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When I Finally Uncovered the Root Cause of My OCD

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help, visit the International OCD Foundation’s website.

In October of 2019, I wrote two stories here on The Mighty about my experience of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I’d recently been diagnosed, and learned about my two most predominant OCD presentations: real event and moral scrupulosity. So much has changed in my life over the past 21 months, and I thought it may be helpful to share what I’ve learned and how my mental health has changed in this time.

After being diagnosed, I spent some time learning all I could about OCD. This helped me to identify what was happening to me. I learned others out there had similar experiences and OCD presentations. This helped me feel much less alone. I also started participating in therapy, seeing a psychologist once every two weeks.

From late 2019 to mid-2020, my psychotherapy treatment focused on exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy and self-compassion focused techniques. I found these somewhat effective, but I often found my OCD would still plague me regularly. Also, once I felt I’d gotten on top of one presentation, another would often rise from beneath the surface. Like a plant that continues growing if you only lop it off at the head. I only began to feel like I was making real strides in eliminating my OCD when I discovered the root cause.

Have you ever discovered something that fundamentally changed your life and worldview? That’s how I felt when I realized the connection between my physical and mental health diagnoses and past traumatic experiences. In early-to-mid 2020, I began to learn about psychodynamic theories and the unconscious mind. I read books by Dr. John Sarno, a pioneer in the modern understanding of the roles the mind and emotions play in generating and perpetuating chronic illnesses and chronic pain. I began to understand my OCD, like my autoimmune disorder, developed as a consequence of the childhood trauma I’ve experienced.

Through extensive reading, research and introspection, I learned how particular personality traits of mine, such as perfectionism, “goodism” and obsessive tendencies developed as adaptations to help me to cope in my childhood. I also learned how my physical and mental health conditions were sophisticated defense mechanisms created by my brain to protect me from the deeper pain I was carrying in my unconscious. These health conditions, reinforced by my personality traits, served as distractions from my trauma. By preoccupying me so effectively, my brain was attempting to keep me safe.

Learning this was fundamental in helping me to have true self-compassion. Discovering repressed emotions were at the core of my issues also opened the door to receiving therapy I found to be more effective. I now see a psychologist who specializes in intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy (ISTDP), and since starting this treatment, I’ve noticed my OCD has improved dramatically. I think of it like emotional archaeology.

These days, I still have OCD thoughts pop up every now and again. Sometimes, pangs of sudden guilt and anxiety can still stop me in my tracks, temporarily overwhelming me. The difference now is these symptoms are far less frequent, less intense and I am not spending so much time fearing or fighting them. I know what they are now, a distraction from deeper issues, and I can dismiss them with gentleness and compassion. If this is what recovery looks like for me, I’d be content with that, though I am still in therapy and continuing to process my trauma. It’s my hope one day I’ll no longer need these psychophysiological defense mechanisms for my brain to feel safe.

My story is my own, and every individual’s path is unique. It’s my hope if you feel hopeless or lost in your journey with your mental health, you find some part of this to be helpful to you. I encourage you to consider whether you may have some deeper emotional wounds or trauma which could be contributing to your mental health struggles in the present. If that is the case, there are solutions out there that may be more effective for you.

If you relate to having a chronic illness or chronic pain and you also have a history of psychological trauma, I would recommend reading Dr. John Sarno’s books, particularly “The Mindbody Prescription” and “The Divided Mind.” The Curable app and the work of Dr. Howard Schubiner and psychotherapist Alan Gordon have also been very helpful for me on my recovery journey.

I finally believe my future is bright, because I have learned the power of illuminating my past. I can see clearly what I have been through, and how that has affected me today. I’m walking a new path, one which leads me to a healthier and more emotionally integrated life. I have faith I will get there, one moment at a time.

Getty image by cienpies

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