“I told my congregation that I was feeling happier because my meds were starting to kick in…”
I quickly turn up the radio so I can hear better. A preacher telling his congregation he is taking meds? The type of meds that make you happier? Maybe he was going to speak of how medicine can be a gift from God to help correct problems in our brains. Maybe he was working to de-stigmatize the use of such medicine…
“My congregation looked concerned. So I continued, ‘yes, I’ve been meditating on the Word of God and it’s good medicine for my soul!'”
I could have slammed my head into the steering wheel. Not only did he not do what I was hoping, but he actually used the stigma about such medicine for dramatic effect to catch his church’s ear.
This happened in May. Right around that time, my therapist and I started talking about how it might be a good time for me to try some medicine for my OCD.
I’ve had OCD for many years. My first significant episode began when I was 12. It was related to my faith- namely, fear that I didn’t have enough of it. “What if I don’t really believe? What if I don’t have enough faith? What if I’m not really saved?” I naturally sought help from my parents and pastor, who counseled me on the spiritual side of it, addressing the actual questions I was raising. These faith questions and fears are common among religious kids. My particular struggle was ever realized to be OCD and I didn’t get psychological counseling. Eventually that episode subsided. Another similar recurred a few years later, and then subsided. Over the next few years I had other little struggles with OCD, but never really identified it for what it was. To me it was just stuff that bothered me deeply. I sought reassurance from those close to me, felt better, and was sort of able to move on.
Fast forward to just after I got married. I woke up from a really weird dream that involved sex. I was immediately terrified it meant I was a bad person; some kind of pervert. This fear gripped me and would not let go. No amount of assurance or self talk made it better. The fears snowballed. Intrusive thoughts. Hyper body awareness. Then came another fear- that somehow I’d snap and become a violent person. The presence of knives and an axe in our house scared me. I had constant and specific fears that somehow I was very ‘messed up’.
I think it was over a year before I went to counseling. I wish I had gone sooner.
I went to a therapist who had been recommended and after several weeks of listening to me unload she diagnosed me with OCD. I was relieved. You see, my biggest fear was that she was going to tell me I really WAS “messed up”. That I was a pervert or at risk of becoming violent at any moment. So when she confirmed it was OCD, a diagnosis I’d been suspecting, I was relieved.
Our first line of treatment was a type of Cognitive-Behavioral therapy called ‘Exposure with Response Prevention’ (ERP) where you confront your fears. This is fairly straightforward if your fear is of something like germs: for example, you might expose your self to progressively more germy environments without immediately washing your hands. First you might touch a door knob with your bare hand and wait 5 minutes to wash… and by the time therapy is complete you may touch a toilet seat and then eat a meal without washing your hands. Sounds gross, but the risk from possible germs is very much outweighed by the benefit of overcoming a crippling anxiety condition. The level of anxiety slowly comes down as you progressively confront your fears with out doing the compulsion (in this case hand washing).
For thought based OCD like mine (mine has very few visible compulsions), ERP is more imagination based, but still doable. It worked quite well and in a few months I felt significantly better and equipped with tools to handle future obsessions.
Unfortunately I didn’t do a spectacular job of staying on top of new obsessions and fears that latched on to this weakness in my brain. Every new fear felt real and legitimate, and so instead of immediately calling it an OCD thought and treating it accordingly, I treated these new fears like possible legitimate threats. My OCD went up and down in severity. I kept thinking about going back to therapy, but also kept thinking it was about to get better. “If I can just make sure this one thing is certainly ok, then I’ll be fine”, I kept telling myself. “It’s about to get better.” It actually has some similarities to an addiction or an abusive relationship in how it keeps you hooked.
Eventually I went back to counseling. I worked with my counselor through more ERP but found we needed to try some other strategies for training my brain. I started some mindfulness practices and other strategies. I made a decent amount of progress. I’m taking better care of my brain and my whole mental/emotional/spiritual being than I had been. One of my most powerful strategies is simply deciding that if I think this fear is probably OCD (at any given moment the specific concern is different), then I make it wait while I continue with what I was doing. Make it wait. Make it wait. I’m not always successful. Even when I am it drains some real energy…
Which is why my therapist and I decided I should go on medicine now.
I’m not real quick to go for medicine. I have a preference for natural and holistic treatments. My therapist isn’t quick to recommend medicine either, at least not for OCD. The cognitive/behavioral side is more foundational in treating OCD. She didn’t want me using medicine to the exclusion of giving the other therapies my full effort. But now that I’ve made those efforts in as full a way as I could, and now that my progress flat lined, it was time to see what else might also help.
And here I am, hoping these meds kick in! If they do, I will have no problem seeing them as a gift from God, a form of correction for my broken brain. It’s like a brace would be for a faulty knee- it stabilizes it so the knee can heal, or at least stop being constantly re-injured. It aids mobility and overall wellness. That’s the goal with my brain meds. If it can help my brain work in a more functional and life giving way, if I can have my internal energy more freed up, I’m calling it a win and will say for real, MY MEDS ARE KICKING IN!
I’m told my OCD is severe. The faulty ruts in my brain are deep, partly from years of unfortunate reinforcing. The OCD is unlikely to ever fully disappear until God makes this body all new. Even with medicine it will likely continue to be an irritation, like a little thorn in my side, until I die. God could do a miracle. If He would, that would be great. I’ve asked, trust me. I did some inner healing and prayer counseling too. I’m glad I did. But my OCD is still here. On one hand, I know God is a healer. He is the giver of life. OCD wasn’t His doing. He is setting and will fully set these problems right. On another hand, in my situation, I can’t help but see the potential for good fruit to come out of this struggle. I’m someone who likes to be strong. I feel empowered and gratified when I can handle tough things. OCD is a constant reminder that my value isn’t found in my strength and that I can be empowered in the more important ways if I will acknowledge where I am weak and helpless. I’ve also grown in other ways that I may not have without my broken brain. I’ve grown in my ability to trust the judgment of people around me, and I’ve become more aware of the mental and emotional realities of others. I expect more good fruit down the road. To quasi quote Greg Boyd, as I often do, “God didn’t plan my OCD, but He brought a plan to my OCD.”
I wrote this in September 2016 when I first started my medicine. I decided to leave it unpublished for awhile. Well it’s now February 2017. The medicine has been moderately effective in helping the OCD symptoms; taking some of that urgent edge off, making it easier for me to ‘make it wait’. Specific OCD thoughts don’t follow me as much from one day to the next. It’s had other effects as well: My girls have told me numerous times I’m getting sillier (though the bar here started very low). I do a better job at making other things wait too, like dishes- I can more easily let them sit and not feel compelled to clean up right away. I enjoy sleep more, and seem to need sleep more. I probably also cry a bit less than I used to. I felt a bit spacey at first but feel pretty clear now and am as analytical as ever. The most negative effect is that my ability to manage verbal chaos (ie; everyone talking to mom at once 😉 ) is lower for some reason.
I’m very grateful for this one more tool in my pursuit of health and am rather ok with the fact that it comes in the form of a medicine. All in all it’s been a win- my meds are kicking in!