Saturday, January 14, 2012

Book Review: 'It'll Be Okay' How I Kept OCD From Ruining My Life by Shannon Shy

Shannon Shy, a Marine officer had ocd. Not the ‘cute’ kind where people say: “ oh, I’m sooo OCD”, but the real, devastating kind that turns your life and everyone in it upside down. Shannon gives a detailed description of all his ocd symptoms and how they affected his life. He uses the words ‘tortured’, ‘exhausting’, ‘haunting thoughts’ and anguish. All strong words that underscore the intensiveness and seriousness of ocd.

Most of Shy’s symptoms had to do with checking. Was the door really locked? Was that log over there by the side of the road really a dying person? Did I hit a bump in the road or run over someone? Was that thing in the pond over there really a person in distress? Lets go check. Not once, not twice but over and over. If he didn’t check, then the thoughts would come: it will be YOUR fault if the person drowns, the house catches on fire, the man beside the road dies.

Shy’s ocd had him feeling responsible for everyone who was swimming in the water. Did they come out safely? Where did the 2 ladies at the beach go? Are they drowning in the water?

And then there were the environmental triggers: a drop of gas that dripped on the ground while putting the nozzle back would have to be reported to the attendant. A discarded anti-freeze or other chemical container was cause for concern. Spilling gas on the grass while filling up the lawn mower meant Shy was contaminating the neighbourhood and that precise spot of grass must be dug up and discarded. A half-full bag of fertilizer lift on the military grounds made him anxious for weeks. Stepping in a puddle of fluid in a parking lot meant either cleaning his shoes or throwing them out.

Safety was also an issue. Shy would check the soccer field before his child played on it to make sure no rocks or other items were on it that could hurt a child. Were children in the park or doctor's office safe and being treated kindly by their parents? Were the airplane’s wings cracked? Did he leave the hotel room or house in a safe, sanitary, undamaged condition before departing? After doing his own checks he’d report his findings to the coach, attendant or officer in charge, often getting confused looks in return.

His mind could no longer tell the difference between an important or non- important issue. Log book entries while ‘on duty’were pages long because he had to report everything.

Finally after spending one early morning chasing down what ‘might’ have been a gunshot and reporting it to the police, Shannon became totally frustrated with himself and wished to die.He finally made a call to the Navy Psychiatrist. The psychiatrist diagnosed him with ocd and explained how ocd works. While doing a ritual relieves the anxiety for a moment, the thoughts return again, stronger and more frequent. Ocd feeds on itself.

After being given some medication, Shy was sent to a psychologist. There he was told he had to learn to accept the ocd thought and not resist it AND stop doing the compulsion. First tho, he had to figure out which of his thoughts were ocd because to him they ALL seemed legitimate. Ocd thoughts, he learned are those that second guessed what he saw or heard. Ocd came with an adverse physical reaction (heart racing, hot flashes).

Shannon Shy developed a set of ground rules for himself. And with some positive self talk he began practising what he learned. Ground rule 1 was that he didn’t have to be perfect. He could just manage ocd to the best of his ability. Rule 2 is that ocd is separate from Who He Was. Thus he attributed ocd thoughts to the illness (rule 3), not to himself. He was battling ocd. He practiced allowing an ocd thought to remain in his head realizing that he did not need to AGREE with the thought to allow it to move across his mind. Thoughts don’t hurt anyone. (rule 4) And finally rule 5 reminded him to resist the compulsion. With practise, he learned to stop the ocd at the thought with no accompanying compulsive urges any longer! After 2 years he was doing so well that he was basically symptom free and with a doctor’s permission slowly eliminated his medications.

In his second last chapter Shy mentioned some life strategies that have helped him. The first was a positive attitude. The second was to rely on friends, family and faith for support. Third, he believed in living life and enjoying it as much as possible. Finally he saw himself as a valuable part of the universe.

In the last chapter he has a bit of advice for family and friends of someone suffering with ocd. He tells them to educate themselves about ocd, tell the sufferer he is not crazy and there is help available. Most of all, he says, don’t be a crutch. Support and encourage your friend or relative but don’t make the decisions for them. They must battle the ocd thoughts themselves to win the fight.

What I like best about Shy’s book is his detailed descriptions of his ocd thoughts and compulsions. He also does a lot of positive self talk to get himself thru resisting a compulsion. ‘It’ll be ok’ is not just a hopeful title, it is his mantra whenever he battles an ocd thought. Funnily enough, it’s my mantra too while I am doing an ERP or waiting for the flood of feelings to leave.

Some of his ‘rules’ I had also already figured out for myself: ( think of ocd as a separate entity) or read elsewhere ( label irrational thoughts as ocd and don’t resist them but do NOT do the compulsion). Also, he doesn't go into much detail about his journey out of ocd.

This is a great book for a person who is just beginning their journey to healing from ocd. Learning the ground rules and life-attitudes and practising them will help them win the battle against this cruel disorder.


  1. Sounds like a good book. I don't think I've heard of it before, so thank you for passing it on. I think it's helpful to read about people who have gone through things when you think you're the only who has.

  2. I found this one on

  3. That's funny, a lot of times when I'm doing an ERP I say something similar to myself too, like "It's ok, you're ok, you can do this, etc."

    I saw Mr. Shy speak as the keynote speaker at the IOCDF Annual Conference in D.C. in 2010. At the time, he said that he recovered to the point where he almost doesn't even have any obsessions at all any more, or very, very rarely. I haven't heard of too many people that have recovered that well. Does anyone else know someone who's recovered to that point? I'd be curious to know.

  4. I think all first-person accounts of recovery from OCD are so valuable and helpful to those still struggling with the disorder.