The Guide To Stopping OCD From Spiraling

Don't let what happened to me happen to you.

Posted Jul 31, 2020

 Sean Shinnock / Used with permission
Source: Sean Shinnock / Used with permission

After all these years and all the times that I have shared my story, I still get nervous discussing what it was like for me to be trapped in severe OCD. Brings me back to a place where I was trapped inside of my own head and no one from the outside world was able to rescue me and there was nowhere to run. Flat out terrifying, not being able to stop myself, when all my life I had been a strong girl who was able to take care of herself and everyone else. I remember looking in the mirror and begging my rational self to “wake up” but only to spend the day doing the compulsions anyway. Despite the difficulty, there are two reasons that I am open about my story. One, remembering my journey and discussing it helps me remain in recovery, and second, I realize that someone might need to hear my story in order to start their recovery journey. 

For me, I spiraled extremely fast into severe OCD. I started becoming obsessed with the fear that I would infect myself or my baby during the last trimester of my pregnancy. My labor and delivery were a horribly intense experience, after 30 painful hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section.  My baby was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 7 days. This all occurred during the Swine Flu pandemic of 2009. I was already used to doing compulsions at this point. I remember one of the nurses coming into the hospital room and telling me to have everyone wash their hands carefully and not go near the baby because the baby would “not survive the Swine Flu” and would “die” should he become infected.

Immediately, I went into a panic spin that I wouldn’t want anyone in the world to experience. Sadly, I have a history of experiencing traumatic and sudden losses of people I love and I knew I could never let this happen again. I wanted nothing less than a one hundred percent guarantee that my baby would live. I was completely obsessed with sickness and germs and keeping myself and my baby safe. I did so many compulsions throughout the day that I would say it only took about 3 weeks for me to go from mild OCD to severe, non-functioning OCD. 

I have been thinking a lot about my experience lately. There are parts of what I experienced that remind me of what is happening with the current Coronavirus pandemic. As an OCD specialist, I definitely am concerned about the mental health of the public. Especially due to all of the new behaviors people have been doing. A lot of handwashing, a ton of disinfecting, a lot of avoidance behaviors, and mask wearing. I first discussed this topic in an article I wrote back in March ("5 Ways to Remain OCD-Controlled in the Face of the Coronavirus"). When I wrote that article, I had no idea that the world would still be struggling in August! So, a new concern would also be the length of time that people have been engaging in these behaviors. It is important to keep yourself mentally healthy during this time. Here are some suggestions in order to try to stop the compulsions from spiraling out of control.

First, tell a qualified professional as soon as you notice that you are not able to stop obsessing on a disturbing and uncomfortable thought. Especially, if you find yourself doing all sorts of behaviors in order to neutralize this thought. 

Second, resist, at all cost, going on the internet and searching everything and anything regarding your obsessive thought. This definitely includes media and social media. I know that you are trying to find some relief and reassurance for yourself to have peace of mind. I promise you that researching, even if it brings some temporary relief, will only make your uncomfortable thought worse in the long run.

Third, do not try to push your thoughts away. I know they are terrifying, but pushing them down will not work and it will only make the thought scarier. I recommend letting them in and seeing them the entire way through. Play out the entire scenario in your head and definitely worst case it. After you have gone through the entire scene, then replay it again, and again, and again, and again, and again. 

These suggestions will hopefully help however nothing can replace getting a great qualified professional to work alongside you as you begin taking the steps to get into recovery from OCD.