Sunday, June 3, 2012


Pure O Canuck recently posted about her realization that she needs to be willing to sit through difficult feelings and how she has long worked to avoid having to face those feelings.

By coincidence, I'd just read a book that addressed this very issue. Most books about ERP do, I suppose, but for some reason this particular approach really spoke to me. It was a book about hoarding, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. Most of it addresses hoarding in a pretty general way: different types of hoarding, what might cause it, and then a bit about getting over it.

Hoarding has long been considered, if not a kind of OCD, then at least related. New thinking is challenging that idea. One big difference seems to be that many hoarders have little to no insight into their faulty thinking, actually enjoy the process of collecting, and have no interest in "getting better." However, when hoarders DO want to get better, it appears that cognitive therapy and exposure therapy are the best approaches, just as with OCD.

Which leads me to the idea of distress. The book talks about the distress that the hoarders feel when they try to get rid of a prized possession (even if that treasure is something as unspecial as a piece of junk mail). The authors suggest that hoarding gets so bad because the hoarder is totally unwilling to EVER feel the distress caused by tossing, or not buying something.

But in several examples, when the hoarder takes that first step and lets the distress happen, it dissipates, and often very quickly. Sounds like OCD treatment to me. For many hoarders, realizing they can handle the distress leads to a breakthrough in recovery. Others who are unwilling to take the chance continue to hoard.

Intellectually, I know this is true with my OCD. But in practical terms, I still have so much trouble facing the distress I feel. There have been many times when I'll get inspired: I can BEAT this! And it's as though I think just by having this feeling and knowing what I SHOULD do, that I've actually moved closer to beating OCD. It isn't really true. You have to be willing to put up with the discomfort. The hoarders in this book have inspired me, but I know that being inspired by others is not enough.

When I think about my trip to Seattle, I get scared. But I keep planning, because that's the only way to get to the other side.


  1. Great post. You are really is the only way to the other side. A very "slight" change in attitude - the shift in the mind can be so subtle - but it really is - right here in this moment - being willing to face whatever emotion we are feeling be it anxiety, sadness, rejection etc. The behavioural piece is so important too - keep on keepin' on is so fitting and also takes such a committment because without the change in behaviour we never learn that we can cope with these situations and the emotions that go with them.

  2. Ann, it seems to me that by continuing to plan your trip despite your fear, you are "sitting" with or enduring the distress. It's a great exposure and one that you are pushing through. Kudos to you for doing that!

    That's really interesting stuff about hoarders, how they have to be willing to feel distress before they can get better. My therapist recently told me that I have to be willing to go through some pain in getting better. He likened it to working out at the gym. When I first start out, my muscles will probably get sore. But I have to get through that to get to the positive results of the exercise.

  3. Even though I have experienced the reduction in stress while sitting with the fear, it still defies my logic that doing something perceived as awful will make it less awful. We're programmed to alleviate our pain, so sitting with it just feels so very counterintuitive. But it does work! The fight in us has to be the willingness to defy the urge to do the ritual - to stand strong in the wave of anxiety and fear that threatens to devour us. That is our true strength, our real weapon in the battle against this rotten disorder.

  4. Inspiration is a great place to start - it gives us hope and motivation. But as you say, after that it is the hard work of abiding with the pain minute after minute. But every time we choose to wait, even one more second, we heal a little more. Now I just have to remember that when I'm having a contamination related panic attack :)
    Adventures in Anxiety Land

  5. Excellent post and through your writing I can feel how much you want to beat OCD. I don't have OCD but saw how difficult ERP Therapy was for my son. But as he, and many others, have reasoned: OCD itself makes you feel anxious, so you might as well feel anxious for a good, "productive" get better. Good luck with your trip. I am rooting for you!

  6. Hi, I enjoyed reading your blog, I've just started my own blog, telling of my struggle with OCD and motherhood, I hope your check it out x

  7. I also read this book about hoarding, and was struck by the authors' abilities to capture the feeling of distress. Any strong feeling would set off my OCD, good or bad--I had fears I wouldn't survive or I'd get stuck in the feeling. I did actually do exposures to just letting any feeling be there, not just ones brought about by my OCD fears. Keep planning your trip--that is awesome!