My experience with OCD has historically been frightening, degrading and ultimately robbed me of any kind of quality of life. That is until I tried cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT.
CBT is training to help you look at the way you experience thoughts and emotions, reexamine them and to come up with a more reasonable and rational cognitive process. This will hopefully allow you to live a more positive fulfilling life.
I realise that I was very lucky to get a CBT therapist with plenty of practical experience of OCD, since CBT can be used to treat a variety of conditions, each requiring a very specific discipline of CBT.
The first thing I remember saying when I met my therapist is “I’m having intrusive thoughts, I don’t like them and I want to get rid of them”. Well, she immediately replied ” we can’t do that, you can’t stop thoughts, only control how much attention you can pay to them”.
As you can imagine, this was not what I wanted to hear, I wanted a miracle cure, a pill that could take these thoughts away or a therapy that would make me some kind of superhero! But what I got instead was a dose of truth. That everyone has intrusive thoughts, most people can put them in their proper context as simple random thoughts of no consequence, us folk’s with OCD however will spend hours ruminating over them, churning these thoughts over and over in our minds, slowly tormenting ourselves and unable to let go.
“The good news is”, says she, with a gleeful smile, ” that you can train your brain to view these thoughts as what they really are, random, meaningless thoughts”.
Things were starting to look up. Could this really be that easy? Could Exposure and Response Prevention really be as simple as how it sounded? I remained dubious, unable to accept that I wasn’t damaged goods or a ‘headcase’, I was simply looking at my thoughts from an unhealthy perspective.
But I decided to go with it! What the hell! At least it is an option that I didn’t have before! And I worked at it, gave it my all, and guess what! Things started to improve, I began to exercise control over my mind, entertained my intrusive thoughts less and less, and the amount of times these thoughts started to pop up! My brain was finally getting the message, these thoughts are not important, they are just random idea with no meaning!
With this new found freedom I started to grow complacent, I felt like I was cured and could now stop the treatment and stop practicing the techniques I had learned. But my therapist was quick to shatter this illusion too! She told me in no uncertain terms that this is a lifelong journey, I need to continually exercise control over my mind or I will relapse years later and get overwhelmed by my thoughts again. I started to incorporate other ways to use these skills, things that I do every day, like mindfulness, and being mindful when I wash the dishes, allowing any distracting thoughts to just sit there while I get back to cleaning and housework or whatever I was engaged in doing at the time. This is continually sending my brain the message that I’m in control.
So here I am some years later. I have had no relapses. This by no means makes me an expert of OCD, but because I constantly use my CBT skills on a day to day basis, I have been able to remain symptom free.
So that’s my message to all those in the same boat, go with the CBT, and don’t grow complacent, you can have an amazing life but remember, the CBT isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life!