OCD treatment can involve medication, therapy, self-care, and more. Here's how four people cope with the condition.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD is a mental health disorder where a person has obsessions (uncontrollable recurring thoughts or fears), compulsions (uncontrollable recurring behaviors), or both. OCD is usually treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—a type of antidepressant—and psychotherapy, or a combination of both.

Health spoke with four people diagnosed and living with OCD to learn more about how they deal with it.

Laura Kiesel, 40, Boston

When Laura Kiesel was diagnosed with OCD as a sophomore in high school, she was relieved. She had been having countless disturbing thoughts, to the point where they interfered with her daily life, causing her to be both depressed and anxious. “I was very relieved when the doctor diagnosed me and told me I was not crazy and that I could be treated,” Kiesel says.

The side effects of meds like Prozac and Xanax outweighed the benefits for her; 26 years after being diagnosed, she’s now identified the things that help her cope best.“My disturbing thoughts are almost entirely gone,” she says. “I keep them at bay by avoiding watching or reading certain unsettling things that have historically triggered them. With the help of therapy and family support, I have trained myself to respond less anxiously and not panic when I do get some breakthrough disturbing thoughts, which seems to help them not take over.”

“When I was in high school, being active in drama club was crucial to my recovery," Kiesel, a writer and editor, says. "Nowadays, I find that my writing serves a similar purpose to drama club. It distracts my busy mind and gives me an outlet.”

Dan Collins, 56, Baltimore

For Dan Collins, who was diagnosed with OCD about 28 years ago, medication remains a successful part of his coping and treatment strategy. “I started on Prozac in 1991, and while I did try a few other drugs—like Lexapro—I found none worked as well as Prozac, so I’ve continued to stay on it,” Collins explains. Having a co-diagnosis of depression, Collins also utilized sports as a tool for coping with both conditions.

“Until 2016, I was a competitive fencer, and I have to admit, the sport helped. It’s both an aerobic and an anaerobic exercise, and there’s plenty of research now that shows how exercise can help with depression,” he says. Fencing also provided a respite from the thoughts and fears that were recurrent with his OCD. “I was able to get some relief, as these thoughts were pushed toward the back of my mind, for in fencing, if you’re not supremely focused on the task at hand, you’re going to be turned into a pin cushion.”

Nowadays, he copes by being a well-informed student of himself. “I’ve learned to know the signs and circumstances when I may be vulnerable to my depression and OCD,” Collins says.

Jennifer Lipsitt-McLean, 32, Houston

Diagnosed just a few months ago, Jennifer Lipsitt-McLean has so far been undergoing weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for OCD. “It has really helped me understand my problematic thoughts, behaviors, and emotions,” Lipsitt-McLean, who runs MomBible, says. “I have also been learning how to replace my unhealthy coping mechanisms, that is, my ritualistic behaviors, with more positive strategies like breathing techniques, helpful thinking, and cognitive coping cards.”

Separate from therapy, Lipsitt-McLean also employs other personal coping strategies. “Keeping the levels of stress and anxiety in my life well-managed is an essential part of my long-term treatment strategy. I find that a combination of daily exercise, meditation, and getting an adequate amount of sleep all help,” she says.

Before being diagnosed, Lipsitt-Mclean had managed to hide her OCD and related behaviors from her family and friends. However, since getting professional treatment, she now has access to additional external support. “Thankfully, since seeking treatment, I have now managed to communicate my issues with those closest to me, and the support I have received has been hugely helpful,” she says.

Kyle Elliott, 26, San Francisco

Kyle Elliott, who was diagnosed at the age of 20 while in college, has taken a very holistic approach to dealing with his OCD.

“I take a combination of anxiety medications and vitamins recommended by my psychiatrist, meditate and practice mindfulness, exercise, and engage in talk therapy. I also have a strong support network and talk openly about living with mental illness,” Elliott says.

His weekly meetings with his therapist have been particularly life-transforming, he says. “We talk through my thoughts and feelings, explore methods to change my thought processes and behavior, and I’m held accountable to my objectives and goals.”

Coping with OCD sometimes means embracing the diagnosis—and that’s what Elliott has chosen to do. “I’m also working to be more compassionate toward myself," he says. "I’ve come to recognize how much my OCD has helped me in my business as a career coach and in my life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without OCD.”

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