Living With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

“It’s just your imagination rolling over the past, it can change your mind completely. It’s just my imagination running wild and too fast, but I know it won’t defeat me.” – Erasure

This popular 80’s song wasn’t intended as an anthem for individuals suffering with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but it could serve as one. It illustrates their everyday battle with their own minds.

Despite all that is known about this disorder, patients are still suffering for a variety of reasons. Find out why…

Imagine you are in class, and you just can’t get your notes to look right.

You keep writing and writing, trying to get them to look perfect, and it is driving you crazy. Your professor keeps talking at a brisk pace, and you can’t keep up.

Anxiously ripping imperfect pages out of your notebook, you keep looking behind you to make sure other students aren’t watching what you are doing.

You feel you are being ridiculous, but you can’t stop. You leave class discouraged with a backpack full of balled up paper, and an empty notebook.

For one student* with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), this was an everyday occurrence. “OCD was like a prison I lived in,” she said. With her obsessions and compulsions raging out of control, her grades plummeted, and she left college in 1989, her freshman year, defeated.

For the next 13 years, her life was dominated by her OCD in many different forms. “There wasn’t a time when my brain wasn’t obsessing about something,” she said.

Housebound and desperate, she tried everything including medication, hospitalization, and electric shock therapy. After seeing four psychiatrists and five psychologists, Dr. Jonathan Grayson finally helped her find a way out with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Through CBT, or Exposure Response Prevention (ERP), she was exposed to her anxiety-provoking obsessive thoughts, and instructed not to perform the compulsions that previously provided her with relief. “His treatment is simple,” she said, “whatever you’re afraid of, you do it.”

Through this type of therapy, she explained that patients learn to “live with the uncertainty of things,” with hands that are possibly unclean, and imperfectly written notes. After 10 months with Grayson, she regained control of her life, and is back in school at the age of 30. “He’s a life saver,” she said.

Although cognitive behavior treatment has been available for the last 20 years, and research has proven it a most effective treatment for OCD, Grayson said some obsessive-compulsives are still suffering unnecessarily for a number of reasons.

Director of The Anxiety and Agoraphobia Treatment Center in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., and leader of the oldest OCD group in the country, Grayon said misdiagnosis, inadequate care, and financial difficulties imposed by insurance companies unwilling to cover treatment, are some of the obstacles obsessive-compulsives may encounter on their road to recovery.

While stereotypical manifestations of the disorder, like compulsive hand washing, are easily diagnosed, he explained that obscure OCD symptoms can be difficult to identify, and even elude therapists.

Some therapists who properly diagnose the disorder will erroneously prescribe medication without providing additional therapy, he explained, based on a belief that OCD has a “biological” basis. Read more…

Reprinted with permission from Voices of Central Pennsylvania.