Rose Bretécher is a 28-year-old writer with OCD. When she was 15-years-old she started experiencing obsessive sexual thoughts which took over her mind for a decade. Rose has now written a tragicomic memoir about her life with OCD, which she is crowd-funding through Unbound. You can pledge to help her tell her story.
Part 2 of 3
HOW I RECOVERED FROM OCD
When I had my OCD confirmed a doctor, I was rapturous, presuming I’d soon be cured. First I was sent for person-centred therapy, which meant talking endlessly about my feelings to a counsellor. Then, after weeks and weeks of fruitless sessions, I was sent to a psychodynamic therapist, who made me explore my past to unlock the subconscious secrets behind my obsessions.
I didn’t know it at the time, but these therapies are incredibly damaging for people with OCD. Ironically the soul-seeking and rumination they encourage are exactly the kinds of behaviour that every person with the condition needs to resist in order to recover.
With each failed therapy I was getting worse and worse. By my mid-twenties I was self-harming again, contemplating suicide, and my relationship with my wonderful new boyfriend was hanging by a thread. I was fearful of what might happen if I didn’t get better, so in desperation I decided to try therapy once more – CBT with Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).
The life-changing lesson I learnt straight away was this: compulsions make obsessions worse. I’d read it before, of course, but I’d never really understood what it meant, and I’d certainly never been told how to put this knowledge into practice. Suddenly my whole life started to make sense – all the little things I’d done to try and make the thoughts go away had fed into the vicious cycle of OCD. All the reassurances that I wasn’t a paedophile. All the problem solving surrounding my sexuality. All the prayers and distraction techniques and self-medicating. They’d all been toxic compulsions.
The ERP therapy helped me break this cycle. I was exposed to sexual content of gradually increasing explicitness and encouraged to tolerate my anxiety, thoughts and feelings, without engaging in compulsions. Slowly I found myself less and less anxious in response to the stimuli. Just letting the thoughts ‘be there’ without questioning them was the essential skill which would help me manage my condition in future.
After nearly a year of this therapy, I’d learned the correct cognitive and behavioural techniques I needed to tackle my condition at a neurotic level. But my emotional healing didn’t really begin until I started telling people what I’d been through. I’d always been so terrified of people’s reactions to my thoughts, that I’d only ever told one person – my boyfriend – the full extent of my illness.
But now, post-therapy, I was feeling a little stronger. I was working professionally as I writer, and every time I tried to write on other people’s projects, my brain kept pulling me back to my own experiences. I’d lived through an extraordinarily fascinating condition of which most people knew nothing, and I felt compelled to get it out there. My fears about stigma were now outweighed by an intense gut feeling: pure O was a story that needed telling.
Next week, read the final part of Rose’s story: