How Does One Overcome Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

By Jin-yeong Yi

From my notebooks (c. 2010):

What does it mean to overcome OCD? Basically, it means to overcome the chronic paralysis that is induced by the tormenting thoughts and the futile, repetitive behaviors that they encourage. Performing a compulsion is the opposite of living in the moment, that is to say, using the present to accomplish things and grow as a human being, as an individual. A person who takes full advantage of the present is likely to have a long list of activities and accomplishments by the end of his life. Though this is not unattainable for a person with OCD, it is clear that his condition, if not overcome, will rob him of a great deal of his potential and will do much to keep him from living a fulfilling life.

How, then, can a person with OCD overcome his illness? There is no trick here: the only way to overcome OCD is to live in the present, and the only way to live in the present is to just do it. Live in the present, and don’t take your eyes off of it. Focus on the things you have to do or want to do, and do them, constantly moving from one activity to the next, taking short breaks in between if necessary. Work. Complete your tasks and finish your chores. Exercise. Eat and drink. Read, watch a movie, or listen to some music. Study. Learn. Practice a musical instrument. Think. Create. Write essays or stories, compose music or draw. Do these things, and do them with gusto. At any given moment, you have a choice between a million actions that are meaningful (productive activities) and a million that are meaningless (compulsions and other diversions). Take your pick.

When the inevitable obsessions surface, respond by immediately refocusing on what you are doing at the moment. Sometimes doing this can be extremely painful, as all too often does it feel as if your entire future depends on whether or not you can resolve the “issues” that the obsessions bring forth. However, if you are living in the moment, you can always take consolation in the fact that you are not powerless, that you have control over yourself, that you are not a slave to fear, that you are getting something done, and that you are moving forward, regardless of how distressing the obsessions are, and this gives you a reason to smile and be hopeful for the future. Remember, you have two options: be free and suffer, or be a slave and suffer. Though the suffering will never go away, you can choose to not be a slave to it. The important thing is to keep moving.

Time is always flowing, regardless of whether we are moving or standing still. We can choose to flow with time or just stand by and watch it flow past us. If we choose to just stand still, we will descend into inertia and paralysis and eventually be more dead than alive. Only by flowing with time can we ascend to greater heights of achievement and growth.