OCD and Vulnerability



I’m still at the OCD Conference, so I think it’s an appropriate time to share this older post of mine which touches upon our need to connect with one another……

I recently came across two wonderful TED Talks given by Dr. Brené Brown, who has spent much of her career researching shame and vulnerability. She is a great speaker, and I highly recommend listening to what she has to say.

Dr. Brown talks about our need, as humans, to “be connected” to one another. That’s really what it’s all about. In order for these connections to happen, we have to first believe that we are worthy of belonging, of being loved. We have to embrace our imperfections and let go of shame. Dr. Brown eloquently expands on this topic here.

Also, if our quest to “be connected” is going to be successful, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; be able to “put ourselves out there.”

In other words, we have to embrace living with uncertainty.

Once again, I am reminded how many of the challenges faced by those with obsessive-compulsive disorder are the same that we all confront. It is the severity of the struggle that differs. Who among us could not relate to feeling vulnerable?

Dr. Brown explains that, as a society, we tend to do everything we can to avoid feeling vulnerable. She says, “We numb vulnerability…we are the most in debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in US history.” We mask our vulnerability and see it as a shameful weakness.

Really though, being vulnerable is not about being weak. It is exactly the opposite. It is about having courage; the courage to fail, the courage to forge ahead into the realm of uncertainty. It is about taking a risk and exposing yourself to whatever might be. While being vulnerable can be difficult for all of us, it can evoke paralyzing fear in those with OCD.

But if we can learn to embrace our vulnerability, then we will be able to live “wholeheartedly.” What this means to Dr. Brown is not numbing our vulnerability, but feeling what we feel. Whether it is despair, fear, or hopefully joy and gratitude, there will be no more secrecy or pretending.

For those with OCD, this path to wholeheartedness likely involves exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. To me, this therapy is the epitome of vulnerableness (yes, it’s a word :) ). ERP therapy takes courage and resolve, but by engaging in it, those with OCD are working toward what they deserve: a life of authenticity filled with whatever “connections” they desire. Because as Dr. Brown says, that’s what it’s all about.

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IOCDF Conference – 2015

planeSafe travels to all who are headed to the 22nd Annual International OCD Conference in Boston this weekend.

I’ll be signing books on Friday from 12:30-1:30 if you want to stop by. If not, I hope to connect with many of you throughout the conference.

And for those who are not able to attend, I’ll be sure to blog about it once I return.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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OCD and Medical Child Abuse

stock images from freedigitalphotos.net

stock images from freedigitalphotos.net

If you’ve read my book, you know that many issues arose when my son Dan spent nine weeks at a residential treatment center for OCD. There’s no question the staff there knew how to treat OCD. What they didn’t know, and what they couldn’t know, was my son: his hopes, his dreams, his values, HIM. Instead of working together with the staff to figure out the best course of action for Dan, my husband and I felt not only shut out, but also viewed as part of the problem.

So when Dr. Suzanne Phillips, who recently interviewed me and Seth about our book,  sent me a New York Times article entitled The New Child Abuse Panic, I broke out in a sweat as I read it. This could have been us.

I highly recommend reading this important article, which discusses how parents are increasingly being charged with “medical child abuse.” The author, Maxine Eichner, says:

 Although most of these cases have nothing to do with real child abuse, credulous child welfare officials have too often supported the doctors, threatened parents with loss of custody, and even removed kids from their homes — simply because the parents disagreed with the doctor’s plan of care.

The most widely publicized case, which is discussed in The New York Times article, involved that of Justina Pelletier, a teenager who was being treated for mitochondrial disease. Her parents lost custody of her and she was forcibly removed from her home for sixteen months because some doctors disagreed with the diagnosis, which was later confirmed. I remember hearing her story on the news a couple of years ago, and thought I must have misunderstood it. Taken away from her family because some doctors disagreed with care she was receiving from other doctors? It made no sense. But it was true, and it is even more of an issue now. It is a scary situation for parents and caregivers.

So what do we do? In relation to obsessive-compulsive disorder, I think education continues to be the key. Many people still believe OCD is only about germs, hand-washing, and rigidity. As most of us know, in actuality there is no limit to the ways OCD can present itself. We shouldn’t have to convince professionals that fear of hurting a loved one, fear of offending God, fear of taking a test, or avoidance of just about anything, are just a few of the countless symptoms of OCD.

As parents and caregivers, we need to educate ourselves and others. We need to treat medical professionals with respect and expect the same in return. If we ever feel threatened in any way, we need to seek out appropriate support immediately. We need to realize that while there are many caring, qualified professionals out there, there are also those who are misguided. And as I’ve said before, nobody knows our loved ones, cares about them, or wants them to get well, more than we do. That alone is reason enough to be heard.

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OCD and Sleep

SleepingThis post was written in December 2012:

Like a lot of people, I deal with bouts of insomnia every now and then, and so I know firsthand what a lack of sleep can do to a person. I often end up with a headache and sore throat, am irritable, easily stressed, and have trouble thinking clearly. And, of course, I’m exhausted.

It seems to me that a lot of people with OCD have sleep issues. I know when my son Dan’s OCD was severe, he often roamed the house all hours of the night, and when he finally slept, it was rarely in his own bed. I’d often find him on a couch in the morning, and less frequently, on the floor. Wherever he could finally settle down, or collapse, is where he slept. So not only was he dealing with his obsessive-compulsive disorder, he was also dealing with the effects of sleep deprivation.

I think OCD, by its very nature, is unconducive to a good night’s sleep. How can you sleep when you have to continually check to make sure the door is locked or the stove is off? How can you relax when you need to review your entire day in your head to make sure you didn’t do anything wrong?  How can you breathe easy when you find yourself ruminating on, of all things, not being able to sleep? Really, as anybody with OCD most likely knows, the possibilities are endless.

Sleep is critical to our well-being. A recent study concluded that an adequate amount of sleep is more effective in reducing pain sensitivity than sixty milligrams of codeine. I find that amazing. If sleep is that powerful, surely being deprived of it is detrimental to our health? And it’s a catch-22: Those with OCD can’t sleep because of their OCD and this lack of sleep intensifies the disorder.

Dan also went through a period of time when all he wanted to do was sleep, and he seemed to have no problem doing this. I believe this was related to depression when his OCD was severe, and also might be attributed to some of the many medications he was taking. We need to be aware that certain medications can affect our sleep in different ways, from insomnia to the inability to stay awake.

So how can those with OCD get the appropriate amount of sleep? I have no magical solution, but eating well, exercising, and living an overall healthy lifestyle can’t hurt. When Dan couldn’t sleep, listening to music sometimes helped distract himself from his own mind. For others, audio books or keeping the television on might work. I think the best solution, though by far not the easiest, is to work hard at fighting your OCD with a competent therapist and appropriate therapy. Hopefully then, this unwanted guest won’t stick around for any sleep-overs.


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Psych Up!

renjith krishnan freedigitalphotos.net

renjith krishnan

Recently, Seth and I were guests on Psych Up!, a weekly radio show hosted by Dr. Suzanne Phillips. We had a great discussion about our book, Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, and were impressed with Suzanne’s thought-provoking questions. You can listen to our interview here, and the link will also be posted under my Media tab.





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Talking about OCD – Is it always a Good Thing?

by ambro freedigitalphotos.com

by ambro freedigitalphotos.com

This post, originally written in October 2012, has been updated:

I often stress the importance of sharing our experiences and talking about obsessive-compulsive disorder in the hopes of raising awareness and understanding of this illness. But is it possible to talk about OCD too much? In certain contexts, I believe the answer is “yes.”

“Traditional Talk Therapy,”  is a type of psychotherapy that delves into the root of your problems. Think Freud, lying on the couch, and discussing your earliest memories. At the very least, it involves examining why you feel or act the way you do.

Dan’s first therapist employed this technique, and over the four months that Dan saw him, his OCD got progressively worse. Why?

Because talking to someone with OCD about why they feel the intense fear and anxiety that is characteristic of the disorder is like talking to someone with asthma about why they can’t breathe. “So why do you think your airways constrict like that?” Ridiculous, right? The answer is obvious. “Because I have asthma and that’s what asthma is.”

OCD is an “Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorder” and that’s why those with OCD think and act as they do. OCD, like asthma, is not something that can be “talked away.” In fact, not only does Traditional Talk Therapy not help those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, it often exacerbates the OCD. Talking about their fears repeatedly and subsequently being reassured by a therapist only empowers the OCD. Those with OCD  ruminate enough on their own; they don’t need any assistance in that department.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything to talk about in therapy when it comes to OCD. There’s plenty, and many of the first-person blogs out there give us a glimpse of how complicated treating OCD can be. But the specifics of why you feel compelled to drive around the block fifty times to make sure you didn’t hit someone, or why you must review your entire day in your head to make sure you didn’t say anything wrong, are not significant. What’s important is realizing you are dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and then finding a competent therapist who utilizes exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the front line treatment for OCD.


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Teens and OCD – Overcoming Fear


Teenagers of various backgrounds in Oslo, Norw...This post originally appeared in November 2012.

I think most people who have spent a lot of time around teenagers would agree they often think and reason differently than adults. Their brains are still developing.

But did you know that it is harder for teens to learn to overcome fear than it is for children and adults?  In this easy-to-understand article on a study conducted at Weill Cornell Medical College, researchers determined that once a teenager’s brain perceives a threat, his or her emotional response remains high even once the threat has been diminished or removed. Teens do not appear to have the same ability as children and adults to suppress their emotional response.

Wow!  As the researchers mention, this finding may help explain the surge in anxiety and stress-related disorders during adolescence; there is a physiological reason why teenagers do not handle stress well. In relation to obsessive-compulsive disorder, I think this information is invaluable. The first thing that comes to my mind is how hard exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy might be for adolescents. This therapy, by its very nature, is anxiety provoking, and now given this new information, it is easy to understand why teens might have an even more difficult time with it. While we know how beneficial it is to receive treatment for OCD as early as possible, we now have another reason why this is so important: children can overcome fear easier than teenagers. Additionally, if an adolescent is having an exceptionally tough time with ERP Therapy, there is reason to hope for more success as he or she enters adulthood and is better able to conquer fear. I’m interested in hearing if these assumptions ring true to those who have OCD.

Researchers have a lot more to explore about the fear response in humans. How does it relate to the plasticity of the brain? How much are genetics involved? Specifically for OCD, how can treatment be modified so that teens can have more success? This study raises a lot of questions. Hopefully more research will find the answers.

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