« Blog

By Ethan S. Smith, IOCDF National Ambassador


What happens when OCD is no longer the biggest challenge you face in your day to day life? After successful treatment, does life become easy, with OCD mere background noise rather than the seemingly immovable barrier that it once was? IOCDF National Ambassador, Ethan S. Smith describes the surprising insights and lessons that came in the wake of his successful OCD treatment.

I remember a conversation I had with my girlfriend at the time, shortly before moving from Boston to LA to “start my life.” I told her “Let me move out and get settled first. I should be able to make a half million or so in six months as an actor. Then you move out and we’ll get a place together.” I was one hundred percent sincere making that claim. Made complete sense. Even with OCD tying both hands behind my back, I had been able to eke out a relatively successful acting career, appearing in commercials, television, and movies. And from Florida no less! Where I was afraid to leave my parents house because of my OCD and anxiety. Now with the cage door open and the wind at my back, I was set to fly off to Los Angeles and make life my bitch.

For those of you familiar with my story, it’s a cautionary tale of how malignant and terrible OCD can get. How physically ill a mental disorder can make you. How after 31 years of tortuous thoughts, compulsions, missed experiences, milestones, ill-equipped treatment providers, and living life on the sidelines, I finally got better through insane amounts of tough love, support, and that elusive effective treatment.

I’ve been living close to 8 years now in a state of successfully managing OCD. I simply define that as living my life as close to my values as possible without OCD interfering in decision making or functioning. This doesn’t mean I don’t have obsessive thoughts. It definitely doesn’t mean I don’t ritualize at times (I just finished googling “How many times can you re-heat Chinese food?”). It just means that OCD doesn’t play a primary role in my life. I am grateful. I am blessed.

And then… I’ve begun to learn a very valuable (and painful) lesson in the past few years: Achieving freedom from OCD’s grasp doesn’t guarantee all my dreams will come true.


I spent thirty-one year’s imagining what my life would be like if pesky OCD wasn’t a factor. All the things I’d be capable of achieving. How much easier life would be. All my dreams and goals a reality for me to bask in the glow of. And… it was a logical leap. For all intents and purposes, I was a successful actor unable to take the next steps because of my OCD. I had successful relationships torn apart by OCD. Every problem and failure in my life I could point the finger at OCD and blame it. So, if OCD goes away, life becomes clear sailing with the wind at my back and my dreams ahead. But my OCD is in check. And so why am I still trying to afford a boat that stays afloat, let alone sail the waters of life towards the sunset?

No longer having OCD to blame for failures and missteps is a staggering revelation. Granted, I’m in an industry with a soul-crushing amount of judgement and rejection. That aside, I had an expectation that life, free from OCD, would be easy. After all the suffering I had experienced, I deserved and should experience an obstacle free life.

At first, I shrugged off life’s hardships pretty well. Overtime, however, the day-to-day struggle started creating immense doubt and insecurity in my mind. With OCD mostly out of the picture, if things didn’t go my way, the only thing to blame… was me. Every project gone wrong, failed relationship, inability to succeed, perform, pay a bill? MY FAULT. The truth had been unraveled. Ethan the individual finally exposed as less than, not good enough, a fraud, a let-down, loathsome, an embarrassment to everyone who ever believed in me. Life proved me wrong, and that absolutely crushed me. I understand that this is a pretty harsh judgement (see below for my New Year’s resolution to treat myself better!), but this is how it felt at the time. There are times where it still feels that way.

The last two years have been fraught with life’s ups and downs. Life is really hard, and it’s harder for those of us that struggle with mental illness. I can only speak from my own experience, but that wasn’t obvious to me at first. I wasn’t prepared for it. When I got better, I was new skin exposed to a bright sun with no sun screen. I got burned!


So what now? This morning I wrote in my self-compassion journal. Turns out self-compassion is where it’s at – my aforementioned New Year’s Resolution. I have realized that I currently have very little of it. I took a test. On a scale from 1-5 (with 5 loving yourself a little too much), I scored 1.43. At least I’m fantastic at not being self-compassionate. But I’m working hard to change that. I’ve started seeing my therapist twice a week for a while. I’m working on my self-compassion workbook. I’m reading two other books on self-compassion. I’m meditating more. Thanking myself more. Trying to love myself again. It’s going to take time. I’m on my way.

When it comes to advocacy, I’ve always taken a transparent approach. This is me. This is where I am right now, as you’re reading this. The journey doesn’t end because the OCD chapter closes. It actually gets harder because life is not a straight line (we’ve all seen that meme). But I don’t tell you any of this to discourage you. In fact, quite the opposite. I tell you this in case you are feeling alone with similar feelings. So, you know I’m with you in this process.

Keep getting up when you’re knocked down. Keep fighting for you. Keep being proactive and continue to work the process. Don’t be fooled by self-stigma, lean on your friends and family. There’s no shame in struggling just because you’ve struggled in the past. I’m just learning that. Life is tough, but you’re tougher. Discover your silver linings. I think they’re the most beautiful parts of life, and they only come, after the storm.
Also, you should only re-heat Chinese food once.

Ethan S. Smith presenting at the 25th Annual OCD Conference during the Saturday Night Social.
Ethan S. Smith presenting at the 25th Annual OCD Conference during the Saturday Night Social.


  • Ron Prevost

    Ethan — thanks for sharing. And best wishes on the continued road for living in recovery with OCD.

    • Karen Taylor

      I am just breaking up with OCD
      I don’t know quite how to actually live, after all these yrs running and running
      I know I need to live life one day at a time
      I know this. Other than that, I feel lost
      Any advise is welcome.

  • Imrana Mouna

    Hi Ethan – how and where did you eventually get help? Was there a treatment facility you went to?

  • Zafer

    i really appreciate your sharing. thank you for that and good luck in your amazing journey.
    what kind of self compassion books are you reading?

  • Francisco Delgado

    thank you for sharing your story. its so crucial that information is shared in order to advance in the ocd treatment, someones story could make a huge impact on the life of another. In a world where ocd treatment is so scarce i,m so interested in knowing what worked for you, and how you found it? After searching endlessly for treatment for about 18 years, encountering almost no assistance, I too, finally was granted the miracle of a successful treatment this past January!

    • Nancy Waters

      I have a 22 year old daughter with severe, debilitating OCD with intrusive thoughts. It has been very frustrating to find trained therapists with ERP training. You mentioned you were granted the miracle of a successful treatment.
      Could you share what that was?

  • Judge

    Hi Ethan S. Smith,

    Thank you for sharing, very informative. What kind of self compassion books, can you give me some names of books that helped you.
    I would be very interested in that information.

    Please help
    Thank you

  • Rich

    What’s.n ext?

  • Dawn

    Amazing and insightful. This has given me hope when I thought there was none. I can’t handle the void OCD leaves behind and struggle to fill it. This makes me panic then slip back into OCD land every time. Any tips welcome.

    • Karen

      I am lost, too
      I am 66 soon to be 67 and for the first time in my life, I am turning off the behaviors of OCD
      I wish I had the answers right now but they may come when I get my closets emptied out from s
      OCD shopping
      You may read this and if you care to, reach me at karenitaylor1957@gmail.com
      Best wishes

  • Sheyonia Anderson

    Thsnk you so much got the words of encouragement.

  • Ethan Oliver

    Thanks Ethan

  • Pam

    Thank you Ethan. Those struggling with mental illness who have the compassion to help others are heroes . Where does this come from? How is it that people who have had the dirty end of the stick biologically still want to use vital energy to help others? I have OCD and worse that that, far worse, I watch my son with OCD suffer every day.

  • vicky

    hello i m suffering from ocd from 2-3years. i regularly washing my hand and using wet vibes sanitizers etc to clean.i washed my phone so many times. Through this i lost so money and other lots of things like do not touched by anyone,do not hand shake etc please i need help ocd ruined my life

    • Jessica Price

      Hi Vicky—Thank you for sharing your story. We’re so sorry to hear that you’re having a hard time. Please give us a call during business hours at 617 973 5801 or email us at info@iocdf.org so we can connect you with resources. In the meantime, you can also join our free, anonymous online forum for those looking for peer support for OCD. Create an account at healthunlocked.com/my-ocd.

  • Enrique

    Is there a book on life after OCD? Right now I am at a residential program. And this is insane. While being here my anxiety has gone. I even feel guilty of this, weird, confused. Is like Ethan said now it’s my fault. I feel weird because I am in a peaceful place right now. But as soon as I get out to the daily responsibilities the beast will get unleashed. Anyway is there’s a book on life after OCD? Thanks.

  • Gary m. Paull

    Thanks for sharing your story. I have listened to your podcasts and enjoyed them all. I am looking for support groups that presents ERP therapy in the state of Montana. There few and far between (OCD therapists) with ERP expertise. Let me know if there are any in Montana. Thank you very much. Gary

  • Ganesh Dutta Sharma

    TKS A lot,,,sir, I share my story only for those sufferer who after good treatment cold not recoved from OCD…they may also pass their life with facing ocd pain,,, I have serve OCD as doctor F42 .now no medicine no therapy,,, because 52 years long ocd experience has given sone tools to fight,,,,,I am not fully free from ocd but any how managing and living,,, so don’t worry ,,we can live with ocd pain,,,,and can do each and every work,,as other none ocd sufferers can do,,,

  • Fortnite1

    Hi, thanks! Let’s stay positive out there!

  • Audra Kerr

    It is so defeating to read this. How can happiness exist in context of this constant assault of OCD? And even if OCD isn’t whispering lies in your ear every day, you have to be aware of OCD’s threat every single day. It seems all you do after you put forth the almost insurmountable effort of wrestling OCD into remission is trade prisons. Is this how it is?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *