Our mission is to live our best life everyday and to do everything possible to encourage and empower others to do the same. We believe this begins by acknowledging the fear within, embracing our vulnerability, and boldly moving into a life of purpose, power, freedom, and joy.
My name is Gregg Sansone and I have experienced OCD, anxiety, and depression for 33 years of my life. Even so, I have been able to live a very fulfilling and complete life despite my struggles. I graduated from college and went on to own multiple, successful businesses in the areas of Real Estate and home improvement. And this is my story…..
When I was 18 years old, in the second semester of college, OCD hit me hard and fast. My onset of OCD was precipitated with a depressive episode…being homesick. My stomach felt empty and hollow. This was how my whole being felt. I had nothing, no strength, no joy, just deep down awful sadness. I remember thinking “I can’t believe I have to start all over again with a new semester after all the work I have just put in.” I was weakened to my core. The next 3 days and nights were bad. I could no longer hold back my tears. I was deeply depressed with an anxious undertone and no relief was in sight. After all, I was 18 years old not 8. Certainly I should be tough enough to handle this and be a man. I couldn’t believe I couldn’t pull myself together. I couldn’t sleep. I tried to figure out how to actually fall asleep, to no avail. I had weird thoughts that I had never had before. I worried about the possibility of something falling out of the sky and hitting me. I worried about going crazy. I would try to create certainties and guarantees for myself for things I never used to worry about…such as going to hell is God good or bad..how painful is purgatory? I had thoughts such as “what if I move a chair or something and God wanted it to be the way it was before I moved it?” If there was a piece of paper or trash in a certain place on the ground, then I worried that God may want it that way and I couldn’t throw it in the trash can. Weird stuff like this was plaguing me and confusing me and causing my self-esteem to plummet. Bible verses that I used to love became sad and weird and made me feel like I was going to lose my mind. I was in a panic and it was getting worse fast. I became obsessed with the idea that people were going to notice my anxiety….my sweaty palms, perspiring, not knowing how or where to look at someone when I was talking or listening to them. Certain words such as ‘why’, ‘but’, and ‘maybe’ caused me anxiety. Sometimes just the sound of a certain word would cause me stress. I also became obsessed with the idea of finding a guarantee that I would never go crazy. This only made matters worse because now I was looking for trouble. Later I became obsessed with how to find a guarantee that I wouldn’t have a nightmare and be helpless in the nightmare when I fell asleep. How did the world start? What is forever like and is it painful or bad? These were not just your typical existential questions that, as humans, we have but rather they were immediate, compelling, and demanding questions that had to be figured out correctly and immediately.
I continued to struggle like this for the next 8 years. I was deeply interested in trying to figure out how to make my unreasonable questions go away. At that time, nobody knew what OCD was. When I was 26 years old a counselor started to work with me on my anxieties and worries. At some point, I knew I had outgrown him because his ‘trying to make me feel better’ was not doing me any good. I knew something more was at work here. I finally found a therapist who understood my nutty thinking. He told me I had OCD on the cognitive level, pure and simple. I was so relieved that there was a name for it and that someone understood it. I could now work on accepting it instead of running from it…the shame was leaving. I started to realize that it was like having high cholesterol…you don’t beat yourself up for having it…no different for OCD. My brain simply had a glitch for which I was not responsible for causing. I started therapy with mild medication. Again, though, the therapist just kept trying to reassure me that people with OCD were the furthest thing from crazy. That people wouldn’t think I was insane because I had anxiety or perspired or didn’t know how to exactly look at someone. His reassurances did me no good. This therapy was pretty much useless. I began my search again for answers. I started reading up on Eastern Philosophy. Zen and Buddhism; on acceptance and mindfulness. I started to figure out, on my own and through readings, that acceptance and awareness of the discomfort or thought or anxiety had some kind of fixed like quality to it. I kept reading and learning. I eventually came across a book called “Brainlock” by Schwartz. It helped me realize that I had to fight my OCD by resisting figuring things out or making them go away. I had to accept them…allow them to be there by making room for them and continuing on with my life choices anyway. Things were now starting to take a positive, drastic, and powerful change for the better. The psychiatrist I checked in with once in a while was understanding and kind, but he insisted on more and better medicine to make all of this stuff magically go away. Internally I knew there was more to it.
I had to learn to live with it and not run from it….but still, my somewhat unconscious goal was to make the discomfort go away. Big mistake! About 9 years ago I found a doctor on the web who was located in New York City and it was he who introduced me to ERP. Exposure Response Prevention. He totally believed in aggressively going after the obsessive thoughts that were making me anxious. By purposely making those thoughts more present in my life and THEN resisting doing anything to make myself feel better, he believed I could heal. I knew I had hit the jackpot. It totally made sense to me….this was it! While doing ERP, I felt at times like I was a kamikaze pilot and just when I felt like I would die, my anxiety would start to come down. That’s where the real healing would begin. He taught me to stop fighting and resisting what I feared and actually move closer to it. This was and is a true golden nugget. ERP was and is powerfully effective to this day.
Also of significance to me was the notion that there was a difference between me and my OCD. I started to focus on what I could control and made choices in that arena. Not my brain, OCD, automatic thoughts, or even moods or feelings mattered. What I ‘DID’ mattered. I started bringing on my obsessions and fearful thoughts, and then chose to live my life anyway in the midst of the discomfort. I was breaking the cycle of OCD. I was doing this by giving my brain a message: “I’m not altering my life choices because of OCD and discomfort.” I was no longer trying to make my anxieties go away. Wow! This was the exact opposite of what the previous therapists were doing when they tried to make me feel better with reassurance. I learned that OCD only has steam if it can scare me and get me to run. Courage instead of fear, running ‘to’ it instead of running ‘away’ from it, put me in charge and stopped the OCD bully. The most important lesson I have learned in dealing with OCD is this, the more exposures that I can do, the better I will become. I won’t be disappointed with the results.I did it and you can do it. Stop running from it and start running to it. You can take charge now. You can purposely chose to bring on your anxiety not just when your brain says so. You can become the bully to OCD and Anxiety. You can get your life back, which is where it belongs. I will continue to share my story of my battle with OCD and the tools I have found to fight it. Follow me on my journey by checking in on my blog.