They check the doors to make sure they’re locked before going to bed.  There is some doubt, so after finally lying down in bed, they check them again. Others wash their hands before and after every meal, and many times in between.  Some need to step with the left foot if they took a step with the right.  There are those we hear about less often:  they think there is a possibility that bumps in the road were actually people that they ran over, so they will turn around to make sure that there are no bodies in the road.  A large percentage of people will claim, at one point in their lives, that they have “OCD”, or “Obsessive Compulsive” tendencies.  The degree of incapacitation as a result of the symptoms of OCD varies widely.

Most people rarely feel that they are suffering as a result of their OCD symptoms.  They easily find ways to hide their checking, repeating, washing, and avoiding behaviors from others.  If they have the compulsion to make sure that they take the same number of steps with the right foot as they did with the left, nobody notices.  If they get anxious by the number six, they can easily avoid six, and any multiple, without much difficulty.

Sadly, there is another end of the continuum.  On this end, OCD sufferers are, in a sense, paralyzed by their symptoms.  They are showering, washing their hands, checking locks and doors, counting steps, sanitizing, straightening, and so much more. Their behaviors are no different from those whose symptoms are easily hidden, who find socially acceptable ways of satisfying their obsessions, and relieving their anxiety.   Here OCD sufferers are in a dark, crushing, pit of anxiety, and the only relief they know for their obsessions is their compulsive behavior.

Recently, this illness received media attention for the success of a treatment which has been used for decades.  This treatment strategy involves exposure to whatever makes the sufferer anxious, and then preventing the individual from engaging in their compulsion.  Simply put, without the opportunity to engage in compulsive behavior, the individual is able to experience the natural decline of anxiety over time.

I have seen this “exposure plus response prevention” treatment bring normalcy back into people’s lives.  I have seen OCD sufferers finally looking forward to waking up the next day, knowing they will be able to leave the house, go to work or school or to a social event, knowing they will be able to enjoy the moment, the day, and the rest of their lives.