I Wouldn’t Be Here Without Specialized OCD Therapy

6 min read
Madison Graves
By Madison Graves

I’m not exaggerating when I say that my OCD became so debilitating that I almost gave up on myself and took my own life. I think that people outside of the OCD community would be shocked to discover that OCD can be so all-consuming, so hellish, that taking one’s own life could somehow begin to appear as a viable option. But that’s how it seemed to me immediately before having the good fortune to find and commit to therapy that works. I got on that road to recovery in 2020. I was 32 by then, but the first time someone mentioned that I might have OCD happened 14 years earlier when I was 18. 

At that time, I voluntarily checked myself into an in-patient facility for mental health disorders. My mom took me there because what was going on inside my head had become impossible to tolerate. I had severe depression.

I was only supposed to be there for a few days, but they kept me for a week and a half and did some in-depth testing. They told me that I had OCD, but they didn’t say anything about exposure and response prevention, which I later learned through first-hand experience can be a game-changer. They just put me on five different medications and sent me on my way. I know that some people respond well to medication, but in my case, they made me feel so much worse. 

OCD’s First Appearance in My Life

Looking back now, I realize that I had OCD when I was around 12 years old. At the time, the subtype I experienced was religious scrupulosity OCD. I had a religious upbringing and was raised in Assemblies of God. In church, I remember hearing that the only unforgivable sin was to say something bad about the Holy Spirit. Well, my OCD was awakened and latched onto this tidbit because, from that point on, the words “stupid Jesus” and “stupid Holy Spirit” wouldn’t stop coming to my mind.  

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Of course, I didn’t know about OCD at the time. I thought that the Devil was putting these thoughts in my head or that an evil spirit possessed me. I was always afraid of Hell but the instant it started happening, I thought: “Oh my God. I’m damned. I’m going to Hell.”  

It was 24/7. There was no respite. I would constantly ruminate on what these words meant, what they said about me. I’d also tell the intrusive thoughts to shut up because I didn’t know whether it was coming from the Devil or me. That was the compulsion I used to avoid the worst-case scenario, which, in this case, was spending eternity in Hell. 

I told no one else about what was going on inside my head. I kept it all to myself. At around that same age, something happened that gave OCD something else to latch onto. I had a narrow escape from being kidnapped by a man. It gave me post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Normally OCD doesn’t need a real-life event to start showing up. But after this happened to me, my OCD latched on to my trauma and started sending me content about danger and men. I was always on edge, always terrified about something like that happening again and constantly checking my surroundings for the possibility of someone abducting me. 

The Emergence of Racism OCD

This event and how it reverberated throughout my every waking moment were huge contributors to checking myself in at the in-patient facility for severe depression when I was 18. A few years after that in 2012, a new relationship and big move caused another subtype to emerge. Racism OCD. It’s a subtype that I still struggle with today. 

It started off with a slur against Latinos. That word was constantly coming up in my head towards my partner, his family and my friends. I felt so much shock and shame around it. I’d never used that word. I’d never written it down. I didn’t even know where it came from. It wasn’t long before other slurs for Black people that came up constantly for me after I moved back home. Again, I was shocked and ashamed and started to avoid people even more to keep them and myself safe against what I believed I was. 

I ruminated on this 24/7. I started thinking I was a bad person, that these thoughts somehow said something about me or how I really felt. I began ending relationships with people who were not classified as “white” because I felt that I didn’t deserve to be their friend or that I didn’t deserve to be in a relationship with them because of this despicable content. In a word, I thought I was racist. I even believed that having these intrusive thoughts was equivalent to racism. I had to really challenge my distortions on this theme and the various others that I suffered from.

This racial OCD went on, untreated, until June 2017. At that point, things really went south. There were a lot of violent, sexual themes that surfaced with panic. While I’d always harbored the idea that someone was going to harm me because of what had happened when I was a kid, I started to think: “Well, what if I went crazy and harmed someone?” Because this was untreated, it caused me to ruminate so much that I’d have constant panic attacks.

Housebound

I thought I was capable of going out in public and yelling racist obscenities against my will. I had visions of going to Walmart and yelling a false confession of being a pervert or pedophile because I now thought that I’d lose all my morals and become what I hated. The intrusive fear and emotions that come with OCD are not logical at all. I was so scared that I was going to say something awful or do something terrible to someone that, within ten months, I was housebound with agoraphobia (or extreme avoidance). I didn’t leave my street for three years because of OCD. 

At this point, I really considered giving up on myself and giving up on life, not only due to the OCD thoughts, but also the compulsions and panic attacks. Panic attacks mixed with OCD had created a bigger monster. With untreated OCD, anything was a weapon to be used against me. I just couldn’t see it getting any better. 

Then I came across NOCD while Googling some of my symptoms. I realized that my previous diagnosis of OCD was in fact correct and I had been suffering with it for over 20 years. I downloaded the app and was immediately drawn to the community aspect of NOCD. Being able to talk about your experience among people who understand was such a wonderful feeling. NOCD now offers support groups which really helped to challenge my social anxiety and the taboo content of OCD.  

The Road to Recovery

I eventually scheduled a call with NOCD and was paired with a therapist. I had some reservations about starting therapy, mostly because I knew that some aspects of ERP would be challenging. It was even hard during the first couple of sessions just to talk about some of my thoughts. I’d never really verbalized them or written them down. However, my therapist was great. She knew how to get me to a place where I felt more comfortable sharing the thoughts and obsessions, and from there, she put a plan in place for how to manage them.

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Since starting with NOCD, I have less intrusive thoughts in my mind; it’s quieter here. I’m less negative. I don’t ruminate 24/7. I’m avoiding less. I have self-compassion, and I now know that OCD is actually just a broken alarm system and that the brain is capable of being rewired. 

I applied for a university recently because I hope to find a new purpose in life and to help others. Before NOCD, that would’ve really stressed me out. I was really shocked by how I was able to take it in stride and not let the pressure get the better of me. This has been the case with many stressors in life the last year. Thanks to NOCD and exposure and response prevention, I am reclaiming my life! 

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Taylor Newendorp

Taylor Newendorp

Licensed Therapist, MA

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.

Madina Alam

Madina Alam

Licensed Therapist, LCMHC

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.

Tamara Harrison

Tamara Harrison

Licensed Therapist, MA

I have personally struggled with OCD and know what it's like to feel controlled by intrusive thoughts and compulsions, and to also overcome it using the proper therapy. I’ve been a licensed therapist since 2017. I have an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and practice Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. I know by experience how effective ERP is in treating OCD symptoms.

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