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  • Catherine Benfield

Are you being honest with yourself about your OCD recovery work?

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

A cartoon road runner is looking on in surprise as Olivia assumes his role of sticking her head in the sand. Looney Tunes style

I sat through an hours worth of reels about OCD and mental health recovery on Instagram yesterday. It helped me feel less alone, it validated my experiences and feelings, and some of them were really entertaining so it gave me a mood boost.

So that's good... isn't it?

Well, those bits are of course, it's always good to feel connected to our community! But, and this is a pretty difficult but..., are we learning helpful strategies? Are we learning skills that will improve our life quality? Are these things providing us with too many opportunities for reassurance and avoidance and therefore making our OCD worse?

These are really important questions.

Let's set the scene a little.

Why is being honest important in OCD recovery?

It can take years for those of us with OCD to learn that we have OCD. It can take years to get proper treatment and even then, the specific treatment recommended may not work for some of us. Many people don’t fully understand OCD and this can complicate things even further. We can be up against it! But there is something we can do to really help our recovery, and that is to put in a regular assessment of how our recovery work is going and if there’s anything we can do to help adapt things that may not be working so well.

Have I always been honest with myself about my own recovery?

I'd love to say yes here, but the answer is a resounding NO! Before my treatment, I had a really low threshold of what constituted a successful day - it was basically getting to the end of it without a crushing relapse or panic attack. It’s no wonder that once my meds kicked in, and my therapy started to work, I stopped stretching. I kept doing what I was doing even after it stopped working as well. I was frightened to adapt, I was frightened to add new things. Even when I knew I was heading for a pretty big relapse, I found it hard to adjust my recovery work. I used distraction, avoidance (eyes on you here social media) and much like the roadrunner in Looney Tunes, I buried my head in the sand as far as it would go. I didn’t want to be flexible in my recovery, that involved uncertainty and you know we can sometimes struggle with that.

Not being honest about my recovery work was working (ish) in the short term, but it wasn’t helping in the long term. At all.

Recovery is a skill...

...the more you work on it, the more strategies you develop and the more you hone that skill. Reassessing and adjusting what’s working for you is the best way to make sure you stay well. Please note that this is not a recommendation to drop the treatment options your medical professional has prescribed - it is essential you work through these area with your medical professionals. This post is more about the additional recovery work you do on top!

Questions to ask ourselves about our OCD recovery

Here are some questions I ask myself about my recovery work. I try to make sure I answer them as honestly as possible. I'm sharing them in the hope they help you too!

**Just as a quick note. Those of us with OCD are often very good at being hard on ourselves. If you recognise yourself doing any of the things below that’s totally okay! I only know about them because I did them too! So as well as being prepared to be honest and open with yourself as you read through these points, get ready to show yourself a ton of self compassion too. We’re all learning here! <3**

Am I really making the most out of my recovery time?

If you’re in therapy, are you doing the homework that has been set for you? Are you doing the practical as well as the theoretical work? Have you set aside time for recovery every week? Do you have a routine? I know it can be extremely difficult to find the time sometimes, I used to do my therapy work when sitting up with my son in the night, or when in the car waiting for him to finish clubs. Recovery work is so important for our wellbeing, carving out some time is always better than none, no matter where we end up doing it.

Am I using too much social media for recovery work?

Gah! Using social media for recovery is a tricky one to discuss! There’s an incredible positive side in that it informs and educates, it allows you to be part of a community and it stops you feeling alone and for all those reasons absolutely use it - I do. Over the past few years an incredible number of accounts that talk about OCD CORRECTLY have popped up and they are wonderfully helpful. There can be a downside here in that it’s very easy for social media to make OCD worse if you start to use it as a compulsion. It can also swallow hours from you very easily, and this is time that could have go towards recovery work, so it’s important we stay honest with ourselves about our use of social media. Speaking from experience I know how difficult that can be.

Am I really actively taking part in my own recovery work?

This is another area that easily links to social media. Watching reels by OCD therapists is going to be great at educating you about OCD but are you actually DOING the work too. Are you using social media as a way of convincing yourself you are doing the work you need to do? If you are there is absolutely no shame in it - I’ve caught myself doing that loads of times, but it is important to reflect and get back to the ‘doing’ part of therapy too. This is the same as pycho-education from books. Books about OCD and mental health are so helpful but they should be used alongside the ‘doing work too’. I’m a massive fan of the workbooks by Jon Hershfield. They are a wonderful combination of theoretical and practical work.

Am I avoiding certain parts of my recovery work?

There is no denying that recovery work can be incredibly difficult. Are you avoiding bits you don’t want to do? If so, why? Do you have a medical professional working with you? If so, discuss these obstacles with them to help give you a little boost. It’s important not to push yourself too far too quickly but ask yourself why you are avoiding certain tasks. Is it that you can do it, it just feels al little uncomfortable?

Are you using a range of strategies?

I had an awful relapse in 2022. I was so unwell. For the first time ever, I found jogging. It had never worked for me before but out of desperation I tried it and for the first time and it really helped. I made a mistake though and that while I was out running (very short runs!) four times a week, I wasn’t doing any of my cognitive or behavioural work. This meant that a few weeks later when I had an injury and had to stop jogging, I started to slip again. Really successful recovery work often involves more than one strategy. And remember well-being strategies can mean going for a walk, having extra greens with your dinner or even meeting up with a friend.

Can I remove any barriers stopping me doing my recovery work?

Life is busy. REALLY busy. How can we make the time to get some recovery work in? I mentioned doing some ‘on the go’ above but is there anything else you can do? Can you lower the standards of your cleaning routine at home? Can you batch cook?

Am I making excuses to myself?

Remember there is absolutely no judgement here - I am an expert at making excuses! And I’m not just saying that, I know it, and I’ve been told by others! Given the right opportunity, I can find a brilliant excuse for getting out of anything I don’t want to do EVEN if that avoidance is to my detriment. However, over the years, I’ve found that dropping the excuses for recovery work has worked to my advantage and most of the times I manage to push past an excuse. I’m really glad I did. Sometimes you just have to do it.

What are your classic excuses? Do you have any 'go to' excuses? Mine is ‘I’m overwhelmed and tired’.

I just want to add here that living with OCD can be extremely challenging. And there are some days when its okay to be too tired for recovery work. Remember you know you, if you need to rest, do it. Just watch out for it happening too often. If you are struggling to access recovery work all the time, and it really is too challenging, that is absolutely okay too. Don’t be hard on yourself, speak to your medical professional for advice.

Okay, I think that’s it for me for this post!

Sending you all so much love,

Cat x x

Further Reading

Feel like you want to show yourself a little self compassion? Have a read here!

Want to know more about how to safely use OCD advocates online? Check this out.

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We bring out a monthly newsletter that contains a whole world of information about OCD, Taming Olivia, the OCD community, helpful freebie play sheets to help you practice new skills, and updates about our multi-award-winning film about OCD and intrusive thoughts, Waving. If you fancy joining our wonderful Taming Olivia Community please sign up on the home page.

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