if I do rituals, OCD will only get worse and the suffering will last. If I do an exposure I’ll be stressed in the moment, but that anxiety will eventually fade. In the end I will have gained more freedom from OCD.
So do your homework folks: exposures, thought records, and more. It’s for your own good.
4. Be honest with your therapist
As much as we might wish this to be true, our therapists can’t read our minds. As a result our therapists can’t help us if we don’t tell them what’s going on. I am certainly no good example for this since I often keep things to myself, but I know it is important to be open and honest with your therapist.
This is incredibly relevant for people with OCD because often OCD presents itself as taboo intrusive thoughts. Some examples include the fear of hurting others, the fear of being gay, or the fear of thinking or doing something sexually inappropriate. Certainly it can be hard to open up to your therapist about these thoughts, but your therapist is there to help you. They have heard it all before and won’t judge you.
If you need some inspiration before opening up about taboo intrusive thoughts to your therapist, here are two women who talk openly about their experiences and can certainly provide that boost: Chrissie Hodges and Kat.
5. Keep track of successes, big and small
There are few things more motivating for doing an exposure or other therapy homework assignment than reflecting on your past successes. When someone asks me about motivation, I always recommend making a list of past exposures you’ve done or things you can do now that you couldn’t do before. Use this to remind yourself that treatment has worked in the past, so it can work again.
Want more motivation? 5 ways to increase hope and motivation
6. Discover what coping techniques work for you
Out there in the world of therapy, there are hundreds of different coping techniques a professional might recommend. And while we all have the same basic brain anatomy, no two brains are exactly alike. Different coping skills are going to be beneficial to different people.
For me I find going to a dance class, doing a craft project, and getting enough sleep immensely helpful. Be open to trying new coping skills, but also learn what works for you and use those.
7. Take time for self-care…
As important as it is to write our thought records, listen to our scripts, and practice our socializing, whatever your homework may be, it is also important to take some time just for self-care. Whether you have an hour or five minutes to spare, doing something you enjoy and relaxing is just as valuable.
Maybe you read for an hour in cozy pajamas, watch your favorite movie, or even go get a massage. Whatever you choose, let your brain know from time to time that you deserve care.
8. …But do not isolate
While you’re taking time for self-care just be careful that doesn’t turn into isolating. This is certainly something I’m guilty of where reading for a few hours turns into not wanting to leave the house or socialize. And sitting around ruminating by myself is certainly not healthy or helpful.
Make sure to get out of the house from time to time. Call or text a friend. Make plans to do something with a friend. And importantly, talk openly with people you trust. Talking about what you are going through, whether OCD related or not, is a healthy way to engage with your emotions and feel a release from stress or pain.
9. Seek out others with OCD
There are few things more powerful than meeting others with OCD who also truly understand what it is like to live with the disorder. These interactions where you share similar stories and get to hear “me too” make you feel like you are part of a community, rather than fighting this alone.
No matter where you are in the world there are many ways to meet others and feel this support. Some popular means of communication are Facebook groups, yahoo groups, twitter, and blogs. In-person options include joining a support group in your area or joining a mental health club on campus if you are in college. And last but not least, you can meet others by going to an event put on by the International OCD Foundation, such as their Annual OCD Conference or their 1 Million Steps 4 OCD fundraising walk. Whatever you method is, find someone else with OCD. I know the friends I have met with OCD are all incredible human beings and an invaluable support system.
10. Share your story
A final piece to consider in your recovery from OCD is sharing your story. You could have been diagnosed yesterday or ten years ago. There is never a wrong time to share your story. There is also never a wrong way to share your story. You can share you story in a small or big way; do what makes you comfortable.
Some individuals choose to write blogs, give speeches, or even write books. I love writing about my experiences through my blog. I get to help others with OCD know they aren’t alone and raise awareness about the disorder, all while getting the therapeutic benefits of expressing myself.
If you aren’t ready yet to share your story quite that publicly, try starting with just one conversation. Find someone you trust, whether that’s a family member, friend, or maybe even a stranger if that makes you feel the most comfortable, and mention OCD or mental health. You don’t have to divulge a lot on your first go, but just start a conversation. You might be surprised at how smoothly it goes, and it may even lead to the person you’re talking to then feeling comfortable enough to open up about their mental health. I believe these honest conversations are some of our most powerful tools in destigmatizing mental health, encouraging help seeking, and relating to each other as fellow humans.
For more information about nOCD, visit http://www.treatmyocd.com/.