I’m a Living Example Of How Life-Changing ERP Therapy Can Be
While I was only diagnosed with OCD relatively recently, I always knew there was something different about the way my mind worked. I just didn’t have a name for it. I just put it down to being quirky for the longest time. Looking back, I can see that OCD has been with me for a long time, and it seemed kind of normal because other people in my family showed similar signs.
I talked to my brother about it at one point, though just briefly. I’d remarked that he had to check his car door a certain number of times and that I did the same thing.
“Oh, you do that too?” he said. “What else do you do?”
We noticed that we had these same tendencies when my nephew was diagnosed with another mental health condition: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. It began to dawn on me that mental health issues could run in our family and that it might be time to stop writing off my behaviors as quirks and see if anything could be done about it. After all, things seemed to be getting worse.
Tasks that would ordinarily take me 30 minutes would take four hours because of the degree of checking I felt I had to do. For instance, I was checking emails repeatedly before I sent them. The checking rarely resulted in me changing anything in the email. I kept thinking, “I could have had this done by now. ” But I had all this doubt.
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“Am I saying this right? Am I reading that correctly?” “Are they going to take my response the wrong way?”
As my anxiety went up, the checking would get worse. But what convinced me to go get help was my kids noticing. I didn’t want to unwittingly encourage them to start following my lead.
Discovering a Solution
I discovered NOCD in a strange way. I was watching YouTube videos about Call of Duty with my son. One of the YouTubers talked about his OCD and how NOCD had helped him. As he detailed some of the things he experienced, I found myself thinking: “I do that,” “I think that,” and ultimately, “I have that.”
I downloaded the app and immediate discovered a community of people who wanted to help people in my position. I found some of Jenna and Mollie‘s live streams. Jenna Overbaugh is a therapist at NOCD and Mollie Albanese is who is a Peer Advisor. Peer Advisors are people at NOCD who have experienced OCD, gone through specialized therapy, and can now manage their condition. Their role is to be there with you as you start your therapy journey because NOCD understands that it’s difficult to get started.
Then I started reading Dr. Patrick McGrath’s book. Dr. McGrath is NOCD’s Head of Clinical Services and a renowned OCD specialist. The live streams and the book gave me a lot to think about. I quickly concluded that I couldn’t keep living this way. The more I researched, the more I realized that I’d been doing these things my whole life, and it was getting worse.
The pandemic highlighted the situation because I didn’t have people around to keep me in check. I was spending more time in my head, and I was spiraling as a result. Everyday tasks were taking longer and longer. I was tending to self medicate through alcohol at night, trying to suppress my intrusive thoughts and tendencies. This only fed my OCD bully and the resultant anxiety and depression, until one night I accidentally almost lost my life. That was when I said enough is enough.
So I made the call and spoke with Mollie who I already felt I knew a little bit from the live stream I’d seen. Because of my OCD, I almost didn’t make that call. I’d planned to change the transmission fluid in my Jeep, which I’d done several times before. I gave myself between 9 and 10 am to knock that job out, which is more than enough time. It only took me a half-hour once I started, but the doubts and checking leading up to this simple task took up a ton of time. It was a very timely reminder that the situation simply had to change.
I started treatment and, from the get-go, I gained perspective on what had been going on inside my head all these years. Things gradually started to make sense, and I quickly grasped how the type of treatment my therapist was using—exposure and response prevention therapy, or ERP—was going to work. Specifically, it would help me become more comfortable with uncertainty by habituating me to my triggers.
About six weeks in, I started to be able to nip things in the bud before they gobbled up hours of my day. I could say: “You’re doing this thing. Sit with discomfort. Let the urge to do a compulsion dissipate.” I would still slip. And occasionally, I do still slip. But within a surprisingly short time, I could tell it was over a hump. It was an amazing feeling. I was on the road to getting my life back.
Seizing the Opportunity To Help
I had a great working relationship with my therapist. I would joke around with her because, unless I have to, I try not to take things too seriously. I told her about talking to my nephew and people at work about my OCD. As I was so open about it, she asked me if I’d like to create a live stream On YouTube.
My immediate response was “yes”. I wanted to help in any way that I could. I wanted to get the word out about OCD because the solution wasn’t going to land in everyone’s lap as it had in mine.
I started doing live streams with Mollie every once in a while. We had a lot of fun with those. It was nice to be able to interact and help people in real-time. After a few of those, I was asked to be a community leader. I said, “Yeah, I’d love to do that!” I usually log on to answer questions in the community forum of the NOCD app anyway. The way I thought about it was that if I ended up helping just one person, it was all worth it.
Stigma Is the Enemy
Of course, that desire to help starts at home. I’ve been transparent with my brother, nephew, girlfriend, and friends. I’m trying to reduce the stigma of getting help for a mental health issue by being as open and honest about what I’m experiencing as I can be.
I’ve told my kids what I’ve been going through. My girlfriend’s kids watched me do a live stream just to try to understand. I tell my kids, “If you have questions, Dr. McGrath’s book is on the table. If you want to know anything, I’m happy to talk about it. You want to ask questions, don’t be afraid. This is what’s going on in daddy’s brain. It’s a playground! And some days, it’s a tornado.”
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When I’m talking to people who need help, I try to impress upon them that OCD is known as the doubting disease for good reason. I would doubt whether I had it or had it bad enough to deserve treatment. I got to thinking that I’d be taking away a spot from someone else who deserved it more than I did.
You can try to rationalize and say that you don’t have this issue or think you can handle it yourself. But the reality is, the more you give in to it, the worse it’s going to get. OCD doesn’t want you to get better because it wants you to feed it. OCD wants you to be stubborn because it wants you to fail. It wants you to need it.
As a community leader, one of my main refrains is that there is nothing wrong with seeking help. Some people think that needing help is some sign of weakness. I would say you’re stronger if you reach out to get help than try to do it yourself. Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes.
Taking the first step is essential. As scary as it is, that first step is the beginning of the road to recovery. It’s going to be challenging at times, but you’ll be very glad that you showed up for yourself a little further down the line. I know I am.
NOCD Therapists specialize in treating OCDView all therapists
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.
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.
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.