October 14-20, 2013 marks International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Week.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce anxiety (obsessions), repetitive behaviors that are engaged in to reduce anxiety (compulsions), or a combination of both. While many are concerned about germs or leaving their stove on, people with OCD are unable to control their anxiety-producing thoughts and their need to engage in ritualized behaviors. As a result, OCD can have a tremendous negative impact on people’s day-to-day functioning.”
The NIMH states that 1% of the American adult population has OCD and half of them have a severe form of the illness. Obsessive compulsive disorder co-occurs with bipolar disorder in ten percent of the cases.
So enough facts, let’s get personal. I think my OCD became a problem when I was 27 (the average age of onset is 19). I may have shown signs of it before then, small things like color-coding the clothes in my closet or how I always brought my own towel for overnight stays. Like I said, just little things that seemed perhaps a little quirky at the time. But at 27 I became obsessed with cutting my wrist. The thought would get in my head and it would scream at me to do something and it got to the point that I would do anything to make it stop – so I cut. And when I cut everything got quiet and still and those intrusive thoughts would leave me alone for a while. Until the next time the thought popped into my head and got stuck there.
It was also in 2008 that I became obsessively concerned with germs. They were everywhere – door handles, restaurant menus, shopping carts, unfamiliar chairs, other people’s hair, toilets, towels. They permeated my life. I literally could not touch certain things, like menus. They would have to be opened for me by whoever I was with at the time. I also began a ritual with drinking glasses. I would sniff the glass, rinse it out while counting to three, then I could use it. I did this every time I was in a home, mine or someone else’s. I hated shaking hands with people and should have bought stock in hand sanitizer and lysol.
It was around this time I started counting. I would count from 1-10 at lightning speed under my breath over and over and over again until I could calm down. Panic attacks usually involved counting.
I am also a hand washer. Like the NIMH explains, OCD has to do with anxiety so for me, to relieve some of that anxiety, I would wash my hands 25-30 times – always a multiple of 5.
Perhaps my biggest obsession, the one that still dictates my days, is with numbers. It started out with multiples of 2. Odd numbers were unlucky, especially 7 and 13. So the volume on the television had to be a multiple of two as did the car stereo. You get the picture. Then, without rhyme or reason, I became obsessed with multiples of 5. I cannot get out of bed unless my clock tells me the minutes of the hour are a multiple of 5, such as 8:30 or 8:35. All volumes must be multiples of five.
So what if it isn’t a multiple of five or I touch a soiled dishcloth? So what? Well, then I believe I will be in a car accident. To me, it is quite simple and the thing is, as smart as I am, and though I rationally know there is no correlation between getting out of bed at 8:37 (Heaven forbid!) and getting into a car accident, I BELIEVE it to be true.
My life is dictated by order. The order in which I put in my earrings. The order in which I put on my shoes and socks. The order of the items in the pantry. The order of my color-coded closet. These things MUST be done right or I WILL be in a car accident.
But OCD is treatable! Yay! With therapy and medication, such as Prozac, I live a less OCD-dictated life. I still struggle with some things, but I am miles from where I used to be and continue to work on pushing past my obsessions and compulsions in therapy and in my everyday life.
If you’d like to know more about OCD check out the International OCD Foundation on the web for news, resources, and personal stories.