Kyle King, Undergraduate Research Assistant, Yale OCD Research Clinic
It all started with a library book. I had just finished a chapter and, as I set the book down on the table next to me, I began to feel an unusual sensation on the tips of my fingers. Accompanying this small feeling was a sudden and inexplicable urge to wash my hands, get rid of whatever germs could be on that shared book. I washed my hands, the feeling went away, and I thought nothing of the incident. The next time I set the book down, that strange sensation returned; I washed my hands and, again, it receded. Soon, the strange feeling came to fingertips when I began touching other objects — keys, door handles, the railings on mall escalators. Each time it came, I felt a need to wash my hands once, twice, maybe three times and, each time, I complied with the voice in my head. Within only three months after this began, I had locked myself in a room — afraid to confront a world I thought was contaminated.
I was diagnosed with OCD in October of 2014, when I was 13 years old. I spent the year that followed in intensive therapy, slowly taking my life back from my OCD. It was the hardest thing I had ever done and ever will do but, as I write this now, I have been free from my OCD for five years. Here are the two tools that I found most helpful when fighting my OCD.
- For the first few months of treatment, I was not improving. I understood what OCD was and what I had to do to overcome it, but I couldn’t get myself to fight against my demons. Despite what everyone told me, I thought my OCD was trying to protect me and I should listen. Stagnant, my therapy asked me to write a list of everything I enjoyed in life, everything I could and would do if OCD didn’t exist. When I finished, she read the list over and asked me if I was doing any of the things I mentioned. I said no. She asked me why. I told her that my OCD wouldn’t let me. The moment I confronted all the things I loved that OCD had ripped from my life, OCD ceased to be an ally. Instead, OCD became my enemy. I got angry, but for the first time in months, I wasn’t angry at a psychologist or my parents, but at my OCD. Instead of a list of things I enjoyed, that list became all the reasons I hated OCD, all the reasons to force it out of my life. With this change in perspective, the anxiety that came after exposures didn’t scare me anymore — it represented my enemy running away, throwing a fit as I stripped it of its power. Reminding myself of my values helped me reframe my relationship with my OCD, therein helping me find the courage to fight.
- When I began treatment, I did not have a sense of urgency - I did not feel as though I wanted to fight my OCD. As I continued through treatment, though, I came to realize that, to succeed, this had to change — I could not address recovery passively. To help stoke the necessary urgency, I began to think of my treatment like a war. I framed my fight against OCD as a battle that only one of us could win - either my OCD could win and I could lose my life or I could win and live the life I wanted. I began to deliberately remind myself that I was in the midst of a struggle for my very existence and that the stakes were too high for anything but my full effort. It may seem hyperbolic, but framing recovery in this manner truly helped. This perspective helped me stand strong against my OCD no matter the level of anxiety fighting it caused.
These concepts and exercise helped me; I can’t guarantee that they will be universally useful. That said, if you feel stuck and unable to find the will to beat your OCD back, it’s worth considering all OCD has taken from you and just how high the stakes are. These thoughts propelled me forward when I had no hope in myself, and I hope they will do the same for you.