It has been years since I thought about my OCD brain (6 years to be fact). Pure “O” Obsessive Compulsive Disorder once tortured me every day, several times a day, ruining my relationships, social life, daily living, and ultimately, my happiness. Today, I realized, that I didn’t cure my OCD, but instead, I cured the suffering my OCD was causing me. I will always have an OCD brain, but it no longer controls me or my happiness. In fact, I have learned to embrace some of my OCD tendencies, the good ones, to better live a happier, healthier, life. The point is, I am in control of my OCD brain.
“Pure “O” OCD is, honestly, a mental torture of obsessive intrusive thoughts, running through the mind on repeat, like a broken record. It is often triggered by anxiety and causes extreme distress (at least for me it did). Rarely, does it involve compulsive behaviors (like washing hands, counting, or straightening things). It is claimed to be a “less severe” form of OCD, but personally, I would have given anything to have had compulsive behaviors, for that it is the compulsive behaviors that satisfy the obsessive thoughts, ending the suffering. This alternate thought processing illness was ruining my life. Previous Blog: My Fascination With The Brain: Pure “O” OCD“
Where to Begin…
The road to my so-called recovery from Pure “O” OCD is a complicated one and like I said, I didn’t cure my OCD, I pretty much simply “accepted” it. In my case, acceptance is not a word that means defeat. Oh no, I pretty much knocked my bullying OCD’s butt straight of it’s high pedestal. But I am not going to lie, it was not easy and it took a great amount of work, dedication, effort, and some monumental amount of mental strength to confront and overcome my OCD habits.
The therapist who diagnosed me told me that my OCD will “NEVER” go away, yet it could be “manageable.” When I asked what “manageable” meant; I was told it just means “fewer episodes.” I didn’t want fewer episodes, I wanted NO episodes! My episodes at the time would last from hours to days causing much emotional distress. I couldn’t accept the thought of being OCD FOREVER! Fortunately, at the time, I was a Biology major with tons of research resources at my finger tips! So, of course, I immersed myself into a lot of books in search of some solutions…
Forget the Overall Wiring, Lets Tackle Those Frayed Wires Instead
In the beginning, all I could do was wish for my OCD brain to stop. Deep scary depression set in and I felt as if my world was crumbling into insanity. But, I woke up one day with a new attitude and a mantra of, “Na, Na, Na, Na, I can’t hear you!” to my OCD brain. Unfortunately, that alone wasn’t very effective.
From there, I began my research guided by my therapist. Turns out a therapist can only provide you tools for success and emotional support during your own mental health journey. They cannot provide answers, solutions, or cures, just a list of books. Kind of reminds me of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings Trilogy; I mean come on, he totally could have just flown Frodo to Mount Doom making it a short quick journey. Anyways, I guess you can think of my OCD as the “one” ring and it is my own journey and destiny to carry it to Mordor to destroy it…Yes, I am a nerd.
Of course, like all epic journeys, there were set backs as my entire journey consisted nothing more than trial and error. Everyone experiences OCD differently, thus not everything I read or was advised to me effectively worked for me. So, then I realized I had to pick apart all the so-called effective techniques and tailor it to my own specific quirky OCD brain. What I discovered was that some of the techniques that worked just a little bit, had the potential of working better in combination with other techniques.
Furthermore, I realized that I wasn’t getting anywhere focusing on the OCD brain itself (mix-match wiring). Interesting fact though: OCD is due to faulty wiring in the body’s Fight or Flight Response System; a crazy fascinating function that I would love to talk about, but I will refrain from being a total science nerd right now. The important thing is that I found it much more effective to focus primarily on my OCD episodes (frayed wiring) instead of the overall wiring of my OCD brain, by asking myself the following questions:
- What triggers them?
- How do I often respond to them?
- How can I respond differently?
- Why is this causing me so much stress and anxiety?
It became clear to me, that all my OCD episodes had something in common; they all caused me extreme “suffering” that largely impacted my overall happiness and personally, nobody messes with my happy. Strangely, I decided to look into a little Buddhist philosophy to learn more about this thing referred to as “suffering.” To be honest, I didn’t convert to Buddhism nor have I successfully achieved Nirvana; however, I was certainly enlightened.
In short, “I don’t care how silly, ridiculous, or unorthodox a method may be; if it works, it works!”
15 Effective Tools (Methods) Used To Defeat OCD
Everyone’s journey is different; however, the tools are pretty much the same for everyone; you just have to learn which ones to use and how to effectively use them. There is no point in dwelling on the story about my own journey. Spoil alert: It was long, emotional, and had many Mt. Everest sized mountains to climb. But, what I can offer, is more information about the tools I found most helpful and effective against my OCD brain.
#1 The strong desire and will to change…
Change, in general, is tough. Changing physical habits are tougher. But, changing thinking habits is almost damn near impossible. The heart may be foolish, but I tell ya, the mind is as stubborn as a mule. Yet, when you become committed to making a change, the obstacles standing in your way become much more easier to overcome. Unfortunately, change doesn’t happen over night nor was Rome built in a day (an expression I didn’t quite understand until my journey with OCD).
Basically, “If you want something bad enough, you will find a way to get it.”
#2 A new positive attitude
You must remain positive. That is a pretty tough request to fill when your mind is bombarded with unpleasant negative intrusive thoughts; but a single positive thought can have enough potential to get a little motivated momentum going to help you out of your OCD funk. A positive attitude is also important to drive your desire to change your thinking habits and kick OCD in the butt.
#3 A sense of humor
My OCD brain thinks it’s funny, at least, that is what I had to tell myself. Instead of telling my brain,“Na, Na, Na, Na, I can’t hear you!”, I would often tell my OCD brain, “Okay, I am listening…What ridiculous thoughts do you have for me today,” and then simply laugh it off. I eventually learned I couldn’t read too much into my OCD, otherwise, my OCD would get the best of me and ruin my entire day.
The deep thought of “what does this all mean” should be left to the experts and if the experts aren’t concerned about it, then why should I be?
#4 OCD Brain as a separate Entity
The best thing I ever did, was take the advice of my therapist and think of my OCD brain as a separate entity. Whenever I would start an OCD episode, I would recognize it and tell myself, “Oh, its just my quirky OCD brain.” At first, I felt silly, but after awhile, it became very effective. By thinking of my OCD brain as a separate entity, I was able to separate the “real” me from my OCD brain; in which made me feel so much better. It also allowed me to better sort out my emotions and pay more attention to my OCD episodes to better recognize my triggers and irrational thoughts.
#5 Stop Responding To The OCD Bully
OCD is a bully. A big fat nasty bully! Seriously, if you think about it, it bully’s you with intrusive unwanted thoughts making you feel like a bad person and you are not a bad person. If it makes you feel any better, OCD experts say, the more good you are as a person the worse the OCD. So, technically, if your OCD is causing you super extreme suffering, you’re likely to be a really good person who couldn’t even imagine harming a fly!
Learning how to effectively deal with bully’s, in general, gave me a better understanding on how to better respond to my OCD. I learned to accept whatever my OCD threw at me and I refused to respond, usually by distracting my brain with something else. Kind of like how you get a toddler to stop a huge temper-tantrum! The very few compulsive behaviors I had, I would just refuse to do them. Honestly, it was the most difficult agonizing thing I have ever had to do, but after awhile, it got easier.
#6 Journaling OCD Episodes
Whenever I would have a bad OCD episode that I couldn’t shake, I would journal it. I would write down my entire experience and all my irrational thoughts and feelings. Then I would re-read it aloud over and over again. The more I read it, the more ridiculous it sound and the better I felt. This was very effective with OCD episodes dealing with extreme doubt and irrational “What if” scenarios. It was also a great way to recognize common triggers and come up with better ways to respond to those triggers.
#7 Don’t ignore all triggers
The reason it is important to recognize triggers, is not to avoid them, but to accept them and learn to better respond to them. If I were to avoid every little trigger, I would be a very boring person who wouldn’t be able to enjoy all the things I love to do. Don’t get me wrong though, there are some triggers I still ignore like the plague such as violent dramatic tv shows and the local news.
#8 Making Accommodations
There is nothing wrong with making a few life-style changes. The very last thing you want to do is to give into your OCD and you certainly do not want to avoid triggers, however, you can certainly trick your OCD brain by making a few accommodations to possible triggers. You aren’t entirely avoiding triggers, but more or less, making better accommodations so that these triggers have a less OCD effect.
For example, cleaning supplies in the house triggers major OCD episodes for me. For years, I refused to buy any cleaning supplies, because of my OCD. Totally ICKY, right! Anyways, I eventually realized that I could “trick” my OCD brain by using natural environmentally safe cleaning products instead of those harsh bleach chemicals. Turns out, scientifically, too much cleaning is bad for your health anyways; that is how we’ve created super bugs (bacterial resistance); also, there are good bacterial bugs out there that you don’t want to destroy. Anyways, I guess by providing my OCD brain with a little scientific evidence that my OCD brain cannot twist around on me is my way of tricking the brain. I am still having to face my OCD fears (triggers) with cleaning chemicals, but I don’t have to use harsh harmful chemicals (in which is better for me and better for the environment). Also, more importantly, having choices means I am in control, not my OCD brain.
A conquering OCD moment:
I keep all the cleaning supplies out of the house by storing them in the garage, because chemicals inside the house make me nervous and often trigger OCD episodes. However, over time, I have become comfortable with keeping some cleaning products inside the house; but put up in places I know the kids cannot get them.
I’ve also started to use bleach products again. My husband’s toilet would make any OCD brain back down from an OCD episode. It’s as if my OCD brain looked at my husband’s toilet and quickly agreed to a compromise with bleach products; telling me, “Dude, okay, you win, I’ll even let you use radioactive chemicals on that toilet!” Yeah, my OCD brain is a coward and wants nothing to do with cleaning my husband’s toilet. The fact that I can now comfortably use cleaning chemicals without any OCD episodes and actually keep some in the house is a HUGE step in overcoming my OCD.
#9 Give Your Brain a Break
I distract my OCD brain with some of my favorite hobbies and activities. The most effective distraction is zoning into a good movie, book, or game. I will not lie; Angry Birds (game app) is like a mental reset button for my brain! Sometimes we just have to step back from reality for awhile to allow our brain to rest, recharge, and reset (I guess it is like grounding yourself).
Acceptance doesn’t always mean defeat. I learned to accept that my brain is wired differently and does quirky things. Accepting OCD, allows me to focus more on how to better respond to my OCD brain. Before acceptance, I was angry that my brain turned all OCD on me and was causing me so much emotional suffering and pain. That anger made it very difficult for me to begin to understand how the OCD brain works and how I could live life with it. What is it that they say? “If you can’t beat them, join them!”
#11 CBT Techniques, Mindfulness, and Stress Management
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques are a combination of mindfulness and acceptance, but specifically for changing thinking habits, such as overcoming black and white thinking, catastrophic thinking, and other emotions and thoughts.
Since OCD is often caused by anxiety, stress management skills are essential to keeping OCD triggers at bay and preventing OCD episodes from occurring in the first place. It isn’t 100% effective in preventing all OCD episodes, for that some OCD triggers can be stubborn and unpredictable; but stress management can certainly lessen the effects of OCD episodes. Basically, instead of your OCD making you feel like a terrible person, you come out of your OCD episode feeling more like a normal person who just had a crappy experience, thinking to yourself, “Well, that sucked.”
#12 Having Faith
A big part of overcoming OCD, is taking a huge leap of faith, not so much as a religious faith, although that doesn’t hurt either, but more specifically, holding a strong belief that “all is going to be okay regardless of the feared outcome.” This especially, helps with overcoming “what if” scenarios and compulsion behaviors, like, the thought of wondering if you left the stove on, even though you hadn’t use the stove all day. You just have to learn to trust in faith that all will be okay when you go home later and that you don’t need to drive all the way back home right now to check on the stove. I use to wear a bracelet with the word, “Faith” on it to remind me to trust myself and not my OCD doubts.
#13 Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About It (Emotional Support)
In my opinion, emotional support is extremely important in overcoming mental health challenges. Some Pure “O” OCD episodes may be embarrassing to share with others, as those without OCD may think of our thoughts as ridiculous, silly, and irrational. Believe me, I’ve lost lots of friends over my OCD, because they thought of me as a “whackadoodle.” Totally their loss though, because I am pretty awesome despite my OCD brain.
Although therapists, in my opinion, are useless when it comes to providing valuable answers, they do provide great emotional support. They listen, understand, and rarely judge. However, personally, I prefer “free” emotional support. In that case, it is best to find a person (friend or family member) who is willing to learn and better understand your Pure “O” OCD. When you are experiencing an episode, you can lean on this person for emotional support; someone you can talk to without feeling judged and who can offer reassurance that all is well in the world of chaos. Be careful though, because constant verbal reassurance from other people can create a “crutch” that doesn’t really help you overcome OCD in the long run. Been there, and totally done that.
#14 Do Not Let OCD Define You!
OCD wants you to believe you are someone you are not. It wants to control your emotions and plant seeds of doubt to make you feel like a bad person. It wants you to shout to the world, “I AM OCD!” It wants you to feel defeated and broken.
OCD does not define me anymore. You will never hear me say, “I am OCD.” Instead, I often explain, if need to, that I am an awesome person who just so happens to have an OCD quirky brain.
I wasn’t always this confident, in fact, in the beginning of my mental health journey with Pure “O” OCD, I had low self-esteem, no opinionated voice, and toxic people were consistently telling me “who” I was as a person. In the beginning, I didn’t know who I truly was as an individual, forcing me to venture off onto a side path of self-discovery. I had to learn that I am not what other people say nor am I my OCD brain. I am my own individual, independent, unique person with flaws, quirks, and talents. I refuse to let anyone or anything else define me.
#15 Breathe and Smile
Lastly, breathe…then smile. Even in the midst of chaos, always smile. 🙂