Client Story: OCD, teen

By “Beth”

In retrospect my OCD began in childhood but the symptoms that brought me into therapy began out of the blue, years later. One day, I woke up and had the thought, “what if I molested a child?” I was horrified and shocked that I had even thought this, and immediately tried to get rid of the thought. I felt awful about it, but I literally couldn’t get the thought out of my mind. The harder I tried, the more it seemed to cement itself in my consciousness. Every day was a nightmare. I was flooded with anxiety constantly, and I couldn’t let myself relax or enjoy anything at all. I looked for ways to punish myself for having this intrusive thought; I thought I didn’t deserve happiness anymore. Eventually, it got so bad that I began having suicidal thoughts. This was the point where I realized that something was seriously wrong. I found a list online of intrusive thoughts common to people with OCD, and I was immediately flooded with relief and apprehension. If this was what I had, then it meant that I could be treated! However, I was also terrified that I didn’t have OCD, that I would go to a therapist and they would tell me that I was actually a pedophile or something. I was already suicidal, so I figured I had nothing to lose.

I had also read online that the “gold-standard” for OCD treatment was called “Exposure and Response Prevention”, a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I sought out a therapist who specialized in OCD and other spectrum disorders, because I wanted to treat both the intrusive thoughts I was having and my phobia of vomiting (emetophobia), that I’d dealt with since childhood. My only knowledge about going to therapy was from what I’d seen in the media, so I didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect. My therapist and I set goals for tackling my fears, strategized, and talked out whatever I happened to be going through.

Inexplicably, the obsession that I was a child molester faded into the background as randomly as it had appeared. It was immediately replaced by the obsession that I was gay, then that was replaced by the concern that I was developing another mental illness, like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. I realized that, this whole time I had been looking for reassurance for specific obsessions, but OCD will take any form it can to provoke anxiety. It didn’t matter what the content of the intrusive thought was, it all centered around the same core fears.

Once I was officially diagnosed with OCD, the real work began. My therapist and I created fear hierarchies for my obsessions, as well as one for my phobia.  We began to complete the least anxiety-provoking items on the list and gradually worked our way up. Unfortunately, my anxiety was just too high and resilient for CBT to work on its own. I had to look for additional support to really be able to tackle this.

I had been extremely reluctant to take any medication, but eventually I decided to try an SSRI. I was scared that it would change who I was as a person, or that I would have bad side effects, or that I would be dependent on it for life. Today, my only regret is that I didn’t try it sooner. My quality of life is so drastically improved that it sometimes feels like a miracle. I no longer have intrusive thoughts, and I don’t constantly worry about feeling sick. I went from extreme depression to the happy, stable, motivated person that OCD was holding me back from becoming. I’m now able to do exposures without the anxiety bouncing back, and I look forward to the future again. I went from staying inside whenever possible to going out with friends, getting a job, and volunteering. I’m not saying that medication cured me, or that it’ll work for everyone, but I’m so glad I tried it.

I’m extremely grateful that I found the help I did, when I did. Many people with OCD aren’t as lucky. On average, most people with OCD take 14-17 years to get proper treatment. If you’re reading this and telling yourself that you’re too afraid of treatment, or that this is something you’ll just have to live with forever, please get help from a therapist trained in treating OCD. This is extremely treatable, and you’ll leave treatment a stronger person. My entire worldview has shifted in the past eight months, and I wouldn’t change what I went through for anything. As I write this, I can look back on the pain and anxiety and say that I made it through. I still have good days and bad days, and of course, challenges arise, but I’m beating OCD. You can, too.

 

Thank you to Beth for sharing her story of OCD recovery. For more personal stories of OCD click here.

-Dr. Amy Jenks