May 9, 2012

What does "recovery" from OCD look like?

I often wonder what being “recovered” from OCD would look like for me. 

Are there any of you out there reading this who would say you’re “recovered”?  If so – what does that term mean for you?  Do you not compulse at all anymore?  Do you have any obsessive thoughts? 

I suspect that “recovery” falls along a continuum that is different for everyone.  At this point, I would definitely NOT say that I have “recovered” from OCD.  I am still seeing my therapist every two weeks (I cut back from weekly ONLY for financial reasons.), I still have obsessive thoughts (some weeks/days are worse than others), and I am still doing some compulsions. 

All of that said, I know that I have made progress.  I have faced a lot of my fears.  I am avoiding a lot less.  Things that, this time last year, I couldn’t imagine myself doing, I do with ease. 

But my mind can still scare me to death.  It can still catch me off guard.  And, it seems, once I have “mastered” one of the many permutations and combinations that my mind can throw at me regarding my OCD themes, my mind twists that theme into a new and different “what if” and we start back at square one.  It’s frustrating and discouraging. 

I know I still have days when I don’t want to accept the uncertainty, which of course drives it all.  In fact, I would say that only half of the time I am skilled enough to catch my mind in action and stop the OCD in its tracks. 

The other day I went to get a tattoo as a memorial for my Mom.  It’s a long story...but I went to a tattoo artist who was recommended to me by a guy (let’s call him Mark) that I have a huge crush on (who doesn’t seem to really know that I exist).  When I got to the tattoo shop, the artist’s wife was there.  I had spoken to her on the phone and she seemed really nice.  Right out of the blue – WHAM! – the thoughts hit me:  You just had a weird reaction when you saw her – you think she’s hot.  Do you want to have sex with her?  Do you like her that way????”  And then the checking, reassuring and overall anxiety sets in.  I start trying to figure out why I reacted the way I did when she walked in.  DO I like her that way???  Maybe there’s some sort of cosmic energy connecting the two of us and she picked up on that weird energy.  Am I exuding “lesbian vibes”??????  Ugh.  Of course that all then spirals into questioning my real attraction for Mark: “Maybe you only like him because you know he’s not available and you never have to worry about having to get close to him because you’re really a lesbian in denial.”

And we’re off to the races.  OCD is currently winning. 

OCD robs me of the ability to enjoy my crush.  It robs me of enjoying the entire process of “courting” with someone.  It robs me of my femininity and my ability to flirt.  It robs me of so many things. 

But what is even more frustrating is that I’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE!!!!!!!!  Why do these thoughts, after all of the ERP that I’ve done, still have the ability to bring me to my knees? 


  1. Hi POC. Even though I'm done with therapy, I would not say I'm recovered. I would say I'm in recovery, and dramatically improved from how I previously was. I have heard of a few people who have completely recovered and no longer obsess or compulse, but frankly, I believe that is unusual. I totally agree with you, recovery is on a continuum.

    For me, recovery means not compulsing as much, which is something I can work on controlling. The obsessions are not really anything I can control, and I realize that. That being said, the more I fight compulsions, the more the obsessions eventually go away. Notice I use the word eventually. It can take quite a while after stopping compulsions for the correlating obsessions to go away.

    My doctor once told me that there are two components to OCD. The first is interference - which is how much it interferes with your day-to-day life. The second component is distress - which, of course, is how much distress it causes in your day-to-day life. Though I still have interference (which I'm working on by fighting by doing ERPs), I have much, much less distress. I suppose this is a result of ERP, acceptance that I have a chronic illness, and learning about and understanding my cognitive distortions.

    Yes, thoughts can bring you to your knees. At times that still happens to me. The difference is that I'm usually now able to recognize what is going on and I recover from the episode much more quickly than I used to. The other thing I'm learning is to not let it upset me so much after the fact. I try to view it as "Oh well, just another OCD episode. It's part and parcel of the disorder." I guess this is the acceptance part of the whole thing. It definitely took a while for me to accept this whole thing.

    Anyway, don't know if this helps, but I hope it does. You have made progress. Don't minimize or discount that. And next year, you'll be doing things that you couldn't even imagine doing this year.

  2. Recovering from OCD or any other illness, is a very long process, but it does get better! Stay strong!

  3. To me, recovery is not being filled with anxiety all the time. That when the obsessive thot comes, it is not as urgent as before and i can decide what to do or not do. I feel a lot calmer most of the time. I plan my day around what i want or need to do, not on ocd's wants.

    Here is a poem by Portia Nelson that may answer your second question. I found this in a child abuse recovery book but it can apply to any problem you are working thru. I like how the poem explains why you don't go from chapter 1 all the way to chapter 5 right away. Hope it helps!

    Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
    Chapter 1
    I walk down the street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I fall in.
    I am lost ... I am helpless.
    It isn't my fault.
    It takes forever to find a way out.
    Chapter 2
    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I pretend I don't see it.
    I fall in again.
    I can't believe I am in the same place.
    But it isn't my fault.
    It still takes a long time to get out.
    Chapter 3
    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I see it is there.
    I still fall in ... it's a habit.
    My eyes are open.
    I know where I am.
    It is my fault.
    I get out immediately.
    Chapter 4
    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I walk around it.
    Chapter 5
    I walk down another street.

    ~ Portia Nelson ~
    (There's a Hole in My Sidewalk)

  4. It's so interesting to hear how different people define "recovery" from OCD. Not having the disorder, I'm not going to put my two cents in, but I have written and thought about it as well on my blog.
    I feel that the fact that you know you have made progress, and continue to move in the right direction (though not as quickly as you may like) is such a positive thing..I hope you can feel good about that, even if you don't feel "recovered."

  5. POC, Sorry I'm late to the discussion, but I just wanted to say that recovery to me doesn't mean never having an obsession or compulsion. Frankly, I don't think I'll get there. For me, it will mean not avoiding things mindlessly, and not being filled with anxiety a big part of the day. OCD won't consume me. I'm getting there, but it's slow. I understand your frustration--I'm with you! But we all have to just keep on going, towards being better. Being better is my recovery, and it certainly is, as you say, on a contiuum.