How I Finally Recovered From OCD
I had watched Mark’s videos over and over again, especially my favorite one, “How to Deal With Intrusive Thoughts“. The end of the video was always my favorite part, it seemed to sum up what you need to do for OCD recovery (and really, recovery from any anxiety disorder) really well: Accept all the stuff in your head while DOING the things you really care about. When you focus on the things you actually care about, all the worries and uncertainties your brain was giving you (because it was trying to help you by thinking you should solve them) eventually dissipate.
One thing I always used to think, but didn’t realize it until much later, was that I always had this expectation that once I did the things I actually cared about, my anxiety would go away. Basically, I tried to accept the stuff in my head, and then I would go do stuff I cared about, like focusing on my studies, socializing with friends or strangers, and making sure I ate three meals a day. But I did those things with the expectation that this was part of some magical formula that would get rid of my anxiety. Does this sound familiar? Does doing a certain action to get rid of anxiety sound familiar? Like a compulsion, almost? This is what I did for the longest time! I turned healthy actions into compulsions, something I like to call “Recovery OCD.” Any action can become compulsive if you do it to avoid a bad feeling or thought, even the actions you would consider to be good for you and part of your recovery! This made it harder to see what I was doing wrong.
The key thing here was the expectation that I was supposed to be anxiety free after all this. I was doing all the things that I valued, why wasn’t my anxiety gone? Well, I was giving into the fundamental pattern of OCD. I kept doing all these great, recovery related things in order to get rid of my anxiety. The result was that I kind of became a highly functioning anxious person for a while, instead of a low-functioning one. I needed to break through that mindset of trying to chase good feelings and avoid bad with every action I took.
This was hard. How would I get rid of this pattern? How would I know that it wouldn’t just become another compulsive action? I turned everything into a compulsion! Was I broken? I didn’t trust myself at all to know what to do. The answer was unexpected but it has undeniably served me well.
There’s an ancient Chinese principle called Wu-wei, and one its tenets is that you can’t achieve things out of your control by going after them directly (I’m very roughly paraphrasing here). I wanted emotional stability and I never stopped chasing it. It wasn’t until I gave up focusing on my inner turmoil and TRULY focused on my values that I began to get the relief I was seeking. It was then I realized that my values were valuable in and of themselves, not because they would save me from anxiety. Being able to focus on my studies is amazing because I learn so much in school and I value knowledge. Socializing is awesome because other people can be a lot of fun to be around. Eating regularly helps keep me healthy. All of this is great whether I have anxiety or not!
What this looks like in real life is that I stopped focusing on what was going on with my emotions, good or bad. This doesn’t mean I ignore them, it’s just whatever is happening is happening. My inner world are just clouds in the sky, and I can look at the clouds or ignore them, but I don’t have to focus on having clear skies anymore. This means I can do awesome things no matter what this “inner sky” looks like!
March 7, 2017 @ 6:33 pm
I get really stuck at the “Recovery OCD” part. I guess I want a simple formula for feeling in control of all the pain I’ve experienced, and “cutting out compulsions” or “taking action” has that sort of appeal. It’s made trickier by the fact that, when you do remove compulsions or become kinder to yourself, you start to feel really good! Then, you get afraid of losing it and become paranoid and hard on yourself about inducing a relapse. Congrats on your hard work! Very inspiring to see a success story like this.
April 18, 2017 @ 3:33 am
Yeah, you hit on really good points! I think part of the recovery process is feeling good and then having those old behaviors kick in again to try and chase feelings. Over time, you learn to apply these skills all throughout your life, and the hold OCD has over you lessens and lessens. It’s not perfectly linear progress, in fact, I had many instances of extreme panic and anxiety through this journey, but through those gained a greater understanding of my mental health as I got through those situations.
March 8, 2017 @ 3:12 pm
I’m so happy I read this. GREAT ADVICE. Unfortunately I also fell into the recovery OCD. That’s a tricky one to get stuck to.
April 18, 2017 @ 3:34 am
I’m so glad this helped! I delayed writing this article for a long time because it seemed weird to articulate the solution to my problem. I was worried no one would understand or it would make some poor soul more confused.
In reality, it was nothing Mark hadn’t already talked about in his videos, it was just I was learning how to apply them in the context of my own experience and perspective!
February 20, 2018 @ 1:54 pm
Hi. First of all, I congratulate you on your success in recovery from OCD and I thank you for sharing your story with us.
I had a few questions:
1.The worst thing about OCD is that it keeps getting more complicated as we think more about our attitude towards the disorder and recovery. After reading your story, I know I should not “expect” things to get better while doing things healthy for my mind. But, the problem now is I “expect” to recover by not expecting to recover. I mean, “expecting”, for me at least, is something that is not under my control. Could you please shed light on how you controlled “expecting” to recover?
2.Also, I have really begun to fear the kind of inferences and conclusions I am drawing from reading about OCD and recovery. I don’t know which of them is wrong and which of them, right. At one point, my mind told me that thinking of or practicing recovery from OCD was a compulsion in itself, because it would give relief!! How does one deal with thoughts like that?
3.How on earth were you able to focus on studies when scary intrusive thoughts were plaguing your mind?
Thanks in advance.
October 30, 2019 @ 11:13 pm
Kamran here. I know this was posted almost two years ago but maybe it’ll help.
My recovery and understanding of it have advanced even further since writing the original post. What I can say is that a lot of your questions are based in OCD, as I’m sure you might have already guessed. The best, simplest, and most effective advice I could give is that when you have all these thoughts and questions regarding these really really specific thoughts and feelings in recovery, as well as a fear that if you have them, you will not recover… it’s a good sign that you should focus on just not answering them.
It’s gonna feel really scary and like you’re losing control of your life, your mental health, and all your chances at recovery. But it is supposed to feel like that! The feeling is temporary. Any time your brain throws up a thought or idea that you need to feel a certain way or think a certain thing in order to recover, that’s your OCD trying to make sense of uncertainty. Work on cutting through all the noise to just get out of these repetitive thought patterns. The questions become irrelevant and as a bonus, you’re loosening OCD’s grip on your mind!
As far as my studies go, it was really tough! Haha. My grades in school started dropping, I wasn’t enjoying my time in college at all, and I had no friends basically because I was so focused on trying to do well in school and then my existential crises brought on by OCD. I left vital assignments to the last minute and I felt I didn’t have any lasting knowledge of things I learned in school because I was just focused on being reactive… i.e. just passing the next test just to get through it.
My approach on learning now is far more proactive. For one, without OCD riddling my mind, I can focus much more greatly. This makes learning far more enjoyable. I also do things to make sure I prep for whatever I have to learn, and write down summaries to review my knowledge at the end of a lecture, and make connections to things I just learned to things I already know. Sleep also helps greatly for school and for recovery!
I don’t know if this will help all this time later, but let me know how you are doing if you’re still around!
September 4, 2021 @ 5:00 pm
Thank you so much for writing this post!! I have suffered from recovery ocd for a very long time not understanding why I would not heal…
November 22, 2021 @ 2:31 am
I wanted to write an update to this article as I’ve progressed a lot in my mental health journey since I wrote this.
I feel a big reason I struggled with “Recovery OCD” was there was a deep-seated belief that my emotions were inherently threatening. If I had them, there was going to be an imminent meltdown of my life. I don’t really believe this was a conscious belief I had, it was operating more outside of my awareness. Where I’ve felt this has come from was trauma related to childhood and my attachment style.
A lot of mental issues I think can stem from childhood, and OCD may not be different. My thought is that OCD is an extreme form of ordinarily helpful behaviors (thinking, planning, checking) but taken to an extreme for our survival. One thing we need for survival is love and relationships. If our upbringing and relationship with parents, family, and peers was mostly troubled, then these things leave a mark on us our entire lives. That is essentially what trauma is.
One of my traumas revolved around feeling that emotions were unsafe. My father disliked whenever we would express emotion, and actively discouraged it. I grew up unconsciously feeling like my emotions were something that were an obstacle. I thought they were a liability even more when it came to romantic relationships. So recovery seemed like a great way to finally get away from the emotions.
When you’re fighting against unconscious beliefs or unprocessed traumas, I think recovery OCD can come about. I felt I needed to get rid of emotions and recovery became a way to do that, rather than a way to purely just feel.
Now, I have no struggles with this. Thanks to EMDR therapy and a new therapist that works on trauma and attachment style issues, I have taken my mental resilience to a new level and truly do not struggle with the paradox of wanting to get rid of emotions by fully feeling them. All the emotions can be there and will pass on their own time.
November 23, 2021 @ 6:51 pm
Thanks for sharing this insightful update on your adventures, Kamran!
November 22, 2021 @ 2:32 am
You’re welcome Sofie! I am so glad this helped.