These two short words rank among the most tantalizing—and often demoralizing—phrases one can say.  This question can trigger powerful feelings and actions, but it is the remainder of the question that determines whether it is crippling or empowering.

In OCD, obsessions are often framed in this way.  What if I get a terrible disease?  What if I’m gay (or straight)?  What if I kill someone?  What if I forget something?  What if I make a mistake?  What if I blaspheme God?  Compulsions are ineffective answers to these questions.  OCD wants to keep sufferers stuck in the painful cycle of trying to ward off these “what ifs.”  It becomes difficult to shift gears and instead consider the tantalizing possibilities of life.

People with OCD have the power to consider other “what ifs” related both to handling their illness and to larger life questions.  What if treatment works?  What if I take a risk and do it anyway?  What if I am stronger than OCD?  What if I went back to school?  What if I ran a marathon?  What if I went to the party and had a good time?  What if I can do it?  What if I rediscovered the non-OCD part of me?  Of course questions like these will not automatically solve the problem of OCD.  But what if they are a step toward fighting back?

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