Sunday, January 10, 2010
For my next few blogs I am going to write about OCD or the technical name Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It’s a topic I know pretty well from my personal experience with it. For anyone that didn’t know I have Bipolar disorder, OCD, and Anxiety disorder. (I must have hit the jackpot. Only I didn’t buy a lottery ticket. Lucky me) I have tons of experience with these illnesses, because my symptoms appeared when I was a kid, and I was diagnosed shortly afterward. Not all of them appeared at once though. I guess you could say I’m an expert at having mental illness. (Only I don’t get paid for having a degree. How unfair is that?!) I try to talk more about things that I have, because that’s where my expertise comes in, like OCD.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (or OCD) is classified as an anxiety and mental disorder with two components: obsessions, and compulsions. The obsessions usually consist of unwanted thoughts, impulses, or mental images. The compulsions are repetitive behaviors in response to the obsessions. (Wow that’s a sentence full) It’s like the brain gets stuck on a particular thought or urge and can’t let go. For example a person might have to do something the exact same way every time. Like tying and retying there shoe laces a certain amount of times. The person feels like he has to do it the same every time, and can’t stop himself. (For me if I tried not doing it I felt like I was literally going to explode, because I HAD to do it, and I think that’s the same way with everyone else too,) A compulsion is something that you feel like you need to do, almost like something bad might happen if you don’t. To others around you what you’re doing isn’t rational but to you it might seem like the most rational thing in the world. I would also obsess about it if I didn’t or for some reason couldn’t do it. That would consume my thoughts until I broke down and did it, and afterwards I felt like this huge burden had been lifted. (And when I say huge I mean HUGE) That is the feeling everyone gets because that is why people get the compulsion along with the obsession. The compulsive response relieves the anxiety of the obsession, and after you do it you no longer feel the obsessive side. In a sense it’s a protection from the obsession, because without the response to the obsession it would consume you and you would never get the relief of “fixing it”. Anyone with OCD can identify the feeling I’m talking about.
Obsessions are thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again and feel out of your control. People with OCD get uncomfortable feelings such as fear (I used to get the feeling that someone was behind me all the time), disgust, and doubt (I would also check something multiple times, like if someone told me to do something I would ask them over and over if that’s what they wanted me to do, because I always felt unsure, and let me tell you that was a pain for everyone). Common obsessions are: Fears of germs, imagining having hurt yourself or others (children who have that problem tend to frequently call home and make sure everyone is alright, that relieves their stress), imagining losing control, intrusive thoughts or urges (Thoughts that you don’t want which are usually gruesome and/or scary, and no matter what you do you can’t get them out of your head, and the more you try pushing them out the more they stick around), and a need to have things just so. For example, I had to have everything in its right place all the time. When I was a kid it was having my stuffed animals in a certain position around me, and if they weren’t right I would throw a fit. When I was older it became having the dishes in the dishwasher a certain way. Everything had a place and if they were somewhere else I would literally rearrange the dishwasher. That one was frustrating! (Of course my mom liked it because that meant I did the dishes more) I personally take medicine for it, but not everyone does. It’s a personal choice, and my OCD was affecting my daily functioning to the point I couldn’t do anything without an obsession accompanying. However, I still have a few compulsive tendencies, but it’s a lot less severe. There more like routines now. I set the table a certain way, and still arrange the dishwasher a certain way, but I don’t freak out if it’s not exactly the way I want it, which is a HUGE improvement.
People with OCD try to make their obsessions go away by performing the compulsions. Compulsions are acts a person does over and over again. For example a person who is obsessed with germs may wash there hands until their raw. (Ouch!)A person may also repeatedly check. They may check to make sure they turned off their stove, (its normal for a person to do that once, but not five to six times.) because of a fear of burning down the house. One of my ticks that stayed with me is also checking, but not checking for danger. I check to make sure I got things people said right. I used to ask my mom if I it was ok to do something over and over and over again. I still call her from the grocery store to check to make sure I got everything right even if I have a list that she made. My dad calls it check-check-double-check. Those are the milder examples too. Common compulsive symptoms are: Washing, repeating (repeating what you say three or four times), checking (Check, check, double-check), touching, and counting(They may count the numbers on a house as they drive by, or count how many houses there are on a street, or repeat even or odd numbers). Unlike compulsive drinking or gambling OCD doesn’t give the person any sort of pleasure at all. It’s the complete opposite. It can make your life miserable, and the compulsions that are preformed to obtain relief from the extreme discomfort made from the obsessions can make you more uncomfortable if you’re in a public setting. For example one of my tics (that’s kind of like a shortened version of compulsions) when I was a kid was flaring my nose. I would do it so often the sides of my nose was constantly raw, and because I was embarrassed I would cup my hands around my nose to hide what I was doing, which looking back probably drew more attention, but it made me feel better. I guarantee anyone and everyone with OCD has found ways to hide there tics from others. Ways to do it, but without drawing too much attention. Some people who repeat words will put those words in a sentence that makes a little more sense. But people do things differently and the important thing is to find what makes you at least slightly more comfortable.
(I’ll try not to make it too boring) No specific gene has been identified as playing a part in OCD, but the general idea is that genes do play a part in the development of the disorder. Childhood-onset OCD (Like mine) has been proven to run in families. When a parent has OCD the chances of the child having it are increased, but the chances are still very low. (Thank Goodness; I wouldn’t wish this upon anybody) When OCD runs in the family it’s the behavior that is inherited and not the exact symptoms, because every person has different symptoms. Sometimes OCD is confused for something else at the first diagnoses. The most common condition that resembles OCD is Tourette’s disorder. In fact about 20% of people who have OCD also have some form of tics. Tics are involuntary behaviors like nose flaring or vocal behaviors like clearing your throat repeatedly. (One of my tics as a child was flaring my nose. I would try to hide it by cupping my hands around my nose, while I did it, because I was embarrassed by it.)
OCD can start at any time, from childhood to adulthood. A survey showed one third to one half of adults with OCD reported it started in their childhood. (That’s a lot of people!) Nobody knows for sure how many people have OCD, because many people go undiagnosed. There are several reasons some people with OCD are never diagnosed. People with OCD are secretive about there illness. Many feel embarrassed by the tics they have, and try to hide it, which can be hard depending on what it is. It can also make it harder recognize if it’s a child doing it, which can prevent anyone from noticing and realizing it’s a big problem. If they hide it, and you only see a small portion it would be easy to dismiss it as a faze, when in all likelihood it’s probably a lot worse than you know, because your only seeing part of it, and could easily turn into a BIG problem. (I know I tried every trick in the book to hide what my ticks were. Although I was already diagnosed when I tried to hide them, but the same principal applies.) Some people don’t have access to the proper healthcare needed to treat it, which is a shame because some undiagnosed people develop other problems later in life. Some people withdraw into themselves when it gets really bad because they don’t want other people to see what they’re doing, which can cause long term social problems, which could likely lead to depression. If you think about it it’s kind of like a domino effect, once one falls they all start falling. (Wow that sounded depressing in itself.) But there are things you can do to prevent it as will be stated later.
The best thing you can do is talk to your doctor. Describe your symptoms, and if you don’t know what they exactly are, try describing the ones you do most often first, or you could show him what you do. It’s better in the long run if you get help for it. OCD isn’t something that you “grow out of” and doesn’t go away on its own. People don’t improve on their own in fact most people get worse. Some people don’t talk to a doctor because they don’t want to be on medicine, and although I strongly believe that the right medicine helps, there are other options for people who don’t want to be on medicine. There are also several forms of therapy you can try. Psychotherapy, which provides ways to reduce stress, which can help the tics lessen. Behavioral therapies are also used, which uses exposure/response prevention, which exposes you to a situation that triggers tics, and helps you learn to resist the urge, to an extent. If stress is what triggers your tics, try taking natural vitamins, or anxiety remedies. Whatever you decided to do talking to your doctor is the smart idea. He can either prescribe you medicine right there, or refer you to a specialist, or recommend a natural remedy if you don’t want to take medicine. But no matter what you do there is no found way to prevent OCD, and no found way to completely get rid of OCD, but with the right help you can prevent it from interfering with your life. But what some people don’t realize is no matter what you do or take it doesn’t get rid of it instantly, and definitely doesn’t go away overnight. It’s different for everyone, and depends on the degree of your OCD. If you take medicine, or natural remedies it may take a few weeks until you see a noticeable improvement, but when people expect it to happen overnight then they get disappointed, and stop taking it. All that accomplishes is getting you right back to where you started, and if you do that every time then nothing will work, because you’re not giving it a chance, but when you’re patient and allow it time to work then you will probably see a improvement. Just remember there’s no miracle cure, and some people have to try several different things before it helps, but stick with it, because it’ll be better for you in the long run. So talk to your doctor or parent, you’ll feel a lot better afterwards.