I think that for most people who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or any mental health condition, there comes a breaking point. Eventually, after trying to deal with OCD on your own, you reach a moment in time when you can no longer stand to continue functioning the way you have been.
That moment is a turning point, a moment of truth. It’s the moment when you’re finally able to say to yourself, “Maybe what I’m doing is no longer working—maybe it never worked at all.” It’s when you finally realize that something has to give. I remember my “moment” clearly, though I suspect there were many “moments” leading up to it.
My lowest point with OCD
I was in my early twenties when I reached my lowest point with OCD. I had lost over 100 pounds and I felt miserable. I couldn’t leave my house alone, and I didn’t want to be left alone in general. OCD had taken over my life. I was washing my hands until they bled, ingesting harsh chemicals in an attempt to feel “clean,” and feeling exhausted all the time. I wasn’t the wife, mother, daughter, or sister I wanted to be.
The idea that food or colors were contaminated or “dirty” based on the thoughts I had around them—also known as emotional contamination—had overtaken my life. It wasn’t long before the foods that I used to consider “safe” no longer felt safe to me. At this point, OCD was in charge, and there wasn’t much safety to be found in anything.
The voice of my OCD was loud, and the thoughts were dark and sickening. In my very ill mind, to eat the foods that my fears focused on would have meant confirming that those dark thoughts were somehow true.
But the gnawing hunger that I felt was nothing in comparison to the fear of losing my mind, of not knowing who I was or being able to determine the truth about a situation. Of all the fears I had struggled with, this one was the deepest and most persistent. It was what OCD tormented me with day and night. I became obsessed with the fear that I could “lose my mind” and mistakenly believe that my thoughts were true or had happened.
Deep in my heart of hearts, I knew I would not do the things that my brain thought. Still, scenarios where I confessed to something awful continued to run through my mind. It was as if my mind had focused all of its attention on trying to conjure up things that would trouble me. I was living in a constant state of fear, always looking for ways to have hard proof that I didn’t do the things that I worried about, should I ever “lose my mind.”
I began saving receipts from everywhere I went. I thought this would create a timeline that could be verified if I ever did something “wrong.” I tried to have someone with me at all times so that they could verify what I had or hadn’t done. Of course, the people who accompanied me did not know that this was their purpose. At one point I wrote down every vile thought I had, thinking this could help if I “lost my mind.” Then it struck me that this record of my thoughts could be found, and I proceeded to burn all of the notes I had made.
As I became more and more debilitated by OCD, my hopes and dreams fell by the wayside. I felt lost, abandoned, and disillusioned with my life. Things weren’t how I believed they would be. I had become a shadow of my former self, and felt as though I was on the verge of giving up and throwing in the towel.
I have no words to describe the actual state that I was in. If this sounds dramatic, I promise you things were far worse than the picture I’m painting. Even now, as I write this, it’s difficult for me to think back to that time in my life. It feels so foreign—like it was a million years ago, or it happened to a different person. And at the same time, it feels so raw, like it just happened yesterday. That time shaped so much of who I am today.
The moment I knew I needed help
I was at the grocery store when I reached my breaking point. My head began spinning and everything started to become a blur. As I wondered why I felt so dizzy, I realized that I couldn’t even think of the last time I’d had something to eat, or what that something had been. Years of untreated symptoms, of fears, obsessions, and compulsions had unraveled me.
In that moment, standing in the grocery store, my world began to crumble. I realized that I would probably die if I didn’t get help. I was starving myself. I was using harsh chemicals on my mouth and body. I finally realized the toll that years of going without proper treatment and support for this condition had taken.
I thought of my child at the time and how badly I wanted to be a mother. I wanted to be there for her, to see her grow up. I knew that I needed to get better, whatever that looked like. I also knew that taking the power back from OCD might be the hardest thing I ever did. Still, even though I knew that it would be the fight of my life, I committed to it.
Choosing to fight harder than I ever knew I could
For the next 7 years or so, I kept fighting. And to this day, I still fight. The fight today is different, thankfully. It’s easier and more smooth. Managing OCD has become a lifestyle for me. There are, of course, still ups and downs, but I’m grateful to say that I’ve never felt like I did during those early years.
Because of the severity of my OCD, those 7 years were spent in intensive treatment, often meeting with my therapist 3 times per week. I learned all about OCD and poured over articles, books, and anything I could get my hands on that was related to OCD. I needed to know how to beat this thing that had controlled so much of my time and energy.
Bit by bit, I began to separate my identity from OCD. I began to not engage in the compulsions that were hurting me. I decided that I chose life and accepted that choosing life meant I needed to be uncomfortable for a time, because this discomfort would allow me to become more comfortable over time. It was a huge shift in my thinking.
I decided not to avoid anxiety and distress at all costs and instead to embrace them. Now I don’t mean embrace in the sense that I liked these feelings or welcomed them—I would be lying if I said that. I’ll be honest and tell you that I hated feeling that way. It frustrated me that I couldn’t ever feel “certain enough” about the things that were most important to me.
But at the same time, I learned. I learned I could experience uncertainty and anxiety, and that those feelings would pass. I didn’t need to repeatedly wash my mouth with soap or chemicals to erase a thought or make it less true. I learned that I could eat the foods that I had horrible thoughts while eating and nothing happened. Nothing changed. I was still me. I never confessed to something or “lost my mind,” even when I felt the most intense anxiety.
Sometimes I would sit for hours, shaking with stress, but even then, I refused to let OCD win. It became a challenge. I decided I wouldn’t back down and allow OCD to have the satisfaction of victory. And that’s what I do to this day.
A life in recovery
Recovery is not over, but I’m okay with that. I know it’s a day-to-day process, and even the worst day in recovery is better than the best day with untreated OCD. Plus, things are different now. I have knowledge of how to fight OCD and tools to help me. I have my “why,” the reasons that I fight it.
I still have intrusive thoughts from time to time. The difference is that they happen less frequently and bother me far less. I’m able to take them less seriously because now, I can recognize them for what they are. I understand that my thoughts are not indicative of who I am as a person. They are meaningless—and if anything, they tell a story about what I value.
There are times when the anxiety becomes more than I think that I can bear. When that happens, I remind myself of what I’ve already been through and how hard I’ve fought. This keeps me fighting. Now I don’t mean “fighting” in the sense of doing compulsions or arguing with the thoughts. It’s more of a quiet battle.
It’s a battle in which I accept what I cannot change: the fact that I have OCD. I accept that OCD causes intense feelings of doubt and uncertainty and attacks the things that I care about. And I choose to keep moving forward, pursuing my values instead of living a life driven by fears and obsessions.
You can make the same choice
If you’re struggling with OCD right now, you can make this choice, too. I am not unique or special—I was just a girl who got tired of suffering and decided that enough was enough. I knew that my story needed to go on and that, in order for that to happen, I needed to change the ending. I promise you have the same ability.
Your “moment” might look different from mine. That’s okay. In fact, I hope it does. I hope you know that you don’t have to wait until you reach your lowest point to ask for help. There’s no wrong time to take the first step in your treatment journey—it’s a choice you can make at any time.
Whenever you’re ready to make that choice, NOCD is here to help. NOCD Therapists are specialty-trained in OCD and exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the most effective treatment for OCD. ERP is an evidence-based form of therapy designed to break the cycle of obsessions and compulsions, helping OCD lose its power over time.
NOCD Therapists will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan and manage your OCD symptoms in the long term. They’ll help you understand how OCD operates and how ERP works to manage it. When practiced regularly, ERP can help you learn that OCD’s anxiety and distress are false alarms, and that these uncomfortable feelings will eventually pass without you needing to do anything.
If you have any questions about starting ERP therapy or need more information about the treatment, please book a free 15-minute call with the NOCD team.