Out of Control

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people have thoughts, feelings, sensations (obsessions) or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions).

A person may have both obsessions and compulsions. People with OCD need to have things immaculate. They may fear germs and contamination and wash their hands constantly.

However, OCD has many forms and variations. If there is anything that a person can possibly be concerned with, or anything that he or she can possibly obsess over -the person with OCD will find a way to worry about it.

Take, for example, Mary’s OCD, which revolves around death. She fears sharp objects and imagines herself lying on the floor with a knife or scissors in her chest. At night she is afraid to fall asleep because she worries that she will never wake up.

Then there’s Angelo who at age 7 had to rub his desk constantly. Later on his OCD took the form that, when it came to put his pen away , he would have to put it away a dozen times.

Meantime, Peter has a fear of germs and obeys certain rituals of touching and counting. His condition also takes the form of scrupulosity, a religious form of OCD. Something in his mind tells Peter he has cursed at god and that god will hurt him. Or, when he prays, he has to repeat the prayer many times in case god mishears him.

People with OCD are totally cognizant that their fears are irrational, but that is the torture of the disorder. Knowing that the fears aren’t rational doesn’t make them any less terrifying.

However, the more you give in to your compulsions, the more you avoid things. The more reassurance you look for, the more you check things and the worse it becomes. The compulsions and the rituals are what keeps OCD alive. The brain is erroneously signaling that there is something dangerous out there.

This disorder seems to be biologically based with severe psychological consequences. It can begin in childhood, adolescence or even early adulthood.

OCD is treated using antidepressants and therapy. Psychotherapy is used to provide effective ways of reducing anxiety. Behavior therapy may include exposure/response prevention where the patient is exposed many times to the situation that triggers anxiety symptoms, and learns to resist the urge to perform the compulsion. With treatment, people with OCD can manage to lead a normal life.