Behind The Therapy Door; Clients share their stories
Let me introduce you to a client who I’ve had the pleasure of working with on and off over the last 2 years; we’ll name him Dan (his real name has been changed as he wishes to remain anonymous). Everything else is real-life experiences of living with OCD before and after therapy.
Dan would tell you he achieved many aspects of his life because of his condition and not despite it. These include his unique ability to use the focused nature of OCD to earn money within financial markets, using his ability to calculate risk. He has made a steady income from this for years. Dan describes his time as a student at university, where this type of thinking also supported him to perform highly consistently and his attention to detail has awarded him many promotions.
Do you think you would have achieved everything in your career and the grades you did at school without OCD?
Dan’s answer was probably not. He shared that, thanks to the checking nature of the condition, he was more thorough in seeking answers than his peers. Surprised? Me too.
Of course it’s come as a surprise because we only ever hear about OCD as a disorder and not what we came to describe it as- a potential brain type. If you haven’t seen our blog where I describe a therapy technique revealed a potential ability of what could be an OCD ‘brain type’, check out ‘The Hidden Face of OCD: Debunking Misconceptions and 10 Common Themes’
Dan and I wanted to share his experiences of this condition to offer, the good, the bad and how therapy can help. Enough from me, let's hear from Dan.
Can you describe your experiences of OCD?
On the whole, my experiences of OCD have, until recently, been negative and somewhat unpleasant to have to deal with. While I had read in the past that some of my thought patterns were variants of OCD, mainly "health OCD", I had not considered it as being the root of my struggles that I had experienced for over ten years. The feeling of OCD is that you get stuck in a negative spiral of thinking that snowballs to become more overwhelming.
The episodes of OCD would result in a constant cycle of checking behaviours (not that I knew them like that at the time), which would never actually help alleviate the fears. It would just result in more checking behaviours and even more branched out thinking, without a ever feeling settled/reassured from the issue.
What would be an example of a situation that would trigger obsessions and compulsions?
If I had enjoyed a night out, the hangover the next day would trigger it. My brain would hone in and obsess on that situation and all of the specifics - constantly trying to find out more about it, googling phrases such as 'would alcohol damage my brain'. I'd look for reassurance from others because the thoughts would make me worry that I had a brain injury instead of a hangover. I would try to replay the night again and again in my head. I would at times feel like I had 'solved the puzzle', only for my brain to start worrying more. This could last intensely for up to four weeks, and then residual worries carry on potentially for months.
What led you to the decision to work with a therapist?
The negative aspects of OCD. Mainly the controlling brain patterns around having to get tasks done at certain times and feeling incredibly high pressured/stressed was having an impact not only on my emotions & work performance. I had realised I was not able to change how I was feeling by myself. I felt trapped in the cycle and knew I needed to talk about coping mechanisms with a therapist.
What were your first impressions of therapy?
While having had therapy before on a number of occasions, it would have been at least six years ago, and my life had changed considerably since. I potentially felt beforehand that I was almost too busy/stressed to explore everything that was going on and slightly worried that there was no cure for how I felt. However, my experiences with Jo were really good from the beginning. I felt she was a great sounding board for me just to let everything out, even coming to realisations/conclusions myself as I was talking about it. Jo asks the right questions that get you thinking and opening up on the thoughts controlling you - I walked away from that first session feeling like a weight was lifted and that things could get better - it is cliche, but the hardest step is taking that first step.
What's changed since finishing therapy?
I feel like I control my brain/mind, rather than the other way. I think I have learned so much about controlling my emotions/episodes and holistically how to harness your brain for positives. I do not think I have ever felt this mentally strong, frequently feeling enthused by the handle I have on my emotions and how I can now use it as a tool. It is now an interest/passion of mine to keep investing in developing this side of me. Overall, things are a lot better in my life now, six months on from when I started therapy. With lots of reference points/evidence since of where I have reacted differently or prevented myself from having an episode, which could have had long-lasting impacts in the past.
What would you say to others who are experiencing OCD?
I would say to someone experiencing OCD that firstly they should seek help as it is not weak to do so, it is an exhausting condition and one that has extremely repetitive thinking patterns which makes it difficult to just "snap out of it". I would then encourage them to step back from being swept up in it, which is difficult, and just try to think even for a little while about the science/mechanisms behind it - what does OCD make me think like, and what actions does it generate. Even by having this awareness, I feel the negative energy it feeds on is subdued at least a little. If possible, it can be worth trying to think if someone else would think like this, are these typical worries, or could I be running away with this thought "snowballing". This, too, might help you understand the fears that OCD is creating are not real. It is safe to ignore them - OCD makes everything seem like a threat, whereas that is not the case.
I would additionally say try to throw everything into therapy and invest completely in the process - it does pay off, and your life really can change for the better; the more you believe/trust in that happening, the sooner that will happen. The final thing I would say is you will control this and use this to your benefit in the end - this will be beaten. You are not trapped in this.
Final reflections from me-
It won't surprise you that Dan doesn't want to share his whole identity, which is entirely understandable. After all, who wants to be labelled obsessed, compulsive and disordered? There is so much to learn about the reasons why, as humans, we have these experiences. However, limiting belief systems within mental health perpetuate narrow perceptions, so we typically view mental health conditions only through the lens of disability.
When I teach Mental Health First Aid for Adults, a section says disability doesn't exist on its own. It exists within the limiting parameters of societal constructs. I reflected on what this meant, and I it made me wonder what would happen if there was training available from people like Dan on how to harness focused thinking instead of describing them as obsessive and compulsive? Would OCD still be a disability?
We can make changes to the stories that are being told. We can redefine mental health experiences. It starts here, with language, with you.
Thanks for reading.
Jo and Dan.