Recovery from OCD is possible. I know it may seem hard to imagine, especially when you are in the midst of experiencing OCD, but it can get better and is very manageable. Though OCD is considered chronic and there is no cure, with the right treatment, anyone with OCD can learn to manage their symptoms so that OCD causes less distress and interference over time. Managing OCD symptoms can greatly improve your quality of life.
However, if you have OCD, you probably know all too well that it can cause incessant worry and doubt, so it should come as no surprise that people going through exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy for OCD often experience doubts about their own recovery process. Questions like “Am I really getting better?” “I know that most people are able to find relief and recovery through treatment, but what if I can’t?” and “I had a rough OCD episode today. Does that mean I’ll never recover?” can plague people throughout their recovery journeys and create obstacles along the way. Here are some answers to questions I’m often asked by people on the road to recovery from OCD.
What if I still have intrusive thoughts?
It’s important to recognize that everyone—every single person—has intrusive thoughts from time to time. These thoughts can come in the form of images, ideas, feelings, urges, or impulses that are unwanted, even scary or disturbing. This is a normal part of the human experience—it’s simply a result of how our brains function.
It may be hard to believe, but when you have OCD, intrusive thoughts are not the problem. The real issue in OCD is the way your brain responds to them. You may feel like you need to figure out or solve your obsessions, or want to know why they occurred. You may feel like you can’t rest until you feel absolutely certain about your obsession. This sense of urgency leads you to perform actions, whether mentally or physically, in an effort to neutralize your anxiety.
Effective, specialized OCD therapy is hereLearn more
If the presence of intrusive thoughts is causing you to doubt your recovery process, remember that response prevention is what determines the course of your recovery, not your intrusive thoughts themselves. While you can’t stop intrusive thoughts from occurring, by building the habit of resisting compulsions, you can fight back against OCD on an ongoing basis, and your obsessions will cause less anxiety over time.
What if I still do safety-seeking behaviors?
Similarly, it should be noted that most people have compulsions that they do from time to time. People without OCD do various things as a form of self-soothing, to gain a sense of control in their lives. They usually recognize that these things may not be helpful, but nonetheless give into these behaviors from time to time. The difference is that they do not let these actions dictate their lives or important decisions.
Some more common compulsions done by people without OCD may be to make sure their stove is off, double-check their car doors, or ask someone to look over an important email before they send it. They may even have certain superstitious beliefs that they follow, like avoiding walking near cemeteries. For people without OCD, however, these behaviors don’t negatively impact their lives in a significant way, don’t gradually take up more and more of their lives, and don’t cause them to feel greater anxiety over time.
To be diagnosed with OCD, one must spend a large amount of time on an average day engaged in obsessions or compulsions, or feel high levels of distress when obsessions are triggered. So, while OCD is considered chronic, it’s common for people to recover to the point that they no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for OCD. In other words, you can still technically have OCD and build habits that allow you to manage symptoms day to day.
How can I tell if I’m living in recovery?
I often tell the people I work with in therapy that recovery is not a destination, but a process that one practices continually. You don’t suddenly transform from living with OCD to living in recovery; it is a journey, a way of living. There are ups and downs. You learn the tools to manage the disorder day to day by changing the way you respond to your symptoms. Like many things in life, being consistent in your responses will create new habits, new ways of thinking, that allow you to live without OCD leading your life.
As a therapist and as a person living in recovery from OCD, I’m often asked what I mean when I say that I am living in recovery. For me, this is a state of recognition and empowerment. I am aware of the role OCD plays in my life. I am able to decipher what my triggers are—the situations that may lead to symptoms. I also am aware of what I need to do when I am triggered to effectively manage OCD, rather than feed it. This is how I keep OCD at bay: I’m empowered and knowledgeable enough to stop reinforcing the cycle of OCD in my life.
Is it a perfect process? No, but it is a much more effective and fulfilling way of living my life. I no longer just survive, but live a life rooted in my own values, a life I can look forward to. I have good moments and bad moments. I am not free of symptoms, but I am in control of how I respond to them. OCD doesn’t take up nearly as much of my life as it used to. That is what recovery looks like: progress, not perfection.
Recovery looks different for everyone
Please know that everyone’s recovery may look different—in fact, it will and it should. We are all different and our experiences are all unique. If you have OCD, then your recovery may look similar to mine, or it may not. One thing is certain: it is possible to reach a place where OCD is no longer in control of your life. That’s what it means to live in recovery from OCD.
Find a therapist who can help you manage your OCDFind therapist
If you’re ready to start your own recovery journey, we can help. Our licensed therapists at NOCD deeply understand OCD and are specialty-trained in treating OCD with ERP therapy. We work side-by-side with the OCD experts and researchers who designed some of the world’s top OCD treatment programs – and that means the best care for our members. You can book a free 15-minute call with our team to get matched with one and get started with OCD treatment.