Like a lot of people in the OCD community, I lived with OCD for a long time before being properly diagnosed. By the time I did get that life-changing diagnosis in August of 2020, I’d been through six or seven years of therapy for anxiety and depression. Try as she might, my therapist could never get to the bottom of why I was anxious all the time.
It started when I was very young. Back then, my obsessions were related to my health. I would later learn that this is a very common OCD subtype called health concern OCD, for unsurprising reasons.
As I got older, I constantly wanted to check my pulse and my heart rate. I needed constant reassurance that I was healthy because I had this unfounded fear that I was about to die. My brain seemed to be working so hard to tell me that I had some hidden illness, and this tended to neutralize all the signs that everything was fine.
My OCD Brain
I would go to different doctors and explain my health concerns at length. Their response was always along the same lines: “It seems like you’re just really health-conscious, and I can’t find anything wrong with you.” My OCD brain wasn’t okay with that. It seemed to be telling me that I was being blown off.
When I was in my twenties, my OCD changed, and I found myself obsessing over thoughts to do with taking my own life—suicidal OCD. It would show up when I was driving. I’d pass under a bridge and see myself up there, getting ready to jump into the traffic below. It would show up when I was washing dishes. I’d get these vivid images of hurting myself with a knife.
It would freak me out because I was at a loss for why I would have these thoughts. I didn’t want to hurt myself, and I certainly didn’t want to kill myself. But they were super powerful. So powerful that I had to tell my dad that I had these upsetting thoughts and images and that I was really scared of myself. He was the only person that I felt I could trust as I had a lot of guilt about the thoughts I was having. I didn’t want people to worry about me.
My dad’s response was: “I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s making you really anxious, and you need someone to be there for you right now. I’ll be that person.”
Pretty soon, he and I both realized that I needed professional help. I started talk therapy which, I later learned, can often make OCD symptoms worse. It made my OCD worse because no one could explain why I was extremely worried about these really random things, why I would obsess over something so small. As a result, it became a much bigger issue in my mind.
After years of expecting a breakthrough that never came, I began seeing a different therapist who, after a while, diagnosed me with OCD. When I finally got that diagnosis, it was a huge relief. There was a name for this thing I had lived with all this time! It suddenly made sense! But even though my new therapist had correctly diagnosed me with OCD, she didn’t give me the type of treatment that would ultimately lead to the effective management of my symptoms.
That treatment is called exposure and response prevention therapy, or ERP. However, this therapist was not an OCD specialist and opted to treat my OCD with talk therapy. It was more of the same and, of course, it didn’t work.
My themes were constantly changing at that time. It was just so stressful. I was going to therapy, and my therapist couldn’t seem to help me. I
“I’m in therapy. I’m talking about it. Why is this not working?”
After a few months of banging my head against a wall, I knew that I had to do something different.
Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy
In February of 2021, I stumbled across a video for NOCD. In the video, they talked about something called ERP, which—despite being the gold standard treatment for OCD—is something that I hadn’t heard of and my therapist had never mentioned.
Finding out that there was a type of treatment that was likely to help my OCD spurred me to reach out to NOCD for the free, 15-minute phone call that I’d heard about. For once, I felt like I wasn’t crazy.
I thought, “This person’s so calm with me. I don’t feel judged for what’s going on.”
They were so quick to get me in and immediately paired me with a therapist. During my first session, I knew that change was on the way and that someday soon I’d be free from thinking, “Am I going to do something? Or am I going to hurt someone? Or is something going to happen because of all this stuff going in my head?”
Even though I knew that positive change was coming, learning ERP didn’t happen overnight.
In the beginning, I was still struggling to figure it out. I was ruminating and trying to find answers. Finally, my therapist said something like: “Jesse, you have to cut that out, or else it’s not going to end.”
I really turned a corner when I started realizing I could have my thoughts, and I can just sit with them for a little while, and they’ll pass. Pretty soon, I would have a thought about something and think: “Here we go again. I know what this is. I know I don’t have to do anything with it. It doesn’t need an answer.”
That enabled me to just go on with my day. To me, that was huge.
Recovery for All
As I began to recover, I knew that I had to do everything I could to make sure people with OCD know that ERP works and that it’s your best chance of getting your life back. That’s what led to me becoming a community leader, which basically amounts to getting the word out about what OCD is, what it looked like for me, and how ERP changed my life.
I needlessly went through all those years of talk therapy. I feel like a lot of people need to hear that their therapist may have misdiagnosed them and that, if they have, talk therapy isn’t going to work. Even in my case, I had a therapist who eventually correctly diagnosed me with OCD, but because she wasn’t an OCD specialist, I was still receiving talk therapy.
I’m more willing to talk with people about my experience now. I tell people about the suicidal thoughts I’ve had or the relationship anxiety that I’ve had, or the health obsessions that I’ve had since I was a kid. I feel that the more I can talk about my experience, the greater the chance of others recognizing OCD in themselves and getting specialized OCD treatment. I’m here to tell you that it changed my life beyond recognition.