That’s really the only way I can begin to describe what Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)/Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is like.
Example: one of my obsessive thoughts was “what if I go crazy and drown my kids in the bathtub?”
CBT/ERP says: “Okay, Moira, you’re terrified of your children drowning? How about you watch this video of a mother who drowned not one but all FIVE of her children in a bathtub, and then take this doll and drown it? Good luck!”
Sounds absolutely insane, right? I’m battling my crazy by doing something crazy, but it seems to be working.
The idea behind it is that I do or think of something that causes me anxiety… you see, with OCD thoughts, it’s not the content of the thought that is concerning, but the reaction I have to them. Most people have a thought pop into their brain (I’ve read that as many as 90% of moms have had similar thoughts) and can say “oh, that’s weird, but I would never do that” and move on. I, on the other hand, obsess about the thought…
oh my gosh, I thought about my kids drowning, what does this mean? does this mean I’m homicidal? does this mean I’m going through postpartum psychosis? am I about to snap and kill them? do these thoughts mean that I resent my children and want them to die?
[cue massive anxiety and an absolute refusal to bathe my children. Husband out of town? Too bad. We’ll just have to be stinky this week.]
So steering into the skid requires me to expose myself to anxiety and then wait while my anxiety reduces by half. I’ve got a lovely scale (0 to 7) I use to describe my anxiety, so if I start at a 4, I time how long it takes me to habituate down to a 2.
I will say, so far, this therapy seems to be working. After drowning this poor doll in the bathtub for a few days, I was able to successfully bathe my son by myself when I went home over the weekend. (I’m living almost two hours away from home during the week while I’m undergoing treatment). I mean, my husband was home and aware that I was doing it, I’m not doing anything REALLY scary like bathing my son while I’m alone in the house, but still, this was progress.
And progress is really all I can ask for.
I’m feeling hopeful today.