I remember the situation like it was yesterday. After finally realizing my mental turmoil had a name, OCD, I desperately scoured the internet to learn more about the condition. That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks: OCD was considered chronic, and it wasn’t curable. It could be managed, but it would be there for the rest of my life.
The learning created a tidal wave of panic, and I began to ask myself, “You mean to tell me that I won’t be able to rid these disgusting thoughts for the rest of my life? I’ll just have to suffer like this forever?”
Like many people who are just beginning to understand more about OCD’s chronic nature, I made a mistake: I thought that having OCD forever meant that I would experience the torture it caused forever, too. This misunderstanding created a sense of hopelessness that I now know was unwarranted. Managing OCD is possible, and getting better is possible – but people with OCD need to separate their fears from their reactions to them.
We can’t control the frequency of the thoughts that flow through our heads; in fact, when we try to control our thoughts to get rid of them or minimize them, they will just happen more often. As NOCD’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Patrick McGrath says, “If you tell yourself not to think of the pink elephant in the room, chances are you will only think of the pink elephant.”
While we can’t control our thoughts, what we can control is how we respond to our fears. Instead of resisting the intrusive thoughts, images, and urges that we have from OCD, we can choose to accept the uncertainty behind them – a practice that is scientifically proven to reduce suffering from OCD. That means despite OCD’s chronic nature, suffering from the condition doesn’t have to last forever.
When I realized that living with OCD and suffering from OCD were two separate things, a light bulb went off. I heavily invested in seeing a specialist specifically trained in treating the condition and worked around the clock to practice accepting uncertainty.
The results of doing this were successful: my OCD still was there, but it stopped bothering me as much since my reaction to the fears completely changed. When my reaction changed, my suffering dissipated, and I was surprisingly even able to live better than before OCD struck.
No matter how difficult OCD is treating you these days or how frustrated you are about its chronic nature, remember that your distress can decrease and your quality of life can improve. You might not be able to be “cured” from OCD, but you can definitely change your response so that OCD no longer bothers or affects you as much. Have hope.
Learning how to change your response to OCD starts by working with a specialist trained in exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the gold-standard treatment for OCD. ERP is fundamentally about shifting one’s reaction to unwanted and unpleasant thoughts, images, or urges and accepting them – not about getting rid of them.
ERP treatment is very specific and complex, which is why working with an OCD specialist is a key piece of recovery. An ERP-trained therapist will teach you how to accept the uncertainty behind the OCD fears and will give you the tools and knowledge needed to learn how to implement acceptance into your daily life. This is what will enable you to break out of the “OCD prison” and regain mental freedom.
At NOCD, we have licensed therapists that are specialty-trained in treating OCD with ERP who are here to help you. They are actively trained and managed by leading OCD experts and researchers on our clinical leadership team to ensure continuous quality care. You can book a free 15-minute call with our team to get matched with one and get started with OCD treatment.
Even if a NOCD Therapist isn’t for you right now, there are other avenues you can explore, such as The IOCDF. (Note: Beware of licensed therapists who claim false expertise in OCD. We also recommend that you ask this list of five questions ahead of your first session with any therapist claiming to treat OCD – even those at NOCD. Working with a therapist who does not provide proper treatment for OCD is not only ineffective, it can be harmful and make OCD worse.) Regardless of which direction you take, getting proper treatment is an investment you’re making in yourself, which is one of the best decisions you can make.