The interlude between first seeking help for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and the point at which you finally start feeling relief from the OCD symptoms can often seem unbearably long. OCD is notorious for requiring higher dosages of medicine than other forms of mental illness (such as depression or anxiety). Also, your psychiatrist will most likely want to gradually build up the dosage of anti-depressants in your system instead of starting you off immediately at a high dose. Finally, OCD is most effectively treated with a combination of medicine and regular therapy – which of course takes time to really be effective. For me, I first sought help in February 2003; it wasn’t until around September/October of 2003 that I finally began feeling relief from my symptoms. So what do you do during this intermediate period?
It is essential to began developing a good “toolbox” of coping strategies that you can use during periods when your OCD flares up. Although medication and therapy are very effective treatment methods, you will also need some strategies for acute relief.
There is not one general list of coping strategies that will work for everyone. So, don’t feel bad if some of these suggestions aren’t helpful or don’t work for you. It’s okay!
To begin coming up with some strategies, think about what makes you feel safe and secure. For example, when I was a teenager and I was in the acute phase of OCD, I would wrap myself up in this blanket that I’d had since I was a baby and then would curl up on my bed and try to sleep. To jump start the brain storming process, think back to what made you feel safe when you were little. There is no shame in having a special stuffed animal or blanket that you like to hold. The important thing is to take care of yourself – treat yourself gently and focus on what makes you feel calmer.
Next, think about what makes you laugh and/or takes your mind off of things. For me, it was – and still is – funny tv shows, preferably light-hearted ones like The Andy Griffith Show. Or, you might prefer a scary movie to take your mind off of the obsessions – once again, what types of tv shows and/or movies calm you down varies greatly from person to person. There is no “one size fits all” approach – think about what makes you happy and what makes you feel relaxed.
Oftentimes, doing some sort of artwork or handiwork can be very therapeutic. Ideally, try to find something simple to keep your hands busy that doesn’t involve too much deep thinking. For me, cross-stitching was a welcome savior from the obsessions. The rhythmic, methodical motions of each stitch soothed me – I liked the predictability of it. Feeling like you have control, even over a very small thing, can be calming also. Other options you might consider are knitting, crocheting, paint by number, coloring, or even free-form painting.
Finally, choosing some foods that you find soothing can also be a great coping strategy. For me, chocolate was a great comfort – I would eat a couple of pieces of chocolate and it would help to calm me down. So think about what foods tend to improve your mood.
Developing good coping strategies is essential to the recovery process. When your OCD flares up, remember to treat yourself gently. Fighting OCD is often both physically and mentally taxing. Above all, try to remind yourself that you will make it through this trial and you will escape this mental prison.