‘Why me?’ If you have OCD, perhaps you sometimes think that.
I can’t answer the metaphysical side to that question, but I can tell you it seems more than likely it’s genetic. Maybe your parents don’t have OCD, but they might have some other related condition. Or perhaps it shows up in other branches of the family – a cousin or a grandparent. There are many neurological disorders that connect and overlap with OCD, and they may all be part of one umbrella condition. The results are still out on this.
One modern controversial theory is called PANDAS: paediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections. The theory goes: strep cells are so similar to neural cells that sometimes our body produces faulty antibodies that attack our own nervous system, rather than the strep infection we’ve contracted. Our T-cells are meant to seek out and destroy these faulty antibodies, but in our case these T-cells fail to work. They have treated many children with drugs to combat strep infection and have seem PANDAS symptoms (tics, anxiety, autistic tendencies) fade or even vanish. They have also recently injected lab mice with strep and seen them develop tics and anxiety. So there seems some weight to the theory – however, it is far from conclusive.
There are also a lot of theories relating to brain structure, but I couldn’t possibly explain these properly. The only thing anyone can agree on (for the most part) is that it appears to be genetic.
However, even though it seems biological in nature, there is also a lot to be said for environmental influences. For instance, many of my obsessions sprang from my experiences. I was abused as a child and, as a result, I developed a worry that someone would creep into my room in the night and attack me. As a compulsion, I decided as long as I always kept the blankets over my ears in bed, no one could hurt me. This helped me feel safe enough to sleep, until the following night when the fear would return and I would have to act on my compulsions again. Identifying the root of this obsession made it lose a lot of its power, so that one day I found I could finally sleep with my ears exposed.
Another point to mention is that statistics show that people with OCD are actually the LEAST likely to harm others or themselves. We may continually bring up mental visions of violence and destruction, but the whole key is that this is an anxiety disorder. These visions are SO abhorrent to us, we are actually incapable of dealing with them, and so we feel the need to invent coping methods, no matter how bizarre or extreme they may be. We are hypersensitive people, and yet ironically we believe we’re potential murderers and abusers and suicides.
I believe it’s important to bear all this in mind as we fight back against OCD. Understanding the roots gives us strength. Always remember: you are being afflicted with these worries because you are actually such a good person, you can’t stand the thought of hurting anyone. You are riddled with fears because perhaps you are trying to cope with a deeper-rooted problem, and when you identify the problem maybe you will realise the compulsion is unnecessary and the obsession can fade away.
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Vrinda Pendred, Editor & Founder of Conditional Publications
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