OCD; A Misunderstood Disorder

As a person who suffers from OCD, I have had many encounters with people who haven’t a clue what my disorder entails. I would have to say that most people lack knowledge of what OCD is.  They don’t understand what causes it, they don’t realize how painful and debilitating it can be, but more importantly, they have zero education as to how it’s managed.   

When people don’t understand what OCD is, they typically aren’t going to bother to learn about it.  They are all too happy to assume that they know what it is and how it affects a person.  I suppose that would be fine if they didn’t share their ignorance with others.  The sharing of this ignorance invalidates the disorder. People assume that OCD is merely a minor nuisance or a quirky personality trait.  It’s common to hear people claim to be “so OCD!”  They aren’t saying this to express a level of extreme distress.  They are saying it to be comical.  A person who has OCD won’t express it that way at all.  They might say, “I suffer from OCD” or “my OCD is so bad right now that I can barely function.”

The obsessional themes of OCD are highly varied, but for the sake of what I want to discuss, I will focus on one type called OCD/Scrupulosity or Religious OCD. 
When Christians are afflicted with this form of OCD, things can go downhill very quickly if they receive the wrong counsel. 
Before I go even one step further as to why this is the case, I recommend that no one should try to counsel someone with this form of OCD unless they have a substantial understanding of the disorder as to cause and appropriate treatment strategies. 
In general, our Christian friends, though they mean to help, aren’t going to be able to.  The same applies to most Pastoral counsel. 
In OCD/Scrupulosity, the obsessional theme and all accompanying intrusive thoughts will be about the person’s security in their relationship to God.  Now that might prompt someone to think, “Oh, I can settle that for them just by pointing them to Scripture!”  But that’s not at all how you manage OCD.  What people fail to understand is that when you do that, you are only feeding the disorder.  Treatment for OCD  isn’t about pointing out errant thinking or providing reassurances.  It’s not about teaching a person to have more faith in God or correcting sinful attitudes.   It’s not about renewing the mind through thought replacing.  It’s not just that these tactics are wrong.  It’s that these tactics are counterproductive and serve to make the disorder so much worse.  So in helping, using these manners, you would be hurting the person with OCD/Scrupulosity. 
OCD is OCD, no matter what the theme and the treatment approach will be the same. 
The cause of OCD is not faulty thinking that needs to be corrected.  The person with OCD will have already considered most or all of the reassurances or correct information that you offer.   They already know that the level of anxiety that they are experiencing in response to the theme is inordinate.  Just merely pointing any of this out to them isn’t going to fix the problem. 
Will they ask for reassurance?  Yep!  That’s a compulsion.  And if you provide that reassurance, you will be feeding the cycle of the disorder. 
I can’t possibly go into what causes OCD, how it operates, and treatment regimens in this short blog.  There’s far too much to cover because OCD is a highly nuanced disorder that demands the expertise of someone specifically trained to treat it. 
Therefore, on behalf of those who suffer, don’t try to fix our thinking.   Instead, an offer to pray for us in the same way you would pray for anyone who is afflicted will validate our experience.  Words that encourage us to pursue help from our doctor and a psychologist would be much more helpful. And, finally, counsel which looks to the scriptures on perseverance and purpose in suffering also apply to OCD.  OCD isn’t the exception to the lessons of suffering in the life of a Christian.  It’s only a that it’s an affliction that’s sadly very misunderstood.

Religious OCD/Scrupulosity – Is Satan to Blame?

Yes, in one way, Satan could be involved, but no, regarding the way you are probably thinking.
The Scripture does reveal actual accounts of Satan’s involvement in afflicting some of God’s servants. We all know the story of Job and how Satan afflicted and oppressed him to try and get him to turn away from God. We read about the apostle Paul’s thorn and how he described it as a messenger from Satan sent to torment him.

What we don’t see in these accounts is God instructing Job or Paul to use a strategy to stop the attacks of Satan. Instead, in both cases, we see God shifting the attention of Job and Paul to who He is regarding His sovereignty, His power, and His sufficiency for what they were going through.
We aren’t privy as to whether or not Satan is involved in our experiences of illness or suffering. But, even if Satan were to be involved, we know that God is greater, that Satan’s power is broken, and that we need to shift our focus to God’s provisions for us rather than Satan’s persecution.

But, the question should be asked, that if Satan has afflicted a Christian with an illness, does that mean the person shouldn’t seek professional medical attention for it?  Or, should the person only seek help through the Scriptures and prayer?

I think that most of us would agree that God provides for His afflicted children through the expertise of doctors, medications, and therapies for their afflictions and that it’s wise to seek those things.

So, that’s one way that Satan could be to blame, but what concerns me is the other way people suppose that Satan is to blame when a person suffers from OCD/Scrupulosity.

Over the years, I’ve communicated with many Christians who suffer from OCD/Scrupulosity, and I’m still startled by how often they encounter the following types of statements about their experience:
“Satan has gotten ahold of your mind! You need to rebuke Him in the name of Jesus!”
“Satan is planting these thoughts in your head. He wants to destroy your testimony.”
“You have a demonic spirit plaguing you. You must take steps to cast it out!”

“This is due to the sin of your ancestors. It’s a generational curse that must be broken!”

 

The problem with these kind of statements is that they assume that the cause of OCD/Scrupulosity is spiritual, and the second problem is that in thinking this, the approach to helping the person isn’t just going to be wrong, it will be counterproductive and make the disorder worse.

OCD/Scrupulosity is not a spiritual issue. It’s just a case of OCD targeting a person’s faith in Christ. OCD obsessional themes are always attached to things that are of utmost importance to the sufferer. Things like close relationships, their health, their moral character, and their faith are common targets. I don’t want to go into the details of the cause, symptoms, and treatments for the disorder, but these things are knowable, and a person with OCD should avail themselves of them just as much as they would for any other illness.

What happens when a person with OCD/Scrupulosity is made to feel that it’s a spiritual issue causing the disorder, is that they will feel the need to fight against the disorder in the wrong way.  And all of the ways that they will fight against it fall into the category of compulsions. In OCD, the compulsions always make the disorder worse and keep the person from being able to recover.
Here are some of the most common ways that a person with OCD/Scrupulosity will engage in compulsions:
Rebuking the thoughts.

Focusing on the fear of Satan and how to escape him.
Attempting to “take the thoughts captive.”

Countering the thoughts with scripture verses.

Praying over and over for God to cleanse them from the thoughts.

Praying over and over for salvation.
Avoiding anything which triggers the thoughts in an attempt to escape the anxiety.
Intensely scrutinizing and altering their behavior and activities due to the fear of angering God.
Seeking reassurance from family or a Pastor that their position in Christ is secure.
Asking the same questions over and over about certain portions of scripture.
Researching topics like eternal security, losing salvation, or the unpardonable sin.

Therefore, if you want to help a person with OCD/Scrupulosity, the best thing you can do is to treat the disorder as a valid affliction rather than a spiritual issue.   If you do the opposite, you will be inadvertently influencing the person to engage in the compulsive activity of their disorder, which in turn will only serve to prolong and increase their suffering.
OCD/Scrupulosity is a highly nuanced disorder that requires the expertise of physicians who are trained to diagnose and to treat it. The best way to help someone who is suffering is to empathize with them about their suffering and to encourage them to seek professional help.

Stigma Says…

Stigma Says, “You Can’t be an Effective Christian if you Suffer from an Anxiety Disorder.”

Over the years, I’ve encountered many forms of stigma due to my being afflicted with various kinds of anxiety disorders. Stigma has spoken to me in many ways, but one of the ways that I haven’t yet talked about is this idea that a mature, effective Christian cannot suffer from an anxiety disorder.
There’s only one reason that a person would think in this way. They would think this way because they typically don’t believe that anxiety disorders are valid afflictions. They believe that the experience of an anxiety disorder is due to the sin of worry, a lack of faith and trust in God’s sovereignty, not applying the truth of Scripture, or even the bizarre notion that a person has a demon or evil spirit that needs to be cast out.
Therefore, if a person truly believes that the cause of anxiety disorders is spiritual then, they are going to think that those who are afflicted need to be rid of the experience of anxiety so that they can be a Christian with an effective testimony of faith.
Those of us who have a diagnosis of these disorders and have benefitted from the help of those professionals who specialize in treating them are fully aware that our disorders are valid and that we didn’t cause or choose them. This same knowledge and experiences with treatment are available to a non-Christian or even an atheist who is afflicted with anxiety disorders. The same medications help. The same therapy works. Why would that be? The answer lies in the fact that the disorders are just as legitimate as any other kind of illness that might afflict our physical bodies. Christians can develop diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and so do non-Christians.   The medical approach for these disorders doesn’t differ. When you go to the doctor to seek help for them, he or she won’t be changing their prescriptions or treatments based upon whether or not you are a Christian or a non-Christian.
If the problem were spiritual, then the treatment would have zero effectiveness for the Christian as well as the non-Christian.
Yet, no matter how many attempts are made to clarify and legitimize anxiety disorders as valid afflictions, those of us who are afflicted still get mini-sermons about trusting God when we dare to open up. Our Christian friends suppose that the reason they don’t have an anxiety disorder is that they have learned to apply certain Bible verses to their lives, whereas we haven’t done that yet. They suppose that we’ve never even read or memorized these common verses of scripture that speak about worry. What they don’t understand is that the experience of an anxiety disorder has absolutely nothing to do with worry about a difficult life situation or circumstance. What they don’t understand is that in those situations, those of us with these disorders typically respond to them in the same way that they would respond to them. They don’t understand what causes a panic attack or persistent social anxiety, or the intrusive thoughts and obsessional themes of OCD. They don’t understand the cause, and they don’t understand the treatment. And yet, without any attempt to get educated, they still project their notions and assumptions on to us, and in doing so, they are pointing a finger of blame at us for something that we can’t control.
Until these errant beliefs are corrected, the stigma that says, “you can’t be an effective Christian until you don’t have an anxiety disorder” will remain.
There’s more to write about regarding how God can and often does use the experience of anxiety disorders to increase the Christian’s faith and dependence on Him, but I’ll leave that for another blog on another day.

What IF?

 

WHAT IF?…. You were afflicted with cancer and raised your hand in a Sunday School class to ask for prayer and support and as a result, you experienced any or all of the following responses from your family in Christ?

“Have you prayed about this cancer thing yet? Because God will certainly take this away if you just pray with enough faith.”

Someone handing you a piece of paper with a bunch of Bible verses about being healed as if you’d never read any of them before.

“Well you should be thankful you’re not a quadriplegic or something like that which causes REAL suffering and pain.”

“Have you asked God to show you where there might be hidden sin in your life which might be the thing which is causing this?”

“This is a stronghold or a demon, and you need to get deliverance from it because if you don’t, you can’t be a useful Christian.”
“Real Christian’s don’t get cancer. You should make sure that your faith in Christ is sincere.”

“You are just letting Satan have his way with you.  You are cooperating with him!”

“Have you tried reading your Bible?”

“I don’t happen to have cancer, so that pretty much qualifies me to teach you how to get rid of your cancer.”

“You’re seeing a doctor?! How is that trusting God??”

“You’re taking medicine for this?  That’s trusting in the wisdom of men, rather than trusting in God for healing.”

“Physical therapy?? That’s for weak and spineless people.  Just trust God to strengthen you instead.”

“If you would just trust God, you wouldn’t be suffering like this!”
“I would have to question whether or not you have received the Holy Spirit because the Spirit of Christ and cancer cannot dwell in the same body.”

“This is probably due to generational sin which has put a curse on you.  You’ll need to ask God to reveal the specific sins of your ancestors and then you’ll need to do this 7-step process of renouncing those specific sins and then your cancer will disappear.”

“Every time you go to a psychologist you are cooperating with the work of Satan!!”  You are on his team!”

Pretty “crazy” stuff –  eh?

Sadly…I could go on with more of these of these absurd responses, (many of which I have personally experienced), but I think I’ve shared enough to demonstrate just how hurtful and counterproductive these statements would be to someone suffering from cancer.
And guess what?  For every person that you know who is suffering from cancer, there’s someone else you know who is suffering from mental illness.  The difference is that they aren’t free to talk about it because if they do, they know that rather than being supported, they will face accusation and judgment.

The point I’m trying to make is that these are the kind of responses that people who suffer from mental illness experience and the consequences are truly painful and counterproductive.  This is what drives them into isolation and separates them from their family in Christ just when they need prayers, compassion, empathy, and support.
These are not isolated or rare events.  They are, sadly, very common.
And, if we are honest, the real reason that this happens is that there are still so many people within the body of Christ who deny the validity of mental illness. To them, it is always viewed as a sin/spiritual issue rather than a disorder of the brain.
Change will only happen when churches begin to validate the experience of mental illness in the exact same way they validate the suffering of any other type of illness and to treat those who are afflicted in the same manner that they treat others with differing afflictions. This why I continue to write about it.
Our online support group for Christians with anxiety disorders has grown very large because people are desperate to communicate with someone who really understands that their pain and suffering is real, that it’s often excruciating, debilitating and life-altering.  They are desperate for prayer and encouragement and someone to tell them that it’s more than okay to seek medical/professional help.  That it’s not a sign of weak faith.  That it’s not their fault that they are sick.  And that God’s grace is sufficient for this thorn too.

Affliction is a common experience for the Christian, but it’s not without purpose.  There are lessons to be learned through all kinds of suffering, and mental illness is not an exception to the rule.
What if The Church of Jesus Christ was a leader in showing the world how to support those who are suffering from mental illness in the exact same way they lead the world in how to support those who are suffering from any other form of trial, tribulation or persecution?  What if I could feel at ease to raise my hand in a Sunday School class and say:
“Please pray for me.  I’m going through a very bad flare of my OCD, and I’m experiencing a great deal of mental pain every waking minute of every day.”
And what if, when I did that, I wouldn’t need to fear the experience any of the above responses that I’ve just shared because people would automatically know that my affliction was valid just like they understand cancer to be valid?
I feel very strongly that this kind of change would lead to people getting the help they need.  It would free them from guilt and shame and allow them to talk openly about their affliction and in doing so, they would quickly discover they aren’t alone; that there are many other Christians who can relate to what they go through.  The freedom to share without fear of stigma will open the doors of hope and allow for productive communication which can guide people toward getting the professional help they need without having to feel that it’s wrong to do so.
I realize that I’ve written about this matter before and that people might wish I’d stop being so redundant, but this is a problem that hasn’t gone away.  As long as these hurtful responses continue to happen to my brothers and sisters in Christ who are afflicted with mental illness, I’m going to keep on talking about it and hoping and praying for change.

“Well that’s just crazy! Why would you think that?”

This statement is something that is often said to those of us with OCD by a close friend or family member if we happen to open up about one of our obsessional themes.  And, to be honest, most of the time we already know that the thing we are worried or obsessed with isn’t really a true/valid concern.  But knowing and feeling are two separate things.  Knowing has to do with using information, reason and logic and feeling has to do with our emotional responses.
In OCD our logic and reasoning aren’t broken.  Those things aren’t the things that need to be fixed or corrected.   And, that is why you can speak the truth of a matter to us, reassure us, or even show us some evidence that the thing we are obsessed about isn’t really a big deal and yet, not make one inch of progress toward helping us let go of the obsession.  All you are doing, most of the time is telling us things we already know; things we’ve already checked out, as driven by our need for absolute certainty.
The experience of living with OCD means continually living with an intense and foreboding anxious feeling that has attached itself to an intrusive thought, doubt or question.  Living with OCD means living with a brain that is already overly prepared to misfire and go directly into fight or flight mode over those type of things which others can just easily brush off and turn away from in a matter of a few seconds once they label them as invalid or nonsensical.

Basically, in OCD our faulty emotional response trumps our logic.  That faulty emotional response is actually a misfiring in that part of the brain which is responsible for fight or flight.  We aren’t choosing for this to happen or causing it to happen because the fight or flight response is an automatic, instinctual action of the brain which is supposed to be there to help us in real/valid emergencies.  The fight or flight response is an extremely compelling feeling.  It must be like that because if it weren’t then, we wouldn’t take any safety seeking action in the event of a real emergency.
So, any effort to “set us straight” so to speak about our obsessional theme does absolutely nothing to alleviate our suffering.  In fact, it has the exact opposite effect in that it keeps our brain fixated on the topic of our obsession.  It helps to reinforce the compulsive side of our disorder which involves things like continual checking and reassurance seeking as we attempt to quell the anxiety response.
When a person with OCD keeps revisiting information that they think will settle the matter and calm the anxiety response this only serves to keep the obsessional theme front and center in the consciousness.  Then, due to that, the person will feel even more of a need to attend to it as it begins to haunt their every waking minute.  This completes the cycle of the disorder which goes something like this:  Intrusive thought/doubt/question, anxiety response, compulsive attending, momentary relief, more intrusive thoughts/doubts/questions, more anxiety, more compulsive attending…and on and on it goes. And,  as this cycle continues it creates a worn and well-traveled path in the brain as the obsessional theme begins to grow larger and more threatening because of the attention that is being given to it.
So, if you know someone who has OCD and you’ve thought that they need you to fix their thinking processes, they don’t.  What they really need from you is compassion and understanding for how horrid the disorder makes them feel.  What they need is for you to say something like:
“I’m so sorry you are feeling this intense emotional pain from your OCD, and I will pray that you can get the help you need to minimize the pain of your disorder.”
We really aren’t crazy or ill-informed.  We just have a disorder which causes misfiring in the anxiety center of our brain.  There are helps available for us which come in the form of medication and therapies which are designed to retrain or habituate our brain to each of our obsessional themes, so that it will eventually stop overreacting to them.  But, unless you’ve taken a course on how to manage OCD you aren’t going to know how to help us employ those things. And, let’s just be honest about this, if you really believed that our disorder was a real affliction you probably wouldn’t try to take on the role of a physician. Yes, OCD sufferers need the help and counsel of trained professionals!
But now, having said all of this, one very helpful thing you can do is to acknowledge our disorder as being a valid affliction.  You can show empathy and compassion and pray for our recovery just as you would for any other person suffering from any other affliction.  And we would be so grateful for you to do those things, more than you could ever imagine!!

THE “CAUTIONS!” WHICH ONLY SEEM TO APPLY TO MEDICATION FOR MENTAL DISORDERS.

From an influential pastor and Christian author:

“I’m not saying that there won’t be some of you whose depression has its basis in a chemical imbalance and that you might need medication, but for most of you, the depression is likely to be based on how you think about your identity in Christ.   And, besides all that, if you need medication for your depression there’s less hope for you.”

From another highly esteemed and well-known Christian teacher:

“I could never say that it’s wrong to use antidepressants, but I’d approach them with caution because they affect the mind.”

Although many may think that these are reasonable statements to make, I don’t.  I would prefer that zero counsel as to the use of medication for mental illness be offered up by a pastor, teacher or Biblical counselor other than this:

“What does your physician/psychiatrist think?  If they are recommending you take a certain medication to manage your disorder, then I think it’s wise for you to bring up your concerns with them.  I’m not qualified to counsel you on the use of medication for your disorder. I’m qualified to teach you God’s Word and to pray for you, but I’m not a doctor so I can’t speak to this matter.”

You may offer up an objection that the pastor is just trying to warn the person about the possible negative side effects or dependency on these drugs, but my response to that is, why just these drugs? Have you read the pamphlets for your own personal prescriptions lately? And, why is this type of counsel only being offered up regarding mental disorders?

I fear that the answer is most likely that there remains this notion that the individual sufferer is somehow to blame for their mental disorder and that it’s not really a valid affliction.

Maybe the person with an anxiety disorder just hasn’t learned to fully trust God.  Maybe the person with ADHD just lacks discipline.  Maybe the person who is clinically depressed hasn’t learned to find joy in their relationship with Christ. Maybe the soldier with PTSD just needs to stop dwelling in the past.

And, if any of this is true, then a change in the way they think or how they behave will surely set the whole thing right rather than relying on medication.

Here are a few imagined scenarios to underscore my point that medications, when prescribed for mental illness, are often are viewed differently than when those same medications are prescribed for other types of disorders.

  1. Congregant: Pastor, my doctor wants me to take a medication called Metoprolol to treat my hypertension. Should I do that?

Pastor:  Of course you should!  Listen to your doctor and take your medication.  I don’t want you having a stroke! Let’s pray that the medication will work.

Congregant: Pastor, my doctor wants me to take a medication called Metoprolol to help manage my Social Anxiety Disorder.  Should I take it?

Pastor:  Well, I think you’re probably just suffering from low self-esteem.  Maybe you just need to learn more about who you are in Christ so you won’t be comparing yourself to others.  And, besides that, you need to be careful about taking a medication which could alter your mood.  I would try a Bible study on your identity in Christ first.

  1. Congregant: Pastor, my doctor wants me to take a medication called Seroquel to help with some of the symptoms of my advanced Parkinson’s disease. Should I do that?

Pastor:  I think you should certainly heed your physician’s advice and I’m not qualified to tell you whether you should take a certain medication.  Let me pray for you though that God would use this medication to decrease your suffering.

Congregant: Pastor, I have severe OCD, and my doctor wants me to try a drug called Seroquel to help control my anxiety symptoms.  Should I take it?

Pastor:  Well, why are you so anxious and obsessed about things?  The scripture instructs us to “be anxious for nothing.”  If you could just learn to rely on God for all your needs, then you might not need to rely on medication.  Let me pray for you so that you will learn to trust God for everything.

  1. Congregant: Pastor, I have Epilepsy, and my doctor wants me to try a new medication called Lamictal to help control my seizures. Should I take it?

Pastor: I don’t know why you are even asking me this?  You need to listen to your doctor and follow his or her counsel.  I’m not qualified to make this call, but I can certainly pray for you that the medication will work and I want to be here for you and support you in your affliction.

Congregant: Pastor, I have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and my doctor wants me to take a medication called Lamictal to help with my symptoms.  Should I take it?
Pastor: Well, although you might need to take it, have you tried asking God to teach you to rely on Him for peace, stability, and joy?  A Christian should never be depressed, we’ve got too much to be glad about!  Maybe just saturating yourself in the Word and in prayer would be enough to relieve your depression.  It’s worth a try, and besides all that, you should be cautious of using a medication which might affect your mind.

My point in relating these “same drug different uses” scenarios, is that there seems to be a double standard in that these medications are considered fine to take for other types of illnesses but not for mental illness.  There’s not likely to be any cautions about the medication or any kind of suggestion that the illness is likely rooted in a spiritual issue.

These type of cautions and warnings carry a lot of weight with a person who is devoted to Christ and struggling with a mental illness. Warnings and cautions such as these can cause that person to be resistant to treatments which may save their lives and alleviate their suffering.  It’s a very serious matter and one that needs to be addressed as to the negative impact it has on the lives of those who are afflicted with mental disorders.
It’s time for Pastors and Biblical teachers to validate mental illness and to offer up the exact same counsel and support to anyone seeking their advice as they would for any other type of disorder.

It’s also time for those of us who struggle with mental disorders to quit putting our Pastors in the position of trying to be our doctor.  They are not qualified to diagnose and treat our disorders.  We need our pastors to pray for us and support us, but we shouldn’t be asking them for medical advice.  It’s not fair to them, and it’s not safe to follow their advice when it comes to things like medication.

The bottom line for all of us on both sides of this issue is to be able to get to the place where we give validity to mental disorders as very real and sometimes very serious afflictions which are best treated by those who are qualified to diagnose and manage them rather than treating them as spiritual issues.
So that’s my “caution” to those of us who suffer and to those of you who we look to for spiritual counsel and guidance.
We shouldn’t expect that our Pastor will understand the cause of our mental disorder. We shouldn’t expect that he will be trained in how to treat it. This is a highly skilled field which is why those who are qualified to help us have the title Dr. in front of their name.   God has given physicians the knowledge and the tools to help us in the exact same way he has given these things to physicians who treat other disorders and we need to be thankful for that and willing to work with them to help manage our disorders.

My OCD: I Think I Might have Sticky Tape in my Brain

 Last spring after my kids bought me my  first orchids I fell madly in love with these beautiful flowering plants and have since acquired twenty of them. Yes – twenty!

They seem to elicit a feeling somewhat akin to caring for a pet.

There’s lots to learn about taking care of orchids and, as seems to be the case with every new “fun” thing I start, there’s also some glitch along the way.

But this latest glitch in my orchid hobby really bugs me.  I mean that quite literally.  My orchids have bugs!  Fungus Gnats to be exact.  I know…YUCK!  Thankfully they are tiny and harmless (or so they say) and, look a lot like fruit flies but they don’t like fruit. They like moist decaying potting media. Apparently, I’ve been over-watering my flowering pets.

I haven’t been able to totally eradicate them. So, for now, I’m settling for population control.  To accomplish that I must eliminate as many of the adult gnats as possible and therefore, I’ve been employing yellow sticky tape stakes to catch the little pests.  Basically, I just place a small green stake in every orchid pot. Each stake has a piece of bright yellow sticky tape attached to the top.  The gnats are attracted to the yellow color and once they touch down on the tape they become instantly glued to it.

The sticky tape is so sticky that I keep getting it stuck on my sleeves when I water the plants, or in my hair if I bend down to inspect a new growth, or on a leaf from another plant if I get them too close together.  It’s rather annoying but boy is it effective for catching those pesky gnats.

The other day as I was watching one unsuspecting gnat fly around one of the sticky stakes and then alight on it I decided to take a closer look to see if it was struggling to get away.  Sure, enough it was doing all it could to break free from the glue but to no avail. The more it struggled the more embedded it became in the glue until it ended up being just another small black dot amongst many other hapless victims.

As I sat looking at all the gnats on that one piece of sticky tape I suddenly thought about how much my brain seemed to operate in the same way.  I saw those gnats as representing a vast array of obsessional thoughts which   my brain had latched on to over the years and decided that I must have been born with a “sticky tape brain.”
To people who don’t have a sticky tape brain I’m sure that some of my obsessional themes might seem quite absurd and they might wonder why I’m so distressed by them and even debilitated by them from time to time.    They might be surprised to know that my own logic and reasoning informs me that the thoughts aren’t legit.  They might think that I just need to be educated about things; things like why I probably won’t contract a certain dreaded illness, or why I’m probably not psychotic, or what it means to be “saved by grace through faith.”  They might think if they just give me the facts or reassure me or say something like, “you just need to calm down and give your worries to God” that I’ll come to my senses.

This is because they really don’t know what it feels like to have an intrusive thought float into your brain and have your brain react to it as if the world is coming to an end.  All the alarms have been set off and you don’t get to choose how you feel when that happens.  You don’t get to stop your heart from nearly beating out of your chest, or stop the rush of adrenaline which causes you to shake uncontrollably.  There’s no opportunity to stop your saliva from drying up in mere seconds, or to control the ringing in your ears or halt the sudden choking feeling which is robbing you of breath.

Oh, and there’s more to come, because once the alarm system is triggered you can’t help but feel compelled to respond to the thought.  And, once you do that you’ve activated the sticky tape response and your brain latches on to the thought in such a way that you can’t find a way to get it out of your head.

What has just happened is you’ve experienced the very first symptoms of an OCD episode.  And contrary to what you instinctively feel you should do in response to the thought or what other well-meaning people might think you should do about it, the reality is that in order to effectively manage OCD,  you must to do the exact opposite of all that.

This is because the thoughts get more firmly glued in your brain each time you respond to them or treat them as if they are worthy of your attention.  And that’s what makes managing OCD so tricky.  It’s tricky because it’s sticky.

When everything in your brain and body is warning you to flee from a thought or to fight it, you must choose to do the exact opposite.  You must expose yourself to the threat that the thought creates and then be willing to grit it out through the most unimaginable anxiety because your brain is insisting on sending you some extremely intense false alarm signals.

It’s a lot harder than most could ever imagine to live with a disorder which is continually latching on to some meaningless intrusive thought, doubt or idea. It’s hard to live with OCD because the anxiety it creates is incredibly compelling.  And when we respond to that anxiety we have unwittingly activated our sticky tape brain.

To read my OCD story visit – Link: http://a.co/ikDfBey

Specific Phobias; Living with Emetophobia

I suppose I’ve experienced just about every kind of Anxiety Disorder at different phases of my life.  I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder complicated by moderate Agoraphobia, Social Anxiety Disorder and OCD.  I haven’t yet experienced PTSD, but hey…there’s still time right? (Just so you know –  I’m also a pessimist.)

On top of all that, I struggle with specific phobias too.  Big surprise eh?  I am terrified of spiders, struggle with horrid anxiety about driving and last but certainly, not least I have Emetophobia.

Emetophobia is an intense fear of vomiting.  And when I say “intense” I’m not just bumping my gums!  I’m struggling with it right now as I write this blog.  I figured it might help me to articulate what it’s like right while I’m in the throes of it.

Last night while my husband and I were watching TV he started to rub his stomach well not his actual stomach but rather the abdominal skin which conceals his stomach.   He then casually mentioned that he felt a bit queasy and had the chills while continuing to watch his show.

What was my reaction to his statement?  My stomach went into an instant knot, my mouth started watering, my heart started racing, and I started trembling.  I felt the need to get up and flee the living room but tried to hang in there and show some compassion.  (Emetophobia can turn you into a jerk.)  Then, I remembered that we’d been passing a bag of caramel corn back and forth between one another earlier that evening while we watched TV together.  That took my anxiety up another notch, and I immediately figured that because of that I was most certainly doomed.

“Why, oh why had I eaten out the same caramel corn bag as he had?”  I remember even being hesitant about it because in general I’m pretty much hyper vigilant about germs from other people’s hands that might go into my mouth, but last night I had bravely thrown caution to the wind.

He continued to express that his stomach hurt while still managing to stay engaged with his program because apparently, he doesn’t go into full speed ahead freak out mode about stomach aches as I do.   I really wanted to stay in the living room with him and show some support, but it was all just too overwhelming for me.

What if he ended up vomiting and I heard it?

I knew that would make me feel ten times worse.  So I asked him if he’d be okay with me heading to bed because it was nearly 11 p.m. and, without any hesitation he replied “of course,” because he knew why I had to leave but it made me feel like the most horrible wife in the world.

So I went to the bedroom with my cell phone, switched on my white noise machine at the highest setting and put my earbuds in and found some YouTube downloads of guided imagery which are supposed to help assuage anxiety.  Just before I did that I checked on him again and said, “if you need me, you can come and get me” – even though I hoped –  desperately that he wouldn’t need me.  I felt awful because I didn’t want him coming to bed with me, but he knows how freaked out I get so he stayed in the living room.  Poor guy!!

As I listened to a bunch of guided imagery downloads, I’d start to drift off and then wake with a start and a sudden feeling of nausea.  I knew it was my anxiety making me nauseous because it ALWAYS does but the possibility that I might be wrong and I might actually be coming down with the bug my husband might have was consuming me with dread.  I think I finally drifted off sometime after two a.m. but woke up one more time with a horrible Panic attack.  And even though I’ve had nocturnal panic attacks for many years, some of them are so intense that at that moment, I feel that I might not actually recover from them.  I’ll either die or go completely insane with no hope of recovery.  I sat up on the edge of the bed, gasping for air, ears ringing, heart nearly bursting through my chest and started working on slowing my breathing: In slowly count to five, pause, and out slowly, count to eight, repeat, repeat, repeat.  When I was finally able to think, I’d had it and got up and went into the kitchen to take a stupid Xanax.  I apologized to my husband for stirring him and muttered something about hating myself.  I don’t really hate myself, but I hate how little control I have over this stupid Emetophobia.

My husband didn’t vomit, (so hard to type that word), but later on, in the morning he had a few bouts of diarrhea and had some body aches.  I had to go with my folks for an important Dr. appointment and then was scheduled to clean their house for them, and I was welcoming the distraction. Before I left, I took a couple capsules of activated charcoal, just in case and a teaspoon of a viral health tonic that I keep in the house during cold and flu seasons. I forced myself to eat a small breakfast too because I knew that low blood sugar also makes me nauseous.

The appointment went well with some really good news about my Mom’s health so that perked me up considerably.  The cleaning and taking time to visit with my parents were definitely good distractions but the whole time I was with them, there was another part of my brain which was preoccupied with the fear that I might still come down with whatever bug, if it even was a bug, that was plaguing my husband.

I called to check on him later on, and he reported that he was feeling some better, was heading outdoors for some fresh air and do a few chores and that his diarrhea had stopped after four bouts.  Now one would think that all of that would be comforting to me – NOT!  Instead, my thoughts were, “what if I get a different version of this possible bug that he has and in a couple days end up puking my guts out.  (So hard to type words like puke, vomit, wretch, etc. UGH!!)  Please, Lord, don’t let me get sick!”

I suppose I only thought about getting sick maybe three hundred times or so throughout the day.  It was always lurking in the back of my mind like a ghostly specter that could leap into action and make me sick at any moment.

So what are the things which make me so scared of vomiting?  Did I have some sort of horrid experience like severe food poisoning which has traumatized me?  Nope.  I don’t think I’ve ever had food poisoning, but I’m terrified that I will and won’t eat certain foods like chicken salad, things I think have been left out of the fridge to long on a hot day and any food that has gone past the “purchase by date.”  Am I prone to vomiting more than other people?  Nope.  Since adulthood, I vomited once when I was pregnant with my first child even though I had severe nausea throughout most of the pregnancy and couldn’t smell certain things without gagging, or even look at a McDonald’s bag without feeling like I’d hurl at any moment.  It was horrid, and I could barely eat until the very end of the pregnancy.  But vomit?  I fought that tooth and nail.  Then I vomited again when I got a bad stomach virus while in my 7th month of pregnancy with my second child.  Then I went another twenty-seven years without vomiting until I threw up a couple of times while undergoing a colonoscopy prep.  I was on the bathroom floor in a pool of sweat and at that moment I think I may have actually felt a pretty high level of hatred for my gastroenterologist for putting me through such trauma.  By the way in case you’re wondering I somehow managed to survive and thrive after all three, yes all THREE of these nightmarish episodes.  I know what you’re thinking: “Man what a big baby!”  And, I suppose you’re right. But it’s not about the pain.  I had all three of my kids without the aid of any pain meds. ala natural if you will and trust me it took forever, and it was excruciating, but I never made a peep and trudged on to the finish line.  Oh, and I had a major muscle spasm in my upper back and neck at the age of fifteen and wow did that hurt.  I was twisted out of shape for several weeks unable to even get dressed without aid  but I was as tough as nails through that too.

So what is it about? To be honest, it’s been very hard for me to actually put my finger on it.  I only know that I dread it and that right now given a choice between vomiting and holding a tarantula I’d opt for the tarantula and like I said I’m absolutely terrified of spiders.  And given the choice of having to drive on the highway for ten minutes while having my usual panic attacks and vomiting, I’d pick the driving. (Wait till I write about my driving phobia!)   I absolutely dread the thought of vomiting.  If one of my grandchildren says, “Grandma, my belly hurts. I feel like I’m instantly transported into a horror movie as the main star.  Crazy eh?

So these are some of the thought I have about vomiting, “where and when will it happen? How many times will it happen? I won’t be able to stand it!  I’ll die if it happens in public! What if I can’t make it to a toilet?  It’s the most disgusting/revolting thing on the planet!  I can’t hear someone vomit!  I can’t see someone vomit! I can’t have someone see me vomit or hear me vomit.

It’s all very bizarre and horrid at the same time, and I can’t seem to control my anxiety when my Emetophobia is running the show.  If you are vomiting and needing help, instead of my sucking it up and helping you I will probably run as far from you as I can.  Like I said a phobia can turn you into a jerk.

I know that my social anxiety plays into this. I know that the fact that any time I have any kind of anxiety I’m nauseous so anxiety triggers nausea and nausea triggers anxiety for me.   I know that the idea of losing control of my body plays into this.  I know that an extreme level of disgust and grossness plays into this.  And it’s also very likely that my OCD plays into this, but I just don’t know why I feel like I can’t vomit without the world coming to an end.  I know, I know, I know it’s absurd, but knowing that does nothing to remove the severe anxiety and dread that I’m feeling right now and will continue to feel for the next four days or so when and if I feel that I just might be in the clear and dodge the bullet.

Meanwhile, I’ll barely eat, only small meals and soft foods; the kinds of things that won’t be so hard to throw up – just in case.

So that’s my Emetophobia and me.  It makes me feel like a freakish anomaly just like all my other anxiety disorders do, and I wish I could just be normal, rather than being overwhelmed by something so insignificant.  But I’m sure that there are others out there who know just what I’m feeling, and I want you to know you’re not alone.  We’ll survive and good days will come again.  Meanwhile, we can’t isolate ourselves, we have to press through the anxiety and do the best we can to work on this phobia just like we have to do with all our other anxiety “issues.”

Anxiety in all its forms pretty much stinks!  Can I get a witness?!

 

 

IS RELIGIOUS OCD A SPIRITUAL ISSUE? WHAT ABOUT THOSE VERSES WHICH SEEM TO INDICATE THAT IT IS?

I’ll tell you what, it sure seems like a spiritual issue when you’re in the throes of it.  It comes at you from so many angles regarding your faith that it just feels as though something is definitely amiss spiritually.  Sadly, if you buy into that, you will only make the disorder worse and tighten the grip it has on your brain.

On top of that, there are all too many people in the family of Christ who will also tell you that what you are experiencing is most definitely a spiritual issue.  They might use words like “stronghold” or “spiritual warfare” or “the spirit of fear” or “Satanic influences” to describe or define your Religious OCD.   I’m not so sure they’d be so quick to use those terms in the case of a small child who had OCD and struggled with a hand washing compulsion because the theme doesn’t seem to be a spiritual one.  But OCD is OCD no matter what the obsessional theme is.  And treating OCD like OCD is what will help a person feel better in the same way that treating diabetes like diabetes will help the diabetic feel better.

Religious obsessions are actually extremely commonplace with OCD.   And, just because faith and religion are common targets for OCD doesn’t mean that the disorder is based on a spiritual problem.  It’s really not even based in wrong-headed or irrational thinking.  It’s actually based on a problem in the region of the brain called the amygdala.  People with OCD have amygdala’s which are not functioning appropriately and therefore, the person is feeling anxious and frightened without a legitimate cause.  But the brain is smart and if there is a feeling of being anxious that won’t go away the brain will eventually find something to BE anxious about.  It will find a target.  And if you happen to be a Christian and your relationship with Christ is the uppermost thing in your life then it’s not at all surprising that OCD goes after that.

There’s much to be said about how counterproductive it can be for a person who is afflicted with Religious OCD to treat it as a spiritual issue, but for the purpose of this blog I wanted to touch on how even in reading our Bible’s while struggling with Religious OCD can be a triggering experience.

There are a handful of Bible verses which come up on a regular basis whenever I’m talking to someone who is struggling with Religious OCD.  It’s not that I don’t understand why this happens because it’s happened to me too.  And, when I’ve mistakenly used these verses as evidence that I’m in some kind of spiritual jeopardy or even tried to employ them to battle against the thoughts, my disorder has only gotten worse.

Religious OCD has a nasty habit of distorting or taking Scripture out of its proper context and thereby, causing the sufferer to feel the need to fight against the presence of their intrusive thoughts.

I thought the best way to explain how this happens would be to give a few examples of how my own OCD has twisted scripture out of context in order to keep me firmly entrenched in attending to the obsessions.  What follows are a few of the scriptures which come up quite frequently as a source of distress or as being misappropriated toward Religious OCD.  I thought it would be good to visit just a few of them so that maybe my fellow sufferers could see just how easily the disorder distorts the meaning of Scripture and leaves you feeling like your doomed.

  1. “God has not given us the spirit of fear.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

This one used to really send me into gut-wrenching, “I need to sort this out now!!”, panic mode.

This was mostly because my OCD caused me to view this verse in isolation from the verses that surrounded it.  When I would read it or hear it, I would become so overwhelmed with anxiety that I completely abandoned what I knew regarding how to study scripture in its proper context.

The first error was fed by this idea that if you experience fear, then you have a demonic presence influencing you.  I’d heard people quote this verse as if Paul had just told Timothy that he had a demon that needed to be cast out of him before he could “stir up the gift of God “and get busy with his role in spreading the Gospel.  But there is zero reference in this scripture to any kind of demonic presence that needed to be dealt with.  And furthermore, I can hardly picture Paul observing Timothy and his devotion to Christ and then saying, “hey that demon possessed guy looks like a good candidate to join us the spreading of The Good News! Let’s give him an “apostolic grant of authority!”

My second error was in seeing “the spirit of fear” as something which would completely prevent Timothy from following his calling.  Paul didn’t say; “That’s it for you, buddy! You either get rid of your fear” or else you’re useless.  Instead, he provided Timothy with the information that he needed to understand that the contrast of the strength and power of God’s Spirit over against his weak and timid Spirit was the thing that would provide the courage he needed to press on.

In a way, when I looked back at it, the message seemed to be that while God isn’t the source of our weakness or fear, He certainly isn’t impeded by it.

But to really understand the context you would also have to understand that the fear that Timothy was experiencing had its basis in reality.  I mean, c’mon, Paul was writing to him from a prison cell for doing the very thing that Timothy was now commissioned to do.  Would there be danger involved in it?  Yep, you betcha!   So Timothy, very naturally had some trepidation regarding what would happen to him, and I’m pretty sure that most of us would too.  But feeling afraid is common.  What matters in this scenario is whether or not we let our fear keep us from doing the right thing.  It’s our choices which make all the difference.  Not our feelings.

But as regards Religious OCD, this verse has zero application except and only as it applies to our needing to rely on God’s strength to persevere through affliction, weakness, and suffering.

So now whenever I’m speaking about my OCD and someone pipes up about God not giving me the spirit of fear, I just smile and say “I know” and leave it at that.   It’s a bit like someone saying, please don’t blame God for your high blood pressure.  He didn’t cause it.  To that, I would also reply: “I know.”

 

  1. “Truly I tell you, anyone, who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

Ugh!  I remember the exact moment when this verse struck and stabbed at me.  I was reeling with a mixture of confusion and accusation:

“You don’t have that kind of unquestioning faith like little kids do!  They just believe so easily! How do I muster up that kind of unquestioning faith which just rests in complete and utter bliss without a single doubt or without needing to have a good reason for my belief?  Is this really the kind of faith that God is demanding of me?”

 For quite some time this verse just laid me lower than dirt.  I would look around on Sunday morning at all the people lifting up their voices and their hands in praise to God with such an air of confidence while I stood there wondering if I was really on my way to hell because I didn’t possess the faith of a little child.

This was a case of my OCD perverting or twisting scripture to keep me in a continual battle with my obsessional theme.

Later on, when I was able to calm down and contemplate the verse and really think about the relationship of children to their parents as regards provision, safety, and security, I realized that children don’t offer up anything regarding these things.  The parent just gives them lovingly and willingly to the child and all the child has to do is to receive them.  It was really about our not being able to earn our salvation and about God’s incredible grace in securing our salvation, not because of anything we have done or can do, but all because of who He is, for us, to us, in us and through us.  It had nothing to do with mustering up a feeling of faith and everything to do with the object of my faith.  I trusted my earthly Dad without question when it came to my helplessness as his little girl.  And it’s the same with my heavenly Father.  He gives and I have only to receive.

  1. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Here we have the “go to” verse for many people with Religious OCD.  And, although many of them come up with this verse on their own as a way to battle the thoughts of OCD, it’s not uncommon for a pastor, Biblical counselor, or Christian friend to suggest this verse as a way to overcome the thoughts of OCD.

For starters, even apart from OCD this verse, in its proper context, isn’t about battling against our own sinful or angry or worried thoughts.  It’s actually about contending for the Gospel against false philosophies and ideologies which are being put forth in opposition to it.  The people who are doing this kind of thing aren’t Christians and in fact, are working hard to dispute or discredit the truth of the Gospel and the Word of God.   This verse is actually more in line with the meaning of this verse:

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

We are living in a world where there really are spiritual forces at work which oppose the Gospel, and these forces are influencing so many human hearts and turning them away from the salvation that comes through the Cross of Jesus the Christ.   Therefore, as Christians, who have been called to share and spread the good news of the Gospel we have to be equipped and well prepared to respond to these arguments which are set against, “the knowledge of God.”

This is the proper application of this scripture which has absolutely nothing to do with a disorder which causes a person to experience an enormous surge of anxiety over an unwanted/intrusive thought or doubt.  All OCD thoughts are ego-dystonic, meaning the person doesn’t want to think them and actually doesn’t even choose to think them.  They just happen because our brain is capable of coming up with all sorts of negative associations based on the knowledge we have stored up over the years.

But, beyond all this, the main point that I want to make is that when we respond or react to our Religious OCD thoughts as if they were really a sign of our being in spiritual danger or experiencing a stronghold, we are engaging in the compulsive side of the disorder.  This is because whenever we attend to an OCD thought by arguing with it, asking for reassurance, trying to counter or cancel it, asking God repeatedly for forgiveness, trying to figure out why we’re thinking it or just shoving back against it in any way shape or form we are cooperating with the OCD.   We are giving in to this compelling feeling that we need to fix it, and when we allow that feeling to drive our behavior, we are, in effect, reinforcing the anxiety.  If we give hours and hours of attention to a thought, our brain is automatically going to view it as the most urgent and uppermost thing.

The bottom line here is that all OCD responds to proper management tools.  It doesn’t matter what the content of the obsession is, whether contamination or religious.  We must treat it for what it is; a painful disorder which we need to learn how to manage.

Religious OCD is entirely manageable so long as we choose to treat it in the right way.   I know this to be true because I’ve been on both sides of the coin; a. supposing it to be spiritual and attacking it in that way and, b. accepting it as a valid unchosen disorder and using the correct management tools. What I found out is that choosing a. only served to prolong and increase my suffering and choosing b. brought me out of suffering and out of the grip of my Religious obsessions.

I pray for all those afflicted with this form of OCD that they would have the courage to turn away from treating it as a spiritual issue so that they can begin to work on getting better.

Mental Illness: Too Scared to Share – Why most Christians won’t talk About “IT”

Decided to Reblog this today because it’s such an important issue within the body of Christ. Praying for God to raise up more people to speak up and out about their experiences with mental illness, so that they can lay hold of the richness of God’s grace in and through their suffering – yes – even the suffering of a mental illness. Thanks for taking the time to read it.

The OCD Christian

The “IT” in the title of this blog is in reference to the Mental Illness that afflicts approximately 25% of people from all walks of life.  There are numerous reasons for our silence but I would say that the biggest, is the fear of how people will view us and even treat us once they know we have a mental illness.  We know there is stigma attached to it.  We know that most people won’t have the basic knowledge in regard to the cause and the effects of our particular illness that would allow them to view it as a valid affliction.  We know that there are uneducated ideas born out of assumption and presuppositions that people have accepted for most of their lives in regard to mental illnesses. So when we are struggling and suffering many of us just stay silent.  I know we do because I did that…

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