“Invest In Yourself”: The Transformational Advice That Helped Me Conquer OCD

By Stephen Smith6 min read

My father, a former commodities trader, always used to tell me when growing up: “There is no better investment that you can make than in yourself.” I didn’t realize the importance of his guidance until Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) nearly crushed me about 10 years ago.

Even over the last few years as I’ve had the opportunity to grow NOCD with an amazing team of digital health operators, tech enthusiasts, and OCD specialists – while actively maintaining my own mental health – I remembered these words. My life with OCD has been a journey, to say the least; a mountain higher than anything I’ve ever climbed before, but it’s yielded quite a few lessons along the way. Undoubtedly, the most important learning always remained “invest in yourself.”

In retrospect, I’d always exhibited signs of OCD, but the condition didn’t reach a debilitating level until I was 20 years old and began having recurring intrusive thoughts that were taboo in nature and uncomfortable to describe publicly. Within weeks of the severe onset, my “old life” ended, and my “new life” with around-the-clock anxiety and rumination began. 

Seeking treatment didn’t work at first because I didn’t know where to go. I was misdiagnosed five times by licensed therapists who were in my insurance network. Instead of diagnosing me with OCD and beginning Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy, my therapists identified my anxiety as the presenting issue and gave me talk therapy – treatment that’s not only ineffective for people with OCD, but actually harmful

They each made this mistake because they didn’t take the time to give me a comprehensive diagnostic assessment, and, like many non-specialized mental health therapists, they weren’t familiar with the common ways OCD manifests. Eventually, improper care caused me to get worse, feel depressed, and become housebound. I hit rock bottom. 

If I hadn’t searched online for answers, I probably would still be in that horrible state. But, I was blessed to find a group of other people online who were going through the same difficulties. They defined their symptoms as OCD and highlighted the importance of ERP therapy for OCD. Next, I had to jump through several hoops to find an ERP specialist, pay for treatment, manage OCD on my own between sessions, and maintain progress – all while scaling an early stage company. 

It hasn’t been an easy decade, but taking the time to invest in myself has been immeasurable. Here are the personal investments that I made that have changed my life and helped me live well; I hope they help you do the same.

1. I committed to ERP therapy by working with a specialty-trained therapist who could effectively treat OCD.

OCD is so complex that it deserves its own category of mental health disorders and very specific, specialized treatment. Without learning the ERP tools needed to get it under control and proactively manage it, it can quickly consume your entire life. 

As a result, ERP is the most important investment on your OCD recovery journey, and it’s critical to make it your first investment. By investing in ERP, you’ll be able to start freeing yourself from OCD’s grip and recognize other worthwhile investments in your life. 

To do so, you’ll first need to find a licensed therapist that has specialty training in ERP. (NOTE: All therapists in the NOCD Therapist Directory are trained in ERP, and many therapists in the IOCDF’s directory are too. You might even be able to find one on Psychology Today. Beware, though, that many therapists claim false expertise in ERP. That’s why it’s important to interview your therapist before starting treatment with them.) 

Once you find an ERP-trained therapist, you need to focus your time on applying what you practice and learn in treatment in your everyday life. Do your planned homework exercises (called “exposures”) and try to accept the uncertainty behind your OCD fears whenever they occur, either when purposely triggered or unplanned. 

When I committed to ERP therapy, I was able to break out of the OCD prison and regain the mental freedom needed to focus on my life. 

2. I became dedicated to personal health and wellness.

OCD ebbs and flows, most often due to stress. It’s not uncommon to feel fine for several weeks and then suddenly experience acute OCD after a stressful period of life. Once I began making noticeable progress with my ERP therapist, I made the connection that stress was often an indicator of my most challenging OCD days.

That’s when I realized the importance of managing stress through quality sleep, diet, and exercise. When one of the three was off, my OCD was more easily triggered, but when all three were managed, I had more command of my ability to accept uncertainty and resist compulsions. 

To help with sleep, diet, and exercise, I directly invested more time and resources to address all three. For example, I was able to purchase a better mattress, new pillows, and light-blocking shades for my windows. I downloaded apps dedicated to improving sleep on my phone, too. Now, although I don’t always get much sleep, I usually do get higher quality sleep. 

In addition, I began exercising more at home while also incorporating hot yoga, HIIT, spinning, and boxing into my week. This diversification in exercise allows me to plan my days better and enables me to stick to treatment more easily. Personally, if I don’t work out six days a week, my ability to process stress dwindles. 

Finally, I adjusted my diet for nutritional value. I invested in higher protein foods, fruits, and vegetables. Now no matter what, I leave every meal knowing that I’ve gained the right nutrients. 

3. I deepened my most cherished relationships.

Once I became confident that OCD and my personal wellness were in a better state, I obtained the mental freedom to invest in my most cherished personal relationships, like I had prior to my severe onset with OCD. 

I started with my wife, Kara. She knew me before OCD started significantly affecting my life, and she had the patience to support me daily as I battled it. Becoming my own therapist – the point when I became so skilled at doing ERP that I could manage an OCD episode –  allowed me to spend more quality time with her, whether we cooked food, went out to eat, watched movies late at night, or even went on jogs together. 

When we spend quality time with people we love, it’s much easier to feel present without getting bombarded by OCD fears, since they’re under control. I also feel more present when spending time with my kids, parents, siblings, friends and coworkers. Once I invested in my most valued relationships, I found true joy again. This peace also allows me to invest emotionally into my relationship with my religion every Sunday at church, a place that used to trigger my OCD fears the most.

4. I took learning to the next level. 

When you are healthy, have joy in life, and receive support from loved ones, it’s easier to focus on learning – the engine that leads to personal growth. The best way to learn is through personal experience, and experiential learning is a byproduct of taking risks. 

I personally discovered this after my OCD was managed when I returned to college to finish my degree, traveled internationally to teach English in China, learned about others who were successful thanks (to my investment in Audible), and founded NOCD. I was strong enough emotionally to fail and roll with the punches: OCD was managed, I had a strategy to reduce stress, and my loved ones were extra supportive. If it weren’t for those three things, I don’t think I would have established the mental fortitude to take risks and focus on learning. 

After years of reflection, I recognize that it was by doing ERP therapy for OCD that I unlocked a whole new set of opportunities for me to invest in myself further. It was the catalyst that jump-started my ability to actually engage in life, and others often feel the same. If you or a loved one is suffering with OCD, it’s important that you take a second to think about how you’re proactively investing in yourself. 

Let’s Do an Exercise

How are you investing in yourself? If you have OCD, have you gone through evidence-based treatment? If so, are you doing the appropriate actions to stay healthy? 

Here’s a four-step exercise to help you think through these questions: 
1. List your goals on a piece of paper. 
2. Pick whichever goal is most important to you.
3. Highlight the potential risks that you’ll face when striving to reach your goal.
4. Identify the investments that you’ll need to make in yourself to reach that goal and overcome the highlighted risks.

If you are ready to invest in yourself and want to start treatment with an ERP-trained therapist, I invite you to book a free 15-minute call with our team to get started. We can help you connect to a specialist who has been trained by experts in OCD and ERP to do live face-to-face therapy sessions inside the NOCD platform, and who will give you support between sessions. If you have questions or comments, don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at stephen@nocdhelp.com

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Stephen Smith
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