July 5, 2015

Sharing Insight into OCD – Part Two

Continuing the conversation with Marjolein Aarten, discussing her experience with OCD.

5. Therapy

R: Did you go to therapy?

M: Yes, in 2010.

R: Who advised you to start therapy?

M: I told my GP that I was checking locks and placing candles in the middle of the room at night. I thought what am I doing?! Maybe I need to be locked up in an institution for crazy people! My GP said maybe we have to make an appointment with a therapist. Ok I said, and cried. I was so frustrated. I was scared. Why am I thinking like this? Why do I have to do this? Why am I asking this from myself?

R: How long was the therapy?

M: One year of therapy, which included CBT and EMDR.

R: So therapy was a success?

M: Definitely, I fixed some rules in place, and gained a lot of understanding.

R: Did you tell the therapist about the thoughts?

M: I told my therapist everything and she confirmed that these were a part of OCD. After my therapy sessions I understood that my OCD wasn’t only about checking, arranging things or the irrational thoughts, it was also in finance! With a credit card!

R: Do you mean that you are always checking your bank balance?

M:   No, for example: If I had a limit of 500, and then I have to spend 500. If I had 1000, I go to 1000. I couldn’t stop.

R: You spend to the limit?

M: I had this compulsion, this need to spend my limit. I couldn’t help myself. It wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t say ok, I need to stop, cut it in half. It felt like a rush, like running away from something in a bad dream, and I just had to keep going, keep spending.

R: Do you still spend like this?

M: No, it finished because I maxed it out at a high amount! I have only just paid it off ten years later! If I had known that I had OCD, that these compulsions would get the better of me, I would have been able to make smarter decisions. I wouldn’t have got myself in that situation.

R: What else did the therapist ask?

M: The first question my therapist asked me was what are your hobbies?
I enjoy working I answered.
No, hobbies she replied.
Family, friends.
No, hobbies, after work. Do you know what hobbies are? If you can’t think of them You don’t have them.
I work late?
You’re a workaholic Marjolein, you’re very compulsive in your job, which doesn’t have to be a problem, but at some point you have to close the door on work and do something for yourself.

R: Do you think that therapy put you on the path to free time?

M: Yes, it made me focus on the things in life that I enjoy besides my work.


6. Treatment

R: What other methods have you tried?

M: Besides Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), I have also done EMDR.

R: Did you take anti-depressants?

M: No. I didn’t want to. I wanted to do it on my own strength.

R: Thats great!

M: I always thought that you’re not fixing yourself. Using medicine doesn’t help you to control your OCD, it just masks it out.

R: What happens in CBT?

M: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy meant I had to talk about everything, I had to describe all the lock, alarm and stove checking. I clustered all my symptoms. We made a schedule. Week one we chose the easy symptoms and divided them into nine different categories – from least difficult to most difficult. Then we made an agreement: I can’t do them anymore.

R: Just like that!?

M: Then I documented it all. I kept a diary for years, listing every thought, symptom and situation. Then she taught me the What’s the worst that could happen? technique and I learnt to apply that to all situations in my OCD life.

R: And it worked?

M: Quite well. I thought she was there to cure me though. I thought when all the sessions are finished I will be OCD free.

R: Thats what you think right? You pay all this money and then youre free.

M: Before the last session of CBT I was like yeah I’m gonna be totally OCD free today!
The therapist replied OCD free? What do you mean?
Well, this is the last session isn’t it!?
Yes, but you’re not going to be OCD free. Ever.

R: Ever. Thats a harsh reality check.

M: I said Really? But this is therapy for OCD right? CBT? wtf are we doing then!?
She said I’m teaching you how to control it. To make it as simple as brushing your teeth. You have to learn how to deal and cope and manage OCD into your daily life.

R: Is that what CBT is?

M: It’s the confrontation with yourself and with your obsessions.

R: And it worked for you, right?

M: Yes. She taught me how to rationalise all the thoughts.

R: The thing is, you cant figure out how to do this on your own.

M: It’s not the same as having a professional tell you how it should be done.

R: How did the CBT sessions conclude?

M: After all the CBT sessions she said You have it under control now. Now we have to dig into why it happened. How was your youth? How were you when you were a toddler? Were you happy? How was your family? Were your parents together?

R: Right into the gritty details!

M: My therapist said I was not in a normal situation for a 14 year old: at 17 I was on my own, with a room, but it didn’t feel like home. I learnt that I couldn’t help that all these things happened, I couldn’t prevent my aunty from passing away, I couldn’t help my friend, and I couldn’t help my parents. Everything was out of my control and I needed control back.

R: And then maybe you took too much control back?

M: Exactly. That was the start of my OCD symptoms. After CBT we started with EMDR, we took all the traumatic situations and clustered them by theme, and that really helped me.

R: Whats EMDR again?

M: Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. A form of therapy for people with traumatic experience. With EMDR you disconnect memory from feeling, you reprogram. For example, the image of my mum leaving my parents house – leaving me, my sister and my dad – with EMDR we went back to that day and I could see myself, I could smell what I could smell that day, I could feel the same feelings I had when I was 14. After several sessions we reduced the emotional attachment to each memory. At one point, your feeling is nine (high on the emotional scale) and then each session you build your emotional attachment of each memory down to zero. And then you move on to the next.

R: How do you build it down?

M: Talk talk talk talk talk. Cry. Release. Talk. It’s heavy. But was really helpful.

R: How long did you do it for?

M: Six months CBT, and six months EMDR.

R: And from the beginning to the end you would say you were many times better?

M: I had good days, I had bad days, I had worse days. It was a rollercoaster of emotions.

R: But they definitely both helped?

M: They definitely both helped! The combination of the two worked really well. I couldn’t live in a normal way. Things were really a problem. I was crying a lot. Why did I have to check the alarm, the windows, the locks? I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. I couldn’t live a normal private life anymore. I questioned myself often why do I have to do all these things? I didn’t know what was going on. I felt shame for what I was doing, because you know it isn’t ‘normal’. The combination of therapies really helped. I got my control back.

7. Educating Yourself

R: Have you downloaded any apps, read any books, seen any films or listened to any speeches that have helped with your OCD?

M: No. No. No. No. No. I am really scared of reading other stories, I am too scared of gaining another symptom. There is a TV program Compulsive People and I couldn’t watch it. I was too scared of getting another compulsive thing in my life. I said to myself no, that is other peoples stuff, not mine.

R: I never thought about it like that. It could easily happen.

M: At different points in my life I read loads of different things about OCD, and I learnt a lot. But when I read about OCD sometimes I was like really! I have that! And I recalled the point in my life where I experienced that. I was like Shit, that was also my OCD. But not every website is good for OCD.
I do read online from credible sites. I found it helpful when I could recognise myself in there. But I had to teach myself – along with the credible stuff, there is some shit out there.

R: One can be easily misinformed online. One can also be misled, there is a lot of information disguised as advertising. I have learned the most about OCD by having this conversation, actually!

M: Sharing knowledge!

R: Have you ever found any products that are OCD friendly?

M: I used to have a blackberry, and I checked that I turned my alarm on ten times before bed. If you set your alarm with a blackberry it turns red: that’s not ok! Now, for years, I have an iPhone and when I turn the alarm on the switch is green. That gave me a lot of security! Maybe it sounds weird, but for me it was so helpful. The little things in life makes it easier.

R: Thats why I have started this site. To share management techniques.

M: To share knowledge! I think that’s the key. If you read a story, you can think I’m not the only one! there is relief. There is something heavy lifted from your shoulders. Someone lives life just like me and I’m not alone in this world. You don’t have to see OCD as your enemy.

R: You have to embrace it.



8. Being Proactive

R: You have to be proactive also.

M: You have to be a survivor, not a victim. If you think: I have OCD and I suffer, and you listen to all the doctors telling you you must use medicine, you have to go to a therapist etc, first you must listen to yourself, think about what’s good for you. You have to really really really want to have control over your life and live with OCD.

R: You have to do what feels right.

M: Some doctors gave me advice about medicine, they said If you take this medicine you will get better. No it won’t, it still lives inside you. The pills can’t make it go away forever, they can just keep it under control. Only you can choose the best way to deal with your OCD and find out what feels best for you! Of course, some people might need medicine, but try other options first, maybe that will work just fine.

R: I think it’s an important point: try a few different treatments and find out what suits best.

M: Yes, exactly. Some doctors have said to me ok, this is the diagnosis, take these pills, stop working for a few months, relax. That’s not a solution! You have to learn how to deal with it in your normal life, in your daily life, in friends lives, in family lives, in your private time, in your quiet time, everything. You can’t take a person out of society and give them a bunch of pills and leave them at home and say ok you figure out how to deal with it, and when you’re done, i’ll put you back in the system. Then when they’re back in the system and it doesn’t work.

R: What the hell is wrong with this person, they’ll think!!!

M: Here have some more pills they’ll say, but that’s the wrong answer. You have to teach them how to deal with work, with private life, with OCD. Not alienate them. I think that is the worst thing you can do – to leave them out.


9. Regaining Control

R: Do you feel like you’ve got control of your OCD now?

M: Yes.

R: It took a long time right?

M: It took five years. Five years of hard work.

R: Finally you feel in a good place.

M: I feel like I belong. I feel attached to my own house. There’s more balance, there’s more rest. I feel like my home is where I want to be. I am more at ease with myself. I am more relaxed. It was only this year when I placed my tattoo on my feet, that was the point I was really in control, from therapy until like 14 weeks ago. That was really the point when I was in balance.

R: What was 14 weeks ago?

M: When I tattooed my feet. I got a line from I’m Walking by Ayo on both feet. The sentence on my left foot is about my past and getting my OCD under control – I’m walking my way out of trouble. The line on my right foot, where I am now – I’m walking to find peace again.
This tattoo reminds me of the struggle, fighting, survival mode & that I don’t ever want to go back to that time period. And gives me energy to work hard to stay like this. That day I said I closed my past, I embraced my OCD and closed all my traumatic experiences.

R: Nice one, seems like you’re on top of this thing.

You have to work on it every day though. Chess and yoga are like a little maintenance for my head. I really need these distractions from my own mind to get a little peace and balance. Some people say “oh that’s a busy schedule,” but for me it’s like brushing my teeth or eating breakfast, I need this to function in daily life.

R: When you don’t have them you feel like you’re missing something.

M: My head is really busy then, Not structured. it’s fuzzy, busy, there’s something not right.


R: What is it about yoga that relaxes you, is it the meditation, or full body exercise?

M: Full body exercise. I think with OCD you have so much tension built up within your body, sometimes your muscles are really tense and hurting. When I have a bad day, I feel my muscles. With yoga you can stretch everything and it’s such a relief to lose tension. Sometimes, I sit at my desk cramped, Yoga frees my muscles. I sleep better. My breathing is better. In OCD anxiety situations I can go back to the morning feeling from my yoga practice. For example, this morning I had yoga, in the afternoon it was super busy in my head, so I took my Ujjayi breathing from Yoga, and my anxiety level went down. It really works for me.

R: That’s a great tip.

M: If the tension builds up you’re like a little bomb. If someone pushes me BOOM. If I do my yoga sessions, and someone pokes me then, I can be like it’s ok, I can listen, I’m relaxed. It’s something I really need.

R: Thanks for being so open, Marjolein. I learnt a lot of new things about OCD, I hope others will too.

M: It’s nice to talk with someone who understands and doesn’t judge me for being me. I felt free to say everything regarding my OCD. Really, everything. Sharing stories is all about sharing knowledge. Sharing Knowledge is about helping other OCD sufferers. Maybe they will get inspired, or can relate to the stories you will share. Then they can make a change for themselves.

Rodger Hoefel in conversation with Marjolein Aarten.
Photography by Rodger Hoefel (portraits)
Yoga and Tattoo images by Marjolein Aarten

Marjolein tweets about her life with OCD at @OCD_GIRL


back to top