Today’s entry comes from Josh Steinberg, a high school sophomore who was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and severe OCD in 2012. Josh found help with a therapist using ERP and is doing great. Now, Josh has decided to share his story with other teens affected by OCD. Josh will be presenting a talk in the Teen track at the International OCD Foundation’s Annual OCD Conference in Chicago this summer called “OCD in the Family: Becoming More Supportive Parents and Siblings.” He also plans to start a support group for youth with OCD in Boston, his hometown, in order to pursue his goal of helping those affected by OCD. Here, he shares five thoughts to help other teens affected by OCD.
When I discovered that I had OCD four years ago, I found myself feeling lonely and overwhelmed. I feared that nobody my age or in my peer group had gone through anything like OCD and emerged intact on the other side. I felt I had no guidelines to follow that had helped other people “like me.” I am writing this post based on my own experiences in an effort to alleviate some of that same isolation and uncertainty facing kids who are struggling with their symptoms now. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned and wish I’d known during my own fight.
1. Don’t be embarrassed by your thoughts.
It can be helpful to think of OCD as a net that catches — and won’t release — your most random thoughts. Some thoughts can be scary because they involve death or sexual things; however, it’s important to remember that all people have these thoughts. You are — and I was — different because your net is not letting these thoughts pass through like other people can do. Don’t be ashamed of your thoughts. Share them with those who can help you.
2. Give your OCD a name and develop your “wise mind.”
I named mine “OCD” — granted, it’s an unoriginal name, but at least I could then refer to it in ways such as “the OCD is telling me to do X.” It is important for you to make the distinction between what your mind without OCD — what my therapist taught me to call my “wise mind” — is trying to get you to do or think, and what your OCD is trying to get you to do or think. Remember, as I had to learn myself while grappling with my OCD, that you are more than just your “thoughts” — they don’t reflect who you are as a person.
3. Don’t shut out your family.
Though the teenage years are typically the time we want to pull away from our parents and siblings, our families can be our strongest allies in the fight against OCD. While they might not always understand what you are going through, do your best to keep them in the loop because fighting alone is much harder than fighting with your biggest and most unconditional fans encouraging and supporting you along the way.
4. Tell yourself that OCD is only strong as you let it be.
This disorder is so powerful because it is in our own minds; giving into compulsions only makes OCD stronger. Though it may not always feel this way, remind yourself that you — and you alone — are the landlord and OCD is the unwanted tenant of your mind. OCD will not reside in your mind forever as long as you continually fight to evict it.
5. Stay positive — don’t focus on slip-ups, but on beating your OCD.
While defeating OCD requires hard work, not meeting all of the goals that you set with your therapist or performing a compulsion is not the end of the world. When you find yourself slipping, do not get angry with yourself. Easier said than done, I know, but being too hard on yourself is counter-productive. Rather, push yourself forward, toward your next goal, and remember that how you continue to fight your OCD will determine its effect on you.
You can find more information and resources related to OCD in kids and teens on the IOCDF’s OCD in Kids website here.