Overcoming OCD: Beth’s challenge

“Mark’s explanation for why people like him exist made so much sense. Therapists exist, he said, to give us what others can’t or won’t. And what I wasn’t getting was: challenge.

If someone had told me I needed to be challenged to overcome my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I’m not sure I would have understood. But Mark pointed out what was obvious: overcoming a major condition like OCD is a challenge. Of course I needed to be challenged. What I learnt in therapy, was that challenge can be one of the kindest of acts.

A polite challange

Mark would often interrupt me albeit in a polite way. This I found very challenging because I wasn’t used to it. Why wasn’t I used to it? I asked my husband and he replied that he had given up. He said my negativity was like a sledgehammer knocking him into submission. A close friend told me our conversations had become very one-way. I cried a lot when she told me this. My friend thought I had become obsessed with my OCD!

OCD Trance

Mark stopped me getting into my OCD trance, as he called it. When I mentioned this phrase to my husband he said “That’s it! That’s exactly what you go into!” In my therapy I would try to dominate Mark just as I did my husband and friends. I got nowhere. He would say I was welcome to head off down my OCD path, but he wouldn’t be following. He would literally stop talking and just sit there. These moments were actually quite funny. I laughed a lot in counselling, which I had not expected. Again, Mark pointed out the obvious. I had come to see him for help and yet I was determined to make him accept my OCD. Mark did not challenge me in a cruel way. If he had done so, I would never have continued.

My OCD: I knew something, but not enough

I knew a lot about OCD, but I didn’t know enough. I knew my OCD was linked to traumatic events in my past and that it helped me cope with them at the time. I knew that changing my thinking was important. I knew that changing my behaviour was important. However, it was still controlling my life and the lives of those around me. The difference Mark made was in his use of challenge. He believed in me like no one else and this transformed challenge into a positive force.

An OCD metaphor: The Ship’s Anchor Challenge

Mark explained that our brains lock on to the strongest source of emotion and that this can be positive or negative. The challenge of overcoming my OCD was dependent on finding a way to make it more emotionally persuasive not to think or behave obsessively. Once I found achieved this, Mark said, my OCD would have to give way.

Mark explained it like this: overcoming my OCD was like pushing an old-fashioned ship’s anchor overboard. To push it over the side of the ship takes a huge amount of effort based on an understanding of how to manipulate heavy objects. However, once the anchor has been dropped overboard, nothing can stop it from reaching its destination – the seabed.

A day without obsession

The visualisation of my OCD as an anchor being pushed off a ship changed my perspective on it. What I learned in therapy was that being unable to see a solution is part of the problem. Mark said our brains can only work with the material we give them, and what I gave my brain to work on was more of them same.

Feeling supported and challenged, gave me the courage to make progress. Once I saw my anchor move, I felt hopeful and energised. Mark gave me plenty of activities and resources to work on – I was amazed how busy I became in between my sessions – that kept my anchor moving towards its tipping point. And then one day, my anchor was over the side and gravity did the rest. I will never forget that day because for the first time in years it was one completely free of anything obsessive.

What I learnt from therapy

Therapy gave me back to myself and it brought people back into my life who had been shut out. It gave us a common language to better understand my OCD, such as OCD trance. It gave us ways of seeing my OCD through metaphor as in the Ship’s Anchor. What I learnt from therapy is that it does make a difference talking to a professional and that doing so can be full of surprises.

I hope anyone reading this can find the courage to try therapy. Please take some time to find a therapist who is right for you. Mark at Conversations With Impact was definitely the right therapist for me.