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OCD: one patient’s story
What I would do basically if I had to touch it
I would make sure the time was right, and then I would be like one, two, three
four, five. And then like, oh no,
a bone cracked or something or I'm itchy so now I've got to do it again.
So one, two, three, four, five and that's two times I did it but two is a bad
number, so now I've got to do it three times, so one, two, three, four, five…
Harlan Kirshenbaum describes just one of the rituals
that used to rule his life. For thirteen years, he lived with an
extreme case of obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD.
It's a chronic psychiatric condition that has two main symptoms.
Obsessions, or instrusive unwanted thoughts that can't be pushed away,
and compulsions, often called rituals, which are repetitive behaviours
done to reduce anxiety. My two main obsessions are death and cancer.
So I would come up with all this crazy rituals
like if I touched a wire, then I would think my brother
would get cancer because of it. And everything morphed and I got
more and more rituals as time went on and every day it seemed like I was adding
a couple. I was housebound and I couldn't do anything for
myself anymore. At the height of his illness, Harlan had more than
one hundred daily rituals and couldn't touch or look at his family
members. I had thoughts like all the time of just like
driving into a wall, or anything because
I couldn't do it. It just took all my energy out. Like I'd be crying
in public, thirty years old, and I'm sitting there crying because
I saw a traffic light and now I think I'm going to give somebody cancer because of it.
Dr. Peggy Richter is head of the Frederick W. Thompson
Anxiety Disorder Centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre,
one of the few specialized centres in Canada dealing with OCD.
There's a threshold at which point we call it a disorder that merits a diagnosis.
And that is when they symptoms waste about an hour or more of the day,
cause significant distress for the individual or get in the way of their ability to
function. OCD is extremely common, affecting about
one in forty people. And while research is ongoing to fully understand
what happens inside the OCD brain, Dr. Richter says
it is a treatable condition. There are two major forms of treatment.
Cognitive behaviour therapy, which is a form of talk therapy, and medication
both of which can be very helpful to the illness. So a good starting
point is to see one's family doctor and get a referral to a
specialized anxiety treatment centre if possible. Both of these approaches worked
for Harlan, but because his OCD was so severe,
he also underwent an intensive three month in patient program
in the U.
U.S. He can now function without rituals and is able to hug his mother again,
something he wasn't able to do for ten years.
And I grabbed her and I gave her such a hug and it's like
all those thoughts they just, I beat it!
Like I beat it. And she was crying, I was like
laughing but a cyring
laugh and it was incredible after those years
and it felt so good. He now urges others to get
the help they need. You've got to be fully committed or else it won't work.
And it's scary and it's a lot of hard work and there are lots of up
and downs, but once you get there,
it's just amazing. With Sunnyview, I'm Monica Matys.