Life with OCD

Celebrate Wellness
by Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from, December 17, 1999, revised

In the spirit of the holidays, let’s remember to be thankful for the progress we have made in our battle with OCD. And check out my gingerbread recipe!  

The title of this article may seem like a contradiction. How can you celebrate wellness when you are fighting a disease that devastates individuals and families? No matter where you are in your struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder, I think you can be thankful for your progress.

Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years – these are good times for reflection. I look back on past holidays. Some were happier and some were not so happy. Cookies have always been an important part of Christmas for me. As a child, I loved coming home to the aroma of fresh baked cookies. The table would be filled with cookies cooling. And there was always cookie dough to nibble.  

My son inherited my love for cookie dough and hot-out-of-the-oven cookies. And I inherited my mother’s urge to bake cookies for the holidays. For years, I baked about sixty dozen cookies every year – until 1994, the year OCD hit. That year, I made cookies for my husband and son. But none for our neighbors or coworkers. No big plate of cookies for my son’s class. My fear of harming others kept me from baking or cooking for others. I tried, but it was too much work, too much of a struggle. Store bought cookies had to do.

What was involved in baking cookies?

Wash hands, clean kitchen, wash hands, get mixer out, wash hands, get eggs out of refrigerator, wash hands – look with horror at the cat! What if she jumps on the counter? Lock cat in the bedroom, wash hands, clean kitchen again, wash hands . . . you get the idea. So many worries, so much anxiety, such sore hands, such a wet dish towel!

Then, when the cookies were made, I was sure they were “contaminated.” Touching a cookie with a potholder could do it, or letting a cookie slide from the wax paper and touch the clean kitchen counter. Why didn’t I fear “contaminating” the food I served my husband and son? I wondered about this for a few years. Now I realize it was the uncertainty that disturbed me. I could check on them, but I couldn’t check on others. I could harm outsiders with my baking and never know it! With my immediate family, I could readily check on them.   

In 1998, I gave up on cookie baking. As I gained more control over OCD, cookies made a comeback. Last year, my husband and son each chose their favorite cookie. My son chose sugar cookies and my husband chose gingerbread. First I locked the cat in the bedroom. I washed my hands, then made the cookies. For the most part, I resisted the urge to wash my hands as I baked. The fear was lurking in the back of my mind, but I continued. Finally, the cookies were made. My husband took a plate of cookies to work and my son took a plate to school. They didn’t get the beautiful plates with several kinds of cookies, but they did get cookies.

The following year, cookies made a major comeback. I made sugar cookies, gingerbread men (and women), chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal date cookies, lemon bars and toffee bars. And I’ve obsessed very little. In fact, I enjoyed the process of baking cookies and freezing each batch. Every night I went to the freezer and pulled out the cookies. A plate of cookies for my son’s class and his youth group, for my husband to take to work, for my Bible study group and for a morning tea. Instead of fear and anxiety, I had joy, pride and relief.

For me, my cookies were markers. They were symbols of my progress. I am thankful for all I have learned about cognitive-behavior therapy and the results of cognitive-behavior therapy. What about you? Don’t say you haven’t made progress in your struggle to break free from OCD. If you are reading this, you are educating yourself about OCD and that’s a first step. Mark your progress this year with a symbol of your victory. Expose yourself to something you fear and resist the urge to perform a ritual. Then this New Year’s Day be thankful for your victory.

I came across a Bible passage this week that speaks to my heart because I truly believe God is doing this in my life. It’s a promise God gave the Israelites through the prophet Joel. “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten . . . and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you”  Joel 2:25-26 (New International Version)

My gift to you is a fantastic gingerbread men recipe.

Gingerbread Men

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg 

1 cup light molasses

2 tablespoons vinegar

4 1/2 cups  flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/4 tsp. ground cloves

2 1/2 tsp. ginger

1 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Cream butter; gradually add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Blend in the molasses and vinegar. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture. Chill at least three hours. On a well floured surface roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness. With floured cookie cutters cut into desired shapes. Transfer to a baking sheet. Bake 6-7 minutes at 375 degrees. This recipe makes a soft cookie, unlike the firm cookies used in gingerbread houses. The spices may be adjusted, according to taste. This year I ran out of cloves and left it out. They still tasted fine.

OCD and Guilt
by Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from, January 13, 2000 

Okay, so you have these bad thoughts. Maybe they are blasphemous thoughts. That’s bad, right? A sin, right? Well, let’s think about it for a minute. OCD means having unwanted, intrusive thoughts. They just pop into your head, unwelcome and uninvited. How can that be a sin? How can you have guilt for something for which you have no control?

If you are like many people with obsessive thoughts, you fight these unwanted thoughts. Try not to think about them. But when you try not to think of something, it grows bigger and bigger until it takes over your mind, your entire day, thinking about what you don’t want to think about and trying not to think about it.

So trying not to think the bad thoughts doesn’t work. Penance, prayer, making up for the supposed sin, confessing the sinful thoughts to someone else – do these things help? Probably for a while. But the OCD brain isn’t satisfied. It will never be satisfied with any ritual. When the thoughts return, you say another prayer, confess your thoughts again. It takes longer this time, but eventually the thoughts leave. But even quicker this time, they’re back. And this time the thoughts are stronger, more horrifying because you know they won’t be so easily dismissed this time.

So what is the answer? The solution makes no sense to most people. Let the thoughts remain in the recesses of your mind. The problem is the entertaining of bad thoughts, not in having them. There can be no guilt when we have no control over something. Paying attention to them, trying to get rid of them, doing rituals to rid our minds of them – all of these fall into the category of “entertaining thoughts.” When we recognize the thoughts as OCD and unimportant and we allow them to just remain in the recesses of our minds, we take away their significance. We admit they are meaningless. Brain noise, I like to call these thoughts. We cease to entertain the thoughts.

It’s not easy. One of the keys is to remind yourself that these thoughts are just OCD. We cannot control the thoughts that pop into our heads and God will not punish us for them. And doing penance for thoughts you have no control over is entertaining them.

Think of an obsessive thought as a train passing by. You can't stop the rumble and sound, you have no control over it. The train will go by no matter what you do. People that live near trains get used to them. If they hear them, they might say something like "There goes that train again." But they don't go out and try to stop it. They recognize it, then ignore it.

If you ignore one thought, another comes up. Just let them come. Note how busy your OCD is today. Then go on with what you are doing. Also, I think that filling our minds with good stuff helps. Not when the OCD is bad necessarily, but on a regular basis. Spend 15 minutes every morning and evening in Bible study and prayer, or whatever is uplifting and inspiring for you. The Bible verses will come back to you when they are needed.

But resist the urge to pray when the obsessions hit, except maybe to ask for God's help in dealing with OCD. Don't ask for forgiveness for OCD obsessions, only His help in dealing with them. Why ask forgiveness for a glitch in your brain, for brain noise? God made you the way you are for a reason. Along with the OCD comes other positive traits – concern and empathy for others for example. He can use you just the way you are, so there is no need to ask forgiveness for the way God made your brain.

It will take time to get accustomed to handling obsessive thoughts this way. You will probably feel guilty, like you will be punished for allowing these obsessive thoughts, this brain noise, to remain in the recesses of your mind. With time these feelings will ease. But at first, I think we need to just walk in faith that we are doing the right thing. The feelings are part of OCD. Sometimes I have what I call feelings of gloom and doom. It is usually OCD and I need to recognize these feelings as such.

Does God understand? I know He does, He made us and understands how our brains work. But I have an idea that might help resolve the guilt question. How about writing a letter to God? I know He already knows our thoughts and feelings, but it might help us understand ourselves. Explain to Him about your OCD and how the thoughts pop into your head. Tell Him they are not your thoughts, but OCD. Tell Him you love Him and want to please Him. You would be healthier and more able to serve Him if you could control your OCD. So you are choosing to use cognitive-behavior therapy to treat your OCD. Tell Him you are no longer going to do penance for what you are not responsible for – the OCD obsessions. Finally tell God you love Him and thank Him for making you the way you are – OCD and all.

Confronting OCD Shoulds
by Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from, February 1, 2000 

I should check the door in a certain way. 

I should wash my hands in a certain way, for a certain length of time, and at certain times.

I should touch the dor three times as I pass through it.

I should pick up every can and piece of paper on the sidewalk.

I should mop my floor every day.

I should keep all this stuff I’ve collected.

I should arrange the books on my shelf just so.

I should pray with just the right words.

I should count to twelve every twelve minutes.


Who says?

Who made all these should rules?

Are you ruled by shoulds? Try rewording what you tell yourself, eliminating the shoulds. It just might weaken some of your compulsions. List all your shoulds. Write them out. Then question each one. Why? Who says? What will happen if I disobey this should rule? What will really happen? Write down your answers.

Now rewrite your shoulds.

I choose to check the door in a certain way.

I think it is a good idea to wash my hands in a certain way, for a certain length of time, and at certain times.

I like to touch the door three times as I pass through it.

I choose to pick up every can and piece of paper on the sidewalk.

I like to mop my floor every day.

I want to keep all this stuff I’ve collected.

I prefer to arrange the books on my shelf just so.

I choose to pray with just the right words.

I like to count to twelve every twelve minutes.

Perhaps taking the shoulds out will weaken our obsessions and compulsions.

Is OCD a Choice?
by Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from, May 5, 2000 

Do we choose to have OCD? No, but we can choose to make the lifestyle changes necessary for breaking free from OCD.

We’ve established that obsessive-compulsive disorder is a neurobiological disorder. It is a problem with the way our brains function and a chemical imbalance. Does that mean we need not take any responsibility for our OCD-related behavior? I don’t think so. Once we educate ourselves about cognitive-behavior therapy, we have a choice to make. Continue life as we know it, full of OCD symptoms – or make a lifestyle change.

Let’s compare OCD with some other diseases. My Aunt Margaret had juvenile onset diabetes. When she was diagnosed as a teenager, this was a virtual death sentence. She and her family were told there was no hope, her blood sugar would gradually rise, she would probably go into a coma and die. Just in time for her, a new drug was developed – insulin. So she took the prescribed insulin and went on with her life. Right? Not quite. She learned there was much more to living with diabetes.

Many people do take the insulin and ignore the rest of the treatment for diabetes. Had Aunt Margaret chosen to just take the insulin and not change her lifestyle, she would not have lived to middle age, let alone old age. She would likely have been plagued by kidney disease, visual disturbances, skin ulcers and maybe even amputations. What really saved her life was adjusting her diet, exercise and stress level. Diabetes became her life. She weighed every meal, eating exactly the prescribed diet. She walked every day, getting exactly the right exercise. And she tried to keep stress at a minimum.

As a result, Aunt Margaret lived to be 90 years old. She suffered none of the usual complications of diabetes. Her life was fuller and more comfortable because she availed herself to the most current information about her disease and made the necessary lifestyle changes. Like my aunt, we can choose to take the pills, take the SSRI, and be satisfied with partial treatment. Or we can choose to avail ourselves to all the treatment modern health care has to offer.

What about addictions? Obsessive-compulsive disorder is not an addiction. The major difference is that addictions involve a pleasant reinforcement, while OCD does not. People with OCD do not receive pleasure from performing compulsions, they are only meant to relieve the anxiety caused by the obsessions. The treatment of OCD is different from the treatment of addiction.

But there are similarities. Both addictions and OCD can be overcome by participating in the appropriate treatment for each. The appropriate treatment for OCD is cognitive behavior therapy with an emphasis on exposure and ritual prevention. And people who smoke or drink or do drugs can choose to stop. It is hard, but they can make that choice. People with OCD can choose to stop their compulsions too. It is hard, but we can make that choice and we can stop. No, we don't overcome it completely, but neither does the addicted person overcome completely his addiction. The desire to use is always there. And with OCD, the obsessions will always lurk in the back or our minds. But they will fade. 

OCD is a disease, but like diabetes and addictions, it can be treated. And much of the treatment comes from choosing to participate in lifestyle changes.

Goals and Plans for Success
by Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from, January 16, 2001, revised

Are you putting off exposure and ritual prevention for your OCD? Have you had success in some areas, but still harbor some stubborn obsessions and compulsions? Have you been meaning to see a doctor about your OCD, or another problem, but you just haven’t gotten around to it? Well, join the crowd. 

Whether it’s an OCD related resolution or not, we’ve all made New Year’s resolutions, then promptly forgot them. Do you remember what your resolution was last year? I don’t. I’ve heard that most New Year’s resolutions don’t make it past January. So, how do we make permanent changes? 

I think we sabotage our efforts by stating our resolution, then not following up with goals and plans for how we will be successful. What would you like to achieve this year? Start with clearly stating your goal. You may have more than one goal. Write out your long-term goals for 2001. How will you know when you have met your goals? Be specific.

Looking at your goals and imagining achieving them all at once can be overwhelming. Now, make plans for achieving those goals. Be specific. Once you get started, you may find you need to adjust your plan, adding more ways to achieve your goals.  

Okay, now you have long-term goals, and you have a plan for meeting those goals. What will you do tomorrow and the next few days to bring you closer to meeting your goals? Make one to three short-term goals for the coming week. At the end of the week, make an evaluation. Did you meet the goals? How could you improve? What do you need to do next week? Each week, make short-term goals and evaluate the previous week. At the end of the year, you will likely have met your long-term goals – and be ready to make new goals for the coming year!

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