OCD and Insight

by smarnad, freedigitalphotos.net

by smarnad, freedigitalphotos.net

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 freedigitalphotos.net

by frameangel freedigitalphotos.net

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Mental Health, OCD | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

An Update on Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery

by jannoon028 freedigitalphotos.net

by jannoon028
freedigitalphotos.net

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!

 

Posted in Mental Health, OCD | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Paradox of OCD

by franky 242 freedigitalphotos.net

by franky 242 freedigitalphotos.net

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!

 

Posted in Mental Health, OCD | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

OCD and Lost Time

by digitalart freedigitalphotos.net

by digitalart freedigitalphotos.net

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Mental Health, OCD | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

ERP Therapy – An Analogy

This week I’d like to share a post that first appeared on January 31, 2012.

by winnond freedigitalphotos.net

by winnond freedigitalphotos.net

One of the reasons I became an advocate for OCD awareness was to spread the word that exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is the therapy of choice for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder. Unfortunately, I sometimes come across first-person blogs where OCD sufferers equate this therapy with torture, and therefore refuse to try it. Others feel it may be helpful but are just too afraid to attempt it.

On his blog, Dr. Steven Seay compares ERP Therapy to an exercise program, and using this analogy, really sets the record straight as to what this therapy involves when dealing with a competent therapist:

I often think about ERP as an exercise program for your brain. Why do people exercise? Typically to improve their quality of life in some way — be it related to health, aesthetics, or the way it makes them feel. People don’t take up exercising for no reason at all–it’s always purpose-driven. This is just like ERP. Why would you do it? Because it’s going to enhance your life in some way.

The analogy can be taken a bit further, though.

Exercise is not a singular activity. It’s something that’s often based around targeting a particular muscle group or certain aspect of health. People who want big biceps do different exercises than people who want to lose weight. This is similar to ERP. People who want to be less bothered by unwanted thoughts (e.g., thoughts of hitting someone with your car) do different exposures than someone who is afraid of contracting a deadly disease. The form of the “exercise” reflects a specific therapeutic goal.

Moreover, there are multiple ways to target the same muscle group. People who want to work on their abs might consider crunches, leg lifts, push-ups, etc. In ERP, there is no one exposure that will help you get better. Instead, there is an array of options that might work for you.

There’s also the hierarchical nature of exercise. If you want to get stronger, it’s smart to start with light weights and build up to heavier weights. It would be downright dangerous to attempt a 500lb bench press without proper training. In ERP, going for that “10″ on your hierarchy is ill-advised at the beginning of treatment. Before going there, you need to lay the proper groundwork first. A gradual approach might take more time, but it will get you to the destination without subjecting you to unnecessary injuries.

Finally, the world is full of different types of trainers. Not everyone is a drill sergeant. The best trainers will listen to you, work with you, and try to understand where you’re coming from. They’ll then use their expertise to design an individualized plan for you that is based on your goals, preferences, and perspective. The best therapists I know follow this same approach to treatment.

My position is that if you’re completing an exposure under duress, you’re unlikely to benefit from it. It’s the process of choosing to face your fear (and willingly embracing the uncertainty that comes with it) that really makes the difference.

Thank you, Dr. Seay.  Here’s hoping your words inspire all OCD sufferers to “hit the gym!”

Posted in Mental Health, OCD | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

What If the What Ifs Come True?

I will be sharing some of my older posts this week and next. I hope everyone is having a great summer (or winter, depending where you live :)). This post first appeared on January 17, 2012.

 

by Master isolated images freedigitalphotos.net

by Master isolated images freedigitalphotos.net

In browsing OCD forums and blogs, I have come across some posts that, on the surface, seem to demonstrate that OCD makes sense. In one post, a woman talked of having to perform a certain set of rituals to keep her husband safe when he traveled for work. For whatever reason, she was recently not able to complete these rituals, and wouldn’t you know it, her husband was in a car accident where he sustained minor injuries. Another post involved a mother who was terrified of transferring germs to her young child, and lo and behold, the child contracted a nasty viral infection.

So if the first woman had performed her rituals the day of the accident, would the accident still have happened? If the second woman had washed her hands just one more time, would her child have gotten sick? The answer, of course, is we really don’t know.

Uncertainty, which we know fuels the fire of OCD, is simply a fact of life. In the course of our lifetimes, good things will happen and bad things will happen and we can never be sure, from one day to the next, what awaits us. Whether we suffer from OCD or not, there are bound to be challenges and surprises for all of us, and we need to be able to deal with them.

And that’s what I find so interesting about the above cases. These OCD sufferer’s “what ifs” came true, and they handled the situations just fine. When the “something bad” finally happened, it was manageable; much more manageable, in fact, than their OCD. The obsessions and compulsions and the havoc they wreak on lives are often much worse than the “what ifs” are when they actually do come true.

I am reminded of another post I read a while ago on The Beat OCD Blog. In her first-person blog, Ann comes to the realization that the only really bad thing that had actually ever happened to her was………..obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Posted in Mental Health, OCD | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments