Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Katie L and Doubt: the story of a Mormon girl with Pure-O (part II)

This is part II of Katie L's story. For part I please read here.

My obsessions have almost always revolved around religion. (This is actually a common enough theme for OCD sufferers that it has its own term, "scrupulosity.") This has made my relationship with both the church and God very complicated. To be totally blunt, there are aspects of Mormon teaching and practice that make life hell for OCD sufferers like me (and that I believe are unnecessary burdens for the rest of the membership) -- and if I were in charge, I would change them in a heartbeat. (Which, let's be honest, might be one of the myriad reasons why God hasn't seen fit to put me in charge.) ;-)

Still, my commitment to my Mormon faith goes very deep. It has supplied me with so many beautiful things: my family, many of my closest friends and most rewarding associations, dozens if not hundreds of life-changing experiences, a language and culture and framework for service and worship that feed my soul.
When it comes right down to it, though, I consider myself a disciple of Jesus before anything else. Mormonism is my religious community where I fellowship and live out my faith; but my hope is in Christ alone. OCD has required that I let go of minutiae and details, or I'll drive myself crazy -- quite literally! -- and so, out of necessity, I choose to focus on one thing. That one thing is Christ. (And I'm not sure, but I the more I learn the more I discover that that just might be what the scriptures ask me to do anyway.) :-)

Bottom line: it's taken me a long time to get some space between OCD and what I really believe about God, but what I've discovered is full of hope. Still, I imagine that this is something I'll be unraveling until the day I die.

Since I've been officially diagnosed with OCD -- specifically, "Pure-O," or "Pure Obsessional" OCD things have gotten better. (This is really a misnomer; as best I understand it, OCD always contains both obsessions AND compulsions. It's just that a "Pure-O" sufferer tends to have mental, as opposed to physical, compulsions.)

For treatment, I've tried traditional talk therapy (this was before I was diagnosed, and while it was helpful in addressing some of the collateral damage my disorder caused, it didn't touch the core issue), mindfulness therapy (helpful!), and a 4-step process from a book called Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive Compulsive Behavior by Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz (SUPER DUPER HELPFUL!). There is nothing I won't consider, though the Brain Lock treatment I've been using lately has been effective enough that I might not need to explore too many more options.
[Laura's note: from what I understand the majority of OCD sufferers do very well with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but there are also many who do not find relief until they try medication. For some, it takes a combination of both for relief.]

Having Pure-O OCD has made me much more spiritual than I believe I would have been without it. I have a tendency toward rigid, dogmatic, black-and-white thinking, and without OCD, I probably would have stayed there comfortably. But because I took my dogmatism to such an extreme that it was debilitating, I was forced to change my perspective for my very survival. Living like a Pharisee (like I did for years) is a spiritual dead end. Achieving moral perfection is simply impossible -- believe me, I've tried.

When God opened my eyes to the good news of His gospel, to the reality of His grace and mercy and love, it was like oxygen for a dying soul. I am now able to handle the messiness and ambiguity of life much better. I find myself filled with compassion and tolerance for others and their sins and weaknesses, because I have so much time agonizing over mine.

I believe that God gave me OCD to teach me how to love other people and to remind me how desperately I need Him. As painful as it has been over the years, I praise Him for that and consider it a gift.

On my best days, the anxiety is just a blip. An obsessive thought will come, and I'll make a mental note of it (or write it down on a note card), take inventory of the compulsion it wants me to perform, and then say, "Screw you, OCD. I'm NOT going to spend two hours agonizing over this. I'm gonna go do something else." And then I do.

I never expect the thoughts to go away. Maybe one day they will, but for now, I'm stuck with them. So I simply accept them, train myself to ignore them. I remind myself that if my heart is pumping, my stomach twisting, my hands cold and sweaty, then chances are it's an OCD thought and not something I need to take seriously.
So, on my best days, I don't.

I wish people understood how dang freakin' hard it is to diagnose this. Many Pure-O OCD sufferers go years, even in therapy, without a proper diagnosis. That's because, on face value, it can look a lot like general anxiety. A Pure-O OCD sufferer will come in with one obsession or another, and because there are no obvious compulsions like hand-washing or lock-checking, the therapist will treat the content of the obsession as opposed to the disorder itself.

In the end, it doesn't matter what you're obsessing about: OCD is about doubt (the obsession) and trying to neutralize that doubt (the compulsion). Whether you doubt that you really locked that door, or if your hands are really clean, or if your bad thoughts are enough to make God damn you for eternity -- and whether you respond by checking the doors, or washing your hands, or praying or confessing or ruminating -- it's irrelevant. You have to treat OCD like OCD to get better.

If anything that I've described today sounds familiar, I strongly recommend that you seek an evaluation from an OCD expert. I went through three counselors over five years before I finally found one who helped me figure out what was really going on with me. Getting the right diagnosis and the right treatment has made all the difference in my life.

Also, please feel free to reach out to me if there's anything I can do to help. I feel as though my own experiences have purpose and meaning when I can help others who are struggling. My email address is katiel2952 AT gmail DOT com.

To read more from Katie check out her blog Standing, Sitting, Lying Down. Also, if you'd like to share your own story of mood disorder or mental health issues feel free to email me at lolapalooza AT hotmail DOT com. Be sure to put "depression profile" in the subject line so I know you're not a spammer!


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing, Katie! My therapist has said over and over again that I have obsessive thought patterns. Is this a similar condition, do you think? Anyway, thanks again for sharing. It's helpful to hear from people who suffer from all sorts of mental illness.

Katie L. said...

Great question! I'm sure there are similarities in that obsessive, anxiety-producing thoughts are obsessive, anxiety-producing thoughts. I think your mind can get stuck in a "groove" and go to the same negative places pretty quickly.

Here are a couple of things I'd ask myself if I were wondering whether it's OCD or not (and of course I'm not a professional counselor, so take my feedback with the appropriate grain of salt)...

1)--How "reasonable" or "rational" are the obsessive thoughts? Don't get me wrong: obsessive thoughts are never particularly rational -- but with OCD, you often recognize that your thoughts make no sense or are hugely disproportionate to the situation...and yet you can't shake them. There's a difference between worrying about, say, your finances (especially when your bank account balance is low), and worrying that you might wake up tomorrow a psychopathic killer or that you accidentally hit someone with your car without knowing.

2)--Do you perform repeated behaviors to neutralize the anxiety? The behaviors can be either mental or physical, but there's usually SOMETHING you do that reduces the anxiety for a while...until the thoughts inevitably return, no matter how thoroughly you thought you'd "solved" the matter already.

Either way, good luck overcoming your obsessive thoughts! Whether you have OCD or not, they are intrusive and frustrating -- but beatable (at least in that they don't have to rule your life)!!!!

Anonymous said...

No, it doesn't sound like I have OCD. But it sounds really terrible-- much worse than what I'm experiencing. I hope you feel better soon!

Katie L. said...

Feeling better every day. :-) Thanks for your encouragement!

Anonymous said...

I have pure-o and it drives me crazy, but i also feel like it has made me a better person. Like i've gotten a blessing from a stake president once and in it, it says sometimes we go through things to become like God. And thats not saying God has OCD, but sometimes we have to learn the bad to create good. But I really want to just live a normal life on my bad days. I to run to the bathroom and pray my guts out and not get up until I can handle it. But I've come to know the reality of Jesus Christ. I have felt his presence in those times very strongly. My question to you is how do you handle being patient??? I can be very impatient with myself and all of this takes time. But it is so hard being patient, when you got bad thoughts, bad images, and feeling depressed, and crying. Im on a new medication so hopefully it will work good.

Pip said...
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