Thank you for posting, Austin. I wish for you all the very best in dealing with this disruptive disorder.
My journey with running and OCD
My name is Austin, 24 years old and from Washington State. Most of the activities I enjoy doing center around being outside. I grew up hiking, camping, and skiing. My late teen years I got more into climbing, mountaineering, and backcountry skiing. The last several years my main focus has been on trail running, while also enjoying slower paced activities including hiking, backpacking, and birding/ecology.
Although I’ve dealt with some mental health issues over my life, for the most part I was able to either handle them, or avoid the events that triggered them. This all changed in early Spring of 2021. Despite not ever dealing with any chronic injuries, and no knee injuries, I started to obsess about my running form, and maybe that it wasn’t correct, and I would injure my knees. Despite 2021 being my best year statistically (1,240 miles and +250,000′ of elevation gain), I was constantly obsessing about how my legs moved and compulsively trying to control them to make sure I didn’t get injured. This resulted in me never really feeling the enjoyment I had before, and making me feel quite depressed at times.
In November of 2021 I finally decided to see a Psychologist who specialized in sports anxiety, as both myself and the Psychologist thought that was what I was dealing with. We spent time focusing on my obsessive thoughts, trying to figure out the root of where they came from and trying to disprove them. At first this helped a little, but I slowly got worse and worse through the winter. I had reached a point where I could not so much as get up from the couch and walk to the kitchen without thinking about my legs and without trying to control them. For nearly 100% of my waking hours it was all I thought about, and this has led me to truly feeling like I have forgotten how to run and walk normally. Ironically it’s caused me physical discomfort in my knees and legs as I try to constantly figure what is right. All these thoughts led me to believing I had lost this activity and enjoyment that has meant so much to me, and has led me down a road of feeling hopeless and depressed.
A month ago I started to do some more research online, and started reading about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Many of the articles I read, although not specific to my obsessions, reminded me very much so of what I felt I was going through and how my brain worked. Despite OCD being one of the most debilitating mental illnesses, there is a therapy called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) that is shown to be effective in 80% of patients. No other treatments (besides adding in medication) have any research to back their effectiveness, and traditional talk therapy (what I had been receiving and what most providers do) can even make OCD worse. I decided I needed to get different treatment than I was receiving, and switched providers to someone who specialized in providing ERP to OCD patients, about a month ago.
My OCD has not improved as of now because I have just started this therapy, but I feel more hope that I could get better, and can feel that I am finally on the right track. I am still in a very difficult place, but I wanted to share my story to bring awareness to OCD and the treatment that is available. There are many misconceptions about OCD. That it’s just a personality type or that it only manifests in ways as being organized or obsessed with germs. The reality is that there are many different subtypes ranging from the well known of Contamination OCD, to others such as Harm, Scrupulosity, or Somatic (a focus on body sensations/actions) which is what I have. About 2.5% of the population is estimated to have OCD, while a recent study came out that estimates 5% of college athletes have OCD. OCD being more common in high level athletes seems somewhat unsurprising. Although some characteristics of individuals with OCD could be helpful with sports performance, OCD itself is unhelpful in all its forms, and often very debilitating.
If anyone reading this has also been dealing with obsessive thoughts (they can revolve around practically anything, and compulsions can often be very subtle mental ones) I want to encourage you to look into OCD, and possibly ERP therapy. I wish I would’ve known more about this disorder a year ago, as I would’ve saved myself so much distress, and most likely would never have gotten as severe of symptoms as I’ve developed (although there are many with much worse symptoms than myself). There are two resources I would recommend checking out. The first is International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation (IOCDF). They have many articles written by top OCD Doctors, as well as a database of providers who treat OCD and are certified in ERP, the gold standard of treatment. Another resource is called NOCD. They also have many articles and resources on their site, as well as offering teletherapy with a trained OCD specialist. NOCD is the company I have started my therapy with, I’ve been more than happy with the company and my therapist so far. They also accept many insurances, and have payment plans for those paying out of pocket. I’m not affiliated with them in any way, but I’ve had a very positive experience so far, so I wanted to recommend them.
Thank you for reading about my recent journey, and I hope this reaches someone that has been dealing with OCD, and this can give them hope that there is treatment, and a path out there for them to feel better.
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