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OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

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It is well documented in my family that I have slight OCD. I argue that I don’t of course and that I am just very true to my star sign, Virgo because I like organisation and perfection.
Lining the towels up on the bathroom rails, with everything colour coordinated just seems natural to me. And look out for anyone who ruffles them up. A friend of mine used to tweak my pictures on the wall when she visited. I didn’t straighten them up until after she left, but I think a true OCD wouldn’t be able to look at them crooked for a couple of hours while we dissected the world’s problems over coffees. Once a friend came visiting when I wasn’t home, so he jokingly moved all the coffee cups around in the pantry. (My cups all had the handles facing the same way). At 3 o’clock, my son came home from school, saw the cups all messed up, and straightened them.

I don’t think my children inherited my penchant for organisation, but I certainly taught it to them. “If you use something, put it back where you got it from” was a common saying in our house.
Crinkles in the doona cover – not good enough! The kids had to remake their beds.

And ‘oh lordy’ if you opened the linen cupboard, you would see all the towels and sheets folded exactly the same and stacked in order of colour. In my wardrobe, all the coat hangers were the same colour. Even the clothesline pegs were all the same colour.

This was not an inherited trait from my mother as she was an exceedingly messy housekeeper and it was very difficult for me to grow up in a household like that. Thank goodness I had my very own meticulous bedroom to escape to.

When my baby brother was born, I was 6 years old, and my grandmother came to stay. I remember her saying to mum – “there is something wrong with that child. She wouldn’t let me put her clothes in the drawers. She had to do it because everything had a particular place”. No doubt that I was born like that. OCD can affect anyone of any age and usually starts in childhood. 60 years on, am I still like that? Oh yes!!!

But to a lesser degree. Today you will occasionally find dust on the skirting boards, but the bathroom towels still look like a display home. That’s probably because symptoms can get better or worse over time.

It is said OCD is a serious mental illness and that we experience crushing anxiety if things are not clean and organised. I do know that I can’t work if the office needs sweeping or cleaning. I also know that I couldn’t relax reading a book if the windows were dirty or there were dishes on the bench. Everything has to be orderly and clean before I can relax. I am unaware of anxiety, I just know that I have to clean it.

I don’t tell these quirky stories to demean OCD, because people who suffer from severe compulsions do have real issues, limiting a person’s ability to study, work and have lasting relationships. The obsessions happen repeatedly and cause significant dysfunction, centering on themes such as fear of bacteria or the need to position items in a specific manner.

Rituals, superstitions, and habits are common misconceptions linked to OCD. Obsessions can change in nature and severity and do not respond to logic.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterised by unreasonable thoughts and fears or ideas that lead to recurring compulsive behaviours, defined as obsessions. They are severe enough to be time-consuming and cause damage to relationships and prevent the afflicted from leading, what is considered by society, a normal life.

About ½ million Australians are affected and globally it is considered to be the fourth most common psychiatric disorder.  The cause of OCD is unknown although ongoing research suggests genetic factors. There is a 25% chance of a blood relative having some level of OCD. Brains of people with OCD work differently than those people without the disorder, displaying chemical and functional abnormalities. In severe cases, the patient has distorted beliefs, governed overall by fear – overwhelming compulsions taking up hours of their day.

People with OCD fall into 2 categories.

  • Obsessions – which display unwelcome thoughts such as abhorrence of dirt and disease.
  • Compulsions – exhibit an irresistible urge to do activities such as cleaning or praying.

Sufferers dislike the fact that they have no control. It isn’t something they just can just ‘stop doing’. It is exhausting, mentally and physically, to cope with the severity of the compulsions.
You might notice that items have to be in a particular order, or that you follow certain formalities each day. Maybe you feel the need to repeat tasks over and over; you check things like door locks or wash your hands repeatedly. These are some common OCD traits. If any of these symptoms affect your daily life, you should seek help, but also continue to challenge yourself by facing circumstances that make you anxious.

To ‘fix’ OCD the most common therapies are cognitive behavioural therapy or exposure and response prevention therapy, to change belief patterns, and behaviours – remembering there is no actual cure. Part of the therapy involves gradually exposing the person to situations that trigger their obsessions. The treatment is excellently explained in The Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Program Workbook, available on Amazon.

If you know loved ones and friends who do excessive task repetition, do urge them to seek help.

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