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Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) diagnoses are up across the country. But it's a condition that a lot of people don't understand.

Three percent of Americans have OCD; that’s about one in every 43 people whose daily lives are impacted by the condition.

Living with OCD

A morning with SEARK administrator Wanda Grimmett is anything but ordinary. She's on the low end of the Obsessive Compulsive spectrum, but her symptoms still affect her daily life.

Wanda took us into her office and immediately became uncomfortable: "Right now, this is driving me crazy because people have been in the office and they have dropped things off."

Her form of OCD centers around symmetry: Usually, everything has a place… But today, a few things are out of order.

"The fact that it is sitting there on the corner of my desk where I am not expecting it. I want to move it. I want to move it now," Wanda says of items on her desk. “Those have to... They have to go," she explains about a few bags of candy.

"So the Sonic is what's driving you crazy?” “It is really bothering me.” “So where would you move it?” “Well it is actually going to go over where my coffee cup is."

Each part of Wanda's desk is organized according to a system: "I know that's where it is... Because that's where it belongs."

She walks us through how the pens work: "They're put where I want them. I have certain pens that I use for certain things. And I can tell, believe it or not in all of this, if someone has turned my cup."

And she tells us, there are certain areas of her office, where no one is allowed to go.

"t's my chair, my personal space, and I can't stand for anyone to sit. I am afraid they're going to touch something… It's welcoming as long as they stay on that side of the desk,” says Wanda.

We were not in her office when we sat down to chat, but even as the interview was starting, Wanda was distracted by a plant.

Once we get started, she explains that her OCD is genetic. Her dad has it, and she's starting to see traits in her daughter. She says it can impact their relationship: "If we're walking somewhere, and she's trying to talk to me, and I see somethings off kilter, I have to stop, I kind of tune her out."

But Wanda says her family generally works with her: "They know me, they know how I am, they've learned to live with me, they love me anyway."

Things get a little more complicated when it comes to her career. Wanda says being so detail oriented can actually work in her favor: "It actually helps me do my job better."

But figuring out professional relationships can take some time. She generally has to explain her condition to co-workers, and for the most part, they're accommodating.

However from time to time, she has to take a step back: "Not everyone is going to understand… I have to learn to understand because of what I am doing, it might be irritating to someone else."

She says while it is hard, when people are not cooperative, she has trained herself to stay focused.

What should I know about OCD?

Psychologist Dr. Nancy Ryburn explains that, like Wanda, most OCD patients know that their behavior is unusual: "They know it's strange. but they can't stop it."

She says a lot of people have misconceptions about what OCD is: "OCD is not cleanliness. People say, "Oh she's so OCD."

Dr. Ryburn sees patients whose OCD centers on symmetry like Wanda's, but she sees others with an OCD condition oriented around germaphobia: "Am I being contaminated walking down the street?"

The third kind of OCD? Magical Thinking. "They believe that their thoughts can harm people, or they're scared they're going to harm people," says Dr. Ryburn.

if you have these symptoms, Dr. Ryburn says it's a good idea to see a therapist who can help determine an accurate diagnosis. She says treatment for OCD is different from other types of therapy.

"The kind of therapy where you lie on the couch and talk about your mother, that's the last thing we want to do because it makes it worse. so we use a fairly short term technique."

It's called Exposure Response Prevention: “If someone had germaphobia, I would take some dirt, and rub it in my hands, and rub it in their hair, and they would go crazy," she says.

She added she would put some dirt in her hair too, because psychologists will never do something to a patient they would not do to themselves.

The goal is to expose patients to the anxiety, and ultimately prove that nothing bad will happen.

Wanda says her friendship with Dr. Ryburn, and the support she receives has helped her a great deal. Some other coping techniques: her faith and deep breathing.

But she says for the most part, she just tries to be up front about her condition: "This is part of you, part of who you are, something you have to do"

Understanding what OCD feels like

Most of us have felt something similar to what Wanda feels when we can't remember if we left the curling iron on, or shut the garage before going to work: that feeling where you have to fix it so something terrible doesn't happen.

That's what Wanda feels when the Sonic cup is on her desk, or someone messes with her pens.

Dr. Ryburn says these books can be helpful for anyone struggling with OCD symptoms, or living with someone who has the condition.

  • The OCD Workbook by Bruce Hyman, Ph.D. and Cherlene Pedrick, R.N.
  • Brain Lock by Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D.
  • Stop Obsessing by Edna Foa, Ph.D. and Reid Wilson, Ph.D.
  • Freedom from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Jonathan Grayson, Ph.D.
  • Getting Over OCD by Jonathan Abramowitz, Ph.D.

Are there any laws that protect people with OCD?

Yes, OCD is considered a medical disability. experts say it can be caused by a chemical imbalance of Seratonin. So the ADA protects people with this condition.

This means if someone can do the main parts of their job, they cannot be fired because of their condition. And that employers must make reasonable accommodations for someone with OCD.

Do children ever receive OCD diagnoses?

Yes, Dr. Ryburn says that you should definitely keep an eye out for OCD behaviors in your child.

Some of the most common include lining up their shoes or their toys, and confessing behaviors: coming to you or a teacher whenever they have a bad thought.

Can OCD symptoms become bad enough that patients can't go to school or work?

Yes. Wanda's symptoms are on the low end of the spectrum. She is still able to go to work, and have successful relationships. But Dr. Ryburn says she treated one woman who felt her thoughts could hurt someone, so she spent 8-10 hours a day praying and ultimately had to quit her job.

She mentioned another person who could not get out the door in the morning because she spent so much time checking and double checking to make sure the door was unlocked and electronics were unplugged.

It’s very important to address symptoms when they start, so that they don't impact your work, relationships, or health.

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