Mrs. Susan Olsen
29 October 2009
Sarah does not touch anything in a public place. On the seldom occasion that she does, she has her hand sanitizer out and in use within a matter of seconds. She washes her hands vigorously any time she gets the chance, and showers at least twice daily. She also refuses to eat with silverware that somebody has previously used.
Some might think that Sarah is just overly picky about cleanliness and germs. But the truth is, Sarah suffers from a common anxiety disorder. To a certain extent, we all exhibit behaviors similar to Sarah in regards to germs. Nobody likes germs, and we all try to avoid getting exposed to lots of them. However, when it reaches an extreme, like in Sarah’s case, there is something wrong. Sarah has a disorder in which she is gravely afraid of germs and dirt. The slightest bit of dirt on her skin makes her extremely anxious and she feels as if she has to clean it off immediately or something bad will happen. Thoughts, called obsessions, creep into her mind and take over her thought process, making her do rituals, or compulsions, to ease her anxiety. Sarah, along with millions of other Americans, suffer from what is known as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This disorder now affects up to six million Americans, therefore it is imperative that people understand what OCD is, what causes the disorder, and possible ways to treat it.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, commonly referred to as OCD, occurs when a person is constantly troubled by a pattern of intrusive, distressing thoughts and repetitive behaviors. This common disorder is very complex in its definition. The obsessions themselves are only half the definition of OCD. Obsessions are different from compulsions, and OCD patients can either show signs of one or both. According to Childhood Education, the clinical definition of “obsession” refers to the thoughts, impulses, urges, or images that seem to force their way into a person’s thinking (Adams). These thoughts, or obsessions, often have to do with safety, or a fear of some kind. One of the most common fears associated with OCD is the fear of contamination. People with this fear are constantly aware of dirt and germs. They persistently worry about catching and spreading germs and the slightest bit of contamination on anything will make them extremely anxious until it is clean. Another very common type of OCD has to do with fears centering on disorder or asymmetry. People with this kind of OCD have an obsessive need to have order and precision. For example, a person may become upset or anxious if clothes are not aligned “properly” in a drawer or books are not organized “correctly” on a shelf. Other common obsessions are those relating to accidents, acts of violence, or sexual misconduct. These worrisome thoughts are common among everyone to a certain degree. Everyone worries about things being clean or in a certain order. That is not OCD. The American Psychiatric Association says that the essential feature of OCD is recurrent obsessions or compulsions, or both, sufficiently severe to cause marked distress, be time-consuming, or significantly interfere with a person’s normal routine (Zamula). Kimberly McGrath, writer for the World of Scientific Discovery, explains the difference by saying, “the thoughts and obsessions are considered a disorder only when they persist, make no sense, interfere with normal functioning, and cause intense distress and anxiety” (McGrath). This clearly defines the distinction between typical everyday worries and the repetitive, bothersome thoughts of those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. OCD is not only about obsessions, but also about the rituals done to ease them, commonly known as compulsions. According to Jerome Kagan, writer for Health A-to-Z, compulsive rituals are persistent, excessive, repetitive behaviors that are aimed at reducing the fear and...