We Are Here to Help
I still remember the first time I finally opened up to anyone about my OCD. I was 19-years-old and a student at Orange Coast College. On a particular day, when I was on campus, the thoughts were exceptionally crazy, vivid, and intense, causing me to begin to run around the track for no reason. I felt it was the only thing I could do to make the thoughts go away. I literally did not stop until I fell and hurt my ankle. I was in trouble and needed help, so thankfully, a friend brought me to the Student Health Center. After the initial intake, I began weekly therapy with two different therapists.
I knew by this point, my OCD was severe, but I was still hesitant to open up fully about the nature of my thoughts–even to my therapists. One day, in a meeting with the supervising therapist Larry, I opened up to him that I have intense thoughts that are weird and scary in nature. I believed that my mind had a different personality trait than my logical mind. Therefore, I could not control my thoughts. I even felt that perhaps I was crazy! I was sobbing to him in the session. Larry asked why I thought others would think I was crazy. My reasoning was because I knew that everyone occasionally has disturbing thoughts. Still, the difference was mine would not let up. My mind would often move from one worrisome thought to another. Due to their intensity and taboo nature, I felt I had to keep them a secret to everyone! When I finally opened up about the nature of my thoughts to my therapists, they were supportive. They reassured me that I was not crazy–and this could be treated! After some therapy, I began to see some relief.
However, two years later, my OCD became even more severe and began to take over my entire life.
I have always been passionate about dance; it has been my major escape. I love a challenge, and because I was not naturally gifted, I had to work harder than most. My hard work was beginning to pay off, and I was finally challenged during every class by my dance teacher, Mr. Jose. He really seemed to believe in my capabilities. Overall, I felt I was being treated equally, even though I thought I was not as talented as the other dancers. Then things began to pile up on me. I had a dance injury, plus my OCD got to the point that I could not take it anymore. That same year, at 21-years-old, I was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia. This disorder causes pain in every muscle in your body, sometimes all at once. I was supposed to be living my life to the fullest, but I couldn’t because I was so sick. Both my physical body and my mind were being attacked. If someone were around me at this point, he or she would never have known I was ill because both OCD and fibromyalgia are not visible to others (like an injured leg in a cast would be). However, inside I was a mess!
It got to the point where I did not want to live anymore, and on the weekend of Valentine’s Day, I took some pills–a lot of them. My thinking was that if I had to deal with these disorders much longer without the proper help, I did not want to live anymore. I no longer wanted to feel crazy and have to live in fear for the rest of my life. I feel like this moment was a big cry for help, and my only way to be heard.
My parents and I realized that my situation was more complicated than they initially thought–and that I needed more intense treatment. I went to my doctor the day after this event took place. He gave me some heavy medications to calm down my mind and body. The next two weeks of my life, for lack of a better word, sucked. I experienced panic attacks off-and-on every single day. It was like I was living in the worst nightmare I could ever imagine. After these two weeks, my panic attacks began to fade away. However, once the panic attacks subsided, I began to feel depressed. This would go on to last for two months.
Dealing with OCD, and the accompanying panic and depression had been the most tiring thing I have ever had to deal with in my life at that point. Having the disorders for so long and not being able to fully share the emotion and the sadness that these disorders were causing, finally caught up to me. It was too much to keep it all locked in. I also felt very alone. No one that I knew had this disorder, and I was hoping that I was not the only person with these terrible thoughts.
My mom found a support group for OCD and tried to get me in as soon as possible. However, I still was not mentally strong enough to be in this group. My mom eventually found out that OCD Southern California, an official affiliate of the International OCD Foundation, was having its local annual OCD conference. I remember my mom pushing me to go after I initially refused to go to the conference. She ended up literally dragging me there. At the conference, I met the Vice President of OCD So Cal, a therapist, Chris Trondsen, who practices at the Gateway Institute in Costa Mesa, California. There, he shared his story of recovery, and hearing his story was the first time in a really long time I did not feel alone.
At the conference, Chris Trondsen, and his mom Liz, let attendees know about a free Family and Loved One’s OCD Support Group that met at the location of the conference once a month. That next weekend was family group, and I remember Chris turning to me and asking me to tell the group a little bit about myself and my journey with OCD. At that moment, I just broke down! There was a whole group of people with the same disorder I had. I imagined a bunch of crazy people I would never relate to, but it was not that way at all. Everyone was great, loving, and supporting– and so normal too! I felt so hopeful at that meeting. I remember feeling so safe, surrounded by my peers that understood my struggle.
After the meeting, my family and I went out to eat, and I remember that was the first time I laughed since getting sick. I felt a little like my old self again. I was already working with a therapist, but after going to the group for a while, I realized that Chris Trondsen really pushed his clients to get better. He was tough on his clients, and that is just what I needed at the time. I started my first couple of sessions with Chris and was already beginning to feel better.
At first, when I went to treatment at Gateway, I put a lot of walls up. I began meeting more people with OCD, along with depression, and that made the fear of these disorders and thoughts decrease. With time, I was able to get a lot better at utilizing exposure and response prevention (ERP) to treat the OCD symptoms.
Although I am doing so much better than when I first started out on my treatment journey, there is still not a day that goes by that I don’t have to deal with OCD. However, I have learned to accept this. By practicing daily what I learn in treatment, I still can have a happy and improved life. I still have break downs here-and-there, and I also get frustrated once in a while. However, I have so many resources and support around me now. Additionally, I have been going to The Gateway Institute’s weekly teen and young adult support group and meeting others my age going through this. This peer support has made my life easier.
I am still recovering from OCD, and probably will be in recovery for the rest of my life, but I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I was a year ago. I am so grateful for the treatment I have received. I want to thank all of my initial therapists, the Gateway staff, and Chris Trondsen, for being my OCD heroes! I also want to thank Chris for continuing to push me and never giving up on me. Thanks to the entirety of the support I receive, as well as the hard work I put in each day, I look forward to a fulfilling future.
My daughter had a different situation in that she was diagnosed with misophonia, which is a condition where she cannot be around someone while they are eating. This person happens to be her sister. We suffered through this for over two years, no one seemed to be able to pinpoint how to treat this condition. We were referred to Gateway Institute, Dr. Sara was a life saver. She not only researched misophonia but also tailored a plan of treatment for our daughter through individual appointments and then also a three week intensive outpatient program. This three week program with Dr. Sara was an absolute success. We never thought we would ever eat together again as a family and now we are going out to restaurants and back to having our family meals in our house. We continue to see Dr. Sara monthly and also our daughter has joined a wonderful group of girls her age to be able to connect with them on a monthly basis as well.
Gateway and Dr. Sara have definitely helped save our family when we had no where to turn!
Gateway gave me a reason to keep on going. They showed me that I’m not the only one with ridiculous thoughts and images. They really care and have love for their patients. They’re the only ones that can make sense of this senseless disease. They truly care about you and the life you deserve.
When I first spoke to you, I asked you if I could speak to a couple of your clients before we considered treatment. You gave me the numbers of two clients, and I found it very helpful to talk to both of them. I knew our son would be happy to speak to anyone suffering with OCD, and I would love to encourage any parent who is considering treatment for their child to speak with others that have been in the program.
When our son walks up on stage to get his diploma on Sunday, we will be thanking God for everyone who helped him along the way, and wanted to especially thank you.
Our warmest thanks,
Our 13 year old son was struggling with OCD/anxiety to the point where he couldn’t even go to school.? His fears were all consuming and crippling. He would start shaking, hyperventilating and just lockup. We didn’t know what to do. He would wake up every couple hours during the night from dreams of terrible fears, and his whole body would shake from the anxiety. He was in a downward spiral over several weeks with ever worsening fears that he would someday do bad things or have something bad happen to him and his life would be ruined or even ended. Eventually he could no longer function in day to day life due to the panic attacks. He would repeatedly ask us to tell him everything was going to be okay but no matter how we would reassure him the panic attacks would continue. We tried weekly therapy sessions but between sessions he just kept getting worse. We had no idea what was happening to him or how to deal with it.?We even took to the hospital to try and get any help we could for him.? They recommend intense outpatient therapy but there was nothing out there for kids, only adults.? We were at a loss. Finally through research we came across Gateway Institute in Scottsdale, AZ? They had a location in California that had shown great success working with kids and they were opening a new location here in AZ. We contacted them via email with a description of our son’s condition and one of their therapists, Sara Brungardt, agreed to meet us the very next day. She was able to explain to us what OCD is and that what our son was going through is a known condition the people at Gateway have experience with and have successfully treated. Our son started a 3-week intense outpatient therapy plan at Gateway Institute soon after. The first week of exposure response therapy was difficult for him, but by the end of the third week he had mostly returned to his old self and was able to function in day to day life again. He has continued to improve week to week by using the techniques he learned from Gateway Institute. He still has some struggles with anxieties but the methods he learned at Gateway for dealing with them make it possible for him to quickly recognize and gain control of his response to the fears so he can move on. We cannot say enough about the great job Gateway did getting our son back on his feet and returning him to a normal life. This was an answer to our prayers.? We had gotten our son back.? Yes it is something he will always have but thanks to Sara and Gateway he now has the tools and the ability to deal with OCD/anxiety.
By the time I emailed Jim I was done and could no longer continue living this way. Jim recognized that I needed help and as you see with his reply he immediately started supporting me and showing me that he truly cares. I honestly couldn’t believe that he replied the way he did, that it was no big deal and that “I would be more than happy to meet with you to discuss various treatment options.” This to me was such a shock, that with all of the blunt open honesty about how scared, hurt, alone, feeling like I am going crazy, etc. didn’t affect him at all. It was no big deal. I am in the trenches in an ongoing war inside myself and he has no problem with me bringing that to his office. Not only that he is “happy” to have it come to his office.
So by the time I showed up at Jim’s office my mind was looping continuously, thoughts like “I am crazy, I am going to end up in an insane asylum, I don’t feel safe, I am going to hurt someone or myself, I can’t do this, I am not going to be able to get through this, etc.” Alongside these thoughts, I was also dealing with panic attacks and not sleeping real well. I let him know all of this and he affirmed to me that this is all common for people with OCD, that I am safe and that he knows without a doubt that he can help me. I knew immediately that even though I was feeling desperate, hopeless, afraid, and overwhelmed that by his reaction, his training and confidence in himself and his work that I was in the right place. Leaving Jim’s office that day I felt like “thank you God for sending me to Jim.”
Now the hard part… As we moved through the first week Jim asked me to start tracking the obsessive thoughts and compulsions that were going on for me. I ended up filling 5 pages of about 100 thoughts that were constantly swirling my mind and taking my personal peace every moment of the day. I also had compulsions that were affecting me as well. I know that once I sat down and looked at this mound of thoughts that I didn’t know how to heal or change and that my OCD immediately told me “you will never beat me, you are powerless, just give up, life is over, etc.” That was probably the most depressing day of my life. Because as you probably know, you are your OCD are one until you get help, anything it say’s you believe. There is no separation from me B.W. and my OCD. Because of the way it works within your mind you have no way of separating yourself from it even though that is all that you are trying to do. There is no way of letting go of it or getting away from it. So realizing this mound of fears, thoughts, and compulsions I felt life was over and that there was no way that Jim could help me, and no way that I could ever heal my life. I had given up. I no longer wanted to live. I contacted Jim once I realized this within and he had me come in to see him immediately. He recognized the space I was in he said, “together we can do this, stick with me, show up 3 times a week and we will get through this.” I thought to myself that I had nothing to lose, let’s continue forward.?By kicking up our meetings to 3 times a week we were able to better address what was going on. It also allowed me to stay focused and feel safe during this time. If we went for too long without an appointment early on it felt like my OCD would take over. That in my opinion, it seemed as though my OCD knew that I was trying to eradicate it and was fighting even harder to remain within me.
As we continued down the road of renewal, Jim would teach me all of the tools and techniques for how to deal with my OCD; writing my thoughts and compulsions down, doing narratives on those thoughts, and being able to handle my thoughts in the moment by using simple techniques that would rob my OCD of any power. We would also begin the journey of separating me from my OCD, and given me the self-awareness to see when it is my OCD and when it is me. I found that the moment of awakening from my OCD came for me while I was doing a narrative in Jim’soffice. That even though I was feeling they weren’t working all of a sudden one day a thought broke, that FINALLY I was able to see how hilarious this thought was and immediately it felt as if this HUGE mountain crumbled to the sea. I was able to see immediately that I no longer needed to fear this thought that had been raping me from my life for almost 9 years. Once this happened I saw immediately that I could get through this, that Jim was right and that there is a way through OCD. Once I saw that one thought could crumble, I found that I was driven within and immediately wanted all my thoughts to do the same. Over the next two weeks, I hit the narratives day and night and would begin laughing at work, at home, in Jim’s office. Laughing at how silly all of these thoughts were that had taken control of my life, even though I knew then that they weren’t real I had no way of protecting myself from them. Now with Jim’s support, encouragement and tools I had finally found a way out.
Once I was able to start truly separating myself recognizing the thoughts in the moment, I was able to free myself from OCD. It felt as if this dam that I was holding up thinking that would protect me from my OCD finally gave way and my life was transformed within a matter of weeks. It happened so rapidly that I was able to stop seeing Jim 3 times a week and we continued sporadically whenever anything came up that I needed support with. That literally all 5 pages of thoughts and compulsions were done. My OCD realized I had taken my power back and that I had stole its power and it no longer showed up anymore. Finally after 9 years, FREEDOM…
Without Jim, I would not be where I am today. Without his encouragement, confidence, and friendly nature I would have been able to keep going at the darkest time in my life. I thank god that I found Jim and that he was able to help me gain myself and sanity back. I still have things arrive every now and then but now I have the tools to deal with them as they arrive. And I continue to stay in charge of my life, not my OCD.
I would recommend anyone that is dealing with OCD/ PTSD/ Panic Attacks to go and see Jim. Not only was Jim a huge catalyst for my healing of obsessive unwanted thoughts and compulsions by teaching me the tools and techniques needed but he was also a great coach and finally, he also became a friend in the process.
I would like to say to those of you that are reading this that you are in the right place. Trust yourself and allow yourself to get help. That there is HOPE and even though your OCD is probably saying “he could do it, but I can’t”, that there are tools to transform your life from where you are right now. I too had given up on myself and my life and thought this is how I will always be and there is no way someone or something can change where I am at. BUT there is and for me it was seeing Jim and working his techniques until my OCD realized that I am in charge now. If you are willing to show up and change your world I know that Jim will meet you there and walk with you until you get to that point where freedom has arrived for you as well. I hope you always remember you can do this, you are not your OCD, and you are capable of getting thru to the other side.
Thank you, Jim!
An integral part of my success in treatment is related to the direction I received through the relapse prevention program, as well as through the weekly support group. Learning how to consistently utilize ERP helped to prevent me from slipping back into my patterns of OCD. The accountability I received from the support group was, and continues to be, a key factor in keeping me on track.
The monthly support group for Family and loved ones of those who suffer from OCD has been another facet in my recovery process. I now assist in facilitating the monthly support group. It is very rewarding and encouraging for me to help others in their struggle with OCD, and to experience their progress in overcoming OCD.
As a result of my dedication and commitment to the treatment program at the Gateway Institute, I now experience a freedom from OCD which allows me to pursue new paths of opportunity and peace in my life.
I would absolutely recommend this to someone else with OCD. The staff at Gateway seemed like the first and only people in my entire life who seem to really understand exactly what I’ve been struggling with. Not only that, but also how to combat it, and allow me to live a better life.
Thank you so much for helping me. I really appreciate everything you’ve done. I will continue to use all the techniques you’ve showed me. Thank you for everything.
It has been a pleasure having you as my therapist. Thank you so much for all the therapy and advice you’ve given me. I’m looking forward to an OCD-free future. Thank you.
I’m so thankful to have you in my life. Your teams support in me has motivated me to push myself harder and opened up all the possibilities for a new life. The past 3 weeks have been a huge eye open for me. You’ve changed my life. THANK YOU!
I can’t begin to express how thankful I am for all that you’ve done for me. You’ve helped me through some of the toughest situations in my life and have given me the tools I need to move forward. Because of your support I came home and had the confidence to expose myself to everything in the house that bothered me. I’m continuing to “expose” myself to the “contamination” in the house every day and little by little, I’m beginning to feel more freedom. It truly is a blessing to have been to your treatment center. Thank you for helping me get my life back!