Freedom From OCD

by stuart miles

by stuart miles

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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OCD and Insight

by smarnad,

by smarnad,

Before my son Dan was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, I had little to no experience dealing with people who suffered from mental illness. My preconceived belief was that those who had brain disorders didn’t really understand, or have insight into, what was “wrong” with them. They needed to see a professional who would know how to treat them with the right type of therapy and/or medication, and maybe try to help them understand their illness a little. I believed therapy was something done to people, not with them.

Why did I think this way? Where did it come from? These might be questions best answered in another post. The bottom line is I could not have been more wrong. In fact, in light of what I have learned about people with brain disorders over the last eight years or so, my assumption seems ludicrous. I’m even embarrassed to admit I had these beliefs.

The first person to dispel this myth for me was, not surprisingly, Dan. He diagnosed himself with the help of the Internet, and understood his OCD better than his pediatrician did. For the most part, he continued to have good insight throughout his battle with severe OCD. This is not unusual for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder; most sufferers, at some point, realize their obsessions and compulsions are irrational.

What about other brain disorders? Well, I have read blogs written by those with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and am continually amazed by the insight people have into their own disorders.

Having insight can be invaluable when in treatment for OCD (and I’m guessing other brain disorders as well). I’ve written many posts (my last one included) about Dan’s journey where I’ve stated that just being made aware of his cognitive distortions, or the tricks OCD can play, was extremely helpful in his fight against OCD. And insight doesn’t always have to come “naturally.” It can be helped along by a good therapist.

The benefits of insight are not limited to OCD or other brain disorders. Really, for all of us, the more we understand whatever challenges we face, the better equipped we can become to deal with them.

Education. Understanding. Insight. These things are not only necessary for those who are suffering, but also for those of us who might be on the outside looking in. Those preconceived notions I used to have about those with mental illness? No doubt there are people out there right now who currently hold my old beliefs. We need to break down the stigma and the misconceptions surrounding brain disorders. We need to have open and honest dialogue where people feel safe and unashamed to share their struggles, and we need to treat each other with compassion and kindness. Until this is accomplished, we will not have won the battle against OCD, or any other mental illness.








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OCD and Guilt

by frameangel

by frameangel

If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder or are close to someone who does, then you likely understand why OCD is sometimes referred to as the “doubting disease.” Doubt is what fuels the fire for OCD, and that is why those with the disorder need to be able to embrace living with uncertainty if they are going to beat OCD.

In addition to doubt, OCD sufferers typically deal with a lot of guilt. Over what, you might ask? Well, just about everything! OCD is typically accompanied by cognitive distortions, and many of these cognitive distortions can lead to feelings of guilt. For example, my son Dan suffered from hyper-responsibility. It’s not hard to imagine how his feeling responsible for “saving the world” led to tormenting guilt when things didn’t work out as he felt they should. Some other cognitive distortions that might lend themselves to feelings of guilt include black and white thinking, personalization, and thought-action fusion. A recent study of those with OCD focused on the precuneus, a part of the brain often involved with responsibility. According to the researchers:

The level of precuneus activity was greater for individuals with greater levels of obsessive-compulsive symptoms, and the activity increased when someone experienced greater ‘thought-action fusion’ – believing a negative event would become reality.

While those of us without OCD might become frustrated at what we perceive as our loved ones overblown feelings of guilt, these emotions are very real for OCD sufferers. Telling our loved one to “stop feeling guilty,” is likely to be as successful as telling him or her to “stop obsessing.”

So what do we do?

The first step, I believe, is to find a therapist who specializes in treating OCD. In addition to using exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, Dan’s therapist also helped him understand the cognitive distortions he was dealing with; this awareness alone was extremely helpful. The next step was to work on ridding himself of these cognitive distortions and this greatly reduced his feelings of guilt.

Guilt is a healthy emotion for us all. A child who feels guilty for “stealing” cookies from the cookie jar, or an adult who feels guilty for purposely hurting a loved one, are both displaying appropriate guilt. But when you add OCD into the mix, “appropriate guilt” often goes haywire, and can overtake the sufferer’s life. Just one more reason to seek treatment and work toward recovery.







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An Update on Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery

by jannoon028

by jannoon028

I hope everyone is having a great week! It has been an exciting time for me and Seth as we get closer to the publication of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, and I’d like to give you a quick update.

We have received wonderful reviews and endorsements from well-respected OCD researchers and health care providers who read advanced copies of the book. There may be additional ones added as the weeks go by, so you can always check back! The link is now located under the “My Book” tab above.

The other exciting news I’d like to share with you is that the publisher is offering a thirty percent discount on the book if you order (or pre-order) by January 30, 2015. For details, click here. This “Order Now” link is also located under the “My Book” tab.

Stay tuned for more news as January 16, 2015 approaches. In the months to come we will reveal our book cover and let you know about our book launch festivities!


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The Paradox of OCD

by franky 242

by franky 242

I was just reading my friend Tina’s blog over at Bringing along OCD, and this is what she has to say about her anxiety:

It was interesting to me that though I have a lot of anxiety, most of it centers on my thoughts and my perceptions, not on things that are actually happening in the present moment. It’s a different anxiety from what I feel in real-life situations…

Her words made me think of my son Dan. My guess is most of his acquaintances, and many of his friends, would not describe him as an anxious or fearful person. Every day occurrences that might typically stress people out don’t seem to faze Dan. Stuck in bumper to bumper traffic that makes you late for an important appointment? Relax, we’ll get there. A lost wallet or cell phone? It’ll turn up and if it doesn’t, we’ll deal with it. Computer crashed and you’ve lost important info? Don’t worry, it’ll all work out. Even during a family crisis (the death of his grandfather), Dan didn’t fall apart. In fact he handled it remarkably well.

Is it an act? Underneath that calm, cool exterior, is he really a nervous wreck? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Dan also likes adventure, as is evident in his choices throughout the years:  He loves to fly and travel, and has rock-climbed, mountain biked, and skied black diamond trails – all happily. He has been on every type of roller coaster imaginable.

It’s hard to believe this is the same young man who could not leave a bathroom stall for four hours because “something bad might happen.” The same young man who could not eat, or drink, or enter certain buildings on his college campus. The same young man who was so consumed by fear and anxiety that he could barely get out of bed in the morning, if at all.

So what’s the explanation for this paradox? Many of us know the answer: Obsessive-compulsive disorder. When OCD was in charge of Dan’s life, everything was topsy-turvy, and nothing made any sense.The disorder is not rational, and as Tina points out, the anxiety it causes is not related to any actual event, but rather from the sufferers “thoughts and perceptions.”

As Dan became more immersed in exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, and more committed to mindfulness, his obsessions began to lose their power, and OCD  took a back seat. From the back seat it went into the trunk. It’s not gone, but it’s weak enough that it usually can’t even lift that trunk lid.

The best part? With OCD at bay, Dan (and all those who have worked so hard to overcome OCD) is free to live his life as he chooses, adventures and all. Of course, the thought of him racing down those black diamond trails totally stresses me out!


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OCD and Lost Time

by digitalart

by digitalart

My friend “C” over at OCD to the nth Degree recently wrote a great post discussing her years lost to OCD:

 “So, the lost years were when I was 23-24, up until I was about 25 when I started treatment for this baby. These years were very crucial to my career and educational development. Instead of spending them on those things, with all my focus and energy, I was simply trying to make it to the next day.”

My guess is that many other OCD sufferers can easily relate to this post. So much lost time!

Then again, as with so many things, it all depends on how you look at it. “C” admirably views her years of suffering from a different perspective:

I also am adamant that there will be a greater good from all that suffering during those young years. Maybe the intimate details of my exposures–the things you read about on here that I don’t discuss in detail in my closest relationships–will let someone gain back my lost years. You could call them “the found years”.  And then their life will help someone else’s life. And the ripple effect and the pay-it-forward effect happens.

Sometimes we can look back at the adversity in our lives and find some good in the aftermath of our pain, just as “C” has done. When I think of my son Dan’s “lost years,” filled with so much anxiety and terror (for him), and heartache and sadness (for me and my husband), I have to admit I have trouble thinking of many positives. The truth is I wish Dan never had to struggle with severe OCD. In fact, if I had my druthers, I’d wish OCD didn’t exist at all – for anyone.

But, like so many other things in life, this was, and is, out of my control. As the saying goes, “It is what it is,” and Dan (and I) needs to accept his “lost years,” and not dwell on them. This isn’t always easy, especially for those with OCD who can be “experts” on ruminating about the past as well as contemplating the future.

Perhaps some of the positives that have come out of Dan’s “lost years” include the lessons he learned during therapy while fighting his OCD: The past is done with and the future is uncertain and, to a great extent, out of our control. We need to concentrate on the present, the here and now, and make the most of this time. Whether you have OCD or not, I think we all should, as of right now, strive to live the lives we want for ourselves. If we don’t, there is a good chance we might look back at “now” and see it as “lost time.”






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