Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Dark Clouds with Silver Linings!
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is probably one of the most familiar psychological disorders for the youth today, thanks to the ironic (read ‘unfortunate’) misuse of the term OCD in everyday communications. OCD is defined by unintended and uncontrolled obsession, often accompanied by compulsion, about certain things that affect or matter a lot to a certain individual. Some OCD patients wash their hands an abnormally high number of times during the day, while some pull the skin off of their hands and feet until they bleed. OCD is sometimes referred to as an “itch in your brain” that forces you to cut the pie in exact equal pieces – 4 or 6 or 8 – while OCD forces some people to stay awake till the morning obsessively thinking about something their mom said to them at a moment of heat. There is a fine line between trying to keep your surroundings organized at all times, and feeling physically unwell when forced to be in a place that is completely out of order in reference to what you think is ideal. While organizing and being strict about cleanliness is a virtue, feeling nauseated when you watch someone throwing unfolded clothes into their closet is a symptom of an illness (most likely OCD).
In a more biological or clinical perspective, OCD is associated with a lack of serotonin and other complex biochemical elements in the brain, such as Glx (glutamate, glutamine and GABA). There is a chicken-and-egg debate about the possible cause of OCD: One opinion is that the lack of these chemicals cause OCD; an opposing argument is that obsession and compulsion throughout a period of time, genetics and stimuli during early brain development cause the lack of serotonin and other relevant chemicals in the brain – eventually causing symptomatic onset of the disorder. As much as researchers debate about the cause of psychological disorders, there remains opposing viewpoints about the management and treatment of them, too. While some researchers think medications can make the process of OCD management faster and more effective, some think that medication only takes away the ability of individuals to deal with their challenges.
Just like any other physical or mental health issue, OCD affects the everyday functions of the body and the brain in various obvious and passive ways. As OCD is defined by obsessive thinking and/or compulsive behavior, it obstructs the healthy flow of thoughts and bodily reflexes of individuals, causing discomfort and difficulty in time management, performing social cues that come naturally to healthy individuals, communication and self-care rituals. At an advanced stage, OCD might destroy the rationality and empathy of the affected person, severely harming social relationships and intellectual activities.
But, there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of OCD, too!
An OCD brain is an overactive brain – it barely sleeps until it solves its mysteries and cracks whatever cases it has, paving way for the OCD person to become great at investigations and research! Some studies suggest that OCD brains might be more creative than an average brain under certain circumstances! Obsessive thinking makes people more cautious and attentive to finer details, often helping them in academics and critical assignments. Their constant worries about doing things right can make them very careful drivers, very efficient caregivers (to infants and to severely ill/disabled people) and good at preventing day to day accidents (like leaving the gas stove on, accidentally taking expired medicines etc.). OCD sufferers often feel more deeply for other and show more empathy than those who are emotionally aloof, making it possible for them to serve their families and society selflessly.
However, all these amazing things only work when OCD is being actively managed through healthy lifestyle modifications and strategies.
Some of the great life-hacks suggested by psychologists and life coaches for OCD are:
1. Sticking to a conveniently structured routine: As it is easy for OCD brains to get carried away by obsessions and compulsions, it is a smart move to make a routine that is easy to maintain, and never drifting away from it (unless you are out on an adventure!).
2. Abundant nutrition and sunlight: There are countless published research reports and articles describing how vital nutrients such as vitamin D, vitamins E and K, minerals etc. help your brain overcome mental disorders by improving brain health and stimulating the secretion of chemicals that create a balance between negative and positive emotions. As much as nutritious and healthy food consumption is necessary, sunlight is also a must for a healthy body and mind. Sunlight is the only effective way of making your body absorb the vitamin D you get from food, and sunlight is indispensable for bone and brain health.
3. Regular physical exercise: Just like it is practically impossible to attain optimum physical health without physical exercise, it is also extremely dangerous for our mental health if we are not taking enough physical exercise regularly. Exercising helps your blood and hormone circulation, decreases unhealthy fat from your vital organs, stimulates your brain and muscles to produce the “happiness hormones” (serotonin, oxytocin etc.) which help you become a more positive, hopeful and pro-active person.
4. Spending time on hobbies and social-service: It’s a good idea to detach your attention from your own emotional and materialistic problems, and focusing on something creative or noble for some time every week. When you play a musical instrument, paint a pot, serve at your local voluntary organization, help the poor or the socially deprived people, you develop a healthier sense of self-worth and unlock your brain’s hidden abilities to create something good. Your obsessions and compulsions will even help you in these once you learn to channel them with a stronger purpose.
5. Be kind to yourself and others: OCD can often make you ruthless towards yourself and towards people you deal with. At times, your suspicions and skeptic view of others could overwhelm you and hurt people’s feelings. It’s always necessary to be kind first, and try to prove your point later. Not letting your emotions turn you into an insensitive person is more necessary and fruit-bearing than trying to be overly logical.
If you need help with managing your OCD, talk to a psychologist or psychotherapist. You will most likely receive Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT); your therapist will assist you to develop a healthier thought process and discuss strategies to relax your brain in tough times. Medical interventions for OCD are for patients who are no more capable of managing their symptoms and lose functionality. Your therapist will refer you to a doctor (psychiatrist) if your OCD has reached a point where you need urgent clinical assistance. Even then, leading a healthy life and always believing in yourself will make your journey smoother.
Maisha Ahsan Momo
Project Director, HOV Bangladesh
Maisha Ahsan Momo is a Health Economist and Public Health professional by training, specializing on Non-communicable Diseases (NCD). Maisha has worked as a professional in academic research, healthcare business development, digital healthcare and community healthcare models. Maisha is currently working as a freelance research writer and analyst.