OCD; a summary – Part 1

While I declared that this blog would be one of self-expression and research on the topic of general mental health and issues associated with it, I also want to be able to share my story. My experience and what OCD is in general.

Ask yourself – do you fold your socks neatly? Do you see a picture and tut because it isn’t straightened? Do you straighten your pens out on the desk?

Yes? Chances are that you do not have OCD, that is unless doing such actions brings you such anxiety and terror that you cannot stop yourself from doing it again. If you are able to do such things, or other things, without feeling compelled to do it again, without feeling anxious, then perhaps you’re just neat. Perhaps you suffer from a neat personality, perhaps slightly obsessive. However, if no distress occurs, you are not ‘so OCD’.

If I’m honest, those who do suffer with the condition feel quite insulted when others claim to be so – to have the ‘quirk’. (It’s not a quirk)

In order to educate people on what OCD is, one must be patient and actually open themselves to wanting to be educated and rid of any ignorance that they might have on the matter. You are not OCD, as this affliction is a disorder. You are no more OCD than you are a broken arm. See how silly that sounds? So why apply it to a disorder? Why make fun of bipolar, schizophrenia, or depression? You might not be aware that you are making fun of disorders, but each time you use it in a misguided sentence, it’s as if you are mocking the sufferers.

On with the topic of selection – OCD; a summary.

OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The condition is different for each sufferer, sufferers might have different obsessions. In fact, I would say that each sufferer of OCD suffers something unique to them – their obsessions rarely are ever completely similar to another persons (in detail, not in general). Sufferers of this disorder would suffer from two main things – obsessions and compulsions.

It’s all well and good to say that, but to those of you who are slightly uneducated on the matter, an explanation would be better. So, what are obsessions and compulsions?

  • Obsessions – ”An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters a person’s mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease” [1]…. ”Many things can trigger these obsessions, and they usually leave the person feeling very anxious, uncomfortable or frightened”[2].
  • Compulsions – A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that someone feels they need to carry out to try to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thoughts”[1]….”The compulsion is the behaviour performed in order to ‘put right’ the obsession. Sometimes the behaviour is performed is quite irrational (OCD sufferers recognise this) such as counting up in sevens for seven minutes” [2].

If you’re thinking, but I have this? Isn’t it normal – well, it’s a bit complicated at that. Average people will have obsessions, little rituals to make themselves feel better, but it’s only when it impacts the persons life that it becomes a problem. Or when extreme anxiety is caused. When the sufferer truly does suffer – when they waste their time on the obsessions and the compulsions. When the obsessions and compulsions cause distress- and when you feel like your mind won’t stop, that you cannot, and even that you feel like you’re losing control.

I never, and still don’t, think my OCD is as bad as others. Although maybe I am underestimating my situation. I don’t feel like I deserve the help I received. However, my life was, and still does, come to a standstill because of it. Things are improving now, but they were darker back then. I couldn’t leave the home in fear of anything happening when I left. Then I couldn’t simply go to the kitchen to get myself something to eat because of the compulsion with the entering and leaving of rooms. I lost a lot of weight with the stress of everything and was in the darkest place – I can’t even explain it. It doesn’t feel real. However, my point is – do not wait until you are in that position. Do not disregard it – ‘it’s not an issue. I’m fine, just overreacting‘. When you assess the situation, would you truly be worrying over it if you didn’t think it was an issue? Would you have read this to try and find out a little more if you weren’t suffering, or worried? (Unless you had a general interest or wanted to educate yourself) If you suspect that you, or a loved one, might be suffering from OCD, then make an appointment with the GP, or the person you’re worried about, and discuss it. If the GP dismisses you and you’re still worried, keep going back and bothering them. It took me multiple appointments before anyone listened to me. Hopefully it’s less painful for you

What causes OCD? Well, that’s a mystery to us all. There are various factors to look at. According to ‘Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for dummies’ [3], there might be multiple factors in terms of cause.

Biological factors – Blaming the brain

  • According to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for dummies, the ”midbrain may play a role in OCD. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin apparently are less available in this brain region among those who suffer from OCD” [3]. – The midbrain plays a part in picking the type of actions, such as: ”up your foot and see what’s going on” [3], which might mean that a defective midbrain might send off false threats, thus, focusing the brain on the obsession, with the compulsion being the reaction/solution to the threat. Fight, or flight?

Serotonin is a compound found in the blood. Serotonin can specifically be found in the blood platelets, and is, quite interestingly, mostly found in the intestinal tract. However, if the serotonin is used in the brain, then it is only allowed to be the serotonin produced in the brain that is used within it. This is how this compound acts as a neurotransmitter. If my understanding of neurotransmitters are correct, then it would be described as brain chemicals which are used in order to transmit information around the brain and body. Hence, neuro for brain, and transmitter, which transmits information. When serotonin is low, this would cause issues and would irritate the OCD by making it flare up. The miscommunication of the neurotransmitter, perhaps? From my understanding, serotonin, when it is acting as a neurotransmitter in OCD, would miscommunicate, or wouldn’t communicate at all – if the level is low, meaning that processes in the brain are cut short/redirected around the brain. Or falsely fired off elsewhere.

  • The thalamus and hypothalamus – Source 3 would suggest that ”the thalamus receives, interprets, and integrates information from multiple sites in the brain….the thalamus has been shown to be overly active and even larger in size in some studies of OCD sufferers” [3]. The hypothalamus is more difficult to describe. Although it does have an essential role in the brain, it contains many hormones to balance bodily functions, and because of it’s important role in the brain, it seems that it might play a role in OCD.
  • Within the forebrain, the orbital frontal cortex and the basal ganglia are important to note in regards to OCD. The former ”regulates planning, decision-making, and how one processes consequences. The orbital frontal cortex also helps detect errors” [3]. This is significant as each of the aforementioned processes are matters which OCD sufferers seem to have issues with. The latter would be described as ”nuclei in the forebrain that primarily function to control movement” [3]. This would mean that this part of the brain would control the movement and ”turns thoughts into actions” [3].

There are many other potential biological factors, such as, hSERT, and if interest is great enough, I will do my best to write another post on it. However, for now, I feel that enough information on the biological side has been given for a brief look at the potential factors in OCD.

Other possible factors in OCD:

  • Major stresses
  • Traumatic life events
  • Depression, however finding out which comes first – the OCD or the depression, that is the question. In my point of view, I think it might be a symptom of OCD. However, my knowledge of depression isn’t as great as it would be for OCD

I do not write so little about other possible factors because I believe in the biological. In fact, I don’t believe one over the other. It’s simply that I do not have a lot of knowledge at the moment about other reasons. Although I will try and do more research for a future post, if the interest is there. I will also possibly do a future post on developing OCD as a child, and as an adult.

Although, don’t take my word for the research being truth on what the factors are of OCD! This is merely my speculation from the research that I’ve done. Is it biological, or psychological? Or is it both?

Part Two

Please let me know if you need more information or if I have missed anything when both posts are up.

References:

[1] http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Obsessive-compulsive-disorder/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[2] Obsessions and compulsions, a self help guide, HSC Belfast Health and Social care Trust, written by Dr Lesley Maunder and Lorna Cameron

[3] Obsessive-compulsive disorder for dummies by Charles H.Elliott, PhD and Laura L. Smith, PhD

 

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