By Madeline Boyle |
Everyone's brain, on occasion, will deliver a random thought whose content can be quite disturbing, bizarre and completely out of character for the person. Most people can brush these thoughts off and forget them. For some people, though, these thoughts trigger a stress response, and in order to quell that anxiety, the person must a) try to resist the thought or b) perform some kind of action that will prevent the outcomes of those thoughts. But these thoughts only keep recurring, and every time they do they trigger more and more intense anxiety.
Examples of such thoughts, or obsessions, range from the distressing, "You have germs on you and you're going to get sick," and, "You left your dorm room open and it's going to be robbed," to the truly debilitating, "You have a sin you didn't confess so you're going to hell," "Those germs are going to kill you," and "You're a psychopath and a murderer."
Faced with a barrage of such thoughts that can only be temporarily held at bay, a person may start to perform rituals (compulsions) that relieve the anxiety. Such activities may be excessive hand-washing, quadruple-checking a door lock, repetition of calming phrases such as prayer, and constant seeking of reassurance about one's morality.
However, the relief brought about by these actions fades quickly, and the person may have to create more elaborate compulsions in an attempt to control the ever-increasing anxiety. The emotional distress and time dedicated to compulsions begin to interfere with the person's daily life. The interferences can be subtle (missing moments of class while performing mental compulsions) to outright debilitating (taking 20 showers a day).
Depression is frequently comorbid with anxiety disorders, and the same is true for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD preys on a person's sense of conscience, burdening the person with the sense of responsibility for what would happen if the compulsions were not carried out. Distressing obsessions can cripple a person's sense of self-worth. The feelings of fear and guilt might eventually grow into full-fledged depression. For some, the feelings of despair and depression can lead to suicidal ideation.
OCD is a disorder that we've jokingly relegated to TV detectives and tidy people. On the contrary, it causes many ordinary people a tremendous deal of unwarranted suffering.
Left undiagnosed and untreated, it may become worse. I should know — mine went undiagnosed for seven years, and it almost killed me. It was (and sometimes still is) absolute hell.
If any of these symptoms seem familiar to you, make an appointment with a counselor or at least do some research because this is not an exhaustive list. There's a very good chance that one of you reading this article has OCD that has not yet been diagnosed. Fortunately, it can be very effectively treated. There is no need to be ruled by anxieties that have nothing to do with who you truly are.
We all struggle. Let’s struggle together.
Madeline Boyle is a senior philosophy major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.