Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

I use humor to heal 

By Tracie Ibrahim

Feb 05, 20247 minute read

We’re incredibly proud of the therapists in the NOCD network. While all of them are trained in delivering evidence-based treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), many have overcome OCD and other mental health issues themselves. We want you to get to know some of the NOCD clinicians who have dedicated their lives to helping people end the struggle. 

Have you ever heard the phrase “the cobbler’s son goes barefoot”? It’s an old saying that suggests that the people who are closest to expert professionals don’t always receive the benefits of their expertise. Having been raised by a therapist mother, it perfectly encapsulates my experience growing up with undiagnosed and untreated OCD.  

It’s a strange thing to look back on your childhood and realize that your invisible enemy was a serious mental health condition. My earliest memories are punctuated by a constant need to count everything—from ceiling tiles to the light posts whizzing by during car rides. Missing one would upset me because I imagined it to be a sign of something terrible happening to me or my family. 

These irrational, even magical fears spread to all parts of my life. When I heard the phrase “step on a crack, break your mama’s back,” in a song playing on the radio one day, I took it at face value and actually thought that harm would befall my mother if I didn’t watch where I placed my feet when walking down the street. The rituals got more and more elaborate—soon, I was running and leaping onto my bed at night as I got it in my head that I was going to be stabbed in my feet through the floor somehow.

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I diagnosed myself when I was a tween

Not many 12-year-olds read the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM (the book that mental health professionals use to classify and diagnose conditions) for fun, but that’s precisely what I did, since I had easy access to my mother’s copy. When I got to the section describing OCD—which was classified as an anxiety disorder back then—I recognized its main characteristics in my experience—the obsessions, the anxiety, the ritualistic behaviors, and the way I would use them to get through my days. 

Even when my mother and other mental health care providers eventually came to the same conclusion as the 12-year-old version of me had, the treatment I received wasn’t helpful, and I found myself leaning into my maladaptive coping strategies more than ever. 

Fast forward to my thirties, I was a therapist, trained in the traditional ways to treat OCD that seemed to skirt around the real issues. That was until I stumbled upon Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). It was like finding the proper dance steps to a tune I’d been humming all along. 

Let’s be honest, if I could bill myself for all the hours I put in, I’d be on a yacht right now. Instead, I’m here, on dry land, having turned the tide for others by sharing the powerful tools of ERP, which I still use daily in my OCD recovery journey. And yes, symptoms still pop up—the difference is that I know exactly how to handle them, and I’m the one in control of how I respond, not OCD.

That’s why I’m very cautious with the term “relapse” when I talk about symptoms coming back after successfully going through ERP. “Relapse” implies going back to square one and forgetting everything you’ve learned, but that’s not what it’s like to experience symptoms after ERP—really, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

In reality, very few people who have gone through ERP treatment experience a full relapse. Most of us dealing with OCD simply have moments where we find ourselves stuck in some compulsions. I prefer to see these occasional hiccups as a normal part of living with OCD. It happens to me, just like anyone else.

Why they call me Taboo Tracie

I take great pride in being known as Taboo Tracie, both on Instagram and among my dear friends. The reason for this nickname is my passion for discussing taboo topics, both within the realm of OCD and beyond. I aim to create a comfortable space for people and help them understand things they may find uncomfortable.

While people often have an easier time understanding the more visible parts of OCD—physical compulsions and rituals, for example—they may not fully comprehend what often happens under the surface: mental compulsions and agonizing invisible battles. For many people, their true experiences never come to the surface because their obsessions are so taboo: themes like Harm OCD and Pedophilic OCD come to mind.

What truly motivates me is the ability to foster a similar level of comfort and provide a safe haven for people dealing with these issues to share openly, without shame or fear of judgment. It’s essential to emphasize that OCD—whether visible or invisible, whether it manifests as fears related to being a pedophile or contamination—is still OCD.

I aim to be there for people, offering support between ERP sessions and equipping them with the tools they need as they navigate their own OCD recovery journey with expert treatment. I’ve been running a support group at NOCD called Sexual and Harm Content OCD for nearly 3 years, which has grown significantly. It’s incredibly therapeutic to witness folks who have endured trauma within the same system I have, whether it’s helping children before they face these challenges or assisting those who have already gone through such experiences in normalizing their feelings.

One of the ways I normalize their feelings lies in my use of humor, which probably distinguishes my approach from that of many other therapists. I actually take a lot of pride in it!

Finding humor in the struggle 

Let’s not be afraid to share a laugh about this condition because, honestly, if we don’t, it can all seem incredibly burdensome and depressing. OCD, especially when it touches on taboo topics, carries a substantial emotional weight and fear. Unlike more commonly discussed obsessions like fearing dirty hands after touching something, dealing with thoughts like, “I don’t want to change my baby’s diaper because I’m scared I might be a pedophile,” adds a layer of complexity and discomfort that’s not as easy for many people to discuss openly.

By finding humor in these situations, we can make the journey through OCD a little less daunting and foster a sense of camaraderie. Because let’s face it: when you can share a laugh about something that initially seemed so serious, it’s like breaking free from the chains of OCD’s seriousness and finding relief amid the struggle.

It can also lighten the load for the people you love in your life—especially the ones who depend on you the most. Raising kids when you’ve got OCD is like being a tour guide in a place you’re still mapping out. And when they have OCD too, it certainly adds an extra level of complexity. 

But here’s the twist—my kids are growing up with a therapist mom who actually gets it. The generational cycle of OCD in my family is like a family recipe that we’re all tired of. So we’re cooking up something new. With the tools and understanding I provide, my kids are learning to feast on life without OCD as the main course.

My journey through OCD has been an odyssey, not a sprint. And for those setting sail on this turbulent sea, I want you to know that ERP can be your North Star, guiding you to recovery. It’s not always the easiest route, but it’s the one that leads to a life where OCD doesn’t hold the wheel. So, to anyone fighting this fight—lace up your boots, pack your sense of humor, and let’s walk this path together.

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