70 thoughts on “My OCD”

  • David K.

    Thank you for sharing this story, it was amazing at times how I felt like I had written it myself. Here’s to our continued success at battling our OCD bullies!

  • Andy

    my gf is experiencing this atm. im going to try to get her help. its a little different for sure, but its ocd and anxiety issues. its amazing how similar you and her are. thank you for writing this. dont stop trying to help people.

  • Luke Dawson

    Not once in 29 years of my life did I have any symptoms or non that I realized would become a battle. It’s been a little over a year and I’m still learning how to live and cope. Thank you for the in detail write up as it’s nice to hear from another person because when you are going through the thoughts it’s very hard to think anyone else has ever gone through the same thing. Thank you :-)

  • simon

    This was an extremely inspirational read for me. I am around your age and have just discovered in the past 6 weeks that I have a moderate case of purely obsessional OCD. There were so many things I could relate to while reading your article sometimes it seemed to be written about me. Especially the part where your OCD tries to come up with new and creative ways to provide you with fresh doses of anxiety. This can waste a lot of your time very quickly and like you said, the more creative you are the more unsettling the results can be!

    There is an interesting video presentation online given by a Dr. Steven Phillipson who describes his research and treatment plan for “pure-o” OCD. He is apparently considered one of the top experts for this purely obsessional type of OCD. I also agree that Brain Lock is probably the most helpful book on the subject as far as learning how to get control over this disorder.

    I am working on the ERP therapy now in conjunction the Dr. Schwartz’s book. I will give it about 2 months to see if there is any progress. If not or if it is going too slowly I will consider adding medication to the treatment plan.

    The medication option is something that I am very curious about (I have found my obsessive nature focusing on it like a laser beam lately). I know the results are completely different for everyone and that a lot of trial and error is required usually. The cost/benefit analysis when considering meds is something I keep mulling over. Are the side effects worse than dealing with the condition or vice versa. I would be curious to hear your take on that point.

    • Thanks Simon, I’m glad I could help. Be heartened that a lot of readers contact me to say that what I wrote describe their experiences too. That means that what we’re dealing with is common and treatable.

      As for medication: it’s been part of my treatment from the beginning. All the psychiatrists I’ve seen have told me that the research shows that most patients have better results if they’re treated with both medication and behavioral therapy than if they’re treated with one or the other alone.

      I’m not sure if by cost/benefit analysis you’re referring to the financial cost but, assuming you are, that of course varies based on which medications you take and if you have insurance. I take generic meds covered by my plan, so my costs are less than $20 per month.

      When it comes to side effects, they’re never the same from patient to patient. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had few side effects since finding the right drug combination. I take Klonopin and Paxil; the Klonopin has had no significant side effects that I’ve noticed. I have some moderate sexual side effects from the Paxil, and also a period of weight gain may have been in part due to it. I judge my minor side effects to be well worth the benefits.

      (I’ve also experienced some side effects from both drugs related to dreaming. They’re neither good nor bad, so I won’t go into detail about them here except to say that they’re really interesting.)

      Talk to your doctor about medication to see if he/she thinks it would benefit you. I’ll also mention that many OCD patients, myself included, become anxious and obsessed about medication when they’re considering taking it or first start taking it. That often leads to them letting their anxiety dictate they’re treatment, which is obviously the wrong way to go. But you’re clearly learning the techniques to help prevent that.

      And thanks for the tip about Dr. Phillipson. I’ll look into that.

      Best of luck!

      • simon

        Thank you for the reply! This is all very helpful information.

        I keep hearing that an older Tricyclic antidepressant called Anafranil is used often to treat Pure-O OCD but the downside of that one seems to be the strong side effects due to the fact that it was developed before the newer SSRI’s.

        Again thank you for all the support you are providing those suffering with this ailment!

  • Andrew

    This is easily one of the best essays I’ve ever read. Easily. It took guts to share your deepest fears. By contemplating your own wound, you spark the healing process for countless others.

    I’ve struggled with OCD my entire life — a deep, prolonged dark night of the soul — but after reading your essay, I’m inspired to finally confront my problem.

    Thanks and take care, man.

    • Thank you, Andrew. Best of luck taking on your OCD. It’ll be worth it. Feel free to email me any time you need help or support.

  • k.s224@yahoo.com

    Seth, this was INCREDIBLY helpful. Even though I was diagnosed last year finally after several years of anxiety and several months of “holy crap, what the hell was that thought?! where did that come from!”, every once in awhile my OCD throws me for a new loop. My themes jump around from harm OCD (of others and of self) to relationship OCD to health OCD, and to a lesser extent things like hit-and-run OCD, the need to check that appliances are off repeatedly, etc. I had been doing better for awhile but due to some heavy life stressors, it’s been back with a vengeance lately and I started having panic attacks again for the first time in a few years. that has now led to fear of panic attacks, and feeling down about myself as a result. I finally decided I was tired of feeling sucky and maybe I need an SSRI to help take the edge off while I get back into CBT, ERP, and mindfulness more seriously than last time. A logical decision, but the OCD started attacking that!! “I know people on SSRIs who tried to kill themselves. If I need an SSRI, my depression and OCD have gotten the best of me. I don’t feel like myself. What if I can never come off the meds? what if the meds make me suicidal?” and so now I am stuck back on the “what if I want to hurt myself” thoughts that you described. No fun

    Anyway, this was a long-winded way of saying that I admire your courage for putting your story out there, and that I feel relief (reassurance, whoops!) reading a story that sounds so much like mine!

    • Thanks. By the way, almost every OCD patient I’ve talked to (myself included) has had very similar anxieties and obsessions regarding starting on medication. See my reply to simon, two above this one. You’re not alone. Good luck!

  • This is seriously the BEST article about CBT I have found!! I’ve googled CBT, tried watching YouTube videos about CBT, but NO ONE explained it as simply and perfectly as you have!! I’m seeing a psychologist but she doesn’t really say anything, just lets me talk, doesn’t have any notes on me or offers any advice other than to read her books she’s written..I have PURE O OCD..it IS hell, I was on Paxil for 12 years, then it crapped out on me and thought I was crazy because the OCD?Panic Attacks were out of control 24/7 and ended up being Baker Acted because I couldn’t eat, or sleep, or even move off the couch, just frozen with fear. It was AWFUL.

    I also have PTSD from being raped TWICE and so I wanted to own a gun for protection, but I too have these intrusive thoughts..like, “what if I’m there at this gun class and I just shoot someone? What if I shoot my boyfriend in my sleep who I love more than life itself? What if I shoot the instructor at the gun class or if I point the gun at my head just to see if I would pull the trigger?” Its terrible, and makes me feel like a psycho.

    I broke down crying reading this, realizing this “psychologist” of mine has no idea what CBT or exposure therapy is and I’ve had OCD since I was 7!! I am now on Zoloft and Klonopin, which has helped some, I don’t have the extreme panic attacks just some anxiety…daily..and I hate being alone. I really want to face this stupid fear and be a normal person that can own a gun to protect myself so I never have to go through what I went through before. I’m just so scared to go to a gun class, I’ve never even held a gun! lol. Thank you so much, I can’t believe out of all my searching I didn’t come across this site before, but it is so encouraging and if a gun class is my exposure therapy then so be it. I know I need to face these stupid fears, because that’s what these thoughts are, our fears. It’s really terrible and telling someone without OCD these thoughts is sooo hard because you just KNOW they are going to think you’re crazy, its very isolating. Thank you so much for this post. Bless you!!

    • Thank you for the kind words, Kylene, and I’m really glad I could help. I should caution you though that you should never attempt any exposure therapy without a doctor’s guidance. That’s especially important when dealing with anything weapon-related. I strongly encourage you to find another doctor before you attempt any CBT.

  • Chloe

    Hi seth,

    Thank I for ur essay! I have been dealing with this obsession for the past 3 years on and off. It’s truly terrifying.

    I have stated exposure with instruction from my therapist the last few weeks. This week it’s the reading and researching suicide on the Internet. The same as u mention, my fear is that it may compel me to do it by desensitising me to the idea of it. I am realy struggling with this exposure exercise.

    I am trying to just believe it will get easier as time goes on but right now I feel like my obsession is becoming worse although I feel less afraid of it, which then scares me more. Lol.

    • That new anxiety your feeling as part of your exposure therapy is typical, and I experienced the same thing. Because your original obsession about suicide causes less anxiety, your brain finds a new way of framing it that DOES make you anxious. For me, that kind of thing kept happening until eventually the anxiety went away.

      Remember, exposure therapy is SUPPOSED to cause you anxiety. That’s why it works. As long as you keep at it, it WILL work. Don’t give up, no matter how hard it seems.

  • Chloe

    Thanks for ur response! I felt like I needed a little encouragement!

    I found myself on the Internet for like 2 hours last night reading stuff because I was waiting for the anxiety and fear to die down but it didn’t. I’ll stick at it though as I know it should work.

    It’s the whole idea of the more I read the more obsessed I will become with it and it will fill my brain even more and I will think it’s normal and ok to commit suicide coz so many people do it! Blah blah blah.

    Fun fun fun.

    Not supposed to be easy though as you say.

  • Nicole

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It’s validating and so helpful.

  • Hannah

    I can’t explain how much peace of mind this has given me. Thank you so much for sharing this. I actually genuinely laughed whilst reading this (not because OCD or anxiety is In any way shape or form funny) but because I never thought anyone could be going through exactly what I am. 6 days ago I was getting so down and so fed up with my obsession that if I went out ANYWHERE I would be sure to have diarrhoea. So going for dinner was a write off! I couldn’t go anywhere long distance in a car, and my boyfriend could absolute forget it if he thought he was driving. I would go no where unless I was driving! So anyway, 6 days ago I was fed up with living my day to day life so restricted with this obsession that I had a fleeting thought that “if I died then I wouldn’t have this obsession”. Low and behold this how now become major obsession. “Oh my god what if I go completely out of control and do end up killing myself” what if my boyfriend or friends think I’m mental and get me sectioned for having suicidal thoughts!!! I do not want to die, never ever have I had a thought of self harm or suicide., I have absolutely no desire to leave this earth through myself. But the thought that other people would think I was mad is the worst. And the fact that this one thought makes me feel utterly out of control freaks me out no end!!! So for now I take peace in knowing that other people suffer this all the time and I am not alone, and that I can get a normal life back again!! Yay!! Here’s to a beautiful future!! (And hard work with the CBT). Thank you so much again for posting, it takes people like you that change futures for other sufferers because anxiety and OCD can be the most lonely mind set ever. People don’t want to admit they have this, let alone share their experience about it! Let’s all help each other, this is what it’s all about.

    • Thank you, Hannah. I’m glad I could help. Best of luck, and please let me know how things go.

  • Matt

    Great article! This really gave me hope that I could do ERP therapy and get my life back! My only worry that I can’t get over is that maybe my Harm OCD isn’t actually Harm OCD. I know that is a feature of OCD in and of itself, but where I go wrong is that I think my thoughts might be different. Usually, if I just see a knife, I start to worry that I’ll lose control and act on it, which is pretty typical HOCD. However, sometimes I feel like I get these impulses to do it (even though I don’t). The impulses feel so real, and that freaks me out. Then it confuses me, and makes me think that maybe I do actually want to hurt myself, since it’s not just a thought, but some type of impulse. Does this sound familiar to anyone? I am going to see a therapist in a few weeks, so we shall see.

    Also, I was wondering how many people have told you that they have gotten better? I can’t wait to be one of those people. The constant worry and fear sucks! Oy!

    • The “different” thoughts you describe are exactly the same as what I experienced and are EXTREMELY typical for OCD sufferers. That said, it’s important that you not try to diagnose yourself and instead see a doctor. Best of luck!

      • Matt

        Ok, great. I will obviously check with a mental health professional (I talked with one before, but was too afraid to tell him about those “different” thoughts, since I was worried I’d get locked up). Thanks for at least making me feel a little more normal in the meantime!

  • Ray

    Seth. Firstly, thank you so much for writing this article. Finally realising that I’m not the only sufferer out there already makes me feel as though the biggest weight has been lifted. Secondly, I’m saying thank you because I can imagine how hard it must have been to recount your story to the public. For the last 4 years, I have been silently suffering from pure O; too afraid and too ashamed to ever even mention my thoughts to anyone. What started off as an obsession of constantly monitoring my heart beat, fearing that at any moment it would stop (an aftermath of finally having a heart operation to treat a lifetime irregularity in my heart), turned into constant obsessions over whether I worry too much, whether I stress too much, what if I’m depressed, what if I’ll never be happy, what if these thoughts are with me forever and I’ll never be able to relax or escape my mind, etc etc. Anyway, after 4 long painful years, in what was supposed to be the ‘best time of my life’ (late teens), I’ve finally realised that everything I’ve been going through has a label. Not only that, but there are others just like me, and perhaps most importantly, it is treatable. I was always the happiest and most out-going kid growing up, so you can imagine the complete confusion and shock my parents and long-term girlfriend experienced when I finally broke down and told them everything. It has only been a few days since, but I already feel ten times better knowing that they’re still sticking with me and ready to support me through this. They have already arranged I get the proper treatment and help from a true professional, and I cant wait to start beating this now that I realise it’s possible. I’m going for my first appointment in two days, and although these thoughts are still plaguing me even as I’m writing this, I cant help but to feel optimistic. My feelings of optimism were only increased after reading your story; especially the part where you mentioned your life being defined in two parts, before and after help. My only fear I guess is that situation is a little different from most of the accounts I’ve read in the sense that my constant obsessions aren’t over a specific event or fear but rather a constant thought of worrying that I’ll never be happy and I’ll be plagued by the fog in my head forever. I know it’s irrational because if the thoughts of being an unhappy person disappeared then I would be happy, haha. But I guess that’s the thing with pure O is that the harder I try block this thought out, the easier it is for the thought to repeat itself. Anyway, I think I’m a little concerned that exposure therapy wont work for me as I’m unsure what it is I should be exposed to. I’m scared as well that the medication wont work because I will be constantly trying to monitor whether the treatment is working and whether I’m happy or not now and this will only continue my obsessive pattern. Sorry to ask but I’m curious what your point of view on my situation is? These are obviously all worries I’ll discuss with the psychologist in a couple days, but having recently reached out for help, I feel as though I might benefit from getting an opinion from a fellow sufferer. Thanks again for your article; it has left me feeling reassured and inspired. Ray.

    • Ray, thank you for sharing your story and congratulations on starting treatment! I’m glad I could help a little bit.

      In answer to your questions, I can tell you from my own experience and from talking to many others with OCD that there are two typical anxieties that plague sufferers when they first realize they have OCD: 1) anxiety that their personal version of the illness is somehow “different” and can’t be treated, and 2) anxiety about having anxiety, i.e. worrying about worrying.

      So the concerns you describe fit the EXTREMELY TYPICAL pattern of the illness. I suspect that your doctor will tell you the same thing. I’m also confident that your doctor will be able to find a treatment that will help you, whether or not it’s exposure therapy.

      Your optimism is appropriate. Be determined and strong, and you’ll see a change for the better. Best of luck.

  • brandon

    Seth, I have had the same suicidal obsessions as you for the past year. You mentioned in one of your footnotes that you had an obsession about literally :being suicidal about being suicidal”. Do you have any advice on how to overcome that fear?

    • Thanks for reading, Brandon. I can tell you that that type of obsession is typical with people who have OCD-related intrusive thoughts about self harm. That said, I always refrain from giving specific advice for these type of situations, because I don’t have the knowledge to do so responsibly. I recommend you find a doctor or therapist with experience treating anxiety disorders. Good luck!

  • Seth – thank you for writing about your story. As someone who does not have OCD but who uses exposure and response prevention to help people deal with their OCD, I can corroborate it is a challenge to design exposures that are manageable and challenging as well. OCD is a horrible problem to have yet it is a real privilege to work with people daily and see the willingness of people to confront their fears.

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  • Steve

    Seth…thank you so much. You have written so well what I have been going through. I appreciate you sharing your personal journey to help the rest of us.

  • Jessica

    Hey this article was fantastic. I have not been diagnosed, but believe that I have OCD of the same form and have yet to tell anyone. It’s extremely embarrassing and getting harder every day. I’m a young woman, I don’t WANT to harm myself, but the obsessive thoughts are literally causing my body pain without me even harming myself. I think it’s time to seek help and I want you to know this article helped me to come to this point. You are a talented writer and an inspiring person, thank you for your blog

    • Thank you, Jessica. Please don’t be afraid to get help. You won’t regret it. Feel free to contact me anytime you need support.

  • Erik Steele

    I have read a lot of articles about OCD, and I mean A LOT (goes with the territory, obession), and this is the best. It felt like I was reading a slightly different story about my life…I kept saying to myself throughout this blog, yes I had that happen, yes I had/have those fears, yes I thought I was alone, yes to pretty much everything. Thank you man, I recently went through an experience this past Summer where my OCD finally flared like a wild fire (age 23) and it brought me to tears reading that there really is hope. I’m still recovering, and I know there is no magic pill, but it can be treated and you can live your life. And you helped validate that point even more…can’t say it enough….Thank you! -Erik S.

    • I’m very glad I could help, Erik. Best of luck.

  • Kevin

    You have helped more people than you will ever know. As many of your readers have noted, your article describes me perfectly. My OCD concerned fears of nuclear war and terrorism. It started on the first day of news coverage of the first Gulf War, with videos of scud missiles hitting Tel Aviv. I was convinced that the war would lead to complete nuclear war. I was incapacitated by fear for months. Fortunately, I found a great psychiatrist who prescribed medication that I’m still on more than 20 years later. Also like you, I lived through the 9/11 terror attacks and was surprised that I didn’t freak out. I was at my office in downtown Washington, DC, located between the State Department and the White House. My house was 3 miles from the Pentagon. Walking home, I could see the smoke billowing up from the burning Pentagon, but found it all more surreal than frightening. Even through the Anthrax attacks, I weathered it all surprisingly well.

    Until I read your story, I thought I was the only one with a nuclear war fear obsession. Thank you so much for sharing, and good luck to you.

    • Kevin, you’re the first person to tell me they shared that nuclear war fear. It must have been so common, though. I’m sure there are lots of us out there. I’m glad to hear you’ve had your OCD so well under control for so long.

  • Jennifer

    I just had to tell you what a tremendously helpful resource this article is. I found it during one of my many reassurance-seeking Google sessions. It was almost like you were describing ME.

    I’ve struggled with OCD, and anxiety, for probably most of my life, but until recently I had no idea that’s what it was–I had only ever heard about the stereotypical symptoms, and as those didn’t apply, OCD never really crossed my mind. For whatever reason, last month I reached my breaking point when my husband was on a business trip. It wasn’t just Suicide OCD, but also a fear that I would snap and hurt my two boys (Harm OCD). I was suddenly incapable of being alone without having a panic attack, and like you said, every intrusive thought seemed absolutely terrifyingly real. Every little thing was a trigger. My butt was sore from clinging to the couch.

    Long story short, I ended up scaring my primary care doctor who had no knowledge of Harm OCD, and he ordered me to a psychiatric emergency room. That was a frightening experience, especially since the nurse sent me to the secure waiting room as a precaution, but the hours I waited were well worth it when an understanding psychiatrist finally gave me my formal diagnosis, and told me that if he could, he would give me a big gold plaque to put on my wall stating “YOU WILL NEVER HARM YOURSELF OR ANYONE ELSE.” He didn’t commit me for the rest of my life, he sent me home. He also prescribed Zoloft and Xanax. I had been adamantly against medicine because it scared me, but at that point I would try whatever it took. Five weeks later, I am functioning again, and doing better than ever. The worst of the Zoloft side effects lasted 6 days. I haven’t needed a Xanax in over two weeks, but it helped greatly during the early days.

    Before I started medicine, I had been reading self-help books, and my husband and mom were helping the best way they knew how. We were all trying to challenge me to get past the anxiety and do the things I needed to do, but I just couldn’t get anywhere. My husband would leave for work, and I was back to square one. I felt like a failure because this was all in my head, yet I just couldn’t be by myself. I was able to give this blog post to my husband and say “THIS is what I am going through right now.” He was able to see how bad it really was, better than I myself could describe to him, and he made arrangements to work from home while my medicine kicked in. I am also doing therapy with an OCD expert, but that’s just started.

    I am happy to say that my husband went to work 30 miles away every day last week, and will from now on. I’ve been caring for my boys on my own, making dinner, running errands, etc. When I was at rock bottom I didn’t think I would ever get to this point again. Seriously.

    I kind of laugh at myself now because I feel like I’ve survived a battle for my very life, when in reality I was one of the least likely people in the world ever to carry out the scary things I thought about. I mean, I can’t even stomp on an ant on purpose. I like to joke that I would be the most remarkable/notorious person ever to have lived if even a handful of the things I obsess about actually happened to me.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience–you helped me get the help and understanding I so desperately needed.

    • Jennifer, I was so pleased to read your comment and admittedly teared up a little bit. I admire your courage and determination to take what must have been a terrifying experience and using it as a catalyst to turn your life around. Not everyone has that kind of strength. Thank you for your kind words and especially for telling me your story. Remember that just by sharing it you help other people.

  • Natalie

    Thank you so much for writing this! This has helped me so much. I have dealt with this since I was very little with the same fear. I always felt alone and scared. I would get images same as you and cry in bed wishing they would go away. I would miss school cause I was to scared to leave my bed. Thankfully I finally talked to my mother and I got help. I got put on Prozac and I didn’t have any of these irrational scary thoughts for 2 years. Sadly this week they came back and have felt more real then ever. I try to reassure myself that these are just anxiety thoughts and that I don’t want to do such thing. I would feel better for a few minutes then it would start up again. It got so bad that I finally told my boyfriend of 3 years about them and I was scared as you were to tell Sophie. I thought he would think I was crazy or someone who actually wanted to kill myself. He listened to me and understood. And he actually wanted to help me. I always get these thoughts and I always get the “what if I do it” or the images. I would cry and ask why I can’t be just someone normal or have these thoughts disappear. I would stay up on the computer for hours just trying to find out the difference between Harm OCD and people who actually want to hurt them self. After realizing that I do have Harm OCD I then would have the “what if it’s not that”. What you wrote has showed me that I have OCD and that its normal. I think it will help me a lot to see someone and talk to them about this. I just need to believe in myself and have strength. Thanks again for writing this(:

    • Thank you for sharing that, Natalie. I can’t encourage you enough to get professional help if you feel like you’re life is being overrun by anxiety. This is a good place to start looking for a doctor: https://iocdf.org/find-help/

  • Seth, this is the best article I’ve ever read on this subject. I probably think that because it’s the closest to my own experience that I have ever come across. Only I am going through it right now and totally in hell… but it’s so well observed and written. I hope I can back to some sense of normality like you did.
    Love to you.
    Guy

    • Thank you, Guy. I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time, but be strong and don’t give up and you’ll not only get through it but come out better than before.

  • Celine

    Hey there Seth,

    Thanks for this wonderful article. It really helps me feel a bit better. At the moment I’m having a bit of a relapse with my OCD. For some reason, whenever another schoolyear starts, the scary intrusive thoughts seem to creep back in. I’m scared for a few weeks and then the feelings and scary thoughts seem to disappear, not showing up for months and months.

    But now that I look back at it, in my mind I would still have these rituals to keep my anxiety at bay. Last summer, I found a tiny bite mark on my hand and I was convinced I was bitten by a bat, they fly around the house where I live in, and was infected with rabies. I wasn’t ofcourse, but the OCD had me believe I was.

    I actually managed to get rid of my OCD for quite some time by using reversal psychology. Instead of doing the rituals to prevent something from happening, I made myself believe that if I did the compulsions, something bad would happen. It actually helped me get rid of most of my compulsions.

    However, at the moment I’m struggling with the Pure-O form. It happened last week. I was watching a walkthrough of a scary video game when an intrusive thought popped randomly into my head. I was thinking: ‘what if my obsessions tell me that to get rid of my fears, or if I ever wanted to find peace again, I had to harm/kill someone? It’s really difficult, writing that last sentence down.

    My anxiety shot through the roof and I felt so scared. To help calm my nerves I prayed, I made myself a new ritual. That praying before I went to sleep would neutralize the thoughts and that it would mean that I would not act on impulses. It helped a little bit and I managed to get a good nights rest. But now I’m constantly thinking ‘what if, what if, what if this thought never leaves my head? What if I never get rid of this feeling?’

    At the moment I feel a bit calmer since I managed to distract myself by watching funny movies. But the last couple of days I hate going to bed since I can’t really distract myself there and it takes a while for me to fall asleep. Although I am glad that I do manage to get a good few hours of sleep.

    So far I managed to beat my relapses every time, although it took a few weeks. I never used medication before and I really don’t want to, but I am thinking of finally facing my problem with some therapy, because the rational part of me knows I’m wasting my time with these intrusive thoughts. My thoughts also seem to adapt to what I fear at the moment, first it was health and now it’s fear of harming someone.

    I have succeeded in getting rid of thoughts I thought I would never get rid of. But when in relapse it seems so different and difficult. I’m positive I will feel better soon, but I am contemplating on getting some help with it this time after having read your article.

    Thanks for writing it!

    Céline

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Céline. I strongly encourage you to find help from a doctor. Even if you don’t take any medication, understanding your illness and talking about it with a professional will help you immensely. A good place to start looking for professional help is https://iocdf.org/find-help/.

      • Celine

        Thank you Seth, I’m not American though. I did see a doctor and now I’ve signed up for therapy in combination with medication. I’m curious and a bit nervous, because I’m tired of OCD ruling my life. Did read a couple of selfhelp books. I know how the disorder works, but my brain is being stubborn at the moment. I hope I don’t have to wait for too long for therapy to start.

  • Paul

    This is great! I’ve had each of the obsessions you mentioned above. I was able to show my mom and girlfriend and they got it. It’s a very difficult thing to explain and you did it wonderfully. I finally starting ERP (It was suprisingly hard to find someone who could do it, I ended up finding someone via Skype). Had my first experience with it this morning… nothing like waking up and pointing a knife at yourself! The hardest part is dealing with the doubt that this is OCD. Pretty damn scary…. Anywho, what sort of ERP did you do with the original core obsession with the gun? Part of my first assignment is to look at pictures of guns 10 times a day. Easier said than done! Again, thank you for writing this. It’s a particularly horrid version of OCD.

    • Thanks Paul. I didn’t do any ERP related to guns because by the time I’d started treatment my obsessions had morphed to more general self-harm stuff. Though I can imagine that looking at pictures of guns must be very effective for you.

      Stick with the ERP no matter how hard it seems. It’ll get easier quickly and is invaluable. Good luck!

      • Paul

        Thanks Seth, at this point im struggling to give up on some of my compulsions. Did you develop any compulsions? Any advice on how to cut them off?

        • I’m not the best person to give advice on that, because compulsions have always been the lesser part of my OCD. But I found the four steps in Jeffrey Schwartz’s Brain Lock to be invaluable in overcoming my obsessions, and they’re geared to compulsions too. If you haven’t read that book, I really recommend it.

          • Paul

            Cool, thanks. One last question… I’m finally getting ERP and getting on the right track and now im getting hit with doubt that I want to get better. Do you know if this is a common thing on the road to recovery?

          • I don’t have any information about how common that feeling is. But I can tell you that searching for evidence and reassurance that one’s anxieties are just OCD is VERY common. And it’s not productive to recovery. The best way to overcome any doubts is to do the work to get better.

  • Seth, I have this morning had a minor revelation about the whole ‘you are not your thoughts’ thing, and it broadly feels good. There is something that troubles me slightly though, and I wanted to bounce it off you for your response, if you will permit me. It’s to do with the ‘Imp of The Mind’ book. Which maybe you haven’t read all of, as you said the book actually causes you anxiety… but it is described often as a helpful text, but I have a bit of a problem with a specific part of it….
    It says in the section ‘What causes bad thoughts’
    “It is especially important to make a clear distinction between the bad thoughts that are the subject of this book, and the suicidal thoughts that are common in depression. If you have frequent and strong thoughts like:
    Fantasizing about how you would kill yourself
    Images of yourself lying in a coffin
    Strong impulses to shoot yourself with a gun
    Strong impulses to hang yourself
    (etc etc the list continues)
    Then you should take these thoughts or impulses seriously and talk to a mental health professional about them as soon as possible. These thoughts can be dangerous and are different from the type of harmless sexual , aggressive and religious bad thoughts that are the subject of this book.”

    Now, I have some of the above thoughts, and I am fairly sure from your article, you did too. Or is it just the semantics of the language? ‘What is a strong urge?’ etc
    I just wonder how you react to this paragraph of the book, how seriously should I take it, as I think this has currently negated the usefulness of this book to me, because I feel like it’s telling me ‘YOU DON’T HAVE OCD/ANXIETY, YOU HAVE SUICIDAL URGES THAT YOU NEED TO TAKE SERIOUSLY’.
    Let me know what you think, please.
    Guy

    • Guy, I can’t interpret that paragraph as it applies to you in particular. All I can tell you is that, if you have any concerning thoughts about self harm, you should seek help from a doctor. If you have OCD, it will be your first step to getting a handle on it. Please let me know if I can help you find one.

      • Guy Crouch

        Well I have seen a lot of doctors and do have a professional psychotherapist, but I still have intrusive thoughts about various subjects, mostly that relate to suicide – knives, crashing my car, jumping in front of a bus etc. I know that these urges don’t make ‘sense’ to me and I’m very scared of them. I feel like I need more drastic help, but it doesn’t seem like I can convince anyone of that…

        • I can’t give you (or anyone) an opinion on a diagnosis. All I can suggest is that you talk to your psychotherapist again about your intrusive thoughts and how much they’re concerning you.

          If, after that, your doctor is still convinced that your thoughts are OCD, I’d remind you that OCD is called “the doubting disease” for a reason. OCD sufferers, myself included, always doubt that our obsessions are just symptoms of our disease. We all have periods of fear that something else is wrong with us, that our intrusive thoughts represent reality. It can be terrifying–I know from experience–and the hardest part of the disease to overcome.

          If you describe your thoughts and your feelings about them throughly to your therapist and s/he believes you have OCD, then it’s time for you to trust your doctor’s diagnosis–just as you would a doctor diagnosing your physical health–and then take the steps necessary to start getting better.

          Best of luck.

          • Guy Crouch

            Thanks Seth

          • Paul

            I remember reading that book about a year ago and that phrase about made me shit my pants.

    • Madison

      I just wanted to say thank you so much for posting this. I have had a lot of different Intrusive thoughts. My first OCD attack was with suicidal thoughts which then turned into new intrusive thoughts about going crazy or having Schitzaphrenia and currently it’s about harming others. I’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I have asked my doctor and therapist about this being OCD and they all said its my anxiety. I plan on seeing someone that knows more about OCD and who does CBT. OCD is definitely hell, and something i would never wish to anyone to have. Something that my doctor said that has helped me and may help others is “we have these intrusive thoughts that scare us and don’t fit with our morals or personality at all, but at least we are AWARE of these thoughts”, people that want to harm others, or who are crazy, or who wants to hurt themselves DONT CARE about there thoughts, they think there normal thoughts and most of the time arnt AWARE of these thoughts. We are all here for a reason to try to get answers about this horrible doubting disease and to get help because we all are AWARE of these thoughts. Trust me it took me such a long time to actually feel better with this OCD and these thoughts. My thoughts of harming others have almost been gone, and I have no more doubt. It takes time and strength. I promise there is a light at the end of the tunnel (: we are all so strong and I promise it will get better. I’m here if anyone wants to talk. Take care
      Madison

  • Jes

    Wonderful article! I am actually curious what was going through your mind when you were doing the ERP (reading articles online)? I saw somewhere that OCD almost always has a compulsion. Physical or mental and the compulsion should be avoided during ERP.

    • Thanks Jes. The question of whether OCD always has a compulsion seems to be somewhat controversial lately. I see more and more people referring to OCD such as mine as “pure O” OCD, meaning obsession-only. I personally think that’s a misnomer.

      I definitely had compulsions, but they weren’t of a typical hand-washing, door-locking type. I sometimes call them “avoidance compulsions” — things like compulsively avoiding entering a kitchen because I was afraid I’d stab myself with a knife, or compulsively sitting on my hands in the car because I thought I was preventing myself from opening the door and jumping out.

      That said, ERP doesn’t have to be related to compulsions. The point of the therapy is to cause anxiety. A person with a compulsion avoids acting on it during ERP, thereby causing anxiety. But for me, holding a knife or reading articles about suicide easily got my anxiety-producing thoughts rolling and as such were very effective therapy. Similarly, a person treating a fear of flying might be made to watch footage of airplane accidents.

      • Jes

        Did you ever manage to read Imp of the mind or stop taking SSRIs?

        • I haven’t read Imp of the Mind, but that’s because I’m not particularly interested in it. Honestly, I’ve mostly forgotten about it.

          Going off of SSRI isn’t a goal of mine. The medication offers a huge positive benefit with few side effects, so I have no plans to try to stop taking them. I’ve had to change my particular medication and dosage a few times, but I’m very happy with where I am right now.

  • Brice, the internet guy.

    Seth,

    You are the man! What a great entry. Did you have any clue that something you wrote years ago would still help people? I bet that feels great.

    I stumbled on this post randomly, after reading about BMX legend Dave Mirra committing suicide. Just reading about it spiked my anxiety about suicide. Something I have been especially afraid of. I’m in the recovery phase of having anxiety about having anxiety. But I had NEVER had professional help mention anything about OCD. Your post rang true to how it all works for me. I was relating to most of your types of OCD you experienced and was basically just amazed I hadn’t considered OCD, or heard OCD mentioned to me with how i analyze things. Too damn funny.

    So THANK YOU. For helping bring awareness. For being truthful and open. For making the world a better place. Random internet guy, you rock.

    Thanks man.

    After reading your post, I just kind of laugh at how anxious i was getting about suicide, much like how you use to. Just dust in the wind.

  • Kelly

    I too have suicidal OCD and harm OCD. I have had this for about 35 years now. I’ve actually had periods of years straight without any symptoms at all. But the last 2 years have been horrible. It just goes on and on. First it started again with the Boston Marathon Bombing as harm OCD. I felt like I was right back where I was 30 years ago. I started to feel better. Then came the suicide of Robin Williams. That hugely impacted me and made my suicidal OCD spike like never before. And we have had people in our community that have committed suicide over the past year and my exposure to that makes it all come back with a vengence. I can’t separate why they would do this and I wouldn’t. Unfortunately my doctor isn’t back for a month so I will have to wait until then. I have been seeing him for over 20 years and I feel like I have so much trust in what he tells me. The one thing he has never mentioned is exposure therapy. I don’t even know if I could do this as just the word suicide (which is even hard for me to type at this moment) causes so much anxiety.

    Your article is great by the way. I don’t usually look things up online about OCD as it usually causes more anxiety. Like having OCD about OCD if you know what I mean.

    Any thoughts on how to handle these intrusive thoughts until my doctor returns??

    Thank you

    • Kelly, I’m sorry to hear that you’re having such a hard time. I know how difficult it can be. I’d suggest reading Brain Lock and learning the techniques it describes. It’s very quick to read, and the CBT is easy to understand. I found it immeasurably helpful.

      If you talk to your doctor about exposure therapy and he decides it’s right for you, I’d strongly encourage you to try it despite your fears. It’s very, very hard at first, but the results if you stick to it are far worth the effort.

      Best of luck.

  • Teresa

    Seth-
    I was so relieved when I ran into your article, 3 years after it first came out, because it meant I wasn’t alone! While anxiety runs in my family, it hadn’t affected me until I ran into some health problems. Then the anxiety came with a vengeance. This past year has been so hard for me, largely because I seem to obsessively return again and again to the same set of fears, including, but not exclusive to self harm (an idea which popped up on me completely out of the blue, but likely was rooted in my mind because it was something a close friend went through). It’s hard for me even admitting having such thoughts and fears because it would be so nice to pretend I didn’t , but reading this article was exactly what I needed because I hadn’t even thought of OCD as something affecting me. Having read your article, and relating so much, I’m now convinced that it is. Like many others have commented, I often return to the thought “if it has happened to others, why wouldn’t it happen to me?” and struggle to rationalize the difference. I am now actively seeking the help of a therapist/psychiatrist but I just wanted to reiterate that I was so relived to see your writing and sharing your experience, and appreciate the courage it took for you to publish this. I hope to be at that point someday! Is there any advice that you have with starting and effectively using CBT? It’s something I’d really like to try out.
    Thank you, and all the best!

    • Best of luck with your treatment, Teresa. If your doctor or therapist decides that CBT is right for you, the only advice I can give is to stick with it no matter how difficult it can be. The CBT I’ve done is very hard at first, and the instinct is to quit. You have to persevere and remember that it’s supposed to be hard — that’s why it works. Best of luck.

  • Buggy McBones

    Easily the best thing I’ve read about Harm OCD anywhere, and I’ve read a ton. I’ve had mine since I was about 14 (I’m now 42) and I can go for years and years with mild or no symptoms. The past few months I’ve had a bad flare up and am in therapy and will start CBT/ERP soon, too. I’m also switching medications, although now that I’m older I want to rely less on meds and more on techniques. Anyways, I identify very much with your story Seth and with many posters here. The doubts, the fears, the anxiety, the constant mental questions, the ruminations, the constant “what ifs” .. I’ve been through them all. One thing I’ll add is that for me life’s uncertainties and/or huge life changes are always at the root of these flare-ups. I had one around college graduation, one when I was about 30, and now this time I’m 42 with a new kid and a new job. Not a coincidence. This knowledge doesn’t always make it easier but knowing there are other people out there with this does help, as does knowing that people are able to live great lives despite having OCD. What’s tricky about OCD is it tries to make you think you’re beyond help, which would almost be laughably funny if it weren’t so damn terrible. Anyways, point being, don’t give up. Ever. Peace everyone.

  • annel

    Omg I want to cry reading this, I know this is an old article , but It describes exactly how I feel , I never knew I had OCD, but now that I realize it I did have it since I was a child. I would get depressed just thinking about death and I would start getting panic attacks it started out of no where I did not enjoy the things I would normally with my family because in my head I was like ” what is the point we are all going to die” “Why am I at work working my butt off if I am just living to die” etc… I spend almost 2 week in my room crying , didn’t want anyone to leave me alone because I was scared I was going to harm myself, but deep down inside I didn’t want to it. I would say to myself ” I will call 911 and have them send me to a crazy home before I do something” I just started taking Zoloft almost 3 weeks ago and it has helped me a little, but I don’t want to depend on the medication so I am looking articles online to help with strategies to defeating this evil :) Thank you for your story! I know it will take time but day by day I will get better , at least it helps me knowing I am not insane lol ( well not that much :) )

    • aza

      this is so me, when i first have ocd, its all about fear of dead, it happen when i was just 10 years old, but that fear is gone already but i develop another fear that hunting me untill now, im 34 now, my ocd is mostly fear of being crazy, skitzo, fear i will loose my mind. gladly i manage to control it for 5 years but after my second child arrived , my ocd seems to get worst when i change my medication ( maybe it just not for me) . i struggle untill now, thank god i manage to get rid of my new med and change it to my old med again because i think in the past how it make me better and im so good on it. im currently on my 2nd week of zoloft. i can see it really make me much better but this ocd still there. i intrested to do cbt and erp but here in my country there is a lack of doctor and ocd therapist. im looking for support and i need someone who is dealing with this kind of ocd to email so that i dont feel alone . please email me azrayana@yahoo.com if u dont mind. sorry for my bad english, i am not so good on it.

  • Jon

    I am an OCD sufferer currently going through ERP with meds. Your story brings me peace of mind, Thank you

  • Peter Saarloos

    Reading this made me realize I have OCD myself and can finally start looking into CBT that will treat it. It’s a little scary to learn that, in a way, there is something wrong with me, but it’s also kind of relieving to finally know what it is. Thank you so much for writing this and sharing this with the world!

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