OCD comes in every shape and size, and I'm sure some people have successfully defeated it by themselves, but this is one tricky brain bastard. I would never advocate tackling it without professional help, especially if you're having suicidal thoughts. I'm a novelist, not a therapist, but I live with OCD as a mother and a wife and I suspect I lived with it as a daughter. I've seen--up close and personal--how this chronic anxiety disorder cripples and destroys other families, marriages, and lives. Even with treatment, OCD can turn fatal.
Here's the main problem: it morphs and adapts constantly. When my son was little, his psychologist encouraged us to be OCD detectives--always watching for triggers and stressors. Like diabetes, full-blown OCD is a chronic illness that demands constant management. Which means that you might want to consider medication.
There is no cure for OCD, but meds can lower the anxiety enough so that you can do the work: CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) or ERP (exposure and response prevention). And that's key because there are no shortcuts to defeating obsessive-compulsive disorder. Basically, you have to learn how to reprogram your thoughts, and that means embracing fear, but in a controlled way. I'm terrified of spiders, for example. Picturing myself picking up a wolf spider sends my fight-or-flight response into overdrive. I know the fear is irrational, but the anxiety I experience just by imaging it is real. OCD is that fear magnified.
Our son was ten when I started guiding him through what would become three years of exposure therapy at Duke University. My crowning moment as a mom was teaching him to call me an asshole. No shit. The OCD had told him, in a never-ending loop, that he would accidentally swear at me and I would die. I had to prove the OCD wrong. Other exposures weren't quite so funny--for either of us--and his psychologist always knew when I was pushing too hard. When that happened, I did more harm than good. Exposure to debilitating fear can be devastating if not handled properly.
Which is why it's important to find the right mental health professional, one who's a good match for you or your family member. The International OCD Foundation website has a geographical list of therapists who specialize in CBT and ERP, support groups, and intensive programs. Thanks to the IOCDF, I found my son's psychologist and through her, his psychiatrist. Twelve years later when our son went to college out-of-state, he opted to keep his team and do phone consults as needed. A kid who once had OCD severe enough to prevent sleepovers went to college 1,000 miles away. That, my friends, is an achievement of intergalactic proportions, and it wouldn't have happened without his psychologist.
By the way, here's something you can do on your own: laugh often and hard. Laughter, the kind that snorts out through your nose, annihilates anxiety.
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