For years, I kept my struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) close to the vest. What I did attempt to share was, so often, met with misunderstanding. I found that many people believe that OCD means you have to alphabetize your books or color code your closet. They think it is something you should just “get over” by breaking “bad habits.” Most people do not realize that OCD can cripple you, consume your life, cause depression and cut you off from the people and things you love. As I found painfully, it can even pull you from God. I was broken.
I am finally at a place where I can see my journey with clear eyes. I can write about it with hope and with truth, because I am beginning to come down the other side. It has left me with sympathy and understanding for not just those with OCD, but those with worry, grief, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, identity struggles, fear, agoraphobia, and any other of those plaguing mental processes that hurt but are yet so very common. And it helped me see that there is beauty even in brokenness, because Christ has redeemed me.
I do not want OCD to dominate this blog, however. I want it to be merely a piece of the story. And so I created this section of the blog to answer some more specific questions people might frequently have about my particular struggles and about OCD in general, as well as to offer some resources and methods that have really helped me. I also created a category for all posts that deal specifically with OCD entitled “OkayCrazyDesperate” (you can find it on the ride sidebar under “categories”).
My OCD is focused on contamination. Dominating all of my rituals is the obsession of keeping safe and clean. Most other fears come back to keeping myself and my living space clean. Some specific areas of struggle in my history are listed below.
One note: I am, obviously, writing about something that is constantly changing and shifting. Please understand that I do not struggle with all of these all the time, and none of them as intensely as in the past.
- Crowds and highly trafficked locations, particularly ones with dubious or sick people.
- Animals, including domesticated ones.
- Nebulous contaminations and rare diseases. I often center on rare diseases simply to put a label on a fear of death or things I can’t understand or control.
- Insecure or infrequently used places – corners, basements, attics, windows.
- The dark, whether inside or outside.
- Cars and roadkill.
I should specify that I do not struggle with everyday illnesses such as colds, flus, or minor infections; organization; or hoarding.
Counseling and Therapy
I met with two Biblical counselors with varying frequency (weekly, bi-weekly, etc.) from September 2008 through September 2010.
My first counselor spent the year I met with him focusing on heart issues and learning to view my struggles through a biblical perspective. We worked on accepting OCD as suffering, on overcoming guilt, on working through harmful circumstances, and building bridges between God and my heart.
During the second year I met with a counselor who specialized in OCD and, while continuing to work with me on my heart and my relationship with God, focused particularly on practical methods of overcoming OCD, primarily following the exposure method. This involves exposing yourself to things which cause stress or fear (which normally leads to compulsions and rituals) at low enough levels that you are able to force yourself to experience that stress or fear long enough for it to peak and begin to subside. The idea is that on repeating this and gradually exposing yourself to more and more severe fears, you will eventually be able to experience diminished stress, even upon immediate exposure. You must, however, be careful not to expose yourself at too great a level or you can end up in a big mess (as I have definitely experienced).
I was phased out of counseling beginning in June 2010, ending with a final session in September 2010, where my counselor and I were able to pray together in celebration and rejoice at how far God had brought me.
In January 2010, my counselor recommended me for medication. This was based on a realization that while I had worked hard at therapy and altering my heart attitudes, I was not improving as quickly as I could be and that depression and panic attacks were beginning to choke my improvement and hinder practical therapy.
I met with a Christian psychiatrist and was “classified” as severely obsessive compulsive based on the Yale-Brown diagnosis checklists. He recommended medication with no hesitations, and I am now settled on Celexa at a 15 mg dosage. I continue to meet with him periodically to monitor the medication and discuss improvement and some of the more clinical aspects of OCD. The medication has proved to be a huge help and I improved exponentially almost immediately.
Encouraging Resources for Fear, OCD, and Suffering
- Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest by Edward T. Welch
- OCD: Freedom for the Obsessive Compulsive by Michael R. Emlet
- Why Does it Have to Hurt?: The Meaning of Christian Suffering by Dan McCartney
- Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture by David Powlison
- “God’s Grace and Your Sufferings” (an essay, published in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor) by David Powlison
- Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters by Philip Graham Ryken – this was a series of sermons I heard delivered by my pastor, now available in book form.
- The album The Light Meets the Dark by Tenth Avenue North
- The album Come Weary Saints by Sovereign Grace Ministries
- The course “Dynamics of Biblical Change”, taught through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation by David Powlison.
About three months into counseling, my husband began to come with me and he continued that till the end. This enabled him to learn more about my situation and how to help me; it also pushed us to work through some weaknesses in our marriage that was enabling the OCD to flourish. He has been invariably supportive, loving, and sacrificial and has also grown and matured immensely in his faith through our shared life.