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What Recovery From OCD Means to Me

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Recovery is a complicated, individualized word. When I say I am in recovery from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), what does that mean? Does it mean I never have an intrusive thought or that I never carry out a compulsion?

For some fortunate individuals, that may be the case. But for the vast majority of people I’ve talked to in recovery from OCD, it is more nuanced. For me, recovery from OCD means I experience less symptoms, and I have the tools to deal with the occasional symptoms I do experience. Let’s break that down.

When I say I experience less symptoms, I mean that simply as a result of doing hundreds of exposures (as part of exposure and response prevention therapy, or ERP), intrusive thoughts come less often. I have less urges to do a compulsion, and the urges are less intense. I spend less time thinking these obsessive thoughts and less time ritualizing. Practicing not compulsing and not trying to push intrusive thoughts away, but just letting them be, truly does decrease their frequency.

Perhaps more importantly, when I say I have the tools to do with the occasional symptoms, I mean I am experienced enough in ERP that when OCD does throw an intrusive thought or urge to ritualize my way, I can choose to not react to it, not ritualize, and instead I’ll do an impromptu exposure. I can sit with the anxiety while it comes down on its own, and I can embrace the uncertainty.

Does this mean I never slip up and ritualize? Surely not; I am human and still succumb to the anxiety occasionally. But it means I then follow up the accidental compulsion with an exposure. I recognize that I ritualized, I remember what it was like when my OCD was bad, and I use that to motivate me to move in the opposite direction and expose instead. It’s almost like undoing the compulsion, and for the past year or so, it has worked well to maintain a very low level of OCD symptoms.

Recovery from OCD, whatever that means to you, is possible.


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Photo by David Beale on Unsplash

Originally published: January 1, 2018
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