Overcoming OCD is not a fight, is an act of love.
My name is Marco. I come from Italy.
I struggled with OCD (pure O) since I was 10 years old. But I don’t want to start my story from there. I am sure most people reading have heard a million of times this story about dealing with intrusive thoughts, repetitive behaviors, counting and all the suffering and relative problematics this pathology leads to. I want to start this story from my favorite part: Recovery.
Two years ago I had the impression that overcoming OCD, for me, was impossible. Although OCD didn’t impair completely my social and professional life, I was at the mercy of a mind that when hit, hit very hard. I tried almost everything: since I was little I keep bouncing between psychologists and psychiatries but never did a real treatment that lasted more than a year. At the time of University I did more than 3 years of psychotherapy and then, completely unsatisfied by that, went to a psychiatrist whom treated me with meds for the following 6 years. At the same time I was doing behavior therapy. My experience with meds was pretty unsatisfying too as my feeling was that doctors were throwing darts into the night. I have to say also that I was particularly sensitive to meds and that I couldn’t reach high dosages without having strong side effects. Anyway, for sure the slight improvement for me wasn’t worth all the side effects.
I am learning that I CAN have thoughts I CAN have emotions…
My Story…So far! I think back to when I was a pre teen & there is so much happening, not only physically but also mentally… This is when I first recall OCD happening to me. I was around 12 years old & I began to count & touch doors, handles, count my steps, turn off the T.V. at the “right time”. I had no idea what was happening, it all seemed innocent to me back then just a little quirk I had, I just wanted to get that “right feeling”, no big deal. As I got older and into my later teen years I will never forget this feeling… ever. I woke up one sunny morning & it was like I was HIT by a Bus (Which I actually was years later, lol!!). I had this feeling of anxiety/sweating/tightness in my whole body…All from one single THOUGHT…Am I homosexual because I did that “thing”???? Prior to this thought I had never been attracted to the same sex… Ever. It was just a thought in my head, that’s all… But for some reason it would not leave me.. It hung around for months on end, every waking minute it was there, I would try & resolve it by looking at men out in public to “check” & see if I was attracted to the same sex but that just made matters worse, I would sit and look at magazines with pictures of Men to see if I was attracted to them… It was all so confusing & scary & stressful.. before this thought my life was just going along fine, usual life stuff. How could a single thought turn my life upside down for months??? I look back now to that morning of “the thought” and with all my OCD experience and think… I was Truly living in my head… I was nowhere to be seen, just a shell of my former self, walking around the planet earth trying to find an answer out of this nightmare, only to go deeper down the “Rabbit Hole”!! The more I tried to scratch my way out of the hole the deeper I fell, every time I reacted to these thoughts & try and make sense of it all my Brain would throw another one at me.. Hey Scott what about this one?? I would try & figure that one out only to lead me onto another thought & completely forget about the first thought that popped into my head! Eventually this obsession left me, how I can’t recall? There was a brief period where I thought I was back to the old me… But I still had those underlying “quirks” of touching, counting & turning off the TV at the right time, no idea that I was keeping the OCD Beast alive in me for bigger & better things to pounce on & make my life hell again. Around 23 yrs old I went globe trotting for around 2 years, my OCD was still there unbeknownst to me, I just continued on with my “Quirks” of touching, counting, etc while I was working & traveling the World and the OCD booger not really bothering me much…. I found myself living in London England for a while with some friends, I had a job as a Gardener. It was a fun job UNTIL one day I was cleaning out a commercial garden & came across a Hypodermic Syringe… I didn’t really think much of it at the time until about 2 years later when I was working as a Gardener again back in my Homeland of Australia… Working away one Sunny morning, cleaning out a garden bed I was pricked by something prickly, usual gardening, it happens almost daily… Then all of a sudden my Brain throws up a thought…WHAT IF IT WAS A NEEDLE AND I CATCH AIDS!!!!! In an instant my Brain was going crazy with “what if’s”… Down the “Rabbit Hole” I went again, trying to scratch & kick my way out of this one…Only to find myself deeper down that Hole once more..! This Obsession has been my Nemesis over the years coming & going for the last 15 years of my life, when I was first triggered back on that Sunny morning while Gardening I began on a path of Checking, Coping, Controlling. Having HIV Blood tests A LOT over the years, I have lost count! I have to say it’s been at least 6 years since my last test, I am still alive believe it or not!!
In episode 62 of the podcast I interviewed Eric Kupers for the second time. Eric is Associate Professor, at Cal State University East Bay, in the Department of Theatre. He is also Dance Co-Director, at the Dandelion Dance theatre.
Eric emailed with a long philosophical piece of writing (see below) for the site. It’s called “The Dharma of OCD”. Eric has taken one aspect of his understanding of the world and applied it to OCD to make sense of it. I liked this approach to tailoring understanding of treatment and recovery from one’s own perspective. In this talk we chat openly (and philosophically) about his piece, including what is Dharma, why is buddhist philosophy a good framework for understanding OCD and how does treatments such as ERP and ACT link in with it. Enjoy!
It’s not your or someone else’s fault that you have OCD
I noticed my OCD for the first time when I was 14 (now I am 27), but now I understand that it actually started much earlier, it just didn’t spoil my life yet that much.
It was a very hard experience for teenage me as I knew nothing about this disorder, that’s why I was thinking either my soul was captured by demons or my mind just went crazy. I was afraid that something horrible has happened to me that never happened to anyone else in this world, so I didn’t tell any person, even the closest ones, about my condition and my fears, and it was a huge everyday stress that was making my OCD only harder day by day.
After a few years, I got to know about OCD from some film on TV and I told my boyfriend that I have the same thing. For sure, he didn’t react aggressively or in any other negative way, he just asked me, why I didn’t tell him about this before, as we talk about everything. I was so relieved by telling someone about my rituals and other things and by knowing that I am not the only one in this worLd with this disorder and it even has a name.
So I started trying to cure it with doctors and without them, I’ve tried a lot of different methods and I am happy to say that now I feel free from OCD. I still have my favourite and hated numbers and there appear some symptoms when I get stressed or tired but they are very easy to cope! I am not sure which of the methods worked actually, I think that it’s the result of a combination of many of the methods.
I’ve started to realize I shouldn’t take these feelings and thoughts as gospel.
With OCD, certain questions and doubts can become addicted to answers, creating even more questions and doubts. Answering is like tossing water on a grease fire. It’s a paradoxical and insidious disorder.
When I was younger, I’d spin in specific circles as if a string were wrapped around me. Working in tandem with my tics, my mind would repeatedly flip and spin imaginary metal contraptions until they fit together correctly. I’d lick my hand whenever it brushed up against someone, and even worse, I would actually consider this my own form of hoarding other people’s germs (Yeah, I know how weird that one is). I’d spend hours and then years wondering and checking to see if my lips were resting strangely or my arms were too thin or my jaw were too weak.
I’d also repeatedly rest my fingertips in the edges of my eye sockets and pull at my jaw and press my temples because I feared and questioned how vulnerable the human face was and whether I actually wanted to pull mine apart. I’d routinely check my thoughts to see if I were capable of incest or pedophilia or murder. I’d picture my own death quite literally a thousand times a day.
My experience with OCD has been long and bizarre and even debilitating, and the list of obsessions and compulsions I’ve had is endless. I’ve gone through almost every subset apart from pop culture’s stock representation of OCD as a “cleaning disorder” (I’m filthy). Some have been temporary and some have stayed with me to this day, but they all come from the same place. I avoided getting help because it all felt too strange to put into words.
For all of us dealing with OCD no matter how severe and in whatever shape or form, know that your inner fortitude must be incredibly strong to deal with this monster every day.
It was Winston Churchill who gave his manic depression the name ‘black dog’ and I think a lot of you reading this may know what he was referring to when he penned that 75 years ago, I certainly can.
My OCD story started almost 5 years ago. I was 35.
I had a newborn son at home, life was great despite being exhausted ( he was a terrible sleeper) but I still had some of that new Dad ‘shine’ to me…it kept me going through those long days trying my best to manage a work/ life balance.
I remember the day so vividly when my OCD raised its ugly head for the first time. I was walking home after work , I used to cherish that time. Clear the mind…. Fresh air. I couldn’t wait to get home and see my baby boy. it was unseasonably warm for a February day in Toronto and it felt good to be walking with the sun on my face . Out of nowhere I had this thought ‘what if I hate my son ?’ It felt like An MMA fighter had sunk his fist into my solar plexus and was circling the ring looking for his next opening. I just stood there on the pavement, horrified, confused, scared… That thought sent a 50,000 volt shock through my system. I couldn’t get it out of my head.
In episode 19 of The OCD Stories podcast I interviewed Eric Kupers. Eric is Associate Professor, at Cal State University East Bay, in the Department of Theatre. He is also Dance Co-Director, at the Dandelion Dance theater.
Eric bravely shares his story with us. His story offers a lot of great advice for any one in or hoping to start recovery from OCD. In the episode we discuss meditation and how this has helped Eric with his recovery from OCD. How OCD has made Eric learn how to be calm. We touch on EMDR, talking therapy, medication and hypnotherapy. We chat about that moment you tell your loved ones about OCD. Eric talks about how he uses dance and performance to express his journey with OCD. He shares the idea about not “fighting OCD” and instead see it as an ally. Enjoy…
My name is Eric Ray Kupers. I’m 44 years old and live in Oakland, California with my husband and our 3 dogs, Doodle, Bubbles, and Abe. I’ve had OCD since I was a child. And even though I have been in therapy with a steady stream of therapists for over 30 years, both my parents are therapists, and I’ve done extensive experimenting in countless personal growth modalities I wasn’t diagnosed with OCD until I was 19, and didn’t find out about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) until my early 30’s.
The pain of OCD has at times felt unbearable, and I’ve tried just about every kind of therapy and spiritual practice I could find. And yet, through it all, I’ve managed to build a life that I love. I’m in a deeply fulfilling long-term relationship, and am a dance/theater/music artist, a tenured professor of dance at Cal State University East Bay, the director of a professional, experimental performance company, and part of a community of soulful artists and loving friends & family.
OCD has been so deeply interwoven into my life and my sense of myself, that it seems I can’t really write my OCD story without writing my whole life story. I started working on my entry for The OCD Stories website, and am already on page 10, and not even out of my teens! So, I decided to share a summary of my OCD journey. I seem to have a lot to say, as now my summary has also gotten quite long. My sense of this is that I’ve kept my OCD a shameful secret for so long, that as I start to share my story more publicly, it’s like a dam is breaking down and layers upon layers of experiences are flooding forth. So, please feel free to read or not read as much as you’d like. I’m going to continue writing the full story, and will make it available for anyone that’s interested, as soon as it gets a little farther along. Maybe it will become a whole book one day!
OCD has been such a big player in my life. It has taken much. As I recover, I realise it has also given me much. This is my story!
Ah man, where do I start. I’ve had OCD since I was 7 years old (or at least, in hindsight that is my earliest memory). I remember being on holiday in Florida. There were two key instances on this trip that stuck out to me. The first was the night we landed my Dad wasn’t well. So he stayed in the hotel, while my brother, Mother and I went out to get some food. I remember being at the restaurant and feeling anxious about my Dad being bitten by a tarantula. My visions would go in all weird directions, like him dying from the bite or us coming back to the room to find him in that state. I just remember going over and over these scenarios in my head – involuntarily. These visions stayed in my mind, and I remained anxious until I saw my Dad. Of course, my dad did not get bitten by a tarantula. The second instance I can remember is being by the swimming pool. I was petrified to go in. Why? Because I was certain there were ‘sharks’ in the pool. And as soon as I went in I would be attacked. Deep down, I knew this was rubbish. But something in the back of my mind told me ‘what if’. I would jump in and swim across a corner going diagonally. I was swimming about 2 metres, I would then propel myself out of the water and away from the edge, making sure no sharks could reach me. My family and everyone around me found this hilarious. For me however, being in that water shot my anxiety levels up. In hindsight, I see the funny side.