I always knew I had anxiety. By the time I was twenty years old, I was diagnosed with
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and can recall various elements that I now attribute to Obsessive-
Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Intrusive thoughts were always lurking behind the curtain, and
excessive worry was center stage seven days a week. I knew something was different about me
but never knew how to accurately articulate anything other than just “having anxiety.”
The pandemic strikes
I was in my early thirties and life was moving fast. I had obtained my Master’s degree and spent
nearly a decade establishing a successful career at a Fortune 100 company. In the timespan of
a year, I married the love of my life, built a new home, and had our first child on the way. Life
was busy and while these accomplishments carried additional anxiety and worries, I seemed to
thrive as an extrovert in all the chaos and excitement. In my mind, nothing short of something
like an unforeseen epidemic spreading globally was going to pause my life.
It was in early 2020 that the Covid pandemic hit. Ironically enough, a pandemic is defined as an
epidemic that spreads globally. Like countless other individuals, the pandemic caused my life to
go from a steady to a very slow pace. I went from traveling across the country for work most
months to working from home all day, every day. In short, the work cadence and environment I
had known so well quickly and drastically changed. At the same time, my wife continued to work
at a hospital and my son attended daycare each day. While it was incredibly short-sighted on
my part, my perspective (at the time) was the daily routine of their lives changed immaterially
compared to what I was experiencing.
I increasingly became unfamiliar with the outside world, and I didn’t recognize myself internally at all. The intrusive thoughts, feelings, and sensations that had forever been in the background of a busy life now were front and center as the solo act. OCD began to consume my life, and it terrified me.
I felt so isolated when OCD was directing the show. I was physically at home all day by myself
and mentally had never felt more alone. I lived inside my own head most of the time and didn’t
know how to explain to others what I couldn’t even explain to myself. The work and career I had
always valued dearly became dreadfully challenging because it was consumed with obsessions and compulsions. Specifically, OCD latched on to the fulfillment I had in my career, responsibilities, and professional relationships. As a result, Cancel Culture was on my mind, and I became obsessed with the idea of being canceled or that I could cancel myself.
Here is what OCD looked like for me (at work) daily: I was so worried about saying or writing
inappropriate things or doing something to get in trouble. I was constantly checking emails,
texts, and documents to ensure nothing inappropriate had been communicated and that nothing
could be linked to me. I began asking colleagues for reassurance constantly in addition to hours
of rumination each day. While rumination was the hardest part for me, I found no relief when my
mind jumped from scenario to scenario. I was so concerned that I would be fired, or that I could
put myself in a position to be fired. OCD would have me leaving each workday ruminating about
all of the “what-ifs” surrounding something so terrible that not only would I be fired, but it would be
for something so reprehensible that no one would ever hire me again.
Over time, my obsessions and compulsions surrounding my work grew worse. I eventually
would only use communication tools like email if I had to, and it was accompanied by going
through all my sent and deleted emails repeatedly, looking for any sign of anything I may have
said that would be considered sinister. I also began taking pictures on my cellphone for proof. I
figured I could always go back and look and reassure myself that I hadn’t done something
wrong if I had everything documented. Separately, I was also keeping notes on my phone that
were methodically timestamped. In each note, I would spell out what exactly happened and
what didn’t. One would think that these responses should logically be enough certainty for OCD,
but unfortunately, the answer is no. Instead, the doubt only increased, and I eventually started
repeating phrases to myself and counting. I commonly counted to a number repeatedly until I
felt relieved or said phrases like “good to go” over and over to get temporary relief when other
compulsions weren’t enough. In my mind, I felt like I needed 100% certainty that I hadn’t done
Impacting my loved ones
I wish I could say these fears were limited to my profession, but they began to take over my life
outside of work. Violent thoughts and fears made things like driving and playing baseball in the
front yard with my son terribly difficult. Intrusive thoughts about hit and run and harming others
began to fill my day when I wasn’t already ruminating about work.
My compulsions surrounding violence included points where I would drive the same routes repeatedly looking for possible injured people while ruminating that I could have done something awful. I would avoid driving at night and purposely drive on busy streets thinking it would ensure others were safe. I would map out my time spent driving to not allow for any “unaccounted for” time. I utilized phone apps
like Apple CarPlay to help me keep track. In my mind, I needed a documented timeline so that I
could reassure myself I hadn’t had any spare time to exit my car and hurt someone. When
ruminating about the violent intrusive thoughts, I would check the local news to see if anyone
had been hit by a car or injured, and I eventually started checking missing person websites to
make sure no person went missing from my town or that I could possibly be responsible.
After just trying to exist with OCD all day alongside my responsibilities as a spouse, parent, and professional, I needed to escape the torment of the thoughts. When outside of work, my focus was on dulling the pain I was carrying with OCD instead of being a reliable spouse and parent. I often turned to alcohol on my nights and weekends, and I can say with confidence that this proved to be the worst coping mechanism. As one can imagine, the torment of OCD coupled with my poor self-care choices had a terrible impact on my wife and son.
As it’s important for OCD sufferers to exercise self-compassion, I think it is equally vital to understand
the impact it has on our family members. To this day, the gratitude I have for my wife and son’s
unconditional love for me is greater than anything else in this world. The continued love and support from my wife were ultimately what led me to seek help.
While I still didn’t fully understand everything I was dealing with, I was thankfully able to see how my
decisions were impacting my family in negative ways. I sought out help from a general therapist
and went to talk therapy for six months before realizing it was not the specific treatment I needed. The general therapist was providing me with consistent reassurance that provided temporary relief until the thoughts and compulsions would come back. Fortunately, my wife continued to support me and researched my symptoms on her own. My wife was the first to mention the idea of OCD to me, and I didn’t know what the disorder was other than how it had been portrayed in television and film. Personally, I had always just referred to my experiences as intrusive thoughts and anxiety that felt so real.
Something had to change
Starting to learn what OCD was, became a turning point for me. After all, what I was experiencing now had a name. I was diagnosed and started to see an OCD specialist and worked with them over the course of the next five months. I started doing some Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) treatment for the first time, which gave me the visibility and basics of managing the disorder. At the time, I continued to struggle with fully throwing myself into treatment and hadn’t put both feet in the water.
Early in my diagnosis, I joined the NOCD app when searching for some community resources. I had dabbled around in the tools and the community but hadn’t done treatment through NOCD. As I saw my progress in OCD recovery halt over a few months, I decided to reach out and began my journey of working with a NOCD specialist. I started working with Sheri and continue our therapeutic relationship to this day. Since working with Sheri and NOCD, I started making huge changes and stable progress with my OCD recovery. My NOCD journey started with meetings twice a week with Sheri, I have also been involved in support groups through NOCD. It has now been a year since I started working with NOCD, and I currently meet with Sheri once a month.
For me, the difference between switching therapy to working with a NOCD specialist is how the tools and
the practice of ERP has transferred into my day-to-day life. Through working with NOCD, I can see how the tools and practices fully work outside of the therapy sessions. Before working with Sheri, I would practice skills in session and then live my life like I always had outside of session. NOCD helped me realize that I needed to be accountable and needed to be challenged to get better. These concepts helped me commit to doing the hard work of therapy before, during, and after sessions. By having the tools to be always accountable, the outcome of managing OCD is a night and day difference.
Being accountable outside of therapy sessions is simple, but it’s not easy. From my perspective,
the hardest part of ERP was the idea of acceptance. I must accept every single day that I need
to wake up and live my life based on my values. Acceptance is challenging when considering the level of fear and discomfort that comes with OCD but over time, the process has enabled me to recognize OCD for what it is and maintain a focus on getting better.
The most difficult part of having OCD is the shame and guilt that attaches to the thoughts, feelings, and sensations. No matter how OCD presents itself, it can be incredibly uncomfortable. Having Harm OCD as my main theme, I would internalize large amounts of shame and guilt. I wondered how anyone could think these things, and I wondered why I had intrusive thoughts about killing or hurting people. When you care so much about people and have such strong relationships, the thoughts are devastating. I was ashamed of myself for having these thoughts and worried about who I truly was as a person. It is so hard to overcome this condition, to live with it, and not just exist with it. Because of the internal suffering and torment, it’s often challenging to describe OCD to someone who doesn’t suffer from it or specialize in it.
People with OCD look like anyone else. OCD sufferers may appear happy and healthy but are
struggling internally to be present and just make it through the moment or day. OCD isn’t quirkiness or just the compulsions that you might catch someone engaging in.
Most of the suffering is not visible unless you know what to look for. A person with OCD often tries to rationalize what these thoughts may mean, or why they occur. The sufferer may understand how irrational an intrusive thought may be, but certain cognitive elements can impact how the sufferer responds. It is as if OCD takes control of a person’s reasoning, sense of self, and ability to trust oneself, all of which can be terrifying to live with every day.
Advice to others
Since starting my recovery journey with NOCD, my life has changed and is much more positive
than I could have ever imagined. OCD moments still happen daily, but they no longer take up
days, weeks, or months. They are moments that do not control my life, and my recovery
includes understanding that OCD isn’t going anywhere. It’s going to be here, and it is up to me
to decide the role I let it play.
I am fully present in my life. My career is great, and my relationships with my spouse and son
are amazing. My communication is much better, and I can let my wife know what I am feeling no
matter what. Specifically, I discuss my triggers with my wife, and she has learned about ways in
which she can help me. She understands family accommodation and how not to impede my
recovery. She is an effective family member of someone with OCD and she has worked diligently to educate herself on this. She refuses to give me reassurance, and I know that I can talk to her about anything (even taboo themes). Overall, I have learned over time that my OCD journey and recovery are not just about me. My mental health is equally as important for me as it is for my family and those who depend on me.
If you are suffering from OCD, please don’t give up on yourself. You are so much more than
your OCD. There are tools and resources available to help your recovery, but I do believe that
effectively managing OCD requires an “all-in” approach. You need to be willing to put both feet
in the water and trust the process. Understand that your values and beliefs are so much more
deeply rooted than any intrusive thought, feeling, or sensation. It’s also important to open the
lines of communication with your loved ones when you can. It’s okay to not be okay, and the
first step is talking about it.