'ridiculous,' says victim, yet all too disabling
By Brittny Goodsell Jones
May 8, 2008 | Ashley's everyday worry isn't if she
gets to an appointment on time or if she remembered
to pay the utility bill.
Her main worry is death.
This is her obsessive thought. To combat it, Ashley
said she will carry out compulsions that will help her
feel as if she has done all she can to avoid death.
Ashley, mother of two, said her main compulsions are
checking to see if the stove and oven are off, constantly
locking doors and windows, and checking closets and
under beds for an attacker.
And if her anxiety level goes up, she will check even
"Instead of checking things five times, I check it
20 times," Ashley said. "If I can check everywhere then
I think I'm OK."
Ashley, who asked that her name be changed for this
story, is one of three people in 100 who are affected
by obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to an article
on Times Online.
Commonly known as OCD, this is an anxiety disorder triggered
by obsessive thoughts that lead to compulsive behaviors.
According to an OCD
Web site, the World Health Organization lists this
disorder in the top 10 disabling conditions in the world.
Mark Nafziger, staff psychologist at USU Counseling
Center, said these obsessive thoughts create anxiety
in a person, and the change to his or her behavior can
look irrational to an observer. The compulsions that
a person carries out function to reduce the anxiety
that is related to the obsession, he said.
Nafziger said people who suffer from OCD may deal
with a strong fear of germs or contamination. Excessive
hand-washing, to the point of bleeding, is one way a
person feels safe from germs. Nafziger said people who
perform ritualistic actions, such as flipping a light
switch on and off a certain number of times before leaving
the room, is also another OCD compulsion. This compulsion
ends up taking time and slowing people down.
However, Ashley's obsessive compulsiveness to check
things multiple times is probably one of the most common,
Ashley said she noticed her OCD when she was in third
grade. She would check all the light switches in the
house, she said, because she was afraid that if she
didn't dim them to a low setting, something would spark,
catch on fire and kill everyone in the house.
"It's obviously ridiculous," Ashley said. "It makes
Now, Ashley checks locked doors and turned-off stoves
more than light switches.
"To protect our family, every night I check [these
things]," Ashley said. "Even if I checked the window
three minutes earlier, I have to look again and it has
to be the last thing I do before I get into bed."
She sometimes ends up checking them four or five times
even though she knew 30 seconds before that they were
locked, Ashley said. The same goes for the oven and
the stove burners.
"If they are somehow on, then they are somehow going
to light my house on fire and everyone will die," she
Ashley also said she has obsessive thoughts about
a hot pad that has somehow gotten into the oven. She
said she is worried that if she actually has left a
hot pad in the oven, it will ignite. Ashley still has
these thoughts, even though she has never left a hot
pad in the oven.
"This is completely irrational," Ashley said. "But
I will check to make sure all the hot pads are in the
drawer where they go."
Her husband, Brad, sometimes tries to help by convincing
her that for a hot pad to be in the oven, Ashley would
have had to take something hot out of the oven with
her bare hands and accidentally left the hot pad behind.
So, even though Ashley's thoughts are irrational, it
helps for someone to explain the reality to her, she
"I can't outthink myself," she said. "I can't convince
myself that it's not worth things about, so usually
it's Brad convincing me it's not worth worrying about."
Nafziger said it is tough to live with a person suffering
from OCD. To better deal with the psychological disorder,
Nafziger said he recommends family members of the OCD
sufferer to educate themselves about OCD and about the
"A lot of times people feel more compassionate and
patient if they really understand what is going on with
the disorder," he said. "Then they can be even more
helpful. The better you can understand something, then,
potentially, you might deal with it better."
The two most common OCD treatments are medication
and therapy, Nafziger said. According to an article
in The Mirror, 60 percent of OCD sufferers show improvement
when they are given medication. A common medication
is anti-depressant pills since Nafziger said many OCD
patients have a mild form of depression. Although there
is not a 100 percent correlation between OCD and depression,
Nafziger said there is a small enough amount to create
a possibility of a connection.
Medication can bring the brain to a calmer level,
Nafziger said. This way, obsessive thoughts are not
as gripping or important to an OCD individual.
"When they do brain imaging with OCD people, they
find that there are certain areas of the brain that
are overactive, hyperactive," Nafziger said.
So when the medication or therapy is successful, Nafziger
said the brain hyper-activity is reduced to a normal
functioning state. The therapy Nafziger said is commonly
used is called Exposure with Responsive Prevention.
This means the OCD person would be put into a situation
where he or she would be exposed to their obsessive
thoughts. If the person does not act on his or her compulsions,
then that person is not being rewarded for his or her
compulsive behaviors and theoretically, anxiety levels
"I meet a lot more people [at the counseling center]
that have the obsessive part of the disorder stronger
than the compulsive part," he said. ‘So obviously, the
ones that don't have many behavioral compulsions are
going to be harder to work with using this kind of model."
Ashley said she went to therapy for OCD when she was
in fourth grade. Her parents mistakenly took her to
an adult therapist instead of a child therapist, she
said. But Ashley said she still remember what the adult
therapist said during the first visit.
"She told me something that helped me out the most,"
Ashley said. "She told me to think of my favorite color,
which was pink with sparkles, and breathe in the pink
sparkly air and blow out the black air, which was all
the OCD stuff."
Although this seems to help, Ashley said her OCD is
a daily occurrence and never goes away.
Nafziger said this is normal since OCD is one of the
more difficult anxiety disorders to ever fully cure.
Depending on how severe each case is, Nafziger said
it is possible for improvements to be seen. Some OCD
sufferers can even get to a place where they function
rather normally, he said.
However, some don't. Caroline Douglas, registered
nurse, said this was the case with a particular OCD
patient. The patient was obsessive compulsive about
organizing all personal items in rainbow-colored order.
If one of the objects, such as a binder or a hair elastic,
got out of its rainbow order, the girl would begin to
vomit uncontrollably, Douglas said. Because of the severity
of the case, Douglas said this patient now lives in
a mental hospital.
Although most OCD sufferers are not as extreme, Nafziger
said everyone has a bit of OCD in their lives.
"I think OCD and anxiety, they all exist on a continuum,"
he said. "Anyone is probably experienced something they
can't get out of their head, a song maybe, so I would
say that having a little bit of obsessive thought pattern
is pretty normal."
In the meantime, Ashley said she goes about her activities
as normal as she can. During the day is better, she
said, because she can rationalize easier that her thinking
is "crazy." But in the evening, when it gets dark, Ashley
said she loses her ability to say everything is OK in
terms of her OCD.
"I could tell someone else suffering from OCD that
they are OK but I can't talk myself out of it," she
said. "That's the prison of it. You can rationalize
with other people who are worrying about stupid things
but you can't tell yourself that or convince yourself."
"If people haven't experienced it then you can't understand
it - it doesn't make any sense to a rational person,"