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Jon Lukas: A Personal Journey with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Doc Rosen's advice — and a jarring epiphany — gave me the inspiration to take control of my life

Hi, my name is Jon Lukas and I have Obsessive-compulsive disorder. I don’t just have OCD. I treat people with OCD every day in my practice. I am a cognitive behavioral therapist focused almost entirely on the treatment of anxiety disorders and more specifically on Obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders.

Jon Lukas
Jon Lukas

My OCD began to manifest at around the age of 8. I obsessed constantly about health fears. I was always convinced I had a dreaded terminal disease. These “obsessions” led to bizarre ritualistic behaviors called compulsions. Many people occasionally obsess about things or even do the “door check” or “stove check” a few times before they leave the house. For me, my life was a full-time obsession about having cancer, brain tumors — you name it. The obsessions led to constant checking, such as going to doctors, getting tests done, self exams for tumors, checking my temperature 44 times a day, and on and on.

Unfortunately, for many years I was misdiagnosed several times as being depressed, as having ADD, and even having a vitamin deficiency. I wasn’t correctly diagnosed until about the age of 18. By then I had severe depression, weight loss, and was isolating myself from friends and even family. I couldn’t handle the feeling of being around people while having these constant terrifying thoughts in my mind. I also needed to perform compulsions constantly throughout the day and night. I couldn’t very well do them in front of people. OCD is a very lonely anxiety disorder to have.

My rock bottom came when I started law school and the full force of my OCD came out as a result of the pressure I was feeling in my first year of school. I made it through the first year but the stress and anxiety took its toll on me. I had lost more than 20 pounds and could barely get any food down. Anxiety often causes dry mouth and loss of appetite. This was the story of my life since I was 8.

When I came home from school I finally told my parents that I needed help. Luckily for me, I found the UCLA Intensive OCD clinic, now known as the Semel Institute, and that was the start of a new and better journey in my life. I learned about Exposure and Response Prevention, an extremely effective form of cognitive behavior therapy for the treatment of OCD. For six weeks at UCLA I had to confront my greatest fears or “obsessions” and resist the urge to perform compulsions. It was the most difficult six weeks of my life but also the best.

Three weeks into the program, my doctor, who I called Doc Rosen, sat down with me when he saw how hard I was struggling with my OCD. He said, “Jon, you have to believe that with this intense anxiety you are feeling, you will find peace, but you have to accept that the obsessions are nothing more than false, irritating, irrational brain noise and nothing more. You have been living in this prison that is your mind for so long and I know you can beat this. Or you can go on living a life of fear, avoidance, compulsions and anxiety, and miss out on all of the great times ahead of you.”

That was a Friday afternoon. Doc Rosen told me he was heading to New Mexico that weekend and would see me on Monday. Monday morning came around and when I showed up at UCLA, three nurses and a doctor were waiting for me. One of the nurses said, “Jon, Dr. Rosen was killed in a plane crash on Saturday.” He flew his own plane every couple of weeks to New Mexico. This time he didn’t make it back.

The shock of his death overwhelmed me. Then I realized what Doc Rosen had said just a few days before. He wanted me to get busy living life instead of living in my head. From that moment forward, I put every ounce of energy into the UCLA program and came out of there a new young man. I had this life-changing experience and this inspirational doctor to push me to truly challenge my OCD and overcome this anxiety disorder as I never could before.

I left law school for good and decided to get my Master’s degree and focus on treating OCD. I had a calling and a purpose in my life that I never had before. Now I work with individuals dealing with OCD and other anxiety disorders. There is nothing like seeing clients challenge their obsessions and resist the urge to do compulsions. There is no greater feeling then helping someone get his or her life back.

Thank you, Doc Rosen.

Jon Lukas MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy. He is in private practice and runs The OCD Treatment Center of Santa Barbara, working with adolescents and adults with anxiety disorders. Click here for more information or call 805.453.2347.

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