OCD – A MisundErstood Illness
Are you ticked off yet? Or as people very liberally put it these days, ‘OCD triggered’?
Except, OCD can be, and is, far more serious than people believe it to be.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is one of the most prevalent disorders. To put it in the simplest way possible, it’s a chronic disorder in which the victim has recurring thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), and/or an uncontrollable urge to repeat certain actions (compulsions). It is involuntary and a cause of great distress to the victim as they find it almost impossible to eliminate these thoughts. Such thoughts are often associated with blasphemy. The constant fear that to have such thoughts is sinful and they will be punished for the same, causes severe anxiety. They are in the illusion that the occurrence of such thoughts takes place on their will, which is why they deserve to be punished; they fail to reason that these are completely involuntary thoughts. Naturally, this is often closely associated with mild to excessive God-fearing due to the recurrence of unpleasant thoughts about God. The person then dwells on these thoughts in an effort to (sort of) ‘nullify’ them. Often to avoid punishment, victims resort to punishing themselves – hitting themselves, digging their nails into their own skin, pulling at their hair, thereby injuring themselves.
Everyone has bits and traces of OCD, but it can get particularly ugly when it is triggered to a severe extent by an unpleasant incident, or even genetically passed down.
The other aspect of OCD is an uncontrollable urge to do certain things repeatedly. These tasks or habits could be anything, from continuously checking the time or the presence of some belonging (such as phones and wallets) on the person to putting objects like books back into order. For someone without OCD, performing these tasks more than once can seem redundant, but for someone with these compulsions, not performing these tasks could lead to anxiety, nervousness, or even tics. This can, in turn, lead to a distraction from some other task the person may have been performing at the time because they feel out of control and uncomfortable in that out-of-control environment.
i. One element of compulsions is checking and rechecking. Victims are in constant doubt as to whether they have done a particular task. For example, constantly checking if one has closed the tap, or locked the door, or put an important notebook in the bag, and so on. People with these compulsions need to keep checking these objects for temporary relief from their discomfort.
ii. Victims often find it extremely important to do things with every bit of perfectionism they can gather. They have a certain ‘proper’ way of doing things and not doing it in that particular way causes tremendous distress. As a result, they get the urge to constantly repeat the action unless it is done perfectly. But, that certain level of ‘perfection’ never seems to be attained. Every time they try to do it perfectly, they manage to find flaws and keep doing the same thing repeatedly.
iii. Intrusive thoughts often manifest themselves in the form of certain actions that develop into compulsions. Victims find it especially difficult to deal with compulsions that arise from blasphemous thoughts. For example, a person without OCD will keep a book on a table and then move on to some other work; but a person with OCD will keep trying to place the book with utmost perfection so that they are not punished. This is just a small example. Imagine being stuck in a vicious loop of compulsions throughout the day, in the constant fear of being punished. A person stuck with blasphemous thoughts often tends to pray for an indefinitely long time. Sometimes they may be doubtful about whether they have prayed and may end up praying again and again.
iv. A lot of people with OCD can’t stand messy places. Often victims can be so particular about their surroundings being clean that they end up cleaning it themselves, be it a friend’s room or any other place. This can reach alarming levels, so much so that a person goes completely out of control. So the next time you casually say, “This place totally gave me OCD,” think twice.
v. OCD often makes its victims obsessed with hygiene. As a result, they may look around repeatedly to check that no dustbin touches them, and in the case of a dustbin nearby, they are in constant doubt as to whether the dustbin touched them. They may keep washing their hands again and again, and yet again because they are not sure if their hands are clean ‘enough’, or if they have washed their hands already. Some people are in doubt about whether they are washing their hands ‘while’ washing their hands (or any other action, for that matter – how disturbing is that?!)
Victims often end up bathing for hours at a stretch.
Other symptoms of OCD include paranoia, the illusion that something bad is going to happen, increase in sexual thoughts and general sex drive.
Dealing with OCD, or even helping someone deal with their OCD is difficult. OCD makes a person anxious and causes distractions.
Dealing with OCD:
– Dealing with obsessions is difficult. At this point, it is imperative to understand this one thing – The occurrence of such thoughts is not your fault. Let the thoughts flow in and out, do not care. Tell yourself that these are irrational and involuntary thoughts, and do not react or respond to these thoughts – eventually, you will hardly feel these thoughts nudging you! It will be very difficult, you may feel that you will be destroyed, but reassure yourself. God is always there to help, not destroy. God is your friend and confidante. It will take time but keep saying this to yourself; fabricate it in your mind.
– When you do a particular task, just check once to see if you have done it and no more. No matter how bad it is nagging you, do not. Another way is to defer the rechecking and get involved elsewhere. When you are later reminded of it, you will find that it has lost the importance it carried to you at that time. Better still, you may not get reminded at all!
– If you start getting stressed out because of any obsession or compulsion, take a minute or two to close your eyes, and breathe slowly. You may not be able to stop thinking about it, but it should help you to destress. One thing you can do to resist compulsions regarding your surroundings being organized is to create a ‘Monica shelf’, that one part of your room where you must convince yourself to let things be disorganised, just like Monica’s closet in ‘Friends’. Although it may take some time to adjust, creating that one spot of disorganisation will help you gain some control over your OCD.
– In general, exercise on a regular basis.
– Write down the thoughts and compulsions as they strike you.
Helping someone deal with OCD
Helping a victim cope with OCD is tricky business.
– When a victim has a certain compulsion, try to make him/her resist it but do not be too hard on them. If they are overly persistent, DO NOT stop them. Let them give in to it, but just once. Often, ‘once’ leads to ‘twice’, and ‘twice’ to umpteen, but if a person’s OCD is very severe, it is best to risk that ‘once’. Gradually, stop allowing them to do it
– If a person with OCD asks you for confirmation as to whether they have done a particular task, do not get irritated. Patience is your first tool for helping any OCD victim.
-Never ask a person with OCD to rush their work.
Always remember this. Hurry only compounds their compulsions.
– Don’t do something that could potentially stress out the other person.
– Try talking to them about it, and if they’re open enough, you could even try making a few jokes about it.
Medically, OCD results due to a decrease in serotonin levels in the brain. Naturally, medicines for OCD are serotonin boosters. Since it is a biological disorder, initial medication is mostly required to bring the serotonin level under control, before the doctor tapers off the dosage. Mostly, medication and psychotherapy need to go hand-in-hand. As for every other mental illness, the first step to recovery here too is acceptance. If you are under medication, do not discontinue your medication on a whim. Denial only makes things worse. If, at any point, you feel the need to seek help for such inexplicable out-of-control thoughts or actions, seek help. Also, OCD is very common and thus, most psychiatrists can easily help you out. Having to go to a psychiatrist is, in no way, a shameful thing. It is as normal as visiting a doctor for a fever – only, more serious.
To recover, you have to believe that you can. It is not going to be easy, but with support, care, and self-belief, you will definitely evolve into a more confident human being.
Everything being said, here is a little secret. All of these are first-hand accounts and personal experiences. The battle against OCD is not easy, but you can definitely do it – acute OCD patients here.
– Samar Dikshit and Priyanjali Roychoudhury, for MTTN