Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

How Therapy Helped Me Gain Back All That OCD Had Tried To Take

10 min read
Stacy Quick, LPC

As human beings, it’s only natural for us not to want to feel any pain. That’s why one of the things we often focus on when reflecting on any problem we’ve encountered is what it has cost us. We tend to want to identify what has been painful in our lives and why, because we hope to “fix” those things or avoid them in the future. This can be especially true for those living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

But as much as we might wish it wasn’t, experiencing some pain is an inevitable part of being human. At the same time, hope can see us through even our most painful moments. I have found it helpful to take this idea a step further by reflecting on the difficult times in my life and asking myself, “What can I learn from this situation or experience?” Often, there is something we can take away from even the most heartbreaking of circumstances.

Exploring this question doesn’t mean that you are “finding the good in the bad” or being overly optimistic, though I don’t think there’s anything wrong with either of those approaches. Some people may feel that this viewpoint could give too much credit to what caused their suffering. I can relate to this; however, in my experience, I’ve found it incredibly healing to understand how a situation has helped me grow or see things differently, especially when it comes to my experience with OCD. Perhaps it can help you, too.

What OCD taught me

As someone who has suffered from OCD since I was a very young child, it has been an integral part of my journey to identify the things OCD has taught me. Maybe these are things I would have learned without this disorder, and maybe not. Regardless, throughout my journey, I’ve found that I’m stronger than I could have ever imagined. I know that may sound cliche, but there’s something about going through adversity that grows a person’s strength. A certain type of courage is developed—one that doesn’t hold us back from new experiences.

For me, the feeling of having experienced OCD and coming out on the other side feels similar to giving birth. For those of you who haven’t experienced this, let me tell you what I mean: when I gave birth to my three children, it was the most physically painful experience I have ever felt, but at the same time, the most beautiful results came from it. At the time, I thought I couldn’t possibly keep going. I was exhausted, weary, and frustrated, and I wanted to throw in the towel. This was not an option, though; I had to push through.

There are similar experiences in many people’s lives. At times, we encounter circumstances that we may not have any control over, and we’re faced with a choice: do we carry on, or do we give up? For many, there is no option but choosing to go on, despite the challenges we may face.

Through exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, I gained the skills I needed to battle OCD. I came to understand that I do not need to attach meaning to intrusive thoughts, images, urges, or feelings. I learned that I do not need to internalize the feelings that unwanted thoughts bring into my mind. ERP taught me to “lean into” fear, rather than avoiding it. By taking the treatment process step-by-step, and working side-by-side with a specialist trained in OCD and ERP, I was able to develop skills that will last me a lifetime.

As paradoxical as it may seem, when you accept the uncertainty of an intrusive thought and stop trying to run from it or figure it out, it becomes less and less distressing. What I (and many others I have worked with in my years as an OCD therapist) have found is that even when a thought does come to mind, it’s so much easier not to apply meaning to it.

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ERP therapy was developed specifically to treat OCD and has helped many people who struggled with the condition regain their lives. All therapists at NOCD have specialty training in OCD and ERP.

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Gaining my life and freedom back

Now you may still be thinking, “What can someone possibly gain from having a disorder like OCD and going through ERP?” Well, I gained back my life. Treating my OCD enabled me to do things that I never thought would be possible. Through treatment and practice, I have learned to recognize OCD when it creeps into situations. I know my triggers and I no longer avoid them. I no longer feel the need to know everything with certainty. I can accept that bad, scary, or heartbreaking things may, unfortunately, happen in my life and in the lives of those that I love, and I will figure out a way through them, if and when they happen.

Before going through ERP therapy, it felt much easier to avoid things that could bring me anxiety. If I thought there was even a possibility of having an intrusive thought in a certain setting, I would avoid it entirely. At one point, it had gotten so bad that I refused to go anywhere by myself. I was scared of being alone–-scared I wouldn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. I didn’t see a way out. I lived in a glass case of fear and felt that, at any moment, a thought could break it and I would lose myself. It was terrifying.

Those who have experienced OCD might know exactly how tormenting this can feel. But even in that dark place, there was hope. I didn’t stay in that place. It was only by going through that struggle that I started to see the other side. That experience taught me that there is always life on the other side of every difficult experience. So whenever I feel “stuck,” I’m reminded of my OCD struggles and how I am no longer “stuck” like I once thought I would be. I may have stayed in that place for many years, but I didn’t stay there forever. None of those thoughts, fears, or feelings were forever.

What else can you gain from getting effective treatment for OCD? I know myself and many others have gained freedom. I have the freedom to live my life, to make choices based on what I want versus what I’m afraid of. I’ve also gained hope. I’m able to understand that life will not always feel the way it feels during a difficult moment. I’ve learned I can persevere, be tenacious, and be patient.

For me, the suffering I went through drew out abilities I never knew I had—things like being sensitive to the pain of others, and being introspective about who I am and the type of person I want to become. OCD strengthened my resolve to live life fully.

The time—and happiness—I regained

I have also gained back the gift of time. OCD took so many precious memories from me and dominated my formative years. I distinctly remember being a 20-something with my whole life in front of me, and yet I wanted to be older—I wanted to be closer to death. It pains me to write that, but it’s the truth. Living with OCD was so painful that I wanted to escape it. I wanted to run from it because I didn’t see a way out.

At that time, OCD was all-consuming, and I rarely had glimpses of a life where it didn’t control me. The good news is that even then, there was hope for me, and there is hope for anyone who might find themselves in a similar position today. You can get better, and you can get to a place where you genuinely enjoy your life and want to continue living it. I know it’s possible because I’m in that place today. I look forward to what each day brings and I feel prepared to face it head-on, even if I might feel afraid from time to time.

The time I lost to OCD does cause me a great deal of sadness to this day, but that sadness is outweighed by my gratitude for how ERP has allowed me to create fresh memories and experience new adventures. Now, I’m able to see that my fight with OCD has also given me a strong sense of purpose. My struggles led me to exactly where I am right now, which is exactly where I needed to be. Through my recovery, I’ve come to understand the meaning of diamonds being refined by fire: under pressure, beauty can develop.

OCD has even played a part in the personality I’ve developed. The tools I gained through therapy have helped me see that some characteristics that proved less helpful in my struggles with OCD are quite useful outside of OCD. For example, the way I care for others can be a healthy quality, but OCD tried to make it a disadvantage by causing me to overthink many areas of my life and relationships. After going through treatment, I was able to use this compassion in a more positive way. Rather than feeling responsible for everyone and everything around me, I could shift my focus towards the things I valued. I could finally invest my energy and time into things that I cared deeply about.

My hope for you

I like to remind people that there is truly nothing special about my recovery journey. I am just a girl who grew up with OCD at a time when not much was known about it, and I had to figure out how to get through it. Thankfully, I stumbled upon ERP and worked with an amazing therapist who understood and saw me for the first time, and who gave me hope for a future I couldn’t yet envision at the time. If I was able to get through my lowest points with untreated OCD, anyone can—with the right tools.

If you ever feel all is lost, or that you cannot possibly face another difficult moment, another obstacle, please remember everything you’ve learned and all of the things you’ve overcome, and know that there is nothing you cannot face. My most sincere hope for you is that you’re able to recognize how strong you’ve been so far, and to know that you’re capable of taking your life back from OCD.

Finding your way to ERP

If you’re struggling with OCD, I truly hope you will reach out to take the first step in your own recovery journey. ERP therapy can be life-changing—it certainly changed my life.

ERP is the gold-standard treatment for OCD, and its effectiveness is backed by decades of clinical research. ERP therapy is designed to break the cycle of obsessions and compulsions, helping OCD lose its power over time.About 80% of people with OCD experience positive results from ERP, and the majority of people experience results within 12 to 25 sessions.

ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training from experts who’ve designed some of the world’s leading OCD treatment programs. They deeply understand all themes of OCD, as well as the way OCD can switch themes from time to time. They’ll use their expertise to tailor treatment to your unique needs and provide non-judgmental support every step of the way.

If you’re worried or uncomfortable about discussing your symptoms and thoughts with anyone else, keep in mind that your NOCD Therapist won’t judge you. You don’t have to continue suffering in silence. In fact, many people find relief in sharing their experiences. Over time, you can learn how to manage OCD and regain your life, too.

To learn more about getting matched with a NOCD Therapist and making this the year you start conquering OCD, book a free 15-minute call with our team.

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NOCD Therapists specialize in treating OCD

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Taylor Newendorp

Taylor Newendorp

Network Clinical Training Director

I started as a therapist over 14 years ago, working in different mental health environments. Many people with OCD that weren't being treated for it crossed my path and weren't getting better. I decided that I wanted to help people with OCD, so I became an OCD therapist, and eventually, a clinical supervisor. I treated people using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and saw people get better day in and day out. I continue to use ERP because nothing is more effective in treating OCD.

Gary Vandalfsen

Gary Vandalfsen

Licensed Therapist, Psychologist

I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist for over twenty five years. My main area of focus is OCD with specialized training in Exposure and Response Prevention therapy. I use ERP to treat people with all types of OCD themes, including aggressive, taboo, and a range of other unique types.

Madina Alam

Madina Alam

Director of Therapist Engagement

When I started treating OCD, I quickly realized how much this type of work means to me because I had to learn how to be okay with discomfort and uncertainty myself. I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist since 2016. My graduate work is in mental health counseling, and I use Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy because it’s the gold standard of OCD treatment.

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