Let’s Talk…. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Welcome to my new little project on my blog for the “Let’s Talk” series. I’ve been so excited to actually do this and spread my knowledge and further the awareness on different mental health problems.

So for the first one it may come as no surprise that this topic is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It is the one I know so much about because unfortunately I am poisoned with it myself.

So what does Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) do to a person?
Anyone with OCD experiences horrific, brutal and on occasion very graphic intrusive thoughts which can be associated with danger or self doubt. These are known as ‘obsessions’. In order to banish these negative thoughts and reduce the intense anxiety that comes with them the person will carry out a ritual of some sort and that can be repeated several times over and over – these are the ‘compulsions’. The compulsions are only a temporary relief and the cycle will continue again.

Here are a few examples of obsessive thoughts that are associated with OCD;
* Horrific, graphic scenes of violence on a family member, friends, pets.
* Not throwing away things as fear of bad or with the idea of “I can use that for something”.
* Checking security, locks, plug sockets, hobs etc. – leaving an unsafe feeling and thoughts at all times.
* Feeling you have left something behind, wondering if you have got everything.
* Fear germs will contaminate them and others with the belief it will cause illness.
* Any minor medical problem – instant fear of death and the worst will happen.
* Knife in the kitchen has the fear they may harm others, or when driving, drive into others.
* Thoughts of praying, reaching out for God to help even if they are not religious.
* Unsettled feeling if things are not placed in a correct way so it needs to ‘feel right’.

Here are a few examples of compulsive behaviours associated with OCD;
* Flicking lights on and off, unlocking doors and unlocking or staring at the lock.
* Having to touch or tap things, in even or odd numbers.
* Excessively washing or throwing things that may be contaminated.
* Arranging things in a set way.
* Have to re-injure oneself.
* Constant asking for reassurance.
* Hoarding – even rubbish.
* Checking, checking and more checking.
* Compulsive buying.
* Avoiding objects, people, situations.
* Viciously shaking head to rid the thoughts.
* Playing with corners on paper, books, etc.
* Taking screenshots on phone/tablet of ‘specific’ things like the time.

An insight into one of my compulsions;
Many people can spend so much time on their rituals, a simple task can take hours and oh gosh if one goes wrong you’ve gotta do the whole damn thing again! I have made myself late for work several times because I will get dressed, then undress and then re-dress again. Literally every item of clothing has to touch the floor and not touch me in order for me to believe that it has been fully removed. When I say getting undressed as well I mean EVERYTHING. Underwear, socks – the lot! Now imagine doing this in a hurried way because you don’t want to be late. So you’re rushing flinging your clothes off you and on the floor but your foot accidentally touches the trousers you’ve just removed. Get those clothes back on you girl because you’ve just ruined your compulsions and if you don’t comply your thoughts are gonna get worse. 

The affect OCD has on the individual and their life;
Sadly there are still people out there who view OCD as a “quirk” and something that isn’t as serious as it actually is. This needs to stop. I don’t think a lot of people realise the impact OCD can have on the life of an individual. It can ruin relationships with friends, family and partners. It can affect school or work life in many ways even just the feeling of embarrassment. My English teacher once ridiculed me for switching a plug switch off, I had to do it because I feared that in our tower block an aeroplane would come crashing into it and we would all die. She made me feel so small and ridiculous that others began to laugh. As for work if I start at 9am I have to wake at 5am so that I can be fully prepared and allow time for compulsions. This can be mentally exhausting, not to mention emotionally draining. 

Is there anything that causes OCD?
There is believed to be a few possible causes of OCD.
It can be believed that some people are born with a chemical imbalance in their brain – serotonin and this can be responsible for the symptoms of OCD. The neurochemicals glutamate and dopamine are also likely to be present in OCD. This is why antidepressants are often used to help those with OCD and the SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) improve symptoms for many people. Early childhood trauma or bad events can also be a cause of OCD as the child may feel they need to do something in order to keep everyone safe. Or if a child witnesses compulsive behaviour within their parents they may also develop similar symptoms. The other possible causes could be negative thinking patterns in which a person may not be able to “shake off” negative thoughts and struggle to overcome the thoughts and impulses which makes them more susceptible to OCD.  An individual’s personality may also be a cause of OCD especially if they have high standards, perfectionists and extremely methodical. They would be more likely to develop OCD due to their nature. As may generally anxious people, or feel they have strong responsibilities for others and themselves.

Help and managing OCD;

  • Firstly I would say one of the main things you should do if you suspect you have OCD is to see your doctor as soon as possible. They will be able to give you an official diagnosis and see where you are at with OCD. They may also refer you to helpful resources such as therapies like CBT etc.
  • Support groups are also incredibly helpful! Whilst I have not attended a support group in person for OCD sufferers I have met spoken to many people online and have taken part in online discussions which I found very helpful! If you’re brave enough to attend a support group I deffo recommend going for it and seeing what you can get out of it to help yourself.
  • Self help books, stories etc are a handy way of self helping. When I was younger and didn’t really know much at all about why my thoughts and behaviours were so intense I read a book called Brain Lock which really gave me a lot of insight into OCD.
  • Keep a ritual/compulsion diary and record down your thoughts and feelings and I have found it helpful to record down dates and times of when I have combatted a compulsion and resisted the urge to give in. By looking back at these times it is encouraging to keep pushing yourself and going, it also allows you to build up evidence to show yourself when intrusive thoughts start to appear.
  • It is known that when some struggle they can turn to alcohol or other substances as a coping mechanism. It is advised not to because by doing so it only enhances the anxieties and could actually lead to dependency of the substance. So by avoiding these it is a helpful way of not creating another problem alongside the OCD. 

Medication and Treatments;
Medication is a form of treatment that can be used for OCD. One of the most common medication is Sertraline which is also helpful for anxiety and depression but it is also used for OCD. Sertraline can help calm intrusive thoughts. Other antidepressants can be used to not cure the OCD but lift a person’s mood so they feel more able to challenge the obsessive thoughts and resist the urge to do compulsive rituals.

A range of therapies can be used to help treat OCD. These can also go together with medication and the two combined can have great results. CBT is a commonly used talking therapy in which a therapist teaches techniques to change the individuals way of thinking to alter their behaviour.
Exposure and Responsive Prevention (ERP) therapy is used as an effective tool in the treatment of OCD. ERP comes in two sections the first section is the exposure in which a person faces up front ideas, thoughts, images, situations etc. that trigger their anxiety. As an example a person may fear something bad will happen (like a burglar appearing) if they don’t count the corners of the ceiling. The exposure would be to enter a room and not count the corners of the ceiling. The second section of ERP is response prevention. The individual deliberately exposes themselves to the situation and resist the urge to act upon it. So entering a room and not counting corners the next step would be to then leave the house or room to confront the thoughts, images etc. The more the person remains in the stressful situation and the more times they repeat this process the less their anxiety will be as it will slowly decrease as the individual will get used to dealing with what happens and the situation itself.
Another therapy is Emotional Freedom Technique (ERT) whilst a person is attempting to challenge their OCD it may be handy to replace their rituals with a therapy kind of ritual. EFT is also referred to as a tapping therapy and it is believed that tapping certain parts of the body creates a good balance in the person’s energy system. If a person feels they cannot resist a compulsion by tapping themselves instead (certain areas on the body are highlighted for this) then it encourages the person to feel great energy and fight against their OCD compulsions.

Support Sources

OCD Action

There are many sources of support but these are the ones in which I have used and found incredibly helpful throughout the years. If you feel you need to reach out and talk, then do so – please don’t be afraid. Together we can help one another and fight the stigma and the disorder.

Please note that all of this information I have written is based on my understanding, my research and learning and also my own life experiences. 

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