I can do hard things!
Updated: Jun 21
Something amazing happened this week. Even though I've got a sinus infection and am not feeling great (don't worry it's not contagious, just miserable) I got in my car, all by myself, and drove to the dollar store 1.3 miles away on a main road. Then I went in the dollar store and found four items I needed for making presents and stood in a long line and checked out.
They didn't have computer labels, which I needed, so I decided to drive over to Walmart, park between two cars, and go in and get them. Of course they were at the very back of the store, and they had self-checkout on the opposite side from where I was parked. By the time I made it back to my car I was sobbing so hard I could hardly breathe. This was so hard, but I did it. I had to call both my mom and Alice to get myself together so I could safely drive home, but with their help I did it. I was so incredibly proud of myself.
Let me put this in perspective. I came home from the residential treatment on March 1 and today is Dec 18. In all those months, this was my second time driving by myself, second time going shopping at a dollar store by myself, and first time shopping in a giant store by myself. To be totally honest, for the past few months my mom has been doing the majority of the shopping by herself, or I might go in for a small part and then have to go sit in the car while she finishes. My OCD has been really, really bad, shooting my anxiety through the roof. Unfortunately, my OCD doesn’t respond well to medication, which is not all that uncommon, so I have to do all the work myself. The strategy that I learned about at Hopewell Therapeutic Farm is called Exposure Response Prevention or ERP, and it works better than anything I had ever tried.
To start with, ERP is a major commitment. You should be working on your exposures for 1.5 to 2 hours a session, 8-12 sessions a week. It's pretty much a half time job. And it is probably one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but it's amazing how incredible you feel when you conquer doing something that has been holding you back for months or years. The first step is to make a list of all the things that your anxiety is preventing you from doing, that are interfering with your life, and rank them in order from most difficult to least difficult. The least difficult is the one you are going to begin with.
Set small goals that will get you closer and closer to the actual skill. For example, I went and stood by my car. I went and sat in my car. I sat in my car and arranged the mirrors, turned it on and set the radio. I drove with my mom one way to a couple of short destinations. Then I finally drove by myself to the dollar store that is in my subdivision so you don't have to take any main roads.
When you take these steps, you're absolutely terrified. Instead of letting your anxiety control you, you are exposing yourself to it over and over. Then, when you succeed, you reward yourself in some way. I usually either reward myself with a half-off coke zero with a shot of cherry syrup from Sonic or a individual-sized container of sparkling cider from the dollar store. Between surviving the intense emotions, and rewarding yourself, you start to feel more and more brave and ready to try the next step, and the next thing you know, you've met your goal!
I've got a long way to go before I'm able to drive to Alice's or my sister's or even just getting on the expressway for a mile, but I know I can do it if I just keep pushing. I may have a small set back, because I got so sick and haven't been leaving the house, but if I need to I'll just go back a couple of steps and build myself back up.
If you think that ERP could help you, I highly encourage you to get involved in a group that runs it. Especially at the beginning, it requires A LOT of support. I am so grateful to Hopewell for getting me started. OCD can be very challenging, exhausting and discouraging, so it's incredible to have some hope. And a lot of days are difficult, but I know, I can do hard things!