Following on from Tuesday’s post, ‘When OCD Gets Religious‘, I’ve been asked to talk a bit more about my experience.
It’s been a while since this has been a big issue for me. I’m not an expert and I’m afraid I don’t have any easy answers, but for what it’s worth, these are some things that have helped me in the past:
1. remember, everyone has intrusive thoughts. What’s different with us is not the thoughts – it’s that we attach certain meanings to them.Here’s an example: worrying about dropping the communion cup. Lots of people worry about this! But where I might think ‘Oh no..it’s a sign that I’m not saved or that the devil has got into me’, obsess and decide I have to say or do certain things to make sure Jesus likes me, other folks tell themselves: ‘hmmm. that’s a bit irrational – it’s not going to happen’ and then get on with their day. Having the thought isn’t the problem – it’s what I read into it. So instead of trying to stop myself thinking ‘bad’ things, (which is impossible), when I do think them, I think of my brain like a big etch-a-sketch pad. When the thought happens I don’t try to do anything with it. I observe it, say ‘God, this one’s yours’ and let it go. (This takes a lot of practice and is very stressful, but just as you learn ways of thinking, by rehearsing new ones you can unlearn them too)
2. it’s hard when you’re dealing with concepts like blasphemy and hell, because people can have different ideas on what this means: and unlike say cleaning, there’s no set point when you feel you’re ‘good’ enough. So, talk to someone who is sympathetic and that you trust, (e.g; your vicar). Explain your issues and ask them to pray with you. It’s also worth chatting with your GP to see what sort of professional support is available.
3. Christianity is not about being perfect: it’s recognising that we’re not and looking to Jesus instead. God understands our struggles and He understands this one too: sin and mental illness are NOT the same.
4. There are seasons in the battleground of OCD: and even if you’re going through a tough time now, it won’t be like this forever. There are other many other believers who struggle: so you’re not alone.
I’ve asked friends what has helped them. One, Steve, says this:
“I think the main things for me getting out of OCD were 1) getting to know that God didn’t have the accusatory nature I had assigned to Him and 2) getting to recoognise that my feelings/impressions, however real, were actually lies… I am fairly intuitive but I have needed to learn that not everything is coming from the Holy Spirit. Might seem obvious but it always is – to someone else.
I really was living a very driven Christian life but having come to understand different things of God’s nature, and of living from a place of Rest / Already Accepted / Already ‘Right’ with Him, that has helped a lot. OCD says “You are responsible for everything and if you don’t do this and this or this or that, you are guilty.” It’s a driven, works-life – a denial of the finished work of the Cross.
Also, the ‘spikes’ – the thoughts that come with fear which said I had to do this or that, or own up up to this or that, or prove this or that – I came to see that these did not have to be responded to. I would not be guilty if I ignored them. So I learned to let them come, let them hurt, and let them pass. Thereby learning that they were not really significant but just ‘thoughts’. Also – it takes guts to stand up to the spikes – one commentator described it as getting into a swimming pool of ice cold water – you are convinced you are going to die – every sense screams at you that you are going to die but it’s a lie – if you can hang on in the pool for a minute or so, you realise you haven’t died and that those thoughts were lies ….. this is how you learn that OCD can be broken, by experiencing the threat posed in your imagination/mind and deliberately standing against it.”
(Steve’s writing a book on this issue: more details to follow via facebook).