As a therapist who specializes in treating OCD, one of the questions that I am asked most frequently is, “Will it always be this way? Will my OCD always be this bad?” People want to know if there is an end in sight to the suffering that this condition brings.
I have lived with OCD for my entire life, so I understand their fears all too well. OCD feels so real and so threatening at the moment, making it seem impossible to imagine a moment in the future when it might feel better. But I’ve also learned how to manage my OCD symptoms effectively, so I can answer their question with confidence: No, it won’t always be this way.
Everyone’s experience is unique
Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all answer. In other words, it will be different for every person. What I do know is that situations are always changing. Life is always changing. Nothing ever stays the same forever, and OCD is no different. People sometimes refer to it as a shapeshifter, often switching from theme to theme. While OCD is considered chronic, OCD symptoms also come and go, sometimes seemingly disappearing for months or years at a time. Many sufferers can even go long stretches of time without actually meeting diagnostic criteria for the illness in between bouts of intense struggles.
So, the answer is no, it will not always feel or be this way. Just as seasons change, so do our symptoms and our experiences. And with OCD, we actually have a choice in the matter. It may feel endless. It may feel impossible to withstand while you are in the middle of the experience. Yet, you can come through to the other side. You can arrive at a place where you are living in a state of recovery. I always tell the members that I work with, you can never go back to square one. You might struggle from time to time, but you cannot unlearn the tools that prove helpful.
Effective, specialized OCD therapy is hereLearn more
Everything is scary in the beginning, when it is unknown. When you first learn about OCD, it is all new—you are just realizing, oftentimes, the profound impact this disorder may have had on you throughout your entire life. This revelation can be life-altering, but so can the journey that comes after, the journey to recovery.
For me, it is hard to remember a time without this condition. My earliest memories have OCD symptoms intertwined in them. That being said, I have many memories that do not have OCD front and center. For years it felt like OCD defined me—it had seemingly become all-consuming. There were days when I felt that all I did was obsess and do compulsions. These were some of the worst days of my life, and I wondered if and when it would ever be different. Would I ever experience “normal?” Did such a thing even exist? I looked at how effortlessly others’ seemed to live their lives and was envious. How did they go through each day and find joy?
Here’s the good news: those days passed. They did not last forever. In some strange way, those days made me stronger. Those days shaped me into the person I am today. It was during those times that I needed to lean into my values and learn how to keep living life, moving toward the things that really matter. The things that I love, the things that are worth fighting for.
OCD can fluctuate throughout your lifetime. I have worked with people who say it was gone from their lives for years at a time, while others report that it is there lurking in the background but under control. For me, I think it remains in the background, sometimes inching forward again, but I give it much less attention when it demands my attention. I regroup and I re-engage in ERP.
I also take a moment to reflect on what has changed in my life. Have I had any new stressors, good or bad? We know that OCD symptoms can get worse from time to time, due to a variety of factors. Some of these things are within my control, while many are not—understanding these things helps me focus on changing what I can and accepting what I can’t.
Going from my breaking point to getting back to the life I want to live
When I find myself struggling more with symptoms of OCD, I do what I can to reduce stressors in my life and get back on track. Sometimes that means re-entering my own treatment. There should be no shame or guilt in needing help, or in asking for help. We all need this from time to time. This can be a great recharge, a powerful reminder of all the tools I have learned over the years. Often, just having that extra support can give me the strength to keep moving forward and fighting this illness. It can be a reminder of all of the times I have gone toe to toe with OCD and won. Sometimes all it takes is a reminder.
Something that I have found to be my ally in this fight is patience. Patience is a learned virtue. Unfortunately, it often comes through hardship. Patience reminds me that even if something takes a while, I can withstand it. I can tolerate the difficult “in between” feelings. I know because I have done this so many times before. And I know that you can, too.
For me, the breaking point was when I realized that I was no longer willing to live the life I had been living, and it is still clear in my mind. I was afraid to be alone without another adult present. They were my safety net. I was constantly seeking reassurance, although I didn’t understand that at the time. For me, having to rely on someone else to be constantly in my presence was a terrible vice. I like to do things on my own, and I don’t like to ask for help. I hated what I had become, what this illness had made me become.
I had lost over 100 pounds and I was wasting away, not taking care of myself. The chains of constant fear had taken almost everything from me. I wasn’t functioning as I should. I wasn’t caring for myself. I started having dizzy spells and feeling faint. One day I became angry at OCD. I was so mad at all that this disorder had taken, all the lost time, all the lost opportunity. I said enough is enough. I was no longer willing to live a life constrained by this illness. I was no longer willing to play this sick and twisted game that OCD was playing. I had to decide to take back power over my own life, over my future.
To say that it was incredibly difficult would be an understatement. Locating a therapist in a rural town, with no insurance, was no easy feat. But I was determined—it felt like life or death. I wasn’t able to afford an OCD specialist at that time, but I found a therapist who practiced Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and introduced me to Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).
It was not a perfect process—I was undoing years and years of an illness that had tormented me mentally and physically. But somehow, I persisted. I did the hard things. I faced the fears that had held me captive for so long. I made missteps, I gave into compulsions at times, and I didn’t always do exactly what my therapist said. Still, it was my journey. I tell people that I aim for successful response prevention 70-80% of the time in my life. This is true even today, all these years later. Too often we can get so caught up in striving for perfection that we miss out on important learning processes. There is no such thing as perfect recovery, and you may never feel 100% certain that the process is working correctly. But OCD thrives on doubt, and the more you practice and learn, the better you can accept this uncertainty.
I have seen ERP work in my own life and in the lives of so many others. I don’t need to use ERP perfectly—I can simply use it enough that my life is under my own control, and OCD never takes over. I am living proof that there is life after an OCD spike, within an OCD spike, and in all the in-betweens. And it can be an amazing life.
ERP can help you live in recovery
Treatment will be hard. It will feel uncomfortable. You will get tired. You will think you cannot stand it. You will want to throw in the towel. But I hope that you won’t. I hope you will remember all the beautiful things about life and all of the things that you value and care for. I hope you will dig deep within yourself and look past what OCD would have you believe about yourself. You can get through this and live an amazing life. ERP was one of the most important things that I ever did, and it saved my life.
Effective, specialized OCD therapy is hereLearn more
If you are ready to make this change, to try something different than you may have ever done, make today the day. I know that it may seem scary, but that’s okay—living with untreated OCD is scarier. If you have any questions about starting ERP therapy or need more information about the treatment, please don’t hesitate to book a free 15-minute call with our care team. On the call, we’ll assist you in either getting started with a licensed therapist at NOCD who has specialty training in OCD and ERP, or connect you to other resources that might be helpful.