My journey with Purely Obsessional OCD has been marked by surprises. When I began my recovery process, I thought I would learn how to erase the intrusive thoughts that filled me with fear and pain. I have gathered valuable tools – and have also healed more than I could have imagined. OCD has taught me profound lessons about self-acceptance, and about what it means to embrace my own humanity.
For years I carried a fear that at my core, I was shameful and unworthy of love. Driven by the belief that my value depended on my perfect performance of existence, I tried to control life rather than live it. While I was able to navigate some situations with this compass of self-will, OCD, like a storm, shook my foundation, giving me the opportunity to find a different basis for self-acceptance. I have learned that my value does not depend on how perfectly I stay in the lines, or by how much I can control any aspect of my life. My thoughts and fears do not define me. Like all living beings, I am intrinsically valuable. Even the greatest fear cannot rob me of this essence.
Before I was diagnosed with Purely Obsessional OCD, I struggled with intrusive thoughts alone and did not know what was wrong with me. When the thoughts appeared in my mind, the judge within me rejoiced at the opportunity to prove, in the most convincing and imaginative ways possible, that the core fears about myself were true. The disorder also thrived on my belief that certain thoughts, emotions, and outcomes were unacceptable. When fear gripped me with its glass, clenched fist, it wanted me to be scared, to run away, to struggle. Its power grew in proportion to my resistance to it.
In my experience, the thoughts themselves are not the problem – I’m powerless over what thoughts come into my mind. But I can choose to respond from a place of fierce self-acceptance, rooted in love rather than fear. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, as well as through spiritual practice, I have learned illuminating and useful ways to relate to OCD. I respond to the fearful thoughts with some version of: ‘Yes, maybe this fear will come true. I am willing to accept that.’ There are variations on this theme, but this basic response is the essence of my healing.
When I stop running from fear, it stops running after me. When I make room for the thought, emotion, or outcome that seems unacceptable, it ceases to take up so much space. As dense as fear may feel, it is only as heavy as my struggle to escape it. As a practice, I try not rush to escape fear, search for its meaning, or seek reassurance that it will vanish. Rather, I try to sit still with the possibility that it might manifest – and that even if it does, I can keep breathing. I choose to accept myself again and again, one breath at a time. I choose to embrace colors between colors, haunting questions, unresolved chords, and space for what is not known – these richly layered uncertainties that make us beautifully human.