OCD is defined as: Obsessions are unwanted and repetitive thoughts, urges, or images that don’t go away. They cause a lot of anxiety. These obsessive thoughts can be uncomfortable. Obsessions aren’t thoughts that a person would normally focus on, and they are not about a person’s character. They are symptoms of an illness.
I wanted to shed light on mental images in OCD, a lot of times people who do know about OCD know about the intrusive thoughts or the compulsions. But what about the mental images? Many people who suffer with OCD are plagued by mental images that are often disturbing & distressing in nature. This makes the fears amplified to the point of the individual now picturing in detail their worst nightmares. Aaron Harvey describes it in an interview with Cosmopolitan.
“One of the things I have to deal with the most is harm OCD, and it’s really challenging. When I step into the shower and see the razor blade, it will automatically trigger [an image of] me, like, mutilating my genitalia. If I react to those images, they just get worse. It’s kind of like living in a nightmare. …I’ve struggled with sexual identity as a result of repeated, intrusive sexual thoughts about men, despite being straight. During sex, I may have dozens of intrusive thoughts spanning incest, violence, and other unwanted imagery that steals the beauty of the moment. I have graphic flashes of friends and strangers engaging in bizarre sexual acts” – Aaron Harvey (creator of instrusivethoughts.org)
The images are extremely debilitating, and getting to a point where you are okay with just allowing them to pop in and out is extremely painful and difficult. The images cause a lot of distress, so suffers gut reaction is to try their hardest to get rid of the thoughts. But as we know trying to push away and resist the thoughts fuels OCD and makes it worse.
ERP is a great tool against the images, exposing yourself to the images and not allowing yourself to engage in compulsions will allow the reaction subside. To really challenge yourself purposely try and think of the images and confront the discomfort.
Exposure Response Prevention, commonly referred to as ERP, is a therapy that encourages you to face your fears and let obsessive thoughts occur without ‘putting them right’ or ‘neutralising’ them with compulsions.
Exposure therapy starts with confronting items and situations that cause anxiety, but anxiety that you feel able to tolerate. After the first few times, you will find your anxiety does not climb as high and does not last as long. You will then move on to more difficult exposure exercises.
Being asked to face your fears is perhaps one of the bravest aspects of treatment, and is where the approach of the therapist is most valuable, helping a person understand the cognitive reasons behind an exercise and being there to help encourage and motivate them to face the challenges it involves. If the therapist actually participates in the exercises too, this helps build up trust and confidence in what they are asking the person with OCD to do.
I just came back from the annual OCD conference in Austin, TX and it was incredible! I encourage anyone who is suffering with OCD to attend the conference, not only are you around pioneers in the field like Doctor Johnathan Grayson and Jon Hershfield, but to meet like minded individuals is just so incredible. The conference was full of resources, talks, peer supports and so much more!
Here are a few key take aways:
- The doctors from Bergen Norway came to present around the 4-Day Bergen Treatment
- Brainsway TMS received FDA approval and will be getting approval in Canada most likely by the end of this year
- ERP (Exposure Therapy) is the gold standard
- ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) helps with pushing yourself past the thoughts and the pain by practicing mindfulness and radical acceptance
- Suffers with OCD are the kindest, bravest and most compassionate people I have ever met I will hold on to these incredible interactions for ever.
Next years conference is hosted in Seattle!! See below for information:
It is hard to put in words the distress that OCD causes; it is this weight that follows you around everywhere you go. You can’t escape it, and you can’t run away from it. Throughout the day and night these echoes of thoughts, images and sensations are there with you, the story line so vivid and crippling we fall surrender to its demands. All moments are slightly stolen because your there but your OCD is also there with you.
There has been so much I have lost to OCD, so much I fear because of OCD. I try to beat it and overcome it, but there are days where you are overwhelmed. It is important to remember that OCD does not define you, and even though our minds have turned on us we can live with this monster.
The struggle is real and ongoing; it is hard to explain how your mind can become your biggest hurdle in life. The dark lens of OCD alters reality, and forces us to want to maintain control.
It is so scary to take risks, and to feel brave enough to trust yourself and that this is just OCD. For me my OCD has manifested in a few different forms, but the best way to describe it is imagine watching a horror film over and over again in your mind, but this isn’t any normal horror film all the characters in this story are the people you love and care dearest for. You can’t do anything to stop it, and are forced to be subjected to this torture. The people you would do anything for you would sacrifice anything for you have to live with being bombarded by never ending thoughts and ideas that you can’t protect them and if you don’t engage in certain behaviour they won’t be safe. Even when you are told this is a disorder this is what the disorder does a part of you still is afraid that what if it isn’t? What if they are wrong and there is real danger? You have to ask yourself has what I have been doing worked so far? Am I happy? Maybe I should take the chance that nothing bad will happen and this is just OCD, and every doubt I have is also OCD? It is so hard to take that leap of faith but it is worth a shot to try, I still every morning have that struggle between doubt vs taking a risk. The days when I chose risk always turn out more fulfilling but it is hard to remember that when doubt feels so strong.
I have decided that life will be filled with challenges, uncertainties and pain. But along the twists and turns there will be these beautiful moments, connections and experiences that make it all worth it. We can either let OCD rob us of those moments or accept that it is going to be painful and filled with uncertainty but it is better then letting OCD win.
“In order to write about life first you must live it” – Ernest Hemingway
nOCD is a great app to use during treatment with or without a therapist. I have been using it for over 6 months now and have really felt the impact the app has. It allows you to input your triggers, track your progress, do exposures and even share it with your therapist. I would really recommend this app to anyone who is suffering with OCD, it also gives you the encouragement to get through those tough exposures and delay the compulsion. What I also like most about the app is that you can look back and truly see your progress and if things have become less triggering for you.
The link is below:
Dr.Jonathan Grayson is an expert in the field of OCD, he has contributed tremendously in patient treatment. This a beautiful explanation of how it feels for someone who has OCD. It can be extremely difficult and uncomfortable opening up to loved ones about the disorder, especially since there is a lack of understanding in the mainstream media. This video is a great way to have someone engage in having a preview of what a sufferer experiences.