Today’s guest post comes from June Johnson,* a veterinarian and a much-loved member of our online support group. She’s been brave enough and kind enough to share her scrupulosity story with us today. Let’s read about her journey with suicidal thoughts, depression, and religious OCD.
Hello, I am June Johnson. My husband and I are both veterinarians and we own a small practice. We have been blessed with three beautiful, intelligent, and unique children. We enjoy raising our own livestock. Our animal inventory includes: cattle, sheep, mini horses, chickens, cats, a dog, and a llama. I have known Jesus since infancy being raised in a loving, Christian home.
It is hard to identify when my struggle with OCD truly started. As a teenager, I battled an eating disorder. The obsessive thoughts about my weight seemed to never end and drove me into depression. Thankfully, through the Grace of God and the support of a loving family my mental health battles were very quiescent for over 20 years.
At the age of 38, I became very anxious. I was overworked and I stopped sleeping. My thoughts started to become obsessive about my lack of sleep. I was so worried that I might die from sleep exhaustion…I started googling if anyone had ever died from sleep deprivation.
I was so anxious, and I turned to the Lord who had always been my “Mighty Fortress.” This was the start of my religious OCD.
First, I obsessed about whether the Bible was really true. Why were there so many differences in the gospel accounts? I started to obsess about whether I was saved or not. I compared myself to Pharaoh and Judas, convincing myself that I wasn’t chosen and that God didn’t want me. This was so painful for me and it only took a few months to drive me into another bout of depression. I was very suicidal, my husband had to hide all the knives and the car keys in order to protect me from suicide.
Thankfully I sought help, and through the use of antidepressants and counseling my depression seemed to lift enough that I was able to think more logically. The OCD thoughts were still present, but quiet, allowing me to live daily life with minimal impact from the OCD. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and General Anxiety. No one knew at this point that I was truly suffering from OCD.
The Ugly Dance Between Depression and Religious OCD
I made it three years after my first OCD crisis with minimal interference. Last summer my daughter was having some suicidal thoughts. This scared me, and I started thinking about suicide. How could a loving God let this happen? Soon I was back on the OCD bus. The anxiety seemed worse this time, and as I stated earlier I had no idea that what I was battling was OCD. I just thought I was depressed, and that the depression was attacking my faith.
I started seeing my counselor again, and went back on my antidepressants. Only this time there was no improvement. Months went by and I only seemed to be getting worse. My counselor, knowing nothing about OCD, told me to keep challenging my thoughts. This was the absolute worst thing I could have done. I built a habit of reassurance seeking, because I thought I was challenging my thoughts.
My thoughts haunted me day and night. As was mentioned earlier, it started with how could God allow suffering, then morphed to how did Jonah survive in the whale, and ended and would not move from this terrible obsession about evangelism. I was so worried…I felt the huge weight of over-responsibility. I felt like I was personally responsible for the salvation of others. If I didn’t point out everyone’s sins or evangelize to everyone, I would be responsible for their torment in hell.
This seemed like huge stakes to me and caused me a lot of extreme fear. I never felt safe. I felt like I was running a marathon every day. I lost at least 10 pounds. I was unable to eat and my anxiety burned all my energy. I would come to the end of the day totally exhausted from my daily torment. I was tired and I just wanted out. I was very suicidal again. I forced myself to keep working, but that was all I could do. At night I had no energy to take care of my family or even clean my own house.
This went on for months, until one day my sister told me I was obsessed. This made me so angry, how could she think that? I was just suffering from depression. However, the thing that made me so mad saved my life.
Understanding the Impact of Depression and Religious OCD
After I got over the anger of my sister calling me obsessed, I started thinking, maybe this is more than depression. I googled OCD and then soon found that there were people who suffered from a religious themed OCD. I talked to my counselor about it, asking her if people who were depressed often suffered from the same obsessive thoughts pestering them day in and day out. She said that sounded more like anxiety. I asked her if she thought I could have OCD, and she said she didn’t think so; she said those people had fears like washing their hands a lot.
Thankfully, I found Jaimie’s website. I read her blogs and completed the master class and soon discovered that the feelings and symptoms she described were much like my own. It was a huge relief to know that this disease was not caused by weak faith or that there was something inherently wrong with me.
Learning about how the brain works in OCD was so helpful. I learned that when I had a question, the part of my brain that was supposed to work as the brake didn’t work and my brain was stuck on the accelerator with no balance of stopping.
I was able to do a one on one session with Jaimie, and she encouraged me to see a counselor who specializes in OCD. She also told me to do my best at ignoring my thoughts, and doing the next thing. This was very helpful advice to me. I had wasted so much time sitting on the couch, and trying to figure out all my religious themed questions. These questions had no real answers. I still continue to use this advice to this day. I try never to allow myself to sit, stew, and ruminate. I just keep doing the next thing. It is not always easy and a lot of the time the thoughts are still there. However, it just makes you feel better to know that you have accomplished something and not let the thoughts win.
Making Progress with Religious OCD
My new counselor specializes in OCD. She diagnosed me with OCD in the first session. It took about six weeks of counseling with her and my suicidal thoughts were gone and have not returned in the last four months.
I learned that my compulsion was reassurance seeking. I have never acted on my evangelism obsessions, because even my OCD brain knew that evangelizing out of fear would not benefit the recipient. My reassurance seeking had become very excessive. I would ask my own children when my husband wasn’t around. The stress that my constant questions put on my husband was totally unfair. Hearing the same question over and over again many times a day was very stressful. Each time I got an answer from my husband it would quiet my fears for a little while. It seemed I just needed more and more reassurance.
Thankfully, with the help of my counselor and the group coaching with Jaimie, my reassurance seeking is now a rare event.
I live in a rural area and have limited access to counselors. My counselor is not trained in ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention). She uses a combination of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy).
The ACT is very similar to what Jaimie was teaching me. Don’t try to fight the thoughts or negate them, just go on with your daily life and let the thoughts just be. An emphasis is put on putting your energy into your own values, not the ego-dystonic thoughts that the OCD plagues you with. EMDR is a newer therapy in the treatment of OCD. Your counselor works in session with you to help you reprocess your thoughts. This really helps to bring the level of anxiety caused by your obsessive thoughts down. This allows you to think more in your logical brain, as opposed to your OCD brain.
EMDR is a way of refiling things in our brain. When I originally learned about this therapy, I thought this sounds like a bunch of fluff. However, the more this therapy is used in my treatment, the more I realize the benefit. It is amazing after a session targeting your obsessing thoughts, how your brain processes the thoughts so much more logically. There is not a lot of research on EMDR as a therapy, but from what little I have been able to find it is just as effective as ERP with a lower drop out rate.
The group sessions that Jaimie offers have been so helpful to me in my road to recovery. OCD can feel so isolating. It is so reassuring to know that you are not the only one, and that others have survived this. I have learned something from every session, even if the direct topic doesn’t directly relate to my OCD themes. The big take-away from Jaimie, is that if you can put your fears in the hands of Jesus and give Him the responsibility, your anxiety will greatly diminish. For me this seems to be the key to my healing from religious OCD. I am not the Messiah, Jesus is, and when I can convince my OCD brain of this I have so much more peace.
Key Takeaway Thoughts
I will close with some tips that have really helped me.
- If the day starts poorly it doesn’t mean the rest of the day will be bad. A few hours of obsessing does not set the stage for the rest of the day. You can restart your day whenever you want.
- Don’t sit on the couch and fight your thoughts. You WILL NEVER be able to out-argue your OCD.
- Do something you enjoy everyday. Doing the next thing doesn’t always have to be something that has an end product. Exercise, go for a walk, play with your kids or pets, read a book, color, anything you love to do. I know it is hard when the thoughts plague you to enjoy the things you used to, but do it anyway. Let the thoughts be there, don’t fight them, and do your best to focus on whatever activity you choose. Some days the activity won’t give you the same enjoyment you remember, but some days it will. Be thankful for every ray of sunshine you have!
- Fighting your compulsions is an act of worship. OCD makes you think that if you don’t perform the compulsion you are disappointing God. However, every time you are performing the compulsion you are satisfying the OCD god that rules your mind, not the true God.
- Don’t spend time wondering why you have OCD. The more I can accept my diagnosis and not fight it, the more progress I make. I used to think that as long as my OCD continued to plague me that life couldn’t be good. This is totally not true. A good life and a hard life are not mutually exclusive.
- If your anxiety feels really extreme, just ride it out like a surfer on a wave. I have figured out in the last few months that when the anxiety is the worst, there is always a compensatory calm afterwards.
- Compulsions do not help in the long run. Every time I give in to a compulsion I can feel myself going backwards in my healing. However, every time I say no to my compulsion in the midst of severe anxiety I feel like I have overcome a huge battle. It seems that I am the most successful if I stop in the midst of the anxiety and ask God to help me ride out the horrible feelings.
- Lastly, and most importantly Jesus came to save the sick. Sometimes it FEELS like Jesus can’t forgive me for the constant thoughts I struggle with. It doesn’t matter what I think or feel. Through the Blood of Jesus I have been justified and redeemed. Jesus went to the cross so that even though I may struggle, my anxiety will not win in the end. That is the beauty of the gospel even though I may on some days lose my fight with OCD, Jesus is still there forgiving me and redeeming me. Praise God!
If you are battling scrupulosity, don’t give up, keep looking up and trusting in God to help you overcome this earthly battle.
We are so grateful to June* (not her real name) for sharing her story of depression and religious OCD with us. If you would like to respond to her experience, please feel free to comment below!