OCD is characterized by intrusive, troubling thoughts (obsessions), and repetitive, ritualistic behaviors (compulsions) which are time-consuming, significantly impair functioning and/or cause distress. The average onset of OCD is 19 years old and occurs slightly more often in females than in males. It affects 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children.
When an obsession occurs, it almost always corresponds with a significant increase in anxiety and distress. Subsequent compulsions serve to reduce this associated anxiety/distress.
Common obsessions include:
- contamination fears
- worries about harm to self or others
- need for symmetry, exactness and order
- religious/moralistic concerns
- forbidden thoughts (can be sexual or aggressive)
- a need to seek reassurance or confess
Common compulsions include:
- routinized behaviors
- seeking reassurance
- tapping or rubbing
Many people with OCD recognize that it isn’t rational but continue to need to act on their obsessions with their corresponding compulsions and may spend lengthy amounts of time, like several hours daily, performing senseless rituals. OCD can be chronic and interfere with a person’s schoolwork, job, family, or social activities. Proper treatment with medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy can help sufferers regain control over the illness and feel relief from the symptoms.
My onset was also at 19 years old despite occasional cutting (of my thighs) as a younger teenager. The bulk of my OCD began when with dealing with an alcoholic spouse. I’d start worrying about a fire in the apartment and what the police or firefighters would walk into, so I repetitively cleaned, straightened, and reorganized many times so they wouldn’t think low of me. At 21 years old, when my daughter was born, I worried something bad would happen to her; so I began touching a set of feng-shui coins tied in a red ribbon that I’d nailed to the entry door trim. Then I established the handwashing routine where I’d scrub roughly for eighteen minutes. After that the tapping the table eight times began.
When I returned to college at age twenty-six, I’d avoid certain hallways and walk unnecessarily around campus as opposed to direct paths. When I had to take the quick routes for social reasons, I’d ask for reassurance that nothing bad would occur. Two years later, after I filed for divorce, I sought help so others wouldn’t see my compulsions. The psychiatrist prescribed SSRIs which eased a good deal of the more embarrassing situations.
Now, I take Zoloft (serotonin) and Wellbutrin (dopamine) for the chemical imbalances in my brain. Those are an immense help. Now the social disturbances are almost non-existent unless an event occurs that stresses me beyond normal levels, such as my daughter receiving radiation therapy or immunotherapy. The only thing that I compulsively perform is touching the coins when I leave or enter. The reasoning behind that is that nothing will happen to my loved ones. I realize it’s irrational, but I can’t quite handle that obsession and compulsion yet.
My point is that help is available. You may not be cured, but a combination of medications and cognitive-behavioral therapy may treat it to the point of others not observing your behaviors, especially in confined spaces like classes, meetings, or elevators.
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