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October 11th-17th is International OCD Awareness Week. On this occasion, let’s answer the questions – What is OCD? How is it relevant to me?
The understanding of mental health in India is still evolving, where every kind of mental illness is battling through its discrimination. During this OCD Awareness Week (October 11- October 17), let us understand what is OCD, the one which is culturally so misunderstood.
Words like “you are so OCD” are typically used when someone shows signs of perfectionism, keeping things in a particular order, or is highly concerned with cleanliness. More often than not, the meaning of it is misunderstood, and is taken to define someone who “just has some obsessions.”
But, it is way more than that, and can be quite debilitating for someone who suffers from it.
WHO has categorised OCD as the sixth most debilitating psychiatric mental health disorder, and when it is stereotyped such in our society, it not only takes away the understanding it deserves but also end up hurting people suffering from this disorder.
OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which is classified as an anxiety disorder or termed a unique condition, the understanding of which is getting better with research.
OCD comprises obsessions and compulsive behaviours which might temporarily relieve anxiety.
The obsessions are unwanted, or involuntary thoughts, images and urges which reoccur again and again. Though each one of us could have obsessive thoughts from time to time, most of us can move on from these once our situation changes. But a person suffering from OCD will not be able to do so.
These distressing thoughts can thus cause severe anxiety, hampering the day to day functioning of a person suffering from it. Added to this, the themes of these thoughts can sometimes be around religion, violence, sexuality etc. which could be considered legally or morally abhorrent by society, thus conflicting with a person’s internalised values. This makes the condition even more crippling.
Secondly, compulsions are the behaviours comprising repetitive actions or rituals like checking, counting which are not by choice or part of routine work. For example, a librarian arranging books in shelves for the whole day is not OCD. Only when these repetitions are not choices but inner urges to relieve one from anxiety over which a person has no control and start impairing day to day functioning, a person would be suffering from OCD.
These may be physical like in contamination OCD in which people repeatedly wash their hands, or mental which is commonly known as Pure O and has hidden rituals like reviewing past events, prayers etc. which makes it even more severe.
Once a person performs these compulsions to relieve anxiety, they start getting entangled in these compulsions and it becomes cyclical. These obsessions and compulsions are time consuming, mentally draining, and make normal functioning extremely hard.
Though people of all ages and all diversities are equally susceptible to OCD, research reveals that women suffer more from germs and cleanliness related OCD while men suffer more from aggressive, religious and sexual thoughts related OCD. Also with it, women may suffer from comorbidity like eating disorders while the man suffers from comorbidity like substance use disorder.
The epidemiological studies have indicated its prevalence around 1.9% to 3.3% among Indian population but we don’t have any actual data giving its status in India as per my research till now.
The sphere of awareness about it in India is also not clear. Though people have shared their stories on different platforms, stories which can give a glimpse of the struggles which people pass through during this condition are rare in the mainstream. Since it is a chronic illness, there is also a need for developing support groups and self-care mechanisms through which people can manage their conditions and live healthily with OCD.
People can go through decades without even knowing what they are going through, which makes treatment further difficult. And with the stigma around mental illness prevailing in Indian society, who knows how many may still be suffering from it? Since the research is ongoing and the treatment is still evolving, we need investment in research so that we can develop holistic processes which cater to the unique need of every individual. But, for anything to happen, we need to understand this disorder first, so let us spread the words and stand in solidarity with the people suffering from this disorder.
Here is a poem by a young ambassador from OCD- UK in India spreading awareness about OCD which inspired me to write this article. Let us see through her words, what it is like to live with OCD?
WARNING! Thought incoming.
Pattering in, so subtly, like a trickle of water
Rushing in, as the wave sweeps the water up the beach
Crashing in, dashing the rocks below
Paralysed by fear,
Plagued by distress,
As the waves consume you,
Encompass every remaining bit of strength, of hope
Trapped in the labyrinth that is your mind,
The waves crumble the cliff,
Wreck the ‘safety’ of the cage you created
A cage built off repetition
Repeating in loops
The repetition of ‘safety’, of ‘control’
So you scream…
But the fiend doesn’t hear
And you pray…
But the fiend doesn’t care
Trapped in your isolation,
The fiend demands to be heard,
Demands to be listened to
And you listen,
You let it wreck it havoc over your life,
You let the thief of all happiness and goodness in
There’s a huge difference between a trickle and a wave
The trickle is frustrating but harmless,
A huge entity
Disguised as a trickle
Shapeshifting to be something humble, something gentle
Not the thieving fiend that saps the energy from you,
That dashes the rocks until they crumble
You scream that this is unprecedented,
This has never happened before
You avoid the void that consumes you
But you’re trapped in the loop.
Know more about the signs, symptoms, risk factors and treatment of OCD here.
Image source: a still from the film Hasee toh Phasee
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An engineering student at MNIT Jaipur who loves writing. Along with, a versatile being who
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