We all have unwanted, intrusive thoughts. A tiny smudge on the mirror that only you took notice? A picture hanging slightly askew that’s bothering you? A desire to have all of your pens neatly lined up? These are intrusive thoughts.
On the OCD spectrum, these thoughts are quite harmless. But when you start to have compulsive behavioural tendencies to try and ‘neutralise’ these thoughts, it pushes you further along the spectrum.
May 22 was the official launch of OCD Awareness Week, facilitated by mental health organisation, WayAhead at their Woolloomooloo office. It featured a special panel discussion, hosted by ABC Radio National presenter, Lynne Malcolm who had produced an episode on OCD treatment for the mental health program – All in the Mind. The panel experts included Senior Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology, Dr Rocco Crino; Registrar at St Vincent’s Anxiety clinic, Hugh Powell, and two guests with a lived experienced of OCD, Julie Leitch and Judith Nicholas.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not yet fully understood, but Hugh Powell explained that the OCD spectrum begins with being consumed with these kinds of thoughts – but the experiences are different for everyone living with OCD. For Julie, who has lived with OCD for most of her life, she had an immense fear of death to the point where she believed that if she didn’t touch certain inanimate objects, then someone close to her would die.
It took a long time for Julie to be properly diagnosed.
“I went to a doctor for two years but no one diagnosed it as OCD. It got worse and worse. Then my husband saw an article in a magazine and we starting reading this thing about people with OCD and he said: ‘I think this is what you’ve got.’ We both cried at the end and I took it in to show my doctor and he said he had never heard of it,” said Julie.
“OCD is characterised by intrusive, unwanted thoughts, distressing anxiety and then feeling compelled to do something about it, to ‘neutralise’ those thoughts. Those with OCD are very bothered by the thoughts,” explained Dr Crino.
For the second speaker, Judith, it was a series of addictions. It began with smoking when she was still nursing, which resulted in four miscarriages. She became depressed and had quit smoking but then moved on to coffee. She was drinking up to 11 cups a day with two sugars, making her overweight. Her anxiety doctor recommended a glass of wine every night to help with her symptoms but that in itself had turned into a new addiction. But for Judith, it was her hoarding that was the most difficult addiction.
It wasn’t until a friend commented that she had a lot of stuff – which she had gotten angry about, but it prompted her to attend a forum on hoarding held by Dr Crino. She was shown photographs of hoarding which got progressively worse and worse but it allowed her to see where her situation was to get the get that she needed.
“It took me 35 years to clutter, and it will probably take another 35 years to declutter,” she joked.
The Panel was very open and honest, sometimes light and funny but it took an emotional turn when the panellists stared talking about their families.
“Did your husband ever resent you?” It came from a quiet audience member.
Julie’s husband was very accommodating towards her OCD behaviours but Dr Crino helped them to understand that the treatment involves both sides, otherwise the person with OCD would be enabled through the accommodation of their families helping with the rituals. So on doctor’s orders, Julie’s husband had to stop cold turkey, in order for them to move forward and heal.
But because she had been so angry with Dr Crino and his orders, when she brought her baby in to see him, she said: “Hello, this is Uncle Bastard.”
“We laugh at it now but at the time she was very serious,” said Dr Crino as the room broke with comic relief.
It is always interesting to see who turns up to these discussions because mental health touches people from all walks of life and across all cultures. Despite this, there was a common thread and it was to do with their families. No matter a patient or carer, getting their families to understand their mental health, and without resentment, were all common worries that they had.
For more information about OCD, OCD Awareness Week, or the OCD Conferences, visit: http://understandinganxiety.wayahead.org.au/ocd-awareness-week-may-22nd-28th-2016/
A video of the panel discussion is currently being edited and will be available shortly.