By James Callner, MA, AFOCD President. James Callner is an award winning writer, filmmaker and speaker on mental illness.
I was desperate for solutions in 1982. That was the year my OCD symptoms hit their peak. I was 29 years old, teaching at a local college, producing a talk-show for an ABC affiliate and living with my girlfriend. All of those wonderful things that made my life balanced disappeared when the OCD struck. And it struck with a vengeance.
My symptoms were classic for OCD. Hours of hand-washing, contamination/germ phobias and fears, constant checking and rechecking, horrific thoughts of harming loved ones, etc... My OCD was so bad, I was finally hospitalized in November 1982. My stay in a psychiatric ward called Therapeutic Community One (TC1) was the best and the only answer for me.
That was the beginning of a long and tedious recovery process. The teaching, the television show and my relationship all fell apart. I felt what so many with OCD feel; isolated, alone, desperate and lost in my OCD. But I was one of the fortunate ones. My parents found a psychiatrist for me who had so much experience, sensitivity and empathy, he literally taught me how to help myself out of the throes of OCD.
The day I was to be hospitalized, my psychiatrist drove me there from his office, where I had been seeing him daily. I'll never forget that day. As we walked together down the long hospital corridor leading to TC1 I asked him, "Are you sure this is the right thing for me?" His reply was my first solution, even though at the time I didn't know it. He smiled and simply said, "Jim - think of this as an adventure, a journey." I'll talk more about that word "journey" later.
In the beginning my experience was no different than the millions of adults and children suffering from OCD. The difference came when my consciousness shifted from problems to solutions, from worries to hope, from fears to faith.
Now, over a 23 years later, I share solutions that have helped me by lecturing at conferences on Anxiety and making films on OCD. I have resumed my teaching and developed new, wonderful relationships.
Before I share with you some of the solutions that have worked for me, I must qualify myself. I am not a therapist, psychiatrist or medical person of any kind. The variety of treatments, or as I call them, solutions, are strictly from my own experience.
I have learned, however, one fact for which I am grateful. Through all the pain and trauma of OCD, and continuing recovery, sharing my experiences of hope has become the most significant, important and passionate part of my life.
My first solution came in the form of medication. In 1982 Anafranil, the leading OCD medication, was not available in this country. I remember asking my psychiatrist, "Is there a pill that will work for me?" He replied that a specific drug for OCD was coming soon and that he would prescribe it for me as soon as possible. Anafranil was not approved for at least five more years. In the meantime, I took an anti-anxiety medication. It took time for my body to adjust. After weeks, the medication took some affect. It lessened my anxiety so I could take more risk facing my fears. I knew something was finally happening.
One late night I was sitting in the living area of TC1 with four other patients. We were talking quietly around a big bowl of popcorn. I, of course, had never touched or shared anyone's food for fear of contamination. But that night a breakthrough came. After weeks of isolation and phobias around touch, germs and contamination, I found myself slowly reaching for just one kernel of popcorn. I cautiously picked it up and ate it. For anyone else this would seem easy. Yet for someone with OCD, this was a monumental accomplishment.
I knew at some level there was now hope. The medication had lessened my anxiety enough to take that first significant risk.
All medications must be tried with an open mind. Some work, some don't. One must find, under a doctor's care, a medication that works for them and their individual chemistry. In my experience, I have never encountered an OCD medication that completely eradicates the symptoms of the disorder, although there may be one for you.
It is my belief and experience that the right medication can balance your chemistry so you can then move on to the core issues of the disorder. Taking "meds" can be an OCD challenge in itself. You may have fears and phobias around the one thing that may help you. So what do you do? You learn how to take the risk to face your fears.
"The only way over fear is through it", a great psychiatrist once said. Facing fears is the toughest work of all, but the most effective. For me personally, I learned a technique which I call ‘Risking'. Others may call this solution Exposure Response Behavior Therapy.