“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!!

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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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The Proper Care and Feeding of Pure O

This blog is actually a what NOT to do blog because when it comes to managing my “Pure O” OCD, I’ve discovered that keeping my plate empty is definitely the better choice than filling it up with Pure O’s favorite menu items. It’s actually quite challenging to try and starve my Pure O and I’ll admit that there are times when its appetite becomes so insistent that I give in to its hunger pangs.

The really rotten thing about my Pure O is that each new obsessional theme is yet another opportunity for it to trick me into doing its bidding and before you know it, I’m stuck in the cycle of my OCD. At times, I feel like the most gullible human on the planet as I fall prey to its tactics yet again.

My Pure O is always insisting that if I just feed it one more bite that it will be completely satiated. This is such a lie and I hate that I fall for it!  What really happens is a bit like that old potato chip commercial where you are reminded that if you eat one chip you won’t be able to stop and you’ll end up eating the whole darn bag.  Yep, the moment I give into the cravings of my Pure O it always demands even more.

So, what does my Pure O like to eat?  I would have to say that most of its dietary preferences fall into one particular food category: Rumination.  Rumination basically means to bring something back up and chew on it again after you’ve already chewed and swallowed it.  How gross!  Well… that’s what it means if you happen to be a cow. In Pure O, however, mental rumination means that you bring up your obsessions over and over again and think about them very deeply and very carefully. It means that you mull them over and over and turn them over and over in your mind and examine them from every possible angle.

There are all kinds of “ruminating foods” which feed my Pure O.  Its favorite appetizer will usually be my trying to work out why I’m thinking about such a horrid obsession in the first place.  Then, when I’ve realized just how objectionable the obsession is, my Pure O orders up a salad filled with all sorts of mental arguments about why the obsession isn’t really true of me or can’t ever come true.  Then, shortly after that, it straps on the feed bag and really digs into the main course which consists of a mixture of the following items: Reassurance seeking, research, logical reasoning, countering and undoing statements.  This typically culminates in a frantic binge of all-out exhausting mental warfare.  And, the more I shovel into my Pure O’s mouth, the hungrier it gets.  Then, just when I think it can’t possibly swallow one more thing, it demands dessert served up in the form of avoidance.  I must avoid all the things which trigger the obsessional theme because the hunger pangs have become so incredibly painful.

It’s really scary to start taking menu items away from my Pure O – OCD.  It’s especially difficult once its swelled up into this huge, hungry beast because just as soon as I refuse tp feed it, it throws a tantrum which comes in the form of severe, gut-wrenching, “I can’t bear it one more second” –  ANXIETY!”

And yet, here’s the thing, just as soon as I get up the courage to put it on a gradual starvation diet, it begins to grow smaller and weaker.  This doesn’t happen overnight because just like most weight loss programs it’s better to shave off a few pounds gradually than to starve yourself.   The best thing to do is to work on the smaller snack items first, meaning tackle the smaller least distressing obsessional themes first and then work up to the hard ones.  The best diet plan for Pure O is most definitely Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy or ERP.  So if you haven’t yet learned about how to manage Pure O through ERP, it’s time to do so.   Go ahead and google it and then take that first step toward starving your Pure O.