Amen, Amen, Amen

An exploration of how obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a gift

Thought, Fear, Action

My foray into exposure therapy

Day one of exposure therapy.

I wake up with the mews of my 21-month old son. Whatever exposure therapy means, I’m doing this for you, love.

Who am I kidding? I’m doing it for me. Ever since I weaned him, my fragile balance of antidepressants and OCD therapy have been topsy freakin no-fun turvy.

Greatest obsessive fear haunting me: vomit.

7:05am - head to basement for thirty minutes of breathing, meditation and prayer.

7:37am - beloved husband takes me aside and says. “I don’t want to alarm you, but my stomach feels really funny.”

Enough said. I grab our three-year old and rush her to day camp. Come back to our apartment and scoop up our son, yelping, “See ya!” at my green husband. I bike my son through the park, trying to pant my way past the gruesome hallucinations of sick filling up our apartment from floor to ceiling like a fierce tide. When we stop for air I spray my boy with sanitizer until he shrieks at me to stop.

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10:30am – husband calls to say the coast is clear. He is feeling better. Nausea abated, no throw up. We have survived.

Day one of exposure therapy.

I return home with my son and shower while he naps. Husband goes to work. Waiting for my mother-in-law to arrive so I can head out to meet new exposure specialist. Mother-in-law calls to say she had annual stress test that morning and nurse practitioner mentioned she could be radioactive for hours.

Did I mention greatest obsessive fear #2: losing everyone I love to cancer?

Lost both my parents to it. My uncle too. Currently walking through a dear friend’s diagnosis of stage 4 melanoma. Loss. Lost. Lump. Laugh.

Laugh. I do. I laugh at radioactive grandma and after she gets the go ahead shrug from another nurse I say sure, come on over. We’re all getting exposed to something. Risky? I’m risky. I saw Risky Business as a teen. I also played the strategic yet mind-numbing boardgame Risk. I like to wear halter tops that are risqué!

Not really. Obsessive fear #3: my body.

Former anorexic. Still scared of full-length mirrors. But heck, I’ve evolved enough to eat grilled cheese with my kids so they don’t learn food fears from me (ha! Can I prevent them from anything, really?)

Which brings me to

12:50pm – well-meaning intake examiner tells me my weight – which I haven’t kept track of in a decade. The number crumples me in self-loathing but I manage to fill in the rest of my forms before weeping in the bathroom. Get in to see new therapist who says, “Tell me about yourself.”

To which I reply, “Can I just tell you about today instead?”

She nods with a smile.

Day one of exposure therapy.

I am given a picture of three overlapping circles. 

One says THOUGHT.

The other, FEAR.

The third, ACTION.

“All I want us to do,” says my exposure-specialist-new-best-friend, “is separate those three.”

Abby Sher is a writer and performer in Brooklyn, New York, and the author of Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn't Stop Praying.

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