I’m at a bit of an awkward pause in my treatment with OCD right now. Some things have gotten a lot better, but other things have gotten a bit worse, and I’m having trouble finding the motivation to do exposures. So, I thought I’d take the time to talk about what to do when you’re in a situation where you feel like your recovery is pausing or even inching backwards. I’m preaching to myself as much as I am to you in this post, honestly, because I need to do a lot better at handling these lapses in a positive manner.
#1: If you aren’t sure what to do, do something. This is something my therapist has taught me and likes to remind me of when I get discouraged. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed at the idea of all the exposures that I could be doing, that I just stop them because I feel like I’m underachieving no matter what I do. But, the truth is, even one exposure is a great act of courage. When I don’t know which exposure I should do, the best thing is to start small and pick one rather than letting my mind bully me into worrying about doing it perfectly.
#2: Try to let your circumstances motivate you instead of demotivate you. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself, but a better use of your state of mind would be to focus on the ways this setback can motivate you towards recovery and building a better life. For example, my current ERP work is helping me work through some things I wouldn’t have gotten to work through as well if I hadn’t had a flare up in symptoms. The flare up gave me an opportunity to work towards healing.
#3: Reach out for support. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, but sometimes the most important thing you can do to counter that is to recognize that you’re overwhelmed and take action to change your circumstances and empower yourself to move forward. Whether it’s calling your therapist, getting a hug from your friend or family member, or making some room in your schedule to spend time with those who love you, make sure that you are reaching out for support from those around you. You and only you are responsible for doing your exposures, but it can be a lot easier if you have people cheering you on.
#4: Reach out beyond yourself. Studies (and Scripture, if you’re a Christian) show that reaching out to help others is one of the best possible things you can do for yourself during a trying time. It will give purpose to your pain, help you think outside of yourself, and turn the attention from your problems to how you can help other people. One of the important things to do when OCD has you focusing inward, is focus outward. There is no better way to make value based decisions (instead of fear based decisions) than acting according to your beliefs in helping others especially when OCD wants you to forget to do those things.
One thing that also helps me is knowing that OCD waxes and wanes; that a bad day doesn’t have to become a bad week or a bad month. Sometimes my symptoms are just worse than other times, but, with exposure and hard work, I can have fewer and fewer bad days as time goes on. If I can tough it out and remain optimistic during the hard times, there will be good times again to enjoy and to remind me of why I was working so hard toward recovery.