Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD
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Contamination OCD, Magical Thinking, ROCD

My Story

By Brooke Miller

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Buckle up because my journey with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. Looking back, my first encounter with OCD behaviors happened when I was around 8 to 10 years old. Folding my dirty laundry meticulously before tossing it into the hamper became a must-do ritual to avoid any imagined disasters. Little did I know that this seemingly harmless habit would be just the tip of the iceberg in my lifelong battle with OCD.

As I grew older, my OCD didn’t remain confined to laundry rituals. It morphed into various forms, each more challenging than the last. I grappled with contamination fears, an insatiable need for perfectionism, troubling harm obsessions, an unquenchable thirst for things to be “just right,” and, at times, even delved into the world of magical thinking. Contamination fears became a daily battle, leading me to avoid items I deemed “toxic,” including but not limited to plastic bags, receipts, and even the most innocuous laundry lint – all potential bearers of dreaded BPA or PVCs. My perfectionism was a relentless taskmaster.

I compulsively reread books, fearing I might have overlooked a single word. I rewrote sentences, seeking the most optimal language. I was excessively polite. I worked tirelessly to ensure that no one would find a reason to harbor any hint of dislike toward me. Harm obsessions cast their ominous shadow over my life. My OCD convinced me that if I didn’t complete my rituals, something terrible would befall either me or my loved ones. The looming specter of illness or death was a constant threat, and my compulsions to ward off these fears grew more intricate by the day. The never-ending quest for things to feel “just right” consumed me. My world became an endless cycle of organizing and rearranging, as I toiled to achieve that elusive sense of perfection. And then, there was the world of magical thinking. In this realm, I was compelled to steer clear of any number divisible by three, for six, a product of three, represented the devil, evil, and all things malevolent in my mind. To counter this, I clung to the numbers seven and eight as my safe-havens. I can still vividly recall the absurd compulsion to gulp my drink exactly 7-8 times, every single time, to maintain this precarious balance. These compulsions and obsessions multiplied and intensified with each passing day, infiltrating every corner of my life.

During my college years, I was the picture of achievement and perfection to the outside world. But beneath that façade, I was crumbling under the weight of anxiety and stress.

It took an immense amount of courage to admit to myself that I needed help, and even more to reach out for it. My first attempt at therapy, however, proved fruitless. Undaunted, I sought out other therapists, who, though well-intentioned, lacked expertise in exposure response prevention (ERP), a critical component of OCD recovery.

In 2012, a pivotal chapter began in my life as I embraced motherhood, and with it, my struggle with OCD took on an entirely new dimension. Suddenly, the weight of doubt pressed upon me like never before, as I questioned if I could truly be a good enough mom. This uncertainty manifested in relentless checking, day and night, to ensure that my precious newborn was breathing. Every cry from my little one sent me spiraling into hours of frantic internet searches, desperately seeking answers to why he was upset.

My OCD had spiraled out of control, and it was an unmistakable wake-up call.

Faced with the overwhelming nature of my condition, I knew I couldn’t navigate this treacherous terrain alone. That’s when I reached out to a local mental health community outreach program, and it turned out to be nothing short of a lifeline. They introduced me to a therapist whose expertise in OCD and exposure response prevention (ERP) was second to none. Under his unwavering guidance, I began to unravel the true essence of OCD treatment and recovery. Together, we embarked on an arduous journey toward healing, one filled with its own set of challenges and victories. This newfound partnership would prove to be a turning point in my battle against OCD, and it marked the beginning of a path toward hope and recovery.

After just a few short months of therapy, I felt like I had conquered it all. The optimism coursing through my veins led me to believe that I was finally equipped to handle things on my own. With this newfound confidence, I took a break from therapy. To this day, my therapist and I share a good-natured laugh about it, as he fondly recalls how he knew that I would return. What I didn’t realize at that moment was that I was still grappling with a hidden beast: “Pure O,” a subtype of OCD that had been silently tormenting me. Pure obsessional OCD, or “Pure O” for short, is a unique subtype of OCD. It’s characterized by intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that strike without any visible physical compulsions. Unlike other types of OCD where compulsions often involve observable actions, “Pure O” takes place predominantly in the confines of one’s mind. My “Pure O” manifested in the form of relentless rumination, a persistent urge to seek mental reassurance, incessant mental checking, and a habit of resorting to avoidance and distraction as coping mechanisms. Since I hadn’t even recognized “Pure O” as part of my struggle, I never shared it with my therapist. Consequently, we didn’t address it in therapy during that time, and this hidden demon continued to exert its influence over my life.

In 2016, my life took an unexpected turn as I found myself back in my therapist’s care. It all began with the alarming eruption of my first-ever panic attack, fueled by a brand new OCD subtype known as Relationship OCD or R-OCD. This was a whole new territory for me, and it was distressing. This time around, my torment came in the form of intrusive thoughts that invaded my most intimate relationships. These relentless thoughts didn’t discriminate – they targeted colleagues, close friends, and even my own therapist. The emotional and sexual nature of these thoughts and images weighed heavily on me, casting a suffocating cloud of shame over my life. It was as if they had branded me a cheater, and the guilt that accompanied them was overwhelming. In response to this anguish, I began punishing myself through a cycle of calorie restriction and excessive exercise. It was a self-imposed sentence that took its toll, leading to significant weight loss and eventually culminating in a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa. Strangely, while everyone around me recognized a problem, I remained oblivious to the gravity of the situation. It was a fateful night, one that I’ll carry with me forever when my husband turned to me in bed and uttered words that would jolt me awake from my self-imposed delusion. He said, “I think you are going to die from this.” At that moment, the reality of my predicament hit me like a sledgehammer. I finally acknowledged that I couldn’t continue down this treacherous path. With newfound determination, I committed to a partial hospitalization treatment program, followed by intensive outpatient therapy. I was supported by a dedicated treatment team that specialized in both OCD and eating disorders. The road ahead was fraught with its share of highs and lows, relapses, and recoveries, but I was making slow yet steadfast progress.

Each step forward, no matter how small, was a victory in my journey toward recovery.

Just when life seemed to be falling into place, the year 2022 threw yet another curveball my way: my very first manic episode. It was a sudden and alarming descent into chaos. I found myself unable to keep myself safe, grappling with self-harm behaviors, battling suicidal ideation, and confronting hallucinations that danced at the edge of my consciousness. In the face of this crisis, I had no choice but to be admitted to an inpatient mental health hospital. It was there, after a thorough assessment, that I received a diagnosis that added another layer to my already intricate journey: Bipolar II. The treatment involved prescribing mood-stabilizing medication, a crucial step towards bringing balance to the tumultuous storms that raged within me. The challenge ahead was daunting – finding equilibrium while managing the demands of my OCD treatment plan. However, with the right medication and ongoing therapy, I began to regain my emotional footing, and remarkable progress unfolded.

As life would have it, surprises never seemed to be in short supply. In the fall of 2022, I was met with yet another unexpected diagnosis: panic disorder. Suddenly, my days were plagued by frequent and intense panic attacks, each one an exhausting battle. For weeks, my dedicated treatment team and I worked tirelessly to manage these overwhelming episodes. Thankfully, a combination of medication and interoceptive exposures slowly but steadily began to wrestle these debilitating attacks under control.

And now, here we are today, standing on the precipice of my ongoing journey. I can confidently say that I’m doing well, diligently managing all my mental health disorders and making steady progress in my recovery with each passing day. It hasn’t been an easy road – filled with its share of highs, lows, and even relapses – but it has instilled in me the enduring power of resilience, the unwavering importance of perseverance, and the undeniable strength of the human spirit. My story is but one chapter in the vast tapestry of human experiences. We all encounter our unique challenges, but together, we share the indomitable capacity to overcome and thrive.

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NOCD therapists can help you

If you're struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training.