Therapy Success Stories
Graduate OCD Sufferers Speak Out
Graduate Story #10
Wonky Down Under
Hello there, dear reader – here comes my story. Before I met Dr. Steve Phillipson, I was convinced that I was severely depressed (or, feeling “wonky” as I often described it). I’d been feeling that way for a year and was worried I was one step away from jumping off a silo. Yes, a silo – a strong clue that I’m from the middle of nowhere, “Down Under” in Australia! It got to the point where every time I drove past a silo (there are millions around here), I would convince myself that I actually wanted to jump and anxiety would hit me like a ton of bricks. Every time I drove past a silo, I’d have to look away. I immediately became afraid I was mentally ill and on the verge of committing suicide. I consider myself a happy person who loves life, so this continuous “wonky” feeling was extremely confusing and distressing. One particular thought kept coming back, producing all kinds of anxiety: what if I was really suicidal? I spent a lot of time Googling symptoms and seeking reassurance from people around me. Throughout that year and my recovery, I experienced many different kinds of spikes, hitting me left, right, and center. A few examples of these spike-inducing thoughts include “I’m too mentally ill to be a good mother,” “I’m a crazy anorexic,” I’m being bipolar,” “I’m a compulsive liar”….you get the picture. You name it, I was sure I had it!
But this story is about my success, so let’s get to that. I came across Dr. Steve while Googling ‘obsessive thoughts’ on the Internet – yep, I was ruminating. I booked a Skype appointment soon after, and ever since I began working with him I’ve never looked back. He has taught me so much and I am forever grateful. If I had never met him, I don’t know where I’d be today (probably one step away from the top of that silo – kidding!) Here are some of the tactics we worked on together that really helped me:
Keep a high morale when you’re being challenged. Steve and I would call this “being cavalier.” Yes, initially I thought cavalier was a type of dog too, but apparently not. Understand that every challenge/spike you come across is part of your recovery. Be thankful that the challenge is there, because it presents another opportunity to practice your new skills, another opportunity to show your brain its irrelevance. When I experienced a spike, I would say to myself, “Whatever, I can eat icky monster for breakfast” (icky being the anxious, wonky feelings that accompanied a spike), or “Bring it on; bring on those icky feelings!” The truth is, you can’t just say the words, you really need to believe them. Trust me, this type of cavalier mindset did take some time but it was worth it.
Keep on life’s path no matter how you feel! This one is really important. This was one of the first things that Steve ever taught me. Back in the day, I felt wonky all the time. Sometimes I didn’t want to get out of bed or answer the phone. I obsessed about how I felt every second of the day. Steve taught me that I have to continue on with my days as normal, no matter how I felt. That meant never staying in bed because it was too painful to get up, and never avoiding work or friends. Obviously at times this was difficult, but over time my obsession with how I was feeling began to subside. I began waking up in the morning and telling myself, “Give me what you’ve got, OCD; I don’t care how you make me feel, you’re not changing my day, stay as long as you like.” To tell you the truth, I don’t need to tell myself that anymore because it doesn’t matter how I feel – I know what it is and it’s irrelevant. Wallowing in anxiety and OCD is the quickest way to give it power.
Go to the extreme. In moments of high anxiety, Steve taught me to “blow the spike up” in my head. Whatever your spike is, tell yourself that’s exactly what you are. For example, if my brain started to worry that I was an anorexic, bat-shit crazy person, I’d say to myself, “Yep, that’s right! I’m a depressed, anorexic, bat-shit crazy lunatic and I’ll probably go jump off the nearest silo tomorrow morning.” This really worked well for me. Steve even suggested that my husband play along with this game. My husband would come home from work and say something like, “So, darling, have you tried to kill yourself today?” or, “Gosh, you look depressed this evening; that tree outside our window would be a great one to hang yourself from.” At first, these comments would escalate the anxiety, but soon I learned to show my brain their irrelevance and now I hardly feel anything when these words or topics arise.
Index cards! This strategy works in a similar way to the point above. With index cards, I would write my spike down if it bothered me for more than 30 minutes. In other words, I’d write my biggest fear on the card, as in “I am bat-shit crazy and everyone talks about me.” Then I’d make myself view it 10 times a day. After a couple days of reading and re-reading the card, I felt nothing at all – in fact, I often laughed at it.
Don’t seek reassurance and don’t ruminate. In times of high anxiety, I would desperately want to solve the problem. Sometimes I’d Google the problem on the Internet and other times I’d try to solve it by going over the situation in my head, over and over and over. I would try to solve the problem by phoning a friend or talking to Steve and asking for reassurance. Don’t do that! With Steve’s help, I soon realized that ruminating and seeking reassurance are also some of the quickest ways to feed your OCD and give it power.
So there you have it. That’s what really worked for me. Steve has equipped me with amazing tools to attack this OCD head on. I’m sure sometime in the future my OCD will pop it’s little head up and throw me a spike here and there, but now I don’t care. I know what to do, because Steve has armed me these tools and I know how to use them. So, to OCD I say, “Bring it on; give me what you’ve got!”