“The Look”

“Maybe the person you talk to today doesn’t seem to ‘get it.’ What we don’t know about is the person that individual may meet with tomorrow. What we share, ripples. We don’t know where those ripples lead, but we have faith that they keep going. Thank you to Jeff Herman of the Jeff Herman Literary Agency for ‘getting it.'”

You’re Not a Murderer: You Just Have OCD, a memoir I co-authored with my daughter, won Best Pitch at the 2022 Atlanta Writers Conference, but you don’t have to write an entire memoir to talk about OCD. Share whenever you can. Bring the light.

People who feel called to discuss mental illness with others, especially an often misunderstood disorder such as OCD and Harm OCD, know what I mean by “the look.” The person you’re talking with has likely never heard of it or thought they knew what it was and your explanation is imploding their entire concept of what they thought it meant. Or maybe they are just screaming somewhere in their head, “For God’s sake don’t say, ‘I’m so OCD’ in front of this woman!” Some people have made such a habit of it that they have to train themselves to stop misusing it.

Then again, some people are just uncomfortable discussing mental health. Perhaps these are things they were taught to whisper about in hushed tones. Perhaps they never knew if this whispering was meant to protect the people who were actually suffering or meant to silence those suffering so as to not embarrass the family. Whatever the case, the silence has left legions of people trembling in the shadows, afraid to speak up, and if they’re not speaking up, they’re not getting help. This is why my daughter and I decided to write about our journey with Harm OCD (an intrusive, unbidden, terrifying thought of harming oneself or others). I remain convinced people are ending their lives over this disorder in the belief that they are doing the world a favor by taking themselves out of it. No one has told them intrusive thoughts can be, and often are, Harm OCD. No one has told them, as my daughter’s therapist told her, “thoughts are not things.”

So, we share. It’s that simple. You don’t have to write an entire memoir to talk about OCD. Share whenever you can. Send a light into the shadows where someone is just barely hanging on. Maybe the person you talk to today doesn’t seem to “get it.” Maybe you even get “the look.” What we don’t know about is the person that individual may meet tomorrow. What we share, ripples. We don’t know where those ripples lead, but we have faith that they keep going. Help remove the stigma and bring hope to others dealing with this misunderstood condition. Let them know they can be free.

Thank you to Jeff Herman of the Jeff Herman Literary Agency for “getting it.”

Closing the Four

I want to close the four, take my pen and make one little mark, and I would, too, if I believed that would be the end of it, but it won’t. I’ve been here before…It’s not a number. It’s a trap.”

What’s so powerful it could drag you into its lair with a little mark on a page a millimeter long? OCD, of course. As I’ve gotten older, my symptoms have gotten much less pronounced than they were when I was younger or when they were at their worst in my early thirties after my first child was born. My intrusive thoughts convinced me something horrible was going to happen to her if I didn’t check the door over, and over, and over again. For hours each night this went on. Though those days are years past, those of us who’ve lived with this disorder understand its power to show up in big and small ways. It did exactly that the other day.

It seemed harmless enough. I’d written the number four, looked down, and there it was, something I might not have noticed on any other day, a four where the right angle didn’t quite touch the line of the four. Who cares? Right? Well, no one should, and that’s the point. But this is no ordinary four. Oh, no! That little tease is a gateway to misery. It may as well be whispering, “Let me in.” I want to close the four, take my pen and make one little mark, and I would, too, if I believed that would be the end of it, but it won’t. I’ve been here before. This morning it will be that four, later that evening, I’ll be checking a door that I already know is locked, or I’ll be halfway out of my neighborhood before turning back around to check my garage door even though I know good and well it’s closed.

 It’s not a number.

 It’s a trap.

I close the notebook and allow myself to acknowledge the discomfort, experience it. I remember a day when this would have felt impossibly hard, and I would have been sure something horrible would have occurred to someone I love if I walked away without closing the four.

I’ve come a very long way to make it to this point where I can walk away…

…and keep walking.

You can get there, too.

Don’t lose hope.

Lest I forget

“It sauntered up to me that night and hissed, ‘Hey, babe, it’s been a while. Miss ya, girl!’ Wink. ‘I’ll keep you safe. Always have, right?’ OCD is that awful, worthless boyfriend we’ve watched our friends make one mistake after another with while we yell at the movie screen that is their life, ‘Don’t fall for it! He’s no good!'”

It had been many years since I’d had an OCD flareup this bad. For me, my intrusive thoughts had been at their worst around the age of 13 and then again after my first daughter was born, when I was 30. Though I’ve dealt with it on and off over the years since then, it had never been as tormenting as this most recent episode: a reminder of why I keep talking and writing about it.

My ex-husband had told me he was picking up my 9-year-old from school that day. He’s not forgetful, especially with his kids, yet I laid in bed that night panicking, thinking, What if he forgot to pick her up and some psychopath abducted her, and we each think the other parent picked her up and meanwhile this whole time she’s been abducted? The OCD started in at that point, and all manner of scary scenarios took root.

Over the years, I’ve gotten good at sitting with the uncomfortableness that OCD brings. But, oh boy, does it ever know how to get our attention. It sauntered up to me that night and hissed, “Hey, babe, it’s been a while. Miss ya, girl!” Wink. “I’ll keep you safe. Always have, right?” OCD is that awful, worthless boyfriend we’ve watched our friends make one mistake after another with while we yell at the movie screen that is their life, “Don’t fall for it! He’s no good!” Hey, it could be a good-for-nothing girlfriend: not picking on the guys here.

But, did I fall for it?

Well…yeah, a little. I didn’t call my ex to verify my daughter was with him because it was 1:00 a.m.—OCD loves for me to prove my love and devotion by missing sleep over it. Bad boyfriend analogy again, right? What I did was go upstairs to my oldest daughter’s room and ask if she saw her little sister while she was at her dad’s house for dinner—little sis spent the night; big sis did not. Well, the eldest wasn’t up late gaming as usual. She was asleep. So, I feigned not knowing that she was asleep the moment I opened the door. Gimme a break—my youngest might have been abducted!

“Oh, uh, I didn’t realize you were already asleep,” I said. “You’re usually still awake.”

“Huh, what?”

“Did you see your sister while you were at your dad’s house this evening?”

Recovering her senses, she said, “Yup, I even have proof. We made a funny video.” She offered proof because she knew what was up with my anxious behavior. She had just finished a yearlong series of ERP (exposure and response prevention) therapy for severe intrusive thoughts.

“Oh, okay. If you’ve seen her, that’s fine.”

Luckily, I could get to sleep with one confirmation. I remember a day when that would not have sufficed. Not at all.

The next day…I was thoroughly busted! My daughter has a check-in with her psychologist every 6 weeks to make sure she is still doing well. From the other room, I heard her ratting me out over telehealth.

Damn it! Are you kidding me?

“Did you tell her she should sit with the uncomfortableness?” the therapist asked. I could hear the smile in her voice.

I was always the one reminding my eldest daughter of all the tenets of ERP over the past year.

Yeah, yeah, the teacher has become the student and all that good stuff. Maybe I’ve gotten a little cocky over the years. At any rate, I don’t resent a little reminder. It keeps me humble. It keeps me mindful of how painful OCD is.

May we always remember…

BUT…

Keep moving forward.

Therapy’s End?

“What if it returned?…I didn’t think I should be running from that possibility anymore than an OCD sufferer should be running from an intrusive thought.”

I was having a nice, relaxing evening until my young adult daughter walked into the living room and said this: “Dr. Yong thinks I can discontinue therapy now.”

If this were a cartoon, this would have been the point where steam shot out of my ears or my head exploded, but here in the real world I quietly panicked inside while trying to work out a non-confrontational answer that conveyed gentle concern without being a total nag and certainly without giving away the fact that I flat-out disagreed.

“So not even once a month?” I asked.

“Nope. I have it under control. We just don’t have that much to talk about anymore.”

But should I disagree? I trust her therapist. The woman is amazing! Also, I’m the mom, but this isn’t my therapy. My daughter isn’t even a minor anymore. I’ve also suffered with Harm OCD, and I know firsthand that it absolutely can reach a point where it no longer rules one’s life. So why was I so scared?

Stay with it. Breathe. What are you really feeling?

The path to finding a good therapist was so long and fraught with false starts. For years, I felt alone as a parent struggling to help my child. I was barely hanging on, hoping she could just hang on one more day, one more week until the appointment with the next therapist. We went through a couple before finally finding one with the expertise to deal with Harm OCD. When we finally found this godsend, this ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention)-certified, OCD-confronting angel from heaven with decades of experience in dragging that Harm OCD beast out into the light like a vampire screeching under the sun, I didn’t want to let go. I wanted to hang on like the grim death that tormented the worst of my intrusive thoughts!

What if it returned?

What if she started melting down again and asking me if she deserved to live? As I thought back on those days, nausea hit me in waves.

The kneejerk answer to my questions might be, “You can’t be pessimistic like that.” But I didn’t think I should be running from that possibility anymore than an OCD sufferer should be running from an intrusive thought. What if it does recur?

Well, we know what feeds the beast. We know what starves it. And most of all, we know where to find good help.

I took a deep breath and said to her, “This is great! And if you ever need Dr. Yong in the future, you know where to find her.”

Yeah. We’ll be okay.

And the great news is…you can be, too.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, You’re Actually Not “So OCD.” What OCD Really Is.

This post was written by Obsessively Anxious. They graciously gave their permission to repost this excellent, thoughtful, thorough overview of what OCD is and is not. A must read for anyone seeking understanding about this misunderstood disorder.

The Obsessively Anxious

I’ve learned a (comparative) tremendous amount about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder since my diagnosis, which was roughly 2 years ago. I’ve learned the most information in the last 6 months from research and self discovery.

Most of the information I know, was gathered on my own, due to the professionals I’ve encountered not being adequately educated, trained, and/or experienced with OCD. That’s been the hardest part, truth be told. Figuring this out on my own, because everyone of my mental health professionals until very recently, really botched things up.

Learning what I have, has made me realize how ignorant the masses are. That includes many others than suffer with OCD, who may not realize it because of inadequately trained professionals.

I had symptoms of Scrupulosity (Religious OCD) when I was a teenager in the late 90’s. Had a properly trained mental health care professional recognized the symptoms, or had there been…

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