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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

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"I know my hands are clean. I know that I have touched nothing dangerous. But... I doubt my perception. Soon, if I do not wash, a mind numbing, searing anxiety will cripple me. A feeling of stickiness will begin to spread from the point of contamination and I will be lost in a place I do not want to go. So I wash until the feeling is gone, until the anxiety subsides. Then I feel defeated. So I do less and less, my world becomes smaller and smaller and lonelier by the day" (Healthy Place: OCD Community). The writer of this poem has a disease call Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

In OCD, it is as though the brain is stuck on a particular thought or urge and just cannot let go. OCD can continue throughout a person's life, gradually worsening. If not treated, OCD can drastically affect all aspects of a person's life: work, school, friends, and family (Weiskopf). Worries, doubts, and superstitious beliefs all are common in everyday life. However, when they become so excessive as to interrupt one's daily life, then the diagnosis is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Many are not aware of what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is, but surprisingly it affects 2% of the population, more than those with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (Plexus Staff). OCD is an anxiety disorder that shows itself through obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, overwhelming, recurrent, and unpleasant thoughts. Dr. John R. Smith says, "The obsessions are recurrent thoughts, which an OCD sufferer experiences as being outside their control, although they know those thoughts are coming from their own mind." (McShane 14).

A person with OCD might constantly repeat a thought in their head, which can be triggered by an external or internal object. Some common obsessions include repeated impulses to kill a loved family member, incessant worries about dirt or contamination, and recurrent thoughts about something that has not been done properly. A person with these constant thoughts understands that they are senseless, but ignoring them is very difficult. For example, a person with an obsession about contamination might have a thought like "Don't touch that door knob, it might spread a disease," or "My hands may be contaminated--I must wash them." These types of persistent thoughts might enter a person's mind suddenly or very gradually. The obsessions get into the consciousness of the person, disrupting their normal thinking and behavior (Silvia 2). These intrusions are only be banished by the performance of compulsive rituals. Compulsions are repeated, purposeless, and elaborately time-consuming behaviors that usually are performed in response to an obsession. The behaviors are an attempt to neutralize or prevent a dreadful event from happening. Some common compulsions include excessive hand washing, showering, checking, counting, and hoarding. Compulsions can be thoughts or physical behaviors that may or may not be set to some self-imposed rules. The person realizes that their compulsions are senseless and irrational, but do not stop because they are worried about the consequences that may follow (Penzel 5). If ignored, compulsions can cause serious panic attacks. The sad thing about it is that doing the rituals do not help; they only make things worse (Cronin).

Many disorders can be labeled as an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Among these is Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). BDD is where a person has obsessive thoughts about his or her body, looking for abnormalities. They then spend hours examining the "defective" body part and may never leave home because of their embarrassment. Another OCD disorder is Trichotillomania (TTM). A person with TTM compulsively pulls out hairs from their head, arms, legs, eyebrows, and pubic area. TTM sufferers spend hours searching until the "perfect hair" has been found (Penzel 32). They often feel driven to pull out their hairs because they think that their hairs are imperfect. Tourette's syndrome is another OCD disorder where the patients subjected to uncontrollable motor activities. The person may blink, twitch, jerk their head, or repeat obscene words or noises uncontrollably. Some others include Kleptomania, Anorexia, and Binge Eating (Penzel 5-13). The list of OCD disorders goes on and on, but the one thing that they all have in common are unwanted obsessions and/or compulsions.

As of now, there is no firm theory that explains the exact cause of OCD. However, there is some evidence that OCD has a genetic basis because in many cases OCD has been found in children. Actually, 1/3 of all OCD cases began in childhood ("Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Part I).By scanning the brain; researchers have found abnormalities in the frontal lobe of an OCD sufferer's brain. Research suggests that OCD involves problems in communication between the frontal lobe of the brain and the deeper structures. These structures use a chemical messenger known as Serotonin to communicate. It has believed that insufficient levels of Serotonin are involved in OCD (Penzel 311). The good news is that most Obsessive-Compulsive sufferers can be successfully treated. Two forms of treatment can be combined to give the best results.

For some patients, medication works well in helping calm and control obsessions. The most effective drug to help treat OCD is Anafranil. Other drugs include Fluoxetine (Prozac), Fluvoxamine (Luvax), Sertraine (Zoloft), or Paroxetine (Paxil) ("Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Part II"). The second treatment is known as Behavioral Therapy. Behavioral therapy concentrates on the problematic behavior. The patient is exposed to whatever triggers their compulsive behavior. For example, a person who has obsessions about being contaminated and compulsions that include constant hand washing may be asked to remain in contact with a dirty object. Then, the patient is prevented from giving into their compulsions, or washing their hands as expressed in the example. Through repetition of this process, the patient learns that ignoring the compulsions will not result in a negative,



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