Obsessive-compulsive disorder (a.k.a. OCD) causes anyone affected by it to fixate on specific thoughts and fears that are then transferred to compulsive behaviors which the person will feel an urgency to carry out. The person can attempt to change their thought processes and placate their compulsions, but in the end, the disorder will consume the person’s imagination to such an extent that they give in to the temptation and continuously repeat the same behaviors over and over again. This mindset has a significant negative impact on the person’s ability to carry out everyday tasks efficiently and the result is heavy stress in the person’s life. The disorder is a grey area because a person affected by OCD can have obsessive thoughts or compulsive thoughts, or a combination of both. It can become problematic because the person may not be aware that their behaviors are irrational or obsessive. However, there are known treatments which minimize the symptoms of OCD.
The general premise of OCD is that the disorder elicits thoughts through the person’s mind that are recurring and unsettling, as well as visualizations that are uncomfortable and result in anxiety. The person may develop a patterned behavior which hurts their daily lives. The obsessive thoughts usually revolve around a specific theme, such as a fear of being untidy, a necessity for having things done properly, thoughts of self-harm or injuring others and uncomfortable thoughts on inappropriate subjects that can be sexual in nature. The compulsive behaviors usually revolve around a specific theme as well, such as having things done in a particular order every time, counting, cleaning, washing and wanting reassurance. The behaviors can manifest themselves in a plethora of ways, such as checking the door repeatedly to ensure it is locked, counting things over and over again, repetitively washing one’s hands to a unhealthy extent, etc.
OCD commonly starts in the teenage or young adult years. The symptoms may get worse throughout the person’s life, while also varying in severity. It is a lifelong disorder and the symptoms can range from a middle-grounded phase to more extreme, and in some instances, it can leave the person in a mentally crippling position. There are repercussions resulting from OCD that the person has to deal with in everyday life such as physical and mental health issues, not being able to hold a job or maintain a social life, an unhealthy life, etc. There is no known way to prevent or cure OCD, but there are a myriad of options to treat the symptoms, such as psychotherapy and certain medications. A commonly used type of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), with a variation of exposure and response therapy (ERP), which entails the patient being challenged by the obsessive and compulsive thoughts and behaviors by being exposed to them and figuring out techniques to reduce the stress being caused. This type of therapy takes some time and effort to get used to, but it is effective and makes the symptoms easier to manage.
The medications known to help reduce OCD symptoms are assorted antidepressants that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has accredited as appropriate for the disorder. Most of these medications are for both adults and children, although one of them is only designed for adults. According to the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), there are methods a loved one can use to support a person with the disorder, such as an awareness of symptom signals, being patient with change and optimistic in frustrating times, noting progress in symptom reduction, establishing boundaries within the compulsive behaviors while being sensitive to emotions and being very clear and cogent in explaining how to improve the symptoms. Overall, OCD can be a very challenging disorder to cope with, even with a strong support system and the known treatment options. However, if the person possesses enough resilience, with enough practice and familial support the symptoms are manageable. For those who are coping with OCD, good luck, stay strong and have faith in yourselves.
Michael Westwood is a 25 year old college graduate from Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Independent of being a contributor to Step Up, he is looking to pursue a career in professional writing of some type. His hobbies include watching professional wrestling (e.g. WWE and other promotions) and watching select TV sitcoms from today's television (e.g. Big Bang Theory, The Goldbergs) and classic programs as well (e.g. Seinfeld, Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond). He also has an ongoing online forum designed to inform people about the autism spectrum called "Ask Mike," which is part of an autism awareness group called All 4 Autism, which is based in Florence, South Carolina.