Understanding OCD

One out of every 200 adults has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder — one Emporia family has three family members impacted by the disorder.

Becky Hayes and two of her daughters, Ginny Samples and Sasha Conrade, share similar symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

“We are all counters and touchers,” Conrade said. “We have to count a certain number of things or touch something a certain number of times.”

The National Institute of Mental Health defines Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts and behaviors he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is frequently portrayed in media as a quirky condition which requires someone to lock their doors multiple times or obsessively wash their hands. Hayes and her daughters said the depiction isn’t realistic.

“People are quick to say, ‘Oh they are OCD’ when someone needs to double check the locks, but it isn’t like that,” Hayes said. “There are compulsions, but they are motivated by the obsessions, the thoughts. There is a feeling that something horrible will happen if you don’t do the compulsion. The thoughts are the problem; if I don’t check the locks or count or do whatever the compulsion is, then these horrible things will happen. If people knew the kind of hell this is, they wouldn’t joke about it or take it lightly.”

It isn’t uncommon for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to run in families. Studies have shown people with first-degree relatives, such as a parent, sibling or child, who have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are at a higher risk for developing the disorder themselves. The risk is higher if the first-degree relative developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as a child or teen like Hayes.

“For me it was early on, probably fifth or sixth grade; actually, for all of us it hit prepubescent,” Hayes said. “I would not be able to get to bed. I was a toucher and a counter. I couldn’t get to bed without having everything on my dresser just perfect. I remember my shoelaces — spending hours getting my shoelaces just laid straight and perfect in order to get to bed. It was exhausting.”

The obsessions, though not likely to happen, are terrifying for people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The obsessions and compulsions can interfere with all aspects of life including work, school and personal relationships.

Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder typically appear between the ages of 6 and 15 for males and 20 to 29 for females. For Hayes and her daughters, the symptoms began to appear earlier. Samples remembers clearly the day she first experienced symptoms of the disorder.

“I was 11 or 12 and we had come home from a weekend doing something and I couldn’t get off a step,” Samples said. “I kept stepping off the step, but it didn’t feel right to step off the step, so I had to keep doing it until it felt right. In my mind, I was like, ‘what am I doing,’ but I kept stepping and stepping and stepping and I couldn’t get off the dang step.”

Hayes’ Obsessive Compulsive Disorder went undiagnosed and untreated for years. However, she recognized the signs and symptoms in her daughters and was able to help them get treatment for the disorder. Samples has found therapy and medication to be helpful and her symptoms have decreased dramatically.

“My compulsions are all based around my family leaving and dying or something is going to happen so if I don’t touch this or do that then I’m going to lose them,” Samples said. “I started going to therapy in Topeka and I started medication when I was a freshman in high school. The medication helps, but there are times that it quits working or dosages need to be changed, which is why I think doing therapy and medication together works best.”

Symptoms can increase during periods of stress. Tests in school, pregnancy, marriage, a big project at work can all increase symptoms. Conrade is now in college and said at times the stress of school leads to an increase in symptoms. She has come to accept some days are just bad days and will allow herself to take a day off to regroup.

“School is so hard,” Conrade said. “I’ll be sitting in class and I’ll miss out on the whole class sometimes because I’m thinking about other things. There are some days that are just bad and I know it’s not even worth going to class because I know it’s just a very bad day.”

Hayes and her daughters urge others to recognize the signs and symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and seek treatment as needed. Treatment can be beneficial and the women said there is no reason to suffer alone.

“It can be isolating,” Hayes said. “But it doesn’t have to be. There are things people can do to decrease the obsessions and compulsions.”

People with OCD may have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions, or both. These symptoms can interfere with all aspects of life, such as work, school and personal relationships.

^ Obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges or mental images that cause anxiety. Common symptoms include:

^ Fear of germs or contamination

^ Unwanted forbidden or taboo thoughts involving sex, religion and harm

^ Aggressive thoughts towards others or self

^ Having things symmetrical or in a perfect order

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that a person with OCD feels the urge to do in response to an obsessive thought. Common compulsions include:

^ Excessive cleaning and/or handwashing

^ Ordering and arranging things in a particular, precise way

^ Repeatedly checking on things, such as repeatedly checking to see if the door is locked or that the oven is off

^ Compulsive counting

Not all rituals or habits are compulsions. Everyone double checks things sometimes. But a person with OCD generally:

^ Can’t control his or her thoughts or behaviors, even when those thoughts or behaviors are recognized as excessive

^ Spends at least one hour a day on these thoughts or behaviors

^ Doesn’t get pleasure when performing the behaviors or rituals, but may feel brief relief from the anxiety the thoughts cause

^ Experiences significant problems in their daily life due to these thoughts or behaviors