Author: Joseph Antonellis

A college student trying to make a difference in the world by spreading mental health awareness.

Love, Poetry, and Team Sports: How to Build Community and Deal with OCD

By Joseph Antonellis,

How community makes unbearable things better

It’s hard to find a silver lining for the most difficult things in life. I remember earlier this year, during the first week of college football training camp, I couldn’t have felt more alone. The anxiety of not knowing anyone, sleeping in a new place, being judged all day by unknown coaches — what did they think of me? What did the other players think? Every night when I tried to sleep all I could imagine was their voices. Why did we even recruit him? Who does he think he is? What’s his problem? I couldn’t even sleep because the thoughts were endless. No matter what I did during the day, how positive or negative the experiences were, these anxious questions would always find their way into my mind. I couldn’t really do anything about it, because this is just how my mind operates in these sorts of uncomfortable situations.

As the season wore on, love is what cured my anxieties. I felt love for the game of football. I felt love from my teammates, my coaches. I’ll always remember what one senior said to me: “We’re a team. We’ll love you no matter who you are, what you do, what you say. It’s a family.” Without this feeling of compassion, I would have stayed lonely, and my obsessions might have continued to overtake me on a day-to-day basis. But I found that silver lining. The 7 a.m. wake-ups, the long and tense meetings, the hours of practice in the 100-degree heat — it was all worth it. I had experienced how bad my anxiety could get, but now I was rewarded with knowing, through perseverance, that there were eighty other players who supported me no matter what I did, giving me the ability to fight my inner struggles with a greater confidence than ever before.

What’s love got to do with it?: Acceptance and OCD

I’m sure many of you had already seen Neil Hilborn’s 2013 performance of “OCD” at the Rustbelt poetry slam, and if you hadn’t, I hope you enjoyed watching it above. Hilborn’s performance inspires bravery in all of us. To go up on stage and talk about heartbreak is one thing, but telling a bunch of strangers about specific OCD symptoms is one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen.

As I mentioned in a previous article, I often worried that I shouldn’t start writing for nOCD because of the possible triggers I might experience while exploring my past experiences. I thought it would bring everything back in full force. Even reading about OCD scared me! But, after all, I’ve experienced the opposite. After finishing my first article, I let out a huge sigh of relief, as it was almost like a barrier I had yet to cross was finally broken, and I was finally allowed to be open with myself and the world. I sense this same feeling in Hilborn’s work.

“I have been wondering, mostly, if love and sanity are the same thing. When I say I am in love I am also saying the world makes sense to me right now” ― Neil Hilborn, Our Numbered Days

Just like being part of a loving football team, Hilborn’s experience of falling in love allowed him to feel comfortable in his own mind. “How can it be a mistake that I don’t have to wash my hands after I touch her?” Hillborn asks. This person loves and accepts him for who he is: for all his obsessions and all the compulsive behaviors he turns to. Her acceptance is a beautiful denial of all the times other people have told Hilborn to change; it allows him to feel comfortable with who he is, and to open himself up more completely in a way he’s never risked doing before.

Opening up often allows people to feel less lonely about their situation, as it can strengthen connection and make a relationship more meaningful. This is often missing in our society: true, unconditional love, no matter what someone is struggling with. Even though this was missing toward the end of Hilborn’s relationship, it was clearly an important breakthrough for him. This type of genuine interpersonal acceptance can only occur in a society that takes mental health awareness more seriously.

Creating compassion: knowledge comes first

So, why is the nOCD team working so hard to try and help people with obsessive-compulsive disorder? Because of its immense relevance in today’s society, and the fact that so many people are still out there struggling. We want to create a more loving and accepting society, where people like Neil Hilborn can feel genuine human compassion every single day. A society where you don’t need to be in love or on a football team to feel accepted for who you are. In Hilborn’s poem, the woman eventually could not handle being with someone dealing with that type of symptoms, and left him. My goal is to help create a society in which Hilborn’s girlfriend doesn’t feel like she has to leave him– where mental illnesses are understood, and people have the necessary skills to help their partners or friends without overreaching their capacity and hurting their own mental health.

Often mental illnesses are clumped together into one muddled group, but the first step to creating a general understanding of mental health is to distinguish each illness from the others. OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder, but it is often put in a category of its own due to the variety of ways it can affect your mental health. If you’re diagnosed with OCD, it might mean you’re especially susceptible to other mental illnesses, like mood disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, ADHD, and a variety of related conditions.

The fact that OCD is so often accompanied by another condition is part of what makes it so difficult to understand, diagnose, and treat. There are also many different subtypes of OCD, making the term OCD more of a larger category for a multitude of more specific types. For example, when analyzing the Neil Hilborn poem, you can pick out multiple different subtypes.

Checking — “Did I lock the doors? Yes.”

Contamination — “Did I wash my hands? Yes.”

Ruminations — “I can’t go out and find someone new because I always think of her.”

Symmetry and Orderliness — “On our first date, I spent more time organizing my meal by color than I did eating it, or talking to her.”

These are just a few of the many complexities OCD has to offer, as we are just scraping the surface of the disorder. Gaining a new perspective on OCD and mental health is a great first step to developing an acute sense of mental awareness. We can always learn more; these issues are always more complicated than they seem. Even having gone through it myself I haven’t come close to developing a complete understanding of the disorder, but everyday I strive to learn about it on a deeper level. Trying is the key, as even the slightest attempt at learning more could markedly help those around you, preventing them from also having to cope with the intense loneliness of dealing with OCD around people who don’t understand it.

Build the structures you’ll need if things get tough

None of this means you need to be in love or on a football team to start feeling better. But it’s also vital that you don’t view recovery as a solitary quest– a simple matter of gritting your teeth and fighting through things until you’re well enough to wander your way back to society. Even if you’re not in love or part of a supportive team, developing a sense of community will make the almost unbearable parts of having OCD or another mental health issue much more bearable. It will also give you a reason to get better.

I believe we can all find a silver lining for any of our struggles. I remember times in my life when I didn’t even want to exist; these became the memories that fueled the moments when I lived largest. Although it can be almost impossible to see how in the world concepts like community or acceptance might help you at the lowest of your lows, if you can store away an aspiration to pursue them it might help you when things start to get really tough. In Hilborn’s poem, it was his girlfriend that gave him hope. For me, it was being part of a football team. Where do you think you might find the love and nourishment that everyone– dealing with mental illness or not– needs to live well? The question seems tacky; the answers you might find are anything but.

Looking for a great (and free!) way to learn how to cope with thoughts that bother you? Click here.

Mindfulness Practices for OCD: 5 Reasons They‘ll Help You Feel Better

By Joseph Antonellis,

Today’s story is written by Joe Antonellis, a student-athlete at Pomona College in California. Joe has the kind of enthusiasm about writing that makes you want to sit down and write too, and brings all this passion to his work writing about mental health and personal journeys.

Mental health is the most important aspect of living a happy and fulfilled life, but it’s often overlooked in our media and society, making it very difficult to reach out to others in times of suffering. This fear of judgement can cause many to hide their afflictions, masking their true emotions in a happy façade just to get through the day. In these moments, it’s good to develop strategies for overcoming mental issues, whether you have OCD or you’re simply looking to improve your mental health and live better.

Recently, in my immersive research at Pomona College, I have delved deeply into the intricacies and effects of mindfulness practices. These practices often relate very closely to Buddhism, a religion that emphasizes meditative and mantric practices. In the context of Buddhism, techniques like these are meant for a lay person or monastic to practice in pursuit of enlightenment, or the “end of all suffering.” Although for a slightly different purpose, the medical field has used these mindfulness techniques successfully in treating mental illness, specifically OCD. Not only have these practices proven to drastically help those with mental illness, they’ve also helped people who don’t have a diagnosis but still want to improve their daily lives.

The Russinova Study: Effectiveness in varying cases

In the majority of cases, the effect of these mindfulness practices on the human brain is markedly positive. The American Journal of Public Health (2002) published a study analyzing the effectiveness of alternative medical therapies on patients with serious mental illnesses, finding intriguing results. 86% of patients identified multiple practices that proved beneficial to their mental health. These included meditation and guided imagery– both practices essential to Buddhism.

Another category of therapy used by the study was called religious/spiritual activities, which included spiritual recitation of scriptures. Not only did these practices help patients manage their mental illness, but the study concluded that they “promote a recovery process beyond the management of emotional and cognitive impairments by also enhancing social, spiritual, general, and self-functioning” (Russinova). This suggests that these practices have the potential to not only manage mental illness like prescription medication, but also give patients hope that one day they could cure their disease. With these religious practices resulting in such a high medical success rate, there must be some scientific backing to support them. . .

The Curious Connection Between Science and Buddhism

Buddhism is often viewed as a way of life rather than a “religion.” Although Buddhism includes various rituals, amulets, prayers, and worship, it is very different from other religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the fact that there are no definitive religious texts, creator deities, or divine prophets (Barash, 2014). Biologist David Barash believes Buddhism to be the religion most compatible with science, due to its emphasis on personal experience, rather than a reliance on sacred texts, as the gateway to knowledge. The empirical nature of Buddhism is very similar to the investigative foundation of science, allowing the two to mesh fluidly.

Buddhism, much like science, often defines its teachings through simple observations of the world. The Pali Canon, one of Buddhism’s foundational texts, lists countless reasons for why life is suffering. For example, Buddha’s saying that life is like a dew drop, that it will vanish at sunrise and not last long, is analogous to the pleasurable times of our lives and their impermanence, which causes a lot of suffering (Bodhi, 2005, p.206). Because of its insistence on constant observation and reasoning, Buddhism can easily coexist with science. This suggests there’s a good chance that Buddhist practices like meditation would also mesh well with “scientific” approaches to mental health.

The Neuroscience of Mindfulness: A positive change in brain chemistry

Neuroscience is the quickest path to understanding the true effect Buddhist practice has on mental illness. A study published by the National Library of Medicine (2011) examined the effects on the actual biology of the brain, looking closely at grey matter concentration in the left hippocampus. Grey matter is critical to a functioning brain, including regions of the brain responsible for memory, self-control, decision making, and emotions. Patients were put through a common 8-week mindfulness training program, and had their brains examined throughout. The mindfulness program included guided meditation and imagery, slightly different from traditional Buddhist meditation in purpose, but basically the same in principle. After analyzing the results, the researchers found that mindfulness practices increase the concentration of gray matter in areas of the brain important to “learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking” (Holzel).

These areas are very similar to those affected by mental illnesses like OCD. In fact, these biological findings add evidence to the testimonies of those affected by serious mental illnesses in the previous study. Patients said that the mindfulness practices “helped focus their thoughts” (Russinova), and stopped panic attacks, mental effects explained by an increase in gray matter. Now, there may be an obvious correlation between the two studies in the effectiveness of Buddhist meditation practices on the brain, but it’s not clear whether these studies are comparable to the original intentions of the practices themselves.

Testimony from an OCD Specialist: How a healing process can begin

Meditation and mindfulness practices have a known beneficial effect on those with mental illness. Part of the reason why is that they gives the ability for “one to view their thoughts and self impartially” (Rojas, 2013). Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, an OCD specialist, is famous for applying mindfulness practices when dealing with the disease. He believes it is possible, given the science of neuroplasticity, that humans can rewire their brains through the force of will and applied thought (Rojas, 2013). Therefore, under these guidelines, Schwartz believes that mindfulness can be used to completely cure some mental illnesses. He is not only saying these practices can be as effective as prescription drugs, but suggesting that they are simply superior. Training your brain to act with control is almost impossible to achieve when afflicted with OCD, but with the right techniques, the process can begin.

This sort of “self directed neuroplasticity” (Rojas, 2013) can be applied through meditative mantric and visual practices as well. In Buddhist practice, it is commonplace to recite a sutra as a mantra. For example, chanting the Heart Sutra over and over again will keep one mindful of the teachings, planting the knowledge of the dharma in one’s subconscious, even if what is being chanted is not consciously understood. Mantric practices can be extremely beneficial to those afflicted with OCD, helping in times of panic and obsession. Although those afflicted are usually not chanting Buddhist scriptures, the focus and concentration on any one repeated phrase holds a similar effectiveness.

Some struggling with OCD would even argue that mantric practices are more beneficial specifically for an obsessive mind. One testimony states that “negative thinking often comes from meditations on my anxiety” (West, 2014). Contrary to the previously discussed research, this patient suffers from OCD more when attempting to meditate because they more susceptible to obsessions when they are on their own and their brain is allowed to think freely. This view shouldn’t give meditation a negative connotation though, as the same patient recommended Mantric practices, which is basically a different form of meditation where one focuses on their chanting instead of their breath. Focusing on a mantra can also give meaning to a meditation practice, as the words being recited can be beneficial to the recovery of a patient. For example, a patient would repeat over and over again in their head “Do I have to do this right now? I’m in control” allowing them to stay grounded during the most persistent obsessions.

A Possible New Future of Mental Health

Alternative medical practices are becoming more and more popular in modern society, with many going away from traditional prescription drugs to pursue a more natural treatment. Specifically, in the field of mental health, there is a large debate on if it is necessary or healthy for those diagnosed with a mental illness to take certain prescription drugs. In turn, a large market of research has opened up on alternative practices, and Buddhist meditation has filled the void effectively. With a slew of research supporting its mental benefits, meditation has been biologically proven to help patients, and even provide an opportunity to not just manage the illness, but defeat it.

These practices can certainly be more challenging than taking prescription drugs, but the challenge is worth it in terms of the potential mental progress one can achieve. There’s the added benefit that these techniques don’t really have side effects. Science and Buddhism’s combined empirical relationship with nature gives mindfulness practice a true medical legitimacy, providing hope for those afflicted with mental illness that there are other options for recovery besides prescription medications.

Until next time,

The nOCD Team

We’re interested in sharing more stories like this one. To talk with us about submitting your story to the nOCD blog, please email

And if you’re interested in learning more about the nOCD app, a platform for treating your OCD and finding a community of other people dealing with anxiety disorders, click here.  

Before Bed: An Unwanted Date with OCD

By Joseph Antonellis,

Today’s story is written by Joe Antonellis, a student-athlete at Pomona College in California. Joe has the kind of enthusiasm about writing that makes you want to sit down and write too, and brings all this passion to his work writing about mental health and personal journeys.

Alone time is the worst. When you are alone, with nobody else there to pull you back into reality, OCD can kick your brain to the curb and grab control of your mind in an instant. Being alone with your obsessions somehow makes them more real, resistant, and powerful, enabling them to ambush you with ease.

When are these anxiety attacks most likely to occur? Right when your mind is meant to be at its quietest and most tranquil: sleep time. Even if you’re with a partner at this time, you’re forced to avoid interacting with them, as it would be rude to risk waking them up. This makes the time right before bed one of the most frightening times for people with OCD, invoking a deep and interesting relationship between the two very opposite factors.

I remember I would always dread going to sleep when I was suffering with OCD in my younger years. I would avoid bedtime, partaking in various other activities to put off the eventual loneliness of sleeping. I was terrified of being alone with my brain, as I didn’t have the confidence to deal with my OCD on my own when no other activity preoccupied me. Some nights it never struck, and I was able to sleep peacefully, but other nights, obsessions lingered until the I heard the birds singing at dawn. This led to a lack of sleep, of course, resulting in a very unhealthy lifestyle, which contributed negatively to my mental health in addition to my struggles with OCD. It’s not like I was distracting myself with beneficial activities either. Most of the time, the late nights were filled with binge eating, mindless TV shows, and violent video games.

In other cases, my bed would be the getaway place I would try to escape to when an obsession came on. Although torturous at times, it could also serve as a safe haven where I knew none of “my ideas” would come to fruition. It was the perfect excuse when I was younger. Whenever an activity or event came up that I knew would trigger my OCD, I could always say I wanted to take a nap or pretend I was sick to try and get out of it. This was just another defense mechanism to avoid the mental barriers instead of busting through them, and “sleeping,” although difficult due to the imminent loneliness associated with it, allowed an easy escape from my fears. As I said above, OCD is not only a mental condition, but an idea that creates fear in the brain, making those afflicted try to avoid confrontation with it at all costs. Sleep and OCD have a significant duality in the effects of the two on each other, which must be explored further.

The Unwanted Cup of Coffee

Imagine you were forced to drink a full cup of coffee before going to bed every night. You would sit there in bed and stare at the ceiling, with distracting thoughts whirling in your mind for hours. You would never get a good night’s sleep this way, and would never feel rested the next day. Now, I’m sure many of you have experienced this feeling after accidentally having caffeine before bed, or when trying to work or study late into the night– but imagine feeling this way every night. This is what it is like for those suffering with OCD. Research has shown that those with OCD have higher than normal rates of insomnia, and even other sleep issues like delayed sleep phase disorder. These issues are shown to be caused by obsessive thoughts, which keep victims up all night, trapped in their thoughts.

As mentioned before, bedtime is the loneliest part of the day, but also one of the most important times of the day. Sleeping efficiently has many different contributing factors, one of the most important being your “sleep environment.” It takes time every night to get into the ideal sleeping position and get your surroundings all set. This includes factors like outside noise, lighting, bedding, and temperature. If you have OCD, though, one compulsion can disrupt all of this, resetting the sleeping process and delaying your much-needed time in dreamworld. For example, I would often run out of bed to check if the downstairs lights were off, and this alone would set my sleeping process back 20 minutes– assuming I only checked one time. Compulsive behaviors and the obsessive mental processes mentioned above make the ultimate combination standing in the way of a good night’s sleep, but other complexities muddle this process even more.

The Vicious Cycle: OCD and Reduced Sleep

Let’s assume that your OCD is taking away an hour’s worth of sleep from your night, at minimum. Whether it’s a constant stream of obsessive thoughts or compulsions, you never get to bed by the time you wanted to. This lack of sleep is not only affecting the sharpness of your brain and the fatigue of your body the next day, though. It’s probably increasing the severity of your OCD as well. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep can cause an increase in the commonality and duration of obsessions the next day. Thus, the relationship between sleep and OCD is not only causal, but by nature circular. First, OCD causes you to lose sleep, then this lack of sleep causes your OCD symptoms to arise more frequently. If you suffer with this OCD-related insomnia, this seemingly exponential relationship can seem very daunting and undefeatable, much like a runaway train, impossible to stop. The first issue is viewing the problem as the entire thousand-ton train. You must stop the train one gear at a time, picking off one little piece any chance you get, in order to stop it. The cycle can be stopped, and the first real step is to truly believe in your mind that it can be, recognizing that it will not be easy but can be done.

Combating the Sleep-Stealing Obsessions and Compulsions

When it comes to OCD and sleep, it is best to start off by gaining a few small victories. First, I would like to address the in-bed compulsions that could cause you to wreck your sleeping environment and set back your sleep cycle. Let’s say you feel a strong urge to check something in your house. Getting up and checking it is self-defeating, so the main goal is to not perform the compulsion. If you have strategies that work during the daytime (like counting backwards from 200 by multiples of seven, or observing 10 things in your immediate environment) then you can try those at night too.

If you don’t have any strategies yet, or they’re not working, distraction is your next best bet. Try something that won’t keep you awake, like journaling, reading, or listening to quiet music. As long as it won’t ultimately be harmful to your health, anything you can come up with will be better than giving in to your compulsions. Try new things, especially if they’re things you’re actually interested in. And don’t be discouraged if things don’t work out too well at first: the goal is improvement, not perfection.

Although reassurance-seeking is not an ideal strategy, and can be another compulsion in itself, in extreme cases the need for sleep might outweigh your OCD treatment goals in the immediate short term. Let’s say you have a final exam tomorrow, and you just can’t get yourself to sleep. Maybe, for one night only, it might make sense to put yourself at ease. For example, if you always have to double-check that the lights are off in the house, a strategy to allow yourself to relax could be taking a picture of the dark room, to reassure yourself on your own without any outside help. Again, reassurance is not a great strategy because it tends to strengthen the obsessive-compulsive circles in the long run. It always feels good to get reassurance in the immediate, but for your long-term recovery it’s important to work on strategies to for diffusion or distraction, not reassurance. But we won’t pretend like there are never nights when it’s better to sacrifice this treatment objective and get some sleep.

Although these are steps to help you prevent compulsive behaviors, it is harder to deal with the obsessive thoughts that plague your brain for hours when you’re alone in bed. Meditation practice often helps me in these situations, combined with a form of self-questioning. If you ever find yourself obsessing all night, it is best to start taking deep, slow breaths, trying to focus all your attention on the rising and falling of your chest. This will allow for at least an attempt to clear your mind of the obsession for a moment. Next, after calming down your stream of thought, try to question the validity of the obsession. Why am I thinking this? Why is this important? Do I have to think this? Note that if one of your compulsions is to try to figure out the answer to these questions, this particular strategy probably won’t help you. Otherwise, these questions might help put your obsession in perspective, and perhaps this combination will help you drift off to sleep faster than you previously would have.

Sleep is the quiet force that allows us to keep living. All humans need it, but much like everything else in the world, everyone’s ability to attain it varies. I would like to conclude with Walt Whitman’s famous poem In Midnight’s Sleep, a recount of the horrors he saw in the Civil War, and how they constantly reappeared in his dreams and disrupted him in the middle of the night. I want you all to visualize OCD as a war going on in the mind. Just like in the poem below, there is hope of ending the war, but this hope is not there without the existence of hard-fought battles. This hope is not there without the recognition of beauty in the struggle. And finally, this hope is not there without dreams. I encourage you to keep fighting these battles everyday, no matter how small. Be resilient in your efforts, and be strong, because no matter what you think, it is inside each and every one of you.

In Midnight Sleep

IN midnight sleep, of many a face of anguish,

Of the look at first of the mortally wounded — of that indescribable


Of the dead on their backs, with arms extended wide,

I dream, I dream, I dream.

Of scenes of nature, fields and mountains;

Of skies, so beauteous after a storm — and at night the moon so

unearthly bright,

Shining sweetly, shining down, where we dig the trenches and gather

the heaps,

I dream, I dream, I dream.

Long, long have they pass’d — faces and trenches and fields;

Where through the carnage I moved with a callous composure — or away

from the fallen,

Onward I sped at the time — But now of their forms at night,

I dream, I dream, I dream.

By Walt Whitman

We’re interested in sharing more stories like this one. To talk with us about submitting your story to the nOCD blog, please email

And if you’re interested in learning more about the nOCD app, a platform for treating your OCD and finding a community of other people dealing with anxiety disorders, click here.  

Let’s Break Barriers Together: A Personal Story of OCD Recovery

By Joseph Antonellis,

Today’s story is written by Joe Antonellis, a student-athlete at Pomona College in California. Joe has the kind of enthusiasm about writing that makes you want to sit down and write too, and brings all this passion to his work writing about mental health and personal journeys.

Never even glanced at the colorful fires setting to the west.

My family gathered around the table, full of jokes, laughter, and smiles. The balmy weather, combined with the picturesque view of the golden Arizona sunset, created an observed inner peace amongst my surroundings. From the upper balcony of the restaurant the desert panorama exuded a dangerous trust to its inhabitants. An owl perched on a Saguaro cactus seemed to smirk at me, laughing at the pain in my eyes.

Too bad that day I never enjoyed the warm presence of my loving family. Never even glanced at the colorful fires setting to the west. Never enjoyed the once-in-a-lifetime view that opened up the desert environment to my senses. I was too busy trapped in my own mind, OCD taking over my twelve-year-old body like it always did, controlling my every facet, pushing me to the brink of insanity.

The knife to the right of my plate beckoned me. “Take me and cut yourself.” Over and over again in my head I fought the internal battle. No, you don’t have to do this. Please don’t do it. The knife was relentless though, grinding into my head its constant message.

“Honey, do you know what you want to order?”

I stared at her with a blank expression. All I could think about was the knife. I had to get away from it before it was too late. I feared the next time I laid eyes on the knife, it would be protruding from my skin.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” I quietly stated, avoiding eye contact with my family as I scampered out of the dining area.

I will never forget the way I felt when I was locked in the bathroom that night. I felt I had disappointed my entire family, confused them, made them scared. I was too terrified to open up to them about how I felt. Helpless, I had no answer to what was going on in my head, and didn’t even know what was causing it or what it was. Tears filled with uncertainty flooded down my face, covered in anguish. All I knew is that I had to get away from that knife, or else I would lose all control.

It wasn’t only the knife though. The compulsions didn’t stop there. They followed me everywhere I went. There was no safe place for me with OCD, with my mind creating a new obsession the moment I got over the old. Throughout my entire childhood, I struggled with this torturous disease, with no clear path to liberation in sight. I never knew what it was until I was brave enough to talk to my mom about it. Opening up was the first of the two-step process that led me to defeat OCD, and I would like to expound upon the first steps I took in my long battle with the evil disease.

Opening Up and Finding the Root of the Issue: Experiences in Therapy

Fear that I would ride off the trail and hurt myself on purpose

I was so afraid to disappoint my parents that I held in all the turmoil that was going on in my brain for years. Eventually, it got to the point where my life was an actual living hell. Happiness was a thing of the past, as every good moment quickly turned into another whirling obsessive tirade in my head. I remember one day on a mountain biking trip with my family when I sat behind at the trailhead all day waiting for them to come back, in fear that I would ride off the trail and hurt myself on purpose. My brothers always thought I was crazy, and my parents viewed these incidents with fear and confusion. I knew I had to tell them why, and eventually that time did come.

When I told my mom about the way my brain worked, and how I couldn’t control my thoughts, she immediately knew it was OCD. Before I told her, I expected her to immediately outcast me as the freak, the child that didn’t live up to expectations. But, it was quite the opposite. Right away, she tried everything in her power to help me. Reluctantly, I agreed to go to therapy. After having a few OCD panics before the first couple sessions and skipping them, I finally made it to one, and it was the first step to my eventual freedom from the disease.

The feeling of being and talking with a stranger has a calm and free beauty to it. You know that you will never see them in the context of your daily life, and that whatever you say to them will not affect your life no matter how they view you for it. These therapy sessions allowed me to explain in entirety what I was going through on an everyday basis. I felt safe to say things I didn’t want to say in front of my family members, knowing I couldn’t scare them or make them change the way they look at me. Through the first few sessions, I often wasn’t honest with myself or the therapist. This, of course, was useless, and I quickly realized that. A voice in my head would encourage me to keep everything inside. Eventually, I was able to conjure enough strength to break this barrier, which leads me to the main strategies I used to beat my OCD.

OCD hits with you obsessions constantly, and to beat it, you have to use all of your mental strength to ward them off. After working with my therapist for months, we were able to come up with a mantra I would ask myself in my head whenever I would feel like doing a compulsion. Do I have to do this right now? Do I have to think this right now? Who’s making me? I’m in control. As the popular phrase goes, sometimes you need to “fake it to make it.” Whenever I would start obsessing, I would just focus on these phrases, and truly ask myself these questions in my head, providing myself with honest answers. Almost always, I would repeat, No, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to. I don’t have to think anything I don’t want to. I’m in control. This mantra helped me stay grounded, and it was always there to fall back on. It was my first defense mechanism against OCD, but often it wasn’t enough. I had to create something more physical to pair it with in my fight against the full-body disease that OCD is.

Breaking Barriers: Getting past obsessions for the first time

Breaking an OCD barrier is much like solving a math problem that has stumped you for hours. It seems impossible to solve, no matter how much effort you put into it, but eventually you get that lightbulb moment. Suddenly, the answer just comes to your head, and you realize what you were doing wrong the whole time and come to a speedy conclusion. With OCD, it is like being trapped under the ice of a frozen lake. Suffering and drowning, you pound on that ice as hard as you can with your fists, but the effort is futile because your fists are simply not hard enough to the break the ice. But once you are equipped with the right tools, you can smash right through the ice, pull yourself up, and take a deep breath of fresh air.

One of my most common compulsions can be observed when I’m walking down city sidewalks. In my head, it is absolutely essential that I step on each crack on the path in front of me. If I miss one, I often “have to” go back and step on it, and then go catch up with the people I am walking with. Whenever I catch myself doing this now though, I break the barrier. I ask myself, Do I have to do this? I’ll say No, and I will force my body to keep walking. The further I get away from the crack, the less I think about it. The first time you break the barrier of a compulsion is always the hardest, but once you accomplish it, it gives you immense confidence. Everytime you get that recurring obsession, you can think back to the time you beat it, and it will give you the innate willpower to overcome it again. Much like a pianist practicing a piece, the more you break the barrier the easier it becomes to do on an everyday basis, allowing yourself to master the practice.

Although my OCD was most present when I was younger, I still apply these strategies every day. Instead of my attacks lasting hours or even days, they just last a few minutes, because I have built up the skillset to both recognize and kill off any attachments to these obsessions quickly. But, they still do exist in my mind, and I find myself doing things compulsively on an everyday basis. There is still a fear in my heart that it could come back and haunt me like it used to, as those memories still persist in my brain today.

Even starting to write for nOCD has scared me, as I thought that rehashing all of the old memories and thinking about OCD in detail again could bring it back in full power. But, all of this is just fear and lack of confidence. Once a barrier is broken, it can never be unbroken, and it will always be wedged in your brain that it can be accomplished. I hope I have inspired all of you to open up about your OCD, question it, and break those barriers, no matter where you are in your journey of recovery. Have confidence in yourselves, and know that millions have fought OCD and succeeded before. You are just the next to overcome those obsessions and start living free.

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