Overcoming OCD – An Update

Well, here it is! I’m pleased with how the cover of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery turned out, and hope you all like it too.

Our publication date of January 16, 2015 is less than four months away! Seth and I are now completely done with the book and it is in the hands of our publisher. Our current focus is to spread the word about it, so that we can reach, and hopefully help, as many people as possible.

One way to accomplish this goal of making the book available to everyone who might benefit from it is by approaching librarians and asking them to consider ordering the book from our publisher. If you frequent your local library (and even if you don’t) and feel that Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery might be an important addition to its inventory, I would so appreciate it if you could request that it be ordered. From what I understand, librarians do listen to what the public wants, and even appreciate recommendations.

One more exciting thing to report is that we will be having a Book Launch event on February 28, 2015 from 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm at Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough, Massachusetts. If you live within driving distance, or are adventurous and willing to travel to New England in the dead of winter, I would love to see you there! I anticipate that Seth and I will both speak and I will read from the book as well. We will also do book signings. It should be a great afternoon, so please mark the date on your calendars if there is any chance you can make it! Of course I will be updating everyone as the date approaches.

Another reminder: If you pre-order the book here by  January 30, 2016, you can save some money. Use the promotion code 4S15OCDBK at checkout for 30% off! This promotion  cannot be combined with other promo or discount offers.

Thank you again to all of you for your support and encouragement on the road to publication. We are almost there!

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Helping Teachers Understand OCD

studentI’ve previously written about how important and necessary I believe it is for educators to have, at the very least, a basic knowledge of brain disorders. I recently came across some  articles at the Child Mind Institute site that I think are excellent resources about OCD for teachers (and parents as well). Now that most children have been back at school for a while, previously unanticipated issues or concerns might be arising. If this is the case in your family, I highly recommend checking out these links, and even sharing them with the appropriate school personnel:

A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding OCD

What Does OCD Look Like in the Classroom?

A Teacher’s Guide to Helping Kids with OCD

It’s hard enough for children with OCD to have to deal with school and their disorder without being misunderstood by their teachers. I think the above articles are a good stepping stone toward getting young OCD sufferers the support and understanding they deserve.



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OCD and Schizophrenia

by david castillo dominici freedigitalphotos.net

by david castillo dominici

A recent study published this month in JAMA Psychiatry suggests that those who suffer from OCD might be at a higher risk than the general population for developing schizophrenia. I immediately thought back to a post I wrote just one year ago titled OCD and Psychosis, where I discuss the fact that symptoms of severe OCD can sometimes overlap with symptoms of a psychotic disorder.

As I read the synopsis of the study, a few things jumped out at me that I think are important to keep in mind. For one, the incidence of schizophrenia in the general population is about one percent. The new study concludes that the occurrence of schizophrenia in those previously diagnosed with OCD is two percent. So while this is a significant increase, there is still a ninety-eight percent chance that those with OCD will not develop schizophrenia. Additionally, Dr. Aaron Pinkhasov, chairman of the department of behavioral health at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, NY, makes this observation about the study:

Notably, the study only looks at patients who have come in contact with a psychiatric hospital. As the majority of mild and moderate OCD patients are treated by general practitioners in an outpatient setting, it makes it difficult to apply these findings to all patients suffering from OCD. Hence the risk may in fact be somewhat overestimated.”

So there might be less than a two percent chance of those with OCD developing schizophrenia.

Also, in discussing the study, Dr. Pinkhasov makes this thought-provoking comment:

“At least some of the association may have been a result of misdiagnosis in patients before they developed more specific symptoms of schizophrenia.”

Interesting. While my post, OCD and Psychosis, discusses OCD being mistaken for schizophrenia, Dr. Pinkhasov talks about schizophrenia being mistaken for OCD.

There is no question in my mind that this study should be taken seriously. Future research could lead to findings that benefit both those with OCD and schizophrenia. But I believe we need to be careful as well, because things are not always as they seem. In the case of brain disorders, where we’ve categorized certain behaviors as belonging to specific illnesses, it can be difficult to know where one disorder ends and another one starts. Research results are also not always clear-cut. In this particular study, the authors conclude, “Further research is needed to disentangle which genetic and environmental risk factors are truly common to OCD and schizophrenia.”

OCD, schizophrenia, and other brain disorders can be complicated and confusing in their origins, their diagnoses, and their treatment. As more research is conducted, my hope is that all the pieces of the “OCD puzzle” will one day fall into place. Diagnosis and treatment will be easier, and as long as I’m wishing, a cure will be found.



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OCD: Irrational Disorder affecting Rational People

by seaskylab freedigitalphotos.net

by seaskylab freedigitalphotos.net

I am continuing to share some of my older posts as I work on completing my book. I hope to be back next week with something new!

When my son Dan was first suffering from severe OCD and we had no idea where to turn, we connected with a close friend of ours who is a clinical psychologist. One of the first questions Mark asked me was, “Does Dan realize how irrational his behavior is?”  When I asked Dan if he really believed someone he loved would be harmed if he moved from his chair before midnight, or if he had something to eat, he answered, “I know it makes no sense, but I just have to act this way.” Those with OCD typically know their thoughts and behaviors are illogical; they just can’t control them.

Since becoming an advocate for OCD awareness, I’ve often been told by sufferers that this is the worst part of having OCD.  You know you are thinking and acting in an irrational manner but are unable to stop the thoughts and/or the actions. “It would be better if I didn’t realize how illogical my thoughts and behaviors are,” one sufferer said. “I’d rather be oblivious than tormented.”

So what are the ramifications of this insightfulness? For one thing, because those with OCD don’t want to be perceived as “crazy” they often go to lengths to hide their disorder, even from those closest to them. They will also avoid or, at the very least, delay treatment because they feel shame and embarrassment. How can they willingly share things that they know are “ridiculous” with a therapist?  This awareness of how their thoughts and behaviors likely appear to others, indeed how they even appear to themselves, must be torturous.

For non-sufferers, I think it’s easy to understand why someone with OCD would try to hide their disorder. After all, whether we have OCD or not, we can all relate to not wanting to embarrass ourselves. What might be harder for a non-sufferer to understand is, if sufferers know their behavior makes no sense, why don’t they just stop? This question, of course, is a lot more complicated, and is what makes OCD a disorder to begin with.

We need to continue to educate and raise awareness of OCD and what it entails. I think this is just as important for sufferers as it is for non-sufferers.  Some of the most emotional interactions I’ve had with those with OCD have been when they talk about the moment they realized they were not alone: “I never imagined that there are other people out there – lots of them – who regularly turn their cars around to make sure they haven’t hit anyone.” Such a powerful revelation, to see one’s actions as symptoms of a real illness, and not just some random illogical behavior. Certainly no reason to feel shame or embarrassment.

Rational people with an irrational disorder.

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OCD and Black and White Thinking


foto76 freedigitalphotos.net

foto76 freedigitalphotos.net

I am continuing to share some of my older posts as I work on completing my book. The post below originally appeared in April 2012: 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is often accompanied by some cognitive distortions, which are basically inaccurate beliefs that usually make us feel badly about ourselves. One of the more common cognitive distortions that might occur with OCD  is known as black and white (or polarized) thinking. When my son Dan was dealing with OCD but could still drive, this type of thinking was obvious. If he went 25 mph in a 35 mph zone and the driver behind him honked his horn, Dan would be convinced he was the worst driver in the world. Not a good driver who was going too slowly, but the worst driver ever. No gray, just black and white. Sometimes a humorous comment from me would make him see how ridiculous this thinking was, but more often than not, this is what he believed.

When I think of  OCD and black and white thinking, they really do make the perfect pair. One of the driving forces behind OCD is the need to know with absolute certainty that nothing bad is going to happen. What a perfect example of black and white thinking: Either I am 100% sure that I (and/or those I care about) am completely safe, or I am definitely in great danger. No gray, nothing in between.

But as we know, that’s not how the world works. We live in a world of gray. Dan is a really good driver who goes too slowly sometimes. We try to be safe, but accidents happen. Usually these accidents are no big deal, but sometimes they are. Our world is uncertain.

Like plants in a greenhouse, OCD thrives on black and white thinking, and this cognitive distortion can even sabotage the OCD sufferer’s treatment. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, by its very nature, is slow and tedious and often fraught with setbacks. A sufferer who thinks in black and white may conclude: “I’m a complete failure at ERP Therapy because I gave in to my compulsions today. What’s the use? I’m never going to get better. I shouldn’t even bother fighting.”

I think, for Dan, just being made aware of  his tendency toward black and white thinking was extremely helpful. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to address cognitive distortions (and to get rid of them) is necessary for the OCD sufferer’s recovery. Indeed, we all need to be able to think in shades of gray, so that we can begin to accept, and live with, uncertainty in our lives.

I’d love to hear from those who have been affected by black and white thinking. How hard was it to change your thinking? Have you changed your thinking? How has this cognitive distortion affected your OCD and treatment?

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Freedom From OCD

by stuart miles freedigitalphotos.net

by stuart miles freedigitalphotos.net

During the next few weeks, I will be busy working on my book, as its publication date of January 16, 2015 draws closer. (For more information, check out the “My Book” tab above.) I’ll be reposting some of my older, more popular posts during this time:

This post first appeared in February 2012:

When he was dealing with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, my son Dan spent nine weeks in a residential treatment program. During this time, he kept saying he “wanted his freedom back.” I wasn’t sure if he was talking about getting out of the program, or about regaining his independence from his family.

Turns out it was neither. What Dan wanted was freedom from OCD. Since that time, I have read many blogs and spoken to lots of people with OCD, and I keep hearing those same words: “I want freedom from OCD.” More than once, in fact, I have read first person accounts of sufferers who have successfully battled OCD where they refer to the “chains of OCD being broken.” They are no longer prisoners.

But what does freedom from OCD really mean? A non-sufferer may think it simply means saying good-bye to the disorder and having it be nothing more than a bad memory. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case. While OCD is highly treatable, it rarely goes away completely. So if you always have OCD, can you ever experience freedom from it?

I would answer with a resounding Yes. Freedom from OCD does not necessarily signify the absence of OCD, but rather the lack of control that the disorder has over the sufferer’s life. While someone who is not in control of their OCD will feel compelled to perform compulsions or avoid situations to rid themselves of the anxiety that comes with their obsessions, those who have freedom from OCD will accept their obsessions as just thoughts and nothing more. They will not let their OCD dictate how they live their lives.

It is not uncommon for those with OCD to name their disorder as a way of affirming that it is separate from themselves. I talk about this more on the post entitled The Enemy. While those who do not yet have their freedom from OCD may be dealing with The Enemy, those who do have their freedom are dealing with something more akin to a little brother or sister tagging along. Sure, they can be annoying and a bit of a nuisance, but they sure as heck aren’t going to boss you around!

Gaining freedom from OCD takes a lot of hard work and may be an ongoing  process. When I write about Dan’s story these days, I often say, “Dan still has OCD, but OCD does not have Dan. There is a big difference.”

And that difference is freedom.

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Back To School With OCD

school girls

This post was originally written over a year ago for Beyond OCD. I thought it was timely to share it again on my blog:

Last year at this time I wrote a post about Taking OCD to College. It focused on establishing a good support system for OCD sufferers who are embarking on this exciting, but often anxiety-provoking journey. I discussed how important communication is with all school personnel, from the Dean of Students to teachers. The more support the better.

But what happens when the support you deserve, and are entitled to, is not afforded you? What if one of your teachers thinks OCD is no big deal, or not a real illness? How do you deal with a situation like that?

My son Dan, in his senior year of college, was discriminated against because of his OCD. I know discriminate is a strong word, but it fits. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), college students with documented disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations. While offering wheelchair ramps for those who can’t walk is an obvious compliance, accommodations for other issues, such as OCD, are not as clear-cut. Unfortunately, there are still many college professionals who know little, or have misconceptions, about obsessive-compulsive disorder. Students themselves might not know what they need until after the fact. Indeed, the complexity of the disorder can make the establishment of accommodations difficult. The Academic Resource Coordinator at Dan’s school, the expert who dealt with students with disabilities, “wasn’t sure” if Dan’s issue of concentrating more on details than the big picture was related to his OCD.

The best advice I can offer if you find yourself in a similar situation is to know your rights. Read up on the ADA and stand firm. Support, as well as documentation in writing, from a therapist or psychiatrist (preferably your own), can be invaluable. While college is typically a time of reduced parental involvement, I am convinced that if my husband and I hadn’t joined in Dan’s fight, the outcome would not have been in his favor. We had to bring our son’s case all the way to the president of his college, but he ultimately got what he deserved: fair treatment.

Because Dan’s OCD wasn’t diagnosed until he was seventeen (and because we homeschooled), our family never dealt with the need for accommodations during the K-12 school years. Again it’s important to know your rights and options. Laws and plans are in place, particularly for schools that receive federal funding (this includes all public schools). Beyond OCD’s site, OCD Education Station, is an excellent resource, not only for this information, but for all concerns about dealing with OCD in school. Again, there are still many school professionals who do not understand OCD, and this is just one of the many reasons why parents need to be well prepared to advocate for their child.

Whether you’re sending your child off to kindergarten or college, this exciting time can also be stressful.  Add obsessive-compulsive disorder to the equation and chances are you’re also adding an extra layer of anxiety. That’s understandable. I do think, however, that it’s important for parents to remain positive and convey an air of confidence that everything will work out just fine. Because it probably will. But if problems do arise, we need to let our children know, no matter what their age is, that we will be there to support them, advocate for them, and love them every step of the way as they navigate their educational journey.

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