Karen Ross, PhD
“The Doubt Disease”: Living with OCD as a Woman of Faith
Last year I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Much more than what stereotypes of the disease suggest (I am not a particularly clean person and haven’t organized my closet in years), OCD took hold of my mind and my life by making me doubt my reality. There would be days when I would repeat the same conversations over and over again in my head to check if I had misunderstood someone, check the stove frequently to make sure I didn’t set the apartment on fire, and replay interactions to make sure that I didn’t harm anyone. I had visions in my mind that I had done horrible things- like run over a child with my car- and that I just didn’t remember them. I began to understand the cruel reality of why OCD is labeled “The Doubt Disorder.” I began to wonder if the God of truth and my own sense of intuition was powerful enough to overcome the voices of doubt in my head telling me that I couldn’t trust myself or my faith.
After the OCD diagnosis I felt simultaneously relieved that there was a reason for my distress and fearful about how I would be able to navigate daily life moving forward with this mental illness. While some days have felt incredibly difficult as the grip of fear and doubt takes hold, I have also experienced small moments of grace when I have felt God wrapping Her loving arms around me, bringing me hope that this disease will not have the last word.
Some of these glimpses of peace and strength have come through my yoga practice, which has been a life-giving conduit for finding God again, breath by breath, movement by movement. Through the power of my own breath, I am able to experience God’s breath- or ruach, as it is described in Scripture- streaming through me, healing the spaces of tightness and despair. Another grace-filled practice for me has been EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), a psychotherapy practice that can heal and transform experiences of trauma. Through the help of my therapist, I’ve been able to literally tap into the wisdom of my body when my mind begins to latch onto intrusive thoughts, and process the uncomfortable feelings underneath.
The intrusive voices of OCD will likely never go away for me, but they can be pushed out of the driver’s seat of my life and take a back seat on my journey towards peace and flourishing. This is much easier said than done! Personally, I find it damaging to perpetuate ideas like “God gives the toughest battles to the strongest soldiers” or any teaching that suggests that suffering is inflicted to teach a lesson. I believe in the crucified God of compassion, who suffers with those who suffer, and walks with us through the valleys of doubt and darkness towards healing light. As I continue to live with OCD as a woman of faith, I am holding on to the resurrection hope that love is always greater than my fear, and that I am always accompanied by the One who is Truth in the midst of all of my doubts.
Karen Ross, PhD (she/her/ella) is a graduate program director, theology and ethics professor, and yoga and mindfulness instructor.