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Sometime in 1999, I saw a behind-the-music type show on Karen Carpenter. She struggled with an eating disorder, and eventually got treatment at some clinic. She made a full recovery, only to have a heart attack & die. I was stunned. Her heart couldn’t handle the weight gain. She lived through the horror of self-starvation, only to die of a heart attack. She had gained 30 pounds in 8 weeks; her weakened heart gave out at age 32.

In the middle of trying to put on weight myself, this news flipped me. I was on the way to recovery and now this! Worry over having a heart attack! I gained 30 pounds over the course of about 5 months, and even this felt quick. I can only imagine how it would have felt to gain that much in just 2 months.

Anyone else with food obsessions is of particular interest to me, so Margaret’s story really got me. Just 20 years old, she has already suffered a heart attack due to lack of nutrition. Suffering from very particular food obsessions myself, and having had physical health problems as a result, I was (in the past) threatened with all manner of dire possibilities. Lack of nutrition can wear down not only your heart, but your kidneys and liver and just about every major organ. Lack of food causes a great deal of stress internally.

There seems to be an obvious connection between Margaret’s childhood events and her guilt (and subsequent refusal) about eating. Her parents fighting and eventual divorce led to Margaret being homeless in the 10th grade. With no money or food. This led to her feelings of guilt over eating and her worry that she may run out of food and therefore not be able to care for her son. How much stronger of a connection between childhood and adult behavior could one ask for? For all of you who deny that your upbringing directly affects your behavior as an adult, here’s solid proof. (I won’t give any lectures to anyone about any of this, but I will say this: parents, stop fucking up your kids!!)

OCD takes a toll not just on your mind, but your body as well.  Not only does Margaret have to deal with the compulsions that have taken over her life, she’s also dealing with a daily struggle with the basic necessity of food.  She feels contaminated after eating, causing her to compulse.  How will she overcome this?

Exposure therapy:  it’s uncomfortable, but it can’t hurt you.  This according to Dr. April.  Her mom says watching her go through anxiety that she looks like she’s ‘looking for an escape.’   Of course she is!!  That’s what compulsions are, an escape.  In the middle of anxiety, all you want to do is escape.  All you want is anything that will make the anxiety go away.

(To be continued.)

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Out of the 309 million folks in the US, 3.3 million of us have OCD.  I don’t know why that statistic floors me, but it does. Why should it bother me that 3.3 other fellow Americans suffer the same mind-boggling disease as I do?  I think A&E’s show Obsessed answers that question.

Robin was sexually abused when she was 5 years old.  Again, the trauma that brings out OCD.  Robin felt she was never clean enough after that.  Wow!  Direct connection between traumatic event and consequent behavior.  What a shitty catalyst she had, and at a young age.  Never feeling clean led to sometimes 20 hours of cleaning.  Never feeling clean enough is definitely an OCD mantra.  I could clean my house every day and it would never be clean enough.  Ahh, the rules of contamination, right?

Naturally, I had to look away when Robin was doing her exposure therapy, as the things she was touching are triggers for me.  I wonder, sometimes the percentage of folks who are OCD and watch this show?  I’ve not made it through an entire show without feeling uncomfortable or tearful.  Is the show itself a form of therapy for the rest of us?

Paul was a checker, also traumatized by an earlier event.  His anxiety was obvious, particularly when he was driving.  His fear of running down a pedestrian kept him from driving at all, a huge hindrance.  It was easy to see his frustration, a mix of anxiety and anger towards the therapist, and also a desperate need to stop the OCD cycle he was in. I love also that he argued with the therapist on several points, pointing out that isn’t it better to check some things just to be sure??  Just to be safe?

Surety and safety.  Control.  These are big concerns for someone trying to overcome their anxiety.  And Paul’s fears were centered around causing harm to others, a crippling thought process.  He said something about fault, too, and that he felt like he had done something wrong.  So there is guilt involved as well, though Paul hadn’t done anything wrong.  Oh, that is a familiar feeling.

A disease based on fear and guilt.  I thought that’s what organized religion was for?

Bravo to A & E for giving a real face to those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  I hope for those who have watched the show, the OCD jokes, the casual knowledge, the trendy-ness of it will cease.  I have heard on more than one occasion the phrase “I am so OCD over [fill in the blank here].”

Clearly, the loss OCD causes is not a joke.  It’s not funny.  Losing your hair, losing your spouse, feeling like you are losing your life– these are all very real, very serious concerns.

Something I learned about trichotillomania:  unlike OCD rituals or compulsions, pulling out hair is a pleasurable thing.  Mandi said she felt hungover, exhausted after pulling sessions.  Again, the strong physical effect is astounding:  just as others have stated they felt exhausted after having anxiety attacks, Mandi feels spent after a hair-pulling session.  Something else she said that I found surprising:  she said she’d never met anyone who’d stopped.  The estimated number of Americans with trichotillomania is 9 million.  Mandi has been doing it since age 9.

Are people starting to get the hint now of how serious, devastating, insane this disorder is?  The estimated number of Americans with OCD is said to be over 3 million.

In her final therapy session, Mandi says she is planning to shave her head; to give her a new start.  The therapist focused a lot on her self worth, her appearance, her awareness.  He said she should stop basing her entire self worth on appearance.  How true is this of a lot of people?  Our culture values beauty and appearance above all else; this is what we have all grown up with.  This is what we know.  We know shiny hair, thin lithe bodies, blindingly white teeth.  How is our self-worth to be determined when our society only values the shallow in humans, the outer layer?  I know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that; however, it’s society that teaches us our values.  Everywhere you look, all you see is shine and sparkle.

Even with Mora’s obsession with her teeth, it’s more of the same.  She doesn’t want to eat certain foods and she cleans her teeth obsessively so that she doesn’t lose her teeth and get dentures.  She says she will be ugly and no one will love her.  This is particularly disturbing to me, as I believe our nation has an unhealthy obsession about teeth as well.  The ads for toothpastes and brushes and washes and countless other related items are endless; I’d like to count them one day just to get an idea of how many are run.  It’s disturbing to me that a person can feel that they are unlovable because they don’t have perfect teeth.  Mora has lost her husband because of this obsession, which must have been devastating to her.  Equally disturbing is the fact that some dentists took advantage of Mora’s obsession and performed unnecessary work.  An egregious and unscrupulous act.

Just watching the show is exhausting, sometimes.  Today’s show stirred up ire in me– the utter destructiveness and devastation OCD causes never ceases to rile me up, to make me tearful and angry.  OCD:  you suck.

Just thought of a horrible joke: A&E should air the show “Obsessed” three times in a row for those of us who do things in three’s. Don’t worry, I’m only poking fun at myself, no one else.

Tonight is a repeat of the first “Obsessed” episode that aired at the end of May. Something Scott said at the beginning of the show really struck me: he said he didn’t ‘feel worthy.’ Seems to be a common thread amongst people I know who suffer from OCD. Another related commonality is the guilt and shame that OCD brings with it. Why is this? I know there is a certain stigma attached to any mental disorder, but it seems that with OCD, the person suffering from it will judge themselves more harshly than anyone.

Believe me, it’s hard enough just dealing with the disease itself: add on a good amount of guilt and unworthiness, and it’s a wonder that a person can get out of bed. But why do we feel this way? Why is there such guilt attached to something that initially is not under your control? Sure, you can do therapy and ERP and CBT, but for most people the disease never completely goes away. You gain lots of coping skills, but you never rid yourself entirely. But this guilt… I know one person with OCD who was raised in the Irish Catholic tradition (which he luckily escaped) and he claims that is where is guilt stems from. Where does mine come from? From my mix of 7th-Day Adventist & Southern Baptist upbringing? Surely that would have subsided given my subsequent turn to Atheism?

I don’t really have an answer for any of these questions just yet. But I also can’t think of any reason that we are not all worthy of being happy, content, being in loving relationships, being successful in life. I just wish someone would remind me of these things every now & then.

Too bad that it has taken so long to get a show like “Obsessed” on the air.  Not that I could have watched it when my OCD was at its worst– I would have avoided it, most likely.  Watching it now, I am reminded again and again that OCD is such a devastating, life-changing disorder.  I feel so deeply for each and every person on the show; my empathy runs deep for them.

And why shouldn’t it?  When I was diagnosed 14 years ago, no one had ever even heard of OCD:  I’d never heard of it.  I had no idea that when I started avoiding cracks in the sidewalk for fear of ‘something bad happening’ that millions of others were also experiencing similar insanities.  Imagine, walking to class one day, on a sidewalk you’d walked on a thousand times, suddenly having this elementary-school rhyme pop into your head and stay; not only stay, but give you the worst anxiety you’d ever felt?  The absolute belief that if you DID indeed step on one crack, something bad would happen to a family member?

When I saw Karen checking under her bed, I felt a familiar pang.  Years before my life was actually taken over by OCD, I had an isolated incident of checking behaviors.  I do them now, still, on most nights.  I have this tiny apartment, I know that no one can actually fit under my bed, yet I have to check.  In 1989, I lived in a dorm room for one semester.  I had to drop out of college because I could not sleep at night:  I had thoughts of someone being in my room.  I had thoughts of Ted Bundy (even though he was either in jail or dead, not sure which, didn’t matter) coming into my dorm and murdering me.  I could not go to sleep until the sun was up; I slept two hours each night, then got up and went to class.  Every night, I checked the closets, under the bed, over and over again.  It didn’t matter how many times I checked, my mind would not let the thoughts go.  When I did sleep, I slept with the lights on.

So, I dropped out of college.  I couldn’t handle going on two hours of sleep each night; I was literally physically and mentally exhausted.  I did go back, to another university, a few years later.  That’s when the OCD really hit me.

Anyway, back to the show.  Again, both Russ and Karen have had some kind of trauma or loss in their lives.  Both suffered either repeated trauma and or loss of loved ones.  This is a common theme, and it just reinforces the belief I hold that some kind of trauma or stress will bring out OCD.

Russ stated that he became attached to things because he no longer had the people to care about– he associated objects with people he had lost in his life.  We all do this– we all keep mementos, reminders of events or people.  But as he said, letting go is necessary.  I liked the therapist’s approach of one room at a time– I’ve heard that it’s hard for hoarders to do anything about their hoarding because they don’t know where to start.  The task is so overwhelming that they just never begin.

Again, no mention of meds on the show.  Impressive, considering that most therapists want to throw pills at the problem instead of doing the really hard and necessary work.  CBT takes hard work, but it works— it helps more than any other therapy for OCD.  CBT helps the patient, not the drug companies.   14 years ago, when I was first diagnosed, the recent grad who had diagnosed me said that OCD was his specialty in college.  He then gave me a bunch of scripts and brochures.  He never mentioned CBT.  Thank fuck things have changed.

The 2nd installment of the new show “Obsessed” aired tonight, and again, I am impressed.  It’s about time a television show gave a realistic peek into the world of a person who has OCD.  Lately I’ve heard the term OCD used as an adjective more times than I care to count and it angers me each time.   OCD is not an adjective, people!

The exposure and response therapy was much more intense this time.  Trina, who suffers from intrusive thoughts that she might harm others, had to hold a knife to her therapists throat.  As Dr. Shana stated several times, this is the ultimate therapy– the ultimate exposure.  You could see the anxiety on Trina’s face.  But as her therapist pointed out “She has an anxiety disorder, she’s not a serial killer!”  I loved that quote– so completely apt.  OCD is an ANXIETY disorder, pass it on!  Not sure America knows that.  Trina has OCD thoughts of hurting others, of being afraid she will ‘lose control’ and do something horrible.  We all have a fear of losing control, but of course with OCD it’s magnified a thousand times.  It affected Trina’s life to the point that she denied herself a social life and missed out on things; she isolated, she felt lonely.

Nicole’s OCD was a little more problematic, a little harder to understand.  I do get the plugging of her ears:  there are certain sounds I can’t stand either, and just like Nicole, not sure where that stems from.  I’d be interested to know the root of Nicole’s obsessions with her mother and brother’s hands, and the ‘k’ sound.  Nicole did a lot of painful exposure therapy as well, but not much was said about the root of her obsessions.  I did feel very tearful when Nicole talked about the guilt that she felt, especially in regards as to how this was affecting her family.  She also said something about feeling guilty because she knew she wasn’t strong enough– I felt she was blaming herself for her OCD and that made me sad.  A person can’t blame themselves for having OCD any more than they can blame themselves for any other disease!  But guilt seems a strong component to this disease, and I wish her therapist had addressed that a little more.  But in the end, Nicole had the support of her family & felt more assured that they would not give up on her.

I felt a familiar twinge when Nicole said that she didn’t “know what life is like without OCD.”  The fear and anxiety is so strong with this disorder, that sometimes you can even fear its absence.

I guess some of the symptoms and issues shown on this show might be weird or shocking to some; to those of us who have OCD, these symptoms are familiar, easily recognized.  Fifty or so years ago, we didn’t even have this diagnosis and there was no treatment.  I’m thankful that is no longer the case, and that there is help for the many suffering from this ‘doubting disease.’

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