Being a writer in the mental health space means I’ve read a lot of literature about mental health. It means that everything a person can try—electroconvulsive therapy, mindfulness meditation, essential oils, etc—I’ve probably already read about it in my research. When I sat down with the Mindfulness Workbook for OCD by John Hershfield, MFT and Tom Corboy, MFT, I expected to put down the book and have the same conclusions as I usually do. That’s interesting, but it doesn’t actually offer much in terms of hope or help.
I was wrong. And I couldn’t be happier to admit it.
To really express how I feel about this book, I have to get personal in a way I didn’t expect I would have to in my work.
My name is Nathan Graves. I am 22 years old and I write content for KetamineNews and Ketamine Media, among others.
I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. OCD. My close friends and family know. It’s not a secret by any means, but I’ve also never been one to widely publicize this on social media. I was hoping I’d never have to.
But having OCD is perhaps the only thing that qualifies me to write about this workbook. Sure, somebody else could do it, and it might even be a great writeup. But I lived through this book. My experience with OCD doesn’t magically cease to exist upon reaching the final page of a self-help book, but I certainly have found it easier to think through since coming across Hershfield and Corboy’s work.
I’m on a treatment plan that works. I take medication, eat better, focus on my sleep patterns, and regularly see a psychiatrist. I am, for the first time in possibly years, happy and in a good state of mental health. I’m by no means in a bad way; still, the information and techniques found in this workbook have astronomically changed my outlook on myself and my condition for the better.
“The mindfulness approach comes down to one global rule: to fully accept that the thoughts that are going through your head are indeed the thoughts that are going through your head. It means dropping any denial that what you are thinking is anything other than what you are thinking.”
That little gem of wisdom comes from Chapter 5 of this workbook. It’s truly one of the statements that has changed my mindset the most.
You see, OCD is not exactly how it’s so often portrayed. The popular stereotype is someone who has to constantly clean or else they go crazy—while this is an exaggerated version of one true subtype of OCD, this never matched my description. I lived more than two decades assuming I couldn’t have OCD because I was never super tidy.
OCD is, as the name implies, made up of Obsessions and Compulsions. Obsessive, intrusive thoughts that enter your head and drive you crazy. They up your anxiety and stress so much that you feel compelled to participate in these rituals that you think will turn the thoughts off.
However, most of the time you know that the obsessive thoughts you’re having are unrealistic, and you’re aware that the compulsive acts you’re engaging in might not do anything to fix those feelings. But you have programmed your body to engage in this self-fulfilling prophecy and are now caught in a vicious cycle.
Once it became clear to me that what I was experiencing was not Generalized Anxiety Disorder, but actually OCD, I imagined the solution would be to eliminate the obsessive thoughts. Cut out the thoughts, and the compulsions go away, correct?
Not so fast. How are you getting rid of the thoughts? You’re just creating new, nevertheless unhealthy, compulsions.
What this workbook makes clear—to me and to any reader struggling—is that you can not run from these thoughts. These thoughts are real, and they are not going away. But the hope lies in the fact that just because they’re real and here to stay does not mean they are important.
As our authors put into words very eloquently, “How can a thought about hurting a loved one or killing yourself be called normal? To understand this, take a moment to consider what a thought really is. A thought is a mental event. It’s a word that we use to describe a link between a chemical reaction in the brain and our awareness of it. A chemical event occurs, something happens, and then we become aware of that thing and call it a thought.”
OCD has a way of tricking you. It blurs the lines between the things you believe in and the things you think. The truth is, you are not your brain. Your brain is an organ just like the heart or the liver. It’s made out of meat, just like the rest of you.
You are consciousness. Science doesn’t really know what that means yet. But we do know that the brain can have a mind of its own. Just because you have a thought about something doesn’t mean that thought is of any importance whatsoever. It simply means some neuron fired and made you think that.
What this workbook has allowed me to do is view acceptance as the only real way to “beat” OCD. No matter what I do, I can’t remove the obsessive thoughts. I will always have them. The struggle is learning to be alright with that.
Thankfully, it’s not a journey any of us have to take alone. If you’re struggling with OCD – like I was before – check out this workbook or something similar. These workbooks come with comprehensive guides to tracking the way your obsessions and compulsions take form and what this means.
Most importantly, it details how you can subtly fight back against these thoughts and build resistance. We are creatures of habit.
Read up on the concept of mindfulness. Perhaps the struggle that lies at the heart of humanity itself is the difficulty to accept things as they are, not as they want to be. Unfortunately, there is so much in the world and in our lives that we have no control over.
Mindfulness is part of a treatment plan that teaches you to let go of the control. You don’t need it, you only think you do. You have to confront your own humility—the certainty that nothing is certain—to find peace in that.