Those who are fans of the television show Monk know that the main character, Monk, has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. He is portrayed as an excellent consultant for the police because of his obsessive attention to details. There are many misconceptions about the disorder, and it would be a disservice to those afflicted with it if information was not clarified.
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
OCD is an anxiety disorder that occurs when the brain cannot let go of a particular thought or urge. Although they haven’t discovered a root cause, research has revealed that miscommunication between the orbital cortex, or front part of the brain, and the basal ganglia, which is located further back, could contribute to it. Another hypothesis is an insufficient level of Serotonin, or the chemical messenger that travels from one brain structure to the other. My boyfriend, who has OCD, describes it as one thought bouncing off other thoughts rather than going directly to their destination. You could also say that it’s like a car without a full tank of gas, unable to go from Point A to Point B and getting locked up in that fact. A PET scan, an acronym for Positron Emission Tomography is an imaging tool that enables a physician to examine the patient’s body. Think of it as being similiar to an MRI. Like an MRI, a PET scan is primarily used to detect growths and the beginning stages of disease while it’s still curable or at least manageable. With OCD, a PET scan is the only way a proper diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be made.
Obsessions and compulsions are two different things, but they share a relationship. It begins with an obsession; an individual may feel they are contaminated with germs and obsess over that thought. Their obsession is accompanied by fear, disgust and doubt. The obsessed thoughts occur over and over again and are not under the person’s control. Everyone is different. My boyfriend has a fear of germs, and he makes sure to cover his hand with his shirt or other cloth before touching a door knob. Before starting medication, he used to tap the television ten times whenever he passed the living room, because he was afraid he was going to die if he didn’t perform this ritual. This brings us to the compulsions. They are particular acts done as a way to get rid of the obsession, to keep the uncomfortable thoughts at bay. If a person is obsessed with the idea that they’re contaminated, they’ll wash their hands until they’re raw. In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is haunted by her part in the murder of Scottish nobility and rubs her skin raw in order to rid herself of the blood she imagines is still on her hands. Perhaps she had OCD before it was even heard of (the play took place in the 16th century.)
The Obsessive Compulsive Foundation’s website serves a twofold purpose. Information is readily accessible in the form of a newsletter and articles that deal with different aspects of the disorder such as medication, controlling one’s environment to alleviate symptoms and helping loved ones cope, just to name three. The foundation has also chosen a spokesperson who looks like she could appear on America’s Next Top Model. This was done to show that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can happen to anyone, even the very beautiful. My boyfriend told me that her form of OCD is much more severe than his, even if she is on medication. He’s also managed to find the negative and the positive in his condition, something that I think takes a great deal of self-reflection. As OCF states “Most individuals with OCD recognize that their obsessions are coming from their own minds and are not just excessive worries about real problems. They realize that the compulsions they perform are excessive or unreasonable. “
Accepting what he has and how it affects his life on an everyday basis, he makes beneficial choices. His job as a Radiology Coordinator allows him to peruse hundreds of medical records and perform his given tasks with the utmost concentration. Last year his boss noticed how well he performed his job with his attention to detail and promoted him as a supervisor in his department. He now checks other employee’s work and makes changes accordingly. He’s also a master of creating lists, and takes advantage of his computer’s Notepad to write extensive lists on anything you can imagine. You could say he’s obsessed with order in his life, but I don’t think that’s the worst kind of obsession.
On the other hand, he is prone to disturbing images in his mind. He can see people and envision them in the act of intercourse, indiscriminate of age, race or gender. As you can imagine, this can be quite unpleasant. The image only lasts briefly, but in his company I can see that he’s distressed. Being around him I’ve noticed that little things that I do could be classified as compulsions. I’ve inherited from my father the painful and embarrassing habit of picking at the skin on my fingers. It’s something I do to ease my nerves when I’m in a tense situation, such as an exam or a student’s confrontation. My boyfriend initially thought it was a form of OCD, but upon further research it’s a condition that’s called neurotic excoriation and is only related to OCD. There are many similiar habits such as hair pulling and nail biting and these, too, are only related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Unless connected with severe forms of depression, OCD is not life-threatening and is usually controlled through medication and therapy. It’s also helpful if the patient surrounds himself or herself with understanding and supportive friends and family. There are also a range of support groups available through OCF’s site that offer communication resources.