"You Have OCD!"

A Personal Story

A psychiatrist I'd been seeing on and off recommended that I see a colleague of his who was well versed in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I did, and an hour and a half into our introductory session he looked directly at me and said, "You have OCD." I was already in tears, which then continued flowing for the entire afternoon. Even my father started crying. The tears had been a long time coming.

The psychiatrist explained that I could try medications, or behavioral therapy, or a combination of both. Still in a something of a state of denial, boy was I stubborn, I flew overseas to finish my job, hoping that the Anafranil would be my miracle drug. It wasn't, and after my job ended I decided I needed some really good, and extensive, treatment. I'd read a piece in the national OC Foundation's newsletter about an outpatient but daily treatment program at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute and made the call. The thought of doing behavioral therapy every day sat well with me and I wanted to see the most experienced professionals. I was tired of explaining my symptoms to psychiatrists, only to have them delve into my family's past, scribble down a few notes and charge me an arm and a leg. Damn it, I wanted to feel better!

I got a motel room in Los Angeles, a city I swore I'd never live in or visit again, and entered the treatment program. As I walked to the Institute in the mornings I thought, "Here I am, a grown and successful person, in a treatment program at the Psych hospital!" I almost couldn't believe I'd reached this spot in my life, facing and dealing with a chronic disease. As I made my way through the halls of the hospital it finally sunk in for good that I was ill and needed to resign myself to a lifetime of treatment.

The nurse I was assigned to made a hierarchy of the obsessions and rituals that caused me the most anxiety. We'd start facing the the ones that weren't too bad, and work our way through the list. I was pretty frightened and wasn't sure I could get through the tasks. I went to my room at night feeling very nervous about the behavioral therapy, I would need to work with and work through all the areas I'd been avoiding. First off, I had to bring into the hospital items I thought were "contaminated." Also, I was going to have to rent a car and drive without turning around to check if I'd hit anything. I would also have to go into the hospital kitchen and turn off the appliances, checking them only once. I wouldn't be asked to do anything dangerous or unreasonable.

During my seven weeks in the program I ended up working hard, and accomplishing most of behavioral therapy. The medications helped some, but I think having the support of the nurses during the therapy and being around other persons with OCD was the most helpful. It was good to be in a group of persons who could talk openly about OCD, and for all of us taking medications and doing behavioral therapy, there is a lot to talk about! I must've run into people with OCD over the years, but of course I never knew they had OCD. I was now able to hear about obsessions and observe rituals similar to mine. So, other people thought these thoughts and did these things...

Leaving the program and getting on with my life was a bit difficult, but staying in the area helped. I continue seeing my nurse privately, and one of the program's psychiatrists. I attend a support group periodically. The OCD comes and goes, but I handle it pretty well by keeping the rituals to a minimum. I go long spells without needing to take medications. I don't plan on letting OCD interrupt my life too much, and I also plan on managing my illness for the rest of my life. That's just the way of it, and things could have certainly turned out worse.

More about cognitive-behavior therapy for OCD...

Source: "On a Personal Note," Dorothy H., former Corporate Secretary, OC Foundation of California, Newsletter 1996.

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