“Can My OCD Get Worse With ERP?
On Facebook and in my own practice, that question gets asked a lot. It sounds very similar to the question children ask before getting an injection, “Is this going to hurt?”
The doctor tells the truth, “Yes, it’s going to hurt! But, not for long.”
Engaging in ERP is not something your brain will immediately register as a good thing. You’re going out of your comfort zone and all the bells and whistles in your amygdala will be sounding off! “DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!”
It’s hard to find a pace that is “just enough.” It’s scary to move forward with exposure exercises. You won’t want to provoke your anxiety. You’ll worry it’s too much.
But, how else can you become desensitized? How else can you disprove OCD and throw it under the bus for being such a liar?
“Just enough” is the sweet spot. Some people flood and go for the big guns. “Let’s just get this over with” and they take on their worst nightmare. For them, that’s “just enough.”
Not everybody can confront their fears that way.
Find a pace that challenges you and then build momentum. Do one thing that scares you and hit it with repetition. Then do something else that scares you, “just enough” and repeat, repeat, repeat. Keep building.
You’ll discover you can tolerate a lot more than you thought you could. And…your confidence will grow.
Growing Means Ouch
I’ll never forget that tube down my throat and having to be suctioned. The tears rolled down my face the first few times. Then I got used to it. Nowadays people have the breathing tube removed and leave ICU within 18 to 24 hours of surgery. I was kept on life support for over 72 hours.
I was in my late teens and didn’t want the surgery. At first I denied I had the problem and tried to negotiate with my doctor. But, he told me I had a hole in my heart the size of a quarter. The surgery had to be done or I’d be dead before age 40.
My life depended on this barbaric surgery. They sawed through my bones and wired them back together.
After the first day of surgery I refused pain medicine. I leaned into the pain. I wanted to get out of that hell hole. Every time I so much as sneezed, I thought I was tearing the stitches that held my heart repair together.
I mustered through. I wanted out of that place. I wanted to live my life. Within 10 days of surgery I was playing tennis.
My Strangely Wrapped Gift
A few months after surgery I went on a date with a young man who came highly recommended by my co-workers. He picked me up at the store and my co-workers said, “have fun!”
Against my wishes he drove me to his house. His parents weren’t home. He brought out an astrology book and told me the stars indicated we would make good sexual partners. I told him no. He said yes.
I thought quickly. I told him I just had open heart surgery. He saw the red, swollen scar. I told him I would die if I was traumatized. He was angry. “You should have told me about this.” He brought me back to the store. I was safe.
In so many ways, open heart surgery was my strangely wrapped gift.
Just because something hurts or scares you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. When deciding whether or not to do ERP, consider the track record of people who have done it.
It’s a mighty fine track record.
And, I hope those of you who have done it will leave a comment and encourage those who are on the fence about it. There are people who need to hear from you. How bad was it before ERP? How terrifying was ERP? How’d you make out? Please leave your anonymous comment.
Remember this, wherever you are, it’s where you’re supposed to be. We will always be given opportunities to grow and learn. Lean into it.