Nasty Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (known as OCD) is the ‘What If’ disorder and the most frightening of the anxiety disorders. Sufferers with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder have frightening, sometimes horrific, thoughts that they don’t really believe, but worry ‘COULD POSSIBLY’ come true.

OCD thoughts often attack the essence of the person’s being.

A very good Catholic mother is about to give birth. She worries that God might want to punish her as she has not been faithful with her prayers or her communion. She thinks she must go to church to prove her worth. But going and kneeling at the pew once or twice or three times a day is not enough. Even though she has doctors’ appointments and obligations, she finds herself in and out of church thirty-some times a day. Every time she kneels to pray, she must stroke the cross around her neck, kiss it five times and say ‘God, I am sorry. I will do better.’ If she thinks her attention has drifted while saying this, she must begin again. Even this is not enough. ‘God still may be angry at me,’she thinks. ‘Maybe my child will be born deformed.’

A devoted and responsible family man and businessman has to leave his sleeping wife and child every day at six a.m. in order to make it into the city for work. But before he leaves his home, he has to make sure the house will not catch on fire. If it did, he could lose his beloved wife and child. So, before he can leave home, he has to check the stove, oven, coffee maker and iron to make sure they are off. Once is not enough, nor is ten times. He has to stand before the appliances and say aloud “Off, off, off, off.” Fifteen checks seems to the magic number, but sometimes it is not enough. And this is only the first part of his ritual. Then he must check all the electrical wires to make sure they are not touching the beds or heaters. He goes into rooms, moves the wires, then moves them again and again. He is often late for work. 

A fifty-year-old dishwasher has obsessions that he may get AIDS or another disease from handling the dishes on which people have dined. The only way he can feel safe doing the dishes is to wear gloves. But one pair is not enough. He must wear four layers of gloves. Even with all these layers, he still has moments when he is convinced that he has been contaminated by a deadly disease. At these points, with his anxiety unbearable, he must rip off his gloves, race to the bathroom, and wash nine times. Sometimes nine doesn’t do it. From the sweat caused by the gloves, all the hot water, and his constant washing, his hands are raw.

Obsessions are anxiety-provoking thoughts. Intrusive, unwanted, uninvited, frightening, often terrifying, thoughts that go against everything the person believes. A devoutly religious person worries, ‘What if I stand up in church, strip off my clothes, and shout obscenities at the priest.’ A non-violent person thinks, ‘What if I blow up a subway?’ An automobile driver thinks, ‘What if I run over a person and don’t know it.’ A fifteen-year-old boy walks by a cute girl who he has never met and thinks, ‘What if I got her pregnant.’ A young girl eats a cupcake and thinks, ‘What if that cupcake was made with bad eggs? What if I die.’

Obsessions are relentless ‘What If’ beasts. Compulsions are ritualistic behaviors used by the sufferer to lessen anxiety. People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder do not chose to engage in these compulsions, rather, they are driven to do so. Stopping these behaviors is as difficult as resisting food when hungry or drink when thirsty.

Examples of common Obsessive Compulsive Disorder compulsions are: touching things in a certain order or a certain number of times, counting, repeatedly washing hands, repeatedly checking appliances, repeated thoughts of harming loved ones, repeated thoughts of engaging in offensive sexual acts, repeated blasphemous thoughts, hoarding, or an intense need for symmetry and order.

While the rituals are done in an attempt to lessen anxiety, people with OCD hate doing the rituals. They know their behaviors are weird, they know their behaviors don’t make sense, but they can’t stop themselves. There is always the ‘What If’ and the ante is so high. If the rituals are ignored, people with OCD believe something awful could happen. They could die. Their families could die. The world could blow up. People with OCD often spend hours, sometimes many hours a day, engaged in their obsessions and rituals. They are slaves to their disorder. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is referred to as a neuropsychiatric disorder. One prominent theory regarding the cause of OCD is that the circuitry of the brain as well as the body’s danger sensor are overactive. Translated this means that while all people get momentary weird thoughts, those without OCD register them, then flick them off like so much dust. Not so for our group. They get stuck in these thoughts like rabbits in tar, while their brains scream hysterically that they are in danger.

‘O.k.,’ you say. ‘Good information. But this disorder is awful and I want to get rid of it. What helps?’