OCD Unveiled

Brain diseases still carry an air of stigma with them. This hampers treatment because people would rather suffer in silence than come out and seek help.
It is unfortunate that OCD (Obsessive-compulsive Disorder) starts during teenage years, when people are very sensitive about societal perceptions. If not attended to, the brain circuitry that is dysfunctional becomes structural and then resistance to treatment is unavoidable.

In simple terms, OCD involves intrusive thoughts that are bothersome and elicit a feeling of significant discomfort. To relieve this discomfort, the patient may employ rituals or compulsions. These obsessions and the resultant compulsive actions are usually time consuming and harmful to one’s health. They also interfere with social and occupational functioning.

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OCD is a label people loosely throw around to describe a neat and organized person. Cleaning up and getting organized is time consuming too but it does not interfere with health or social functioning. Let me introduce you to OCD’s cohort so that you can know the type of guy he is. This list is also an eye opener because some people are sick and suffering and they don’t even know it. Knowing that you are sick is an important step on the way to recovery. Without further ado, we have:

•Generalized anxiety disorder, characterized by excessive worries. Upto 90% of OCD cases have anxiety as an additional diagnosis.

•Body dysmorphic disorder, characterized by preoccupation with appearance.

•Hoarding disorder, in which there is difficulty discarding or parting with possessions.

•Trichotillomania, a hair-pulling disorder.

•Excoriation, a skin-picking disorder.

•Stereotypic movement disorder.

•Eating disorders, where there is a ritualized eating behavior.

•Substance-related and addictive disorders where there is preoccupation with substances or gambling.

•Illness anxiety disorder, a preoccupation with having an illness.

•Paraphilic disorders, with abnormal sexual urges or fantasies.

•Disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders
where there are impulses.

•Major depressive disorder, characterized by guilty ruminations.

•Schizophrenia, spectrum and other psychotic disorders in which there are thought insertions or delusional preoccupations.

•Autism spectrum disorder where there’s repetitive behavior patterns.

Yep. That’s his crew. And lying. Lying should be on this list as well.

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Modern scientific imaging has shown that brain areas that are affected in OCD do not solidly correspond to brain areas responsible for anxiety and fear as emotions. OCD isn’t the brain going a bit overboard on common emotions. This is a disease, just as much as hoarding or hair-pulling is.

The most common obsessions include fears of contamination, fears of aggression/harm, sexual fears, religious fears, and need to make things “just right.” The compensatory compulsions for these obsessions include washing and cleaning, checking, reassurance-seeking, repeating & ordering, and arranging.

As you can imagine, these intrusive thoughts and the accompanying impulsions hinder social growth and development. Their occurrence in teenage years when people are highly socially conscious can lead to self isolation. People are still growing in a mental and social sense well into their late twenties so missing a stage of development cannot be a good thing.

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Upto 50% of OCD occurs in children and adolescents. It also occurs more in ladies who have had a child than those who have not. Statistics usually make for an interesting reading just by themselves, but there’s always room for interpretation. As a parent, knowing the risk group can help you identify a child who is exhibiting symptoms, because that age group is blessed with shyness and embarrassment. Given the age group, it would be a step in the right direction if teachers were trained to recognize the symptoms and effects of OCD, such as chapped hands from compensatory over-washing, or being underweight from food restrictions driven by contamination fears.

As for ladies who already have or are considering having a child, it can help you to understand when your behavior changes. Alongside post partum depression, childbearing and the aftermath is not easy to take in. This is especially so when conditions surrounding childbirth are less than ideal, such as abandonment by a spouse or poverty. Prevention in delayed gratification is better than cure but if things don’t work out and it takes its toll on you, you are not weak or overreacting (the two most common shovels used to bury people in mental illness graves). It can be a relief to know that what you are feeling has has been felt by other people, a disease is not your fault and that you need not suffer in guilt and confusion… There is treatment.

The course of OCD increases and decreases in intensity, so don’t expect someone to be obsessive-compulsive nonstop. Don’t shout Eureka when the disease is just taking a short break. It waxes and wanes. That’s just how OCD does. The disease can be hereditary as well, occuring in families and descendants. Know the person you want to marry better? There’s also a disturbing link between OCD and suicidal ideation. We are not aiming at ending on a low note, but that has to be said. Early treatment is vital.

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The high note that we would like to end with is that treatment exists. The aim of treatment is to reduce the intrusive thoughts and compulsions. If time spent entertaining OCD can be reduced then someone is on the path to recovery. There’s medication and behavioral therapy such as CBT and MBCT. Deep stuff. I love reading the full names and what the treatments entail. Maybe you don’t so I won’t make your day worse by explaining all about them. We will let the doctors keep their secrets for today.

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