And now I feel good doing that little thing, over and over again and see, that I just wish that some day I’ll have, I’ll have the control over me. –Chelsea Rae Phillips, lyrics from OCDani
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with 21-year-old singer/songwriter extraordinaire Chelsea Rae Phillips of Wilmington, Delaware. Jim Phillips, her loving and supportive dad, also joined me for this talk.
What strikes me most about Chelsea is her willingness to persevere through life. Not only is she a talented musician and artist, but she also suffers from severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
As you’ll read in the following interview, Chelsea is a lot like myself in that she has intrusive thoughts. These are thoughts that are so disturbing to the mind that they are a huge hindrance in her life. Chelsea goes through tremendous pain and anguish just to get through a day.
When I was Chelsea’s age, I wish I had known about cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure response prevention, as this is the way to treat these intrusive thoughts.
That type of treatment is really starting to benefit me.
What’s most remarkable is that Chelsea lives a full life without therapy and has learned to cope with the support of her friends and family, including her father, Jim.
In the song, OCDani, she says in the chorus, “Stay strong don’t let you see yourself fall at the end of the road, you’re not alone.” And clearly, Chelsea is doing just that. She is not alone. She has the loving support of a lot of people.
This is what I most admire about Chelsea. She is not afraid to reach out and say, “Please, help me!”
She is a fine person and so is her dad. They both are doing a great deal to erase stigma and I thank them for that.
Bud Clayman: Well Chelsea, I wanted to welcome you to OC87 Recovery Diaries.
Chelsea Rae Phillips: Thank you so much for having me.
Bud Clayman: I listened to your song again this week and it’s a very inspiring song.
Chelsea Rae Phillips: Thank you.
Bud Clayman: Very well written. Speaking of inspiration, what was your inspiration for the song?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: My inspiration for OCDani was actually right after I got diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which was the summer before my senior year of high school. And when I got diagnosed with it, I was already knowledgeable about OCD because I was having all these symptoms, so of course I was looking it up on line and finding everything [out] about it. But my friends and my family, they didn’t understand it as much as I did. So, I wanted to write this song to let other people know the struggle that I was going through and a lot of people thought, “Oh, she has OCD. She’s just washing her hands constantly.” And it’s not all about that. Also I wanted people to know that “It’s OK, that you’re going through this.” I wanted it to inspire other people and motivate other people to get through this, and it’s OK that you’re dealing with what you’re dealing with.
Bud Clayman: What type of OCD do you suffer from and can you talk about that?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: I can definitely talk about that. I’m an open book, Buddy.
Bud Clayman: Okay.
[Laughing between the both of us.]
Chelsea Rae Phillips: I deal with a lot of things. I’m sure you know that new compulsions can happen every day. I can be washing the dishes and putting them away, but if I set it down wrong in my head, it will be, “If you don’t put that down right, you’re gonna die or something bad is gonna happen to you.”
But one thing I can say that has hindered my whole OCD throughout my life is the number four. Whatever compulsion I do it has to be in a sequence of four. I have to count it four times. I have to do it four times. Four is just a safe word for me. It’s a safe number. Whenever I do a compulsion, it has to be in fours. But I also have reassuring issues. Let’s say my sister and I go to my parents’ house and we say goodbye [to] my parents. I have to be the last kiss. I have to be the last hug. I have to be the last one to say goodbye. Or for whatever reason in my brain, if I’m not the last person to talk to them, or if they were to die for some horrible reason, I would have the last connection with them. So that to me is very important. It’s very life or death in a head of someone who has OCD.
Bud Clayman: A term we use in OCD treatment [is] “all-or-none thinking.”
Chelsea Rae Phillips: Yeah.
Bud Clayman: “Black-or-white thinking” — that’s what you have, you would say?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: Yes. “If you don’t do this, I’m gonna die. If I don’t do this correctly somebody I love is gonna be hurt.” And it really blows to have that type of mindset but unfortunately that’s just what OCD is.
Bud Clayman: What do you want people to get out of this song that you’ve written? How do you want to help them?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: I would really hope that everyone not just people with OCD can learn or love the song because the first line of the chorus is “Stay strong don’t let you see yourself fall at the end of the road, you’re not alone.” So even people who have anxiety or depression, I’m hoping that this will [come] across to people who don’t even have very many problems. It’ll just help them on a bad day. That way whenever someone listens to it, they’re happy . . . they feel motivated to keep going with their life and more towards a better life with every day.
Bud Clayman: How long have you been writing and singing music?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: I’ve been singing music since I came out of the womb [laughs]. And I’ve been writing music, music of some sort of depth, I would say, since maybe I was eleven or twelve. I’ve always been writing little jingles here and there. But I started really trying to write songs when I was eleven or twelve. And I’ve been singing my whole life. I picked up the guitar and my dad showed me how to play when I was in eleventh grade. And then I kind of just turned into a monster after that. I would play the guitar with bandages on my fingers.
Bud Clayman: So music is therapy for you?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: Oh, definitely. It’s definitely therapy for me. It just makes me feel better. I write about what I know. I like to write about things that are gonna help people. And that’s why I write.
Bud Clayman: Cool. Cool. Tell me about your journey with OCD. What’s that been like for you? And what are your goals in terms of overcoming the OCD?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: My journey with OCD has been a struggle. Ever since I was little — like I said — I thought it was normal to hear in your brain “If you don’t do this right, something bad is gonna happen to you. If you don’t do this right, your mom’s gonna die, your dad’s gonna die.” And I just thought that was normal. But then the one thing that changed my vision on that was when I was maybe in the sixth or seventh grade, I saw an MTV production, True Life: I Have OCD. And I saw what these people were doing and I’m thinking to myself, “I do that. Oh, my gosh.” And that’s when I started researching it.
And you know it’s been a tough struggle. It’s everyday. It’s not like it’s every other day. It happens all the time. I have to deal with all these compulsions I have to do. Little rituals. And I’m also a very paranoid person. And have very intrusive thoughts. So, I try my best to get through it everyday. I’ve been through a couple [of] therapists and psychiatrists and although I’m not in therapy right now, it is a very good idea for other people to be in therapy. I would myself like to go back to therapy. But everyday I like to go back to my OCD workbook that I have, just kind of read through it. Like I said, music is a very good therapy for me.
So my journey has been a struggle, but every day I find myself trying to step away from doing certain compulsions. Like when I leave to go to work, instead of jiggling the handle four times maybe I’ll try and do it two times [and] walk away. And even though I’m hearing in my brain those bad thoughts, I do my best to start singing a song that I like or think about something else. And then it comes down from a ten to a five and I’m okay. But I feel like my goals with my OCD, I definitely want it to get better and I want to have more control over it so I can also help other people with it.
[EDITORIAL NOTE: Though reducing the number of times she touches the door is a smart strategy, in many cases, trying to think of something else when discomfort levels are high functions as another compulsion. In cognitive behavioral treatment for OCD, the approach would more likely be to gradually reduce the number of times she touches the door and allow for the unwanted thoughts/feelings to remain present until the discomfort associated with them goes down on its own.]
Bud Clayman: How have other people reacted to your OCD and is this the first time you’re going public with it?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: This isn’t the first time I’m going public with it because I have performed OCDani at almost every one of my gigs or open mikes. So, I’ve had people come up to me and say, “You know I’m very sorry you have to go through this.” Or I’ve had people tell me, “This really helps me,” you know? So I really love the song ’cause I just want people to understand what I’m talking about. You know what I’m saying?
Bud Clayman: [Sure.]
Chelsea Rae Phillips: A lot of people have reacted differently. My parents — when I first came out with OCD — they didn’t really understand what I was going through. But then they kind of learned more. And then other people, people who have listened to my music, they’ve taken a liking to it, because, like I said, it helps them with other things besides OCD.
So, people have reacted in different ways. Some people have been like, “Well, please explain to me — what do you have to go through?” Cause a lot of people, like I said, just mistake it for very much like hand-washing too much. So, a lot of people have been either very high up there saying, “Oh, my gosh, I love this song so much.” And most people like it, but some people will really understand it. Then other people just want to know more so they’re always asking me questions.
Bud Clayman: Now are you afraid of stigma? Has that been a problem? Have there been negative reactions to [your OCD]?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: I don’t think there have been any negative reactions. I think when I was younger when I first started realizing that I may have OCD, in my generation of my class, a lot of people were just saying, “Oh, I have OCD about this, I have OCD about that.” They made a generalization and to me in my brain, I would just be thinking, “Do you know what I’m going through?” Which, I’m not anyone to judge anyone else, but what I was going through was completely different from, “Oh, I have to do this right just one time.”
So, when I would hear other people say things like that I would get a little upset, because they weren’t understanding what I was really dealing with.
Bud Clayman: So, you’re basically not afraid to talk about it. You’re obviously here doing the interview and people will be reading this. So, you’re not afraid of the stigma?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: Definitely not. I understand that some people don’t understand as much as you or I do. But they can definitely learn more from songs like mine, or reading online more about it, and I think if people do that they’ll better understand what we’re going through.
Bud Clayman: What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: My hopes and dreams for the future are basically my music. I really want people to relate to my music and love my music. My biggest influence is Joan Baez. And you know she’s an activist for so many things and she helps people and I don’t want people to just listen to my song and not listen to it. I want people to hear the words and relate to it and connect to it and help them when they’re having a bad day . . . basically what I want for my music is that people relate and love the words and love the music and the song and the harmonies.
Bud Clayman: Lastly, I’m putting you on the spot but are you thinking of going to get help? And what would you tell people who may be on the cusp of trying to get help?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: I would definitely say you should go get help because when I was first diagnosed with OCD that was [when] I went straight into seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist and exposure therapy. I definitely think that therapy is a great way to go along with medicine if it helps you. I definitely do want to get back into therapy. I don’t know why it’s fallen off [so] many other times before. But I would like to get back into therapy just so I have someone to talk to who understands and can help me with it.
Bud Clayman: Cool . . . I just want to go back to the intrusive thoughts because that’s something I suffer from a lot. How do you deal with [them] without therapy? Can you [also] talk about some of the thoughts you have, so people [know] they’re not alone out there?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: Definitely. With the intrusive thoughts it was happening ever since I was younger. The types of thoughts I have are, “You’re gonna get kidnapped.” “You’re gonna get killed.” “Someone’s gonna come get you, murder you.” Very intrusive thoughts and ever since I was little I didn’t really know how to get rid of that so I kind of clung to my parents. I was a very paranoid child. I was afraid to go to sleep over my friends’ houses. I was just very scared growing up. Those types of thoughts have lessened but I’m still very paranoid to walk alone, to be alone. I’m just scared of little tiny things that people would be, “Oh, that’s nothing.” But in my head with the intrusive thoughts I try to surround myself with people so I don’t have to think about it alone.
[EDITORIAL NOTE: Part of the OCD treatment for intrusive thoughts is to just let them be there (not attend to them) and not to push them away. The nature of the mind is that the more we try and get thoughts out of our mind, the more they stick.]
Bud Clayman: How old are you?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: I’m twenty-one.
Bud Clayman: Twenty-one. How does that affect your sense of self and self- independence and things like that?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: It’s very hard because having such scary thoughts makes it hard to be alone. And I would like to say that I’m independent but I have help from family and friends. I can say that if I was alone in the world and didn’t have anyone that it would be very, very hard and very difficult. But, thankfully, I have such a great support system that helps me through it. And whenever I feel like that I can go talk to a friend or my parents or my sister and they calm me down.
Bud Clayman: Cool. Okay. And we’re also sitting here with Jim Phillips–
Chelsea Rae Phillips: My pa!
Bud Clayman: Her pa! Jim, I’m gonna include you in on the interview if you don’t mind.
Jim Phillips: Sure thing, Buddy.
Bud Clayman: What’s it been like for you as a parent in this journey of Chelsea’s and your journey too?
Jim Phillips: As a parent, I’m very proud of the journey Chelsea has taken thus far and how far she has [come] with trying to take control over her OCD. It’s a lifelong struggle with her. But she certainly has grown up. It looks like she’s taken more control of some of her own therapy. You know early on as she said in the interview there were times when we just didn’t get it as parents. You know you wanna tell your child, “Snap out of it!” or be dismissive — “Why are you touching the door handle four times? Stop that. You can control that.” And through therapy sessions with her and her therapist trying to get a better understanding of OCD, we’ve come to accept that there are certain things we just can’t control. And she’s able to control them on her own.
We’re very proud of how far she’s come along. And we are there as well as her friends as a support group.
Bud Clayman: I asked Chelsea about the stigma issue. What has that been like for you? Do your friends ask you anything? How do you feel about that [and] how do you feel about Chelsea going public with this?
Jim Phillips: I have no problem. We have no issue with Chelsea going public with it. In fact she’s the flag-bearer in our family for the OCD. I support her 100 percent.
I’ve never felt any stigma with her OCD with family friends. You try to articulate to them as best you can what OCD is. Chelsea is very well-versed in, you know, symptoms. You know, she is the one who is out there on stage explaining to everybody what she has. She gets up there and tells people that she has OCD and then launches into her songs. As a parent you couldn’t be any prouder. The fact that she’s out there telling people, “It’s okay to have OCD but if you need therapy you should seek it” . . . I’m right behind her in terms of her getting her message out and I’m her biggest supporter. She’s more on the frontlines than we are.
Bud Clayman: How has [your sister] dealt with it?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: She’s dealt with it pretty well. She and I have always been really close. She’s been the one [that] I’ve gotten a lot of my advice from her helping me. She’s dealt with it pretty well. I think when I first started trying to tell my mom, “Can you please take me to the doctor?” My sister was right behind me saying, “Yeah, Mom we need to take her, please let’s take her, please let’s take her to the doctor.”
Bud Clayman: And your Mom, how’s she coping with this?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: [Laughing] I think my mom has OCD. [I think my dad and my mom both have it].
[Jim laughs as well.]
Bud Clayman: [In a low nasal voice] Strike that from the record.
Chelsea Rae Phillips: I think that’s where it kind of stems from, both of them. It’s not a bad thing but definitely they have their own compulsions that they have to do.
[We all laugh!]
Jim Phillips: Really?
Chelsea Rae Phillips: My mom’s a perfectionist but my mom takes it pretty well. Just like I said my pa and my mom both help me a lot with it and help me out, and that’s why I love them so much.
Bud Clayman: Lastly, what are your hopes and dreams for Chelsea’s future?
Jim Phillips: My hopes and dreams for her future is that she continues to manage her OCD via therapy or otherwise. That we are always there for her in case things escalate to a ten level, so that we can try to bring her back down to a four or a five. And that her music will help people, therapeutically or else-wise. She’s got a lot to say in her music and people just need to stop and listen to it.
Bud Clayman: Well, I want to thank you both for doing this today.
Chelsea Rae Phillips: Thank you.
Jim Phillips: [You’re welcome.]