Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Stop the Madness!

If you think you have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), then you know you have it. There’s really nothing like it, and when it strikes you or a family member, it has the ability to turn your once normal life upside-down. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can strike at any age, even beginning at the early age of 4. Now, what is this nasty disease I’m talking about? OCD is a mental disorder that has you questioning yourself and living by the words, “what if…?” What if I didn’t shut off the stove? What if I didn’t lock my doors? What if I ran somebody over and didn’t know it? And this is just the “obsession” part of the disease. Now comes the “compulsion” part. This is the second half of the illness that will make you believe you are truly going insane. So let’s take it from, “What if I didn’t shut off the stove?” The next part is to check to see if you did or not. And then check it again. And then check it again. That is the compulsion. Sounds like fun, huh? I wouldn’t wish this one on even my worst enemies!

There are some common types of OCD sufferers. There are the “checkers” as I’ve mentioned above, constantly checking and rechecking to see if they’ve done something correctly. There are the “counters” who feel the need to count how many steps they’re taking, how many times they’ve watered each shrub, etc., and there are the “washers” (a.k.a. “scrubbers”). This group feels the urgent need to keep everything spotless, sometimes even their hands, bodies, and faces. These are the 3 main groups but there are plenty more in smaller sub-categories. I will admit that I have a little of each of the 3. I’ve been suffering from this almost harmless but aggravating disease for about 6 years. My bed must always be made. If I see one wrinkle in it, I start to feel that first hint of anxiety and I rush to fix it. When I clean my fish tank I have to count how many bowls of fresh water I use. If I can’t remember the number, I do the whole job over again. I like to think of this one as a little bit of checking and counting. If I touch anything, I immediately want to wash my hands. And watch out during the cold and flu season! You can bet I thoroughly scrub my hands every time I come in contact with a door handle!

The “obsession” part of this illness is the nagging thought that just won’t go away. It’s that little voice (not really a voice, it’s not that bad!) telling you to wash your hands, check the garage door, or count how many steps it took you to get to your car. The “compulsion” is acting out what your mind wants you to do, like checking the stove 2, 3, or even 10 times to make sure all the knobs say, “off.” Or waking up every 15 minutes to recheck the locks on the doors, to the point where you’re up half the night experiencing these repetitive thoughts and actions. These are also known as “rituals.”

Most doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists believe that this disease stems from anxiety. For example, let’s say something happened that you really don’t want to think about or worry about. The mind comes up with something else to be concerned with, such as, “Did I set the alarm to the car?” So you check the car, the alarm is set, and that’s the end of it, right? Wrong! When you go back in the house you start thinking, “Maybe the alarm was set, and when I went to check it I may have turned it off.” So you go check it again, and so on and so on. In the process of all of this “checking,” guess what? You have managed to avoid worrying about the real thing that’s bothering you, whatever that may be. Sometimes we can put our finger on what is really bothering us and face that particular problem. When this happens, the OCD will subside for the time being. If we can’t, say, if the problem is a little more deep-rooted, therapy or a lot of soul-searching will be needed to pinpoint what’s really behind this behavior.

Well, there’s good news and bad news. Okay, how about the bad news first? The bad news is that once you start these types of thinking patterns, they kind of like to stick around for a while. When the mind utilizes a defense mechanism like this, it keeps it “on hold” for when another fearful or anxiety-producing situation arises. Just when you think you’ve gotten over one repetitive thought and action, your mind will just transfer it to a whole new one. Example: You’ve finally stopped checking your stove, now you’re obsessed with the locks on your car doors. And now for the good news! There are ways to stop or at least minimize the symptoms of OCD. Anti-depressants have helped in many cases, especially Zoloft and Paxil. I don’t do well with these medications, but Xanax (an anti-anxiety drug) has worked wonders for me. Since it treats anxiety, the underlying cause of OCD, it helps to suppress the overall symptoms that result from anxiety, like the repetitive actions and obsessive thinking patterns.

A little trick: This works really well for all of you “checkers” out there when you feel the need to double or triple-check something you’ve done. Example: Did I close my garage door? When you check to see if you did or not, use something to “mark it.” Write down the time you checked the door. Write it on your hand or on a piece of paper so you have proof that you did it. Or pick an object, like the flower pot in the garage. Then when you think to yourself, “Did I lock the garage door?” think of the flower pot, and then you know for sure you did. That’s your marker, the flower pot. Keep that image in your head. I use this method a lot, and it really helps. As a final thought, remember…This disease can consume your life, but only if you let it. When you find yourself falling victim to OCD, stop and think about what really might be bothering you or what you’re trying to avoid thinking about. If you can’t come to any conclusions, you might want to consider seeking some professional help to get to the bottom of it. This is nothing to be embarrassed about and there are many approaches and solutions to get control of this disease. Whether it be therapy, medication, or a combination of both, help is always out there! Good luck to you!

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