Obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD), is an extensive disorder with several behavioral and mental rituals, with symptoms such as compulsive hand-washing, constant cleaning, repeated checking, or a need for symmetry.
While these actions might be the most pronounced signs of OCD, it is important to understand that not all cases of the disorder are the same.
Compulsions are only one aspect of this disorder, and it is the obsessional component that tends to be ignored.
In some cases, people experience these obsessions without engaging in the behavioral compulsions that are often considered a hallmark of OCD.
This presentation of the disorder is sometimes referred to as pure O, also known as purely obsessional OCD without compulsion.
Since individuals with Pure O are often unaware they are being plagued by OCD and much of what they experience happens inside the mind, they often suffer in silence.
Pure O is commonly misunderstood by others and, at times, misdiagnosed and mistreated by mental health professionals.
As a result, an individual often concludes that he or she is internally flawed, evil, or psychotic, and the terror and isolation often experienced with Pure O is complicated.
The human brain naturally generates nonsensical and often bizarre thoughts, even for those without OCD.
OCD is genetic and learned. The structures that are impaired in the OCD brain create sensitivity to uncertainty and a decline in one’s ability to feel complete (Grayson, 2003).
This leads to more value placed on incoming thoughts and relentless over responding in the form of compulsions.
Pure O is marked by reoccurring, intrusive, and uncontrollable thoughts (or obsessions) that are usually not accompanied by outward signs called compulsions.
But an individual experiencing pure O may not engage in obvious physical behaviors related to their intrusive thoughts, such as counting, arranging, or hand-washing.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder OCD itself involves having reoccurring and uncontrollable thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions).
Everyone gets intrusive thoughts, but having them does not mean you have OCD.
For people who do have OCD, these thoughts can be debilitating, causing extreme anxiety and discomfort.
OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER CYCLE
SOME EVERYDAY SYMPTOMS:
- Your roommates are always touching everything: the refrigerator handle, the faucet, the bathroom light switch. You can’t touch any of those things without putting your sleeve over your hand in the case of “Contamination OCD”.
- Pulling out a kitchen knife and immediately thinking about how it could be used to harm your partner.
- You think your partner has bushy eyebrows. You pinpoint this “flaw” and think that you couldn’t possibly be with someone like this for the rest of your life. You start thinking that it’s time to find someone who has better-looking eyebrows.
My OCD Experience by “Emmy”
Unfortunately, my ‘mental’ vacation was short-lived. The following seven years were filled with OCD-like thoughts and many episodes of anxiety.
During Winter and Spring of 2005, I saw a therapist who was unable to properly diagnose my condition and teach me the required skills to control my anxiety. I continued to suffer unwanted, intrusive and tortured thoughts on a regular basis. I will share with you a few of these anxiety driven thoughts and actions:
- After watching the movie Match Point during a flight to Switzerland, I spent the first three days of my trip questioning in which circumstances, if any, I would want and/or need to kill someone. I imagined an extremely violent scenario in which self-defense could lead to the death of my aggressor. In my mind, the only possible conclusion was that it was only a question of time before I would turn into a murderer.
- I once dreamt that I was in a relationship with one of my closest girl friends. I did not eat and barely slept for two days because I interpreted my dream as a signal that I had changed sexual orientation and I did not know how to handle the change.
- During the second half of my first pregnancy, I experienced false contractions that made me worry that the baby would be born prematurely
- During the labor of my first child, I thought, “This is too painful. It’s not worth it. I’ll give her away if the doctors stop the pain now”.
- Immediately I told my sister and husband that I would have a C-section for my next child.
I needed to quickly find an alternative to being ‘forced’ to give my baby away because the thought was too unbearable.
- But I had once thrown away three pairs of perfectly fine shoes after I took the kids to a local petting farm. I did this for fear of contamination from goat faeces. My usual ritual of changing outfits in the parking lot and sanitizing our hands was no longer sufficient to make me feel safety I needed.
The above-mentioned examples were very distressing, however, every time my anxiety ran out of gas, I would resume my ‘normal’ life without having to seek proper treatment.
ERP is when you voluntarily expose yourself to the source of your fear over and over and over again, without acting out any compulsion to neutralize or stop the fear. By repeatedly facing something you’re afraid of, you force your brain to recognize how irrational it is. ERP Therapy varies greatly depending on the nature of a person’s Pure OCD.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, teaches people to identify, understand and change negative thinking patterns and behaviors.
Patients are taught problem-solving skills during therapy lessons and then instructed to practice them on their own time in order to build positive habits.
CAN MEDICATION HELP?
Medication can help alongside ERP, but it shouldn’t replace it. Doctors should always be consulted before considering medicinal options.
The family of drugs used to treat OCD are known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs. SSRIs enhance your natural serotonin activity and are used to treat major depressive disorders and anxiety.
If you suffer from OCD, you have a severe anxiety disorder. But it can be treated. Start by getting educated and making healthy living choices. Then find a clinical psychologist in your area who specializes in OCD and Exposure Response Prevention (ERP).