“Before I leave my room in the mornings, I need to turn the light switch on and off 19 times or I feel like my day will be catastrophic. After this, I spend about 3 hours cleaning my 2 bedroom apartment. Then I spend about 2 hours doing a ritual of body washing and sometimes it takes longer because I feel I haven’t done it properly and would need to start all over again. I barely go out of the house because I’m worried I will be gone too long and germs will be breeding in my house. At the end of each day, I clean my house one more time before I am able to go to bed peacefully”.
Even when defining it medically, we say that compulsions are senseless, repeated rituals while obsessions are stereotyped, purposeless words, ideas or phrases that come to the mind. They are perceived by the patient as non- sensible and mostly originating from within themselves (unlike in hallucinations). The aim of a compulsion is to try and deal with the distress caused by the obsessive thoughts and relieve the anxiety you are feeling.
However, repeating these compulsions are often distressing. Any form of relief you feel is often short-lived. Most times, an OCD patient may resist the thoughts, however, after a while of contemplating, he/she may give up resisting them. Some forms of OCD are more common than others, for example, that of cleaning. Victims have the urge to take germs off every surface and thus have repeated rituals of cleaning and arranging.
Another is in the habit of locking doors. (Considering the level of security in our country, I think it’s safe to say every Nigerian is allowed a certain degree of this compulsion). In this habit, the people suffering from this tend to return repeatedly to check if they have locked their doors be it house, car, office doors. So, after taking a few steps, they return to check back if the door is locked; but they can do this up to 10o or more times at each point.
What are the common signs of OCD?
Although everyone will have their own experiences, there are several common obsessions and compulsions that occur as part of OCD.
The three most common themes are: unwanted thoughts about harm or aggression, unwanted sexual thoughts and unwanted blasphemous thoughts.
Common compulsions include physical compulsions, e.g. washing or checking, or mental compulsions, e.g. repeating a specific word or phrase.
Psychological symptoms of OCD
- Inadaptable when faced with a new situation
- Rigid views, inflexible problem-solving approach
- Focus on trivial details
- Guilt; preoccupied with wrongdoing, stifling enjoyment
- Anxiety and tension from attempts to resist compulsion
- Sensitivity to criticism
- Often show little outward emotion, but hide anger and resentment
- Ruminations, e.g. internal debates or arguments, simple actions are endlessly reviewed
Behavioral symptoms of OCD
- Compulsions: persistent, ritualistic behaviors such as ordering, checking, washing hands
- Structured pattern for tasks; arranging things in a set order
- May excessively use alcohol, or sedative, hypnotic or anti-anxiety medications.
What to do?
This can be treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (we basically just try to modify the person’s behavior and by counseling them, help them realize that the compulsions and obsession are meaningless). Some drugs too (such as some antidepressants) can be used to treat the condition.
While everyone may have some experience of repetitive thoughts or behavior, OCD obsessions or compulsions cause distress, and are time consuming (over 1 hour every day). They interfere with the individual’s normal routine, work, social activities and relationships.
Many individuals avoid objects or situations that provoke obsessions or compulsions, especially situations involving the content of obsessions, e.g. dirt, contamination. Performing compulsions may become a major life activity, leading to serious marital, occupational or social disability, e.g. they may lead to social isolation or, in severe cases, lead to the individual being housebound.
We hope you now have a better insight on what OCD is really about, and that we’ve been able to help in some way. If you have more questions, feel free to inquire from us at firstname.lastname@example.org.