Saturday, September 27, 2008

A little intro

According to the National Institute of Mental Health,

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as handwashing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called "rituals," however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety.

This of course, is only the tip of the iceberg for those of dealing with it on a daily basis. Definitions are only a way for outsiders to put a practical, working face on what can be a debilitating condition. Sufferers know better. These "rituals" are, in reality, not just a function of making the thoughts go away. While this is a part of it, it's more a matter of, if they are not done, the anxiety and untetheredness to reality is increased to unbelievable levels. For some of us, there is a belief that if certain things are not done, and done in a particular way, harm will befall us or our friends and family. My particular neuroses do not have this addendum, which I am thankful for, but it doesn't make the struggle any less difficult.

What makes OCD such a horror is that most of the time, we know perfectly well that our actions and compulsions make little to no sense, but we simply do not have the capacity to stop them. My particular OCD seems to be cyclical and conditional. At home, I am usually okay, with the exception of various standard rituals and occasional fits of truly frantic action, but in public, I feel the things I know to be the least sensical creep in. For instance, I went to the bathroom the other day before class. I used the bathroom and washed my hands normally, but then I was confronted with the task of getting paper towels out of the dispenser. What if the previous person hadn't washed her hands thoroughly enough? So, I used my wrist (which usually fixes this situation), but then I felt my wrist had gotten the germs, so I had to wash my hands again, after which I simply shook them dry. But then I had to leave the bathroom, which meant touching the door handle. In order to get paper towels to open the door, I would have to touch the dispenser again and wash my hands again. AND this bathroom had two doors. Needless to say, it took me literally about 20 minutes AFTER using the bathroom to get out. I knew the whole time that it made no sense, and that I could simply use hand sanitizer, but that wasn't enough. The thought of touching these things left me stranded, both mentally and physically, and exhausted by the whole affair afterward. Medications do not work and self-checking my behavior usually only causes higher levels of anxiety.

Welcome to our world.


Anonymous said...

Oh my, thank you SO MUCH for putting words to this feeling! I don't have a high level of OCD... mostly it just makes me appear hyper-organized in public (while my private life is in complete disarray) and somewhat germaphobic but in ways that I manage to hide fairly well publicly. Where it becomes really hard for me is the other obsessiveness and not being able to "move on".

walter said...

Hi Dawn,

Had OCD since my mom died when I was 14. I ground to a halt, went to psychologist and spilled my guts to him, then he sent me to a psychiatrist and we went through a bunch of medicines till one finally helped. The medicine gets you up to a level, but then you have to face the fears....let go of your "helpers"(asking friends, spouse to help get you out of things). But I am happy( you know...almost like a normal person :))

I would like to hear you talk about OCD and about being gay too,...please.