Beating the bedlam

Treatment of OCD starts with the acceptance of the obsessive disorder

Beating the bedlam

As a 28-year-old millennial, I want to be living my life large, enjoying new opportunities and exploring new things but I find an intense fear gripping me. I look at everything with a view of "dirty" or "clean" and waste hours thinking about it. Just the sheer idea that something may be dirty makes me feel disgusted and starts this chain reaction of thoughts inside my mind that I can't seem to be able to control. I start to imagine that the dirt (most commonly bodily waste) is now on my hands, my clothes, my bedsheet and everywhere I am going. This compels me to wash my hands repetitively and shower as much as 2-4 times a day even in the cold weather. Each time I am in the washroom, I take no less than 40 minutes. My family is at their wits ends in trying to explain things to me. I understand how absurd this is but something doesn't feel right. Please help me.

This thing that is robbing you of your peace of mind has a name — OCD! Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a neurobiochemical disorder in which an individual faces obsessions. Obsessions are repetitive, intrusive and irrational thoughts; ideas or impulses that make you feel disgusted, uneasy and anxious. The only way that one may find a bit of temporary relief is usually through a compulsion. Compulsions are usually acts, rituals or behaviours that are done repetitively. They help diffuse the anxiety temporarily. This pattern becomes almost like a coping mechanism to deal with obsessive thoughts.

The fear behind the obsession is usually irrational and most people are aware that what they are doing is excessive and even unnecessary, but they may feel like there is a tug of war going on between the rational and irrational part of their brain, and we all know which one ends up winning.

The culprit behind this disorder is the dysregulation and imbalance in the serotonin, dopaminergic and glutamate pathways. This can occur due to biological causes (genetic, hormonal, usage of drugs, lack of sleep etc.), psychological causes (certain personalities and individuals are more predisposed to it) and social factors (extreme stress, major life events, death of a loved one etc.).

The good news is that this condition is common, diagnosable and treatable. More than one in 50 people suffer from it. The not so good news is that these numbers are perhaps skewed since so many people simply suffer silently and never seek help.

Also, just like a fever can be low-grade, moderate or high-grade, even OCD comes in mild, moderate and severe forms. There are many varieties of OCD like washing, cleaning rituals; religious beliefs; sexual themes; reassurance-seeking; checking, counting, grouping and more. The issue is debilitating because it consumes a lot of your time, energy and resources in otherwise mundane tasks.

Movie recommendation: "As good as it gets" with Jack Nicholson portraying an OCD-affected person.

Suggestion: Accepting that this condition needs professional help would be the first step. Many continue to suffer and live in denial. Help can be sought from a mental health professional like a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist. They would evaluate you and guide you through the best and latest treatment strategies.

On your personal front, you can start building on the resilience of your body and mind. Bring in positive practices into your life, begin meditation and try to better your routine and lifestyle.

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